Christian LivingDoctrine

So here’s the plan (Ephesians 1:8–10)

In almost every area of our lives, things work best when we know the plan. Whether it’s personal relationships, or study, or work, or holidays, or sport, or even going for a walk, it really helps to know what the point is and how we’re going to get there. In some areas of life, we can make our own plans. In other areas of life, we need other people to lead us by making good plans and sharing them with us. That’s why leadership gurus talk about ‘vision and ‘mission’ and ‘strategy’. Good leaders are people with good and clear plans. But more than that, good leaders are people who clearly communicate those plans to their team, so everyone knows what the plan is and can happily play their part. I once worked for a solar energy research company. I still remember our mission statement: “to have developed solar modules seen across the rooftops of the world”. I knew where I fitted in to that mission: I was an engineer who helped to develop and maintain the equipment for the research scientists. It was great to work on this team, because I knew the plan. On the other hand, you probably know how frustrating it can be to be in a team where the plan isn’t clear, or isn’t clearly communicated to you.

What about life itself? Is there a plan for our world, our universe, that we can know and get on board with? Douglas Adams, in his Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy series, famously described a computer which spent seven and a half million years working out “The Answer to the Great Question… Of Life, the Universe and Everything” and came up with “Forty-two”.[1] It was a playful way of saying that the meaning of life and the universe is either absurd or unknowable. But what if we could know it? Well, that’s Paul’s claim in Ephesians 1:8–10:

God lavished his grace on us, in all wisdom and understanding, by disclosing to us the secret of his will. This was according to his good pleasure, which he displayed in Christ, leading to the administration of the fulfilment of time. It is to sum up all things in Christ: things in heaven and things on earth, in him.

Paul talks here about God’s plan – not just God’s plan for a specific area of our lives, but God’s plan for the whole universe. Paul also says that God has graciously made this plan known to us, in Jesus Christ. If that’s true, it changes everything, doesn’t it? It will mean we know where the world is heading, and how we can play our part.

The gift: disclosing the secret

God’s plan isn’t something we can work out for ourselves. Instead, God has graciously communicated his plan, as a gift, “disclosing to us the secret of his will.” This is truly an act of grace from God. It means that God is not just some supreme power or distant figure unknown to us. Rather, as his adopted children, we are let in to the intimate secret of his will.

The goal: To sum up all things in Christ

What is the goal of this plan? It is “to sum up all things in Christ”. God’s plan is focused on the person of Jesus Christ, his dearly-loved Son. His plan involves bringing everything to a point where it is in proper order and harmony, under Jesus Christ. Thus, it is a plan that involves reconciliation. There will be a point where all things come under the lordship of Jesus Christ, whether willingly or unwillingly (because God’s judgment against sin is part of the plan – see Ephesians 5:6). That is where things are heading, and that is what God is doing right now.

This plan is not simple. As Paul goes on in Ephesians, he describes multiple dimensions to the plan of summing up all things in Christ. There’s a personal dimension, a knowledge dimension, a time dimension, a social dimension, an international dimension, and even a cosmic dimension. At the point Paul is writing – that is, after the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ – the plan is well on its way. In terms of the time dimension, God has decided on his plan and put much of it into operation. But it hasn’t been completed yet. Let’s summarise where the plan is up to so far, and then look at where it’s heading in the future.

Here’s where we’re up to

What has God already done? First and foremost, as we see in these verses, he has “displayed” his “good pleasure” “in Christ”. That is, Jesus has already come into the world and died and risen from the dead to achieve the central parts of God’s good plan. In the rest of Ephesians, Paul spells this out further, in terms of what we could call multiple dimensions. Here’s a brief summary:

In terms of the personal dimension for us believers, God has already forgiven our offenses, reconciled us to himself, and given us a life that is secure in Christ.

In terms of the knowledge dimension, God has already revealed his plan to us through Christ and his apostles.

In terms of the social dimension, God has already gathered us as diverse people into a church and united us, since we share in a common Lord Jesus Christ and a common Spirit.

In terms of the cosmic dimension, Jesus Christ has already been raised from the dead. He is already victorious in heaven, greater than everyone and everything in this universe, including the spiritual powers and anything or anyone that could ever frighten us. Not only so, but the fact that he has gathered diverse people into his church is a witness to those powers that Jesus is Lord.

And in terms of the international dimension, God has already sent missionaries like Paul and others to preach the gospel of Jesus Christ from Israel to the nations. This common preaching and believing of the gospel creates a real and robust unity between believers from Israel and from all the other nations – a unity that was simply unimaginable before Jesus’ death and resurrection.

