Lesson One - God's Glorious Plan

"His intent was that now, through the church, the manifold wisdom of God should be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly realms" Ephesians 3:10.

God has an "intent" - expressed for and through the Church - which was His ultimate purpose:

In the creation

The Church was in God's mind at the creation.

"For he chose us in him before the creation of the world" Ephesians 1:4.

In the call of Abraham

"The promises were spoken to Abraham and to his seed who is Christ. If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham's seed, and heirs according to the promise" Galatians 3:16,29.

The Church was God's goal in the calling of Abraham. Abraham himself saw a vision of God's purpose (Genesis 15:12-16), in which He saw the coming of Christ (John 8:56) and the city of redeemed people that would be born as a result of that coming (Hebrews 11:10,14; 12:22; Revelation 21:2).

In the choosing of Israel

The Church was God's ultimate purpose in His call upon and dealings with the nation of Israel.

"These things happened to them as examples and were written down as warnings for us, on whom the fulfilment of the ages has come" 1 Corinthians 10:11 (see also Colossians 2:16-17).

Although God has a special covenant with the Jewish people, the separation of the natural Jewish line was for the purpose of bringing forth the Messiah, who would usher in a redeemed company of both Jew and Gentile - the Church.

In the sending of Jesus

The Church was God's glorious intention in sending His Son to redeem the world (Acts 20:28).

"Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless" Ephesians 5:25-27 (see also Revelation 21:9-10).

This was the joy set before Jesus, for which He endured the Cross (Hebrews 12:2). This was the "treasure hidden in a field" for which Jesus sold all He had in order to purchase (Matthew 13:44).

The Bible states categorically that God loves His Church. With all the faults and deficiencies that we may see in the Church, we must understand this one thing: God has a plan for His Church and He has invested everything in that plan.

Defining the Church

"God's household, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and foundation of the truth" 1 Timothy 3:15.

The word "church" is a translation of the Greek word ekklesia, which means "an assembly, a congregation". This word, however, is derived from two Greek words, ek and kaleo, which together mean "called out". In other words, the Church is most simply defined as the company of "called out" ones. All who have responded to God's call of redemption are part of the Church. Notice, therefore, that the definition of the Church is based on God's call, not man's organisation. Jesus said: "I will build my church" (Matthew 16:18).

But God gives an even deeper definition of the Church, one which goes beyond any textbook definition:

"And God placed all things under his feet and appointed him to be head over everything for the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills everything in every way" Ephesians 1:22-23. The Church is more than just a group of Christians meeting together. Just as Christ was "the fullness of the Godhead bodily" (Col.2:9, KJV), so now also is the Church. The Church is an extension of the Godhead, the "fullness of him who fills everything in every way".

The Blueprint

In Colossians 1:24-2:10, the apostle Paul outlines the blueprint God has designed for His Church.

Paul's commission

"Now I rejoice in what was suffered for you, and I fill up in my flesh what is still lacking in regard to Christ's afflictions, for the sake of his body, which is the church. I have become its servant by the commission God gave me" Colossians 1:24-2.

Paul was commissioned by God to lay the foundations for His Church (Ephesians 2:20; 1 Corinthians 3:6). In order to do this, for the sake of God's Church, Paul "(filled) up in (his) flesh what is still lacking in regard to Christ's afflictions." This verse does not tell us that there was any lack in Christ's afflictions - the Bible is clear that Christ's work is a complete, finished work, to which nothing more can be added (John 19:30; Rom.6:10; Heb.7:27; 9:12,26; 10:10; 1 Peter 3:18).

What Paul was talking about was what was lacking in his own flesh in regard to Christ's afflictions - and that not for himself, but for the sake of the church! In other words, in order to see the Church grow and expand, Paul knew he had to see an even greater expression of the reality of the Cross in his own flesh - so that, in turn, he could impart this to the Church.

Paul's message

"I became (the church's) servant by the commission God gave me to present to you the word of God in its fullness - the mystery that has been kept hidden for ages and generations, but now disclosed to the saints. To them God has chosen to make known among the Gentiles the glorious riches of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory" Colossians 1:25-27. The core of Paul's message to the Church was an understanding that all the riches in Christ Himself was now invested in His Body, the Church. "My purpose is that (the church) may be encouraged in heart and united in love, so that they may have the full riches of complete understanding, in order that they may know the mystery of God, namely, Christ, in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge" Colossians 2:2-3.

Paul's purpose

"We proclaim (Christ), admonishing and teaching everyone with all wisdom, so that we may present everyone perfect in Christ. To this end I labour, struggling with all his energy, which so powerfully works in me" Colossians 1:28-29.

Paul's purpose was God's purpose, that we may be conformed to the image of God's Son (Romans 8:29) - not just individually, but also as a corporately-expressed Body.

The Fullness of God

"For in Christ all the fullness of the Deity lives in bodily form, and you have been given fullness in Christ, who is the head over every power and authority" Colossians 2:9-10.

When Paul said "you have been given fullness in Christ", he used the plural "you". In other words, he was not addressing us as individuals, but as a group. It is as the whole Body of Christ that we express the fullness of Christ to the world. This is the nature of the Church, as created by God.

The Stamp of the Spirit

"And you also were included in Christ when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation. Having believed, you were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit, who is a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance" Ephesians 1:13-14.

Each Christian has been individually sealed by God's Spirit, but so has the entire Church of God. To be marked has the meaning of being "branded". God has branded His Church with the very nature of His Spirit, and thus it is the Holy Spirit, not man-made structures, which defines the Church.

"In him the whole building is joined together and rises to become a holy temple in the Lord. And in him you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit" Ephesians 2:21-22.

It is only by the Holy Spirit that the prayer of Jesus can be fulfilled:

"I pray that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one: I in them and you in me" John 17:20-23.


Copyright © 1995 Paul, Bunty and David Collins. All rights reserved. This study may be freely used and reproduced, wholly or in part, by the Christian Church for the non-profit purposes of study and training only, provided copyright and contact information is included.

Unless otherwise stated, all scriptures quoted in these studies are from the New International Version of the Bible, © New York International Bible Society, used by permission. Other versions referred to are: KJV (King James Version), NKJB (New King James Bible), TLB (The Living Bible), Amp (The Amplified Bible) and The Message. All versions used by permission.

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