“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.” (Ephesians 3:10).
In the week when the English House of Bishops are preparing their final recommendations before the November General Synod, and the week before the Primates of the Global South assemble in Cairo to prepare for the Assembly in June next year it is a good question to ask “Who is looking on?”
I am sure all of those given responsibility for leading churches have faced the question “Who is noticing what I do?”.
All of us with such responsibility will at different times have been faced with the challenge of “not playing to the gallery” as is said in English, in other words, not taking action simply to be noticed by certain persons or groups inside or outside the church.
We know we are called to be the Lord’s witnesses, and sometimes, especially perhaps when we believe we are behaving in a particularly godly or impressive way, we want people to notice!
Paul in this verse in Ephesians is reminding us of who is noticing what we do whether we want them to or not!
He speaks about “rulers and authorities in the heavenly realms” and he is going to speak about them again in Ephesians 6:12 in greater detail where he describes those we are against; the “rulers … the authorities …. the powers of this dark world, and …. the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms”.
It turns out that the ones who are noticing what is happening in the church are not disinterested observers, but those opposed to all that God has established in the gospel and made manifest in the life of the church.
What happens in the church matters not only to those in the church, but also in the cosmic struggle with the rulers of darkness and the powers of evil.
And God wants the church to know who is noticing what is going on. He has called the church into existence and his intent goes far beyond our own individual or even corporate salvation. God wants his amazing wisdom to be known by the rulers and authorities, so that they may be in do doubt about the reality of his “intent” for them to see from the very existence of the church his eternal purpose which he has accomplished in Christ Jesus our Lord (Eph3:11)
By the time you read this the English Bishops will have met; we may soon know what they have decided.
As the Primates of the Global South meet, as they take stock of the events in the Anglican Communion since the Lambeth Conference of 2022, the GAFCON Conference in Kigali in 2023, and as they prepare for the GSFA gathering in 2024, may they be directed in all things by that same manifold wisdom of God, that same intent, realising that the principalities and powers are watching and noticing every move.
In Acts 20 in his farewell message to the Ephesian elders, Paul warns them to keep watch over the flock of which the Holy Spirit made them overseers (literally episcopous or bishops); he warns them about the wolves (v29), and his definition of a wolf is someone who “distorts the truth” (v30); he warns them to be on their guard and asks them to go back to all that he has taught them reminding them “For I have not hesitated to proclaim to you the whole will of God” (v27)
Sometimes when we meet or when we make decisions as Christian leaders, we can forget who is noticing or worse try to impress the wrong people.
Paul reminds us who is noticing, not so that we should be afraid of them but so that we should rest even more securely in our identity and calling as the church.
The wisdom we are is not of our own making it is the work of the Holy Spirit through the Lord Jesus Christ (see the whole of Ephesians 1 and 2) who has broken down the wall of hostility at the cross. All that the church is called to do and live is a working out of that wisdom (see the whole of Ephesians 3, 4 and 5); and only so can she stand in the struggle in which she is engaged (see the whole of Ephesians 6).
May the Lord ever keep us in that wisdom. And may the rulers and principalities in the heavenly realms ever notice that we are content to live in that wisdom, committed to the struggle against them every time they seek to oppose it in 2023, 2024 and in all the years to come.
With love in Christ
Bishop Keith Sinclair
Member of Resource Group for GSFA Steering Committee and
Chair of Trustees for EFAC