Text: Ephesians 4:1-16
Two weeks ago I asked if you are a springer or an oozer.
We looked at Ephesians 1 and saw how our vision of God’s promised and preferred future shapes our present attitude.
Last week we looked at the past.
Ephesians chapter 2 showed us what Jesus has done. He has taken two hostile cultural groups, broken down the wall of hostility, and made them into one new thing; the temple of God, the body of Christ. That is the past that shapes who we are right now.
The future calls us, the past forms us. That’s great.
Today we ask the toughest question.
“So What?” How are we supposed to actually do this thing called being the body of Christ? It’s one thing to say that Jesus broke down hostility between people, but the people that are different than me still scare me!
In chapter four Paul turns the corner and starts getting really practical. Look what he says in verse one of chapter four. That’s on page 1066 in your pew Bible.
“I urge you to lead a life worthy of the calling to which you have been called.”
We need to take a moment here and make an important statement about being a Lutheran.
This verse speaks to one of the great dangers of the Lutheran expression of the faith. Our great gift is that we understand that our salvation is by grace alone, it is a gift from God. There is nothing we can do to make God love us more than God does, or to earn forgiveness or salvation. That is beautiful and true.
However, that same strength of our faith is also a temptation to become apathetic in our faith. Deitrich Bonheoffer called this “cheap grace.” Paul reminds us that it takes effort to walk worthy of this calling. You see, Jesus didn’t break down the wall of hostility so that we could just be assured that we will go to Heaven when we die. Jesus broke it down so that we could actually live together in peace and be a witness to the whole world that God’s kingdom is a reality, right now.
We have work to do.
So, how do we walk worthy?
I want to answer that question in one word: TOGETHER. We walk together.
We are being made into one body, we are being called to walk this path together.
Let’s look at three aspects of walking together as the body of Christ.
Together does not mean the same.
Verse 7 tells us that we have each been given gifts according to the measure God gives it.
The body of Christ is diverse.
Let’s look at our congregation. We might be tempted to look at each other with the typical labels that society uses. We are men and women, old and young, rich and poor, gay and straight, married and single, republican and democrat, black and white. But the truth is that we are each unique individuals, created by God. We each have something beautiful to contribute and our own set of weaknesses and junk that needs to be worked out.
Just like in the human body, all the parts are radically different from each other, but they are all equally important.
Again, this is about being a centered set.
We all come from different places and bring different gifts, but what unites us is that we follow Jesus and seek to be the presence of God’s love in the world; a ministry of Grace in the heart of Andover.
Now look around the room.
How diverse are weed to, really? For all of our diversity, we are still pretty homogenous when it comes to race and social status.
A body that is rich in diversity is more likely to be robust and healthy than one in which everyone is exactly the same.
There is a second aspect of walking together.
Together means everyone contributes.
Look at verses 11 and 12,
“The gifts he gave were that some would be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers, 12 to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ,”
Many times, when people think about the church, and the work of the church they think that it is the pastor’s job to run the church. We hire a staff to do the work and the church-goers just attend an event on Sunday morning.
That is not the picture of the church that the Bible paints.
First of all, there is not just one leader, there are many leaders with many different gifts;
apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors, and teachers.
More importantly, the job of the leader is not to rule from on high, but to be half buried in the mud, equipping the saints to do the work of the ministry.
There is nothing more gratifying to me than to walk into our high school youth group and see adult and student volunteers leading everything.
Yes, we recruited them and trained them, but now we get to walk beside them and cheer them on as they do the work of student ministry.
Everyone in the church has something valuable to contribute—in time, talent, and treasure—no matter how big or how small.
There is a third aspect of walking together.
Together means growing pains.
The rest of this passage says,
“we must no longer be children…we must grow up.”
This week my oldest son, Jamin, turned 21.
Isn’t it amazing that I was only 8 when he was born?
The truth is that I was 20 when Lona and I got married and 23 when Jamin was born. We had three more children before I was 30. Lona and I have essentially grown up together with these four people.
It has been fantastic, but I would be lying if I said there was not pain along the way. when you have six people, all at various stages of maturity, you are guaranteed to have conflict. Trust me, my family has had its fair share over the 23 years it has been together.
Growth always brings pain.
Anytime a group of diverse people gets together and seeks to actually do something productive, to grow in maturity, you can be guaranteed that there will be pain and conflict along the way.
That is why, back in verse 2 Paul begins this whole section with these words:
with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, 3 making every effort to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace
I love that middle phrase, “bearing with one another.” The New Living Translation puts it, “making allowance for each other’s faults”.
In other words, a huge part of walking worthy of our calling is to learn how to put up with each other when we disagree and bug the heck out of each other.
Some like to call this conflict management.
I read a great book this week called Congregation and Community.
This group did a study of 23 different congregations around the country that were all experiencing massive cultural shifts in their environment. One of the biggest things the researchers learned is that conflict within the church was a healthy part of the church’s ability to adapt and survive.
The author said,
Part of the need for a strong pastor and educationally skilled participants is the need for persons willing and able to engage in debate and conflict. In the larger scheme, the rich and diverse ecology of congregations in a community makes division within a given congregation less onerous, perhaps even welcome.
Healthy, growing churches full of wonderfully diverse and gifted people are going to have conflict. That is inevitable. The question is not whether if they fight, but how they fight as to whether they walk worthy of the calling.
I want to close today by looking at one last phrase for a moment.
Look at this picture again.
All the growth is upward movement toward a goal of maturity. This maturity can be summarized in one phrase in verse 15.
“speaking the truth in love.”
There are two ways we can interpret this, and it all depends on how you understand the word truth.
Some people think of truth as an idea that is like the absolute perfect explanation of something. It is this tidy, abstract, thing out there that we can attain if only we think hard enough. Then, when we think we have captured the truth, we make sure we don’t beat people over the head with it, but gently expose them to the truth, in love.
That is the way the Greek culture and the Western culture has understood that idea of truth.
There is another way to understand it, though.
The Hebrew culture thought about truth differently. When the Old Testament talks about truth, and when Jesus talked about truth, and when Paul talks about truth, they are talking about being truthful. It is more of a character quality and a description of how a person interacts with others than it is about the accurate description of something.
That is why Jesus could say, “I am the way, the truth, and the life.”
When Paul says, “speaking the truth in love” he’s summarizing this whole idea of walking worthy of the calling. We are a diverse group of people who are growing up together, each of us contributing who we are and what we have, and bearing with each other along the way.
God has called us to be a ministry of Grace in the hear of Andover. I’m glad that we get to do this together.