Building the Body of Christ
Ephesians 4:1 – 16
Building the Body of Christ
Dundonald Church 6:30 Weekend Away 2020 :: Talk 4
When I was a university student my mates and I had this kind of code that we’d use if we were all out, but we had, kind of, boring household chores, life admin, that we needed to do.
I only remember a couple of them know,
But me might say, “No you guys go to the pub, I’m going to go home and pump iron.”
Which actually meant, do the ironing.
And because we liked cars and car parts, we might say, “I need to de-grease some parts”, which really meant “My mum wants me to do the dishes”,
I mean, we all knew that we weren’t as cool as we sounded, but, that’s life!
But I was reminded about that looking at Ephesians 4, because this is all about body building!
So you can tell your friends tomorrow, “Yeah, I got into body building on the weekend”, and see if they think you’re tougher than you really are!
Ephesians 4 is about body building!
Ephesians 4 is about body building!
And if you’re a bullet journal or a passion planner kind of person, if you like everything in a neat list, this section is for you, because the Apostle Paul gives us list after list of things we need to know.
You might have heard the story of the man who went along to church with a friend for the first time, and, didn’t know anything about what was going on.
So every time something happened, he’d ask his friend what it was about.
Service leader says, “We’re going to pray”,
“What’s that mean?”
“It just means we’re going to talk to God.”
They say a confession. “What’s that mean?”
“We’re going to say sorry to God.”
And about 30 minutes into the sermon, the preacher says “And in conclusion, ”, the man turns to his friend, “What’s that mean?”
And his friend replies, “Absolutely nothing at all!”
Well, the Apostle Paul was very deliberate in the structure of his letters, and here’s the turning point;, chapter 4 verse 1, As a prisoner for the Lord, then, I urge you.
This is where Paul’s focus shifts from explaining theology, to applying what he’s been teaching.
We have the word then in our Bibles,
But it’s literally Therefore, “in the light of everything I’ve just been saying, I urge you”
Having seen the great task set before the church, to demonstrate God’s wisdom into the heavenly realms,
And having seen the great calling on Christian people, to be brought to all the fullness of God, Christ-likeness, by the Spirit of God, now Paul changes gear, and says “this is what it looks like.”
How to live together in the church (v 1 – 2)
Really the whole second half of the letter, is an extended application of chapter 4 verse 1, I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received.
This is how to live together in the church.
How do we live a life worthy of the calling we’ve received from Christ, who’s joined us to himself and to others in the church?
Well, here’s our first list. And just to mix our metaphors, let’s say these are 4 sides of the same coin! Which I realise, doesn’t work!
It’s not like an exam with multiple questions;, “Pick any 3!”
Each of these is essential as we live together as Christ’s church
Let’s whip through them quickly. Firstly, being completely humble.
In the first century, humility was not a virtue, just as it’s not in many cultures today that haven’t been shaped by the Christian message. In fact in Paul’s day there was a
Philosopher named Epictetus, who put this word, at the top a list of behaviours to be avoided at all costs!
It was Jesus who changed the way they world thought about humility.
Jesus made himself nothing, for the benefit of others. Philippians 2:7.
Jesus put others’ needs before his own. Matthew 20:28.
And if you’re a Christian, you’re saying “I’m a follower of Christ”, so here’s your pattern. Tim Keller, in his book, The Freedom of Self-forgetfulness, reminds us that humility is not so much thinking less of yourself, as thinking of yourself, less.
And he says this kind of self-forgetfulness is only possible as we view ourselves from the vantage point of Jesus himself.
We see ourselves as we really are,
We see ourselves in community with others whom God has made his own.
But there are lots of opportunities, to think of ourselves more, even in church:
“My opinion should be listened to, because,
I should be asked to do such and such,
Why wasn’t I given this responsibility, or that task?”
Paul is right to highlight this for us, isn’t he?
Next on the list is being gentle.
It’s the word for meekness, which is often confused with weakness.
And yet if we know our Old Testament, we’ll recognise that is the word that describes people who,
Often oppressed by those with power over them,
But they trusted in God, that he would work his purposes out for them.
Numbers 12 or Psalm 37, for example.
This isn’t a quiet voice and a limp handshake.
This is not fighting back when you’re hurt, or slighted,
This is the person who holds their tongue, when people speak ill of them,
The gentle person lets their priorities, their preferences, slip away, for the sake of others.
