The Purposes of God for the World
November 2nd, 1969 @ 10:50 AM
THE PURPOSES OF GOD FOR THE WORLD
Dr. W. A. Criswell
11-02-69 10:50 a.m.
On the radio and on television you are sharing the services of the First Baptist Church in Dallas. This is the pastor preaching the sermon entitled The Purposes of God for the World. It is an exegetical sermon; that is, it is a message taken out of the inspired Word of God. It is not the kind of a sermon that you could wool gather and make dresses and cook dinners while you sit out there and listen. You have to give me your heart and your ears, but if you will do it, I can tell you by the authority of God’s Word that it will bless and strengthen your soul forever. When I got through preparing the message, I had a feeling of great exaltation, like someone would be lifted up to heaven. I felt that way when I had done preparing the sermon. Now I shall read the text, then I am going to point out the words that we are going to exegete. Then the sermon is the meaning of that message of these words that God uses in His Book.
In the first chapter of Ephesians, and at this morning hour we are preaching—at these morning hours, every Sunday morning, we are preaching through the Book of Ephesians. Like at night I preach from the life of Christ, in the daytime now I am preaching from the Book of Ephesians. And I will start reading at verse 9 and read through verse 14:
Having made known unto us the mystery of His will, according to His good pleasure which He hath purposed in Himself:
That in the dispensation of the fullness of times He might gather together in one all things in Christ, things that are in heaven, things that are on earth; even in Him,
In Christ in whom also we have obtained an inheritance, being predestinated according to the purpose of Him who worketh all things after the counsel of His own will:
That we should be to the praise of His glory, who first trusted in Christ.
In whom ye also trusted, after that ye heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation: in whom also after that ye believed, ye were sealed with that Holy Spirit of promise,
Which is the earnest—
the down payment—
the earnest of our inheritance until the redemption of the whole purchased possession, unto the praise of His glory.
Now the words we are going to exegete: having made known unto us the mustērion, the mustērion, a secret hid in the heart of God until the day came for Him to reveal it, a mustērion. “That in the dispensation of the fullness of times” [Ephesians 1:10], the oikonomia, the oikonomia: an oikos is a house, and oikonomos is the manager. You translate the word “steward,” “the manager of a house,” and an oikonomia is the “management of the house,” God’s management of the universe, the oikonomia.
Now, the next one we’re going to exegete is anakephalaioō, anakephalaioō, translated here, “gather together in one” [Ephesians 1:10]. And literally it means to head up, kephalē, “head,” ana, “up”; to head up, and the oikonomia, in God’s management of the times. It is His purpose to gather together in one, to head up everything in Christ.
Then the next one we’re going to exegete is to einai, einai, “that we should be” [Ephesians 1:12]. And then the last one is proelpizō, “who first trusted in Christ” [Ephesians 1:12].
All right, let’s begin, listening with your heart and your head and your ears. And if you will, this is God’s Word to us, and the most encouraging and exalting of all of the revelations you could find in God’s Book.
“Having made known unto us the mustērion” [Ephesians 1:9]: the secret hid in the heart of God, until the time came for Him to reveal it; this is a revelation that was not made in the Prophets in the Old Testament, nor was it revealed to the former state, nor was it revealed to the former saints, the generations that had preceded; but it was a secret that God kept in His heart, namely, His great intention, His great purpose in this universe, and in human life, and in human history, and in this present world [Ephesians 1:10; 1 John 3:8].
Now if you think at all, you cannot but be perplexed at history and at what you see: the mystery of evil [Jeremiah 12:1], and whether there be any reason, or any purpose, or any goal, or any consummation in human life and in the flowing of human history. Now over that is the greatest division today in present philosophy, and there are two ways that you can believe it. One, you can be an existentialist. You can be a philosopher of despair, and that is the philosophy that has overwhelmed this present world. These existentialists believe that there’s no meaning and there’s no purpose back of what you see in life, in creation, or in the universe. It is without goal; it is without reason; it is without purpose. It is absolutely meaningless. That is modern philosophy. And, of course, it is a philosophy of infinite and indescribable and unfathomable despair! There is no meaning or purpose in life, and there’s no goal toward which human history is moving. That is modern philosophy.
