A sermon by Rev Richard Keith on Ephesians 4:1-16 on Sunday 10 May 2020
We are one but we are many
And from all the lands on earth we come,
we share a dream,
And sing with one voice,
I am, you are, we are Australian.
It’s a great song that tells the story of our land. Black and white. City and country. Rich and poor. We come from so many different backgrounds, but we are all Australians.
In the same way the message of Ephesians chapter 4 is that although we are many, in Christ we are one. For the church is like no other organisation that we belong to. The church is not like a university, where people of a similar intelligence rub shoulders. It isn’t like the Probus club, where people of a similar age meet. It isn’t like Rotary that was only for men before 1989. It is the church, full of people of different ages, abilities, and interests. This diversity can be a great strength as we can draw on different experiences and talents to meet different needs and to solve different problems. But that same diversity can also result in conflict.
It’s that potential for misunderstanding that helps us understand Ephesians chapter 4 in which the apostle Paul appealed to the members of the church to remember the one thing they had in common. The apostle Paul writes,
As a prisoner for the Lord, then, I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received. Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace.
He made his appeal as a prisoner for the Lord. He could have pulled rank on them. He could have spoken to them as an apostle. “Listen to me, I’m more important than you.” Instead, he appealed to them as a prisoner of the Lord. Someone who had earned the right to be heard through his suffering for the Lord.
“As a prisoner for the Lord,” he wrote, “I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received.” This does not mean that we have to deserve our place in God’s favour. It means that we should recognise how much our place in God’s favour deserves from us. The focus is not on our worth but on the worth of our calling. Through Christ God has revealed his love. He calls us to repent. He calls us to faith and to put that faith into action. He calls us to be holy as he is holy.
So the privilege of our Christian calling is greater than serving the community as a councillor or local magistrate. It is greater than being elected the local member or even the Prime Minister of the land. These positions are callings from man; while our calling is from God. These earthly callings provide temporary status and a sense of worthy achievement; while our calling makes us children of God and eternal heirs of everything he owns.
On the basis of this honour and privilege, Paul urged the church at Ephesus to be united. “Be completely humble and gentle;” he writes, “be patient, bearing with one another in love. Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace.” Though they were many and from different backgrounds, Paul urged them to remember what they had in common. As Paul said in verses 4 to 6.
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.
These words are a reminder that the church is one, not to be divided into rival factions, not to have one ruling group pushing its weight around over another. We have one Father, so we are family, brothers and sisters. We have one Saviour, the Lord Jesus who gave his life to save us all from sin. And we have one Spirit breathing life into us all and inspiring all the different gifts that the church has. Though we are all different we are united by the faith in the same Lord, by the same love which binds us together and by the hope in the same destiny.
And yet though we are one, we are many. We are not all the same. We share the same world, but not the same way we look at the world. We share the same faith, but not the same way we share that faith. We share the same calling but not the same way we live it out. And we share the same Lord who has given to all of us so generously, but we have received different gifts. For as Paul reminds us in verse 7,
to each one of us grace has been given as Christ apportioned it. It was he who gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers.
We aren’t all meant to be clones, doing the same thing, nor can we afford to value some gifts over another, just because they are different to ours. To some God gives different abilities: of public speaking or of music or of patience. To some God gives different opportunities: of education or of wealth or of employment. To some God gives the ability to see different kinds of need: whether spiritual or physical or psychological. The ministries you see or hear about in the church are only the tip of the iceberg. But do you even know who does the work behind the scenes?
It is no coincidence, of course, that the four gifts mentioned in verse 11 are gifts of speaking. The prophets and apostles, whose message forms the foundation on which the church is built. The evangelists who bring the good news of Christ powerfully to those who are perishing without it. An the pastors and teachers, who preach and visit and give counsel and encouragement. They are gifts of speaking because they are servants of the Word which brings life, the Word of God that gives direction and purpose and meaning.
