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The Place Of The Ecclesia in God's Purpose
Part 6 - The complement of Christ

by John H. Essex


 
 
WE HAVE PREVIOUSLY suggested in this series of studies that the form the ministry of the ecclesia would take was determined by God even before the eons began; and that even as woman, as man's complement, maintains the form of humanity throughout all generations, so the ecclesia, as Christ's complement, maintains the form of the ministry of grace, which God has begun in Christ, so that God Himself shall find glory in the ecclesia and in Christ Jesus throughout all the generations of the eon of the eons (Eph. 3:21).

Christ Himself provides the power for this ministry "He is the life, the driving force behind it "but God has so ordained matters that it is our role to see that there is no deviation from the form that that ministry shall take. It is a ministry of grace "consistent grace, perpetual grace, undiluted grace "for grace is the basis of ultimate salvation and the path to complete reconciliation.

There are, in fact, two ministries which date from pre-eonian times: the ministry of Christ (as God's Complement) and the ministry of the ecclesia (as Christ's complement). The ministry of Christ is one of life, in accord with the promise of life made in Him before times eonian (Titus 1:2). Christ, as God's Complement, fulfills His promise of life, for all God's promises are "Yes" in Christ (2 Cor.1:20). He never deviates from His mission as a life-giver. The promise of life is centered in Him. He is the Resurrection and the Life " the Way, the Truth and the Life "the Bread of Life. "As in Adam all are dying, thus also in Christ shall all be vivified" (1 Cor. 15:22).

From before eonian times, God determined that all should have life (for Him to be God of the dead is inconceivable; e.g. Matt.22:32), and He appointed His Son to be the means by which His promise of life should be accomplished. At Calvary, Jesus said, "It is accomplished." Even in His death He gives life. indeed, life to all is now guaranteed; so much so that Paul, when he announces in 1 Corinthians 15:20 that Christ is roused from among the dead, can immediately go on to declare that God will be All in all (v.28). That is to say, once Christ is roused from among the dead, there is no power in the universe that can prevent God's ultimate from being accomplished, for all sovereignty and authority and power is made subject to Christ, and the apostle specifically excludes God Himself from this subjection in order to show that all else is included. Further, death itself is declared to be abolished, so effective and so complete is the ministry of Christ!

But God has also determined (again, from before eonian times) that the basis of ultimate salvation shall be His own grace, and not the works of the creature; and thus the ecclesia is appointed, as Christ's complement to supplement the ministry of life which Christ is operating. So, from Calvary onwards, God begins to display His grace "His absolute grace "first to the members of the ecclesia itself as they are called one by one from the sons of humanity, and then through the ecclesia to all creation. For it is a ministry not limited to the earth, but is to be displayed in the eons to come among the celestials.

THE MINISTRY OF GRACE

The ministry of the ecclesia "this ministry of grace "is not one suddenly conceived by God to take over where other ministries fall short, though in fact it does just that, as we shall see presently. No, it is the earliest projected ministry in the universe, apart from that of Christ Himself. It dates indeed from the time when only God was in existence, for when He brought forth His Son, as His own Complement, He conceived that Christ also would have a complement, the ecclesia; and so, in that sense, the ecclesia is as old as Christ, and has its ministry defined in the gift that was given to it in Christ Jesus before ever the eons began.

How wonderful it is that the whole future of the universe depends upon those primal decisions of God, to bestow life through His Son and to display grace through the ecclesia! It is just impossible for us to grasp, in full measure, the honor which God has bestowed upon us as members of that ecclesia!

But what is this ministry of grace? Can we define it further? To be sure we can, for it is clearly set forth in Ephesians 2, verses 8-10:

"For in grace, through faith, are you saved, and this is not out of you: it is Gods approach present, not of works lest anyone should be boasting. For His achievement are we...."

This is the definition of absolute salvation. In this, the flesh has no place; law has no place; works have no place. All these were dealt with, and were shown to be at enmity with the evangel of grace, in the earlier epistles of Romans, Corinthians and Galatians. Indeed, in Romans 8:20, all creature effort is shown to be nothing but vanity. Here, in Ephesians 2, all is centered upon God's operations. Salvation is made to depend on Him, and Him alone. We become His achievement, and we are to display the transcendent riches of His grace (which have already been bestowed upon us) to all creation so that the rest, too, may ultimately become His achievement, created in Christ Jesus.