But there is another philosophy, and this is the one that is inspired and revealed by God. There is a purpose that lies back of all that you see in creation and in human life. And that purpose was a mustērion [Ephesians 1:9]. It was a secret hid in the heart of God until the day came for the Lord to reveal it unto His apostles [Ephesians 3:4-5]. Now the revelation of that mustērion, of that secret in the heart of God, did not come to pass, it was not revealed because of any unforeseen development in human history or in creation; but it was a purpose that God had in His heart and mind from the beginning. It is not changed, nor has anything developed that has altered it or changed it, but it is a purpose that has been constant in the heart of God from the beginning of existence! [Ephesians 3:4-5].
Now that’s the way he starts. “Having made known unto us the mustērion of His will, according to His good pleasure wherein He hath purposed this in Himself” [Ephesians 1:9]. So there is a purpose in the heart and mind of God for the whole flow of history in which our lives are inextricably bound, and there is a great consummation and goal toward which all time and tide inevitably and inextricably move. All right, then he says what it is: “That in the oikonomia, in the dispensation, in the management in God’s directives in history, in time, in the ages through the millennia and the century, that in God’s dispensation” [Ephesians 1:10], in God’s management, in God’s stewardship of the ages, that He might gather together in one, might head up in Christ all things, the consummation toward which heaven and earth do move [Ephesians 1:10].
Well, let’s look at that. Paul says that the great goal toward which time and life and creation move, that this goal is under the hands of Almighty God, that it is a management; it is a stewardship that God possesses [Ephesians 1:10]. Now some of this I can see, and the other part of it, that we speak of here, we trust, we hope for, we believe in. Some of it I can see. This dispensation of the fullness of times [Ephesians 1:10], this stewardship, this oikonomia, this management of God, the directive of God that guides and sustains through all of history and in all that you see, the heavens above us, and the earth beneath, and our lives enmeshed in it, I can see part of that. I can see the oikonomia. I can see the dispensation, the management of God, for example, in the preparation of this world for habitation; wind and fire and smoke and vapor and snow and ice and rain, all have had their part in preparing this world through the ages for human habitation; all under the directive sovereignty, the oikonomia, the management of God.
It took millions and millions and millions of God’s little creatures to make the limestone rock and the coral reefs. And, it took millions and millions and millions of God’s ferns and forests to make the beds of coal and the pools of oil. And it took volcanic eruptions, and the glacial ages, and the sediment, the alluvial deposits of the rivers to make the great, rich valleys that feed God’s people. All of it are a part of the dispensation [Ephesians 1:10], the sovereignty, the management, the stewardship, the oikonomia, the directive of God through the ages and the ages. These geologists sometimes seemingly overwhelm us by putting a billion years here and five billion years there; but that’s a part of the management of God through the ages, preparing this earth for human habitation.
Now I can see that same thing, the oikonomia, the sovereignty of God, the management of God, I can see that in the preparation of the world for Christ [Ephesians 1:10]. First, there were hints, and earnests, and adumbrations and faint echoes, and as the days pass and the years multiply, they become clearer and clearer and more vivid. Then as the days multiply, the Lord begins to teach us the nomenclature, the language of heaven, that we might understand His revelation. There is a visible temple, and there is a human priesthood, and there are rites and rituals and ceremonies. And in them, I’m learning what an altar is and what a sacrifice is, what propitiation is, what atonement is, what expiation is. I’m being taught the language of heaven.
Then the prophets arise. And as the days pass, clearer and clearer and more specific and finally to smallest details, they outline the coming of the great King and Lord. As the days pass, a family is chosen, and a tribe is chosen, and a king and a kingdom is chosen. And upon a day, the forerunner stands, and he lifts up his voice and his hand, and he says, “Behold!” [John 1:29]. And the Lamb of God, the Savior, is introduced to the world. All in the oikonomia, the management, the dispensation of the times [Ephesians 1:10], getting the world ready for the coming of Christ with a language, with a law, with a universal civilization all under one government, and with a Bible known and Moses read in every city and hamlet in the civilized world [2 Corinthians 3:15], the management of God for the coming King [Ephesians 1:10].
