In chapters 2 and 3 of Paul’s epistle to the Ephesians, the apostle gives a lengthy definition of the church. Then, in Ephesians 3:10, he describes the ultimate purpose of the church, saying:
“To the intent that now unto the principalities and powers in heavenly places might be known by the church the manifold wisdom of God.”
When we gather together with fellow baptized believers to worship our Lord, we are teaching the angels the wisdom of God’s “eternal purpose which He purposed in Christ Jesus our Lord” (3:11). Yet, how do we do this? What does the apostle mean by this purpose of the Church?
Well, in the previous chapter, Paul describes the Church as a separate entity entirely from the nation of Israel. As a nation and people group, Israel has always been made up of both believers and unbelievers since the Lord first brought them up from Egypt. The Church, however, is a local body of believers irrespective of race or prejudice. Ephesians 2:14 says:
“For He is our peace, Who hath made both one [i.e. Jew and Gentile], and hath broken down the middle wall of partition between us;”
The people with whom we worship shoulder to shoulder with each Sunday morning we have been made “one body by the cross” (V. 16), and when there is enmity between us – whether something as serious a race or as trivial as what color carpet to get for the sanctuary – we not only ruin our witness to the lost in our community that we’re trying to reach, but we are a terrible witness to the angels among us of God’s “eternal purpose” in forming us as His body.
However, it is not only the good angels that we are teaching of God’s wisdom, but the angels that fell with Satan as well. This is evident in that the apostle makes no distinction between the angels when he says, “the principalities and powers in heavenly places.” These are terms that he again uses in the final chapter of this epistle in describing the Christian’s real fight being “not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers…” (6:12). Thus, it is not merely a church’s witness in the community or to the good angels posted in their area that suffers from infighting, gossip, etc., but they give the Devil a place in their fellowship (4:27).
What kind of things give the Devil a place in either a believer’s life or in a church? Well, if you back up a few verses to Ephesians 4:25, the apostle writes, “Wherefore putting a away lying, speak every man truth with his neighbor: for we are members one of another.” If you’re life is not based on absolute, total truth, you have created a welcoming atmosphere for Satan because he is “a liar and the father of it” (John 8:44b). This includes so-called “white lies” as well as lying through the tone of your voice; such lies may seem innocent by worldly standards, but they are an affront to God and will grieve the Holy Spirit residing within you if you are a true Christian. The Christian will find no peace until he or she repents of lying, no matter how seemingly insignificant.
A second area that makes a comfortable place for Satan in a believer’s life or church’s fellowship is seen in the next verse, which says, “Be ye angry, and sin not: let not the sun go down upon your wrath” (4:26). Are you a person given to anger; do you have a short fuse? Just like lying, the Devil also has an affinity for anger, Revelation 12:12 saying that he just seethes with “great wrath,” and if you are an angry person, the Devil will feel at home with you. Of course, there is righteous anger, the text saying, “Be ye angry, and sin not.” The way to be angry and sin not is to be angry at sin. You can tell a lot about a person by simply what angers them. Do they get angry and grieved over sin, or do they get angry at their boss, spouse, children, parents, someone in the church, or simply over a bad shot on the golf course?
A third area that will make a comfortable place for Satan in a believer’s life is seen in Ephesians 4:28, “Let him that stole steal no more: but rather let him labour, working with his hands the thing which is good, that he may have to give to him that needeth.” Not only is Satan the father of lies and filled with anger, but he is a thief, John 10:10 saying he comes “to steal, and to kill, and to destroy.” If there is any thievery in your life or among people in your church, there is an affinity that will attract Satan and give him a place, and I am not merely speaking of major thefts. If you would take a 15 cent pencil that doesn’t belong to you from your workplace, you’ve made a place for the Devil. The cost or apparent insignificance is not the issue for with God thievery is thievery. Luke 16:10 says, “He that is faithful in that which is least is faithful also in much: and he that is unjust in the least is unjust also in much.” Anyone who would steal a 15 cent pencil has the potentiality to steal a $150,000 payroll; if you are unjust in the least, you are unjust in the much.
A fourth area that makes a comfortable place for Satan is filthy speech, Ephesians 4:29 saying, “Let no corrupt communication proceed out of your mouth…” Some pastors today, endeavoring to make unbelievers feel welcomed, will cuss from the pulpit. This is outright sin and will give a place for Satan in that church. The church should not be a place where unbelievers feel welcomed, but rather pitied by the people there and ultimately convicted by the Holy Spirit. The church’s responsibility is call lost people to repent of their sins and trust in the Lord Jesus Christ, not to tell them to just add Jesus to their sinful lifestyle and He’ll eventually take that lifestyle away. This confuses repentance with sanctification. Repentance is a specific act; sanctification is the Lord gradually removing the desire for those past sins, and there can be no sanctification without repentance.
The first step in dislodging the Devil from his place is repentance, to “put off concerning the former conversation the old man” (4:22). Unconfessed sin is legal ground for Satan to come in and set up shop, and this hurts not only the individual believer, but the whole church body of which they are a part. While Satan cannot possess a born again child of God for such would require the Holy Spirit to be dispossessed, Satan can work through a believer’s influence to ultimately destroy a church. Therefore, church discipline as outlined by our Lord in Matthew 18 is critical to a church’s spiritual health. The second step is resistance, for even when a believer or church takes back the title deed to what they had apportioned to Satan, he won’t simply leave without a fight. James 4:7 says, “Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.” After a believer repents, they must tell the devil that in the name of Jesus he must leave because he is trespassing on the property of God Almighty, and he will flee.
Lastly, the apostle writes that believers must be “renewed in the spirit of [their] mind” (Ephesians 4:23). A church can only teach to angels the manifold wisdom of God’s eternal purpose in forming such an institution by living lives of “true holiness” (Ephesians 4:24), different from the way the world thinks and acts. We are now entering the Christmas season, and I want to encourage each of you to watch the movie Christmas Grace, starring Ryan-Iver Klann, Tim Kaiser, and Ann Filippis. This wonderful movie will challenge all saints to find ways of showing grace to people they encounter and ultimately showing them the way to the One Who can give them eternal grace.