A PROFILE OF GOD
These are my notes for teaching at the Cornerstone midweek Bible study on Wednesday, October 7, 2020
Part 15 of Ephesians
Last week, we studied Ephesians 3:1-9. We saw that the apostle Paul was tasked by God to preach to the Gentiles/Nations the boundless riches of Christ. God gave Paul the stewardship responsibility for the proclaiming the message of Christ and he gave him grace to do the job. At the heart of Paul's preaching was the revelation of the mystery that "through the gospel the Gentiles are heirs together with Israel, members together of one body - the church - and sharers together in the promise in Christ Jesus.
Together, together, together! Jesus Christ has brought Jews and Gentiles together by his death on the cross and he has restored them to God. The church is founded on the radical horizontal and vertical unities that Jesus Christ has established.
READING: EPHESIANS 3:7-13
7 I became a servant of this gospel by the gift of God's grace given me through the working of his power. 8 Although I am less than the least of all the Lord's people, this grace was given me: to preach to the Gentiles the boundless riches of Christ, 9 and to make plain to everyone the administration of this mystery, which for ages past was kept hidden in God, who created all things.
10 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, 11 according to his eternal purpose that he accomplished in Christ Jesus our Lord. 12 In him and through faith in him we may approach God with freedom and confidence. 13 I ask you, therefore, not to be discouraged because of my sufferings for you, which are your glory.
Colossians 1:27 (NIV-WS) To them God has chosen to make known among the Gentiles the glorious riches of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory.
INTRODUCTION: THE COSMIC CONFLICT
Before time began, before there was a physical universe, there was a mighty clash of wills in the spiritual realm. Lucifer, the chief of angels, raised an army of spirit beings and went to war against God. Driven by envy and a lust for power, Lucifer fought and lost. Thrown down from his high place in heaven, the devil and his angels continued the war in the spiritual realm and, after the creation of the physical universe, on earth.
The devil targeted the pinnacle of God's creation, men and women made in the image of God. He deceived them, orchestrated their illogical rejection of God, and took them captive. He became our Satan, the accuser who condemns us and steers us away from God. Thus he rose to become prince and ruler of this world. Today, he holds men and women captive to his lies and deceptions, dead to God and blind to the gospel that offers freedom and life.
We live in a time of cosmic conflict. There is war in the unseen spiritual world, then humans have rejected God and they are in conflict with each other. However, since the incarnation of Jesus Christ, God's peace plan has been made manifest. God's ancient purpose has been revealed.
For long ages, since before creation of the physical universe, God had a plan, a secret and ancient purpose, to defeat Lucifer and to make his Son the victorious King of all things. We read about it In Ephesians 3:10-13. From a study of these verses, we gain a great insight into what God is like - a profile of God.
A PROFILE OF GOD
In Ephesians 3:10-13, we discover six characteristics of God. Let's look at those now.
1. GOD IS WISE - verse 10.
(Ephesians 3:10) His intent was that now, through the church, the manifold wisdom of God should be made known to the rulers ...
God commissioned Paul to preach the gospel to the Nations. As a result, groups of believers gathered in local congregations all around the world and became the church.
The church is made up of many peoples of diverse ethnicities, backgrounds, personalities, all united as one in Christ through his death on the cross. This miraculous new community is how God reveals his manifold wisdom. "Manifold" is the same word used for Joseph's coat of many colors. The point is that God's wisdom has many facets or dimensions, as many facets as there are people in the church.
Why is this wisdom? Because it is God's solution to the cosmic conflict. In Christ, he has made one new humanity that is united with God and united with each other. Who else would have devised a plan like that?
(Isaiah 55:7-9) Let the wicked forsake their ways and the unrighteous their thoughts. Let them turn to the LORD, and he will have mercy on them, and to our God, for he will freely pardon. 8 “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,” declares the LORD. 9 “As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.
(Romans 11:33-34) Oh, the depth of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable his judgments, and his paths beyond tracing out! 34 “Who has known the mind of the Lord? Or who has been his counselor?”
(Romans 16:27) ... to the only wise God be glory forever through Jesus Christ! Amen.
God has a purpose for the miraculous unity of the church.
2. GOD HAS A PLAN - verse 11.
(Ephesians 3:11) "According to his eternal purpose ..."
God works according to a plan or purpose (GK. prothesis = purpose, plan, resolve, design, predetermination). Isaiah 25 points out that God is faithful and always sticks to his plan. He cannot be derailed.
