Year B Trinity 7/Proper 13; Ephesians 4:1-16
there are two different sermons on this page
Ephesians 4:1 As a prisoner for the Lord, then, I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received. 2 Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. 3 Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. 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. 7 But to each one of us grace has been given as Christ apportioned it. 8 This is why it says: "When he ascended on high, he led captives in his train and gave gifts to men." :9 (What does "he ascended" mean except that he also descended to the lower, earthly regions? 10 He who descended is the very one who ascended higher than all the heavens, in order to fill the whole universe.) 11 It was he who gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers, 12 to prepare God's people for works of service, so 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. :14 Then we will no longer be infants, 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. 15 Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will in all things grow up into him who is the Head, that is, Christ. 16 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.
Two weeks ago we looked at three pictures of the church from earlier in Ephesians. It being God's kingdom, God's family, and a Holy Temple.
Today's epistle likens the church to a body with Jesus as the head. We have to rely upon him for life and submit to his authority if we are to operate as a church and as individual believers in the way we were intended.
Contra anti-authoritarian world gives eg Authority often given for the benefits of individuals and community. True of Jesus. Wants best for us and the world.
Recently the papers have been reporting a split within the world wide church. Some churches, mainly in North America, believe it is right to allow practicing homosexuals to have leadership roles in the church and to bless homosexual relationships. Furthermore, Christians who do not believe this is right are being persecuted. Ministers are being sacked and congregations ejected from their places of worship.
Jesus went back to creation and taught that the only place for sex is within marriage, Mark 10:8. Judaism and Christianity have accepted this for thousands of years. We should come under the authority of Jesus. Not just in human sexuality but also in his teaching not to be greedy, to help the starving, the thirsty, the naked, those who are ill and imprisoned, and to tell others about God's love.
Last Tuesday I overbalanced on my left ankle and fell over, severely bruising it. As I result my whole body has been affected. I've had to rest and not been able to be as active as I normally am. What happens to one part of our bodies can affect the whole body. I can't say, I'll leave my left ankle and foot behind to recover whilst the rest of my body gets on with things!
As well as coming under the authority of, Jesus, our head, being part of the body of Christ on earth means that we are united with other believers. 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.
For us to be the body of Christ we have to know one another and care for one another. I know that a lot of this goes on here with individuals caring for one another, people in home groups caring for one another, and people praying for those who are on our notice sheet. Yet there is always the need to work at how we relate to other members of the body. We are currently working at producing photos of members of our church family as part of the loving aspect of our WELL church initiative. The idea is we need to know one another so we can relate to and love one another.
When God came to earth two thousand years ago he went around in a human body preaching, healing the sick, raising the dead, delivering people from the power of evil, and feeding five thousand men from a packed lunch.
Since the day of Pentecost the church has been the body of Christ on earthy. The body in which God dwells and ministers to the world.
At Good Egg Club last week they were thinking about different parts of the human body. One of the things they had to do was to name some of the organs and bones that make up the body.
We are all different parts of the body of Christ with different functions. Some of these functions are listed in Ephesians 4 11 It was he who gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers,
Notice that these roles are a gift from God, so there is no place for pride, if we have been given one gift, or jealousy if we have not been given a gift. We should rejoice that God gives gifts to every one of his followers. We should rejoice in the diversity of God's gifts too. It would be very boring and impractical if we were all the same!
Paul mentions why these gifts are given. 12 to prepare God's people for works of service, so 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.
Gifts are given so people may serve God so the church may be built up, both numerically and spiritually.
The WELL church initiative is encouraging people in our churches to get involved in Worship, Evangelism, Learning and Loving, supported by Administration. We still need some people to help with the Worship and Evangelism areas. Please pray for this. Please be prepared to be the answer to that prayer. I would encourage everyone who is part of our body to discover, work at and develop the gift God has given you for the upbuilding of his church
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In the earlier Chapters in Ephesians Paul has outlined the grace, or undeserved favour, that God has shown humankind in Jesus. Jesus died for sinners and was raised from death to life. Jesus' followers have died to themselves and have been raised from death to life. That life involves living in a right relationship with God, and it involves living within the body of Christ, the church. All Christians are called to be united in the church. The local church, the world-wide church, and the invisible church, made up of every true believer who has ever lived.
We shall ask three questions about unity.
How are we united ? Who are we united with ? Why should we be united ?
How are we united ?
