THE RESOLUTION of a human to come out of his old, sinful life of unbelief into the new one of spirit and faith is a wise procedure. Paul sees, in this decision, a fruit of divine wisdom. In order to set this forth understandably and clearly he first compares the worldly wisdom with the divine (1 Cor.1:18), and shows how contemptible the first is. Because the world, which thinks itself clever, knows neither God nor His wisdom, God, in His wisdom, uses a method of deliverance which thoroughly exposes human wisdom and its inability to grasp the divine.
The Jew could not visualize a salvation from death and mortality, and the impartation of life, except as a miraculous transaction. The Greek, whose wisdom was world-famous, would accept a deliverance only if it was in accord with his philosophy. Now, however, God steps in and saves humans with a message which concerns a crucified Christ! That must have appeared to the vain, clever wiseacres as stupidity. But see! Those called by God experience the evangel as God's power and God's wisdom, for it leads into a new life, in which they enjoy reconciliation and the sure prospect of a future glory. So, in them and through them, the stupidity of God, the word of the cross, proves to be wiser than man, and the weakness of God, the crucified Christ, stronger than man. Paul rightfully states that, for the believer, Christ is not only righteousness and holiness and deliverance, but wisdom also (1 Cor.1:30,31). To be sure, today Christ is still rejected and ignored by the world, and His present glory is hidden. Therefore those who acknowledge Him must bear His shame and are judged to be stupid (1 Cor.3:48,49).
But when those who build on human wisdom stand before the great white throne, and then see Christ as their exalted Judge—and that time will come—they will recognize that they were most stupid, and God has made their wisdom foolishness. Then they will freely admit that faith in the crucified Christ was the real wisdom. So that God puts to shame the wise, the strong, and the proud, so that no flesh may boast. What wisdom divine!
OUR SALVATION IS OF GOD
Yet even the saved are in danger of thinking themselves wise, when they surmise that they had accepted Christ by their own initiative and strength, through their own personal will. Repeatedly the Scriptures emphasize that salvation, or believing, or the call to be a member of Christ's body, is altogether and only a work of God. So Paul says of it: "Consequently, then, it is not of him who is willing, nor of him who is racing, but of God, the Merciful" (Rom.9:16). "For in grace are you saved, and this is not out of you, it is God's oblation" (Eph.2:8,9). Here, in this chapter concerning the wisdom of God, the Scriptures emphasize this truth by saying thrice in succession: "God chooses" (1 Cor.1:27,28), and preferentially that which the world considers of no account, and ignoble and weak. That is God's wise way of discarding that which thinks itself something, that no flesh at all should glory in His sight (29).
As every believer once had no understanding for the message of the cross, we should see that no one can find anything in himself that would lead to faith in Christ. That comes only through the power of Christ's spirit. It is therefore thoughtless and unwise to say that we have accepted Christ by the power of our own will. Only God can do that. What wisdom there is in this fact! He has managed to give life to our hardened, benighted, and distrusting heart, so that it could trust Him. That is a work of God, which is greater and more glorious than the creation.
THE CRUCIFIXION SHOWS GOD'S WISDOM
Moreover, faith in the crucified Christ includes still another divine wisdom, that is all too often overlooked. It is generally emphasized that the cross reveals God's saving love, and lets it flow into His creation. That is, and remains, the kernel of the evangel. But do we not think too little of how this expression of divine love was also the judgment of the most dreadful deed of Satan, with all his hatred against God and His Son? So it is that all believers, even if they are unconscious of it, by their testimony to the death of Christ as the only divine source of salvation, announce that they base their salvation on a satanic sin, for this cooperated in their deliverance. Seeing that his deed led to such a revelation of God's love, as it could not have been possible in any other way, we acknowledge that, without the counter-worker, God's deepest love would have remained concealed. To emphasize the fact that the crucifixion of Christ is a deed of Satan confirms the deep wisdom of the saying that all is of God. This revelation implies that God planned and determined the evil, and sent it into the creation through Satan in order to reveal Himself in His fullest love. Consequently everyone testifies, by his faith in Christ, to the divine wisdom, that God uses evil in order to carry out His plan of salvation, and that it did not force its way into His creation against His intention. No believer has the right to reject the teaching that God, through Satan, effects good, because he really approves of this truth. And verily, God reveals His deepest wisdom in this, that He guides the stubborn opposition of Satan against Him in such a way that this enemy uses his strength for God, to fulfill His purposes of love for all creation.
With this we discover the roots of the wisdom He has granted to us. It does not only spring from His special purpose for us but forms the basis for its existence. Every believer may cherish the consciousness of this, that, from the very beginning of his life of faith, he stands in divine wisdom, and is the fruit of that wisdom. But this is only the first stage, and he should grow and become mature.
It is too bad for each saint and for the whole ecclesia that so many have been stalled at the start, and think that they have reached the limit with the certainty of salvation and by becoming a living witness for Christ. Certainly, without this foundation there is no spiritual life. But one ought to take pains to build upon it. That was Paul's particular desire, that believers should grow up. In Eph.1:17 he prays that they may be given a spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of Him. And in Col.1:19 he tells them that he does not cease praying and requesting that they "may be filled full with the realization of His will, in all wisdom and spiritual understanding." He wished to see all mature, so that they can understand and grasp his words concerning the wisdom which God had prepared before the eons for our glory.
