"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.!" (Eph.3:20,21).
That the ecclesia has been assigned a very important role in
the purpose of God is evident from the above scripture, for obviously that which
is to give glory to God "for all the generations of the eon of the
eons" cannot be brushed aside as insignificant, especially when its mention
is placed before that of Christ Jesus. Clearly it should be a profitable line of
inquiry for us to examine in detail what this role is—to ask ourselves, in
fact, what is the place of the ecclesia in God's purpose? This will be our aim
in this series of studies.
But first we must be clear in our minds as to what
ecclesia we are referring, for more than one ecclesia is mentioned in the
The word "ecclesia" occurs some 115 times in the
Greek Scriptures. Strikingly, only three of these occur in the four accounts of
Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, and these are all in Matthew, two of them being in
one verse (see Matt.16: 18 and 18:17). Sometimes the word has a local
application, as in eighteen occurrences in the book of Revelation. There the
word is used of individual gatherings in various localities—the
ecclesia in Ephesus, Smyrna, etc. The same is true of some usages of the term in
the book of Acts, and also in the Pauline writings, many of which are addressed
to individual ecclesias; for example, "the ecclesia of the
Thessalonians," "the ecclesia of God in Corinth" and "the
ecclesias of Galatia." But clearly in our study we are not concerned with
individual ecclesias as such, but only insofar as they are part of "the
ecclesia" in its widest sense.
In Acts 7:38, we have a reference to "the ecclesia in
the wilderness," but the context shows that this clearly refers to the
out-called ones from Egypt, the nation of Israel under Moses, condemned to a
period of wandering in the wilderness because of their lack of faith in God.
Leaving this application of the term to one side, we find that the Greek
Scriptures use the term "ecclesia" in connection with two distinct
companies of people. First, there is the company of circumcision saints who
followed the Lord, and were ministered to by the twelve apostles of the Lamb.
This ministry received a great impetus with the witness beginning at Pentecost,
when the circle of twelve was reestablished after the defection of Judas, and
the holy Spirit came upon them with power. Such was the activity of the apostles
at this time that about three thousand souls were added to the ecclesia in one
day (Acts 2:41). The ministry had as its basic theme, "Repent and be
baptized each of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the pardon of your sins,
and you shall be obtaining the gratuity of the holy Spirit" (Acts 2:38). It
continued until the circle of twelve was again broken by the killing of James by
Herod (Acts 12:2), though the Jews had already signified their rejection of the
message of the Kingdom through their stoning of Stephen. The ministry will be
resumed when the circle is restored by the resurrection of the Twelve at the
coming of the Lord to establish His Kingdom; until then, the promises concerning
this ecclesia are in abeyance.
But there is still an ecclesia to which Paul and his
companion apostles ministered, described by him as "the ecclesia,"
"the ecclesia of God" and "the ecclesia which is Christ's
body" (1 Cor.12:27,28; 1 Tim.3:5; Eph.1:23). It is this ecclesia which we
wish to discuss in these studies. The message proclaimed by Paul is not
"repent and be baptized" in order to be saved, but "Believe on
the Lord Jesus, and you shall be saved" (Acts 16:31). In his evangel, the
obedience of faith takes the place of repentance, and justification takes the
place of pardon. Works are set aside, for salvation is by faith apart from works
(Rom.3:28). Human endeavor is shown to be vanity, and salvation is seen to be
dependent upon God alone, for the evangel is declared to be His power for
salvation (Rom.1:16). Its basis is "the word of the cross" which again
is declared to be "the power of God" (1 Cor.1:18). Its standing is in
the terms of a new creation, in which the former creation is regarded as
"primitive" and "passed by," and all has "come
new" (2 Cor.5:17), and not in the terms of a new birth, as suggested by
Jesus to Nicodemus (John 3:7), for in such the new is born of the old; witness
Peter's application in 1 Peter 2:9 of the promise made to Israel before Sinai
But before we proceed further, let us obtain a definition of
the word "ecclesia."
DEFINITION OF "ECCLESIA"
The Greek word ekklesia consists of two components;
the prefix ek, meaning "out," and the root part of the word klesia,
meaning "called." It thus means "a called-out company."
In many versions, it is generally translated by the word
"church," but this word has, in the minds of most people, lost its
true significance for three reasons, namely:
1. It is most frequently applied to a building rather than to
the occupants of a building. The same is true of the word "school;"
the correct terms for the buildings should be "church-house" and
"schoolhouse" respectively, but the former seldom, if ever, appears as
a dictionary word.
2. The word "church" has been appropriated by
almost every sect and denomination to denote its own particular form of worship;
thus we have the "Roman Catholic Church," the "Anglican
Church," the "Baptist Church," the "Methodist Church"
and many others. The Word of God knows no such distinctions.
3. The word "church" does not indicate, in itself,
the two components that are inherent in the word "ecclesia," therefore
the full import of its meaning is lost, and it comes to be regarded as simply a
company of worshipers, rather than a body of "called-out" ones.
