THE UNIVERSAL headship of Christ over all in the heavens as well as on the earth is found only in Paul's epistles. It should be taken to heart far more than it is. Let us consider carefully how God presents this, the grace in which the revelation of this secret lies: "which He lavishes on us, in all wisdom and prudence" (Eph.1:9). The word "prudence," Greek phroneesis is related to "be concerned," Greek phrontizoo, which arises from the faculty of thought. We may deduce from this word that God thoroughly thought out His purpose and brought it forth as a fruit of His highest wisdom.
Alas! How hastily, and how often, is this glorious truth, with its divine wisdom, counted as heresy and rejected! What is the reason for this? It seems that these things are too carelessly and superficially considered, and not earnestly and thoroughly studied, as God's Word exhorts us to do. Whoever cannot decide as to the reconciliation of all or everlasting punishment, let him pray earnestly that God would answer Paul's petition for the spirit of wisdom and revelation (Eph.1:17), for without it no one can ever understand the truth for today.
Colossians has a similar prayer. Paul, before he reveals the reconciliation of all, prayed unceasingly that the saints may be filled full with the realization of God's will, in all wisdom and spiritual understanding (Col.1:9). Here we see that it is not enough simply to ask for knowledge. What is needed is wisdom and spiritual understanding. By no other means can the will of God, which calls for the transmutation of all evil into good by the reconciliation of all, be understood.
If we compare the two prayers (Eph.1:17; Col.1:9), they will be seen to be parallel, as they are concerned with two sides of the same truth. Ephesians has: realization of Him...a spirit of wisdom and revelation... Colossians: realization of His will, in all wisdom and spiritual understanding.
What is said here concerning the attainment of divine understanding is condensed in a single phrase in 1 Cor.2:13, "taught by the spirit." Only by means of this operation of the spirit of God may we be perceiving that which is graciously given to us by God (12). And for this we must have the wisdom to which Paul had previously referred in verse seven.
Even if Paul's prayers agree in their contents, yet they have different objects in view. While he asks for a spirit of wisdom "for you to perceive what is the expectation of His calling" (Eph.1:18), in Colossians the prayer is that knowledge of His will should enable them "to walk worthily of the Lord, for all pleasing, bearing fruit in every good work" (Col.1:10).
We see that divine wisdom is needed, not only to grasp the deep things of God, but for a walk which is pleasing to God also. Paul exhorts believers to be "observing accurately...how you are walking, not as unwise, but as wise, reclaiming the era, for the days are wicked" (Eph.5:16). Similarly Colossians 4:5: "In wisdom be walking toward those outside, reclaiming the era..." For a correct walk, Paul's epistles are full of the most valuable exhortations. We live in a world of unbelief, and artificialness and craftiness. In his strategy, Satan seeks continually, by many means, to snare believers into entanglements with the world. It takes much divine wisdom, and a lot of love for the Lord, to avoid these, and exhibit to outsiders a life with and for God. That is a walk in wisdom.
As both verses exhort us to reclaim the era, this must be an important item in our walk. We are specially exhorted to make use of two opportunities: "Consequently, then, as we have occasion, we are working for the good of all, yet especially for the family of faith" (Gal.6:10). And "praying on every occasion" (Eph.6:18). We should never miss an opportunity for prayer in the work of the Lord.
For carrying out the work of faith the word "occasion" gives us a definite rule by which to work. In Greek this word is kairos, SEASON, appointed time, era. In this we are clearly told that we are not to work and pray without a plan and purpose, but to use the proper and opportune occasion. Neither should we imagine that now is the era for all unbelievers to be saved. Even in our prayers for Israel we should remember that their national salvation is still future. And even if we seize every opportunity to pray, urged by the great and increasing need in the world, nevertheless we should not beg God to remove evil now, for we know that it is all in line with His intention, in order to train His creatures for the great final reconciliation of all. To pray for the present fulfillment of promises which pertain to the future does not lead to a walk in wisdom, but tends to make us fall into extremes which have often given the world a chance to deride divine doings. The world can see the mistakes of believers much better than the wisdom which is evident in a path that pleases God.