The gentle person knows they don’t need to insist on their rights, because, like those Old Testament saints, they trust that God who sees the whole picture,
And they see themselves as God sees them, with no status or right to demand anything at all. And so it’s pretty easy to see how we might have opportunity to demonstrate this kind of gentleness in our church.
We can still be zealous for God’s glory, and committed to the truth, but we don’t respond in knee-jerk reactions when people aren’t as careful in their theology as we’d like.
We allow our preferences for music, service style, and trendiness of the preacher, to be sidelined for the sake of those with different preferences.
And you can fill out that list, I’m sure.
Next, we’re to be patient.
This was the word in Paul’s day that described someone who didn’t demand that wrongs committed against them be righted.
And God himself is described like this, being patient with humanity;, giving every opportunity, for people to repent.
Now, that increases the expectation somewhat, doesn’t it?
If God is still patient with his rebellious world, 2000 years after Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection, that gives me an indication of the measure of patience expected of me, as I live among the new humanity Christ has created at Dundonald.
The old English versions of the Bible used to translate this as “long suffering.” Which gives us a pretty clear idea of what patience is going to be like, doesn’t it?
There’s no sugar-coating! To live a life worthy of the calling we’ve received in Christ Jesus, is to suffer, long!
Bear with one another in love
And finally, bearing with one another in love. And this heading isn’t on the outline, I’m sorry. But this is another one of God’s attributes.
This means allowing for each other’s weaknesses,
We don’t stop loving someone, because they’ve offended us, or because they disagree with us.
Or because I think they’re not as hardcore a Christian as I am.
Or because someone thinks we ought to focus on evangelism, and you think our attention should be on building Christians to maturity.
When tension and conflict arise in the body of Christ at the 6:30, this instruction ensures we resolve it within the context of love for the other person, not seeking my own good.
And this list of 4 has led me to conclude, that it’s relatively easy to live a life worthy of your calling, if no one ever sins against you,
Or hurts you,
Or fails you, or basically interacts with you in any way!
But it’s precisely in those moments of hurt, and sin, and failure, that as a church we’re urged to live lives worthy of our calling.
It’s like Paul has looked at our church, and said, “yeah guys, there will be times of disagreement, and sin and failure,
So this is how you live in those circumstances.”
If Paul thought that once people were reconciled to God and to each other that no one would ever hurt each other or sin against each other, these verses wouldn’t be here, would they?
But Paul knows our church.
God knows, life as the new humanity created in Christ Jesus, will require us to Be completely humble and gentle;, patient, bearing with one another in love.
And when we’re in the midst of it, we think this is hard.
Which it is.
We think it costs us, position, or esteem, or influence.
Which it does.
But we are able to do it.
What is impossible without Christ,
What no secular worldview, or even religious worldview, can achieve,
Is possible, for those who have come to learn what it is to bear with one another in love.
To do any of this list, requires love.
To do any of this requires us to have understood the love of God shown to us in Christ Jesus, which is exactly why Paul spent those previous verses praying that God’s people, would grasp the measureless love of Christ, do you see?
Friends, we can not, be completely humble and gentle,
We cannot, be patient,
We will not bear, with one another, as God would have us do, if we do not have, and know, and experience, the love of God shown to us in Christ.
Maybe, we recognise today that these things are becoming increasingly difficult for us,
Perhaps I’m am becoming less humble because I want recognition.
Maybe I struggle to be patient with the weaknesses of others, because I think things need to work to my timeline, since I’m not really trusting that God’s in control
Perhaps I can’t be gentle, trusting only in God’s vindication.
Maybe, having seen something of how wide, and long, and high, and deep, is the love of Christ, then to pray that the understanding of that love might so change us, that we can demonstrate that same costly love, to those around us in Christ’s church.
How to keep the unity within the church that comes from God (v 3 – 6)
The way that Paul then launches straight out of the list into his instructions about unity, tells us that he thinks these 4 “graces”, as the old scholars liked to call them, these are part of how we keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace.
Verse 2 and verse 3 are intended to be read in parallel.
If we’re living a life worthy of the calling that we have received, that’s almost synonymous with, keeping the unity of the Spirit.
Once again, the fact that Paul imagines that it will take every effort, verse 3, to maintain this unity of the Spirit, sets our expectations!
And I think, “Come on! Our church isn’t that bad!”
This tells us it is going to be hard work.
There will be threats to Christian unity, both from inside our church, and from outside.
And it’s going to be costly.
But, while it’s good to realise the effort that this kind of life requires of us, let’s remember this unity, isn’t a human achievement, but the work of God,
It’s a unity that Spirit of God has already brought to us, as a result of Christ’s reconciling death on the cross.
