I can’t help but notice what little regard is given to the church by the world … professing Christians. You don’t need me to look up stats that you are perfectly capable of looking up yourself. Suffice it to say, there are countless people who will tell you they are Christians, who rarely occupy a pew. (Yes, I’m aware that pews are a thing of the past. You can find almost as many churches with pews as you can find big red barns. That’s not many.) Oh, there are no doubt many reasons this is so, but one reason is that people haven’t taken the time to unpack the fact that the church is part of God’s plan.
So, what DID God have in mind for the church?
In order to fully understand how the church fits into the overall plan and eternal purposes of God, it’s necessary to unpack Ephesians 3:8-10 which says, “To me, the very least of all saints, this grace was given, to preach to the Gentiles the unfathomable riches of Christ, and to bring to light what is the administration of the mystery which for ages has been hidden in God who created all things; so that the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known through the church to the rulers and the authorities in the heavenly places.”
In this passage, Paul is declaring that he has been called by Christ to preach a specific message to the Gentiles. Looking at the original Greek, his purpose was to “phōtizō” (enlighten the Gentiles) to what their koinonia (joint participation) was in the mystērion (that which before now had not been revealed).” While there are many mysteries of God, the mystery referred to here is that through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, Jews and Gentiles are one in the sight of God, in the Kingdom, and in the family of families – the church. Genesis 12:3 records God’s promise that “in you (Abraham) all the families of the earth will be blessed” (emphasis added), and in Ephesians 3:9, the promise is fulfilled.
By God’s design, through the church (ekklēsia), the wisdom of God (divine wisdom, including the ideas of infinite skill, insight, knowledge, and purity) would be made known and God would reveal Himself and His glory to the heavenly angels who praise Him. The church is intended to be the centerpiece of God’s plan to transform the world, according to Ephesians 3:8-10.
The Greek term, ekklēsia, refers to an assembly or gathering. The first chronological use of ekklēsia is in 1 Thessalonians 1:1; “Paul and Silvanus and timothy, to the church of the Thessalonians in God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ: Grace to you and peace.” While past references to ekklēsia were in reference to Jewish political gatherings, Paul emphasizes that he is addressing a gathering “in God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.” Most often ekklēsia refers to a gathering of Christians.
Paul employs various images to describe the church In the early letters he primarily uses the images of the temple (1 Corinthians 3:16-17) and the body (1 Corinthians 12:12-28). In the later letters, in which he addresses more mature believers and leaders, his primary image is that of the household (Ephesians 5:22-6:9, Colossians 3;18-4:1, 1 Peter 3:1-7, 1 and 2 Timothy, and Titus). [Hello! I don’t think we can dismiss this point. The household texts are vital to our understanding of what God intends our church and our family to look like!]
In God’s economy, the church is a place of corporate and individual edification or growth for believers in Christ Jesus. The church is for the “equipping of the saints for the work of service, to the building up of the body of Christ” (Ephesians 4:12) and to prepare believers for full maturity – demonstrating the qualities of Christ, who is our spiritual measuring stick (Ephesians 4:13). It’s where we see preaching, teaching, baptizing, and sending. The church is also where believers gather to worship God through prayer, singing, testimony, and other creative avenues – corporately celebrating personal/individual relationships with God through His Son.
Why should we care?
The church is God’s means of revealing Himself to us and revealing His plan to rescue us from our rebellion, regardless of race or social status, in order to restore us to a right relationship with Him.