Following the killing of George Floyd in May 2020, an impassioned debate about racism has exposed deep wounds running through minority communities, and presents a great challenge to everyone who belongs to the church and believes that God calls us to reach out to others in missions. So, what does the Bible have to say about this? Let’s look at a little-noticed verse, Ephesians 3:10, where Paul writes that God has brought to light the plan of “the mystery,” which was kept hidden in previous ages, so that, “through the church the wisdom of God in its rich variety might now be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places”. What does this have to do with race and missions? To answer this question, we need to take a step back and look at the bigger picture of Paul’s letter.
At the heart of Ephesians is a vision of cosmic unity and reconciliation. In fact, when Paul first speaks of this “mystery” (3:10) he explains it as God’s purpose, which has now been revealed in Christ, to “bring back into unity” all things in him (1:9–10). This is encapsulated in Ephesians 2:11–22, which depicts the breaking down (2:14) of the great ethnic/racial divide in Scripture (Jews versus Gentiles) and the creation of “one new humanity” (2:15) out of the two groups. Later in the letter, Paul exhorts his readers to maintain their new unity in the bond of peace, given by the Spirit (4:3), and spelled out in a confession of faith marked by the seven-fold use of the word “one” (4:4–6). This “one new humanity” must grow into “mature manhood” in the unity of the faith (4:13); into full harmony with Christ (4:15–16), by their harmonious exercise of the gifts given to them (4:7–12). This will be expressed by “putting off” the old humanity and “putting on” the new (4:22–24); recognizing that they are members of one body (4:25) in the way that they live together (4:17–6:9).
Ephesians 3:10 brings together two key themes for the letter. Firstly, Paul speaks many times of spiritual personal beings whom collectively we might call “the powers” (e.g. 1:21; 3:10; 6:12). Secondly, five times he refers to “the heavenly places” (1:3; 1:20; 2:6; 3:10; 6:12). This is not the same as “heaven,” since, while Christ (1:20) and believers (2:6) are “seated” there, so too are the “powers” (3:10; 6:12). The heavenly places in Ephesians seem to mean the transcendent spiritual realm. Then Paul makes his most surprising move of all. What is God’s answer to these hostile spiritual powers? What is the greatest witness to them that they have already been defeated through the cross, and that one day their total defeat will be seen and experienced? Remarkably, it is through the very existence of the church as a multi-racial, multi-cultural, united new humanity (3:10). Here, it is not so much what the church does; but what it is. This does not entail the erasure of racial, cultural or language differences, just as Paul still speaks of Jews and Gentiles; and Jews on the day of Pentecost heard the message of the apostles, not in a single language, but each in their own language (Acts 2:6). Even Revelation’s vision of God’s people in heaven still speaks of their diversity, coming “from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages” (7:9). But in a world riven by factions, parties, tribes and interest groups, the surprising supernatural unity of the church, in all its diversity, is a proclamation to the powers of darkness that their final end has come, and is a testimony of the cosmic unity in Christ which is God’s final purpose for all things (Ephesians 1:10).
As One Mission Society we seek to play our part in fulfilling this vision as we reach out to peoples from many different cultures, nations, languages and ethnic groups, just as Paul describes his calling in the immediate context of Ephesians 3:10: “this grace was given to me to preach to the Gentiles the good news of the boundless riches of Christ” (Ephesians 3:8). As OMS Global, we already work in partnership with ministries in many different countries and continents. Previously, missionaries with OMS were sent out mainly from English-speaking western countries but now we are working with national partners so they can send out their own missionaries as part of OMS. We long to see more people become part of a united church of many nations, people groups, cultures and languages, and fulfil their calling as disciple-makers. Our interracial, intercultural unity can be a testimony to the transforming power of the gospel.