“The immensity of this way of life…”

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“I ask the God of our Master, Jesus Christ, the God of glory—to make you intelligent and discerning in knowing him personally, your eyes focused and clear, so that you can see exactly what it is he is calling you to do, grasp the immensity of this glorious way of life he has for his followers, oh, the utter extravagance of his work in us who trust him—endless energy, boundless strength!

All this energy issues from Christ: God raised him from death and set him on a throne in deep heaven, in charge of running the universe, everything from galaxies to governments, no name and no power exempt from his rule. And not just for the time being, but forever. He is in charge of it all, has the final word on everything. At the center of all this, Christ rules the church. The church, you see, is not peripheral to the world; the world is peripheral to the church. The church is Christ’s body, in which he speaks and acts, by which he fills everything with his presence.” (Ephesians 1 MSG)

There’s something very large-scale about being a Christian.

In his early book, Velvet Elvis, Rob Bell described discussions with people who would pour scorn on Christians for being small-scale, and closed-minded:

“Think about some of the words that are used in these kinds of discussions, one of the most common being the phrase “open-minded.” Often the person with spiritual convictions is seen as close-minded and others are seen as open-minded. What is fascinating to me is that at the center of the Christian faith is the assumption that this life isn’t all there is. That there is more to life than the material. That existence is not limited to what we can see, touch, measure, taste, hear, and observe. One of the central assertions of the Christian worldview is that there is “more” – Those who oppose this insist that this is all there is, that only what we can measure and observe and see with our eyes is real. There is nothing else. Which perspective is more “closed-minded?” Which perspective is more “open?”

The passage in Ephesians endorses this sense of “more to life,” It is quite staggering in the intensity of its vision.

It begins where we all must do, I guess, in the confines of our own thoughts, feelings and fears, but then introduces the “agent of change” – a God who addresses your intellect and imagination and who seeks personal relationship. “I ask…God… to make you intelligent and discerning in knowing him personally, your eyes focused and clear, so that you can see exactly what it is he is calling you to do.”

This is very reminiscent of the way Paul himself began his journey with God. He was -quite literally- stopped in his tracks in a supernatural encounter, with a blinding light, and a voice. And the voice was the voice of Jesus. So from Day One of his journey, Paul identified the knowledge of God with the summons of Jesus, calling him into relationship and into purpose, intentionality and meaning.

And it’s huge. Mind-bogglingly so.

Look how Paul begins to describe “the immensity of this glorious way of life.” For a start, as Rob Bell observed, “at the center of the Christian faith is the assumption that this life isn’t all there is. That there is more to life than the material.” Paul describes “the utter extravagance of his work in us who trust him—endless energy, boundless strength.” God speaks to us, smiles and jokes with us! He sweeps away any vestige of self-recrimination or inadequacy (“There is now no condemnation in those that are in Christ Jesus“) and lifts us up into an entirely new perspective (“seated with him in heavenly places“).

And at every point in his prayer, Paul breaks into praise with the sheer boyish excitement that Yeats expressed in that line, “The world is full of magic things, patiently waiting for our senses to grow sharper.” It’s as if Paul’s senses have suddenly grown sharp! The voice of Christ was the final piece of the jigsaw and suddenly the whole picture became clear. “Who are you, Lord? I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting…”

And then, in that light, the whole of his life came into focus. And in that understanding, he glimpsed the wider plan of God for “the universe, everything from galaxies to governments, no name and no power exempt from his rule. And not just for the time being, but forever.”

And so often, we see things badly skewed. We miss that God-perspective completely and our focus is so localised, so personalised that we spiral in upon ourselves. In Romans 1, Paul described our situation: “For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened.

The passage here closes with an instance of Paul’s rebuttal of that skewed thinking which is simply breath-taking in its confident assurance:

At the center of all this, Christ rules the church. The church, you see, is not peripheral to the world; the world is peripheral to the church. The church is Christ’s body, in which he speaks and acts, by which he fills everything with his presence.”

Paul was a member of a tiny sect, devoted to the belief that a peasant preacher from the back of the beyond who had been executed on a trumped-up charge had risen from the dead. He encouraged others in this belief;  and he, and many thousand others were abruptly killed for their obstinacy by the Emperor Nero. And yet, as someone prophesied: “The day will come when men call their sons Paul and their dogs Nero.” In the reversal of history, it has proved to be the case.

And similarly, we “do not yet see all things under his feet.” We may just see a Church weak and divided. But Paul’s claim is utterly different. On the contrary, he insists, we see Jesus, and in that gaze we also see his church. And:

At the center of all this, Christ rules the church. The church, you see, is not peripheral to the world; the world is peripheral to the church. The church is Christ’s body, in which he speaks and acts, by which he fills everything with his presence.”

Everything!

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