For What Purpose Did Jesus Build His Church?
When Jesus said, “I will build My church ...” (Matt. 16:18) He obviously had some purpose in mind. In this continuation of a study of His church, we will now study what the Bible teaches about why His church came into existence, what function and place it is to serve in this world.
Solomon’s well known statement, “To everything there is a season, a time for every purpose under heaven” (Eccl. 3:1) surely applies to Christ and His church. In the same chapter, the wise man said, “I know that whatever God does, it shall be forever, nothing can be added to it and nothing taken from it. God does it, that men should fear before Him” (verse 14). When Jesus made the grand announcement that His church would be built upon His own deity, it was that which was in complete harmony with the great divine purpose of the Almighty.
Paul’s statement in Ephesians 3, verses 9-11 manifest this very well. He described the great mission He had been given as “to make all people 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; to the intent that now the manifold wisdom of God might be known by the church to the principalities and powers in the heavenly places, according to the eternal purpose which He accomplished in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
Brother Guy N. Woods wrote, “This statement is a clear exposition of the mind of God touching His purpose and plan in bringing salvation of man through the church. It is through the church that the manifold wisdom of God is to be made known. This is a statement of far-reaching proportions. As we have already pointed out, it is a clear refutation of the premillennial view that the church was not originally in the purpose of God. We are here informed that not only did God ordain that through the church His wisdom is to be made known to the world, but that this was in harmony with the ‘eternal purpose’ which He purposed in Christ Jesus our Lord. It follows therefore that there never was a time when the Lord did not intend to bring to man the knowledge of salvation through the church.” (Gospel Advocate Annual Lesson Commentary, 1946, page 21).
This is, indeed, one of the most impressive statements about God’s wisdom is revealed in the passage before us. The eternal purpose of God Almighty is involved, a purpose which found completion in Christ Jesus, the Lord. The church of Christ is involved, being that which makes known the wisdom of God in all its various facets. The wisdom of God is made known by the church of Christ to the “principalities and powers” in “the heavenlies.” It is unlikely that any paragraph in the sacred writings is filled with more pertinent information about God’s wisdom than this.
At first glance, the passage appears to be saying that the church is the subject which is active in making known God’s wisdom. Sermons and articles have, for years, affirmed the duty of the church of Christ to preach the word everywhere, based on this statement. The verb “might be known” is passive and the church is passive in making known God’s wisdom. The church makes the wisdom of God known, but in a different manner that involves more than evangelism.
The context shows the unfolding purpose of God in bringing Jews and Gentiles together in one body, by the death and vicarious suffering of Christ. The result of this unfolding is the church. This makes known the wisdom of God in several ways. The many cults and religions of the Gentiles could not offer common ground to Jews and Gentiles; neither could the nation of Israel. Something new was created to accommodate all men of all ages, the church of Christ. But, this is only one of the ways the church makes known the wisdom of God.
The plans God revealed for His church show that, in His infinite wisdom, He selected just the right time in history to bring it into existence. Paul wrote, “But when the fulness of time was come, God sent forth his Son, made of a woman, made under the law, to redeem them that were under the law, that we might receive the adoption of sons” (Gal. 4:4-5). It is quite well known that until the first century, there was very little that could have expedited the rapid spread of the gospel of Christ and the establishment of the universal church. At the time Christ came, the nations were beginning to emerge from centuries of isolation from each other. As the power of Roman culture spread, their technology produced an excellent network of roads. Shipping lanes were more definite and probably the most important fact is that a single language began to be nearly universally used, the Greek Koine (common) speech.
The Old Testament had been translated into Greek by 70 some Jewish scholars (tradition is the only source for the actual number of scholars and it is unreliable. The number is insignificant.) Alexandria, in Egypt, boasted the most elaborate and complete library in the world. The Greek Old Testament scriptures spread through the various lands where Jews had been scattered and was probably one of the most important factors in the development of Greek as the common language of the day. Greek then became what English now has become. Had the mystery been revealed later, the leavening influence for good would not have checked the decadence of the Roman controlled world. Earlier revelation of the mystery would not have lent to the rapid spread that a later time would and did. By the time Paul wrote the epistle the church at Colosee, “the gospel...was preached to every creature which is under heaven” (Col. 1:23).
The church stands eternally as a monument to the manifold wisdom of God. As an expertly cut diamond makes known the artistry and skill of the cutter, so the church makes known the wisdom of God. Those who marvel at the skill, knowledge, and expertise of those who can create devices that will transmit visual and oral images through space, should marvel at the many sided wisdom of God as they consider the church He planned and perfected through His Son. However, this wisdom appeals not to us but to the “principalities and powers” who are “in the heavenlies.” Principalities and powers can easily apply to super human beings, such as angelic beings, who have demonstrated an intense interest in the planning, development, and execution of the mystery of God. Peter wrote of the “grace and glory” of God.
The ancient prophets foretold of His grace and glory. Even as they prophesied they could not fully fathom the depths of their own words. He adds, “searching what or in what manner of time the Spirit of Christ which was in them did signify, when it testified beforehand the sufferings of Christ, and the glory that should follow.” He adds that even though they never comprehended the complete message of the Messiah, they ministered to those who did receive it and adds significantly, “which things the angels desire to look into” (2 Pet. 1:10-13). Principalities and powers may very well be the very same angelic beings.
Principalities and powers are “in the heavenlies.” This expression is found six times in the book of Ephesians and means variously, “the church” (1:3; 2:6), the abode of Christ, at God’s right hand (1:20), the abode of the “principalities and powers” and the realm where good and evil are locked in combat (6:12). The Greek expression is the same in all these instances and the English translation varies only in Ephesians 6:12, rendering it there as “high places.” The spiritual realm is obviously meant. Certainly if the very existence of the church makes known or displays the unfathomable wisdom of the Almighty in “heavenly places” it ought to do the same in the “earthly places.” However, only those who are truly “spiritual” can “see the kingdom of God” (see John 3:3,5. To “see” often means “to comprehend”).
A good summation of the position taken in this article is expressed by the late J.O.F. Murray in the Cambridge Greek New Testament. He wrote, “Its (the church of Christ, DRS) very existence was a memorial of Divinely appointed barriers Divinely broken down, and a living sign of a Will and a Power which would work on till the victory of love was universal and complete. Neither to angels nor to men were the last resources of the manifold Wisdom as yet disclosed: but a sufficient pledge of the ‘unsearchable riches’ contained in it was already given in the Gospel, and in the living community created by the Gospel’.” To which we say simply, “Amen.”
Dear Friend, if you are a member of some church other than the one Jesus built, please consider the truth from this lesson. His church is your one means today of being a part of Christ, of being part of that which is eternally planned, divinely built, and providentially preserved throughout all generations, to the glory of God in Christ. To be a member of it, as a penitent believer right now, determine to be baptized for the remission of your sins that you may be added to that church by the Lord.
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