DIVINE WISDOM FOR THE CELESTIALS
Even if humanity does not learn the wisdom of God through the present secret ecclesia, He does reveal it to other creatures in the world. Mighty messages emanate from the body of Christ, which is the fruit and conveyer of divine wisdom, to the denizens of the celestial realms. According to Paul this is the principal function of the ecclesia today. He says that he is "to enlighten all as to what is the administration of the secret, which has been concealed from the eons in God, Who creates all, that now may be made known to the sovereignties and the authorities among the celestials, through the ecclesia, the multifarious wisdom of God, in accord with the purpose of the eons, which He makes in Christ Jesus, our Lord" (Eph.3:9-11). What an astonishing revelation! We are already serving the heavenly hosts! We are being observed by the good as well as the bad among the celestial creatures! What an important message for believers, members of the body of Christ! And yet how little is it known and understood!
The future function of the present ecclesia among the heavenly hosts is almost unknown. The reason for this is that there is practically no teaching or training to fit the saints for this service. How many spend their life of faith, always conscious of the fact that there may be many eyes, good and bad, looking down upon them from above? Paul says that we are "a theater to the world and to messengers, and to men" (1 Cor.4:9). Indeed, how many fully heed the revelation that "we shall be judging messengers" (1 Cor.6:3)? And how many are earnestly preparing themselves for this judgment seat?
This darkness, concerning one of the most important functions of the present ecclesia, is due, in part, to the fact that the "church" has usurped Israel's function, to lead all the peoples to God, and we view the so-called "fallen angels" as locked up in an endless "hell," so that there is nothing to be done for them.
However (God be thanked!), when the hour strikes for a revival of His truth, then His light breaks through with power. By means of a spirit of wisdom and revelation God is working mightily to impress believers with their future function among the celestials, as well as the fact that He is already making known to them His hidden wisdom. The question arises, How does this come about?
To get the correct answer we should remember that the heavenly hosts have ever studied God's doings on the earth. In the people of Israel they saw how God used the principles of the kingdom, in which He rewarded the faithful with earthly blessings. According to the opinion of Satan, in the case of Job, it is evident that God must do this or those who are His would forsake Him, otherwise. They knew nothing of a deeper grace. It was hid even from the good. The evil spiritual powers gave the history of Israel its special stamp, for they led the people to fall away from God again and again. This must have pleased them greatly, for it delayed the coming of the kingdom. Although they saw that God nevertheless kept on with His work with Israel, and always started anew, yet they probably thought they were hindering it, for they did not yet know that their opposition only furthered His operations.
They began to learn this lesson when Christ came. Through the cross they hoped to absolutely destroy God's endeavor. Instead of this, God raised Him from the dead and set Him as Head even over them. But even after this triumph over them (Col.2:15), God gave them astonishing freedom to oppose His work and deceive the saints. Knowing His plans, they used this freedom to the limit. What mighty blows did they deal out to the Pentecostal beginning! Satan was able to fill the hearts of two members of that ecclesia with lies (Acts 5:1-4). And the rest of them were once again so influenced that the coming of the kingdom became questionable. These deceiving spirits reached the height of their success in Antioch, where they turned the dispersion against the message of their crucified Messiah. Now there could be no longer any thought of a soon-coming kingdom.
But what did the Adversary get to see after their apparent victory? Paul, without further ado, turned to the nations with his message, and God bore witness to it, in that He gave His spirit to some, and they rejoiced and glorified the Word of the Lord (Acts 13:46-48). Even before this, they had seen how God had brought a heathen, Sergius Paul, the proconsul of the island of Paphos, into the faith (Acts 13:6-12). This must have been new to them, for up to this time they knew only of genuine Israelites belonging to God's people. If members of other nations wanted to join them, they had to become proselytes, that is, they subjected themselves to Jewish laws, and circumcision, and even then were only guests of the family of God.