NO LASTING ALTERNATIVE TO SALVATION IN GRACE

What is the alternative to this salvation in grace? There is none! Paul knew that in his flesh there dwelt nothing good; he knew that those in flesh could not please God (Rom.7:18; 8:8). He knew, too, that the perfect law of God, holy and just though it was, could not procure salvation, for by works of law could no flesh be justified (Rom.3:20). There is no getting away from sin if it is to be through the law, for the law only brought increasing recognition of sin. And any creature endeavor apart from God is just vanity, to which Paul declares the whole creation to have been subjected. Where, then, is the way out, the way to salvation? Does it lie in the Kingdom, to be set up in Israel under the Lord Jesus, the millennial reign of Christ? Many Christians think this to be the answer to all their problems and the goal of their desires. But the millennial reign of Christ ends in a vast rebellion as soon as Satan is loosed for even a little time - when he comes out "to deceive all the nations which are in the four corners of the earth, Gog and Magog, to be mobilizing them for battle, their number being as the sand of the sea" (Rev.20:8).

And when we come to the new heavens and the new earth of Revelation 21, what do we find? Verses 7 and 8 of this chapter tell us that, while some will be enjoying this allotment, others, described as unbelievers, idolaters and the like, will find their part in "the lake burning with fire and sulphur, which is the second death." This hardly sounds like universal salvation, and indeed in the book of Revelation, which is the final book of the Circumcision writings, there is no hint of a resurrection from the second death. Only from the writings of Paul can we deduce that there must be such a resurrection; though he does not mention the second death, he firmly declares that "in Christ shall all be vivified" (1 Cor.15:22).

In passing, it is interesting to note the use of the word peace in Revelation. It occurs only twice: in the opening salutation, "Grace to you and peace from Him Who is and Who was and Who is coming" (Rev.1:4), and in Revelation 6:4, which reads, "And forth came another horse, fiery-red, and to him who is sitting on it is given to take peace out of the earth, and that they should be slaying one another. And a huge sword was given to him." There is no reference in this book to peace being restored to the earth. We have to look to Paul for this; peace is made through the blood of Christ's cross (Col.1:20).

THE ADVANCEMENT IN THE TEACHINGS OF PAUL

It has sometimes been suggested that the last verse of Ephesians 1 indicates that the ecclesia will be maintaining among the celestials the same work as that entrusted to Israel on earth, so that between the two the entire universe is brought under the administration of Christ.

Now there can be no doubt whatever that the sovereignty of earth is given to the nation of Israel, and that they will be used to bring the earth under the administration of Christ. Revelation 22:5 clearly states that God's slaves will be reigning for the eons of the eons, that is, for the last two eons.

But there are factors in the writings of Paul relating to the earth as well as to the heavens "which are not mentioned in the book of Revelation, or indeed in any of the other writers of the Greek Scriptures "which seem to go outside and beyond the ministry of Israel. Where, for instance, is there any mention, outside of Paul, of conciliation and reconciliation? The peace that comes through reconciliation is made by the blood of Christ's cross, but where, outside of Paul's writings, is there any mention of the word of the cross? Or of immortality? Or even of a new humanity?

Where in the Greek Scriptures do we find God portrayed as the Saviour of all mankind? Only in the writings of Paul (1 Tim.2:4 and 4:10). Indeed, Paul is the only one who speaks of all Israel being saved (Rom.11:26). Where, outside of Paul's writings, do we find such themes as justification by faith apart from works and a new creation in Christ Jesus? These form part of the evangel of grace committed to Paul. They have no place in the Circumcision writings, or in any ministry of Israel based on those writings, but they are incorporated in the ministry of the ecclesia which is the body of Christ. When works and law and even the rule of the millennial reign of Christ fail to bring complete salvation, what is there left? Only the evangel of pure grace, which is both prior and superior to them all. For law and rule are imposed from without, and, are effective only while they are imposed, whereas grace operates through God's Spirit, which is placed within the creature, and aims towards the ideal of God being All in all.

ALL IN ALL

The phrase "all in all" occurs both in Ephesians 1:23 and in 1 Corinthians 15:28. In the latter case, it is "that God may be All in all." Now it is apparent that this can be said in three different ways, according to which word we desire to emphasize, and each way of saying it will react differently on our minds.

For example, if we wish to stress the greatness and glory of God, we will say, "That God may be All in all." By stressing the word God, we show that He is the One to Whom all will be reconciled, and thus we emphasize the absoluteness of His Deity.

But we could quote the passage, "That God may be All in all." In this case we emphasize the completeness of His indwelling in each of His creatures, leaving no room within their hearts for any other controlling factor.

Or we could put the emphasis on the last all, and say, "That God may be All in all. In this case, we stress the all- embracing nature of the consummation; no creature is left out of the final analysis; no creature is excluded from the ultimate blessing.

