(Bible quotations are from the NIV unless otherwise stated)
Glory in the church
25th October 2007
Perhaps the best-known prayer in Paul's writings is this:
I've heard several sermons based on this passage, but every one of them has focussed either on verses 16-19 or on verse 20. But it seems to me that the focus of the prayer is really verse 21.
You and I, dear fellow-Christian, live to serve God. We live for His glory. Paul's motivation for praying for us to be "strengthened with power" is so that "Christ may dwell in [our] hearts" (verses 16 and 17). His motivation in praying that we would come to a fuller understanding of the greatness God's love for us, is so that we may be filled with "all the fulness of God" (verses 18 and 19). And his motivation in all this is so that God may be glorified (verse 21).
And, of course, we all want God to be glorified.
And, of course, we all see that God is glorified - supremely - "in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen".
But have you ever stopped to consider the other phrase in verse 21: "in the church"?
Yes! Paul prays for God to be glorified in the church!
Do you ever think about that? Do you pray for it - like Paul did? Or do you feel a little bit uncomfortable with the idea of it? Isn't it a bit arrogant of poor sinners like us to imagine that the church can glorify God? No - it isn't! The Bible - the inspired, inerrant word of God, includes a prayer that God be glorified in the church!
And, no, this prayer is NOT just about glory in heaven. It explicitly talks about glory to God in the church throughout all generations! That is, on Earth!
It's right for Christians to be humble. If you're anything like me, you've got a lot to be humble about. But God is answering Paul's prayer. God is glorified in the church in every generation. Not as much as He would like. Not as much as we would like. But it's still true. And it would be more true if we were to grasp the fact that this is God's plan. He has decided to be glorified in the church, on Earth, from the day of Pentecost back in AD 30 until the second coming. He will be glorified in the church in history, not just after the end of history.
And we need to get back to an understanding that the decisions we take on Earth should be guided by the question "what course of action would glorify God most completely?"
I expect there are some Sundays when you don't want to go to church. Maybe the preacher's a bit boring. Maybe someone upset you last week. Maybe you just feel tired and want a morning in bed. Ask yourself, "would I glorify God more by staying in bed or by going to church?".
Sometimes, you may feel like being a bit unpleasant to someone at work. Maybe they deserve it. Maybe you feel justified in making them miserable for a few minutes, because they've made your life a misery for years. What would glorify God? Loving your enemies, as Jesus taught us, or being spiteful and full of revenge?
And there are lots of other situations where the question of God's glory will help us to make the right choice.
It's tragic the bad press that the Kingdom of God gets in our generation. And much of the blame for that lies with the church. We've fallen into the very comfortable error of imagining that we can't make much difference, so it doesn't matter much how we behave. But we are the church! The church that Paul describes in Ephesians 1v23 as "his body, the fulness of him who fills everything in every way". The church matters. And every Christian is part of it.
And what better goal can you set yourself for the rest of your life than to glorify God?
Paul writes in Colossians:
I don't think Paul's only thinking of the glory we'll experience in Heaven. There is also a sure and certain hope that Christ will be glorified through His church on Earth!
But we can see from the whole prayer in Ephesians 3 that this glory to God in the church comes through God's power and through a revelation of God's love. Do you want to see God glorified in the church? More relevantly, do you want to see Him glorified in your church? Then pray for Him to be glorified in you. And, to pray in the light of scripture, pray also that God would strengthen you with power through his Spirit, and that God would give you power to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ for you.