The Guiding Thermostat in Paul’s Letter

The oven in our apartment is a mystery to me. The markings on the dials have long been worn off by previous tenants. When the workers come to replace the empty gas tank for the oven, I excuse myself to the living room (as is appropriate culturally). If I bake cupcakes, they might lean to the left or the right indiscriminately. At Thanksgiving time the only sure bet for roasting the turkey properly is a trusty meat thermometer and lots of patience, and an adventurous spirit. I have so many questions about my oven that may never be answered, but I do have tools that can help me begin to understand how to avoid burning pancakes (too badly).

The mysterious passages in Ephesians are like that oven. We tend to examine Ephesians in disjointed sections and walk away with questions such as:

  • How do you put on the seemingly out-of-place spiritual armor in chapter 6 (and why)?
  • What does a modern man or woman do with the “household code” in chapter 5?
  • How can sinners live out the call to holiness in chapter 4?
  • Is it possible to see the unity of God’s people in chapter 3 even amid our hundreds of denominations?
  • How do we live out the ramifications of salvation by grace in chapter 2?
  • And who can wrap their mind around the spiritual blessings in chapter 1?

When these issues are considered in isolation, they tend to take on an air of frustrating futility. The cupcakes will always turn out lopsided no matter what I do, so why bother? While this might be an understandable sentiment, don’t give up on the cupcakes! They’re worth every bit of effort you put into discovering how to see them turn out right-side up. There is a guiding thermostat, if you will, in Ephesians. (Please forgive my return to the dessert illustration—I have an incurable sweet tooth.) The overarching message of Ephesians, the fountain from which every doctrinal truth emerges is Ephesians 1:9–10:

. . . making known to us the mystery of his will, according to his purpose, which he set forth in Christ as a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth.

Let Earth Receive Her King

God is blessed for revealing his mysterious plan from eternity past and bringing it to fruition in eternity future. When we struggle with the question of our purpose and of the purpose of the world, Ephesians 1:9–10 gives us God’s comprehensive answer. God is glorified through his “making known to us the mystery of his will, according to his purpose, which he set forth in Christ as a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth.”

When God created Adam and Eve, he blessed them. Then he charged them with the privilege of stewardship over his creation. “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth” (Gen. 1:28). Men and women were to rule justly and mercifully under God’s authority, leading and nurturing all he put in their care. But mankind rejected God’s authority through their sin, and as a result the creation became subjected to futility.

Take a two-second glance at the news headlines for today and you will observe that mankind fails to rule creation with justice and mercy. But the Bible is God’s story of redemption. There will be a Son of Man ruling from the throne. Jesus said to his disciples, “Truly, I say to you, in the new world, when the Son of Man will sit on his glorious throne, you who have followed me will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel” (Matt. 19:28; see also Rev. 3:21). Jesus is the one who rules unequivocally over everything in heaven and on earth. We read in Ephesians 1:9–10 the end goal of all things, the all-encompassing reason for everything that ever was or will be—the anakephalaiōsis. That is a deeply profound term that means “summing up.” Although we are only a mere ten verses into Ephesians, this statement is the climax of the entire epistle. Ephesians shows us how Jesus, the Son of Man, has come to his throne. The rest of this letter draws out the implications of Christ’s enthronement. There are implications not only for us as individuals who love the Lord and long for his return when every knee bows to him and every tongue confesses he is Lord, but also for us collectively as members of Christ’s body, the church.

One of those implications is that the summing up of all things in Christ summons forth our authenticity. The world is all kinds of crazy (again, just skim the newspaper headlines), but a life lived in light of this doctrine is coherent. When we reject or ignore the mystery God has made known (Christ as the focal point of all things), we are out of step with God’s purposes for the cosmos. Centered on ourselves, we are cosmic renegades. Centered on Christ, we are utterly authentic in the most genuine sense of the word. The relevancy of the anakephalaiōsis to our daily lives (both now and tomorrow and in eternity) is the consistency (or congruence or uniformity or correspondence) of our lives with ultimate reality. It also motivates us to carry the gospel to people groups who have not yet heard of Christ and who are perishing for this lack of knowledge.

This consistency of our lives in accordance with this truth is no mere rote submission but rather adoring love with corresponding speech overflowing from hearts filled to overflowing with sincere fealty and love for Christ our head. It is sober minds that think thoughts that are in line with God’s truth and are confident in the sufficiency, authority, and clarity of his Word. It is doing all things as service rendered unto the Lord by his strength that God supplies for Christ’s glory—that he might be glorified in all things. A Monday morning at the office lived in line with the summing up of all things in Christ is a depiction of utter authenticity. The resolution of a conflict over even the dumbest of things (as many conflicts often are), when done in accordance with the supremacy of Christ, is evidence of Christ’s loving rule. We are doomed to live a confusing and false existence as long as we live in denial of the universal headship of Jesus. But when we humbly repent of the notion that we can live independently from God and instead cling to Jesus, then we walk in truth.

Content taken from Alive in Him: How Being Embraced by the Love of Christ Changes Everything by Gloria Furman, ©2017. Used by permission of Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers, Wheaton, Il 60187, www.crossway.org.