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God’s multidimensional wisdom (Ephesians 3:9–11)

Reading Time: 9 minutes

Lionel Windsor
Lionel Windsor lectures in New Testament at Moore College, Sydney.

One dimension is boring. A line is boring. A two-dimensional image is more interesting. An Instagram image, if it’s carefully filtered, might be able to hold your interest for at least, say, 6 seconds, depending on your attention span. A video, which adds the time dimension, might grab you for longer: maybe 30 seconds. Of course, if you meet someone in three-dimensional real life—that’s more interesting, isn’t it? Provided they’re not boring. Still, a person who seems boring in one context might be absolutely fascinating in 0thers. Let me tell you about the man who supervised my electrical engineering thesis. The thesis was called “Controlled Laser Multiple Pulsing for Solar Cell Processing” (hear me out). My supervisor was a massive electronics geek (again, hear me out). He was also one of the leading solar cell researchers in the world. He co-founded a solar cell research company in Sydney. In fact, he was a global entrepreneur. He was one of the most significant driving forces behind making solar cell technology a leading source of power generation in the world. He was also a Christian, a man whose life was deeply impacted by Jesus Christ. Tragically, Professor Stuart Wenham died in late 2017 from melanoma. As I and my former colleagues at Stuart’s company attended his funeral, in a full, thousand-seat auditorium, we heard about even more dimensions to Stuart’s time on earth: his larger-than-life escapades on road trips with friends and colleagues, his kids who respected and adored him, and more. His life was multidimensional. It was definitely not boring.

Photo by Andreas Gucklhorn on Unsplash

Do you think that God, the one who created all things, is boring? If you do, it might be because your view of God is one-dimensional. Here are some one-dimensional ways you might think of God: maybe you think of God as the old guy in heaven who occasionally helps you out in tough situations. Maybe you think of God as a moral police officer who stops you from having fun. Maybe you think of God as a cosmic principle giving cohesion to the universe. Maybe you think of God as the one who made the world and set it all in motion so we could find our own path in life. Maybe you think of God as a close personal friend, just like you. Maybe you think of God as a social construct who needs to be reimagined for each new generation. Maybe you think of God as a supreme being who affirms and accepts you the way you are and lets you live the way you want. Maybe you think of God as the driving force behind your favourite political cause. Maybe you think of God as the distant being who forgives your sins and lets you into heaven when you die. If your approach to God is one-dimensional like this, then I’m sure that after a while you’ll get pretty bored with it all. This is what happens for many people.

As you read the apostle Paul in his letter to the Ephesians, there’s no way you can conclude that he’s bored with God. Paul’s approach to God is as far from one-dimensional as you can get. Paul sees God and his purposes and plans in vivid multidimensional glory. At the heart of God’s plans is Jesus Christ, who died on the cross and rose from the dead to save sinners from God’s judgment and to grant them eternal life. And while the salvation of sinners is central to God’s purposes, it’s not the end of his purposes. There are so many dimensions to the gospel of Jesus Christ: and the more dimensions we see, the more glorious it gets. Paul knows this, and he understands that his task is to share the gospel, in all its richness, with the world. In these verses he calls it “the multidimensional wisdom of God”.

And it was granted to me to enlighten everyone about the administration of the secret that was hidden for ages in God, who created all things, so that now, the multidimensional wisdom of God might be made known to the rulers and the authorities in the heavenly places, through the church, according to the eternal design which he accomplished in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Ephesians 3:9–11
Ceiling Pattern, Christ Church College Staircase, Oxford

The time dimension

Take, for example, the time dimension. God has worked out his plans and purposes through time. Paul talks here about “the administration of the secret”—a secret that was hidden in God so that it could now be made known. Paul has already mentioned this back in Ephesians 3:2–6. God’s plan was to bless the world through the nation of Israel. But before Jesus Christ came, nobody could work out what that would look like, or how it would happen. God has now fulfilled that plan in time: he has brought about the blessing of the world in Christ, through the preaching of the gospel.

The knowledge dimension

This means there’s also a knowledge dimension to God’s wisdom. God graciously made himself known and revealed his plans to us. By ourselves, we could never work out God’s plan: it was a “secret”. But God’s heavenly revelation has broken through our ignorance and inability to know. We have the great privilege of living this side of Jesus Christ’s death and resurrection, and the grace of knowing God’s plans in time and space.

Bust of Socrates, Vatican Museum, Rome

The personal dimension

There’s also a deeply personal dimension to God’s plans and purposes. He has been gracious, personally, to each of us who believes in his Son. As we’ve seen earlier in Ephesians, Paul has waxed lyrical about the way God’s grace has been lavished on us, granting us forgiveness of our sins, making us God’s children through adoption, leading us to holiness, giving us hope, and more (Ephesians 1:3–10). He has also reminded us that this salvation by grace is not by our own works, but is by faith (Ephesians 2:1–10). He has described how even his own ministry is a gift of God’s grace: Paul was so unworthy, the “leastest” of all the holy ones, the one who persecuted the church, and yet who was graciously given the task of bringing that gospel to the nations (Ephesians 3:7–8). After this passage, Paul will go on to talk about the impact that God’s grace should have on our lives and our relationships, as we change and grow in holiness and in love for others (Ephesians chapters 4–6). This personal dimension is very significant in Ephesians.