But even this was not all. In Colossians Paul explains very explicitly why he wishes them to know God's will. "To walk worthily of the Lord for all pleasing, bearing fruit in every good work" (Col.1:10). It was according to this divine method of teaching that Paul always worked: First, a knowledge of God's will, that is, of the wisdom-filled construction of God's plan of salvation, which shows the high calling of the present ecclesia. On this basis he gives practical exhortations to walk worthily of God. A perfect example of this is the epistle to the Ephesians. The first half introduces us to the present secret administration, but the second is an exhortation to a walk worthy of it. The deeper a believer delves into the wisdom of God's present plan, the better he will be able to put these exhortations into practice. It is clear that, first of all, he must be acquainted with the origin and development of that particular body to which he belongs. We were, indeed, saved as individuals, yet we should not spend our lives as individuals, but take our places as part of a great spiritual temple. And for this we must be acquainted with the building regulations.
As to the commencement and position of the present ecclesia, it may be observed from different standpoints. Whatever side we approach it, it is the fruit of the grace or love of God, or of the death and resurrection of Christ. Now, however, we will keep to our subject, and see what the Scriptures teach us as to its relation to divine wisdom.
THE ORIGIN OF THIS DIVINE PURPOSE
This divine purpose, as the outflow of the highest wisdom, originated in a special idea as part of the plan of salvation, which had to be hidden for an unusual length of time before it came to be fulfilled. "In the beginning created by God was the heavens and the earth." So the Scriptures begin. Now we will note only the order in which this occurred. We find the same order in the entrance of sin. First it invaded the heavens and then, perhaps much later, the earth. And once more the same order is observed in their reconciliation. First, the heavens, then the earth. To be sure, God made arrangements to free the earth from the slavery of Satan when choosing Abram, the forefather of that people which are God's instrument for carrying this blessing to the rest of the nations. For thousands of years God seemed so engrossed with these people that one might think He would finish the earthly instrument first. Not so! In His plan it was predetermined that the present secret ecclesia, which is Christ's body, with which He will accomplish the reconciliation of the heavens, must be prepared first. Naturally God could not reveal this during Israel's day, otherwise their disobedience might have been excused. But when Christ ascended into the heavens and was seated at God's right hand, exalted above all celestial powers, then the hour struck for the commencement of the gathering of the celestial ecclesia. Now that this heavenly instrument of salvation will be ready before Israel, it was necessary to set Israel aside during this whole period.
If we now include in the judgment of Israel's disobedience, especially after Pentecost, this secret purpose, it will give an altogether different picture. If Israel had become obedient and fulfilled the requirement for the coming of the kingdom, that would have been a serious hindrance to the further development of His plan, for there would not have been any place for the furtherance of the secret purpose of reconciling the heavens. According to this divine purpose, Israel was compelled to fail!
The situation in Acts was like that in the earthly life of our Lord, when it became evident that His people would not accept Him. Outwardly, it was a sorry outlook, as when a misdirected people turns against a good king and executes him. But the attitude of the Lord Himself to this situation shows that this had a divine side which was much deeper.
Jesus saw the actual cause of His suffering and rejection in God Himself, and acclaimed Him for it (Matt.11:25). In this and many other ways He showed that the opposition to Him and the accompanying path of pain and death were planned by God, His Father, with the exalted purpose of revealing to His creatures the love He has for them.
Even as Israel's opposition led to the most glorious deed in the plan of salvation, so their renewed disobedience after Pentecost led to the revelation of blessing for the nations, even the whole creation, which was provided for in the death of the cross. To be sure, there is nothing agreeable in Acts for the outer eye, as they repeatedly turn against God, and delay the coming of their King. Surely there is nothing for an uninitiated beholder such as Stephen was, that was good or blessed! Had a messenger from God explained that, on the ground of this disobedience and offense, the grandest good would grow, in which the salvation of Israelites was included, he must have exclaimed, Impossible! What a display of unfathomable divine wisdom!
THE FOUNDING OF THE PRESENT ECCLESIA
This divine secret purpose was first intimated in Antioch, in Pisidia (Acts 13:14:44). Paul spoke in the synagogue there with the result that the majority of the Jews were filled with jealousy and contradicted what he said, blaspheming. But Paul and Barnabas replied, "To you first it was necessary that the word of God be spoken. Yet, since, in fact, you are thrusting it away, and are judging yourselves not worthy of eonian life, lo! we are turning to the nations." This is the first time that Israel, the priest nation, was set aside, and the word of God spoken to a company of pure heathen. And God confirmed this deed by setting some for eonian life. Here God founded the present ecclesia, which is the body of Christ.
And now let us look at the situation in which this great work began. The commencement of this ecclesia was not like sunrise with a cloudless heaven. Neither was it started with a fine festival of dedication. That day was a dark one for God's evangel, when these Jews of the deportation contradicted and blasphemed, and so brought to a head their offense against their God. From that day onward the whole of the nation, except the believers in it, sank into death and the deepest darkness. Yes, that was a day in which Satan, the enemy of God, started a great offensive, and, in fact, managed once more to delay the coming of the kingdom.
On just this day, that looked so hopeless and discouraging, God inaugurated this glorious new work! Like light out of the deepest darkness it beamed forth, and like life out of death it arose! Out of the debris of the collapse of His people, He raised up the most wonderful building, and out of the worst thicket of the ruination of Israel He produced the most glorious fruit of His wisdom. In an overpoweringly great manner this shows that God has constructed this ecclesia altogether according to His plan and principle: "Good out of bad." Surely only His wisdom could accomplish this!
As the Acts of the Apostles deals with the kingdom, it cannot give us any further information concerning the beginning of the present ecclesia. This is done by the epistles of Paul.
(To be continued)