In our current times, having the influence and example of huge corporations and big business, chain stores, marketing messages, media and entertainment, perhaps it is of no surprise that the church in the west has become partakers of this culture. These things are so much our everyday norm that we have not even questioned this when we think of church. Church has become more a place of entertainment than an identity of who we are as a called-out people. Perhaps the fear is that if we do not do these things, we will lose our younger, trendier people to the places that do. Without overstating things, the church has lost faith in the truth and power of word of God, and in God himself. Do we want something more self-pleasuring than what we believe God will provide?
Paul, in his letter to the Ephesians, speaks much truth into our situation now. To get a sense of who we are called to be as the church will take faith, to hear and receive what God is saying in this letter.
When reading Ephesians from the beginning, we quickly discover Christ is the glorious theme of this letter. We read that God’s “plan for the fullness of time, [is] to unite all things in him [i.e. Jesus], things in heaven and things on earth” (Eph 1:10). In the preceding verses we read how we have been “blessed…in Christ…in the heavenly places; [God] chose us in him…to be holy and blameless; predestined us for adoption…through Jesus Christ; and making known to us the mystery of his will…set forth in Christ” (Eph 1:3-9).
The mystery referred to is that God has made known to us “the mystery of his will…which he set forth in Christ as a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth” (Eph 1:10).
Paul continues to write (vv.22-23): “And he put all things 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”.
This idea to unite all things in Christ begins with the church, who models this as a physical ‘body’ with Christ as its head. We must understand that Jesus Christ has so identified himself with us that we are his very body. The implications of this must give us pause for thought as to how we live this out, and how we ‘behave’ as his body.
In chapter two we learn how we “were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked... . But God…made us alive together with Christ…and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus”. Yet we were at one time “separated from Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel…having no hope and without God in the world” (Eph 2:1-12).
Do we hear this, that those who believe are now united with the commonwealth of Israel, historically a people and culture at odds with us, and we were hostile towards each other? Yet true Israel, those who believed and obeyed God’s word had faith, and that faith was faith in the Christ who had not yet been seen. They were God’s chosen people and yet God’s plan now is, in Christ, to include us who weren’t descended from Israel and to unite us as one body.
“But now in Christ you…have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For he himself…has made us both one and broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility…the law…that he might create in himself one new man…so making peace, and might reconcile us to God in one body through the cross, thereby killing the hostility. [ ] For through him we both have access in one Spirit to the Father. So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord. In him you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit” (vv.13-22).
Cultural Israel was in for a shock. Unbelieving Gentiles were in for a surprise. Where there was hostility and division there is now one new man. As Christ was killed on the cross so was the hostility that divided, also killed on the cross. We who believe are now this new structure, this new temple, where God lives by his Spirit.
At the beginning of this letter Paul referred to a mystery. He now elucidates further what this mystery means: “This mystery is that the Gentiles are fellow heirs, members of the same body, and partakers of the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel. [ ] …to bring to light for everyone what is the plan of the mystery hidden for ages in God who created all things, so that through the church the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places.” (Eph 3:6-10)
This is rather poignant when considering the focus of the ministry of ISMNZ. The majority of people that ISMNZ work with are not cultural Israel, yet they are from many different lands and cultures, very different to ‘us’. They come from many different religious backgrounds, knowing little about Christ, yet in the providence of God they have come to NZ. When they come to believe, together with us, they too constitute the one new man in Christ. They are, with us, fellow citizens and members of the household of God.
We learn that the church, in all its multicultural-ness, is the vehicle by which God is making his wisdom known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places. The question therefore remains as to what does that mean for us? How are we meant to live as the church? Paul has more words for us in Ephesians…
“I therefore…urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called…to maintain the unity of the Spirit…one body and one Spirit…one hope…one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all…”. (Eph 4:1-5)
Perhaps it’s not too great a step to suggest that part of the work of ISMNZ within the body of Christ is to help show how unity with believers can be lived out. Despite all our different traditions, all our different practices, and our sometimes different theology, he wants us to work at maintaining this unity. As cultural diversity shows, unity does not equal uniformity, but it does require unity in the Spirit, in Christ.
The outworking of this mystery, this unity, at our time in history is a work given to us by grace. As Paul continues to write…
“But grace was given to each one of us according to the measure of Christ’s gift. [ ] And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ. [ ] …speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love.” (Eph 4:7-16)
The particular work of ISMNZ, as an arm (if you will) of the body of Christ in NZ, is to do the work of evangelism and discipleship, for building up the body of Christ until we all attain to the unity of the faith. It is interesting to consider how this unique call of ISMNZ has influence and example to the body of Christ in NZ, to how unity can work itself out amongst diversity.
Yet, the glory of this work, the glory of the work of the whole body of Christ NZ, is not found by emulating large scale entertainment productions nor by self-seeking satisfaction. It is found by hearing, receiving and obeying the word of Christ as we each do our part.