Covenant Words
Covenant Words

Episode 624 · 3 months ago

The United Community

ABOUT THIS EPISODE

Ephesians 4:1-16

Be Seated. Well, as I mentioned earlier, Carly and I love coming here. You know that it's UH. It's a privilege to bring God's words you this morning from e Fesians, chapter four versus one through sixteen. So please take up your bibles and turn there. We'll stand in just a moment. I want to say a few words first, though. This morning I'm going to preach on the importance of the Church of Jesus, Christ, being a united community, a community living together in the bond of peace. You know, in Paul's letter to the Church in Ephesus, from which I take my text this morning, it's been a it's been a major concern of his to explore how it is that the good news about Jesus transform human lives and brings people, diverse people, some cases desperate people, individuals who otherwise might have no earthly reason to be together, to enjoy a profound spiritual unity with one another. How does that happen? Well, God is in the business of building a new community, the church, and that that's the major focus, I'm sure you know. It's the focus of the book of Ephesians and this morning, as we explore these opening sixteen verses of Chapter Four. What we're doing is we're moving on from Paul's theological exploration of that theme, the doctrinal foundations for the new community that God is building. Actually, that's chapters one through three of Ephesians and now, as we begin chapter four, Paul Turns to tease out some of the practical implications of these truths that he's laid out for us in these first three chapters of Ephesians. Now, if you look at verse one of Chapter Four, you'll see it begins with an exhortation that really could function almost like the heading for the remaining three sections of Ephesians. Here's what Paul's trying to do in light of what he's been saying in the first three chapters of Ephesians. I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to what you've been called. I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to what you've been called. That's Paul's concern here. That's what he's gonna try to explain and apply in our church life, in our home life, in our professional lives. In the context of our experience of spiritual warfare, and that's what he does in chapters four or five and six. What does it mean to walk worthy of the calling into which we have been called? You know, Paul's already used that little phrase to walk back in chapter two, verse two, that before we were converted, what what happened? We once walked in trespasses and sins. That was the course, that was the direction, that was our habit, that was the trajectory of our life before we were Christians. But Chapter two, verse ten, when we were made alive together with Christ, we were created in Christ Jesus for good works which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them. And so chapters four through sixth of Ephesians are about explaining what that should look like for us. What is it mean to walk worthy of...

...the calling that we've have received? You and I have been called into union with Christ. Now Paul is going to explore for us the implications of that new life in union with him. And, as we're gonna see here in verses one through sixteen of Chapter Four, they're focused on unity. You know, the first thing Paul wants us to understand about how to walk worthy of the calling with which we've been called, is Christian unity and the unity of the Church under the Lordship of Christ. So, before I read these verses and we see how that's so, let's pray that God would help us understand his holy word. Please stand with me, if you would. Let's let's pray our father, as your word is read and preached, we you, please work by your spirit that by your words mighty power, we might grow up into Christ, who is the head, and attained to the measure of full maturity to what you have called us. Would you so work in our hearts, by the Gospel, that, as a congregation of your church, we might become a visible demonstration to the world of the loving unity of the people of God, that by our love for one another, all might know that we are Christ's disciples before we ask it, in Jesus name. Amen. So epasians, Chapter Four, reading verses one through sixteen, I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to eager to maintain the unity of the spirit it in the bond of peace. There is one body and one spirit, just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and father of all, who is over all and through all and in all. But grace was given to each one of us according to the measure of Christ's gift. Therefore, it says when he ascended on high, he led a host of captives. He gave gifts to men. In saying he ascended, what does it mean but that he had also descended into the lower parts of the earth? He who descended is the one who also ascended far above all the heavens, that he might fill all things. And he gave the Apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of Ministry, FOR BUILDING UP The body of Christ us, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, so that we may no longer be children tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness and deceitful schemes, rather speaking the truth and love. We are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when every part is working properly, makes the body grow up so that it builds itself up and love every one's this is the inherent word of God. Please be seated. You know, I think we understand that unity is vital to the...

...well being of the church. It's basic. Our Savior, you will remember in his uh great high priestly prayer, he asked his father that the disciples maybe one, and he and the father are one. When we recited that the apostles creed. We confess together, don't we, that we believe in one holy Catholic, universal and Apostolic Church. The unity of the Church, the unity of Christians, is an article of faith. And yet the long history of the church, you know, not to mention the painful personal experience perhaps of many of us, teaches us that our unity is in fact very fragile. It's easily shattered. You know, we're supposed to be one, we ought to be one, but the truth is sometimes we hold grudges, don't we? You know, the truth is, sometimes we speak hartily to each other, sometimes we fight, sometimes we even divide. How, then, shall we live together? How can we begin to see answered? You know, even in in this fellowship covenant, O Pc, our saviors great prayer for Christian unity. And answering that question, I think, is the burden of these sixteen verses, and I want us to consider this its message under three headings. The first of them, in in verses one through six, is the call to unity. The call to unity in verse two, I think Paul is as a straightforward, clear exhortation to practice five core virtues. Five, I think, five building blocks of unity. We're to walk worthy of our calling, how with all humility and gentleness, with patience, forbearance and love, five building blocks of unity. You know, humility here means that we're to thank others better than ourselves. I think humility means modesty. It's the opposite of self esteem, self conceit and pride. You know, if we're saved by grace, through faith, not by works, so that no one can boast. It follows that Christians cannot be proud. Gentleness means to restrain and sometimes, I think, even to deploy our strength for the nurture and welfare of others, I think, particularly the weak and defenseless, such as the unborn. Patience means that were to quietly wait on God's timing, God's agenda, ahead of our own, I think, in any given circumstance. I think another valid translation of patience is long suffering. That's what God does with us. He suffers long with us. If he didn't, everybody no Christianity. Forbearance means to cut other people the same slack that we hope that they'll cut us. And I think love is the sum and crown of all the others combined here. You know, it's a compelling picture, isn't it, of a community marked by humility and gentleness and patience and forbearance and love. Now, who wouldn't want to belong to a community,...