Now, however, God calls members of other nations, by ignoring this established order, into His fellowship, on the simple basis of faith in the evangel of Paul. Such an exodus out of the circle of the authority of the celestial hosts they had never known. Before this, even the call of Saul of Tarsus must have been beyond their grasp. They had seen the judgment of Ananias and Sapphire, but this traveling Pharisee, who had been their best tool in fanatic opposition to the new Jewish ecclesia, was surely a much greater sinner. How much more did he deserve death! But, when the Lord met him in the way, he called him to a special service (Acts 26:10-18). This he began immediately (Acts 9:20) after he was cleansed from his sins in the blood of Christ (Acts 20:18).
With what astonishment must they have viewed these new occurrences, in which such a mighty saving power was displayed! And how they must have marveled when God brought forth such a work out of their opposition! How much they hated this new work is seen in the grim counter measures they took (Acts 13:50). Yet the more they ravaged, the more the new ecclesia, called through Paul's ministry, increased. With the gradual unfolding of present truth it became evident to the satanic hosts that very different principles are at work in this administration than was the case heretofore in Israel. Not earthly blessings, which they thought were necessary to keep believers true to God (Job 1:10,11; 2:5), were now used, but spiritual ones. Even signs and wonderful experiences, healing and deliverances out of danger, were missing in this ecclesia. All was based on faith. How astonished must they have been that these new principles wrought a much more successful and spiritual life than the signs and wonders among the people of Israel!
But this was by no means all that the wicked spirits learned through this new ecclesia. How they must have been impressed by the fact that this body of believers was intended, not for the earth, but the celestial regions, and that their God has promised them just that allotment in which they have their abode, and from which they attack them. Yes, they have the astonishing experience that those with sufficient faith, on the ground of God's Word (Eph.2:8), already take a place among them in spirit, without dread or fear. And how do these appear in their region? With a panoply that enables them to stand up to their stratagems, and which they cannot overcome.
Now this satanic sovereignty began to see what a special service the one-time Pharisee, Saul, had to carry out, that is, to found a new ecclesia and to initiate it into all the divine secrets, thus giving it a place transcending all others. How their hate has led them to use everything in their power to dispose of this divine instrument! And they found plenty of willing helpers (Acts 9:23; 14:19; 21:31; 23:12). As they saw their murderous plans fail, they tried to set the witnesses aside by imprisonment. Yet it was from just such a place that Paul wrote epistles with such transcendent revelations as had never been made known before. In these they should recognize themselves as conquered by Christ. They must see that they also are to be reconciled through the blood of Christ (Col.1:20), and are already under His headship (Eph.1:21; Col.2:10). And even if they still remain stubborn, they know that they will yet bow the knee to Christ and acclaim Him as their Lord (Phil.2:11).
This initial publication of the full and perfect conquest of Christ must have caused much consternation in the domains of darkness. Opposition will all be in vain and will be transformed into the acclamation of all creation at the last. Indeed, what divine wisdom is brought to light by this revelation!
If Paul was constrained to exclaim, "O, the depth of the riches and the wisdom and knowledge of God!" (Rom.11:33), when he had made known His compassion for all humanity, what wisdom shines forth from the revelation of the reconciliation of all the heavenly hosts!
Today this peace proclamation still causes the spiritual powers of evil to endure severe defeats, which come to them through witnesses who believe and spread abroad this revelation. "This Pauline ecclesia! This joint body! What damage has it done to us!" Such exclamations are probably heard in the realm of darkness. In the past, when the people of Israel were the center of God's operations, things must have been much easier for these celestial powers. Then they were not disturbed in their own habitation.
And what kind of humans are used to carry this out? If these were pure Israelites, who had a superior place among the peoples of the earth, it might be understandable. But now it is principally those who belong to the nations, who had no promises, whom God allowed to go their own ways in the past (Acts 14:16). Then they were not used by God, and were enthralled by the spirit operating in the sons of stubbornness. Now they have been elevated far above the spirits and shall be their judges (1 Cor.6:3). They could not grasp it. Yet it was an incontestable biblical fact.