Which means, that if we refuse to apply ourselves to responding to Paul’s exhortation in verse 2,
If we think too highly of ourselves to be humble,
If we say “it’s not in my personality be gentle”,
If we think that it’s everyone else at the 6:30’s to live out their calling, through these 4 graces, but not mine, then realise that we’re working against the unity that the Spirit of God has given to Christ’s church.
Got no time for humility? You are working against the Spirit of Christ in his church.
Not willing to suffer long, at the slowness or dullness of someone in your KG group? You are undoing the work of the Spirit of Christ in his church.
But what is this unity?
Again, are we thinking, music, and style of teaching, and sermon length, and the types of biscuits that should be served?
Because I’ve heard arguments about all those things over the years!
But it’s not hard to work out exactly what Paul understands the unity of the Spirit to be, because he gives us another list!
Verse 4, There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to one hope when you were called; 5 one Lord, one faith, one baptism; 6 one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all
Here’s a list of what the unity of the Spirit covers, and,
Style of music,
Whether church planting is better than growing megachurches, and whether Tim Tams are better than Penguins, those things don’t even rate a mention!
Clearly none of that is central to the unity of the church,
In fact those might be the very issues, that give us the opportunity to practice being humble and gentle.
It might be your disagreement with me, on whether it’s better to have a talk and a Bible study at KG, or just a Bible study, that gives you the chance to be patient, and gives me the opportunity to bear with you, in love.
There is a, nearly inexhaustible tally of things the church does not need to be united on, but here is a list on which we must be united.
This is the unity of the Spirit.
So, list number 2, let’s have a look.
We are united as members of the one body of Christ
We’re united as one body of Christ That is, when God looks at the church, he doesn’t see multiple churches, but one body;, the body of Christ.
We’ve seen in Ephesians already that the body of Christ is a heavenly gathering around Jesus, currently taking place in the heavenly realms, and that body is made visible through the local church.
So the way we think about our local church, and whether we’re an active part in it, like an arm or a leg is an active part of a body, that will reflect what we think of our membership of the heavenly gathering.
Which is a, slightly scary thought!
That my commitment to our church, reflects my commitment to the gathering around Christ in the heavenly realms.
We are united as recipients of one Spirit
There is one Spirit Paul says. And it’s by the work of the Spirit of God that we become part of the body of Christ.
The process by which the Spirit does that will vary.
For some it might be a dramatic conversion moment,
Someone else comes to faith as the result of many, many conversations with a friend,
For one of my friends, it was the shock of the September 11 terrorist attacks that the Spirit used to draw her to faith in Jesus.
The means might vary, but one Spirit draws us to Christ.
We are united as we share in one hope
Paul then says you were called to one hope.
If you really want to hear the hope of the gospel, come with me to the funeral of a Christian, and be reminded of the certainty of our resurrection guaranteed by Jesus’ own resurrection,
The assurance we have of being freed from the suffering, and hurt, and brokenness of this world, that is the hope to which you were called.
And here we see the working out of that first point on the list; the one body;,
Because it’s possible to be a member of a denomination, and yet not part of Christ’s church.
It’s possible be part of the Dundonald 6:30, and yet not be part of Christ’s church.
Think of the bishops in this country who deny the resurrection. They’ve stepped outside this unity by denying this hope, and so they’ve stepped outside of Christ’s church.
We are united in our submission to one Lord
And there is one Lord Paul says. Maybe not immediately obvious to us, but he means Jesus. To say, “there is one Lord, Jesus Christ”, was perhaps the most basic, the earliest Christian creed.
Of course, for Jesus to be Lord, means I am not Lord.
My preferences simply don’t matter, if Jesus is Lord.
And of course, let’s not miss the significance of this title.
In the Old Testament, Yahweh, the covenant God of Israel was Lord.
To say Jesus is Lord, to say there is one Lord, is recognise that Jesus is equal to his Father,
Not one among many,
But one Lord.
We are united as we hold to one faith
And one faith, as Paul continues. Meaning the content of our faith;, what we believe.
Paul’s saying, right theology matters.
The content of the Christian faith is not up for grabs.
We don’t take a vote, you know, two thirds majority to decide what someone needs to believe in order to have eternal life.
The content of the faith is the same;
God sent his Son who came as our king,
Died for our sins,
Rose to rule,
And will return to judge.
That’s the gospel we believe.
Similarly, there is one baptism that unites us.
