Other sermons in this series
I was talking to my mate Dave McDonald the other day – Dave among other things is chaplain for the act Brumbies. I asked him about those constant newspaper stories you get about young footy players who do stupid stuff and end up in trouble. I said to him, Dave, as chaplain… do you ever get to give them those famous pep talks. About letting the club down. Letting your mates down. Letting your team down.
And Dave said, you know, the funny thing is, the don’t even need to be told. He said, They know it themselves. They know. When they’re not living in a way that’s worthy of the Brumbies.
WHO DO YOU THINK YOU ARE?
It’s all in the end about who they think they are. And whether they’re going to live like it.
Which is the same issue that we’re tracking through our Ephesians series called who do you think you are. And whether we’re going to live in a way worth of it. As the people of God.
Paul calls it in chapter 4 verse 1, living in a way that’s worthy of your calling. To be part of the people of God.
And it’s all about how to be one people. When we’re made up of many. How to be united by the spirit. When all of us are different.
JEWS AND GENTILES
The last few weeks we’ve been digging down a level or two in this letter of Paul to the Ephesians; and noticing that back then, people like us, who Paul calls the Gentiles… we didn’t have a hope. When it came to knowing the real God of the universe. That astonishingly, only the Jews had it right; not because they were better, but because God had revealed himself in their history. And theirs alone. Had chosen them. As his people. And them alone.
Now their Messiah has come. As ruler of all the nations. And the first Jewish Christians and especially Paul; are opening the doors to outsiders as well. The nations. Which is the literal meaning of the word Gentiles.
Which means us.
Which means we get to go from no hope to sharing their hope. From no inheritance, no future… to sharing theirs. From spiritual death to life.
As part of God’s church. The great advertisement to the universe.” Jewish Christians, Gentile Christians, all together. As one. That’s the theory. That’s Paul’s prayer for them. Now here in chapter 4, he’s saying if you get it… it’s time to live in a way that’s worthy of it.
That’s the theory. Here’s the practical. Chapter 4 Verse 1.
“As a prisoner for the Lord then,” says Paul, “I urge you… to live a life worthy of the calling you’ve received. I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling that’s gathered you as a church.” There’s a word play there, because the idea of calling a meeting together is at the heart of the actual word for church. Ekklesia. A calling together. A gathering of all kinds of people. Under the one Lord Jesus Christ.
So what’s that going to look like? In practice?
Surprisingly simple. Here are some pointers. Crystallised in verses 2 and 3. And then expanded. And at every point, it’s about how very diverse people express and strengthen our unity. As we realise that we’re all part of the one body. With different parts to play.
Which is going to in the end boil down to very practical things. Verse 2. Attitude things. Like being completely humble and gentle. Not humble sometimes and gentle every now and then, depending on the circumstances. But completely. Especially under duress. Especially. When it’s hard. And you obviously know best.
Be patient, says Paul. Bearing with one another in love. This is worthy living. This is what it looks like. Bearing with each other is basically putting up with each other when you don’t feel like it. Not the times when it’s easy. The times when it’s tough.
And verse 3. Which you’ll notice assumes there’s an underlying unity from God’s Spirit. But reminds us that sometimes preserving that unity can be such hard work. Because it can so easily just slip through our fingers. He says make every effort to keep the unity of the spirit through the bond of peace. Because there’s nothing more unworthy in God’s church than letting unity slip through our fingers.
Kim mentioned it a couple of weeks ago. Make every effort. Means it’s hard and not easy. Means if you’re ready to give up, give it one more go.
Because the logic is simple. Verse 4 to 6, the reason we’re meant to be making every effort to stay united is that we’re part of the one body, sparked and animated and brought to life by the one spirit.
Verse 12, he’s talking about the body again. The whole goal he says is the body of Christ may be built up. The whole church. Growing. And stronger. More mature. Towards, he says again, unity in the faith. Verse 15, we’re growing, he says – it’s the body again – growing to become in every respect the mature body of Christ the head. And from him, verse 16, the whole body. Grows. And builds itself up in love. As each part does its work.
This passage. Is all about being that growing, maturing, strengthening… body.
And look, it’s all very current isn’t it, because for the past few years we’ve been trying to work through the question of how do we keep growing as a body here at MPC.
If you look back to a picture of what it was like 17 years ago… you’ll see we’ve grown as a body in all kinds of ways. Though thankfully the guy up the front might have shrunk a bit.
