The Church is the answer. (So is Jesus but that’s assumed)
I’m currently taking a class on the book of Ephesians. It’s been such a joy to mine the complexities of Paul’s vision for God’s people as I’ve dissected the letter from various angles. During the course of the class, I’ve learned to approach Paul–particularly in Ephesians–through a fresh perspective that has brought a lot of coherence to the theological message of the book.
Paul’s central thesis can be found in 1:19b-23 where he states,
That power is the same as the mighty strength 20 he exerted when he raised Christ from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly realms,21 far above all rule and authority, power and dominion, and every name that is invoked, not only in the present age but also in the one to come. 22 And God placed all things under his feet and appointed him to be head over everything for the church, 23 which is his body, the fullness of him who fills everything in every way. (NIV)
Paul’s central message is about the supremacy of Christ over all things in the heavenly realms and God’s plan to brings “all things under his feet” both now and in the fullness of time. As part of His plan for this vision, God gives the Church to Christ as His prized possession and His “glorious inheritance”(1:18). I’ve always struggled with putting “flesh” on this somewhat esoteric truth– Paul can be very hard to grapple with at times! Perhaps this would be one of those things that would be fully implemented in glory?
I’ve come to realize this theme as a central idea for Paul and one that is integral to Christian living, beyond mere intellectual identity formation. In the ancient world, earthly circumstances were always representative of heavenly realities. For example, a Roman citizen experienced the Pax Romana (peace of Rome) because Caesar (who was a God) was ruling from his just and divine throne in Rome. All of life’s happenings were read through the lens of the gods and reflected their blessing or cursing. Commerce, trade, life, death, politics, family life, the weather, were all reflections of the gods activities and life that came to birth in the physical world.
Because of this worldview, Paul’s claim that Christ is “seated at the right hand” in the heavenly realms “above all rule, power, authority, and dominion” was a claim that required substantiation! It simply wouldn’t do for Paul to say, “Guys trust me, this is true. Your adoption is your spiritual identity, just trust me. Christ is really on the throne… It’s just a spiritual reality. You’ll just have to wait until glory to experience it”! Paul was in prison (3:1) so his claim that Jesus was Lord is clearly lacking physical proof. The current situation looked as though the gods of Rome were victorious over his Christ at moment. Paul’s claims needed to have a corresponding earthly reality. This reality was the presence of the Church– Christ’s unified people of God Jew and Gentile– that existed in the world through the vehicle of humiliation, service, sacrifice and even death. (none of which were virtues cultivated in the systems of power governed in society). These were not the ways of the worldly powers– then or now.
The Church provides the place where the wisdom and ways of God are embodied in order that “the manifold wisdom of God might now be made know through the Church to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places” (3:10 NASB). The Church’s behavior and submission to a life modeled by the cross–which is foolishness to the world’s understanding of power and dominion– is the corresponding reality to Christ’s cosmic reign in the heavens.
So what does this mean for us? As the Church, we are called to take seriously our incorporation in Christ and develop “heavenly” ways we can embody cross-shaped lives in God’s world. The work of the cross-shaped Church is the corresponding reality to Christ’s reign in the heavens. The Church’s humility, grace, peace, and shalom, are evidences of an “other-wordly” regime subverting the powers of the present evil age. Through His Church Christ will continue to make known “the manifold wisdom of God” to the powers and authorities.
The cross-shaped Church is the evidence of Christ’s reign and exaltation “above all things”. Let us seek to embody Christ’s resurrection power by looking for ways to spread God’s shalom in His world. It is through this activity the world is shown who really is in charge.
More on this to come…