As the servants of the Word present God’s word to his people, they hold up a mirror that shows the truth about the world and about ourselves and exposes the lies that we tell ourselves in order to awaken our faith and renew our hope and inspire our love. It is as we look long and deep into the mirror of truth that we adjust our lives to that truth..
That’s the job of the pastor and teacher in the church. No, it’s not all tea and biscuits. If only it were. No, the pastor shepherds the flock by guiding them with the truth, and feeding them with the word. He teaches them and practices what he preaches and says, as the apostle Paul did, “Follow me as I follow Christ.” It is an awful responsibility because his ministry is to tell the people not what they want to hear, but what they need to hear. No one wants to say, “Stop, you’re going the wrong way.” No one wants to be the one who has to point the finger and say, “Um, I think you’ve got something caught in your teeth.” And yet if the pastor leaves after years and years and everyone loves him but no one was saved, and no one ever grew, and no one was ever challenged, then he has failed. Because the pastor’s job is
to equip God’s people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up.
This is the church’s best kept secret, but you are the ministers, not me. You are the ministers, the servants of God, being prepared for works of service. I can’t do it. I can’t change the lightbulbs in the church. They’re way too high. I get dizzy standing on a chair. I can’t clean the toilets. I wouldn’t know which end of the brush to hold. I can’t fix the roof. I’d fall off. I can’t go to work for you and do the best job that you can do, the way you can. I can’t be there for your neighbour 24 hours a day because her husband left her, the way you can. I can’t make casseroles for the hungry or knit jumpers for the homeless or raise your grandchildren because your children can’t raise them the way you can. The church’s best kept secret is that you do the real work. I’m just the coach giving off a lot of hot air before the game starts. But you are the players, the members of the team who run on to the field, day in, day out, to win or lose the game.
Of course, if the pastor does his job properly, then it isn’t just hot air. Because as the people of God hear the word and read it for themselves and live the word, they receive direction and power to chart the right course in life and the momentum to arrive at their destination. Then, as Paul says in verse 14,
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.
The church won’t be tossed too and fro on the oceans of life by the lies of the world and of the devil, left directionless and at the mercy of the latest fad or of the newest spiritual experiences, because the word of God is its rudder by which it steers, the map by which it charts its course, and its power as the Spirit of God applies his truth to our lives.
In my last five minutes, let me draw your attention to the three results of this ministry that is grounded in the Word. Firstly, we will speak the truth in love. As we soak ourselves in the truth of God that reveals his love, we will tell the truth in love to each other. The world struggles to give both at the same time. Some people give us truth without love, putting us down, cutting us down. It’s actually a kind of lie, because it is not using the truth for the right reason. Like borrowing your wife’s best craft scissors to open a box. Which is something that I would never do. Other people tell us love without truth because they are afraid to tell us what we need to hear.
What we need is both. We need the truth in love, building us up, supporting and encouraging, while challenging us and helping us grow. Think of someone in your life who tells you the truth without cutting you down. Remember to cherish them and then try to become like them.
Secondly, we will grow. Not in height or in numbers or in wealth or in social standing. But we will grow up as we mature in our faith and become more like Christ. When I was a teenager I used to think Christian maturity meant knowing all the facts and having all the answers. Now I know that it is about knowing Christ and having all the love I need to do his will.
And thirdly, we will truly be the body of Christ. A body needs to be firmly connected to its head, which guides all its movements and functions. And each part of a body needs to be firmly connected to each other part. In the same way we need to forge closer links with Christ our Head. So that we see him more clearly and love him more dearly and to follow him more nearly. And we need to forge closer links with each other. For the whole body grows, the whole church is built up in love as each part does its work.
In conclusion, it is one thing to say with the Creed, I believe in the holy, universal church. But the message of Ephesians chapter 4 is, be the church you say you believe in. United. Fed by the Word. Challenged to grow and led into a closer walk with Christ and a deeper obedience to God. The one, true, holy and universal Church that we are called to be.