So God has achieved much of the plan already, hasn’t he?

What’s the plan from now on?

But there’s more to happen. In the rest of Ephesians, Paul describes what remains to be done in God’s plan. Here’s a summary:

In terms of the personal dimension for us believers, we still live in this world where we do wrong, where we fail through weakness, and where our relationships are broken, not to mention sickness and addiction and mental illness and much more besides. God through his Spirit is still growing us in holiness and lifting our eyes to our heavenly hope. One day, when Jesus Christ returns, these struggles will be at an end. But in the meantime, we still struggle and strive and often fail.

In terms of the knowledge dimension, we still don’t fully grasp all the wonderful implications of Christ’s love for us. We need to pray for one another, that we will keep growing in our understanding of the truth that is in Jesus.

In terms of the social dimension, Paul’s vision is that the church, Christ’s body made up of diverse members, will grow more and more in understanding of this truth and in loving one another.

In terms of the cosmic dimension, many of the heavenly powers are still at war with God and with his people, until the end. Therefore, our earthly struggles to trust Jesus and live for him are at the same time a real spiritual struggle to stand in Christ.

And central to God’s plan to sum up everything in Christ Jesus is the international dimension. This is what Paul is referring to when he talks about “the administration of the fullness of the ages”. The word “administration” was used in the ancient world to refer to the responsibility for management, especially of a household. In large estates, this “administration” was normally entrusted to an agent specially set aside to manage the estate. So when Paul uses the word here, he is saying that God uses an agent (or agents) to achieve his plans for the ages. Who is the agent Paul has in mind? At this point, everything is focused on Christ and his achievements. But “administration” is a word packed full of meaning – a meaning which Paul unpacks later in chapter 3, and which we’ll come to later. There, we see that Christ uses other people to achieve his purposes of “administration”. Who are these other people? They are the people like Paul, who bring the gospel of Jesus Christ to the nations. As the gospel of Jesus Christ goes out from Israel to the world, and as people from many nations come to believe in Jesus Christ and have their sins forgiven and come to know him and grow in love for one another, God’s great purposes and plans are achieved. This does not happen through some kind of aggressive expansion, or forced conformity. Rather, it happens through the preaching, and believing, of the gospel of Jesus Christ.

The preaching of the gospel. Evangelism. This is the plan. And this is exactly what Paul goes on to discuss in the following verses (Ephesians 1:11–14).

Are you on board?

Do you see the broad horizons here for us to lift our gaze and marvel at? Ephesians tells us that our lives – indeed, the universe itself – is all about Jesus Christ. It tells us that everything is working towards that end of bringing everything – everything! – together under him. And it tells us that the way that it is happening now – the key, the primary way – is through the preaching and believing of the gospel message about Jesus Christ.

How does your life fit into that plan? It’s worth asking the question, isn’t it? Because if you’re a believer in Jesus Christ, Ephesians tells you what God’s plan for your life is! It doesn’t tell you exactly what job you’re going to have or who you’re going to marry or how many years you have left to live or what’s going to happen to your children. But it tells us what really matters. It tells us how important it is to grow in holiness, to grow in our love and understanding of God, to speak God’s word and love our brothers and sisters in Christ, to stand firm in knowing the truth and living for Jesus, and to pray and act to see that gospel message go out to our friends and neighbours and throughout the world. This is what God is doing in the world, right now.

Perhaps you’re someone involved directly in Christian ministry in some way. Or perhaps you’re involved in making decisions about the direction of, and perhaps funding for, Christian ministry. How do your own decisions fit into God’s plan? Are your decisions about resources and time and money directly tied to these purposes of God? Are they helping people to grow in holiness, to grow in love and understanding of God and others, to stand firm in knowing the truth and living for Jesus? Most of all, are your decisions directly tied to promoting and enabling evangelism – the preaching of the gospel? Or are they tied to some other plan, or some other goal that comes from somewhere or someone else other than Christ?

The God of the universe has a plan to sum up all things in Christ. That plan is right now being put into effect through the preaching of the gospel. Are you on board?

[1] Douglas Adams, The Hitch Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy: A Trilogy in Five Parts (Heinemann: London, 1995), 128.

This article was originally published on Lionel’s website Forget the Channel as part of his series in the book of Ephesians, ‘Lift Your Eyes’. You can subscribe to the whole series and podcast here.