We are united as those identified by one baptism
Now, maybe this is where we think, hang on! This is one of the areas where Christians think differently. Does it take a cup full of water or a bath full? Top of the head or the whole body?
How can Paul possibly say there is only one baptism?
Well, because Paul knows, that there is only one kind of baptism that matters, and that’s the baptism that identifies someone with Jesus,
The baptism that marks somebody out as a disciple, a learner, of Jesus.
And if you received the mark of discipleship with Jesus one way, and some other Christian received it a different way, it’s still the sign, the visible word, as the Anglicans say, of union with Jesus, of being a disciple.
You have, the same baptism.
We are united as the children of one Father
And finally, Paul says, there is one God and Father of all, who is over all, and through all, and in all
To recognise God as Father of all, I guess means we don’t get to choose who are our brothers and sisters! Look around you now, or on a Sunday night, there’s your family right there.
And if God is Father of all, and over all, and through all, and in all, it highlights that warning to us, not to create divisions, to disrupt unity.
If the unity of the church, is a direct reflection of the character and the nature of God, how foolish we would be, to try and, create divisions;,
To separate ourselves off from those people over there,
Or to only want to spend time with the people on a Sunday evening who are most like me.
Do we dare, through our selfishness or laziness, create divisions, or allow unnecessary distinctions to continue, when our unity is a reflection of the very nature and character of God?
But what will it look like for our church to be like this?
What’s the end point?
If we were to commit to living like this as a community of the 6:30, what would we have to look forward to?
Where would we end up?
How to be part of the ultimate church (v 9 – 16)
I’ve called this section, “how to be part of the ultimate church”, because if you look down at verse 13, Paul explains what God’s goal for us as a church is, that
the body of Christ may be built up 13 until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.
The whole measure of the fullness of Christ;, Christ, like-ness, is what we look forward to,
But how do we get there?
We benefit from the gifts
Well it’s through the gifts that the risen and ascended Lord Jesus Christ gives, to us, his church.
Verse 11, So Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, 12 to equip his people etc etc.
And we might wonder, “What was God thinking?”
Does he really think that the best way to bring the church to maturity is through, people?!
Out of every possible way that God in his infinite power could have chosen to get his church to its ultimate destination, is through people.
Christ is Lord over all,
Paul says in verse 10 he ascended higher than all the heavens, he fills the whole universe.
Yet to give us what we look forward to, what our church needs, he raises up people.,
So Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, 12 to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up
This is the 3rd list in this chapter!
And as we’ll see in a moment, it’s a list of 4, although it might look at first glance like a list of 5.
Let’s make sure we recognise that people who exercise these ministries among us, or whose ministry we benefit from, are God’s gift to our church to grow us in maturity.
And so notice that each of these gifts is a Word gift.
They speak God’s Word into people’s lives.
Of course, we’re all called to do that.
But these ones are especially gifted for that task.
But straight away we see that we don’t have all of these at the 6:30, do we?
Apostles in this sense are pretty rare these days! since Acts 1 tells us that a pre-requisite for Apostleship was a physical encounter with the risen Lord Jesus.
The Apostle Paul’s encounter with Jesus on the Damascus road, “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?”, wasn’t necessary for his conversion, but it was necessary for his apostleship.
And you might remember we saw in chapter 2 verse 20, that the apostles, and prophets were the foundational ministries of the church.
And it’s through the apostles, the eyewitnesses of the incarnate and resurrected Lord Jesus, that God’s authoritative message comes to us.
The apostles give us the content of the Christian message.
It was to them that God made known the mystery of Christ which had been hidden through ages past.
Next in the list are the prophets. These guys also and it’s probably supposed to include women, we meet a few women prophets in Acts, they also spoke God’s Word.
But whereas as the Apostles spoke new revelation from God, that had to be obeyed,
Their teaching was on the level as the Old Testament Scriptures.
These prophets spoke from time to time with a message from God for a particular context, like Agabus in Acts 11 and Acts 21. He foretold events in the future.
But the prophets also included people who taught and explained God’s Word, much like I’m doing now, in a time when the New Testament Scriptures were not yet written down. So in Acts 15 we read of Silas and a guy unfortunately named Judas who themselves were prophets, and said much to encourage and strengthen the believers.
They didn’t predict the future or anything,
They just taught people God’s Word so they’d grow in maturity.
Alongside the apostles and the prophets, Christ gives evangelists and pastor teachers, to bring the Word of God to our church, and these are the ones we’re much more likely to see face to face, and sit directly under their ministry.
