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Summary: How does Paul portait the Church in Ephesians

The Portrait of the Church

(Seen in Ephesians)

Christ’s Church is not an after-thought of God. It is not a plan “B” for something that He planned but just didn’t turn out as God had wished or hoped for. Being planned from eternity, "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 our Lord." (Ephesians 3:10-11, NIV, emphases added). God’s manifold wisdom is seen in the Church as the mystery is revealed and the images are drawn.

The Mystery

What is the mystery? What does the mystery motif speak to?

According to Vines, mystery is “MUSTĒRION (μυστήριον , (3466)), primarily that which is known to the mustēs, the initiated (from mueō, to initiate into the mysteries; cp. Phil. 4:12, mueomai, “I have learned the secret,” R. V. ). In the N.T. it denotes, not the mysterious (as with the Eng. word), but that which, being outside the range of unassisted natural apprehension, can be made known only by Divine revelation, and is made known in a manner and at a time appointed by God, and to those only who are illumined by His Spirit. In the ordinary sense a mystery implies knowledge withheld; its Scriptural significance is truth revealed…”

The above is the general understanding of the word “mystery.” The ideas and concepts are shown clearly in Ephesians. What is the mystery that Paul talks about in Ephesians? The word “mystery” is used seven times in the letter to the Ephesians (1:9; 3:3, 4, 6, 9; 5:32 and 6:22). This mystery as revealed in 1:9-10 was to “bring all things in heaven and on earth under one head, even Christ.” Paul will go further in chapter 3 to give more insight into the mystery, which was once hidden but now has been known to him through revelation by the administration of God’s grace (3:3, 9). "This mystery is that through the gospel the Gentiles are heirs together with Israel, members together of one body, and sharers together in the promise in Christ Jesus." (3:6). It is because of this mystery revealed that Paul can say that Christ has destroyed the wall of hostility between Jews and Gentiles and has created one new man (2:11-18). Now, both Jews and Gentiles are part of the Church that Jesus built.

The revelation of the mystery clarifies the fulfillment of the Abrahamic promise that “all peoples on earth will be blessed through you” (Gen 12:4). The Jews did not understand the part of the inclusion of the Gentiles, while God all along had been saying that it is for all nations who would choose Him.

It is because of this truth revealed and the profound implications it has that Paul asks for prayers to “make [it] known fearlessly.” (16:19).

The Images

Paul used several images to show the church to people. Some of them are first-hand; others are derivates of it.

The Body of Christ: This is the first and foremost picture of the church. This picture elevates Christ to its proper place as the head of the church (1:22-23; 4:15; 5:23). The body picture is also meant to appeal to the new life Christians have in Christ. Both Jews and Gentiles are united into one body (2:11-18; 3:6), and worldwide they form one body (4:4). Christ gifted men to lead the way into preparing God’s people for the works of service so that the body of Christ may be built up (4:12) as they are “…joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work” (4:16). The motif is growth. The means is every individual Christian, member of the body, doing his part. It is this body image that Paul will use to call them to put off falsehood (4:25) .

Nation and Family: Building on the prospect of the unity of disciples in Christ, Paul wrote in 2:19: “Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and aliens, but fellow citizens with God’s people and members of God’s household…” Both these images about the church picture one thing in common: community. The Church is a community of people. In fact the meaning of the word “church” itself suggests it. The Greek word “ἐκκλησία” is a compound word, “…from ek, out of, and klēsis, a calling (kaleō, to call), was used among the Greeks of a body of citizens gathered to discuss the affairs of State, Acts 19:39.” The meaning that “ekklesia” conveys is that of “called out community.” It is the fellowship of those who are called from the world of sin into the light through the gospel.

The Temple: The temple picture comes from 2:19-22. “Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and aliens, but fellow citizens with God’s people and members of God’s household, 20 built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone. 21 In him the whole building is joined together and rises to become a holy temple in the Lord. 22 And in him you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit.” (Eph 2:19-22). When Paul wrote of the Church as a temple , it was impossible not to think of the temple of Artemis (or Diana), one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. It was a huge building and it was the pride of the Ephesians. Paul said that they were a temple, more grandiose than that of Artemis. It was the temple “in which God lives by His Spirit.” In this temple apostles and prophets’ teaching laid the foundation, but Christ in His role as the cornerstone is exalted and causes the building to be built securely and beautifully. The cornerstone “…is the primary foundation-stone at the angle of the structure by which the architect fixes a standard for the bearings of the walls and cross-walls throughout.” A quality seen in the temple is that of being under construction and going toward holiness.

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