Like you to touch the end of your nose with your right index finger. Seems simple, but analyse what happened. Your ear told your brain, the Rector is telling us to touch our noses with our right index finger. Your brain may have considered whether to do this. It may have thought I will look a twit if I do. Or it may have thought, I'll look an even bigger twit if I don't join in ! Assuming you did this your brain would have told your right arm to lift itself up and the index finger to stretch out to touch your nose. Your eyes would have told your brain that they could see the finger coming, and the nerves in your nose would have told your brain that it could feel the finger and that you need to cut your nails soon !
For all of this our brains would have been co-ordinating this relatively simple action. Our bodies submit totally to our brains.
15 we will in all things grow up into him who is the Head, that is, Christ. 16 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.
Jesus is the head of the body, the church. The body submits to the head. So we are called to come wholeheartedly under the headship of Christ.
Where there is no connection to the head there is no life.
Many of you will know that soon after coming to Christ in 1978 I had a motorcycle accident. I sustained a blow to the right side of my head and was paralysed down my left hand side. The lines of communication between my brain and left limbs were interrupted, thankfully temporarily. My left arm and leg were lifeless and, without proper exercise started to waste away. If we get separated from the head for whatever reason we will lose life, waste away and eventually die because we are cut off from Jesus, who gives us life. We cannot, of ourselves, generate life. To keep alive every part of the body has to remain connected to the head. It is essential for us, then, that every day we place ourselves under the authority of Jesus.
Today we live in a world that encourages freedom of thought and respect for an individual's opinions. This is good, but it does not mean that we are free to reject all authority, because authority is often given for the good of individuals and the community. For example the police. This is true of Jesus. His authority over us benefits us as individuals, because he loves us and want the best for us. It is also good for the community of believers because where Jesus is truly submitted to he will give life that will overflow in building up the people of God. This will involve humility. In putting Jesus and others before ourselves. It will not be easy, but we are called to crucify our sinful nature over and over again.
How are we united ? We are united through Jesus.
Who are we united with ?
We are united with all other believers through Jesus by the work of the Holy Spirit. We are part of the body of Jesus. Not only do parts of a body have to relate to the brain, they have to relate to one another. Within this there may be some form of authority. When we touched our noses our hand had to go where the arm carried it. But, if the hand didn't put food into our mouths then the arm and the rest of the body would not have the strength that they needed from eating food.
In the body there is a unity. The unifying thing is the brain. It links the eyes, finger, and nose. So, the unifying thing about Christians is Jesus, the head of the body, verse 15. We are also united by the Holy Spirit, verses 3f.
The finger cannot relate to the rest of the body if it has been chopped off. A Christian cannot live the way God intends if he/she is cut off from the rest of the body. That is why fellowship is so important. Fellowship is not about chatting to someone over a cup of tea, important though that is. It is about sharing. The Greek word means sharing something in common. This is not like people who have a common interest like snail racing or bungee jumping. It is about a much deeper sharing. A sharing of our very being because we are all united in Christ and have his Spirit in our lives.
When I lived in Leicester I played football for our church's side. In a pre-season friendly I tried to block a shot by an opposing striker. Unfortunately, he missed the ball and kicked by ankle. I had combined shin pads and ankle protection on but he still managed to make a severe dent in my ankle. Next morning I was talking to Mel before going to work, the pain got too much and she heard a thud as I passed out. That one injury affected my whole body, causing parts of it to shut down for a while. I lost consciousness.
As well as being committed to the body, we need to be conscious of the body. Aware of what is happening in the lives of other believers. As we share in the lives of others we will also share in their pain, and in their joys.
This is why it is important that we all meet together as often as possible to worship God, to pray, to give to one another and to receive from one another. This would include church on Sundays, midweek meetings, home groups, the Mother's Union and anywhere where there is a true sharing.
We are united, but different. We are not called to be alike. If we were all ears we would have no-one to receive what we were hearing, and no-one to pump blood to keep us alive. We can help one another by affirming our different roles. So an ear may say to the eye, 'Whilst I am not an eye myself I do compliment you on the way that you carry out your task, even when it is dark or dusty.'
There is no room for jealousy or insecurity because we are different. There is also no room for Christians judging one another, just as an ear couldn't condemn an eye for not seeing something. Jesus said, Luke 6:37, "Do not judge, and you will not be judged. Do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven. 38 Give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap. For with the measure you use, it will be measured to you."