Our goal has been growing followers of Jesus. And as we’ve planted and started new congregations and worked out how to grow in different age groups; and as we built the original building 90 years ago and then replaced it in the sixties so we could grow, and we extended it in 2003 so we could grow some more; but the growth itself comes from the people. Growing in love. Growing in unity.
Which up to this point, we’ve maintained. Because according to Paul as he’s welding together this Ephesian church made up from Gentiles and Jews; the people he’ll call in the original language the saints of the old days and these new Gentile converts with no back story at all… he’s reminding them over and over again in this passage that they’re called to be one. And they’ve got to throw everything they’ve got… into that.
Because no matter which direction you’ve come from to here, God’s same Spirit is working in you and working in me. And there’s a family bond. As the same spirit is at work transforming our differences in the same one direction.
And you’ll see the word one jumping out seven times if you head back up the page and run your eye down from verses 4 to 6. Paul says, “Hold on to unity because there’s 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.
No matter who you are in the church. No matter what your background. All of us. Come under those same seven ones. Which means we are one.
In Paul’s gospel mathematics, seven ones equals one. You and I; same Lord. I don’t know if you’ve met our friend Kayoko from Japan who’s been visiting the last few weeks. She’s part of a church in Osaka. Lou and I visited there a few years back. Kayoko doesn’t have much English, and we don’t have any Japanese, but when we visited there it was obvious. We all share the one Lord Jesus. The one baptism. The one God. The one spirit. The same one hope. Seven out of seven.
How much more obvious that’s meant to be in our own church family here. In our day by day and week by week relationships. Because Paul moves seamlessly doesn’t he between those grand ideas of theology; and our humility. Our gentleness. Our patience. The way you’ll put up with somebody difficult. The way you’ll flex into doing new things. Living in a way that’s worthy of the calling we’ve received into that one united church.
I wonder. Are you protective. Of the unity of our church family. Watching for the sort of words or actions that cause division. It’s obvious enough when you spot it, isn’t it? A word here. A snide comment there. The sort of remark where someone draws you aside and you know they’re just fishing for opportunities to fan up discontent. Don’t listen. And be wise enough to look for ways to do the opposite. I mean, here’s a new thought. Why not take someone aside and quietly say positive things that promote unity?
But look, it’s even more than that. Because as a body, as a church, we’re meant to be exercising. And growing. In the ways we serve one another. And that’s the point Paul’s making in verse 7 to 16. A section that starts and finishes with a reference to the different part each of us is given in the body.
First in verse 7. The church is one body with one Spirit. But to each one of us, verse 7, grace has been given as Christ apportioned it. To each of us… a different gift, a different part to play.
GIFTS TO THE CHURCH
The starting point, the way Paul pictures it in verse 8, it’s like the Risen Jesus is a victorious general who’s brought home all kinds of treasures from a battle that he’s handing out to his people.
Hey guys. I won. But not have some gold. Have some spices. Have some sheep and cattle. Here, “Let’s start with some apostles. Have some prophets.” To get you ready. They’re what the church was built on, which Paul says in the chapter before. Have some gifted evangelists as well to spread the word. Have some pastor-teachers. You’ll love those.
All of them, verse 11, his gifts to his church.
All of them, he says, to prepare the first Christians. To reach the rest. And then their job. To reach and grow more.
If you’re the technical type and you like tying down the details, in older translations you can see in verse 12 Paul uses the saints word again, which with New Testament experts like Donald Robinson I’m suggesting was originally the word for the first Jewish Christians in the church; and the prophets and the first apostles built them up with a single purpose. I don’t know if you know this, but Paul who’s writing this letter, see, he’s the only one… who calls himself an apostle to the Gentiles like us. The other guys, like Peter and James and John, totally focused on Jews. But Paul’s point is, all of them; it’s with the same one intention. Of building up a church that includes everyone.
Those first apostles, like the Prophets before them; their whole goal is to prepare those saints for works of service. “So that”, in verse 12, “so that the body of Christ may be built up. Until we all reach unity in the faith and the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.”
Here’s the logic. And it’s the same principle now. Those who are there first. Are there for the ones being included next. That’s how the body grows. If you were a first Jewish Christian… and this was confronting… the whole point of it. Was to include non Jewish Christians like us, that the old are there to build in the new.
