Purpose of the Church
Sometimes we mistake work for purpose. For instance, my computer performs all kinds of tasks: word processing, presentation building, Bible study library, photo editing, entertainment hub, etc. While it does all of these things, and many more, it would be better to describe my computer’s purpose as assisting me in any task I choose which it is capable of performing. Likewise, we know that the church has God-given works to pursue: being the pillar of truth in this world, seeing to the spiritual growth of God’s people as well as benevolent needs. However, none of these works sufficiently describe the purpose of God’s church. But I believe Paul gave a succinct definition of the church’s purpose when he wrote, “to Him be the glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations forever and ever” (Ephesians 3.21). Our purpose is to glorify God and our various works flow from that purpose.
Paul’s statement regarding the church’s purpose comes right in the middle of his epistle to the Ephesians, forming a nice hinge to the letter. The first three chapters show at length WHY God should be glorified in His church: because it is where He has lavished us with every spiritual blessing (1.3-14), because it is comprised of those who’ve been brought back from the dead (2.1-10) and those who’ve been brought near to Him (2.11-22), because it’s where God’s mystery is revealed for how He would reconcile Jew and Gentile together (3.1-13), and because it’s where we experience His surpassing love (3.14-19). He is deserving of glory in His church!
The second half of the letter (chapters 4-6) instructs us HOW to glorify God in His church. We glorify Him when we undergo the transformation from old man to new man (4.20-24), when we imitate our Father (5.1), when we live in subjection to others (5.21) and when we stand firm against the evil one (6.10ff). And we glorify God in the church when we “preserve the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” (4.3). This first means of glorifying God in the church was not written to confront denominationalism, even though we rightly use the principles found in Ephesians 4.4-6 to do so. Rather, unity was emphasized because of the Jew/Gentile makeup of the church. In bringing both Jew and Gentile into His church, God had revealed the mystery of how He would reconcile the two (3.4-6), but being part of God’s church didn’t end the mistrust and hard feelings that had developed between the two groups over the years. Jewish Christians would have been tempted to view their Gentile brethren as outsiders, Gentile saints would have been tempted to view their Jewish brethren as strange, peculiar and arrogant. How could such a church glorify God? By remembering what was truly important, that even though they were from vastly different backgrounds, both Jewish and Gentile Christians shared in “one body and one Spirit… in one hope… one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all” (4.4-6). And if they would remember that their oneness in Christ was of first importance, they would seek to “preserve the bond of peace” by showing “humility and gentleness, with patience, showing tolerance for one another in love” (4.2-3).
I fear that in these tumultuous times our Father isn’t receiving the glory He deserves from His church. Too often brethren stand opposed to each other based on a political or social position. Our country affords us the wonderful privileges of choosing our elected officials, voicing our opinions and even protesting injustices. Each of us gets to choose what matters to him in politics, government and social causes. Each of us forms our opinions based on a variety of factors, including economic status, race, gender, family and religious conviction. And each of us has the right to vocally disagree with others that form different opinions, even with brethren. But our Father is not glorified in His church when we make political and/or social stances of greater importance than the unity of the Spirit. He is not glorified when we are enraged at our brethren because they differ with us over whom they will vote for (or refuse to vote for), or they choose to stand for either black lives or blue lives. He is not glorified when we fail to apply the bond of peace to cover our legitimate differences.
“To Him be the glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations forever and ever.” Amen.