(Isaiah 25:1) LORD, you are my God; I will exalt you and praise your name, for in perfect faithfulness you have done wonderful things, things planned long ago.
The Greek word translated eternal in verse 11 is "aion" and it is traditionally translated eternal or forever. That's OK so long as we understand that the context determines the meaning of eternal or forever. The context of verse 11 appears to me to be the cosmic conflict with the "principalities and powers." God's plan or purpose in this context was developed after Lucifer rebelled in heaven, but before there was a material universe. Therefore, aion here means ancient.
Two major implication flows from the idea of God's ancient purpose: The world is not as chaotic as it appears on the surface. God has a plan and he is working it out. The use of the word "purpose" illustrates the point:
Ephesians 1:9 (NIV-WS) he made known to us the mystery of his will according to his good pleasure, which he purposed in Christ,
(Ephesians 1:11) ... according to the plan of him who works out everything in conformity with the purpose of his will
(Romans 8:28) And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.
(2 Timothy 1:9) He has saved us and called us to a holy life—not because of anything we have done but because of his own purpose and grace.
The other implication that follows from the idea of God's ancient purpose is that humanity is not as lost as appears at first glance. God's purpose is to save us and to restore us to himself. The supporting verses above make it obvious that God has devised and is working out his saving plan.
How does he get it done?
3. GOD IS INCARNATE IN JESUS CHRIST - verse 11.
(Ephesians 3:11) "... that he accomplished in Christ Jesus our Lord."
God came into the world in Jesus Christ our Lord. This is called the incarnation (from the Latin, in the flesh) because God the Son joined himself to humanity - to our flesh and blood - and became one of us, the God-man.
(Colossians 2:9) In Christ all the fullness of the Deity lives in bodily form,
This is highly significant. Before the incarnation, God was not one of us. He was other, holy, separate from his creation. And yet, now in his Son, he has come into the world to be one of us. The beginning of John's Gospel develops this theme; for example:
(John 1:18) No one has ever seen God, but the one and only Son, who is himself God and is in closest relationship with the Father, has made him known.
The incarnation is a revelation of the love, grace, truth, power, and wisdom of God. When someone asks me why I am a Christian, my answer is the incarnation.
(John 1:14) The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.
(John 3:16) God loved the world in this way: he gave his one and only Son ...
(1 Corinthians 1:24) ... to those whom God has called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.
The reason for the incarnation was to "accomplish" God's ancient purpose
(Colossians 1:19-20) God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, 20 and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross.
Remember this when you think of God. He is God with us. Yes, he is transcendent, but he is also near in Jesus Christ.
4. GOD IS A VICTORIOUS WARRIOR - verse 10
(Ephesians 3:10) "... now ... be made know to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly realms ..."
Looking back on human history, it may appear that Satan is winning. Although there is much good in the world, the darkness is never far away from any of us. Billions are far from God. Natural disasters, diseases, sin and evil, bad people all run rampant.
We could look to purely random or human causes for the situation in the world, but the biblical evidence compels us to look beyond what we can see. Behind a world in darkness is the dark government described in Ephesians 6:
(Ephesians 6:12) Our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.
This is a description of an unseen, immaterial, shadow government that is conflict with God and with us. The battle rages all around us and against our own hearts and minds.
These spiritual forces of evil appear to be winning. But looks can be deceiving. God has already won the decisive battle in Jesus Christ (Ephesians 3:11). God is a victorious warrior. He has fought and won. He is never passive about sin and evil. He worked his plan and won. Satan's plan has failed.
(Ephesians 1:19-23) 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.
(Colossians 1:13-14) God has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves, 14 in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.
(1 Corinthians 15:24-26) Then the end will come, when he hands over the kingdom to God the Father after he has destroyed all dominion, authority and power. 25 For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. 26 The last enemy to be destroyed is death.
And Lucifer and his spiritual rulers and authorities know it because God has "made it known" to them (Gk. gnorizo: to make known publicly or explicitly, to reveal, announce) through the church through our visible unity with each other in Christ.
5. GOD AND HIS GLORY ARE ACCESSIBLE - verse 12-13.
(Ephesians 3:12-13) "In him and through faith in him we may approach God with freedom and confidence. I ask you, therefore, not to be discouraged because of my sufferings for you, which are your glory."