What must have most embittered them was the knowledge that they themselves were used to further this secret purpose before it actually was carried out. Accustomed to their previous successes in delaying the kingdom, they thought they could continue to hinder God from accomplishing anything. But now they became aware that it was not at their own initiative that they halted the Pentecostal movement, but this was done by God in order to prepare the way for a new development. They thought they were holding up His work when they were really forwarding it! When they saw that their opposition was turned to furtherance it must have been overwhelming! God's might and strength they understood, but here they were initiated into His deepest wisdom.
Now, if this had been only a single incident, which would have gradually lost its force, they might have recovered from this blow. But no! God has so arranged it that this divine wisdom is continually before their eyes. For almost two thousand years has this part of God's plan been actively carried out in front of them. Continually men from the nations are called out of the jurisdiction of darkness (Col.1:13) and of the air (Eph.2:2), into the kingdom of the Son of His love, that is, into subjection to God through Christ. And every one of these is an illustration of divine wisdom, which throws its light up to them, reminding them that this is the result of their opposition. So every child of God, from the first hour of his life of faith, even though he knows it not, reveals to the celestial beings the manifold wisdom of God. But how much more powerfully does the wisdom of God enlighten the most distant celestial realms when mature believers are fully conscious of their high calling, and pattern their faith and walk in accord with this wisdom!
Alas! How sad is the sight in some of the ecclesias! Even though the obedient celestial powers learn the lesson of divine wisdom with wonder and adoration, the wicked ones have not yet come so far. They hate the ecclesia of Christ with its exalted mission, and especially those who, in spirit, already occupy their future place, and herald these enemies' future capitulation to Christ at the conciliation of all.
Yet they are not resigned to idleness, but are very active. With their clever strategy they have darkened the minds of Christians, hiding from them their high commission, and have switched it to a sidetrack. How widely spread is the teaching that the body of Christ is a continuation of Pentecost, taking over Israel's earthly calling, so that they are engaged in building the kingdom on earth! That, indeed, is a clever diversion which hinders believers in preparing for their true future mission. And how have the spirits prevented them from hearing of the hated final conquest of Christ, by injecting the teaching of eternal hell! In that way they actually ascribe the victory to Satan, their sovereign head. And even if the demons are judged, nevertheless this doctrine teaches that a Satanic kingdom somewhere in God's creation is to endure for eternity. This would nullify God's wisdom. A great surprise is due when once it becomes known how much of this teaching comes from deceiving spirits and is fostered by them in the ecclesia. Without their influence, it would never have come so far that even believers call the reconciliation of all a doctrine of the devil. Satan would not herald his own defeat!
Yet, thanks be to God, He did not let the counter-worker and his host have the right to say, "We managed to keep the whole ecclesia in the dark as to their calling and the final triumph of Christ, so long as it was on earth." During the past decades God has wonderfully heard the prayer of Paul for a spirit of wisdom and revelation, so that the illumination of the wisdom of God once more reaches the saints. Now a small, but increasing, number enjoys the full knowledge of its future call above, to be among the celestials, and the full assurance of the triumph of Christ. And, with this faith and a God-honoring walk, they fulfill the God-given commission, that now may be made known to the sovereignties and the authorities among the celestials...the multifarious wisdom of God" (Eph.3:10).
FOR OUR GLORY
It is impossible that a gift of such dimensions, that brings so much glory to God, should not reflect some of it on its recipients and witnesses, for "God designates it...for our glory" (1 Cor.2:7). Once we shared the judgment of those who "are wanting of the glory of God." Now, His gifts have made us transcendently rich by means of the riches of His glory. God has endowed His Son with all His glory, and only through Him and in Him are we glorified. He is the effulgence of God's glory (Heb.1:3). We have "the illumination of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ" (2 Cor.4:6). As God is now glorifying us with these gifts, in them we receive Christ Himself in His glory. The more open and receptive we become, the more we receive of the glory of God. At present this is confined to the inner, hidden human. But, when Christ comes, then we will be manifested with Him in glory (Col.3:4).
