What is God’s Purpose?
An old cartoon pictured two men riding a tandem bicycle up a steep hill. When they reached the top, the exhausted man who was in the front exclaimed that it was the most strenuous and difficult ride he’d ever been on. The man on back agreed, saying, “Yes, and we would have rolled downhill backwards if I hadn’t of had my foot on the brake the whole way!”
God is trying to take us to a new summit, and it is fitting for us to ask whether we are cooperating with him or opposing him. Before we can answer that, however, we have to clarify just what God’s purpose is. What is this new summit to which he is taking us?
Ephesians has much to say about this. In this series of posts we’ll explore, first, how Ephesians states God’s purpose and then several ways it gives us to cooperate with it.
God’s purpose is stated directly at least three times in Ephesians.
“His purpose was to create in himself one new humanity out of the two, thus making peace, and in one body to reconcile both of them to God through the cross, by which he put to death their hostility.”Ephesians 2:15b-16
This passage states that God’s purpose is to create one new humanity of Jews and Gentiles, make peace between them, and reconcile them both to God in one church. God wants to reconcile everyone to himself through the cross but also wants to reconcile the reconciled to each other. In Ephesians we see not only the “vertical” reconciliation of humans to God but also a strong emphasis on the “horizonal” reconciliation of humans with each other. God wants to create one new humanity out of people who are as different and hostile toward each other as first century Jews and Gentiles. This is an important message for our day where there are similar barriers and hostility between black and white, left and right, red and blue, etc. etc.. It is well worth reading and pondering Paul’s fuller description of this horizontal reconciliation in 2:11-22 (see also 3:6).
A second passage states:
“He made known to us the mystery of his will according to his good pleasure, which he purposed in Christ, to be put into effect when the times reach their fulfillment—to bring unity to all things in heaven and on earth under Christ.”Ephesians 1:9-10
Here Paul states God’s purpose even more inclusively. Don’t be thrown by the word mystery. Most often in the Bible that word simply means something that was once hidden but has now been revealed. The mystery of God’s will that has now been revealed is that his purpose is not merely to bring unity and reconciliation to all people but even to “all things.” It is God’s purpose to bring everything in heaven and earth together as one. I can’t say I fully comprehend what that consists of or looks like, but we learn a little more about it from a third passage:
“The mystery is that through the gospel the Gentiles are heirs together with Israel, members together of one body, and sharers together in the promise in Christ Jesus….His intent was that now, through the church, the manifold wisdom of God should be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly realms, according this eternal purpose that he accomplished in Christ Jesus our Lord.”Ephesians 3:6, 10-11
Here Paul writes that God’s intent is for his manifold (diverse) wisdom to be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly realms. These rulers and authorities in the heavenly realms are a part of the “all things” God is seeking to unify and reconcile. I don’t fully understand what these rulers and authorities are, but Scripture tells us a little bit about them. They are spiritual powers that were created by Christ (Colossians 1:16), and so they were originally good. In some untold way, they turned and now oppose God and Christ by opposing us (Ephesians 6:12). Christ, however, disarmed them, shamed them, and triumphed over them, so they do not have the power they once had (Colossians 1:15). Christ clearly has authority over them (Colossians 2:10; Ephesians 1:19-21; 1 Peter 3:21-22). And God’s will includes his manifold wisdom being made known to these beings as well as humans (Ephesians 3:10). This may imply that in some way they have an opportunity to be reconciled as well, although this is not entirely clear. What is clear, however, is that God’s plan is to bring all things in heaven and on earth together as one (Ephesians 1:10).
God’s desire to unify everyone and everything was a mystery that was hidden for ages but has now been revealed. It is worth noting that God seems to have revealed his mystery and wisdom in an increasingly broad scope. Paul first mentions that it was revealed to him (3:2), then that it was revealed to the apostles and prophets (3:4), then the church (as Paul writes Ephesians, 3:6), and ultimately to the rulers and authorities (3:10). God wants everyone and everything to know that his purpose is to bring everyone and everything together as one.
Question: How well do you think the people in the “United” States grasp that God’s purpose is to bring everyone together as one? How well would you say they are cooperating with God’s purpose? How do you think God’s purpose is faring in the world at large today? How well is God’s desire for unity and oneness working out between different kinds of churches? How is God’s intent for harmony doing even within individual churches? And how is God’s desire going with us in all our relationships? Are we cooperating with God’s purpose or resisting it? Are we peddling with God or braking against him? He tore down the dividing wall of hostility that separated Jew from Gentile (2:14); are we tearing down walls or building them? I know all these matters are complex and difficult. But it seems foundational that God’s people ought to cooperate with God’s purpose.
By the way, please don’t read politics into this. Our exploration of Scripture will show what is already obvious from personal observation—politics is not the answer for bringing people together as one. Politics is corrupted by Satan and is ripping the world apart. The answer lies elsewhere. To that we turn next week. But step one is for us to recognize what God’s purpose is—to reconcile everyone and everything to himself but also to one another. Is that something you can pedal toward?