(Message given at Newberg Friends Church on June 22, 2014)
For several weeks, I’ve been trying to build a case.
We’re in a series where we are looking at the purpose of worship and the purpose of our church. In times of transition, it’s important to communicate what our vision and values are. I’ve been building the case for our purpose out of the book of Ephesians, and seeing the vision God has for bringing unity to all creation under Christ as the foremost purpose of God and of the church.
Turn with me in your bibles or in the ones in front of you to Ephesians chapter 4, as I read today’s section. I’ll be reading verses 1 through 13, skipping a few verses where Paul goes on a little rabbit trail talking about Psalm 68. Ephesians 4, verse 1
As a prisoner for the Lord, then, I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received. Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. There is 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.
But to each one of us grace has been given as Christ apportioned it…
So Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up 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. (Eph. 4:1-7, 11-13 TNIV)
Today I want to be pretty simple, and work our way through these verses.
But I’ll be a little bit different and work through it backwards. Because I see it again. I see the purpose, the direction, the movement of all things that God is doing, that the church is doing, toward unity. Beginning at the end, in verse 13, allows us to begin with the goal. It’s the same goal we saw in chapter 1. It’s the same unity of Gentiles and Jews we saw in chapter 2.
“…until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God…” All that God has done in Christ-the cross and resurrection, the gifts that Christ gives to each of us…all of it is given so that we can help each other into unity, a functioning community where each has their contribution to make. Rather than each individual’s salvation being the ultimate goal, God’s work in each individual is a step toward the ultimate goal of unity. Verse 13 goes on:
“…until we…become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.” Here, we might again be tempted to interpret this individually, as if maturity is something I myself attain, somehow filling my own self up with the fullness of Christ. But all through this chapter, it’s a community picture, a community focus. Maturity is not just me. Maturity is how you and I relate and interact and function together in obedience to Jesus. You see that clearly if you jump down to verse 15 and 16:
“Instead, 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.
Without each other, we can’t become mature. This isn’t talking about individual Christian maturity. When we focus only on our personal disciplines and our knowledge of the bible and theology, we are missing the gigantic goal of maturity set out here in Ephesians: to be obedient to Jesus, doing our part, relating well with others in the church, living in love.
No love…no maturity. No obedience to Jesus…no maturity. No serving and interacting with other followers of Jesus…no maturity.
This goal of maturity through obedience to Christ and unity with each other is accomplished in a particular way, outlined in verses 11 and 12.
Christ gives gifts to people, to each who choose to follow him. Those people become gifts…you are a gift from Christ, to this unified body, this community God is making to be a home. Christ gives gifts of people to each other to equip each other for service. Here’s how Paul says it:
“So Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up…”
There will be other days where we can go in depth about spiritual gifts, what they are, how you discover them, etc. I think all that’s important to say today is that this isn’t an exhaustive list-other places in the bible list other ways God gifts people. What’s clear is that your gift isn’t YOUR gift. Rather, you are a gift for all God’s people. God gives us gifts and abilities and experiences in order for us to use them…use them to help each other serve, use them to build and expand the community of Christ.
We, together, all have works of service to do. Notice it isn’t exercising my spiritual gift that is the work of service. The spiritual gifts equip us to do the service. That sort of eliminates the option of not serving because “it isn’t my gift.” We use the unique gift we have to help each other…and then we all do the serving together. It also eliminates the option of “the pastor will do it”. We as a pastoral team do our best to take this to heart. We’re not doing it right when we act in a way that has us always doing the work, that keeps others from serving. You can hold us to that.
We are in this together! We all equip and we all are equipped!
That’s why, in the document we wrote about the convictions we have about gathered worship, we say this [CLICK]:
“Our community is intergenerational, gifted by God, and diverse in background and belief…so our worship will be participatory, giving opportunity for all to express their giftedness. Come as you are, real and vulnerable. Be who you are, and know our goal is non-hierarchical, egalitarian community. We invited everyone to be engaged, through song, prayer, thoughtful reflection, leadership, and speaking, as the Spirit leads and prompts. Worship is not a performance up front, but something the entire community does together, listening obediently and offering praise to God. We want our community to teach one another, believing God can speak through anyone.
That’s speaking about worship, but the philosophy carries over to all of the purpose of the church. We need each of you in all that we do! We invite, encourage, and challenge you to find what God has gifted you to do, and use it to equip us to be a more unified body! We invite, encourage, and challenge you evangelists and prophets among us to equip us to share God’s love with those who don’t know Jesus, and to work for justice in an unfair and unjust world!
You have something to offer us. We need it. And by we, I mean both Newberg Friends, and the wider Christian community, all of Christ’s people in the world. You have something to offer…it says it in verse 7: “But to each one of us grace has been given as Christ apportioned it.” And that grace, that free gift is intended to bring all things together.
We’re almost to the beginning of the chapter. Listen to verses 4-6 [READ 4-6]
This, again, is the goal.
Last week Jo Helsabeck brought something up in second service that I’ve thought a lot about. We hear a lot about unity and inclusion nowadays, she said, but what about the limits and the boundaries Paul himself gives later in Ephesians and in other places? We’ll talk about that more in depth next week, when we look at chapter 5. But I’m gonna give a little glimpse of how I think about that.
God does have expectations or desires for how we ought to live. But rather than seeing those as opposed to this purpose of unity, I see them working exactly toward unity. Verse 1 has the goal in this regard: “As a prisoner for the Lord, then, I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received.”
We’ve received a calling. We’re called because of God’s deep, unending, unstoppable love, love that knows no boundaries. As we live into that love, we are urged to live worthy of that loving calling we’ve received, the calling to join God’s mission to bring all things together in right relationship in obedience to Jesus.
I think a case can be made that God’s directions and desires for us, the “expectations” God has for our behavior are all things that help us live in unity with one another, things that help us live in love with each other. It certainly is easy to make the case here in chapter 4. Listen to verses 2 and 3. [READ 2,3]
Rather than rules or a code or arbitrary things, these expectations clearly show the relational nature of what God expects of us.
I remember, long ago, when we had babies and toddlers in the house. I remember watching, amazed, as my kids would slowly get control of the various muscle groups, getting all these different muscles to work together. The first purposeful hand on my face. The concentration to try and get one of those Cheerios off the high chair tray and into the mouth. The massive coordination of effort to take that first step without falling down.
Think of all those muscles and body parts…nerve cells firing, muscles working together and coordinating. Maturity is getting it all working together. Think of, metaphorically, those nerves and muscles having to be patient and humble with each other, making every effort to keep unity and peace. I don’t think about it when I think of my own movements, my own walking or picking things up.
But when I think of babies and toddlers, and how much effort it takes to get everything working together, I can imagine the application of the illustration. WE need patience with each other. WE need to make every effort to work together.
Like a body needing a brain to send all the signals needed for any movement, we need to listen to Christ, be obedient to Christ. Not to keep from breaking rules-but to learn how to work together to be one body.
This is our calling!
We listen to Christ, finding our place in the body, equipping each other to work together in works of service. Our calling is beautiful! May we live a life worthy of the loving call to unity we have received.