Monday 15 March 2010

Word for the Week: Whole Life, Whole Bible (48/50) – The Reunification of All Things: United We Stand, United We End

‘Word for the Week: Whole Life, Whole Bible’, from London Institute for Contemporary Christianity, is a series of fifty emails designed to look at the main milestones of the biblical story, seeking to show how whole-life discipleship is woven through Scripture as a whole, from beginning to end. Here is the forty-eighth of the fifty emails.

With all wisdom and understanding, he made known to us the mystery of his will according to his good pleasure, which he purposed in Christ, to be put into effect when the times reach their fulfillment – to bring unity to all things in heaven and on earth under Christ… His purpose was to create in himself one new humanity out of the two, thus making peace, and in one body to reconcile both of them to God through the cross… Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace… until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.
Ephesians 1:8-10; 2:15-16; 4:3, 13

In the breathtaking opening of his letter to the Ephesians, Paul outlines the broad sweep of God’s plan of salvation set in place before the foundation of the world. Even as he catalogues the amazing blessings we enjoy in the here and now, he still looks forward to the moment when ‘the times reach their fulfillment’, when all things will be summed up – gathered together under one head – Christ, the one in whom God will restore harmony to the cosmos.

And as the letter goes on, it becomes clear that the ultimate unity of all things – to be fully displayed in Christ – has already had its beginning in the church.

Though dead in sin, enslaved by forces of evil, and deserving of wrath, we have been made alive with Christ – only because of God’s love and only through faith (2:1-10). But the death which brings together God and humanity also unites formerly alienated people, as Jews and Gentiles are made into ‘one new humanity’, reconciled through the cross – both given access to the Father, both citizens of the heavenly temple indwelt by the Spirit, both declaring that defeat of the ‘powers’ is now certain, both called on to display the wisdom of God (2:11-3:13).

So, far from being a passive spectator in this cosmic drama, the church is to live a life worthy of her calling, to display the unity of the Spirit, to grow together in Christ as a unified body, to reflect to the world God’s ultimate plan for the universe, testifying to a comprehensive, all-embracing salvation in lives turned around.

While the vision is cosmic and grand, the outworking is local and specific as we witness to the reconciliation of all things in our everyday existence in particular locations, from Basildon to Bangalore. In doing so, we demonstrate a whole new way of living – before God and with others, consistent with our new humanity – starting with where we find ourselves everyday, with the choices we make everyday, with the people we live with everyday, with our families and in our jobs – as very ‘ordinary’ people through whom God is present to the world.

For further reflection and action:

1. Paul makes it clear in Ephesians that the church has been included from the outset not as a ‘supplement’ to God’s plan but as an essential ingredient in his scheme for the universe. How often do we think of the church this way, and what difference might it make to our thinking and practice if we did so?

2. How do we become ‘ministers of reconciliation’, demonstrating the restoration the gospel brings to every area of life? Read Ephesians 4-6, and reflect on how God’s design for reconciled lives works out on the ground and in relationship with others.

3. Buy or borrow – and read – a copy of Eugene Peterson, Practise Resurrection: A Conversation on Growing Up in Christ (London: Hodder & Stoughton, 2010), which looks at the theme of ‘growing up in Christ’ in Ephesians.

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