This piece started as I was thinking about how we are called to function as church in the light of our calling and God's purposes. The original question was concerning the church as a theraputic community, but this quickly expanded to: 'The Church - Hospital and Army'. There has been a lot of talk recently about 'Spiritual Warfare' and I would like to see what the Bible has to say about this in the light of everything else we are supposed to do - to see it in the context of normal life.
The definitive passage about spiritual warfare comes at the end of Ephesians. This seems to be important: it comes at the end of the book, not the beginning, because you have to understand the rest of the book if you are to understand what Paul says about the subject.
The other reason to look at Ephesians is this: it is the 'Epistle of the Church' - not written to sort out problems in the early Church, but to help the early Christians understand what we are here for.
What I am attempting to do here is to understand what Paul is saying to us in his letter by summarising the central points being made in each section of the book. Alongside this is a little commentary, to draw out some of the the application, to help us understand what Paul's teaching can mean for us today.
The letter is addressed 'to the saints,' and that is the obvious challenge facing each church and each individual Christian today. We are called the 'holy ones', but to what extent do we believe this, and how much can we live it? But both the believing and the living depend on understanding what Paul means by the word 'saint', and that is one of the topics he makes very clear in the course of this letter.
The very next phrase contains the answer in a nutshell: Paul blesses the saints with 'grace and peace.' We have been chosen by God's grace to be saints, so we will know His peace as an outworking of that grace in our lives.
Grace and peace are (should be, must be) central to the life of the Church, and our relationships within the Church, just as they are central to the life of every believer. The church is the community of grace. The New Testament contains no definition of the word 'Church', but this description gets as close to the heart of the New Testament's teaching about the Church as any other.
We have every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ. We already have the lot! God does not wait until we are good enough, strong enough or mature enough - He gives us everything we can have, right at the start of our Christian life. That's grace! We may not understand what we have, we may not be able to use it properly, but He holds back no blessing from us.
This passage talks about God's purpose. God has a purpose in everything He does, and everything we do should contribute in some way to that purpose. Our meeting together only makes sense when our purpose fits in to God's plan and purpose for the entire universe.
What is God's plan? It is to bring all things together under Christ. How simple! Paul is talking here about the Lordship of Christ. We have to realise that Jesus is great - greater than anything else - far bigger than any of my problems. When we have this perspective, our Christian lives - the way God wants us to live - start to make sense.
Paul prays that we will have wisdom, revelation and enlightenment about two things: riches and power. God's riches and power - His riches in us and His power for us. You need to understand these things if you are to cooperate with Him in seeing His purposes fulfilled in this world.
God has placed all things under the feet of Jesus - again, this is a picture of total Lordship. God has made Jesus head over all things for the Church, so whatever we want, we can only get it through Jesus. And - this is the amazing bit - the Church is not just blessed by and through Jesus, it is also identified with Jesus: it is His Body, the fulness of Him Who fills everything.
We were once dead, but because God loved us so much, He saved us by grace through faith in order that we may do good works.
The Gentiles have been united with the Jews in Christ - so united that in place of the two groups which previously existed, there now exists only the one group. The people who were impossible to unite through worldly means have been totally united in Jesus. Every blessing that God had in store for His people - the Jews - now belongs to everyone who belongs to Jesus: not only blessings for the future, but also the blessings of a Godly heritage. Gentiles who come to Christ have the same foundation as the Jews who come to Him, and Jews and Gentiles together are being built into a building in which God dwells.
We must therefore avoid individualism. It is impossible to see God's purpose fulfilled through functioning as individuals. We are being built together so that we may become the building in which God dwells: we are in this together, or we are not in it at all.
Paul's mission was to preach Christ.
God intends to unite the most impossibly divided people in the world.
Through this unity in the church, the wisdom of God is made manifest.
Our unity reveals God to the spiritual forces.
We will be rooted in love.
We will have power to understand and experience how great His love is.
Maintain the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace.
There is only one body, one Spirit, one Lord one faith and one baptism.
[Incarnation: unique and united.
Unique - the only people here, serving these people at this time.
United - our aims are the same as every church in every time.]
Grace has been given to each one of us.
This grace is the fulfilment of the promise to give us gifts when Jesus ascended.
The incarnation was necessary in order for Jesus to be able to ascend.
These grace gifts are apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers.
Given to equip (all) the saints for the work of service, to build up the Body.
The purpose of this is unity in the faith, knowledge of Jesus and maturity.
The purpose of this is stability and closer union with Christ.
This will only happen if we all play our part.
So growth comes through serving, not through getting 'sorted out'.
Sin is a dead end.
Choose to live differently now because you can, and because it is God's will.
You are children of the light, so live like it.
Use every opportunity because the days are evil - what you do matters.
Your relationships are to reflect the character of Christ.
You are in a battle, but don't go looking for trouble.
When the fight comes to you, stand firm.
You will stand firm if you live according to the teaching you have received.
The armour of God will protect you from harm - leave it off and you will get hurt.
Please pray for me (and for all the saints), that I will live in the truth we have received, and share it with others.