Monday, September 10, 2018

MANIFOLD WISDOM

(This is the second in a series of three sermons that I am giving at the Log Church to explain why I have invested my life into serving the Lord through serving the church. To read the first, scroll down past the Kisii Report to “The Mystery of the Church”)
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Here are some words of the Apostle Paul: “To me, though I am the very least of all the saints, this grace was given, to preach to the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ, and to bring to light for everyone what is the plan of the mystery hidden for ages in God who created all things, so that through the church the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places.” (Ephesians 3:8-10 ESV) 

What is the “manifold wisdom of God” that the Apostle Paul is speaking about in this passage of Ephesians? What does Paul mean when he says this manifold wisdom will be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places? 


Honor Ceremonies

In fields of human endeavor, we are accustomed to bestowing honor on someone who has shown himself or herself to be highly accomplished in their profession. We grant the Nobel Prizes for science, medicine, peace, and other fields of service or of occupation. There are also the presidential awards given to citizens and soldiers for acts of outstanding achievement or bravery. Even the entertainment industry has their Oscars and Emmys.

At the granting of many of these awards, those of us who are not accomplished in that particular field of knowledge are given an explanation in non-technical language what the award winners have done.
 
When the Nobel Prizes for science or medicine are bestowed, for instance, the news reports include a simple explanation of the work of these scientists. The descriptions necessarily fall significantly short of what a complete explanation would be, but this is necessary so that laymen can have a sense of appreciation for what these prize winners have accomplished. Nevertheless, the descriptions are as detailed as most of us are able to understand.

With the honors in some of the other fields, the spectators of the awards ceremonies are perhaps shown or given a presentation or demonstration of the work. When the Oscars are awarded  clips of the winning films are shown. These film clips are intended to show the viewers some of the winning actors’ or actresses’ dramatic abilities. Or perhaps the film clips that are intended to demonstrate some other cinematic effect of accomplishment.

So it is that we see that awards are given as a means of recognition. This is the nature of the awards of this world. Of course, there are awards and honors that carry more prestige than do others. Some, like a high school athletic award for example, only carry with them a local recognition. Others, such as we have noted in the Nobel Prizes, have an international status.

At times, even on an international level, we see the same person being honored more than once in his particular field. It is rare indeed to find a person who reaches such a level of accomplishment in more than one or two fields. It is true that there have been some of these outstanding individuals. Their successes are admirable.

Nevertheless, whatever we may say on the subject of awards given in this world and in this life, we speak only in relative terms of one award to another. Some awards, we think, carry more prestige than others. A Nobel Prize is more prestigious than a high-school typing award, for instance.

However, as much as we may think that a Nobel Prize or an Oscar trophy may distinguish an individual, none of these awards or premiums reaches even within sight of the level of achievement of the one that I will speak about now. 

Bestowing the Ultimate Award

I have thought much about something that the Apostle Paul wrote in his letter to the church at Ephesus. In a style typical of Paul’s writings, this long sentence contains at least three important and profound concepts. I quoted these verses at the beginning of this post. However, it was only the last part of the sentence of which I was contemplating as I sat in a church one day waiting for a wedding to begin. I was there with my wife, Vivian. We sat in silence as we anticipated the beginning of the ceremony.

Again, the last portion of the sentence reads like this, “So that through the church the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places” (Ephesians 3:8-10 ESV).

Paul speaks here of God’s “manifold wisdom.” As I sat waiting for the wedding to begin, this is the phrase that I was tossing about in my mind.

The word manifold is one that is not in general use in our day. Actually, the only time that we probably use it is when we are working on our car, since the manifolds (there are at least two of them) are an important part of the engine.

But our purpose here is not to discuss automobile engines, and it is unfortunate that this is the only common usage of the word manifold, because it actually is a very good word. The word refers to an object or a quality that has many and various forms or features—something that has many elements.

Something that has manifold qualities about it is not easily defined because there are so many aspects to it. God’s wisdom is like that. His wisdom is so multifaceted that we are not able to see every aspect of it from a single perspective. His wisdom is so all-encompassing that it is impossible for us to even comprehend the number of fields of excellence in which he has gained acclaim, or the infinite extent to which his wisdom has reached.

 In speaking of the manifold wisdom of God, Paul says that there will be a day when every creature, even rulers and authorities in the heavenly places, will stand in awestruck recognition of the accomplishments of God—not in just one field, but in every quest of knowledge, philosophy, art, technology, science, and understanding. This will be recognition at the highest level possible, not even to be compared with any honor that we can give or even able to imagine on a human scale. The bestowing of these awards to God will be a time when each one present at the ceremony will recognize and applaud his accomplishments. 

The Demonstration of God’s Accomplishments

I spoke earlier of the demonstrations or explanations of some of the accomplishments of the people that receive awards in this world. I mentioned that the explanations are often put in simplified terms that help make them more understandable to the non-professional.

