May 20, 2007
We continue our study in Ephesians. Last week our focus was on how God has chosen us to be holy and blameless. It pleased God to choose us! Isn’t that fantastic! We, as believers, are called into the very throne room of God Almighty. Can you picture yourself kneeling before God in glory? What will you say to Him? I don’t know about you, but I will be so awestruck that I won’t be able to say anything. What will He say to you? He might well say, “My child, I love you. I love you so much that I was willing to sacrifice my only Son so you could be here today. Then, if giving my Son wasn’t enough, I also gave you my Spirit so your place in heaven was sealed forever – a guarantee of your inheritance and acceptance into my family. Come, my beloved, come and sit beside me. I have chosen you and you believed and trusted me. Come!
The last nine verses in Ephesians chapter one express a prayer of thanksgiving and a request for spiritual enlightenment concerning our salvation In verses 22 and 23 we are informed of the wonderful truth that Christ is head over all things in the church, which is His body. And that is the theme of today’s message – His Body. So turn in your Bible or to the back of your bulletin, and we’ll read Ephesians, chapter one from verse 15 through to verse 23.
“For this reason I too, having heard of the faith in the Lord Jesus which exists among you, and your love for all the saints, do not cease giving thanks for you, while making mention of you in my prayers; that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give to you a spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of Him. I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened, so that you may know what is the hope of His calling, what are the riches of the glory of His inheritance in the saints, and what is the surpassing greatness of His power toward us who believe. These are in accordance with the working of the strength of His might which He brought about in Christ, when He raised Him from the dead, and seated Him at His right hand in the heavenly places, far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and every name that is named, not only in this age, but also in the one to come. And He put all things in subjection under His feet, and gave Him as head over all things to the church, which is His body, the fullness of Him who fills all in all.”
There is a link between suffering and the church as the body of Christ which I want to touch on briefly this morning, and that is that the suffering which Christ began to experience in his earthly body he continues to experience in some sense in his body called the church. You recall how before Paul was converted he persecuted the church. Acts 9:1 says he was breathing out threats and murders against the disciples of the Lord. On his way to Damascus to capture and imprison Christians "a light from heaven flashed about him." Acts 9:4 says, "He fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to him, 'Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?'"
Now Saul did not believe that Jesus was alive. He thought the whole thing was a delusion. He was persecuting deluded Jewish fanatics that thought a dead criminal was the Son of God. But that was not the way the Son of God saw it. When the Son of God spoke, he said, "Why do you persecute me?" So not only is this crucified criminal alive, but he is so identified with his followers that to persecute them is to persecute him.
This is the link between suffering and the body of Christ. When Christ was on the earth He had one kind of body, a physical body like ours. And with it he suffered and died that we might live. Now he is raised from the dead and sits at the right hand of God; but today on the earth he has another kind of body, namely, the church. Christ was united to his physical body then, and felt the blows of his enemies. And he is united to his spiritual body now, the church, and he feels the blows of his enemies still. Listen to the brief anecdote sent by Cheryl and see if you can relate it to suffering: | too |
In ancient times, a King had a boulder placed on a roadway. Then he hid himself and watched to see if anyone would remove the huge rock. Some of the king's wealthiest merchants and courtiers came by and simply walked around it. Many loudly blamed the King for not keeping the roads clear, but none did anything about getting the stone out of the way.
Then a peasant came along carrying a load of vegetables. Upon approaching the boulder, the peasant laid down his burden and tried to move the stone to the side of the road. After much pushing and straining, he finally succeeded. After the peasant picked up his load of vegetables, he noticed a purse lying in the road where the boulder had been. The purse contained many gold coins and a note from the King indicating that the gold was for the person who removed the boulder from the roadway. The peasant learned what many of us never understand!
Every obstacle presents an opportunity to improve our condition.
Our King placed obstacle in our path, too, to grow us in grace and knowledge of our Savior. These obstacles are there to make us more Christ-like. They are for our good (Rom. 8:28). We call them suffering. But who gained in this anecdote – those who passed by the boulder? No! The peasant who stopped to move the boulder was the winner. We, too, will be winners and be stronger if we allow a little suffering to hone us. There is a prize to be one! Isn’t there? Christ is still working on us isn’t He? So, how many of you really want to suffer? Come on now, where are all those hands. No body really wants to suffer, but it will help us to endure it once we accept the fact that we will not grow without it!
You can see this connection between Christ and his people in numerous texts. For example, in Matthew 25 Jesus says to his people at the final judgment, "I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me . . ." (vv. 35-36). And they ask, when did this happen. And he answers, "Truly I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brethren, you did it to me" (v. 40). The brethren of Jesus are the church – that’s us! If you persecute the church, you persecute Jesus, and if you show love and affection to the church you show love and affection to Jesus. The church is His body, it is the physical form of His presence on earth. Touch the church and you touch the body of Christ.
