Sermon, June 19, 2016
College Baptist Church
Rev. Don Westblade
The Path to the Purpose of Praise
Eph 1:1-14, 4:11-13
1. The Mystery of the Church’s Mission 1:9
A. Redemption 1:7
B. Unity 1:10
C. Worship 1:6, 12, 14
2. The Mission of College Baptist Church
“To live for the praise of the glory of God” 1:6, 12, 14
3. The Means to the Mission 4:12
A. Equipping the
B. Building the Body of Christ
C. Building to equip and build
What is at stake in the sovereignty of God over sin is the ultimate aim of the universe, namely, the exaltation of the Son of God in the greatest act of wrath-removing, sin-forgiving, justice-vindicating grace that ever was or ever could be. The praise of the glory of God’s grace in the death of Christ for sinners is the ultimate end of all things. Christ is the aim of all things. When Paul says, “All things were created . . . for him” (Colossians 1:16), he means that the entire universe and all the events in it serve to glorify Jesus Christ. May the meditations of our hearts take us ever deeper into this mystery.
— John Piper, Spectacular Sins and Their Global Purpose in the Glory of Christ (forthcoming)
All of the counsel that we have received from other churches who have experienced a loss like ours and from wise leaders in our denomination tells us that among our highest priorities at this stage of getting ourselves re-oriented is to get our eyes focused together on the mission we have and share as a body of God’s people. To keep moving forward, we have to set out in front of us the ends, the purposes, the goals that God tells us to pursue. There may be no better way to do that than to give our attention to the letter Paul wrote to the church at Ephesus. Leonard had already suggested to me back on the first Sunday in May, when we were finishing up our study of Romans 12, that Ephesians might be the next place to turn. I thought his suggestion was perfect. My outline for this sermon was ready six weeks ago, with this aim of reminding us all what our purpose is for being Christ’s church in this local body in Hillsdale.
Leonard and I hope that, as we work through this letter over the course of this summer’s Sundays, it will help us to gather the welter of our thoughts – our grief and distress and disorientation at the loss we feel, our joy for Jason’s liberated life in the presence of God, our uncertainty about what the future may hold, our preoccupation with the routines we’re trying to recapture – and re-orient all of those thoughts on what God means for his believing church, his adopted children to be accomplishing in this world where he has placed us and in these lives we are graciously given to live.
Here in the first 14 verses of Ephesians, Paul offers us one of his clearest summaries of the purpose God had in calling a people to himself, in gathering us as a body, in redeeming us, and in giving us his Holy Spirit. I ran a little graph of the appearances of the word “purpose” in Paul’s letters and the hits pile up dramatically in this book of Ephesians, especially in these verses from 3 to 14. There’s a reason why we exist as a church, why we meet together weekly for worship, why we minister daily to one another and our community. Ask yourself if you would be able to say what that reason is on the spur of the moment. If it doesn’t jump straight to your mind why God calls you here to take part in this body and this worship, tune in closely to what Paul says in this first half of the chapter.
Now I have good news and bad news for any of you who are watch-checkers to make sure we finish the service in an hour: the good news is that we’re only going to be looking at the first sentence in the letter this morning. The bad news is that that one sentence runs from v. 3 all the way to v.14. My ESV translation breaks it up into 4 sentences to make it easier to digest, but Paul wrote this whole thing as one, long, complex sentence! But all of its parts unite in doing one single thing: they set the role of Jesus Christ at the heart of God’s purpose for the church, and then they tell us (three times!) that we’re here to live for the praise of the glory that each of these roles of Christ displays in the church.
So watch with me in this long sentence for all the things that Christ makes possible in us as a church:
v.3 – in Christ (when God sees us in Christ because we’ve placed our trust in the righteousness of Christ with which he clothes us, thanks to his work on the cross) we are in position for God to pour out all of his spiritual blessings on us.
v.4 – in Christ, God chose us before the foundation of the world to be holy and blameless.
v.5 – through Christ, God purposed (literally, he was well pleased) to predestine us to be adopted into his family.
v.6 – in Christ the Beloved he blessed us with grace.
vv.7-9 – in Christ and through his blood we have redemption, we have forgiveness from our sins, we enjoy the richness of God’s grace, and we have a window into the mystery of God’s will
v.9-10 – in Christ, God set forth his purpose, his good pleasure, for us as a plan for the fullness of time
v.10 – in Christ, God means to unite all things in heaven and on earth
v.11 – in Christ, we obtain the inheritance for which we have been predestined by a God who always accomplishes his purposes
v.12 – in Christ, we who have his hope participate in the praise of his glory
v.13 – in Christ we were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, when we heard and believed the gospel as the word of truth, and the Holy Spirit is the guarantee we now have that the inheritance Christ promised us will one day be in our possession.
Do you see how in all of those verses Christ is the agent and the reason why God accomplishes all these things in us as a church! Blessings, holiness, adoption as God’s children, grace, redemption, knowledge of the mystery of God’s will, participation in God’s plan, unity, a divine inheritance, the pleasure of praise. All these things are ours, as individuals and together as a church, because of the great might that God worked in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places and put all things under him as the head of the church, which is his body. Christ’s great work makes these things possible and God sent him to do these things for us. The reason why? Paul answers three times in the course of this long sentence (bolded phrases): “to the praise of Christ’s glorious grace” – so that Christ might receive the praise of our worship for the glorious grace of all his many gifts.