As I sat in the church that day, I thought of the demonstrations of God’s work or explanations of his accomplishments that could be put on display. Whatever they would be, I knew that any description that we could understand would never even begin to explain what God has done.

Many are the masterpieces that could be presented as an exhibition of his genius. I, who have long been an admirer of the beauties of the creation, would immediately think of the great magnificence and immeasurable expanse of the universe. It would be impossible to put its infinitude and its unsearchable applications of the laws of motion and gravitation into “layman’s terms.” Many men and women throughout history have sought to understand our universe better, but it is safe to say that we have barely begun even to identify what is actually occurring in the universe, much less begin to explain it.

Since the whole of the universe is too grand in its scope to be put on display before us, we might instead limit our vision to only that portion of God’s work that we can see on the earth. This alone is without comparison. Our world functions on a level that is extremely complicated and precise. The tilt of the earth’s axis, its distance from the sun, and the composition of the atmosphere; all of these are at such a precise setting that it is only because they maintain this delicate combination that our earth is able to support the life around us.

Besides this, the natural arrangement even within our world, such as the earth’s ecosystems, the water cycle, the systems of weather, and the other elements of our lives are also in such delicate balance, neither do we completely understand how they are interrelated. This, despite the fact that these are close to us and observable, unlike the mighty yet elegant stability of the universe.

Nevertheless, in large part, even these close at hand remain a great mystery to us. The manner in which all the ecosystems in our natural world, each one so complex and intricate in and of itself, harmonize one with the other is in a manner that is so perplexing and obscure that some have even thought the earth a living being in and of itself. Some have even worshiped our earth as a god.

It is not, of course, but the very fact that some think that it is, demonstrates our created world’s extreme complexity—a beauty and a harmony so wonderful that it causes us to stand in awe. The earth itself is a grand demonstration of the wisdom of God.

Putting all of this aside, we perhaps would instead put on display a sampling from God’s creative artistic accomplishments. The candidates abound—from the delicate finery of an orchid to the brutal ruggedness of a mountain range. There have been so many sunsets it would be impossible to choose one above another—and so many panoramic scenic vistas.

Or, should we decide to lower our vision to examine the incredible and intricate beauty of the plants over which we walk almost without thought, we see that each one is almost a world of activity and society in and of itself. As we are given vision through a microscope, an entirely new microscopic world is opened up for us to see and at which we marvel. 

The Presentation of the Work of God

Interestingly enough however, it is none of these things that will be put on display in that great day of recognizing the manifold accomplishments of God. Realizing this, I am astounded at what the choice is of the work of God that one day is to be put on display, and which will be a demonstration of his excellence.

What is it that will be presented to show the magnificence of God?

What is reserved for this presentation is perhaps God’s greatest accomplishment. It is an accomplishment so astounding that it will give an appreciation and understanding to the wisdom of God where before there was none. Even the powers and principalities in the heavens will see this accomplishment and be amazed. What could this great work be?

What Paul tells us surprises us, and it may even disappoint us. We might expect Paul to speak of things such as the workings of the universe or the secrets of the living cell to represent God’s remarkable accomplishments. It is none of these however. Rather, probably much to our surprise, in that day of the bestowing of the highest honors to our God, the great work that will be demonstrated to the observers will be the presentation of the church! It is the church that will be put on display as the example of God’s work!

“That through the church,” Paul says, “the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places” (Ephesians 3:10 ESV, italics added). 

A Bad Choice?

I sat next to my wife in a beautiful church building on that wedding day, but of course the church that Paul is talking about is the multitude of redeemed ones who form the church in the world today. This multitude of believers are even referred to as “the body of Christ.”

But as I thought about this, I wondered how the presentation of the church could be a demonstration of God’s wisdom. We as God’s church see ourselves as far from admirable. We fight and quarrel and harbor petty jealousies. I should think that all of us would agree that there is much more harmony in the natural world of the ecosystem than there is in the church.

In my thinking for many years, the church did not seem to be a good demonstration of God’s wisdom. I thought that the church as we see it might be a good demonstration of God’s grace perhaps, but certainly not of his wisdom.

I was accustomed to viewing the church as a system that had gone wrong. We all know what this is like, at least to a certain degree. Every one of us have made something that has gone wrong, or done something that has failed. We have all attempted to do one thing or another that had not turned out the way we intended. So we make an effort to repair the mistake or the damage, and try make the best of a bad job.

That is how I thought God was dealing with us as his people. Something had gone wrong with us, but, in his grace, he offered us redemption. God formed us into his church, which is to be the representation of his body here on earth (Ephesians 4:12).

The church, I once thought, was God’s solution to rectify a situation that had come about because of our rebellion and a situation that was interfering with his relationship with his creation. Nevertheless, there constantly were still problems. 