And now we stand in that oikonomia, in that stewardship of the times [Ephesians 1:10]. We stand in the year 1969. Generations have gone before us, and yet the great goal and consummation is not reached. We groan. We are a perishing people. As Paul writes in the eighth chapter of the Book of Romans, “For we know that the whole creation groaneth and travaileth in pain together until now” [Romans 8:22]. And not only they, also, and not only they, the tornados and the hurricanes, the deserts that block this earth, the winds and the cold and the storms, and even the cattle moaning and calving, and the trees that are imperfect, and the fruit that is not ripened; the world is cursed, and it groans and travails. And not only the creation, but we ourselves also, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, waiting for the redemption of the body, the adoption into the family of God [Romans 8:23], or as Paul describes it in the passage I read in Ephesians, “the redemption of the whole purchased possession” [Ephesians 1:14].
We are still in these ages, these millennian years of suffering and trial, heartache and disappointment, age and senility, and finally death. That’s where we stand now in the oikōnomia of God [Ephesians 1:10]. Like the opening of the fifth seal in the sixth chapter of the Apocalypse, And they cried, “O Lord, how long? How long?” And God replied, “Yet a little season, yet for a little while” [Revelation 6:9-11].
So it is with us in the great sweep of God’s hand through human history and the reaching out toward that ultimate consummation; we must wait, and we must trust, and we must believe. But His purposes will not fail. There may have been generations before us in sorrow and trial, and there may yet be generations to follow us who know nothing but sorrow and tears and death, but the promise of God will surely come, and the King will certainly someday appear [Matthew 25:31].
Do you remember how the Book of Genesis closes? And Joseph is a hundred ten years old [Genesis 50:22]. And the time has come for Joseph to die. And he calls the elders of the children of Israel around him, and he makes them swear an oath that they will bring his bones, carry his embalmed body out of Egypt, into the Promised Land. “For,” said Joseph, “God will surely visit you. And when that time comes, I want to be carried, my bones, out of the land of darkness and servitude into the glory of the promised kingdom” [Genesis 50:24-25]. A hundred years passed, and there was no keeping of God’s promise. For Joseph said, “God will surely visit you” [Genesis 50:24]. And two hundred years passed. And three hundred years passed. And three hundred ninety-five years passed, and there was no evidence of God’s visitation. And at the end of four hundred years— according to the Word of God to Abraham, His friend and servant—at the end of four hundred years, God appeared to Moses on the back side of the desert, in a bush that burned unconsumed, and sent him down to deliver His people [Exodus 3:1-10].
The promise may be long and delayed, but it will surely come. For the universe, the whole world and the flow of human history are in the oikonomia, the management, the dispensation, the stewardship of God [Ephesians 1:10].
Now we’re going to speak of the purposes of God for His world, for us, and for His universe. And there are three of them that are listed here in the passage out of which I am expounding this morning. First: it is the purpose of God, not a late development, it is a purpose of God, in the heart of God from the beginning; it is the purpose of God that all things, all things, shall find their meaning and their reason and their purpose for being—all things, all of it [Ephesians 1:10].
And Paul describes it; all the things in heaven. Whatever are up there in heaven, the angels, the cherubim, the seraphim, the saints who washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb [Revelation 7:14], the celestial spheres, the sidereal spheres, the chalice of God’s sky, the infinitude of the infinite universe; whatever is up there and whatever is down here, all of it, Paul says, is to find its ultimate place and meaning in Christ [Ephesians 1:10]. And outside of our Lord there shall be nothing of existence. It shall perish. It shall die [Isaiah 51:6]. All existence that continues shall find its meaning in the Lord Christ, and outside of Him there will be no life and no existence.
