Ephesians 3:10-11, “10 His intent was that now, through the church, the manifold wisdom of God should be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly realms, 11 according to his eternal purpose that he accomplished in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
Usually, in the spring, around the time of Pentecost, I do a series of sermons on the church. In the past three years I have preached Church 101, Church As…, and 7 Churches. This year I planned to do the same; my intent was to focus on the teachings about church in the book of Ephesians. My head, heart, and (I believe) God took me in a different direction and I a recently preached a series on our identity “in Christ” as described in Ephesians. The series is called Identity Theft.
Despite going a different direction for that sermon series, I didn’t want to ignore or neglect the beautiful teachings about the church that Paul offers us in Ephesians. So, over the next several posts I’m going to share my thoughts on church specific texts written in the book. You’ll notice a theme in the posts, even if just through their titles. The church is his (Jesus). It is his body, his bride, his household, his proclamation, and his glorifier. The church is a wonderful gift to us who are apart of it, but it ultimately exists to fulfill the purposes of Jesus and to bring him worship.
I think we often minimize the important role(s) that the church plays in the world. While most people wouldn’t vocalize this, we have relegated the church to an organization that provides community, preaching, and social services. In Philippians 3:10 Paul writes that the church’s role is much greater, and perhaps, much more cosmic in nature. Paul declares that one of the church’s roles is to make known the wisdom of God to the “rulers and authorities in the heavenly realms.” This phrase is one that causes confusion and debate, but before we look at the different options for understanding who/what these rulers and authorities are, lets notice the greatness of what Paul is saying. The church’s job is to proclaim the wisdom (primarily The Gospel) of God. Notice that Paul doesn’t tell us that it is the job of individual Christians to proclaim this wisdom (although this must be part of it (see below)), but rather the church as a whole. One of the powerful purposes of church is to be God’s proclamation. The church, a collection of individuals who gather consistently in the presence of God, declares God’s wisdom.
To whom is the church declaring God’s wisdom to according to Paul in Philippians 3:10? Who are the “rulers and authorities” that reside in the “heavenly realms?” Smart people have provided four options for how to answer these questions:
- The church proclaims God’s wisdom to angels (1 Peter 1:12) so they may celebrate.
- The church proclaims God’s wisdom to evil powers in order to bring about their conversation, to announce their defeat, or to cause them to marvel.
- The church proclaims God’s wisdom to human institutions and structures to transform their actions.
- Some combination of the above three.
No matter which one of these we choose, the role of the church becomes more impressive, and important, than if it is just a club or social services provider. But, let me take a shot at explaining why I have chosen option #2 above, because I think it makes what the church is even cooler. As with any good Bible interpretation (exegesis), it is important to use context to make a selection from the above options. Thankfully, in the book of Ephesians, the “rulers and authorities” have already been written about and will be again. Mark Roberts, of Fuller Theological Seminary, explains, “We encountered these powers in chapter 1, where it says that God seated Christ ‘at his right hand in the heavenly realms, far above all rule and authority, power and dominion’ (1:20-21). Chapter 2 referred to Satan as ‘the ruler of the kingdom of the air’ (2:2). Later, in Ephesians 6, we’ll read about ‘rulers,’ ‘authorities,’ ‘powers of this dark world,’ and ‘spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms’ (6:12). Paul uses this kind of language to refer to what we might identify as demonic powers. Yet, he is not thinking simply of individual demons who harass or possess people. Rather, he envisions the whole cosmos as permeated and influenced by powers that we might call supernatural. Yet, these powers might also include cultural, economic, and political forces, the kinds of forces that shape our lives each day (see, for example, 1 Corinthians 2:8).”
It is the role of the church to proclaim the wisdom of God to evil forces. This is a big job, and thankfully, not a job we must do alone. Instead, it is the church’s job to do it collectively. What is interesting about this to me is that Paul doesn’t call the Bible God’s proclaimer. I am a believer that for Christian faith and practice the Bible is the most important source. What this suggests to me is that the church’s role as God’s proclaimer goes beyond mere words. We proclaim the wisdom of God through how we live, what we do, and our corporate interaction.[bra_blockquote align=”]…the church’s role as God’s proclaimer goes beyond mere words. We proclaim the wisdom of God through how we live, what we do, and our corporate interaction.[/bra_blockquote]
You may have heard the term “spiritual gifts.” These are gifts that people receive, through the Holy Spirit, when they become Christians. I think that part of the reason we are given these gifts is so that, together as the church, Christians may proclaim the wisdom of God. Here is a list of spiritual gifts recorded in the Bible: exhortation, giving, leadership, mercy, prophecy, service, teaching, administration, apostle, discernment, faith, healing, helps, knowledge, miracles, prophecy, teaching tongues, tongues interpretation, wisdom, evangelism, pastor, prophecy, teaching, celibacy, hospitality, martyrdom, missionary, and voluntary poverty.
I believe that these gifts are given, in part, so that God’s wisdom, The Gospel, might be proclaimed in the spiritual realm.[bra_blockquote align=’right’]You should make your church involvement one that is worthy of being a proclaimer of God’s wisdom in the spiritual realms. You should show love, mercy, and compassion. You should sacrifice. You should use your spiritual gifts.[/bra_blockquote]You should make your church involvement one that is worthy of being a proclaimer of God’s wisdom in the spiritual realms. You should show love, mercy, and compassion. You should sacrifice. You should use your spiritual gifts. But why? Ultimately the fate of the cosmos isn’t tied to the efforts you make. However, we work together with others to be God’s proclaimer in the church, because of what God has done for us. Just before Ephesians 3:10-11 Paul gives us a partial glimpse into who we are in Christ. Since I have preached on this in detail, so I won’t go very deep here. I’ll simply say that in Ephesians 3:1-9 Paul tells us that in Christ we are heirs, members, and sharers in the wonderful promises and blessings of God. This is why we do our part as the church proclaims the wisdom of God to the spiritual realms. God has done something worth proclaiming! Be his proclamation!