Things that Angels Seek to Understand

I think that perhaps the heavenly beings might also view us in much the same way. When Peter speaks of how God has sacrificed and labored to make his church, even suffering for the church’s redemption, he says that “these are things into which angels long to look” (1 Peter 1:12).

Although these heavenly beings no doubt understand the workings of God to a much greater degree than we do, they also are wondering to what end God is working in the world. I think the angels are a bit confused as to why God is putting so much effort into a rebellious people such as us. They must wonder (as do I), why God has chosen to redeem us.

From what we read in the Scriptures, it appears that those of the angels who had rebelled against God’s authority have been given no such opportunity of pardon and redemption. These rebellious angels are only destined to banishment from the presence of God. If that is true, why has God given us as humans the opportunity for reconciliation?

And yet Paul says, it is this very church that is made up of very flawed and one time rebellious people that will, more than anything else, cause all the rulers and authorities in the heavenlies to appreciate God’s manifold wisdom. It is his redeemed, the church, who will be on display as his greatest accomplishment in all fields of endeavor. 

The Presentation of the Bride

It was with all of these thoughts that my mind was occupied on a day that I sat with my wife in the church, listening to the organ playing softly. We were sat there in silence, waiting for the wedding to begin.

My wife and I, along with the rest of the guests present in the church, were anticipating the beginning of the ceremony. The groom and groomsmen had taken their positions in the front, along with the pastor. This was done quietly and without fanfare. I am sure that some parents, occupied with trying to keep their children quiet, scarcely noticed the entrance of these men.

But then came the signal for which everyone was waiting. The organ, which had been playing softly in the background, suddenly played a louder note and then joyfully began to play the bridal march. Every person in the church rose to their feet and turned so that they could see the back entrance. The bride was entering!

I stood up with the rest of the guests that day and witnessed the entering of the bride. It struck me how beautiful she looked. I remembered my own bride also, as she walked down the aisle of the chapel on the day of our wedding. She had radiated with beauty.

As the bride on that day slowly made her way down the aisle of the church toward her groom, my mind was filled with many things. I thought of brides all over the world who, on the day of their weddings, adorn themselves in ways that they never before had done. They go to great trouble, and sometimes to great expense, in preparing themselves for the wedding.

I found myself wondering why. Why do they do it? The answer is quite clear. They are adorning themselves to be presented to their groom. Others in attendance on the day of the wedding may comment on her beauty, but it is the words of the groom that are important to the bride. 

The Church as the Bride of Christ

I suddenly thought of another wedding and some other words of Paul the apostle. Speaking of what Christ is doing with the church, Paul says that all of Christ’s labor is so “that He might present to Himself the church in all her glory, having no spot or wrinkle or any such thing; but that she should be holy and blameless” (Ephesians 5:27 NAS).

As if I was thunderstruck, it came to me. Certainly, that was it! That is why the church will be the demonstration of God’s manifold wisdom! Today we may see the church as a group of believers who still struggle with the world and who sometimes cannot even live in peace among themselves, but it will not always be that way. In that day of which Paul speaks, the church will be presented in her perfection.

That will be the day when we as the church are to be wed to our Groom. All will be in attendance. There will be angels and rulers and authorities. There will be princes and principalities of places of which we are not even now aware. In that day, all of these will stand and view our entrance. They will see the church as a bride adorned for her Groom. We, as the church, will be in all our glory, having no spot, no wrinkle, or any such thing. We will be adorned for our Groom!

As we walk down the aisle on that day, all will gasp at the beauty of the church. They will comment on her radiance. “How beautiful she is,” they will say. “So this is what God was doing all these ages and eons. He was making and perfecting his church. Now that we see her in her completion, we have finally come to understand what he was doing. Oh, the wisdom of God! Oh, the manifold wisdom of God!” 

What God Will Accomplish in His Church

It is for this that we as the church of Jesus Christ are destined. It is to this end that God is working. This vision of the church has given me a completely new love and appreciation for the church of God. If we are so treasured and precious in the sight of God, how do we dare to be so free with our criticism of one another?

No longer do I view the church as a work of God that has gone wrong and with which he is trying to make the best of a bad job. The church is God’s work in progress. We are told that the Lord is presently nourishing us and cherishing his church (Ephesians 5:29). He is doing this because of his great love for us and so that we will not only be a demonstration of his grace, but also of his manifold wisdom. In that future day, what Jesus Christ is doing in this present day will become obvious to all in attendance.

“This mystery is great,” Paul says, “but I am speaking with reference to Christ and the church” (Ephesians 5:32 NAS). 

For this reason, I bow my knees before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth derives its name, that He would grant you, according to the riches of His glory, to be strengthened with power through His Spirit in the inner man; so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith; and that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may be able to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ which surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled up to all the fullness of God. (Ephesians 3:14-19 NAS)



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