God's purpose for the Church is much greater than most of us in the west are capable of understanding.
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To me ... is this grace given ... to make all men see what is the fellowship of the mystery which has been hidden in God ... from the foundation of the world, for the purpose of making known the manifold wisdom of God to the rulers and authorities in the heavenlies by the Church, according to the eternal purpose which he purposed in Christ Jesus our Lord.
Most of us are not used to thinking—believing, I should say—on such a grand scale. We're happy to make it through our computer crashing without cussing and through a financial crisis without worrying.
God has a bigger picture in mind.
He has an eternal purpose, and he intends to show it to rulers and authorities in the heavens …
How's that for responsibility?
Nowadays we're afraid to ask for a lot. We have "seeker-friendly" churches that try to make it easy for people to come hear our gospel. We have a gospel that doesn't easily offend.
And we have pastors who excuse the lack of punch in their message with, "If I said that, I'd lose half my congregation."
Better lose them.
Jesus wasn't afraid to ask for a lot.
He didn't even seem to be afraid of being misinterpreted:
If anyone comes to me and does not hate his father, mother, wife, children, brothers, sisters, and, yes, his own soul also, he cannot be my disciple. (Luke 14:26, emphasis mine)
Now I don't believe any more than you do that we should simply hate our families. Jesus said this, however, and since he doesn't explain it, clearly he was willing to risk being misinterpreted.
One thing that's clear, whatever we think about Jesus' use of the word "hate," is that Jesus was demanding a lot. In fact, everything.
Whoever does not bear his cross and come after me cannot be my disciple. (Luke 14:27)
So likewise, whichever of you that does not forsake all his possessions, he cannot be my disciple. (Luke 14:33)
He wasn't messing around, was he?
Worldly success is important to western Christians, but it was never so to our forefathers. Paul said that those who want to be rich fall into a trap (1 Tim. 6:9).
Paul has much more authority than someone like Minucius Felix, an unknown writer of the late 2nd or early 3rd century. In this case, however, Minucius addressed this issue much more eloquently than even Paul:
"That many of us are called poor is not our disgrace but our glory. As our mind is relaxed by luxury, so it is strengthened by frugality …
"Who can be poor if he does not want? If he does not crave for the possessions of others? He rather is poor who, although he has much, desires more …
"As he who treads a road is happier the lighter he walks, so is he happier who carries himself along in poverty in this life and does not breathe heavily under a load of riches."
The Octavius 36
Jesus stood by such words. He told a man—of whom it was said that Jesus loved him—that if he wanted eternal life, he should sell what he has and give to the poor. The man went away sad, and Jesus simply let him go.
One of the reasons we compromise the message is that we don't understand the magnitude of what it's supposed to produce!
God intends to display his manifold wisdom to rulers and authorities in heavenly places.
Now that is a high calling.
But it doesn't stop there.
The Church is said to be not only the body of Christ, but "the fullness of him who fills all in all" (Eph. 1:22-23) It is "the pillar and support of the truth" (1 Tim. 3:15). We are "members of his body, of his flesh and of his bone" (Eph. 5:30).
I'm sure that last verse has a mystical rather than literal meaning, but let's not underestimate that mystical meaning! We are flesh of his flesh and bone of his bone! We are the fullness of the one who fills everything! Let us never underestimate the importance of the role we are playing!
Let's be honest for a moment. Our churches are filled with people who don't know anything about forsaking everything for Christ. They not only don't hate their own soul, they can't imagine that Jesus would require such a thing of them. They not only have not forsaken all their own possessions, they will ridicule those who suggest they should. ("What, are you suggesting we all run around naked!")
Ever since the Protestant Reformation freed us from the tyranny of Rome, we have lost a picture of the glorious Church! We have thrown the baby out with the bathwater!
Don't miss those things! The Church …
It is all these things because it is the work of God and not of man.
A really great man taught recently that the Church can only be known by revelation. You cannot simply explain it to people. God has to give them a vision for what the Church is and can be.
However, we will never see the Church while our meeting places are so full of people who scoff at Jesus' requirements for us.
Our savings accounts, retirement funds, and nice jobs are not going to teach the wisdom of God to rulers and authorities in the heavenly places. The Church—real Church—lived out as described in these history pages, an institution real and worth giving your life for—that Church will fulfill God's purpose and reveal the wisdom of God to spiritual powers in the heavenlies.