The social dimension

There’s a social dimension to God’s plans and purposes, too. The gospel of Jesus Christ is for all people. The gospel brings about a true equality of status between people. In the Old Testament, the gentiles were described as being blessed by God, but not in the same way as Israel: the gentiles were seen more as hangers-on to Israel. But God’s grace in Jesus Christ means that all people who trust in him are fellow-heirs, members of the same body, having the same status as God’s children and having access to God (see Ephesians 3:6). And so the gospel of Jesus Christ brings reconciliation and peace (see Ephesians 2:11–18). This has to have an impact on our relationships and our churches, doesn’t it?

Mission. Photo by Ben White on Unsplash

The international dimension

There’s an international dimension to God’s plans and purposes. The riches and wonder of the gospel is not just something for the one nation Israel to keep to themselves; that gospel has gone from Israel to all the other nations and is still going out to the world. To give one example, the growth of Christianity in China is so rapid that some estimate it will have 247 million Christians by 2030. This helps to remind us that being a Christian isn’t just about our own individual lives, or even our own individual churches. Believers share a deep unity in the gospel that extends over all borders (see also Ephesians 2:20–22).

The cosmic dimension

And here, Paul reminds his readers about the vast cosmic dimension of God’s wisdom. It’s not just an earthly thing. As people hear the gospel of the Lord Jesus and come to trust in him, as we are raised spiritually and seated with him above all powers and authorities, as we are united together and gather around his word in church here on earth, this is a witness to the spiritual powers and authorities in the heavenly realms of God’s greatness and wisdom. Sometimes we wish we could have a heavenly experience like angels. But in reality, the angels wish they could have an experience like ours! We are saved, forgiven, united, and reconciled, through the gospel.

Multidimensional life

This, then, is what Paul means by the “multidimensional wisdom of God”. It’s the many facets of God’s great plan “to sum up all things in Christ: things in heaven and things on earth, in him” (Ephesians 1:10). It’s God’s full-colour, super-high-definition, surround sound plan for the universe. It’s all centred on the gospel of Jesus Christ, and it’s put into effect through the preaching of that gospel. Paul wants to share this truth with his readers, because it matters for them, and it matters for us too.

God’s multidimensional wisdom reaches into every area of our lives. More than that, it reaches beyond our individual lives to our relationships, to the world, and indeed into the heavenly places. How could we ever be bored with a God like this? If God’s wisdom is indeed multidimensional, shouldn’t our lives be gripped by it? Shouldn’t we live our lives marvelling at his plan through time, thirsting to know him more, lamenting our sin, bowing before his grace and mercy, seeking to repent and grow in holiness, pursuing reconciliation with others, sharing that gospel with the world, and praying for God’s Spirit to be at work to glorify the Father and the Son, even in the heavenly realms? These things and more will be the result of being gripped by God’s multidimensional wisdom.

Because God’s wisdom is multidimensional, Paul’s ministry of the gospel was multidimensional. So pastors: whatever you do, don’t get bored with God and his purposes. What the people in your care need most of all from you isn’t clever leadership or sparkling rhetoric or personal charm. What they need most from you is for you, like Paul, to be regularly gripped by the gospel of God’s grace, in all its richness, its beauty, its breadth and length and height and depth. If the gospel for you has become a one-dimensional message—something quite simple that you think you’ve worked out and tucked into your belt so that you can get to work on other more important things—then in the end you will be bored by it. And if you are bored by the gospel, your message and your ministry will be boring. I’m not just talking about being boring in terms of style; in fact, you can probably sustain a highly entertaining one-dimensional ministry for quite some time. I’m talking about something far worse: being boring in terms of substance. If your ministry is one-dimensional, you’re not being faithful to the message of the gospel. That’s because God’s wisdom is deep, rich, and multidimensional. So let’s continue to be captured by it, grow in it, and share it with others.

For reflection

Which of the dimensions of God’s wisdom listed above are you most familiar with? How might you give thanks for God’s grace in this area?

Which of the dimensions of God’s wisdom listed above are you less familiar with? How might you grow in understanding and living for God in this area?

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This post is part of a series of ~70 reflections covering every sentence in Paul’s letter to the Ephesians. You can see all the posts so far, and subscribe to receive updates via email, audio podcast, and social media, by following this link.

The academic details behind these reflections

Reading Ephesians & Colossians After Supersessionism: Christ's Mission through Israel to the Nations

In this series, I don’t go into detail justifying every statement I make about the background and meaning of Ephesians. I’ve done that elsewhere. If you’re interested in the reasons I say what I say here, and want to chase it up further with lots of ancient Greek, technical stuff, and footnotes, check out my book Reading Ephesians and Colossians After Supersessionism: Christ’s Mission through Israel to the Nations.

Published inEphesiansLift Your Eyes

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