And like us, many in the early church would never have met an apostle,
But they’d all heard the proclamation of the good news,
They had all been shepherded,
They had all been taught and instructed from God’s Word.
A few years after this letter, Paul wrote to a pastor named Titus who led the church in Crete, and he tells him “do the work of an evangelist.”
He’s not telling Titus to leave Crete and become an itinerant.
This is to be Titus’ ministry in his church.
The word “evangelist” comes from the word for “gospel”, or “good news.” So to evangelise someone is simply to tell them the good news.
And so while there are some who are especially equipped by God for this task, all of us are called to this work. And like Titus, neither do we have to leave our church in order to do it. We tell the good news of Jesus to those inside the church, and outside.
Our mission statement as a church, is to “love God,
Love each other,
And love our neighbours”
And one of the ways we do all 3 of those things, is by speaking the truth of the gospel to people;,
To people who are already Christians,
And those who are not yet.
And as I mentioned Paul actually links the last words in the list grammatically, meaning there is one role, that of the Pastor and Teacher.
Christ has placed among his body, people who pastor, which is an agricultural verb.
At its most basic it means someone who herds sheep! If you’ve ever wondered I and the other Dundonald pastors do all day, this is it!
But of course, being responsible for sheep, being a shepherd, it’s easy to see how the image carries over.
A pastor cares for people.
I get very cross with pastors who joke, “being a pastor would be great except for the people.”
A pastor with that kind of attitude, even subconsciously, is unlikely to be willing to protect the flock from those who would steal them away.
And of course part of being a pastor, a shepherd, is to feed the flock. And once again, we can flip back and forth between the illustration and the reality,
Your pastors are there to teach you.
It’s why this is one role;, the pastors and teachers.
I often say to young pastors who are just starting out, “You pastor by teaching, and you teach by pastoring.”
How do you care for, and guard, and protect, and grow those in your church?
By teaching them from God’s Word?
And how do you teach them what it looks like for God’s Word to take root in every part of their life?
By pastoring them;, walking alongside, caring, protecting, growing.
I’m sure we’ll all have different expectations of the pastors in our church, and what we think they should be doing,
But here God says what a pastor is for, and what he’ll do.
Santhosh and Tom and Richard are not here to have cups of tea with us, or offer us their advice on the big choices we’re facing.
They, and I, serve in our church, shepherd us by teaching us God’s Word, verse 12, to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up.
We’re equipped for ministry
The reason God has given us these gifts, the foundational ones and those still today, is to equip all the rest of us for ministry; to equip his people for works of service,
A minister I worked for once told me, “in most churches, ministers minister, and congregations congregate.”
That is, the staff are paid do all the stuff that matters!
Ephesians 4 tells us that that is entirely unbiblical, doesn’t it?
As a pastor-teacher, my role is not to do all the work of ministry, but to equip all of us, to play our part.
Because, of course, these are not the only gifts God gives to his church, are they? There are other lists in Romans, in 1 Corinthians, in 1 Peter;
Gifts of healings,
Gifts of leadership,
Gifts of administration, Plenty more.
And Ephesians 4 tells us that if Dundonald is to be the church that God intends us to be, each one of us needs to be taught the Scriptures, to equip us for our work.
If you lead a KG or Growth Group, you need to be taught God’s Word to equip you for your ministry, your works of service,
If you’re in a band, you need to be taught God’s word to equip you for your ministry,
If you do PowerPoint, you need to be taught God’s word to equip you for your ministry! And you might think, “hang on, I know how to run PowerPoint and I’m pretty sure the Bible doesn’t say anything about it!”
And of course I don’t mean, which button to click to go forwards, and which one to go backwards!
But remember verses 2 and 3? Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love.
If you’re on PowerPoint you need verses 2 and 3, don’t you?!
And all the PowerPoint people are nodding vigorously, because you have to deal, in front of the whole church, with everyone else’s mistakes!
You need to be taught God’s word to equip you for your ministry.
Kids ministry in the daytime congregations,
You need to be taught God’s word to equip you for your ministry.
And we grow to maturity
And as that happens, we will all grow to maturity.
We’ll be part of the ultimate church,
Not ultimate as in better than any other church, who cares?!
But ultimate in that God’s intention for us, is that we’ll be growing to maturity, because each one of us is being equipped to serve.
so that the body of Christ may be built up,
Or put it another way, as Paul does in the next verse, becoming mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.
Picture Dundonald, picture the 6:30 in a few years,
What are you looking forward to?
How about this? Becoming mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.