Unbeknown to the ear the eye might be short-sighted, or have an infection, or have some reason for failing to see something. It is the job of the brain to judge if a part of a body is performing properly and to decide what actions needs to be taken. So much hurt is caused by people deciding that they know enough to judge someone else. Only God knows everything, and we should leave the judging up to him.
However, we must also be aware that if someone claiming to be a Christian continues to sin, refusing to repent, then they must be disciplined. If necessary, this can lead to the church distancing itself from the sinful brother or sister. Paul wrote of this in his letter to the Corinthian church, I Cor. 5:11, and Jesus taught this in Matthew 18:17. However, neither suggested that the holier believers set up a new church. Indeed, Jesus prayed for the unity of believers ( John 17:21 ).
There is no room for individualism, one Christian going their own way to the detriment of others. It is the equivalent to cancer. Cancer arises where a few cells develop independently at the expense of the rest of the body. The body does not require them to grow like they do, yet they insist on growing abnormally. They absorb nutrients that the rest of the body needs. They reject the authority of the rest of the body and grow larger, damaging the rest of the body. So a few cells acting independently can cause death to the entire body.
One of the aims of the devil is to divide Christians so that they will be less effective in living out the Christian life. I am not saying that every disagreement in churches is the work of the devil. Many are due to the actions of fallen people, perhaps ignorant of God's plan for his body.
When a part of the body is sick the other parts of the body will help, for example by pumping antibodies to counteract an infection. We can counteract division :
- Firstly by being aware that it is contrary to God's perfect plan for his people.
- Secondly, by praying for one another and the church.
- Thirdly we are to take on board Paul's pleading for humility, gentleness, patience, and unity. 1 As a prisoner for the Lord, then, I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received. 2 Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. 3 Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. 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;
Who are we united with ? We are united with every Christian through our oneness with Jesus. We can only be united with one another through the love of Jesus. If we are not united with other Christians then perhaps our relationship with Jesus is not all it should be and we need to work at it. To come to him in repentance and faith.
A wealthy landowner was on his deathbed. He summonsed his sons who were always quarrelling with one another. After allocating his property to each one he called for some sticks to be brought. They were tied tightly together in a bundle. He asked each of them to try to break the sticks. After they had all failed he told them to untie the sticks and to break them singly. They did so without any difficulty.
Why should we be united ?
A doctor taught a Red Cross course in emergency medical assistance to a group of ladies from a Church. One evening a serious accident occurred in front of the home of one of these ladies.
At the next Red Cross class, that lady described the accident. "It was horrible," she exclaimed. "There was blood on the street, bruised bodies, and broken bones. I was so glad to have had your course on emergency medical assistance."
"Were you able to use what I taught you?" the doctor asked.
"Yes," she replied. "I put my head between my legs and breathed deeply, and never once felt as though I would faint."
We are equipped by God for service, not self-preservation. We are part of the body of Christ. The purpose of a body is to keep living and growing. Each part of the body plays a vital part in it's function. Members of the body supply one another and receive from one another in a way which is life enhancing. So the eye tells the brain that there is a lamppost ahead. The brain tells the legs to stop, and so the nose is not injured.
We too are called to work together to build up the body of Christ.
11 It was he who gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers, 12 to prepare God's people for works of service, so 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.
This is saying that God gives at least one different gift to every Christian. These are given so people will serve God and build up the church so we can become mature, more like Jesus.
The list of gifts here is not exhaustive. Other gifts are mentioned in further passages. So there is no place for saying, I haven't got any of these gifts so I don't have to serve God.
7 But to each one of us grace has been given as Christ apportioned it. 8 This is why it says: "When he ascended on high, he led captives in his train and gave gifts to men."
1 Cor. 12:7, says, 'Now to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good'. We each have the duty and joy of discovering and using our gift or gifts.
Hide not thy talent in the earth,
However small it be;
Its faithful use, its utmost worth,
God will require of thee.
His own, which He hath lent on trust,
He asks of thee again;
Little or much, the claim is just,
And thine excuses vain.
Go, then, and strive to do thy part,
Though humble it may be;
The ready hand, the willing heart,
Are all God asks of thee.
Go into the world to serve God and our neighbours.
May we know that we are united with God. May it become a reality in our lives.
May we know that we are united with the church. May it become a reality in our relationships.
May we know that we are one with all Christians. May it become a reality in our attitudes.
And so may the blessing of the one God, who has called us by one faith into one hope, inspire us, encourage us, and give us joy and love,
this week and forever. Amen.