“So that through the church the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known . . .”
I find these words both exhilarating and disheartening. They are disheartening because the truths rooted in them are often neglected by many Christians in the west. Over the last century there has been an explosion of Christian ministries that sprang up outside the church, often to address problems that the church was neglecting. Many of these specialized, or para-church organizations have had tremendous results in the proclamation of the Gospel, and addressing social concerns in our world. Whether intentional or not, the Church was often marginalized and at times considered impotent. These words are also disheartening because much of Christianity in the west became individualistic as it embraced the populist[i] ideals of our culture. In other words faith has become individualistic rather than community-centric. As that happened the church became a destination to address individual felt needs, rather than a place of worship, community and service.
I find these words exhilarating because despite her struggles God has an awesome plan for His Church, for it is through the Church that God has chosen to make known His manifold wisdom. Please don’t let the unfamiliarity of the word “manifold” cause you to miss what Paul is saying here. Most of us don’t use the word “manifold” unless in a technical sense when referring to something mechanical like a manifold on a car. The Greek adjective that Paul uses to describe God’s wisdom is “polypoikilos”. This word is somewhat difficult to translate into modern English and as a result, it is very easy to miss Paul’s emphasis here. Another word that could be used is “iridescent” which points to revealing brilliant colors when an object is seen from different perspectives or angles. An example of this would be an iridescent crystal. Commentator William Hendriksen describes it as “the infinite diversity and sparkling beauty of God’s wisdom”. Not only is God’s wisdom multi-perspectival, it is beautiful from each perspective and never stops revealing new beauty. It is no wonder that we have a hard time fully grasping this. Yes, it is true, when what Paul writes “Oh, the depth of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable his judgments, and his paths beyond tracing out!” (Romans 11:33-NIV).
In this same passage Paul writes that even though he is “the very least of all the saints” (3:8), God graciously called him to be a minister of the gospel of grace. Paul was keenly aware of his own sinfulness and therefore could truly rejoice in the grace that was given to him though Christ Jesus. Paul’s message was one of reconciliation. First it was the good news of reconciliation of God to His people, then His people to one another, rooted in the “unsearchable riches of Christ” (3:8). Think about this for a minute, God’s wisdom is entirely up-side-down to human logic. He chose to love His children before the foundation of time despite their hostility toward him. And by grace through faith they have been made alive – saved through the redeeming work of Jesus Christ. In doing this all the ceremonial laws were abolished and the moral law fulfilled. Christ not only paid the price for our sin, but He is our righteousness! That really doesn't make sense – but it is iridescently beautiful!
Basically God has chosen to take the spiritually dead, enslaved to sin and rebellious individual and adopt them into His family made up of people of every race, culture, gender and socioeconomic as one reconciled group. To most this seems like a mess! Yet it is a new community living out the gospel as they love each other as they have been loved by God. Where “there is no Gentile or Jew, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave or free, but Christ is all, and is in all” (Colossians 3:11-NIV). A community of people that through the gospel of grace become a brilliant iridescent light that shines forth the wisdom of God. It is so brilliant, so beautiful, so glorious that it causes the “rulers and authorities in the heavenly realms” to stop and take notice! Imagine that!
“Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen” (3:20-21-NIV).
[i] In this case “populist” is defined as a belief system that propagates the rights and wisdom of the common people or the individual. This is not to be confused with a political party formed in the United States in 1891.