Unity, and maturity in Christ. (Ephesians 4:1-16)
Pastor Terry Inman
A couple weeks ago we hosted over 2000 teachers from the Fremont Unified School District in our facilities for and all day meeting. We are the only facility in town that can handle that kind of crowd.
Dr. Morris the superintendent was very grateful for our hospitality. I got a note from him this week. He told me some teachers were upset that the meeting was being held in a church. Apparently some stayed away because they said their religion forbid them to enter our sanctuary.
Originally I was asked to welcome the group and give a short ecumenical prayer. But at the last minute the Superintendent publically acknowledged our Harbor Light hospitality but asked me not to say anything. I’m ok with that because we served the school system without any perceived agenda.
I told the superintendent that he could tell the complaining teachers that they did not need to worry because this building is not a church. The church simply meets here on Sundays.
The Church in the New Testament has noting to do with temples, synagogues, or any other religious houses of worship. The ancient Greek word for Church, (ekklesia) means the “assembly or the called ones”.
Actually the fellowship we are affiliated with nationally, “The Assemblies of God” is pretty close to this description. We don’t claim to be the only church just part of the global body of Christ.
To a religious culture with its pagan and Jewish temples Paul has painted an awesome portrait of a totally new living structure. He has merged two metaphors for the followers of Jesus Christ. We are a building and a body!
We have been raised with Christ and are placed in His heavenly or spiritual realm. He is our head and we are his living growing body. We are fitted to each other, we are skilled with his gifts, and we are filling out his body!
In him the whole building is joined together and rises to become a holy temple in the Lord. And in him you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit. Ephesians 2: 21-22 (NIV)
The church is more than a building it is a growing body. The final verse of today’s e-mail elaborates on this dynamic image. “From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work.” Ephesians 4.16 (NIV)
Today we are going to talk about “Body Building”. The church of Jesus Christ is not just getting fat it is getting fit. It is working out unity, diversity and maturity.
Last week Paul summarized the doctrinal section of this letter to the Ephesians with some measurements. “I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the saints, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.” Ephesians 3.18-19 (NIV)
Now he moves to the practical section of his letter. He describes how all these incredible benefits we have in Christ actually work to build His body. He outlines three simple things. (1.) Preserve Unity (2.) Prefer Diversity (3.) Produce Maturity
How do we Preserve Unity? This Ephesian church was made up of two very different cultures of the Jewish and Gentile followers of Jesus.
In chapter three Paul introduced himself as the “Prisoner of the Lord”. He wrote about our incredible standing with Christ in the heavenly places. He did not want anyone to be discouraged by earthly prisons or pains.
So again he says, “As a prisoner for the Lord, then, I urge (exort) you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received.” Ephesians 4.1(NIV)
“Worthy” (axios) is literally “bringing up the other beam of the scales” Paul is insisting that there be a balance between profession and practice.
Sense we now have all these incredible inclusive benefits in Christ how do we live it out with each other. How do with live up to our new status!
Paul suggests four character traits that will preserve unity. “Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love.” Ephesians 4.2 (NIV) These four graces will balance calling and character.
Now Paul does not say, “create unity” he says preserve the unity you already have in the Spirit. “Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace.” Ephesians 4.3 (NIV)
“Make every effort” is a strong expression, it means work hard at it! We must exert all our energy to preserve the unity we have in Christ. This is not social harmony, which usually only amounts to tolerance. This unity is a work of the Spirit paid for by the blood of Christ.
In chapter two Paul said, “In Christ Jesus you who once were far away have been brought near through the blood of Christ. For he himself is our peace, who has made the two one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility.” Ephesians 2.13-14 (NIV)
Radical cross-cultural spirit-led love for each other is the “bond of peace”. It’s the glue that holds the body together so it can grow. I’ve never seen a divided church that was a growing church. Paul describes this oneness.
There is one body and one Spirit—just as you were called to one hope when you were called—one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.” Ephesians 4.3-6
Now back to verse two for the traits that keep the unity!
Humility: “Be completely humble” Paul changes the typical use of this word in the Greek culture. It was a derogatory term for low-lifers. Here he is saying we need to be low-minded as apposed to high-minded or proud.
Gentleness: Often-translated meekness isn’t weakness. Gentleness is strength under restraint. It is to be controlled and considerate. It’s showing appropriate grace to any person and under any circumstance.
