Mr. Standfast

"Nothing taken for granted; everything received with gratitude; everything passed on with grace." G. K. Chesterton

July 21, 2005

Fullness (2): The Way There

[Warning, long meandering post ahead!]

In his letter to the Ephesian church Paul states and restates the ultimate goal of God for his creation. At 1:10 he writes:

... to bring all things on earth together under one head, Jesus Christ.
That's fullness. In another place (v.4:10) he says that Christ will fill the whole universe. That's the completion and perfection of God's plan for his creation. Fullness.

Now, the church, the body of Christ, is a foretaste of that fullness in the present. The church is in Him, and it is his body, and its members as individuals have Christ in them, and under His headship they are unified in worship and in love. Together they are being built up into a dwelling for God: that is, they as a body are not yet what they shall be, but they are getting there. No, they have not yet reached the complete and perfect expression of God's purpose for them, but that time is coming when we shall all reach "the unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God, attaining to the full measure of the fullness of Christ." (4:13)

That's the goal. The fullness of Christ in the church. At 3:10-12 Paul states one of the purposes of this plan for his children.

His intent was that now through the church, the manifold wisdom of God should be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly realms, according to his eternal purpose which he accomplished in Christ Jesus.

A couple of things to note here:

1) the church is to be a demonstration of the wisdom of God to the heavenly authorities.
2) this eternal purpose has already been accomplished in Christ Jesus

All this is quite amazing to me. We can look around, we church-goers, and judge for ourselves how tragically often the church is a demonstration of the wisdom of man rather than the wisdom of God. But the point I want to focus on is the second one: it has all been accomplished in Christ Jesus.

This is a matter of faith. The natural eye does not recognize this. The purpose of God has already been accomplished in Christ Jesus! The "heavenly authorities" know this. They have seen it. When Christ went to the cross, they saw it and recognized that, yes, it was finished. It was accomplished. Now all who are "in Him" (Paul's favored descriptor for the Christian) are predestined to "grow up into Him who is the head." They are predestined to maturity in Him.

Do you see how Christ is the beginning and the end of this mighty plan. At 2:16 Paul says that we have been reconciled to God "through the cross." There the hostility that we once had toward God has been "put to death." There, at the cross, the love of God was "accomplished"! Now we who have gathered around that cross and taken hold of its promise are being built into a unity that is in a sense the forerunner of God's plan for his creation.

Which gets us back to fullness. Remember the 3 "so thats" of Paul's prayer at 3:14-21. These represent Paul's delineation of the way to fullness. The 1st so that is "Christ dwelling in our hearts through faith." Ah, back to Christ again. We have seen that Christ is the beginning and end, but here He is also the way between. This "dwelling through faith" has a progressive character in our lives. That's why Paul speaks of being built up, of maturing, of getting rooted in his love.

As we are so rooted, we gain a realization of the sheer vastness of that love. This is the second so that. Christ demonstrated it time and again in his earthly life. When he entered the homes of tax collectors, when he kept company with prostitutes, he demonstrated the boundary-busting extent of his love. The Pharisees drew back at this, shocked and dismayed. They could not accept it. But those who knew themselves to be lost and needy rushed to him as the thirsty rush for water. But the ultimate demonstration of his love still awaited its accomplishment. That was at the cross, where he is said to have given himself "for all."

So Christ is the beginning and middle and end. We who are in Him may well pray for increased power to comprehend his amazing love, for that is the nature of our progress toward fullness. It comes from having Christ dwelling in our hearts, from getting rooted in his love, drawing our spiritual nourishment from that love, and by that means growing and maturing in our faith and in our "grasp" of that love. This is the way to fullness.

Back at verse 3:13, after Paul says that the wisdom of God has already been accomplished in Christ, he goes on to say that "in [Christ] through faith we may approach God with freedom and confidence." (3:13) The work was accomplished, and now believers can approach him with confidence, rather than hiding from him (like Adam and Eve) because they fear that their sin has put them beyond the limits of God's love. Instead, they approach him with boldness, with freedom, with confidence. This is the prayer-life of the believer.

Let me put it this way. Since God has accomplished the reconciliation of lost sinners to himself, we who have gathered around the cross and trusted in it may approach God in confident prayer, and thereby we set in motion, here in the earthly realm, what God has already accomplished and demonstrated in the heavenlies. We pray in Christ, we pray out of a heart (an inner being) in which Christ dwells, we pray out of a love which is like Christ's love, in that it comes from Christ, and the Spirit has rooted and grounded us in it, and so we pray in boldness and confidence because Christ after all is the author AND the finisher of the faith that motivates the prayer.

Fullness. When Paul prays for the Ephesians, he prays first for power from the Holy Spirit. And At the end of the prayer he remarks that God is working his will, which by the way is more than we can ever ask or imagine, through His power at work within us. That's fullness. And then he caps his prayer with this:

"... to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever. Amen!

Fullness. Glory to God forever in the church as well as in Christ (for in the course of things the church will have grown up into Him, so that to speak of the one will be to speak of the other).

So, to put it in a nutshell, fullness is God getting the glory forever in a church which has grown to Christ-like maturity of love and faith and unity. This comes through the indwelling of Christ in the hearts of His people, and their getting rooted and grounded in his love so that Christ-like love is the very essence of all they are and do. Hostility is gone. Gentleness, patience and humility are their hallmark. (4:3) In short, they live lives of love. (5:1) But the way there is through a Spirit-empowered comprehension of the true nature and grandeur of the love of God in Christ. That's the way to fullness.


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