Another striking illustration of this is 1 Corinthians 6:15-16, (I’ll give you a minute to find it) Paul says, "Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ? Shall I therefore take the members of Christ and make them members of a prostitute? Do you not know that he who joins himself to a prostitute becomes one body with her?" If you are a disciple of Christ, then you are a part of the body of Christ, and the parts of your body are parts of Christ's body--so much so, Paul says, that if you commit fornication or adultery, you drag Christ himself into bed with you and make him do what you do.
I want to illustrate the reality of Christ's presence in the world in the form of his church, his body. Today on the earth Christ has a body, the church. It has legs to walk and arms to work and mouths to talk and feet to be blistered and backs to be beaten, and hunger to be fed and loneliness to be visited. Paul said that his aim in life was that the life of Jesus might be manifested in his mortal flesh (2 Cor. 4:11). In other words, his aim is that his body might make Christ's body real to the world. Jesus said, (Mat. 10:40). "Whoever receives you receives me"
Christ is present in the world in his body, the church. And our aim is not just to fill our minds with knowledge, but to fill Cut Knife with Christ. To become what Christ wants to be, not only for each other but for this town and for the unreached peoples of the world. Christ has a plan for Cut Knife. No, it’s not nicely paved streets, it’s us! We are Christ’s plan for Cut Knife!
Now take that goal of "filling Cut Knife with Christ" and you will see the connection with today's text, Ephesians 1:22-23, "And he (God) put all things in subjection under his (Christ's) feet, and gave him as head over all things to the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all." Notice: "the fullness of him who fills all in all." So this text speaks to the issue of filling Cut Knife, or any other town, or the whole world and the whole universe with Christ.
Let's make three careful observations from these two verses:
(1) First, the church is the body of Christ. Verse 22 ends by saying, "God gave Christ as head over all things to the church." Then verse 23 refers to the "church" when it says, "Which is his body." The church is Christ's body. Not the building called the church. (In the NT the word "church" never refers to a building.) That's the first observation: the church is Christ's body.
(2) Second, Christ fills all in all. Verse 23: "Which is his body, the fullness of him (i.e. Christ) who fills all in all." So Christ fills all in all. Or as the present tense and the middle voice imply: Christ is now filling all in all.
I take this to mean that Christ is filling every sphere of existence everywhere in the universe in all the ways he pleases. The best guide for what this means that "Christ fills all in all" is found in Ephesians 4:8-10. Let’s look at that text now. "Therefore it says, 'When he ascended on high, he led captive a host of captives, and he gave gifts to men.' Now this expression, 'He ascended,' what does it mean except that he also had descended into the lower parts of the earth? He who descended is himself also he who ascended far above all the heavens, that he might fill all things. Paul is talking about the way Christ rose from the dead and ascended into heaven; and in doing so he broke the bonds of death and captured for himself a host of captives, and led them free from sin and death and fear. Then Paul says Jesus did this that he might fill all things.
What this shows us is that Christ's purpose to fill all things is accomplished by his rising from the dead and his ascending into heaven as victor over his enemies. In other words "filling all things" is something Jesus does with the authority he has as the risen ruler over all things.
That takes us back to 1:20 where Paul says “which He brought about in Christ, when He raised Him from the dead and seated Him at His right hand in the heavenly places, “
Here Paul is doing the same thing, namely, describing the resurrection of Christ and his exaltation above everything and his triumph over everything.
Notice the two things God does for his Son in this verse:
(1) he raises him from the dead (v. 20);
(2) he gives him the seat of kingly authority at his right hand (v. 20);
Then, in verse 22, He says: “And He put all things in subjection under His feet, and gave Him as head over all things to the church,” Here, (1) he puts everything in the universe in subjection to him (v. 22), which includes every form of evil power and every being which is now or will be in the future (v. 21); and then
(2) he gives his Son with all that universal power and authority to the church as the head of his body.
So the filing all things is Christ's ruling all things. That is, Christ asserting himself and his rights as fully as he pleases in all things.
Picture him as the king over many territories that are not fully subdued to him. This text is declaring that Christ is indeed the king of the universe. He is "above ALL rule." (v. 21). He is over "EVERY name" (v. 21). God put "ALL THINGS" under his feet (v. 22). He is head over "ALL THINGS" (v. 22). And by this authority he will sovereignly fill all his territories with absolute sway. He will accomplish his purpose in every sphere. He will make himself unmistakably known in every place. He will be preeminent in every nook and cranny of Cut Knife. Even the outer darkness of hell will be filled with his authority and his power and his wrath and the knowledge of his wisdom.
The church is the body of Christ; and Christ fills all in all. The glory of Christ will pervade "all in all;" that is, the glory of Christ will pervade everything for his maximum renown and splendor. There will be no place where his power does not hold sway to accomplish exactly what he wants for his glory.
(3) The third observation, in verse 23, boggles the mind even further, namely, Christ's body fills all in all. "And the church is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all." His body us, we are the fullness of Christ.
Now how does that fit together with what we have said before? We have said that Christ fills all things by asserting his authority over all things to make himself known in all things--to fill all things with his power and his wisdom and his glory. We are saying that this fullness with which Christ fills all things is us the body of Christ, the church. What does that mean?
