December 12, 2017

God’s Script for the Church

Fridays in Ephesus (6)
God’s Script for the Church

During Eastertide on Fridays, we are reflecting on insights from Timothy Gombis’s recent book, The Drama of Ephesians: Participating in the Triumph of God.

• • •

“Exhortations fill the second half of Ephesians, as Paul draws out how the church performs its role in the drama of redemption.”

In the doxology that brings the first three chapters of Ephesians to their culmination, Paul prays, “to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations, for ever and ever. Amen.” Timothy Gombis rightly remarks that this text presents the church as “the arena of God’s triumph and the agent of God’s glory in the cosmic realm.”

Ephesians 3 ends on the highest conceivable note, with the church, God’s holy temple, filled with all God’s fullness. It is a magnificent vision, one impossible for us to fathom, but the apostle asserts that God is more than able to bring it to pass. Though we can scarcely imagine how glorious it will be, Christ’s cosmic victory will be brought to completion, and the church will share in its splendor.

Like the Hebrew prophets, Paul sets forth a dazzling, sublime revelation of God’s calling for his people, but he does so for the most down-to-earth reasons. All this talk of “fullness” and “glory,” the “love of Christ that surpasses knowledge,” and God’s powerful ability “to accomplish abundantly far more than all we can ask or imagine” leads directly into Ephesians 4, with its various exhortations to live faithfully with others in the most mundane circumstances.

To be truly heavenly-minded means that we will be of real earthly good.

How does the church play its part in living out the divine drama of Christ’s victory?

Just listen to some of the earthy, day-by-day life words that Paul uses to discuss the script God has written for us:

  • Humility
  • Gentleness
  • Patience
  • Loving forbearance
  • Working hard to maintain unity

He speaks of leaders, the risen Christ’s gifts to the church, who play their part by:

  • Equipping others for ministry
  • Building up the members of the Body of Christ
  • Helping people come to maturity

He speaks of the whole Body:

  • Building itself up in love as each part does its work
  • “Truthing in love” so that it grows up and looks like Jesus in the world

THIS is Paul’s “big picture” vision for the church: a community of mutual love and service in the Gospel.

In The Drama of Ephesians, Tim Gombis gives some excellent suggestions of what this might look like in today’s congregations. He is also right in putting the burden of responsibility on the leaders Christ has given to the church to help its members keep their focus on the Gospel and faithful Gospel performance.

Contemporary church leaders face enormous pressure to grow their churches, providing a range of services and opportunities the will draw more members and increase the church’s social impact. They are pressed into all sorts of models of leadership that are drawn from corrupted cultural dramas. We are on the lookout for executive decision makers and effective delegators, but we are seldom looking for those who are steeped in the gospel drama. Leaders who want to be God’s gifts to the church, however, will cultivate the skills necessary to direct communities in skillful and faithful gospel performances, ones that display the triumph of God over the powers that rule the present evil age.

Sharing in Christ’s great victory is not a matter of impressing the world with visible strength or splendid spectacle. It looks more like Jesus laying down his life. It looks more like Paul sitting in a Roman prison cell writing letters to encourage his friends. It looks more like pastors sharing Word and Sacrament on Sundays and visiting with people and encouraging them in the faithful fulfillment of their vocations between Sundays. It looks like an extended family of folks who may have little in common naturally, but who sit down at the table together because they share a common unity in Christ. It looks like people who are kind to their neighbors, who are generous to a fault, who listen more than talk and act more than preach, and who constantly point others away from themselves to Jesus.

Comments

  1. If you look inside some hollow core doors you will find cardboard bracing. Tensile strength is what allows for such a weak substance to be used. The glory of the church is its weakness. That’s what impresses the beings in the heavenly realm who are watching the unfolding drama. It is the glory of God that He uses this cardboard as a critical structural element of His kingdom. It is not our bold inherent strength that is of note to anyone but our resilient tensile strength.

  2. Headless Unicorn Guy says:

    Just listen to some of the earthy, day-by-day life words that Paul uses to discuss the script God has written for us:
    ?Humility
    ?Gentleness
    ?Patience
    ?Loving forbearance
    ?Working hard to maintain unity

    Nothing about deposing Caesar, Taking Back the Roman Empire and turning it into a Christian Nation (TM)?

    Nothing about Young Earth Creationism, Pin-the-Tail-on-The-Antichrist, or Homosexuality?

    Nothing about “Normal Is Not Enough (TM)” Uber-Spirituality?

    He speaks of leaders, the risen Christ’s gifts to the church, who play their part by:
    ?Equipping others for ministry
    ?Building up the members of the Body of Christ
    ?Helping people come to maturity

    Nothing about lording it over the sheeple and Spiritual Abuse?

    Nothing about Megachurch Campuses and Masculine Christianity?

    He speaks of the whole Body:
    ?Building itself up in love as each part does its work
    ?“Truthing in love” so that it grows up and looks like Jesus in the world

    Nothing about Church Splits, Sheep-rustling, and millions of One True Churches denouncing all others as Heretics and Apostates?

  3. Posts like this are the reason I come to IM. And look: there are only 5 comments about it, as opposed to the hundreds on the previous posts on homosexuality. I commented over there and ended up coming across as a lout. I didn’t enjoy it and the only thing I learned from the threads was that there’s little common ground between the opposing sides. I really wish the good folks at IM could find some other way to approach those kinds of issues than putting out an opinion and then letting the proverbial arrows begin to fly. Other than a lot of hurt feelings, what’s accomplished? Not much, I fear.

    Thanks for this extremely good post on Ephesians. I did learn from it, and have gotten much out of similar posts. I have used them in Sunday School and even in my sermons. Good stuff.

  4. JoanieD says:

    “It looks like people who are kind to their neighbors, who are generous to a fault, who listen more than talk and act more than preach, and who constantly point others away from themselves to Jesus.”

    Amen to that, Chaplain Mike. Great post!

  5. Judy /Ca says:

    Yes, thanks for this post, it was the perfect way to end the discussions of the last few days. The words written over the doors leading out of my place of worship state “Go and be the Church” . . . in our neighborhoods, places of work, daily lives.
    It is very easy to become side tracked and distracted by all the ‘issues’ of the day, especially in the craziness of our modern Christian world. Living the gospel, allowing Jesus to live and work in and through us brings change and truth in ways all the many ‘words’ simply can not. It is much easier to talk, complain and argue about issues then it is to go and walk along side some one who is actually struggling with some of this stuff. Walk. . . listen . . . love that is the true call, the true vocation we as follower’s of Christ are given.