On June 4 of this year, coaching legend John Wooden, the Wizard of Westwood died at the age of 99. He holds the unique place in college basketball history as the only coach to win 10 National Titles–including 7 in a row– and 4 undefeated seasons. At one point, his UCLA Bruins won 88 games straight. He is hailed as college basketball’s greatest coach. No one has accomplished on the hardwood what John Wooden did.
But here is what is interesting: All of his exploits were accomplished by other people. As a coach, he never once, stepped on the floor, picked up the ball, or checked into the game. As a coach, he never had a triple-double, made a game-winning shot, or came through with a clutch free throw (though he could have: in his playing days, he once made 134 in a row). As a coach, he called the plays and led his team, but his authority was from the sidelines. So, his achievements, indeed his glory, was accomplished by and through others.
So it is in the church. God’s glory is not seen directly. We do not come to church to see God descend in a cloud or pillar of fire. We do not look for a mystical vision to experience God, nor do we anticipate a voice from heaven splitting the sky. That is not how God reveals himself in our age. Rather, when we speak of seeing God’s glory, Scripture calls us to see it in the life and ministry of the church.
This was Paul’s point in Ephesians 3:8-10. In his letter to the Ephesians, Paul gives us some amazing insight into God’s intention for the church. And the first thing he says about the church is that it exists to display the grace and the wisdom of God.
In Ephesians 3:8, Paul says that grace was given to him as an apostle, so that he would preach the unsearchable riches of Christ. In this singular statement, you can see three keys elements of biblical theology–grace, the gospel, and glory. Grace to proclaim God’s message, the message of the gospel, the gospel of God’s glorious riches in Christ. Paul continues and says that the reason why he was to preach the gospel of Christ was “to bring to light for everyone what is the plan of the mystery hidden for ages in God who created all things.”
Here Paul uses a term that he uses only in a couple places. The term is “Mystery” and it means something that was once hidden but now is revealed. It is not something mysterious or unknowable. The word should not be associated with a Whodunit novel or the “mystery meat” at your school cafeteria. Rather, it has to do with God’s plan of redemption which has finally been revealed in Christ and the church.
Ephesians 3:10 says, “so that through the church the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known to the rulers and authorities in heavenly places.” In other words, God’s purpose for the church is to broadcast his grace, wisdom, and power into the world. And not only to the world but to the rulers and authorities in heavenly places. In other words, angels subscribe to TBN, or at least the church channel. As 1 Peter 1:12 tells us, “angels long to look into these things.” They are watching what Christ is doing in his Church, and they are learning about God’s glory. Because remember: Angels cover their faces in the presence of God (cf Isaiah 6:1-8). In their sinless perfection, they cannot stand to behold his glory; it is too great. And for the those fallen angels, their appreciation is even less acute. So “rulers and authorities” watch in amazement the church, some in awe, others in honor, but all watch to see the unfolding mystery of God’s wisdom in the church, a wisdom that reflects the glory and grace of God.
Therefore, as Christ’s church, we are called to live life as though we are in the display window of Christ’s department store. How we live will determine whether or not the world and our children want anything to do with Christ or not. This is no small matter! How we constitute, assemble, and participate in our churches is not a peripheral item on God’s agenda.
God intends for us to display his glory and wisdom in our local assemblies, so we ought to do all we can, in the power of the Spirit, to be High-Definition, 3-D Wide Screens of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, and not a Black & White TV’s, with Rabbit Ears, and bad reception. Because the problem is not in the message of the gospel (cf Rom 1:16), but it may be how we receive it and display it on a weekly basis.
Here is the bottom line, if we are going to reach the lost, it means living more radical lives for Christ. And radical doesn’t mean bigger, cooler, and more events, programs, or activities. It doesn’t mean changing formats or improving advertising. It means picking up our cross daily and following after Christ– loving one another, doing life together, and carrying the message of the salvation to everyone we meet, losing our lives so that others might gain life in Christ.
If we do that, we will display the wisdom of God as all of our daily activities testify to the gospel of Christ and give off the pleasing aroma of his grace.
May God be pleased to purify his bride in our generation, as we seek to display his grace and wisdom to a watching world!
Soli Deo Gloria, dss