Look at Ephesians 3:10 for a clue. I’m going to give you a minute to find this important verse. Paul says that he has been called to preach the riches of Christ and reveal the mystery of Christ “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.”
What is going on here? It takes your breath away if you believe it and you are part of the church. The wisdom of God--the manifold, many sided wisdom of God--is being made known to the rulers and authorities through us!. These are Satanic, demonic powers in the universe. They are the very ones that according to 1:21 Christ is now seated above with his feet on them.
Do you believe it? God means to fill the habitations of demons with his wisdom? the wisdom that conceived and ordained and planned and brought about and will consummate the salvation of his people--the unfathomable riches of Christ? Not even the place of demons will be left without a revelation of the glory of Christ, the wisdom of God, and this will happen “through the church.”
Can that be? That’s what 3:10 says. Let’s read it again: “that the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known through the church to the rulers and the authorities in the heavenly places." I think this is an illustration of 1:23, namely, that the church, the body of Christ, is the fullness of him who fills all in all.
It means: God AIMS to fill the universe with the glory of his Son, Jesus, by making the church His showcase. God means to fill the universe with the glory of his Son by putting the church on display as the embodiment of his Son. We are on display! We display Christ in our world! What is the world seeing in you? If I were to ask you who you think of as the best display of Christ, who would you say? Would you pick yourself? Would you pick Mother Theresa? Why?
Christ fills Cut Knife with his glory by showing Cut Knife his body, us!--how he chose us, how he destined us, how he came for us and taught us and suffered for us and died for us and rose for us and reigns for us, how he called us and justified us and cleansed us and kept us and will raise us and glorify us and satisfy us for ever and ever with himself.
There is so much more I could say about our unspeakably great calling and destiny as the body of Christ. But Paul says it best: "God put all things in subjection under Christ's feet"--so that as sovereign ruler of all he might assert his truth and right and power and wisdom in all the universe and fill all things with his kingly glory.
Yes, all of that, but not without the church. The verse goes on: "God put all things in subjection under his feet, AND GAVE HIM AS HEAD OVER ALL THINGS TO THE CHURCH." God did not exalt Jesus and subject all things to him and then simply say, "Now go ahead fill the universe with your glory; fill all things with yourself." Instead he made him one with the church, as head to our body, and said, "Now, my Son, you and those with whom you are united as head to body, go forth in Cut Knife and fill it with all that you are. Let everything, from the highest heaven to the lowest hell, be filled with a revelation of your glory in the form of a church, a chosen, destined, blood-bought, called, justified, holy, glorified, and infinitely, everlastingly satisfied people, your body, the church of the living God. Amen"
Before we go let me ask you to ponder some questions. You will find them on an insert in your bulletin. Consider them carefully and answer them over the next week. I hope the answers will help you apply the truths contained in the Scriptures we have considered today.
1. How does suffering help the body of Christ? Read Acts 9:4-6. Even though these verses imply we suffer as Christians, why is it encouraging?
2. If Acts 9:4 says that when we are persecuted Christ is persecuted, then Matthew 25:35-40 seems to say that when we are loved and cared for Christ is loved and cared for. Do you agree that "the least of these my brethren" in v. 40 refers to Christians?
3. Compare Matthew 10:42. How might this union between Jesus and his people motivate our practical acts of ministry to each other, or the Christians in Somalia? Does it help overcome the sense that little acts like visiting are somehow insignificant?
4. How does 1 Corinthians 6:15-16 show that our participation in the body of Christ is not just a general corporate thing, but also a specific physical thing that includes our bodies? What are some other behaviors (besides sexual immorality) where this truth will affect the use of your body (eyes, ears, stomach, voice box, etc.)?
5. What is it about Christ that is stressed in Ephesians 1:20-22 which prepares us for the way Christ fills all in all? How is this confirmed in Ephesians 4:10? How does it help to picture Christ as a king with many territories who do not yet honor him as king. What does he intend to fill them with so that they submit to him as sovereign Lord? In view of what we see in our own modern culture, what effect does this truth have on our daily lives?
6. The most astonishing observation from Ephesians 1:23 is that the body of Christ, the church, is the fullness by which Christ fills all things! Be sure to see the very words where that observation comes from. Now if Christ is using his absolute authority (described in verses 20-22) to fill all the universe with his glory, how can it be said that it is the church that is this fulness with which he is filling all things? Use the clue in Ephesians 3:10 ("through the church").
7. What is the emotional effect on you in knowing that God intends to make the church the showcase of his perfections in the whole universe, including the demonic world itself (3:10)?
(1) that God would hasten the day when this great work of filling all things with Christ will be done ("Thy kingdom come!");
(2) that we would have the eyes of our hearts enlightened to see and feel the awesome calling and destiny that is ours as the body of Christ;
(3) that we would conform more and more to the image of Christ that our families and businesses and schools and city may be filled with Christ here and now.
Now may the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that you will abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.