A sermon on Ephesians 4:1-16 by Rev Richard Keith on Sunday 23 June 2019
Ephesians chapter 4 is a call to unity, to oneness in the church instead of division. This call to unity is not based on the fact that the church meets at one place. Or that the church has one name, one sign out the front, one minister, one bank account, one hymn book, one Bible version, one street address or one phone number listed in the White Pages. The church’s unity doesn’t depend on its physical or institutional oneness. No the call to unity is based on the following gospel truths.
There is one God. The world around us makes sense because it is the product of a single mind and purpose. The God who made the land and rules it so that it does his will is the same God who made the sea and the wind. There are no competing wills in the universe. There is no rival to this God who made all things. There is no god of this place or of this phenomenon or of this race of people, that is not also the God of all places of all phenomena and of every race. The God of Mt Everest is the God of the Mariana Trench. The God of fire is the God of frost. And the God of the pygmies and the Zulus is the God of all Australians.
This one God, whose Spirit does not merely fill the universe, but the universe is too small a thing to contain it., this God is the father of us all. He made us from the dust of the ground. He breathed his living breath of his Spirit into us that we live and move and love and play and work. And when he withdraws his Spirit we cannot live another moment and we return not just to the dust of which we are made, but to the God who formed us. In him we live and move and have our being. Like a fish lives in water, so we live in God.
And there is one Spirit. God’s Spirit of life and holiness. The Spirit who hovered over the waters at the moment of creation. The Spirit by whom Jesus was conceived in the womb of Mary. The Spirit who came upon him at his baptism. The Spirit who gave power to his miracles and signs. The Spirit who raised Jesus to life on the third day. The Spirit who came upon the disciples on the day of Pentecost like tongues of fire and created the church and moved with the early church as it took the gospel to new frontiers. It is by the Spirit that we are awakened to faith. It is by the Spirit that we call God our Father. It is by the Spirit that the church exercises its gifts of love and mercy. There are many angels and demons. Lesser spirits who have limited power and responsibility. But there is only one Spirit of God. And the same Spirit who called me to faith in Jesus Christ and to ministry in his name, has called you to faith and to your ministry as well.
And there is one Lord. Not Queen Elizabeth. Not Scott Morrison. Not Rupert Murdoch or the chairman of BHP. All these people exercise some power over our lives. But their power is limited. Some people think they own us. But only one does for he purchased us at the price of his own blood. Jesus Christ. The Son of God. The Messiah of Israel. The Light of the World. Our Saviour. Our Friend. God with us, whose life, death and resurrection assures us that we will be with God. He is the only king and head of the church. He rules all things from the Father’s right hand until the completion of all of God’s purposes at the fulfilment of time. Jesus Christ is Lord. Not the pope. Not the archbishop of Canterbury. Not the moderator of the Presbyterian Church in New South Wales. Jesus Christ alone has the right to command us and to claim our obedience.
There is one God over us, through us, and in us. And therefore there is only one Church. I don’t mean one Church in Mary Street and another church further down the road and another one down even further. I don’t mean one Church because we only meet once a week at 9.30 am on Sunday morning. I mean there is only one holy, apostolic and universal church, including not only all believers currently living but also those who have died in Christ and bathe in the presence of God. The Lord Jesus is the head of the Church. The church is his body. And he doesn’t have many bodies. There may be many congregations, many gatherings of believers in church buildings or school halls or private homes. But there is only one body. Not a church. But the church. Wherever the Spirit is at work, there is the church. Wherever human beings are being united with each other, and the creation with its creator, there is the church. Wherever the message of the joy of God is heard, there is the church. The church is the song of thanksgiving of those who have been set free. The church is the fellowship of love. The church is the joy of those who stand under the cross. It is the body of Christ that does his will and fulfils his work in the world.
