Ephesians 3 8 To me, though I am the very least of all the saints, this grace was given, to preach to the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ, 9 and to bring to light for everyone what is the plan of the mystery hidden for ages in God who created all things, 10 so that through the church the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places. 11 This was according to the eternal purpose that he has realized in Christ Jesus our Lord, 12 in whom we have boldness and access with confidence through our faith in him. 13 So I ask you not to lose heart over what I am suffering for you, which is your glory.Um, what?! Through the Church, the manifold wisdom of God, or the many and various facets of God's wisdom, are going to be made known? In the last few years, I've looked at the westernized church, the conservative evangelical world made known through social media and the internet in particular, and I have NOT thought, “Wow, God's glory is so clearly revealed through the ways these people in these congregations interact with one another.” I have read and reread this passage from Ephesians the last few days, and I am continually struck by verse 10 precisely because it directly challenges my perception of the Church, particularly the western reformed church.
Now, my little church is wonderful. But I also have a twitter feed. I read popular evangelical blogs, and I get the clear picture that much of the public reputation of the Church reflects very poorly on the character of God. I am burdened by the facts of abuse in the church made known of late, but I am even more burdened by the lack of repentance among leaders who did a poor job of shepherding in the midst of said abuse. We poorly reflect the character of God when we do not esteem the “least of these” in God's kingdom, shoving their wounds under the carpet. But we add insult to gospel injury when we do not embrace the gospel in repentance when such things are exposed.
Though I am deeply troubled by the state of segments of God's Church, Paul teaches that it is through this broken and dysfunctional instrument that God is going to show others the variety of His wisdom. It is good to note that this demonstration isn't to unbelievers on earth according to Paul. He says a profound thing – that God is demonstrating His wisdom to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly realm. I'm so self-centered at times that I struggle to understand the value of that statement. Why would God allow the Church to cause Him to be mocked on earth? Anyone read Ricky Gervais' twitter feed? Ouch! And Christians set themselves up as easy targets for his mockery. Yet, unbelievers like Ricky Gervais are not where this particular battle for God's glory is being fought. There's a different battle altogether going on outside of our earthly line of vision. And there, God demonstrates something incredible about Himself through this broken, sometimes dysfunctional Body of His.
Here are some differences in the heavenly perspective of the Church and the earthly one.
1) While the works of the flesh are obvious (the sins of the church, celebrity pastor problems, public attention on abuse in churches), the works of the Spirit are quieter. The Spirit is subtle, and He does much work of profound value without drawing widespread public attention to it. While we on earth miss it, the heavenly realm does not. It blesses me to remember that for every public embarrassment in the Church, there are hundreds of private blessings – hearts encouraged, new believers drawn to Christ, wounded people helped, and sinners repenting and repairing with those they've wronged. The heavenly realm is aware of much that we are not, and that should encourage us.
2) Building on the last point, things we downplay on earth have great eternal significance. A cup of cold water given in Jesus' name seems ridiculously small from an earthly perspective. It's not just that we aren't aware of small things, and the heavenly realm does notice small things. It's that small things aren't small in the heavenly realm. Satan recognizes great significance in a cup of cold water given to the least by earthly standards in the Body of Christ. Things we miss on earth are really, really beautiful and important in heaven. The day in, day out grace, love, and healing ministered by no-name pastors is monumentally important in the heavenly realm. I've often wondered as I listen week after week to my pastors, whom I deeply love and appreciate, how some guys get huge followings and others don't. It totally confuses me. Yet, I think in many ways God is protecting pastors He is strongly using when He does NOT allow them to achieve notoriety. Small is small to us, but it is not small in the heavenly realm.
I find Paul's words in Ephesians very encouraging. They remind me why I love the Church and why I stay engaged with it. There is no other way as a believer to live the Christian life. And though I get discouraged by the state of the western reformed Church at times, I am reminded by Paul's words to look for what others miss. The works of the flesh are obvious in the earthly realm; the quiet moving of the Spirit, not so much. But His long term results are profound, and of that, all powers in the heavenly realm are well aware.