This is but a way of saying a thing that has been taught us in the Word of God in the pages before. It is to be like the chaff and the wheat. The chaff is burned with fire, and the wheat, belonging to Christ, His people, the bread of His body, the body of our Lord, all is to be kept and glorified. But the chaff is to be burned with unquenchable fire [Matthew 3:12; Luke 3:17]. It is the same thing as the Lord said: the vine and the branches; the branches that are not in the vine shall whither and shall die and shall be burned [John 15:6]. All things that are not in Christ shall perish [Isaiah 51:6].
It is the same thing as the Lord said in Matthew 16:18 concerning His church, “On this rock”— that is, on the great foundation of the deity of the Son of God, the deity of Christ, the Godhead of Christ; on the basis of that great foundational truth—”I will build My church; and the gates of hell shall not katischuō, be able to hold it down.” Now, we have a silly way of interpreting that. The gates of hell are going to storm the kingdom of God, and they’re not going to be able to overcome it; that’s somebody’s foolish idea, I don’t know where it came from, but it’s universal, been repeated ten thousand times. Gates don’t get up and storm anywhere, gates don’t get up and then attack. Why, the idea, if you’ll just look at it, is fantastic! The Lord said, “And the gates of Hades, the gates of hell, the gates of damnation, the gates of death” [Matthew 16:18].
Now is death universal? Are you dying? If you are not, you’re an exception. Death has been universal since the days of our fallen parents [Genesis 3:1-6]. And the gates of death—and we have seen people whom we love, and friends, pour into that awful abyss, and they die. And everything in human life is dissolved in death. Even when I marry a couple, as I did yesterday afternoon, the question is, “Until death do you part?” The marriage vow and the marriage home is dissolved in death. There is no marriage in heaven; you are as the angels are in heaven [Luke 20:34-36]. Christ is saying there, the only relationships that abide, that sustain beyond the grave and beyond death, are those that are made in Him. And outside of Him, there is no life, and there is no existence. Outside of Christ, there is nothing but the fire and the worm and the second death [Revelation 20:11-15], cut off from God! And what all that means, the horror and terror of what it means, to be cut off from God, my mind is not able to enter into. And even the vivid imagery by which it is described in the Bible is a horrible thing to contemplate. Outside of Christ, there is no life, and there is no hope, and there’s no presence of God. That is the purpose of God. Whatever He cannot sum up in Christ is to be taken away. It is to be burned. It is to die. O Lord, our existence and our life, our hope and our future are in Christ alone [Ephesians 1:10].
We must hasten. What is the purpose of God? That is first; that all things that continue—that have their being in existence—all things are to be summed up under the sovereignty of Christ [Ephesians 1:10]. That’s why I had you read the passage from the Revelation; “The kingdoms of this world are become the kingdoms of our Lord, and of His Christ; and He shall reign forever and ever” [Revelation 11:15]. That’s the purpose of God [Ephesians 1:10].
All right, the second purpose of God that is revealed here: the mustērion that is revealed to us, “that we should be to the praise of His glory” [Ephesians 1:12]. That’s one of the oddest Greek constructed sentences that you could ever look at. For the verb “be” is first. Eis to einai. Einai, “that we should be.” And in the Greek construction, the construction of the Greek sentence, that’s first. “That we should be!” [Ephesians 1:12]. Well, what a marvelous revelation and promise that is! What do you think will happen to us when we die? Do we go out like a light, like a candle? Do we? Do we? What is beyond the grave and what is beyond death? Is there existence? And if there is, what kind of an existence, that we should be, that we should exist, that we should live?
Well, what is it beyond death and beyond the grave? You have many answers for that. The atheist believes that there is nothing beyond. You die like a horse, like a dog. And you die and there’s no other existence. That’s what the atheist believes. The Buddhist, for example, will believe in a nirvana. You are reincarnated, reincarnated, and reincarnated until finally you come to that estate where there’s no more reincarnation; but you come to the great limbo of nothingness, absolute serenity of nothingness, and absolute limbo of emptiness. That’s the Buddhist. The materialist says that after you die and after life has ceased, there is nothing remaining but the ceaseless tides of the eternal seas. There nothing remains but the unending orbits of the spheres around their central suns. Nothing remains but the empty silence of the universe. That’s what the materialist says. But God reveals to us that, in the eternity of the eternities and in the ages of the ages, that we shall be to the praise of His glory! [Ephesians 1:12]. We shall exist! We shall be! That is, God is to have someone to love Him. God is to have someone to sing to Him. God is to have someone to praise Him. And God is to have someone to live in His presence. And that somebody is you, and that somebody is me, we who have proelpizō, in a moment, we who have trusted in Jesus.