And so there is only one faith. Because the church trusts only in its Lord. His cross is its only plea. His way is its only road. And his kingdom is its only destination. And there is only one baptism. By which we surrender our lives to our Lord and we put to death the old way of life and embrace the new way of Christ, celebrating the washing away of our sins and the gift of the Holy Spirit, being clothed in the likeness of Jesus.
This is the gospel. This is the good news with which Jesus sent his disciples, saying,
Go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Spirit and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.
And in these words in Ephesians chapter 4 the apostle Paul opens our eyes to see the length and breadth and width of the love of God in Jesus Christ, which is so vast that it is large enough to include you. And you. And all of us. Under the one God by the one Spirit in the one Lord Jesus Christ you have more in common with each other than all the silly unimportant differences. You are family, brothers and sisters. You are community, the same flesh and blood. You are the same body. Helping each other helps yourself. Hurting each other only hurts yourself.
This is the basis of Paul’s call to unity. It does not demand obedience to an institution. It does not force you to conform to unwritten rules of behaviour. It is a unity that is based on the normal, common response to the gospel. On faith and hope and love.
“As a prisoner of the Lord,” Paul says. By his suffering for the gospel, Paul has earned the right to make his appeal. His chains confirm him, they validate him as an apostle of the crucified Lord. He says,
I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received.
We have received a calling. Not to be a minister or an elder, but to be a Christian. The one God of all things has summoned us to himself in Jesus Christ. And in calling us to himself, he has called us to our true selves, our true humanity as the people of God in the Church. He is ours and we are his.
And so we live our lives in a way that is in harmony with that truth. We don’t believe one thing and do another. We don’t say one thing and practice another. Our thoughts and words and behaviour are consistent and they all line up with the truth. So that as we have believed the gospel, and share it with others, so we also live the gospel.
What that means is made clear in verse two.
Be completely humble and gentle. Be patient. Bearing with one another in love.
To be humble means to have a right view of ourselves. It means not to assert ourselves at the expense of others. It means to not be full of ourselves, but to be full of Christ.
To be gentle means to be forgiving. Soft when others are hard. Flexible when others are rigid. Not reacting to people in a way that breaks and destroys them.
To be patient means to not react so fast, without thinking of the consequences. It means to wait, to think, to act appropriately. We become impatient when we are tired or in chronic pain, when we are not ourselves. But the gospel calls us to be ourselves, to be our true selves made in the image of the patience of Christ.
And to bear with one another in love. At other times I am fond of saying that it doesn’t mean that we just tolerate each other. Put up with each other, as if we treated each other with a resentful and sullen silence. Instead I like to stress that it means that we accept each other. Welcome each other. Include each other. Embrace each other in the love of Christ.
But since I’ve said those sort of things in our other messages on the one anothers of the Bible, I will simply say that yes, after we’ve accepted and welcomed each other, it still means that we tolerate each other. That we put up with each other. Not resentfully, not sullenly. But lovingly. Like you would put up with a baby, because it has no way of helping itself or communicating. If you scream at a baby because it is screaming at you, you have become like the baby instead of helping the baby to become like you. We tolerate a child’s mistakes, because they are learning, probably trying their best, but they lack strength or experience or some knowledge that someone taught you and that you must now teach.
In the same way we put up with each other. We tolerate differences of clothes and race and age and class and profession and speech. Because all these external things are insignificant compared to the one God who is over us and through us and in us. And because we are family. We share the DNA of the gospel so that we are much more alike than we think. We tolerate everything except sin and lies. Because it is those things that threaten the bond of peace, the glue of love that holds the church together.
I am not a prisoner of the Lord, although I pray that more and more each day he might take me captive by his love. But I urge you to live a life worthy of the gospel. And to show it in how you treat each other. Not just for appearance sake. But for the sake of our one God and Father, the one Spirit who dwells within us the one Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ, and the one church that we belong to. Not Corowa Presbyterian Church. But the church of Jesus Christ. Because we are his body and in him we are all the same.