Read Ephesians 4:1-16
You lead us and call us to work together in teams to serve you. You faithfully and sensitively equip us to serve and lead your people, so that many lives are reached for you. We want to follow your lead, and make the most of the gifts you’ve endowed us with. So as we open up your word now in all its power, make us attentive and motivated listeners with our ears and our hearts and our minds, so that we will follow where you lead us, and serve, as in Christ you have served us.
We pray in his mighty name,
Now that the Rugby World Cup is done and dusted, gloriously, and some of us are suffering from withdrawal symptoms, wondering what we’ll do for the next four years, it might be helpful to remember that next year, in August, the top athletes from all over the world will be gathering in Rio de Janeiro to compete in the Summer Olympics.
You may remember the sadly true story of “Lay Down Sally” that came from the Athens Olympics in 2004. Our arch rivals, Australians were after another medal in the final of the women’s rowing eights. The team started well and was coming third through the first 1000 metres. But with 500 metres to go, they had dropped back to fifth and were three seconds behind the leaders. During the final 400 metres twenty-three year old Sally Robbins outraged the rest of the crew by dropping her oar and allowing it to drag in the water. She just gave up and lay back on her teammate’s lap. The Australian eight, consequently finished last.
The rest of the team was bitter and the controversy continued long after the Games were over.
In a team sport everyone has to pull together. No matter how outstanding the other individual rowers were, unless they worked together as a team success was not possible.
In chapter four of Ephesians, Paul is talking about the church and he addresses this very issue: the way we are called to work together as a team. He pleads with the church to…
Get united and to “Make every effort to maintain the unity of the Spirit” Eph 4: 3
Paul seems to be addressing the “church” in the widest sense – and when we are thinking about the whole, world-wide church, unity is something at which we have to work. He stresses the essential unity of all believers.
There is : One body
one God and Father of us all.
The list has a sense of progression as we move from the point at which we are most divergent “the body” to the source of all unity “one God and Father of us all”.
We also move in reverse order (from what we are used to) through the persons of the Trinity: Spirit, Son then Father.
In reminding us that we are one body, Paul points to the importance of working together as a team, working in unity.
One Spirit It’s the Spirit who binds us together. He creates fellowship. Disunity occurs when we focus on ourselves and what we want, rather than on Christ.
The Spirit redirects our focus away from ourselves to the person of Christ.
One hope Along with all the members of the body of Christ, we are being called into a glorious future together.
One Lord Right in the middle of these seven “one” statements comes the central declaration – “one Lord”. The one Lord is, of course, the person of Jesus Christ. He is the one who holds us together. No matter what other things some Christians may believe, we are one with all who have Jesus as their Lord. Calling Jesus “Lord” represents a commitment to come under his rule. The inward response to his Lordship is…
One faith – our dedicated commitment to Christ alone.
The one baptism is the outward expression belonging to the community of faith. It says, “I belong to Christ, and I belong to the group of people that are called his body”. The “one baptism” in the passage is our baptism into Christ. Finally, there’s one God and Father of us all. He’s the Father of creation in the sense that he is the source of everything that lives and also in that all people are made in his image. It’s a metaphor for a loving, parenting God. I know that those who have had abusive fathers struggle with it, but for most people God as Father is a helpful picture. But for us who have put our trust in Christ, he has become Father in that close family sense.
The God who controls, sustains, and fills the world dwells in us and works out his purposes through us.
One body, one Spirit, one hope, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of us all. This is what unites us! Instead of concentrating on those things that divide Christians, look at what unites. Far too often believers separate themselves over minor differences in doctrine. The important truth that we want to permeate our whole lives is the saving work of Jesus Christ – as Paul also emphasises in
1 Corinthians 15: 3 -4 “For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance, that Christ died for our sins, according to the scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day, according to the Scriptures.”
This is the message of reconciliation through Jesus Christ. Through the blood of his cross, we have been reconciled to God and given the ministry of reconciliation; through him we are no longer strangers and wanderers, but brothers and sisters in Christ.
So Paul says get united and
Ephesians 4.7-12 – when Christ ascended he gave gifts.
The gifts were people (v11): Apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers.
Apostles – means literally “sent ones” those sent by Christ. They are often thought of as those who have a ruling function in the church.
Prophets – In the New Testament sense are those who speak for Christ, bringing direction and insight. They can bring God’s word to specific situations.
Evangelists – are those who tell the good news about Christ.
Pastors – are shepherds of God’s flock. They are carers and people-helpers.
Teachers – are those who ground Christians so they can live out God’s will.
And what is the job of the apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers?
“To equip the saints (his people) for the work of ministry” Ephesians 4.12.
A few months ago your serving Elders met to work on a questionnaire designed to help us discern our distinct and God-given gifts of leadership. There are not many of us at the moment so the information is limited but most of our small team were strong in the areas of teaching and the identity of an apostle with one of us displaying gifts as a pastor, evangelist and prophet.
John Wesley’s genius in the early Methodist movement was the network of “class meetings, societies and bands” for spiritual formation, biblical reflection and care-giving. It is in small groups that we really become close as sisters and brothers in Christ and fully embrace this God-given identity. You may have noticed in the Elders’ annual report in August this year that we had goals of certain percentages of members and associates whom we would love to see become involved in Bible study and prayer, as John Wesley so effectively helped grow the faith of those who were becoming followers of Jesus.
Ephesians 4: 11 – 13
In our church too we aim to nurture our faith in small groups, praying, studying and sharing God’s word…”until,” as Paul says, “we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ.” (Ephesians 4:13)
So who does the work of ministry?
God’s people – all of us.
Who are the ministers of this church? The paid clergy?
No, the job of ministers is to equip all God’s people to do the work of ministry. The word “ministry” is the ordinary word for serving. It’s the word you’d use for serving at a meal table. Many Christians recognise exactly that – the call of Christ to us is to serve. So Marcus Barth a theologian at Princeton University, and son of the famous theologian Karl Barth, describes the church as “a hard-working community of servants.”
And, what is the purpose?
“for the building up of the body of Christ, until all of us come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to maturity, to the measure of the full stature of Christ” Ephesians 4.12-13.
So we are to get united, get serving and…
Paul’s metaphors for the church are dynamic. They are pictures of movement. They demand progress.
- We are a body that is growing – Ephesians 4.13,15 and 16.
- We are a structure that is being built up – Ephesians 4.13.
These images present a direct challenge to us as a church. Because at any stage in our Christian experience it is so easy to stop. To stop moving, to stop growing, to stagnate. And once we stagnate, we are no longer followers. Christ is always calling us on.
It is lost in most modern translations, but the word Paul uses again and again in Ephesians for the way we are to live as Christians is “walk”. It is a simple metaphor for steady advancement, movement, progress, not keeping still.
So when Ephesians 4.1 (NRSV) reads “lead a life worthy of your calling” it is literally “walk worthy of your calling”.
- Twice again in Ephesians 4.17 we have “walk not as the Gentiles – in futility”.
- Then in Ephesians 5.2 – “walk in love”.
- “Walk as children of light” – Ephesians 5.8.
- “Walk wisely” – Ephesians 5.15.
Do you get the idea of motion? We are not called to “sit in the Spirit” but to “walk in the Spirit”. And God is saying to us this morning, individually, and as a church, “I want you to walk”. He delights when our response is, “Yes, Lord, where are you leading me today? What do you want me to do today Lord?”
The church was never meant to be unchanging, stodgy and bland. To be part of the church is a moving experience! We’re pilgrims moving on, as Paul encourages us today – to be united, serving and always on the move.