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Vol.  10  No. 2 February 2008  Page 14
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Andy RobisonManifold Wisdom of God

By Andy Robison

    The comprehension of Ephesians 3:10 ushers the Bible student into the realm of the sublime. That “the manifold [much-varied] wisdom of God” is “made known by the church” is a sweeping claim that stimulates much study. To whom it is made known—“the principalities and powers in the heavenly places” is a subject leaving the learner in awe.

    Aiming to determine the meaning of “principalities and powers” from its various contexts is instructive. In Romans 8:38-39, it follows a mention of angels. Ephesians 6:12 has it in conjunction with the unseen realm against which Christians “wrestle,” that is, “against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places.” Colossians 1:16 places the descriptive phrase alongside other creations of Deity, “visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or principalities or powers.” It seems there to have some connection with the governments God authored. Indeed, when Christ took the Old Law out of the way, doing away with Mosaic Judaism, He “disarmed principalities and powers, He made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them in it” (Colossians 2:14-15). One wonders about scenes in Daniel’s apocalyptic figures wherein a heavenly being was withstood by “the prince of the kingdom of Persia,” only to be rescued by “Michael, one of the chief princes,” who stood watch over the sons of Daniel’s people (Daniel 10:12-13, 20-21; 12:1). Was there an unseen war behind the visible, physical confrontations on earth, as God adjusted empires’ power to suit His controlling wishes (Daniel 4:17)? And do “principalities and powers” still operate behind the scenes in the spiritual warfare of Christians against “hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places” (Ephesians 6:12)?

    The phrase “heavenly places” augments the understanding of principalities and powers. Its contextual use militates against viewing it as the dwelling place of God, even though it is said to be the place to which Christ was raised and seated, obtaining a triumphant position “far above all principality and power and might and dominion” (Ephesians 1:21). Those obedient to the Gospel, saved by grace, were “made…alive together with Christ…and raised…up together…to sit together in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus” (Ephesians 2:5-6). Indeed, this is the place of all spiritual blessings in Christ (Ephesians 1:3). If “heavenly places” designates only the realm wherein God dwells on His throne with Christ at His right hand, then how are Christians presently in the same location? These “heavenly places,” therefore, seem to indicate some unseen realm in which the “spiritual hosts of wickedness” (Ephesians 6:12), along with any evil principalities and powers are overcome by the victory that is Christ’s.

    Wonder is more so inspired with these backgrounds in mind. If the many facets of God’s wisdom are made known to the unseen forces battling for the hearts of men in this world, how is this manifested in the realm in which men can see? And how is all this accomplished by the church? Many books, much less a brief article, could not exhaust the studied speculations on this subject. Nevertheless, here are some considerations from context.

How Is the Manifold Wisdom of God Made Known by the Church?

Through the Impartiality of the Church

    The consummate Jew of apostolic times would have harbored a great animosity toward Gentiles—those of a foreign race. They were viewed as inferior in that they were not specifically chosen to be God’s people. Yet, the zealous Israelite of Tarsus, the persecutor of Christians, became a preacher of the Gospel who counted it a given grace that he could “preach among the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ” (Ephesians 3:8; cf. Galatians 2:8). Racial barriers were broken down through the Christ, who came as a blessing to all nations (Genesis 12:3; Galatians 3:8). He “has broken down the middle wall of partition” (Ephesians 2:14). From the two (Jew and Gentile), Christ provided reconciliation into one body, the church (Ephesians 2:15-16; 1:22-23). In this body, there was to be no partiality (Romans 2:11; Acts 10:34-35), but peace (Ephesians 2:17-18). There was no longer a race of God’s people and a race of “others” (Galatians 3:28). The prophecies of “all nations” flowing into the house of God (Isaiah 2:1-4; Micah 4:1ff.) had been fulfilled. Open access to God was provided to anyone from anywhere, through the Gospel, in the church.

    At least that is the design of God in the church. The charge that men in the church have corrupted this design serves as tragic testimony to the strength of racial division throughout the timeline of all humanity. Somewhere in the world, every generation faces those powerful, self-deemed superiors who aim at some sort of “ethnic cleansing.” Legislation provides some civil rights, but hearts of men still harbor hateful animosity. Even churches of Christ in the United States were often slow to learn the necessity of integration to counter their culture’s views, rather than mirror them. Yet, in design, the church that God purposed is the perfect means of uniting the races. He planned it to be for all nations, and carried it out that way. Where brethren respect God’s plan, amazed observers marvel at the manifold wisdom of God. Jesus taught that dedication to Him supersedes allegiance to even one’s own immediate family (Mark 3:31-35). How much more, then, must it surpass distant bloodlines, genealogies and national ties.