In exactly the same manner, it seems to us, we can express the last phrase of Ephesians 1 in three different modulations.

We can put the stress on the word complement and by doing this, we give the glory to Christ, our Head, and show that we are just the medium through which His work of reconciling all to God will be achieved.

Or we can stress the first all, which is literally the all. There is a definite article before this all in the Greek. By placing the emphasis in this way, we show that, when the ministry of the ecclesia is completed, there will be nothing left to be accomplished in any of those to whom, and for whom, we shall have ministered.

Or we can stress the last all, which includes all creation. In Ephesians 1:10, Paul declares God's intention to "head up all in the Christ "both that in the heavens and that on the earth "in Him in Whom our lot was cast also, being designated beforehand according to the purpose of the One Who is operating all in accord with the counsel of His will, that we should be for the laud of His glory, who are pre-expectant in the Christ."

To head up all in the Christ, both that in the heavens and that on the earth. It is as Head over all (both that in the heavens and that on the earth) that Christ is given to the ecclesia which is His body, the complement by which all in all (both that in the heavens and that on the earth) is being completed.

Is it not the case that all creation is included in this last all, and that all creation, whether in heaven or in earth, needs in some way to benefit from the ministry of the ecclesia? Is not the entire creation groaning and travailing together until now, awaiting the unveiling of the sons of God (Rom.8:18- 22)? The message of grace cannot reach any of them until the ecclesia is completed, and manifested "shown forth "to display that grace. While it is true that our ministry is primarily among the celestials (for they are the greater creation), is it not also true that the gratuity in grace, namely righteousness, is "for all mankind for life's justifying" (Rom.5:16-19)?

The apostle Paul is the one who completes the Word of God (Col.1:25). He completes it in every sense. Only in the writings of Paul do we find vivification for all mankind, and reconciliation to God for all in both earth and heaven (Col.1: 20). Only in Paul's writings is God declared to be All in all.

Paul completes the Word of God. The ecclesia, as the complement of Christ, completes the purpose of God, the "All in all." When the ministry of the ecclesia has run its full course, God will be "All in all."

HOLDING THE HEAD

Finally, it is of supreme importance that each individual member of the ecclesia should recognize and acknowledge Christ as his Head, for it is as Head over all that He is given to us. Colossians also confirms Him as our Head: "and He is the Head of the body, the ecclesia, Who is Sovereign, Firstborn from among the dead" (Col.1:18).

By acknowledging Christ as our Head, we are counteracting the work of the Adversary. The original rebellion among the celestials, which led to the disruption, was, we are sure, against the headship of Christ. It is fascinating to consider that, when Christ brought into being the one who was to be the Adversary, He would know that He was creating a challenger to His own headship of the universe, and the one who would temporarily deprive Him of it. Yet He would also know that He still retained within Himself that which would consistently glorify Him as Head, namely, the ecclesia which is His body. The ecclesia, chosen before the disruption, has never denied His headship; rather, it has sustained it, though individual members may possibly from time to time be upbraided for not holding the Head. The ecclesia is the God-given pledge to Christ of His continuing headship; as His complement, the ecclesia maintains the headship of Christ throughout all generations until all is headed up into Him, for in Him every kindred in heaven and earth is being named (Eph.3: 15).

The ecclesia, we repeat, is the pledge given to Christ (before ever He began to put God's purpose into operation) that His Headship over all would be restored and acknowledged. For not only does the ecclesia maintain a perpetual display of grace, but it also maintains an unbroken witness to the headship of Christ. These are the two aspects of the function of the ecclesia as the complement of Christ "two concurrent and continuous features of its ministry that are completely satisfying in their effects and in their outcome. The one glorifies God, the other exalts His Son.

We close this series of studies on the place of the ecclesia in God's purpose with the prayer of Paul in Ephesians 3:14-21.

"On this behalf am I bowing my knees to the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, after Whom every kindred in the heavens and on earth is being named, that He may be giving you, in accord with the riches of His glory, to be made staunch with power, through His spirit, in the man within, Christ to dwell in your hearts through faith, that you, having been rooted and grounded in love, should be strong to grasp, together with all the saints, what is its breadth and length and depth and height "to know, besides, the knowledge transcending love of Christ "that you may be completed for the entire complement of God.

"Now to Him Who is able to do superexcessively above all that we are requesting or apprehending, according to the power that is operating in us, to Him be glory in the ecclesia and in Christ Jesus for all the generations of the eon of the eons! Amen!"


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