Now we read (Eph.3:21): "to Him (God) be glory in the ecclesia and in Christ Jesus..." Here we are shown why God gives us gifts for our glorification (since we have none of our own), so that we may return glory to Him. In this the twenty-four elders set a good example for us: "And they are casting their wreaths before the throne, saying, `Worthy art Thou, O Lord, our Lord and God, to get the glory and honor and power'" (Rev.4:10,11). When we see God's gifts in this light, it will encourage us mightily to freely avail ourselves of them, for the more we do this, the more we will glorify Him, now and in the life to come.
We will now review the whole subject as follows: As God is the rich Giver, and we the rich receivers, the close of our meditation can only be a hearty thanksgiving for these transcendently glorious pre-eonian presents. Surely, from the ecclesia arises an unintermittent thanksgiving to Him for the experience of salvation by means of the reconciliation wrought by Christ on the cross. Really, it was something unspeakably great to be cleared from sins which severed us from God, gratuitously by His grace, through faith in the blood of Christ, and become a holy vessel for His use. That was only the basic and preparatory gift of God to us. One who is justified and has the expectation of a future glorious life, is conscious of inexpressible riches. And if God had given us nothing more in this life, we would have been super-wealthy, and would and could not demand more.
However, as the heart of our Father was eager to add to these blessings a flood of His richest heavenly treasures, is it right to be content with the initial gifts, and have no appreciation for the more precious? Here we touch a sore point in the ecclesia. Too bad that believers have not only been led and trained never to go beyond the rudiments, but have been warned against a deeper knowledge which would bring them to maturity. But if we ask how it is that so many believers feel themselves so poor, have so little victory in the fight of faith and so many tragic spiritual crises, we find that most of it comes from ignorance concerning His glorious gifts out of the rich reserves of glory.
But that is not the worst. Because of this ignorance, the thanks due to the Giver fails to ascend. Unknown blessings cannot draw out our thanks. Everyone knows that. Can we estimate how much thanksgiving due to God is not offered to Him because of ignorance of His gifts? How many thank Him for the gift of wisdom? And even those who do it are ashamed that they did not do it earlier. We may almost say that the knowledge of these gifts was as well as lost to the ecclesia.
Therefore, blest are all who are willing to be led, through the spirit, in the Word, back to the period before the eons, there where God gave us grace (2 Tim.1:9), and promised us eonian life (Titus 1:2), and, out of all His wisdom selected the deepest part for us (1 Cor.2:7). The realization of the earliest activity of His love for us will cause our hearts to overflow with praise and thanksgiving for His most glorious of all gifts, and that not only with our lips, but with our whole life. Our walk must always be limited by our knowledge.
God knows very well that the greatest incentive to a holy walk lies in the knowledge of our high estate. To realize that we are celestial citizens and noblemen, in the highest office and overwhelmed with heavenly wealth, can show us best our great distance from the world and all that it has to offer. In view of God's gifts, all earthly riches and highest honors fade away. Nothing else than the realization of this can create such a wholehearted separation from sin, and the fear of grieving Him by an unworthy walk.
Twice are we exhorted by our apostle to reclaim the era (Eph.5:16; Col.4:5). Let us remind ourselves that, in all the glory and perfection which we will enjoy above, we will lack one way of honoring our Lord and glorify Him, that is, by a walk in faith and obedience. And just this brings Him an honor which we cannot accord Him when above. Therefore we should prize such occasions and use them to the full.
May God, in His grace, use this exposition to bring forth precious fruit, increased knowledge and wisdom, besides a deepened thankfulness to Him, and a constant growth in a worthy walk!
May we all pray that He work in us according to the riches of His grace, to His honor, and the glory of His Son!
(To be continued)