It is essential that we keep in mind the two components of
the word "ecclesia," for the fact that a "calling-out" is
involved shows that there must have been a choice. That choice must have been of
God, for it is He Who does the calling, that His purpose may remain as a choice,
not out of acts, but of Him Who is calling. Though this statement is applied in
Romans 9:11 to the case of Esau and Jacob, it underlines a principle which
remains true until God's purpose is consummated. God is operating all in accord
with the counsel of His will (Eph.1:11), and His purpose is ever in line with
GOD'S RIGHT TO CHOOSE
As soon as we perceive that a calling-out is involved, it
becomes apparent that there must be some who are not included in this choice. To
many this may seem an injustice, but to think in such a way would be in accord
with the spirit of humanity, which often talks of "fairness" and
"unfairness," and thinks that all should have equal chance. If God's
purpose depended, even to a slight degree, upon chance, there might be some
justification for thinking in this way.
But as we have just pointed out, we are thinking in terms of
One Who is operating all according to the counsel of His will, and Who
consequently is "telling from the beginning, the hereafter, and from
aforetime what has not yet been done" (Isa.46:10). We are also thinking of
One Who has the right to choose, and the right to prefer one over
another, and the right to allot to each whatsoever He wills. Therefore,
if we are speaking of those whom God has chosen, it must always be in full
acknowledgment of His right to make such a choice.
We should never question either the right or the wisdom of
God in any of His choices. We can be satisfied with His decisions, even though
we may feel that we are specially favored by being among His chosen ones,
because we know that the precedent blessing of such is a means to an end, the
end being God's glory, to be achieved by the eventual reconciliation of all to
Himself. In other words, we acknowledge the preferential steps of God's purpose
as being a necessary prerequisite of the ultimate in which all, without
exception, will share. For the final goal of God's purpose is that He may be All
in all (1 Cor.15:28).
It is for this reason that the called ones of any ecclesia
should not consider themselves as intrinsically better than their fellows, but
should always remember that the reason for their choice is that they may be used
by God for the blessing of those who are not thus chosen. The reason for their
preferential treatment does not lie within themselves, but in God Who prefers
them. This is why those in the ecclesia of today are entreated by Paul to be
"working for the good of all, yet specially for the family of faith"
Paul, in Romans 9:21, shows how God is able, of the same
kneading, to make one vessel to honor and one to dishonor. The clay is the same
in both cases; the difference between the resultant vessels lies in the action
of the Potter, Who alone is able to decide the form and the purpose of the
vessel He is making. The illustration is an excellent one. Apart from the nimble
fingers of the Potter, we would be undeveloped clay, unable to fashion ourselves
into anything of use to anybody. But in God's hands we are made what we are, and
if so be we are chosen by Him to be of His ecclesia, let us rejoice in this with
all humility and thankfulness. If we are to boast at all, let it never be
in ourselves, but always in the Lord.
HOW GOD EXERCISES HIS RIGHT OF CHOICE
Through His prophet Isaiah, God told His people, Israel, that
their devices and ways were not as His, but rather His were more lofty than
theirs, even as the heavens were more lofty than the earth (Isa.55:8,9). This is
clearly evidenced in His choice of Israel themselves, for He did not choose them
because they were the most numerous of peoples, for they were the fewest of all
people, but because He loved them and would keep the oath which He had sworn to
their fathers (Deut.7:6-8).
Deuteronomy is the first book of the Scriptures which speaks
directly of the love of God. Its first reference is in chapter 4, verse 17,
where God, through Moses, speaks of the love which He had for the fathers. Out
of this love was born the nation of Israel. Who but God would have called an
idolater (Abram) or a circumventer (Jacob) to be the forbears of the people of
His choice? Yet this is what He did, and He turned the idolater into "the
father of all who believe" and He changed the circumventer into the one who
was Upright-with-God (Israel).
Abraham, though promised a seed by God, could not of himself
provide the one in whom that seed should be called. Ishmael, the son of the
maid, was begotten according to flesh, and flesh is in bondage to sin; the child
of bondage could never be the child of promise. It was not until Abraham
recognized his own incompetence and acknowledged the all-sufficiency of God,
that Isaac was born. Thus was the impotence of the flesh made evident, and this
was confirmed in the sign of circumcision, which involved a cutting off of the
This impotence of the flesh is likewise evident when we come
to examine the criteria by which the chosen ones of this present time are
measured, for we find that they are not in accord with human values, but just
the reverse. We find these criteria set forth in 1 Corinthians 1, verses 26 to
29, which we quote:
"For you are observing your calling, brethren, that
there are not many wise according to the flesh; not many powerful, not many
noble, but the stupidity of the world God chooses, that He may be disgracing the
wise, and the weakness of the world God chooses, that He may be disgracing the
strong, and the ignoble and the contemptible things of the world God chooses,
and that which is not, that He should be discarding that which is, so that no
flesh at all should be boasting in God's sight."
This method of choosing is in accord with the word of the
cross, which is "stupidity indeed to those who are perishing, yet to us who
are being saved it is the power of God." It is a method designed to insure
that no flesh at all shall be boasting in God's sight. The flesh fulfilled its
main function when it became the means by which the Firstborn of every creature
was crucified. In this, the flesh accomplished the purpose for which God had
created it, but how could God take pleasure in that which willfully murdered the
Son of His love? From the very beginning the flesh has followed the way of Cain,
which sought and encompassed the murder of righteous Abel, and Abel, though
dying, continues, by his very name which means "Vanity," to testify to
the worthlessness of all fleshly endeavor.