What could make a good Father any happier than to see his Son succeed in and be honored for all these missions that he sent him to accomplish in the church that he loves? God the Father rejoices in the victories of Christ his Son just as earthly fathers do on Fathers Day and every day.
Before the world ever began, Paul says, God chose us to be believers, to be a church, to accomplish a plan of redeeming us from our sins, forgiving those sins, adopting us as children, pouring out his blessings on us, sealing the deal by putting his Holy Spirit into our hearts, and uniting us with all the objects of his grace in heaven and on earth. And he accomplished all those acts of lavish mercy through his Son, Jesus Christ, so that Christ would be praised as the glorious one who made it all happen.
The purpose and mission of the church Paul calls a mystery of God’s will. But one of the many lavish graces Paul lists is the grace of v.8 – in wisdom and insight, Christ made known to us the mystery of God’s will for choosing and redeeming the church. Christ had a plan to forgive and to redeem the church. He had a plan to unify the church. And he had a plan to exalt his Son by making us a people who love to worship — who live for the praise of the glory of Christ. Those are the reasons we exist. Those are the reasons why God created us. Those plans come together to form the mission of this church and every church.
God delights to show his mercy. Micah 7:18 – he delights in steadfast love. Dt 30:9 – he delights in prospering his people. This is what God loves to do – not what he needs to do, but what he loves to do. Breathing and eating are things I need to do. Without them I don’t survive. Skiing and camping and playing racquetball are things I love to do, things I come to rest in doing. My license plate frame says, “I’d rather be skiing.” As I tell my students, God’s license plate frame says, “I’d rather be meeting the needs of my children, my church.” It’s not what he has to do. It’s what he gets to do. It’s what he aims his life to get to. It’s where he comes to rest.
When he finished his creation and gave it and himself to Adam’s race in covenant in Genesis 1, he came to rest. In Zeph 3:17 we read that he rests in his love and joys over his chosen people with loud singing. How does he express that love? The Lord your God in the midst of you is mighty, a mighty one who will save. Redemption and forgiveness and liberation are his recreation. He is just itching for the chance to forgive you of whatever sin and guilt are weighing you down this morning. It would be a delight to him and it would be a massive relief to you. Lay your sins on Christ, who died to pay their price, and God will come rushing to your redemption. It is part of his mysterious mission in making a church that he sets us free to enjoy him instead of the disappointing promises of this world.
It is part of his mysterious mission in making a church that he bring the beauty of harmony and unity to his redeemed people, that our hearts and our voices unite in praise of the glory of Christ. God’s plan for the fullness of time, Paul says in v.10, is “to unite all things in Christ, things in heaven and things on earth.” He’ll say it again in 4:13 – his plan for giving gifts to the church of apostles and prophets and evangelists and teachers is to empower us along “to attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God.” Divisions in the church are one of the primary targets Paul aims at mending and healing in his letters to his churches. 1 Cor 1:10 – “I appeal to you, brothers, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree, and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and the same judgment.” I want to hear of you, he writes the Philippians, “that you are standing firm in one spirit, with one mind striving side by side for the faith of the gospel.” Harmony in the church is the fruit of love, and love is the character of the merciful God who loves to meet his churches’ needs. Col 3:14 – “above all, put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony.” Rom 12:16 – “Live in harmony with one another by not being haughty, but associating with the lowly.” God’s mission for the church is that we share his joy by reflecting and enjoying the love that delights his own heart. The unity of the church’s love replicates the unity of the love the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit have for one another in the Trinity. Our unity radiates the harmony and the joy of the triune God and in that way magnifies the glory and radiance of God.
It is part of his mysterious mission in making a church that God extends his love in redemption, that he magnifies his love in unity, and that he invites us into the celebration of his love in worship. He does not invite us to worship as a chore and a duty. A temple full of dutiful worshipers going through the motions of singing and sacrificing and bringing offerings in Isaiah 1 succeeds only in making God angry. “Who requires of you all this trampling of my courts,” he asks. Your solemn assemblies and your feasts my soul hates, he says. So because your worship has become a mere duty to you, “even though you make many prayers, I will not listen.” He warned the Israelites of the same thing back in Moses’ time. Dt 28:47-48 – “Because you did not serve the LORD your God with joyfulness and gladness of heart, because of the abundance of all things, therefore you shall serve your enemies whom the LORD will send against you, in hunger and thirst, in nakedness, and lacking everything. And he will put a yoke of iron on your neck until he has destroyed you.” As the old Puritan, Jeremy Taylor, used to say: “God threatens terrible things if we will not be happy” in him.
We humans were created and designed to come to rest in worship. But we keep filling our craving for the joy of worship with puny and trivial little things. We worship sports teams and film celebrities, we worship beautiful houses and hot cars, we worship good grades and graduations and salary raises and promotions and awards, we worship food and sex and leisure time and sunshine and happy families and shrewd business deals and vacations. These can all be good things, but they are too small to scratch the itch for worship that we were created with.
