Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen.
— Ephesians 3:20-21 —
A close reading of Scripture shows that God pursues his glory in all areas of life. In creation and redemption, heaven and earth, the world was made to bring him glory. It is not surprising, therefore, to find Paul praying that God would get glory in the church. But what does it mean?
What does Paul mean when he prays, “to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations” From the context of Ephesians, I would suggest there are at least three ways the church uniquely glorifies God.
The Church as a Living Body
Canvas every square inch of Jerusalem today and you won’t find Jesus’ body. As the Old Testament promised (1 Cor 15:3–8) and the four Evangelists confirmed (Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John), Jesus rose on the third day. Therefore, today you won’t find Jesus’ buried body. Rather, what you find (permitting a biblical equivocation in language) is the living body of Christ, the church growing and gathering throughout the earth.
Ephesians 1:19–23 explains,
. . . and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power toward us who believe, according to the working of his great might that he worked in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places, far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the one to come. And he put all things under his feet and gave him as head over all things to the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all.
The power of God praised in Ephesians 3:20 is displayed in the resurrection of Jesus from the dead. In Jesus’ crucifixion the Son was subjected to abject humiliation, but in his resurrection he received the name above every name. In truth, Jesus is the most glorious of men. Because of his perfect obedience to the Father, he received public vindication in his resurrection. But notice, Ephesians 1 unites his glorification with the church.
The same resurrection given to Jesus, because of his merit, is given to the elect (Eph 1:3–6) because of God’s mercy. Ephesians 2:5 reads, “when we were dead in our trespasses, [God] made us alive together with Christ . . . raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus.” In this perspective, the church is the messiah’s resurrection family, his living body.
Thus, the first way the church glorifies God is through their resurrection life. Alive in Christ the church bears witness to Christ’s presence, even as his human body is presently absent . By living for Christ, by Christ, and like Christ the church manifests resurrection life, and more they manifest his spiritual presence. In our holy love and gracious truth-telling, the church glorifies God by living out the life given them in Christ’s resurrection.
The Church as a Factory of Good Works
The second way the church glorifies God is closely related to the first. Just as a healthy, living body is granted power to create life (i.e., sexual reproduction), so the children of God are a fecund family. As Ephesians 2 relates, salvation is not achieved through good works, but those who saved by God’s grace will produce good works.
For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.
Because every child of God is given Christ’s life, he also assigns good works for us to “walk in.” These works are individual and contingent on the particular gifts God gives his children, but the context of their exercise is in the church.
How do we know the church is in view? Ephesians 2:11–22 tells the rest of the story.
After explaining how individuals are saved from sin and created for good works (Ephesians 2:1–10), Paul recounts the plan of God to make one new man (i.e., one new faith community):
For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility by abolishing the law of commandments expressed in ordinances, that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace, and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby killing the hostility. (Ephesians 2:14–16)
God’s plan is far more than collecting an aggregate of Christians. He is making a new people, comprised of Jew and Gentile. As Ephesians 3 tells, this was a mystery long-hidden, but now revealed. Like a productive vineyard, God is creating a people who bear good fruit for him. And like the clusters of grapes, this fruit comes in bunches—i.e., in the context of community.
Therefore, the second way the church glorifies God is by being local fruit stands testifying to the faithful care of Christ. Or to change the picture: churches are to be factories of good works, where the loving actions and truthful speech reflect the presence and power of God to take once-warring enemies and make them productive together. In this way, the world marvels at how such diverse and hostile individuals can work together. The answer? It is the work of the Lord. Thus extolling God’s glory.
The Church as God’s Billboard
The third way the church glorifies God is perhaps the most central, and has already been alluded to. Made alive in Christ, redeemed for good works, the church is created by God to be put forth as a display of his gracious power and saving wisdom. By analogy, we might say: the church is God’s marketing strategy.
God displays his power by saving the weak, his righteousness by justifying the guilty, and his mercy by making rebels his friends. Or as Paul puts it in Ephesians 3:10, “through the church the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places.”
And what does that wisdom consist of? In Paul’s case, it consisted of turning a zealous persecutor of the church into its greatest evangelist. And in the church—then and now—it consists of uniting Jews and Gentiles, old and young, black and white and red and yellow into one, united people. What makes the church “compelling,” to borrow Jamie Dunlop and Mark Dever’s descriptor, is the way naturally-averse individuals are gladly united in Christ.
The glory of the church, therefore, is seen in the mosaic of diverse people praising the same God (Ephesians 4:1–11), considering others ahead of themselves (Philippians 2:3–4), loving one another and submitting to one another for the sake of Christ (Ephesians 5:21). This is true beauty. True glory. And when local churches catch this vision and God grants them gospel-centered unity, they become a shining light reflecting his triune glory.
And what is more, this is not an accidental by-product. As Paul indicates in Ephesians, it is his eternal plan to united all things in Christ (1:10; 3:11). What is seen in the churches today is a kingdom people awaiting the return of their Lord. While the world continues to war against God’s Christ, the church stands to testify to his power to turn lost rebels into beloved sons. It consists of people who were all once enemies of God, but who have been saved by grace and thus testify to his glory.
A Church that Glorifies God
Last night I shared this idea (in shorter form, for the sake of the kids) at our church’s annual meeting. It has been a joy to be a part of a church that takes seriously the Word of God. I am hopeful for what lies ahead and prayerful that we might continue to grow as a church that enjoys Christ’s resurrection life, that overflows with good works, and that stands a bright billboard for the power, grace, and wisdom of God.
Might that same vision capture your heart. And as Paul prayed so many years ago: May God do abundantly more than we ask or think in all of his churches. May he grant his people resurrection life that we might be churches where he is glorified and Christ is made famous, both now and forever. Amen.
Soli Deo Gloria, ds