I wish I had time to expound on Paul’s elaboration of that. In the second chapter, he says that we shall sit together, and he emphasizes that. We shall be; we shall live; we shall sit together in the heavenlies in Christ Jesus [Ephesians 2:6]. It is to be a community. It is to be a fellowship. It is to be a koinonia. It is to be a communion. It is to be a gathering of God’s saints. We shall be to the praise of His glory [Ephesians 1:12].
And the last: we who have first trusted in Christ, pro, “before,” elpizō, “to trust in,” we who have first trusted in Christ [Ephesians 1:12]—now what he is talking about is this: that without any sign of the ultimate consummation, we just believe God for it. Our whole reliance and the weight and the burden of our souls are upon Jesus, and we have done with all other confidences. But we rely wholly and by trust and by faith upon Jesus. God has in store for us all of these marvelous things He has prepared for those who love Him and for those who believe in Him and for those who trust in Him [1 Corinthians 2:9].
Now I want to look at that just for a moment. Why did God do it that way, that His kingdom is to be made up of those who trust Him and believe in Him, without any particular evidence of the consummation of the descent of the Holy City? Of all of those incomparable things that God is preparing, why does God give it to those who just trust Him for it and who believe Him for it? [Ephesians 1:12]. Well, I got to thinking about that, and I have three answers to it, briefly. One: it honors God; just to trust God for it, just to believe God for it, it honors God. In the sixth chapter of the Book of John, they came to Jesus and said, “How shall we work the works of God? What shall we do, that we might work the works of God?” [John 6:28]. And the Lord replied, “This is the work of God, that you believe [on] Him, that ye trust in Him whom God hath sent” [John 6:29]. The greatest work whereby a man can glorify God is to believe in God. It honors God.
I don’t think there’s a grander example of that in time or tide than in the fifteenth chapter of the Book of Genesis, when Abram is getting to be an old man and Sarai his wife is coming to be an old woman. And the heir that God has promised out of the womb of Sarai and out of the loins of Abram has not been born [Genesis 13:14-17]. And God said to Abram—when Abram asked Him about it—God said to Abram, “Come out here under the stars.” And they went out, God and Abram, under the blue of the sky. And God said to His servant, “Can you count those stars?” And the telescopes are increasingly letting us know how impossible it is to human mind to count those stars.
God said to Abram, “Can you count those stars?”
And Abram said, “I cannot.”
And God said, “So shall thy seed be, that shall come out of thy loins, nations and kingdoms and kings” [Genesis 15:1-5]. And Abram is an old man, and Sarai is an old woman. Then the most magnificent verse in the Old Testament; “And Abraham believed God; and God counted it to him for righteousness” [Genesis 15:6].
No more stars up there in the skies. They are covenants, and they are promises, and they are assurances. They are God’s unfailing, and mighty, and unmovable, and unchanging Word; every star up there in the sky [Genesis 15:5]. Abraham believed God: and God imputed it to him, counted it to him for righteousness [Genesis 15:6]. I’m telling you why it is that I think, as I study the Book, that God did it this way. When we trust God for it and believe God for it, though there’s no evidence around us, we honor God [Ephesians 1:12].