Through the Transforming Power of It

    Some will counter that such a transformation of ideologies is out of the reach of the common preacher of righteousness, and they will be correct, for the real transforming power lies in the Word of God by which the church is made known. (Ephesians outlines how the Father planned the church, Christ carried out the plan, and the Holy Spirit made it known [Ephesians 3:1-11]). The Word of God, the Gospel that makes Christians, bears the real power (Romans 1:16; Hebrews 4:12). It made Saul, the Christian-hater, into a defender of Christianity (Acts 9:26-28; 26:9-11; 1 Corinthians 15:9-10). It made Peter, the astute Jew wishing no contact with Gentiles (who even fell back into that error later, Galatians 2:11-14), into one who preached the Gospel message to them (Acts 10-11). It turns people from darkness to light (Colossians 1:13; Ephesians 1:18; Matthew 5:14; 1 Thessalonians 5:1-8). The church gives purpose to the previously wandering, abject soul (Ephesians 2:1-5). The church provides confidence for the hopeless (Ephesians 2:11-13).

    May the present day church never forget the power of the Lord in washing, sanctifying and justifying those who previously were wretches almost beyond description (1 Corinthians 6:9-11). For all once so walked in the depravity of sin (Ephesians 2:1-3).

Through the Eternal Nature of It

    The most immediate meaning of the expression of the manifold wisdom of God in the church, in the framework of Ephesians, is the eternal nature of it. In the two verses preceding this article’s text, Paul rejoiced in the grace of preaching “among the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ,” which he described as making “all men see what is the fellowship of the mystery, which from the beginning of the ages has been hidden in God who created all things through Jesus Christ” (Ephesians 3:8-9). That mystery, Scripture shows, is the ultimate plan of God throughout all history to save His people from their sins. Just consider:

    That mystery was “hidden wisdom which God ordained before the ages for our glory” (1 Corinthians 2:7). He planned this plan of salvation “before the foundation of the world” (Ephesians 1:4). Just read the history of God’s dealings with mankind from Genesis on. Marvel at the genealogical accuracy, recording, every step of the way, the progression to the Christ, to prove His entrance into humanity’s realm was no accident, but perfectly wrought, and that, according to the abundant prophetic predictions of the Messiah. Note the divine interventions that preserved God’s people from crises that might have meant their premature destruction. If they had been destroyed, as, for instance, Haman planned in Esther’s time, there would have been no blessing for all nations through Abraham’s seed. However, the Providence of God acted. On other occasions, the miraculous was employed (Exodus 1-12). God worked everything so that by the time Christ trod the earth, “in the dispensation of the fullness of times” (i.e., at just the right time) (Ephesians 1:10; Galatians 4:4), He could “utter things kept secret from the foundation of the world” (Matthew 13:34-35) and fulfill His foreordained mission as the “Lamb slain from the foundation of the world” (Revelation 13:8; cf. 1 Peter 1:20). This was God’s purpose from all eternity (Ephesians 3:11). So much for the misguided theories that purport Christ didn’t mean to die and the church was an afterthought in God’s mind.

    The Godhead’s work in the establishment of the church of Christ is beautifully summarized in Paul’s conclusion to the Romans (16:25-27):

Now to Him who is able to establish you according to my gospel and the preaching of Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the mystery kept secret since the world began but now made manifest, and by the prophetic Scriptures made known to all nations, according to the commandment of the everlasting God, for obedience to the faith—to God, alone wise, be glory through Jesus Christ forever. Amen.

When God planned this church from before time, carried out its establishment in the Gospel of Christ’s death, burial and resurrection, and revealed it through the predicting Scriptures of the Old Testament and the fulfilling record of the New, He laid a devastating blow to all the forces of the devil (cf. Genesis 3:15), and taught, impeccably and undeniably, the many facets of His wisdom to all the principalities and powers in the heavenly places. Praise be for the manifold wisdom of God made known by the church.

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