To Paul, the church is not a club where you pay for certain benefits and or services. It was not an optional resource that you could take advantage of if it suited your purposes. The Church represented the focal point of God’s community; the place where he now chooses to dwell, both in His people individually and in His community corporately. This is the place where Paul says in Eph. 3:10 that, “...through the church the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places.”
This is an incredible thought...that God would use a group of sinful, relationally challenged, rebels by changing their hearts, bringing them together, and calling them his own...His church! But we need to understand something. Imagine with me as these heavenly “rulers and authorities” are looking down at the church and charging God: “How can you say this group of seriously flawed rebels can manifest your wisdom?! This is absurd!” But as you wait you hear God’s reply. “Look again and see what I see.” They answer with profound shock and awe, “We see them righteous and perfect...As if they have done nothing wrong! Yet the righteousness we see is doesn’t make sense. How can they be righteous given how they have sinned so grievously against you?” God responds, “Look closer still and see what I see.” Suddenly it dawns on them what they are looking at. They realize that this group of people God calls His church are not standing alone, but are actually standing as a person within a person. All of these people actually comprise one person. They are not individuals, but they make up one body, and it is Christ’s body. It is Jesus standing before them and Jesus is made up of millions of individuals who are ‘in’ him. And suddenly they realize they can say nothing or do anything against this ‘one new man’ because this ‘man’ has already died once to all sin, and all who are in him have died with him and been resurrected with him. God by his own power and will has created a new man and this ‘man’ is perfectly righteous before him. This is what these spiritual beings must reckon with. The cannot condemn or effectively accuse the church in any way because they are hidden in Christ. In spite of their sinfulness, failures, and relational challenges they are perfect because they are in Christ. They can be seen no other way, for ultimately the only viewpoint that matters is God’s! As the rulers and authorities gaze on this they marvel at the wisdom of God; that a people who couldn’t in any way gain God’s grace or maintain God’s grace, have received it and now live in God’s grace! They are not sinless in themselves, they are sinless in Christ. Suddenly their mouths are shut...they are silenced before God...they can bring no accusation.
This is the ‘manifold wisdom of God’ that all must see with and be reconciled with. Even the world and this culture looks at the church, God’s community, and though they might see flawed, sinful people, they hear the glorious gospel which reveals a people made perfect before God “...not by works of righteousness which they have done but according to His mercy...” (Titus 3:5). The world looks at the church, and are confronted with the good news that although there is no hope that they could ever stand before God in their own righteousness, there is a way they can be right before God and that is through the righteousness of Jesus. Suddenly they understand the “manifold wisdom of God” also. That God’s people will never be able to live lives that glorify God unless God moves first to give them new hearts, declare them righteous and then give them the power to live life differently. This is the supernatural community of Jesus...the church...flawed people who are perfect before God walking out their lives together for God’s glory with all their faults and failures, yet perfect before God.
Paul’s vision of the church is so profound and far reaching as to be mind boggling. God does it all himself, reckons it all to our accounts, and then uses us to demonstrate his power and love to the world. Amazing!
Only God gets the glory!