Second: faith and hope and trust, that elpizō, we who before trusted [Ephesians 1:12]; before it comes to pass, we who trust God for it, it opens the very fountains of blessing and of assurance and of God’s benedictory rewards. Do you remember the sweet passage in the eleventh chapter of the Book of Hebrews? The author calling the roll call of the faithful; those who have trusted in God, the heroes of faith; speaking of Abraham and Isaac and Jacob, who dwelt in tents, had no permanent abiding place, and confessed themselves to be strangers, and pilgrims in the earth; “For,” said the author of Hebrews, “they sought for a city who hath foundations, whose builder and maker is God” [Hebrews 11:8-10]: and “they died having not received the promises” [Hebrews 11:13]. Then do you remember the following verse? “Wherefore, God is not ashamed to be called their God: for He hath prepared for them that city” [Hebrews 11:16]. Strangers and pilgrims in the earth, looking for a city which hath foundations, whose builder and maker is God [Hebrews 11:10]. And they died, having never received the promises, but God, but God hath prepared for them that city [Hebrews 11:16]. God rewarded their faith with an answer from heaven. They trusted God for it, and God did not let them down. It opens the vistas of God’s blessing, and God’s rewards, God’s benedictory remembrances.
Why, I read one time, where a man talking about faith, he wrote this sentence. He said, “So great was the faith of Columbus, that there was land to the west, that had there been no American continent, God would have created one, just to reward so great a faith.” I like that, whether it’s true or not, I like the sentiment of that because it reflects the faith that we’re to have in God, in the Word. When we believe God and trust God for it, God opens up the fountains of blessings to reward us.
I haven’t time to speak of the last one: why does God choose it that way? Because when we trust God and believe in God [Ephesians 1:13-14], it leads to open avowal, to open discipleship, to open commitment, as in the life of Nicodemus [John 3:1-21, 19:39], as in the life of the apostle Paul [Philippians 1:21], and as in your life. When you begin trusting God and believing in God and looking up to God, you’re going to find your life more and more and more openly committed to the blessed Jesus. And it’s a benedictory commitment, sweeter, more precious with each passing hour and day.
We must sing our song of appeal, and while we sing it, a family you, give himself to Jesus. “Pastor, my wife and my children, we’re all coming today,” or a couple you, or just one somebody you, while we sing the song, come and stand by me. There’s a stairway to the front and the back on either side, and there’s time and to spare; come. On this lower floor, into the aisle and down here to the front, a couple, a family or just you: “I want to take God as my Savior, opening my heart to the Lord, and here I come, here I am.” Do it now, make it now, on the first note of the first stanza, stand up coming, and angels will precede you and God’s Spirit will go before you. All the blessings, rich, celestial that even God could bestow, they’re all yours in the faith, in the hope, in the trusting, in the commitment, in the coming, in the following [Ephesians 2:8]. Do it now, make it now, while we stand and while we sing.
THE PURPOSE OF GOD FOR THE WORLD
Dr. W. A. Criswell
A. The mystery revealed
1. The secret God kept in His heart – His great purpose in this universe
2. Perplexed by mystery of evil; whether there be any reason or purpose in human life
3. It was not revealed as a result of any unforeseen development in history or creation, but purposedin God’s heart from the beginning
B. The divine intention – to sum up all things in Christ
1. In the oikonomia, the management of the ages
a. God’s preparation of the world for habitation
b. God’s preparation of the world for Christ(John 1:29)
2. Our present moment in that succession of ages(Romans 8:22-23, Revelation 6:10-11)
3. The purpose will not fail(Genesis 50:24-26, Exodus 3:1-8)II. The purpose of God that all things find ultimate meaning in Christ
A. Outside of Christ there will be no life and no existence
1. Chaff and the wheat; the vine and the branches
2. Concerning His church (Matthew 16:18)
B. All things are to be summed up under Christ’s sovereignty(Revelation 11:15)III. The purpose of God that we should be the praise of His glory
A. Existence beyond the grave
B. We are to be to the praise of His glory – live before God
C. We are to be with each other(Ephesians 2:6, 1 Corinthians 13:12)IV. The purpose of God that we trust and believe in Him for the final consummation
A. Honors God(John 6:28-29, Genesis 15:1-6)
B. Opens fountains of blessing and assurance(Hebrews 11:9-10, 13, 16)
C. Leads to an open following of Christ(John 3:1, 7:50, 19:39, Acts 9)