This is Part Two of a series called God’s Eternal Plan for the Church. Read Part One.
The second aspect of God’s eternal plan for the church:
- The church is commissioned to proclaim an exceedingly glorious message.
This exceedingly glorious message has two connected strands:
A. Christ: “to preach to the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ” (Ephesians 3:8)
When Paul talks of the unsearchable riches of Christ, he is referring to what has come before in the book of Ephesians: the forgiveness of our sins by the blood of Jesus Christ, becoming chosen before the foundation of the world to be God’s beloved children, the gift of the Holy Spirit, and power to walk in newness of life.
‘Unsearchable’ can also be understood to mean as unfathomable, bottomless, immeasurable—meaning that there are no adequate categories for explaining the riches of Christ. They are infinite.
There’s a man my organization trains from Indonesia, the largest Muslim country in the world. Umar (not his real name) grew up Muslim and tried his best to be a good person by praying, fasting, tithing, giving special offerings to God. He thought doing all of those things would earn him forgiveness of sin, but just to make sure asked the imam at his mosque how to get forgiveness of sins. The imam answered, ‘You know, I don’t know. You’ll have to wait and see.”
Is that what you would want to hear if your conscience was telling you of your guilt before God?
So Umar lived many years with a troubled conscience, until when he was 56 years old, and two strangers knocked on his door.
They asked him a simple question: “Do you want your sins to be forgiven?”
“Yes! Of course I want to be forgiven. But how can that happen?”
These two strangers proceeded to share with Umar that Jesus Christ died for the sins of the world, taking the penalty for our sins upon Himself on the cross, and that if he believes in Jesus the Messiah (Isa al Masih) he would be forgiven and welcomed into God’s family as His beloved child.
Umar said this was the truth he was searching for many, many years and he finally understood the gospel and received the forgiveness of sins and the love of God. Umar got a glimpse of the unsearchable riches of Christ.
For many believers, especially those who have attended church many years, one of the greatest temptations we have is to think we need something in addition to Christ—some new teaching, some new technique, something beyond what is revealed to us in the Scriptures, but in reality what we need is a deeper faith in what has already been revealed.
We can feel content in skimming the surface of the ocean of riches in Christ instead of diving deep in and experiencing the glorious depth and wonder of them.
We go deeper in the riches of Christ this by meditating on God’s glorious promises in Scripture, contemplating God’s grace in our own lives, and through prayer. (Paul’s prayers in Ephesians 1 and 3 are great prayers to pray if you want to deepen your experience and understanding of the gospel.)
None of us ever graduate from the gospel because there is an infinite amount of riches in Christ.
Christ is the glorious message we preach. The result of this proclamation is that people will be saved and built up in Christ—the church grows.
And that leads us to the second strand of Paul’s message:
B. The Church: “to bring to light for everyone what is the plan of the mystery hidden for ages in God, who created all things” (Ephesians 3:9)
This verse might sound a little confusing, but it is saying that Paul’s ministry is to illuminate to everyone God’s eternal mystery—a mystery that was hidden for generations but has now been revealed.
What is this mystery? Ephesians 3:6 says “This mystery is that the Gentiles [that is anyone who isn’t a Jew] are fellow heirs, members of the same body, and partakers of the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel.”
Or in other words, it isn’t just the Jews who are considered God’s people anymore. The unsearchable riches of Christ are available to everyone else as well, and God is gathering together for Himself a people redeemed by the blood of Jesus.
The mystery is the church. Paul’s task is to ‘bring to light’ what the church is. God, the creator is creating a new work in this fallen world—a supernatural community of new creations in Christ who praise Him and continue His ministry of reconciliation to the world.
People in this world know something is not right with the world, but they are in darkness and can’t see how Christ is the answer.
That is why Paul’s ministry is to ‘bring to light’ or to flip on the light switch and help people see the truth of Christ and the church. One of the most powerful ways of doing that is the testimony of the church.
While proclamation of words is absolutely necessary, so is proclamation by action. Jesus said, “By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:34).
It has always amazed me when Jesus said to his disciples while on earth that it was better for Him to go so that they could receive the Holy Spirit. When Jesus walked the earth, he could only be in one place at a time. But now His body is not confined to one place, but is made up of believers—just like you and me—filled with the Holy Spirit, who are tasked to be His hands and feet to continue His work to reconcile the world to Himself.
When we love our enemies, care for our fellow believers, dedicate ourselves to worshiping Christ as a church—we shine like a lighthouse into the dark world around us.
Brothers and sisters, the church was not an afterthought for God, but rather has always been at the center of His purposes for the world—so much so that all of history will culminate at the wedding of Christ and the church, His beloved bride.
Maybe you’ve been hurt by the church and you find what I’m saying hard to believe—or fanciful. But we must remember what the church is and what it isn’t. The church isn’t perfect; rather it’s a community of forgiven sinners, learning how to live the Christian life—learning how to be gospel people.
That’s why Paul exhorts the Ephesians so much to be patient with one another, bear with one another, and love one another as Christ has loved you—our glorious identity is something we grow into. Something we need to practice. Scripture also reminds us that not everyone in a church is truly a believer.
Imperfections in the church should point us to the grace of our Savior in saving us and remind us of our continual need for Him.
Before I move on, I have a short word for those who may not know Christ. Maybe you’ve attended church a while but are unsure of the whole Christianity thing.
You can’t receive the riches of Christ until you recognize your poverty before God because of your sin. Every lie you’ve told, every selfish thought, every time you sought your own glory over God’s—deserves punishment.
But God sent Jesus Christ into the world to take the penalty for our sin upon Himself on the cross. As we believe in Him and His death and resurrection from the dead, we are forgiven of our sins and enter into relationship with Him. If you don’t yet know Jesus Christ, trust in Him today—and enter into His redeemed community, the church, where you can experience the light of Christ in this dark world and truly taste the unsearchable riches of Christ.
Part Three will share one of the surprising result of the church’s proclamation.