God’s mission for the church is to make us joyful in the highest degree by giving us reason and opportunity to praise the eternal and matchless glory of God in the lavish graces of Christ. And to enlarge the joy of that worship by including as many hearts and voices in our united praise as we can persuade to join us in it. So local missions and world missions and evangelism all help us to enlarge the joy of our purpose as a church to live for the praise of the glory of God.
If we’re not reveling in our redemption and yearning for greater unity and exulting in our evangelism and waxing wholehearted in our worship, we are missing the mystery of our mission as a church.
The mystery of the church’s mission ought to be moving, motivating, mouthwatering, massive, and monumental. Make some time to meditate on this long sentence with which Paul opens his Ephesian letter and consider how worthy this mission is of the investment of your life.
That ultimate goal of God’s plan for the church is something Paul returns to again and again in this sentence. Three times, in vv. 6, 12, and 14 (in bold in the bulletin text) Paul repeats that the ultimate purpose for which the church exists is to live for the praise of the glory of God. Those are words that have made up the stated mission of College Baptist Church for many years. It is good to put them back in front of us as we pick ourselves up to begin to move forward from our loss and disorientation.
Fifty years King Uzziah gave stability and prosperity to the kingdom of Judah and when he was taken away the people were left distressed and anxious about their future. That is when the prophet Isaiah was given his stunning vision of God, the eternal King, high and lifted up, his train filling the temple, sovereign and in control and surrounded by seraphim singing Holy, Holy, Holy is the Lord of hosts! The whole earth is full of his glory! “Woe is me,” cried Isaiah. And God sent his angel to redeem him and take his guilt away, and to unify the people of Judah, and to call them to live for the praise of the glory of God. That is still our mission as a church when we lift our eyes to see it.
We don’t accomplish our mission as a church naturally and easily. Like any mission, this one is a challenge. But it is a mission for which God has graced us with means and tools for our pursuit of it. There is a good summary of those means in 4:11-13. Pastor Jason and the Elders have had our eyes on these verses for quite some time now, as guide-posts to follow in setting vision for the church. These are the verses that put the book of Ephesians in our mind as the place to turn our study as a body so that these guide-posts will direct us all towards a vision for our future.
Why does the church have Elders and other offices to serve us? “To equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood (adulthood), to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ.”
As we asked each of the boards to craft a statement of mission and vision for the specific work of their assigned responsibilities, the Elder Board also developed its own statement. At the heart of our statement is the task of 4:12 – “The Elder Board is appointed to lead and shepherd the people and the ministries of College Baptist Church. We teach and defend God’s Word. We cultivate deep worship. We equip the saints for the work of ministry. We love and uphold the congregation through prayer.”
As difficult as times like this present season of loss can be for us, they can periodically have valuable consequences when they require us to recognize that scripture assigns the work of ministry to the equipped saints of the church and not just to its delegated leaders. That building up the body of Christ is the task of all the saints, and that the work of servant leadership is to equip us all for that ministry and that edification of the body that helps us to attain together to the unity of the faith and the knowledge of Christ and the maturity and worship that are the mission of the church.
These verses state the reasons for the vote we took a year ago in March to hire a design engineer to launch the formal process of building an addition onto the north side of the church to give us more space for Christian education, space at the ground level for meals and meetings and other fellowship, more accessible bathrooms, and more easily accessible office space. We need to be in a more effective condition to equip the saints and to build up the body of Christ.
These verses state the reason why we voted a month ago to move forward, approving a footprint for the addition. We need to be in a more effective condition to equip the saints and to build up the body of Christ.
When the building committee asked the Elders to create a vision statement for the building for use in designing its space and in describing it for potential donors, we gave a good part of last year’s retreat to think and pray about that statement. Here is what we proposed:
We propose to name the building “The 4:12 Center” with reference to Ephesians 4:12 (“to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ”). We envision the building “to equip and to serve, to build up the body of Christ.”
• The 4:12 Center will provide added space for teaching and training. This space would include classroom space, much-needed nursery space, and enhanced resources by which to carry out the church’s historical calling to provide to the nearby college community a strategic, spiritual context for its life of learning.
• The 4:12 Center will provide improved space for missions initiatives, including Operation Christmas Child, Tidings of Comfort, and the preparation of missionary teams.
• The 4:12 Center will provide accessible space for community outreach, including mentoring, community meals, meals for weddings and funerals, Vacation Bible School programs, and Deacons’ assistance to area needs.
• In all these ways the building assists the body of the church to foster stronger relationships and more mature knowledge of the faith both inside and outside the congregation and to nurture in the body the love of Christ, all the more urgently amid the growing pressures of an increasingly secularizing culture.
This is the mission and vision your Elders would like to set in front of us all anew for the next steps of our journey forward. And these are the means the Elders hear the Lord calling us to pursue in taking our next steps. We desire to be a God-exalting church. We believe the best way to honor him and to honor the memory of Pastor Jason is to keep this plan that Jason helped to conceive for equipping the saints and for building up the body of Christ moving forward to its completion – to the praise of the glory of Christ!