Ministry for Mission: Ministry Outcomes (4)
For the earth will be filled
With the knowledge of the glory of the LORD,
As the waters cover the sea. Habakkuk 2.14
But to each one of us grace was given according to the measure of Christ’s gift. Therefore He says:
“When He ascended on high,
He led captivity captive,
And gave gifts to men.”
(Now this, “He ascended”—what does it mean but that He also first descended into the lower parts of the earth? He who descended is also the One who ascended far above all the heavens, that He might fill all things.) Ephesians 4.7-10
“Nothing in the cosmos is left untouched by Christ. He indeed descended to the lower parts of the earth and ascended above all the heavens. What heavens? Some say three, some more … but what does it matter? Christ, who ascended, ascended above all the heavens, however many. For eternity is now presently reigning in heaven and incorruptible life. All things there live by the Spirit. This reordering did not occur, however, until the descent of Christ. Once the mystery [of the cross] had been accomplished, all these received salvation after the passion and ascent of Christ and have been perfected. For this is what he means by “so that he might fulfill all,” that is, make them perfect and full, with nothing lacking.”
- Marius Victorinus, Epistle to the Ephesians 2.4.10
The Lord’s agenda, and ours
The Lord’s agenda could not be more clear: He intends to glorify Himself by filling all things with the Presence, promise, and power of Christ and His Kingdom. The goal of Christ’s ministry, as He rules at the Father’s right hand, is that nothing in the cosmos should be left untouched by His grace, all the world should be reordered according to His love, and His perfection and fullness, nothing lacking, should fill the earth as it fills the heavens.
There is nothing small or trivial about this agenda. Nothing is left out. Every area of life, having been reconciled to the Father through Christ’s life, death, and resurrection, is now to be restored to its original goodness, such that the knowledge of the glory of God – and not the glory of God only – fills the earth as the waters cover the sea.
This agenda comes to expression through the Church, and through every member of the local church, as we consciously, consistently, and increasingly take every thought captive for obedience to Christ, and extend the righteous, peaceable, and joyous rule of King Jesus into every area of our lives.
Put another way, as we have already seen, the Lord’s agenda is to make every believer, and every local church, conformable to the image and likeness of His dear Son. And the glory of God, which He reveals to His people on every hand, is the key to realizing this overarching goal of all ministry.
The glory of God weighs on us from all sides, all the time. God is in, through, over, under, and around all things; and wherever God is, His glory is. The difference between those who have no faith and those who do can be summarized succinctly: Those who have no faith are exposed to God’s glory, but they bury any knowledge of God that His glory may reveal, under constant loads of mere self-interest (Rom. 1.18-21). For believers, on the other hand, the glory of God, being the goal of their existence and the means of their joy, is eagerly sought out, delighted in, and fruitful.
Well, that’s the theory, at any rate.
The reality is that very few of the followers of Jesus Christ are actually diligent in seeking the glory of God, that they might know it and be transformed by it. We talk about the glory of God, and give assent to the idea of knowing God’s glory and living for His glory; but the fact that the world is so woefully lacking in the knowledge of the glory of God indicates that we need to rethink our approach to this most important goal of all ministry and Christian life.
We are called to be different. We have been set apart – sanctified – so that we might become a holy people to declare the excellencies and glory of God to the world (1 Pet. 2.9, 10). That this is happening so little in our day suggests that, at the level of local churches, we have lost sight of our proper goal, and are instead pursuing objectives and activities which are making us more like the glory-less world around us, and less like the glorious Lord Who has called us to His Kingdom and glory.
If this is ever to change, those entrusted with the work of making disciples and equipping the saints for ministry will need to reconsider the most basic aspects and aspirations of their shepherding regimen.
Teach them to know God’s glory
As we have previously said, the glory of God comes to us via three powerful avenues of continuous revelation: the Scriptures, the creation, and the face of our exalted Lord and King, Jesus Christ.
But how many of the people we serve actually know how to access the glory of the Lord available there? Do they even agree that this is the primary objective of their lives as followers of Christ, to see Jesus and be in the presence of His glory? Or have we allowed them to set their own agendas for the faith, seeking first this, then that, then some other resource or means to scratch whatever itch crops up in their souls? Have our ministries to the people of God diverted them from seeking His glory? Or are we actively teaching, leading, and joining the people we serve in the glorious presence of our risen Lord and King? At the expense of knowing, basking in, marveling and wondering at, meditating on, being ever alert to and weighted with, and transformed by the glory of God, are we allowing the people we serve to settle for lesser ends?
We must teach God’s people to seek the glory of God – to know and experience His glory, to be aware of it on every hand, and to give thanks and praise to God for His Presence, promise, and power everywhere bearing on us. We must teach them how to discern the glory of God in Scripture (2 Cor. 3.12-18). We must show them how to encounter God’s glory in creation (Ps. 19.1-4). We must equip them with the skills of meditation that will allow them to behold the beauty of the Lord, and to dwell in His Presence (Ps. 27.4). And then we must shepherd them, looking carefully to know the state of our flocks at all times – each member of the flock, and the flock as a whole – making sure that they both know how and are seeking to know the Lord in His glory with increasing diligence and effects.
People don’t just know about glory and how to seek it by sitting in pews listening to sermons. They must be taught. They must be taken into the presence of God’s glory. They must know and follow people who themselves encounter that glory regularly, and with transforming effects. They must have loving, exemplary shepherds to lead the way to the higher pastures and still waters, because they know such glorious venues exist, and they frequent them regularly. And the Lord’s sheep must be lovingly exhorted, admonished, and urged on by shepherding dogs, who are determined that, whatever it takes, every member of this flock will make it to those glorious pastures where they can grow stronger in the Lord.
We must show them how to know the glory of God and why it matters so much. For until the people of God are shown why and how to meet the Lord in His glory – in Scripture, creation, and by contemplating Jesus – and are actually doing so, they will not come to know the glory of the Lord which is their only true hope and purpose in life.
The fullness of the head is the body and that of the body is the head. Observe how skillfully Paul writes and how he spares no word to express the glory of God. The “fullness” of the head, he says, is fulfilled through the body. The body consists of all its members. He shows Christ using each member individually, not merely all in common. For if we were not many—one a hand, one a foot, one another member—the body would not be full. Through all members, therefore, his body is made full. Then the head is fulfilled, then the body becomes perfect, when we are all combined and gathered into one.
- John Chrysostom, Homily on Ephesians 3.1.20-23
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Scripture taken from the New King James Version. © Copyright 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved. Unless otherwise indicated, quotes from Church fathers are from The Ancient Christian Commentary Series (InterVarsity Press).