Summary: God’s great plan is eternal because he set it out before the creation of the world, because it’s effective right now and because it reaches into the future to the end of time. This eternal, cosmic plan is being worked out day by day and we’re part of it.
I hope that those of you who were here last week have been waiting with anticipation to hear more about God’s eternal plan for the world. As we’ll see in a moment it’s an eternal plan because he set it out before the creation of the world, because it’s effective right now and because it reaches into the future to the end of time.
Paul begins his letter with the usual greetings to the recipients, then he launches into a hymn of praise. But in fact it’s more than just praise. It’s more like an overture to a great operatic work. Here we find themes that are repeated later in the letter. Yet, like an overture it has an internal unity that allows us to study it by itself as we’re about to do.
Last week we looked at how Paul repeats the phrase “In Christ” over and over again in this passage. So clearly this is an idea that’s central to the letter. The fact that we’re now in Christ is significant for both our salvation and our sanctification, that is, our being changed to be more Christlike.
But there’s another set of phrases that are repeated several times in this short passage. They’re the phrases like “according to his will” or “his good pleasure”, or “according to his purpose.” They’re repeated in vs 5, 7, 9, and 11. But they’re summed up in the phrase in v10 “a plan for the fullness of time”. That is, what Paul is talking about when he talks of God’s will and purpose is God’s eternal plan, set out before the foundation of the world, and set to come to completion at the last day. So what do discover here about God’s plan for the world?
You may feel like our building project has been going on for so long it must have an eternal dimension to it. It’s something like 10 or 11 years since we first thought about the idea of us merging our two parishes and it’s still going. But here we read about a plan that dwarfs anything we might be involved in not only by its sheer magnitude, but also by its success. This plan was instituted by God before the foundation of the world. We experience the fruits of it now, and it’ll finally come to completion at the end of time, when God brings all things together under Christ.
Before the creation - he chose us and predestined us
We’re told the plan began when God chose us before the creation of the world. God worked out beforehand everything that would happen. He chose us to be made his children by adoption. And he made us with a task to fulfill which we’ll look at in a moment.
Now –adopted as his children; we have redemption
Right now, in the present, we experience the outworking of that plan as we’re welcomed into his family as his adopted sons and daughters; as we receive the redemption that comes through Christ’s blood, shed on the cross; as we experience our sins being forgiven. And it’s a plan that continues to be worked out in the present as more and more people are accepted into God’s family on the same basis.
For the fullness of time - to gather up all things in him
Thirdly, it’s a plan that stretches forward to a point in the future when God will bring all things to completion in Christ. The phrase used is “the fullness of time” or “when the times will have reached their fulfilment.” It’s the same word that we use for a train or bus terminus. Do you ever wonder about history? Does it just go round and round forever repeating itself? Or is it a linear progression getting better or worse depending on what era you live in? What we find here is that, despite what some people believe, history isn’t meaningless or without purpose. Nor is it an endless cycle. Rather it’s moving towards a final goal, and a glorious one at that. A time will come when all that is will be changed, when everything in heaven and on earth will be brought together in unity under one head, Jesus Christ. This is one of the things I love about St Thomas’. God’s intention for the human race is that all people be united under Christ. His desire is for a world where all people live together in unity. The next two chapters speak of the mystery of the gospel being that the Gentiles are now included in God’s people on equal terms with the Jews. That was the first step to this future reality. Where we are now is bringing people of different racial and cultural backgrounds together into a unity in Christ. But in fact the future reality he talks about here includes all created things. In other words this unity in Christ extends not only to races of people but to the natural world as well. It’ll be a unity that sees the end of ecological damage. It’ll be characterised, according to Isaiah, by the wolf lying down with the lamb, the calf and the lion eating together. And it’ll be a world in which even spiritual forces are at one with God’s purposes. So God’s plan stretches in eternity from the start of time through to the present and on to the end of time.