A sermon on Ephesians 4:7-16 by Rev Richard Keith on Sunday 20 September 2020
A body lives and grows on food. Deprive it of nourishment, or give it the wrong food, and the body will waste away and die.
The Church is a body. It’s the body of Christ. And given the right food, it will grow.
The right food for the church is the truth spoken in love. Without love, the truth can hurt. Without truth, love stagnates and dies. But the two combined bring life.
Last Sunday we looked at Ephesians chapter 4, verses 1 to 6. We saw that the church is one and we are to preserve that unity in peace
Today, we are looking at verses 7 to 16, where the message is that although the church is one, its members are not all the same. God does not work in an assembly line, making every single child of his exactly the same. God is a craftsman and all his children are a work of art, a masterpiece, a stroke of genius. We have all been given grace. God’s undeserved generosity. We have all received a gift. But our gifts are not the same. Because the body of Christ is not a factory but a living organism.
And just like a body functions normally as the hands and feet and eyes and ears do their different jobs in their different ways, so the unity of the church isn’t threatened by the diversity of its members, but thrives upon it. It’s because the members are different and because their gifts are different, working in different ways with different results, that the church is one.
And yet some people do have more high profile gifts. As Paul says,
It was he [Christ] who gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers.
It talks about apostles, prophets, evangelists, and pastors and teachers. They are servants of the word. They have a speaking ministry. But it is not their job to do the work of ministry. Instead their job is to prepare and equip God’s people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up, so that together we may become mature, so that together we may attain the whole measure of the fullness of Christ. We may call one person, the minister, because he is a servant. It is a privilege to serve. But he doesn’t do the ministry. You don’t pay him to do it for you. The whole body does the ministry. His job is to feed and equip you for ministry.
Paul speaks more specifically of the food on which the church grows in verses 14 to 16. He compares growth and health and maturity with being infants. We accept children, infants, toddlers, babies. We tolerate their limitations, we love them all the more because of them, because we know that we were once like them, and with time, they will grow to become like us. But nothing is sadder than seeing a baby fail to grow, an infant that reaches a certain stage in their development and then fails to progress.
A follower of Christ, even a whole community of believers will remain babies, infants, they will fail to mature, if they are deprived of the true food on which the church lives and grows.
Paul changes the metaphor in verse 14 and says that they will be like a boat without a rudder, which is tossed back and forth by each successive wave and driven here and there by every shifting wind of teaching. Cunning and crafty people come and say, “Here is Jesus” or, “No, he’s over there.” “Follow us, we know the secrets of what’s really happening.” They do all they can to create a storm of confusion, making it easier for people to fall for their conspiracy theories.
Well, what a boat needs in a storm is a rudder. And what a baby needs to grow is good food. And what the Church needs is its leaders and members speaking the truth in love.
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.
We are called to speak. God has a message for the world. And so the church will not grow if people stay silent. The church does not grow on the smell of incense. The church does not grow on the glow of candles. It grows when people speak.
When they speak the truth. It is more than integrity, being honest in word and life, being the same person on the outside that you are on the inside. But it is built on the foundation of integrity, and when Christians lack integrity it undermines everything they do. They may craft brilliant talks, they may speak with confidence and sincerity, but if they do not live what they say, if they do not practice what they preach, it is just hot air. Meaningless, repetitive chatter that doesn’t mean or change anything. We must speak. But we must speak the truth.
Because God has a message for the world, and his message has been revealed in the life and word and work of Jesus Christ. He is the way, the truth and the life. Not just one way among many. But the way. He not only speaks the truth of God, but he is the truth of God. And in him we find, not just satisfaction, not just meaning, but nothing short of life itself. We must speak, but when we speak, we must speak Christ. We must live Christ. We must dedicate our lives to knowing him more intimately than anyone else, and to making him known. We must speak the truth. Not lies that we have imagined, no matter how profound. But the truth of Jesus Christ in whom God has made himself known.
For we know God in Christ. Our maker, our beginning, the source of our life who charts the course of our life. From whom we have received so many gifts, and before whom we will stand to give an account of how we have used them. All other gods are lies, no more than human wishful thinking turned into imaginary beings. The true and living God, our God, has made himself known to us in Jesus Christ. In the poverty of his life. In the width and depth of his love. In the life-changing demands of his parables. In the sacrifice of his cross. In the victory of his resurrection. In the gift of his Spirit. And in the promise of his return. This is the truth on which the church is built.
Apart from Christ, I try to justify myself, I try to impress others, I try to prove to everyone that all my wrongs are right. But in Christ, I find that he justifies me, and that in the power of his cross, he puts all my wrongs right. It is not just my opinion. But the truth, the incontestable fact by which the Church exists: to know Christ and to make him known. We are to speak the truth.
We are to speak the truth in love. God has a message for the world and it is a message of love.
God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son so that all who believe in him may not perish but have eternal life.
This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.
It is a love crystallised in the life of Christ. In his choices and actions. It is a love that teaches us to love as we open our eyes to the world of hurt around us. It is a love that makes us able to love as we stop seeing everything revolving around us and see them instead revolving around the Lord our God. And so we don’t just speak the truth about love. But we also speak the truth by love and with love. We don’t use the truth as a weapon to humiliate others or to control them. All that would show is that for all our claims to speak the truth, we don’t actually know the truth ourselves. Instead, we speak the truth for the good of others. We speak the truth in a spirit of humility and gentleness. We speak the truth which is a message of love in such a way that it becomes an example of the love it draws us to.
What we are talking about is the gospel. The message of good news of the love of God in Christ, by his love and with love. And many people know that it is by the gospel that we call people to come back to the right path in life that leads to life. But that’s only half the truth. The whole truth is that the gospel of Jesus Christ is the path, the only path that leads to life. We speak the truth in love only because we live the truth in love and because we call others to live it too.
Today we have been talking about the right food for the church. The food on which the church lives and grows. It is speaking the truth in love. It is the gospel, the message of love, because of love, by love, with love and for love. By the gospel the church grows in quantity and quality. Through the gospel, the members of the body not only increase in number, but increase in effectiveness in using their gifts for the good of others.
So speak. We can’t afford to stay silent. Speak the truth, not your own opinions, but the ultimate reality that is Jesus Christ. Speak the truth in love, the only real food on which the Church lives and grows.