Jesus said, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle (calm) and humble (lowly) in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” Matt.11.28-30 (NIV)
People that are humble and gentle are easy and restful to be around.
Patience: is showing mercy and constraint. It is demonstrating endurance in the face of suffering. It is the reluctance to retaliate when wronged.
Forbearance: is to hold each other up or put up with faults, weaknesses and idiosyncrasies, knowing that we have our own.
This is what love looks like. These character qualities that match up with the gracious gifts we have received in Christ. These behaviors keep us balanced and “bonded” to God and each other.
Now some think unity is uniformity. But Paul says, Preserving Unity also involves Preferring Diversity. He has been looking at the church as a corporate whole now he talks about the individual parts. But to each one of us grace has been given as Christ apportioned it. Ephesians 4.7 (NIV)
Earlier Paul said we are seated or positioned with Christ in heavenly realms. He as given us grace or gifting’s to fill up and function in his body.
We are all very different. Christ has portioned out or distributed our gifts.
Paul illustrates this with the familiar tradition of a conquering hero. He quotes from Psalm 68 “This is why it says: When he ascended on high, he led captives in his train and gave gifts to men.” Ephesians 4.8 (NIV)
Then in parenthesis he explains it. (What does “he ascended” mean except that he also descended to the lower, earthly regions? He who descended is the very one who ascended higher than all the heavens, in order to fill the whole universe.) Ephesians 4.9-10 (NIV)
This is a snapshot of conqueror parading his captors through the streets and distributing the spoil of battle to his soldiers. Jesus has conquered hell. He has raised and army called the church. Our gifts are the spoils of battle. He intends for us to fill the universe with his diverse grace gifts.
Each one of us in the body of Christ has been given diverse gifts of ethnicity, gender, personality, age, talent and ability. Congregations that are all the same are boring and can be immature and very self-centered.
Also Paul includes a short list of leadership gifts that God has given the church to equip or prepare us for our various roles in the body of Christ.
He gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers, to prepare God’s people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up. Ephesians 4.11-12 (NIV)
Apostles like establish and influence the church regionally and often globally. They are leaders to leaders that move in signs and wonders.
Prophets keep the church pure and protected. They also share revelation from God that focuses the Church for greater power and effectiveness.
Evangelists expand the church by preaching the good news to the unreached and equipping the church to make disciples.
Pastors care for the physical, emotional and spiritual health of the church.
They typically oversee a local congregation or small group of people.
Teachers are gifted at studying and imparting the truth of scripture in a way that is easy to understand and causes good spiritual growth.
Notice these leadership gifts to the Church are not given to do the ministry they are given to prepare or equip the people for ministry!
The result is spiritual maturity. Preserving Unity and Prefering Diversity Produces Maturity! “…until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.” Ephesians 4.13 (NIV)
Reaching unity in “faith and knowledge” is not being all the same. It is having a common belief and experience in Jesus Christ. Our goal is to grow into the image of Christ. You know the church is grown up when it looks and acts like Jesus!
Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of men in their deceitful scheming. Ephesians 4.14 (NIV)
There are false apostles, prophets, evangelists, and pastor-teachers that dominate and manipulate the church. There are also so called Christians that fail the follow Godly leadership. Both of these extremes are like the wind and the waves that make for unstable and immature people.
A grown-up church is glued together and growing. It is responsive to truth delivered in love. The cure for instability and immaturity is truth!
Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will in all things grow up into him who is the Head, that is, Christ. From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work. Ephesians 4.15-16 (NIV)
Truth grows people who are really connected. If only one part of the body is growing it creates spiritual defects and deformities. The only way to Preserve Unity, Prefer Diversity and Produce Maturity is be in authentic community. We grow to look like Jesus when we are bonded and building.
You will have an opportunity again today to take a look at all the opportunities to get connected at Harbor Light. Spend some time at the tables in the lobby and find the right place for you.
We are going to conclude or worship today with Holy Communion. It is a celebration of our relationship with Jesus and each other. Paul told the church to examine (test) them selves to make sure their partaking of the symbolic blood and bread of the Lord is a true reflection of devotion to Him and commitment to His body the church. If you are fully committed to Christ you will preserve unity, prefer diversity and produce maturity?
Paul said, “Is not the cup of thanksgiving for which we give thanks a participation in the blood of Christ? And is not the bread that we break a participation in the body of Christ? Because there is one loaf, we, who are many, are one body, for we all partake of the one loaf.”
Let’s celebrate our connections with Christ and His Church!