Which thankfully, though it took them a while to like the idea; thankfully, they ultimately did. Then the new get to work. Because you see ultimately it’s every body part with a job to do.
Verse 16. As the section closes. 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. Ligaments of love. All pulling together.
One body. With many parts. All doing their bit. One Lord. But he’s handed out loads of gifts.To each one of us, Paul says, grace has been given as Christ apportioned it.
Not sure if you’ve ever been called a ligament before. But that’s what we are. Pulling together. Holding together. Growing together. The body. Serving. In our own separate ways.
You know, there’s an astonishing statistic about MPC.
You might notice as a body we’re not very well co-ordinated sometimes; sometimes we bump into things. But the fact is there are over 400 MPC body members on rosters. Or signed up to help. In countless different ways. Willing to help with emergency meals. A bunch more parents saying they’re happy to help with kids ministry in the last few weeks. Now we’re asking for non parents as well. musicians. Who just want to serve by rehearsing on a Wednesday or a Saturday to serve us better on a Sunday. The secret service blokes who come in mid week and mow the lawns and fix stuff. Without even being on a roster! People teaching the bible in all kinds of contexts. Like growth group leaders. WoW.
The challenge is with numbers like that, keeping the right people pointed in the right places. And that in itself is a huge job. For the people in the background making it happen.
We’ve mentioned already, a couple of weeks time, we’re celebrating the 90th birthday of MPC. A happy crew 90 years ago. Who at every key point in their history, were a bunch of Christians who were looking to the next generation. And inviting people in. In that long chain going back to the original saints who were prepared for service by the apostles and the prophets, and served and grew. Built up the body. Which grows stronger and stronger in love as each part did its work.
You might be thinking you can just be part of a church to take. To spectate. Paul says if that’s what you think church is, you’ll actually never experience real church at all. Because real church is being part of a living, growing, loving body. Growing. As each part does its work.
Anyone who’s every played in an orchestra can tell you, it’s way more satisfying playing in the orchestra than just listening to it. With church. We’ve all got a part to play.
Whatever. Maybe your part is to say just the right unifying, encouraging word at just the right time. Like playing the triangle. Maybe it’s to pray. Maybe it’s a brand new role in kids ministry.
Because we’re all meant to have the same goal. Of encouraging one another to grow to maturity. More and more like Jesus.
NO LONGER INFANTS
Now of course, the other option to growing up is to just keep being a baby. And verse 14 paints a very vivid little word picture of a bunch of babies in a boat. Being tossed around in a storm.
If we’re built up by the pastor teachers who are building on the words of the apostles and prophets, if each part is doing its work… then we will no longer be infants, verse 14, 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.
I’m not sure what the latest wave is. The latest Christian trend, that’s not actually Christian at all. In the old days you’d usually spot it first in the Koorong Christian book catalogue. The latest new Christian thing. This new blessing or that new blessing. The Special Prayer you could say every day and you’d be guaranteed to increase your boundaries. Well, the author did, anyway.
Maybe they reckon because we believe in a resurrection we’ll believe anything. And some will.
But Paul says the best protection against Christian scams; the best way to avoid being blown around; is to grow up. And the best way to grow up is to be part of a body. Where we speak the truth to one another in love. So we will in all things grow up, verse 15, into him who is the head. That is, Christ. As we grow together. Support one another. Build one another up in love. As each part does its work.
So, who do you think you are?
Do you reckon you could be part of a church like that?
A church that’s full of humble and Gentle and patient people. Who put up with one another. More than that. who love each other.
I wonder what part you can play to make our church more and more like that for somebody else? For the next person through the door. For the next generation. I wonder what you’d need to do to be living more and more a life worthy of the calling you’ve received? Like that.
Verse 2 says we’re meant to be a people who bear with one another in love. Verse 15 says we’re meant to speak the truth to one another in love. Verse 16 says we’re meant to be a body that grows and builds itself up in love.
Maybe you realise today there’s someone that you need to forgive and forbear with… so you can grow together. Maybe you need to learn to be gentle. To work on your humility. So you don’t always need to be right. Maybe there’s someone you need to speak the truth to in love.
For all of us. It’s going to be about living lives worthy of the great calling we’ve received. Which isn’t, in the way you might have come to understand those words, to primarily be living out your calling as a doctor, or living out your calling as a policeman, or living out your calling as a cleaner. But to be living out your calling to be part of the body of Christ. The great gathered and growing church of God himself.