God is other, holy, separate, transcendent. And yet he is incarnate, near, and one of us in his Son, Jesus Christ. Why did God transcend his transcendence? In order that, having reconciled us to himself in Christ at the cross, we might have confident access to him in Christ and through faith. The background is of a priest approaching the holy place of the temple and thus making an approach to God. Our confidence comes from Christ who is God come to man, as God and man joined in his person, so to make the way for man to come to God.
(Ephesians 2:17-19) He came and preached peace to you who were far away and peace to those who were near. 18 For through him we both have access to the Father by one Spirit.
(1 Peter 3:18) For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God.
Hebrews 4:16 (NIV-WS) Let us then approach God's throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.
(Hebrews 10:19-22) Therefore, brothers and sisters, since we have confidence to enter the Most Holy Place by the blood of Jesus, 20 by a new and living way opened for us through the curtain, that is, his body, 21 and since we have a great priest over the house of God, 22 let us draw near to God with a sincere heart and with the full assurance that faith brings.
The Ephesians should not have been discouraged at Paul's imprisonment because, through Paul's hardships, they and many others heard the gospel that, when believed, gave them access to God and eventually to a share in his glory. What is glory? I found a helpful explanation on The Gospel Coalition website:
"Understanding the glorification of the Christian begins with understanding the glory of God, the state of incomparable greatness in which God dwells and through which he is perceived by his creatures. As creatures marred by sin, we are separated from this glory in two ways, both by the fact that we are creatures and not the Creator, and because of the effects of our sin upon our nature. The first part of our glorification is thus our dying to sin in this life and our eventual death in this body. The second part is our being raised to new life and a new body with Christ in the new heavens and new earth.
This will not simply be a return to the Garden of Eden, but we will live with God and share in his glory forever, enjoying deeper fellowship with God and greater opportunities for praising him than we presently enjoy. This glory does not become our own but remains God’s own glory; we simply share in it as sub-rules and creatures who dwell in his eternal light.
Glory is not a divine attribute like holiness, but the state in which God dwells and the way in which he is perceived by others.The biblical picture of God’s glory is usually derived from the court rituals of the ancient world, where monarchs were often installed in great pomp and even regarded as divinities in their own right. The biblical writers draw on that analogy but make it quite plain that the glory of the Lord is incomparably greater than anything that can be seen on earth."
(Colossians 3:4) When Christ, who is your life, appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.
(2 Corinthians 3:18) And we all, who with unveiled faces contemplate the Lord's glory, are being transformed into his image with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.
(2 Corinthians 4:16-17) Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. 17 For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all.
(Philippians 3:20-21) But our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ, 21 who, by the power that enables him to bring everything under his control, will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like his glorious body.
(Romans 8:30) ... And those he predestined, he also called; those he called, he also justified; those he justified, he also glorified.
(Romans 9:23-24) ... the objects of his mercy, whom he prepared in advance for glory— 24 even us, whom he also called, not only from the Jews but also from the Gentiles?
(Matthew 13:43) Then the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father.
(Daniel 12:3) Those who are wise will shine like the brightness of the heavens, and those who lead many to righteousness, like the stars for ever and ever.
(1 Corinthians 15:42-43) So will it be with the resurrection of the dead. The body that is sown is perishable, it is raised imperishable; 43 it is sown in dishonor, it is raised in glory;
(Isaiah 61:10) I delight greatly in the LORD; my soul rejoices in my God. For he has clothed me with garments of salvation and arrayed me in a robe of his righteousness, as a bridegroom adorns his head like a priest, and as a bride adorns herself with her jewels.
(Ephesians 5:25-27) Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her 26 to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, 27 and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless.
(Revelation 21:1-5) Then I saw “a new heaven and a new earth,” for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea. 2 I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. 3 And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Look! God's dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. 4 ‘He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death’ or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.”
5 He who was seated on the throne said, “I am making everything new!”
A major incentive to remain in faith through every hardship and obstacle is this promise of eternal glory. This is also why we look forward to the glorious return of Jesus Christ because it will be at that time that we shall share in his glory. Whatever faith will have cost us in this life will be as nothing compared to the glory we receive in the end.
God is wise. God has a plan. God is incarnate in Jesus Christ. God is a victorious warrior. God and his glory are accessible.
How does that make you feel?
The more we know of God, the more we’ll want to know him, to worship him, to deepen our communion with him, to speak highly of him to others, and to live a life of total, loving, submission to him.
No wonder, then, that Paul immediately dives into a prayer that Jesus would make his home in our hearts and we would know the measureless love of God.
We'll look into that prayer next week.