Inherently, the flesh possesses features which provoke
enmity. Even the flesh of the Lord Jesus, without sin though it was, had such an
effect, for it constituted a barrier between Israel and the nations, the
Circumcision and the Uncircumcision (Eph.2:11-18). The word of the cross removes
this barrier and destroys the enmity, for on the cross the flesh is seen as
crucified. Thus peace is effected. If we regard ourselves as "being
crucified together with Christ" (Rom.6:6; Gal.2:20), then we shall no
longer be knowing Him "according to flesh" (2 Cor.5: 16), but
according to spirit where fleshly distinctions cannot obtain (Gal. 3:28).
The eighth chapter of Romans presents the present position
quite clearly, and puts the flesh in its proper place. It is "sin's
flesh" (v.3), and "God sending His own Son in the likeness of sin's
flesh and concerning sin, condemns sin in the flesh, that the just requirement
of the law may be fulfilled in us, who are not walking in accord with flesh, but
in accord with spirit."
The apostle then goes on to explain the difference between
flesh and spirit, showing that the former, having a disposition which is at
enmity to God, produces only death, while the latter produces life and peace.
Those who are in the flesh are not able to please God, but those who are being
led by God's Spirit, these are sons of God, and enjoyers of an allotment from
God, and joint enjoyers of Christ's allotment.
Though God's method of choosing those who are to be of His
ecclesia may seem stupid to worldly minds, we should have no fears or doubts
about His wisdom. One of the hymns we sometimes sing begins, " I know not
why God's wondrous grace to me He has made known." The answer lies in the
wisdom of God, which decrees that no flesh should be able to boast in His sight,
and in the provision which He has made to make up our deficiencies. For we of
God "are in Christ Jesus, Who became to us wisdom from God, besides
righteousness and holiness and deliverance, that according as it is written, He
who is boasting, in the Lord let him be boasting" (1 Cor.1:30-31).
The point should now be quite clear in our minds that the
ecclesia of which we are writing is not of the flesh, although it may be chosen
from those who were at one time in the flesh (Eph. 2:1-3). In Christ all fleshly
designations vanish, for in Him "there is no Jew nor yet Greek, there is no
slave nor yet free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ
THE ECCLESIA IN EPHESIANS
Thus the way is prepared for the Ephesian revelation of the
ecclesia as the body of Christ, with its further definition as "the
complement of the One completing the all in all." For in this epistle, the
ecclesia is chosen in Christ before the disruption of the world, that is, before
ever the flesh came into being at all, and before sin existed. Therefore it
cannot in any way be a product of "sin's flesh," since it is quite
distinct from both components of this phrase—sin and flesh. On the contrary,
its characteristics are righteousness and spirit. It is holy and flawless in
The ecclesia, in Ephesians, is seen to be an essential factor
in the outworking of God's purpose, being designated beforehand "for the
laud of His glory." It is initiated into "the secret of His
will," namely, "to have an administration of the complement of the
eras, to head up all in the Christ—both that in the heavens and that in the
earth." It is made aware of the fact that its lot was cast in Christ; that
is to say, that wherever Christ is, the ecclesia will be found to be associated
with Him. This was hinted at in Paul's earliest letters, those to the
Thessalonians: "Thus shall we always be together with the Lord" (1
Thess.4:17). It was enlarged upon in the middle letters: "Now if we died
together with Christ, we believe that we shall be living together with Him
also" (Rom.6:8). But only in the prison letters does the thought blossom
into full fruitage: "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" (Eph.1:11,12).
The allotment of the ecclesia in Christ is clearly of a
celestial nature. That is why we are blessed "with every spiritual blessing
among the celestials, in Christ" (Eph.1:3). "Our realm is inherent
in the heavens" (Phil.3:20). It belongs there. Hence we should "be
disposed to that which is above, not to that on the earth" (Col.3:2). Our
future work will be among the celestials, for it is among them that we shall be
displaying God's grace in the oncoming eons (Eph.2:6,7). Even now we are in the
process of being used to make known "to the sovereignties and the
authorities among the celestials...the multifarious wisdom of God," and
this, be it noted, is "in accord with the purpose of the eons"
Thus we see that God's "purpose of the eons" is
definitely linked with the ecclesia, for this is the only occurrence in
Scripture of this phrase. What part, then, does the ecclesia have in the purpose
of God? We hope to pursue this theme in later studies, and to show that the role
of the ecclesia in this purpose of the eons is secondary only to that of Christ
Himself, to which it is complementary.
In the meantime, let us remember that it is the purpose of
One Who is operating all according to the counsel of His will. Seven times in
Ephesians is the ecclesia linked with the glory of God, Who Himself has an
allotment among the saints (Eph.1:18). The outworking of His purpose will most
certainly assure Him of lasting glory in the ecclesia and in Christ Jesus. Amen.