...to a church like that? But, as attractive as it is, I hope you see, and I know you do, how profoundly challenging Paul's list is. Here now, how are we going to live these things out? Humility, gentleness, patience forbearings and love. That's hard. I think none of us find it easy. How will we begin to obey the exhortation? Well, I think there's some help here in verse three. Look there. Be Eager to maintain the unity of the spirit in the bond of peace. Do you see Paul's wonderful balance here? On the one hand, unity is our call, it's our obligation, it's our duty, it's our responsibility. We must eagerly pursue it, seek to maintain it, were to guard it, to hold it fast, to preserve it, the unity of the spirit in the bond of peace. And yet ultimately, our unity is sourced in, it's enabled by and it's created by the Holy Spirit himself. It's his work, his great project to make us of us, one new community. And there's help there, you know, as we hear Paul's ex exhortation to these lofty virtues, humility and love, patience and gentleness and forbearance, the Holy Spirit is it work in us. He's killing our sin, he's dissolving our prejudices, evaporate reading and eradicating our intolerance for one another, teaching US patience, helping us love and I think there's still more help. If you look down in verses four through six, note carefully there how Paul interweaves his doctrine of the trinity with his understanding of Christian experience. It's wonderful. It's as if he wants us to understand how every aspect of our Christian lives is encompassed by and encircled by the three persons of the blessed God him. Look at the text versus four through six, which, by the way, it's interesting, is just one sentence. It's a fact which may be important in itself. It's a unity, Paul says here. There's one body, that's the church, and it's the creation in the dwelling place of one spirit, the Holy Spirit. We have one calling and one hope of our calling. But that calling is the work and Ministry of the Holy Spirit by which we're incorporated together into the body of Christ, and there's no division in that body. If one member suffers, all the members suffer. One member is honored. I think all the members rejoice in that. You know, we have, Paul says, not many lords but just one Lord, the Lord Jesus Christ, who we are told is the object of our one faith, and the great sign of our union with him, with our common Lord, is our one baptism. You know, it's interesting that Paul would include baptism in his list of unities, because opinions about baptism have certainly divided churches in the...

...past. But Paul is not concerned here with modes of baptism. Modes of baptism divide. He's concerned primarily with what baptism signifies. Baptism signifies identification with Christ, and that's what brings unity in the church. We have, Paul, says, one God who is the father of all believers, making us one family adopted into his household, one spirit, one Lord, Jesus, one father underpinning giving shape to the unity of the church and our shared Christian experience. One or our unity, in other words, is founded upon and reflects God's unity. In the church. Were United, were one in a way that is designed to mirror the way that God is one. He's three yet one. We are many yet one in Christ. Well, how do you live out of Christian unity when, and let's just be honest for a moment, how do you live out Christian unity when sometimes living together is really hard? Work Right. How do you become more humble and gentle and patient and forbearing and loving? Well, I think actually Paul is telling us here that the answers of that to that question is profoundly theological. The answer he tells us has to do with God. And I think here's how that works. Paul's calling us, in verses four through six, to a god centered life, to see the Christian life surrounded by, in habited with, the work of all three persons of the godhead. And a God centered life like this is a life that will find the glory of God more valuable than self, so that self promotion begins to shrivel. And what happens? In we begin to learn humility. A God centered life rests more and more in the infinite power of God's grace and is therefore more and more set free from the need to assert its own power. So what happens? We learned patience. A God centered life drinks in the wonder of forgiveness, and the need therefore to be right all the time crumbles. And what happens? We learn forbearance. A God centered life is captured by the love of God, demonstrated for us in this that while we were yet centers. Christ died for us. And think as we see his love for us in Christ our Self, love starts to look ugly and we begin to love others the way Christ had first loved us, dear ones, the flowers of humility and gentleness and patience and forbearance and love they bloom best, and the fertile soil, soil of a heart absorbed with knowing the Tribune God, one spirit, one Lord, Jesus Christ, one father of us all, and to the degree, I think, that we know him and the unity of his being and the glory of his three persons, to that same degree, we will love and serve one another in unity, celebrating our difference, celebrating our diversity in the way that...

...mirrors and reflects the God that we love. So I think that's Paul's call to unity. And I think secondly, if you look there at versus seven through twelve, gifts for unity, you know it's not enough that we're called to practice humility and gentleness and patience and forbearance and love. Christ also supplies the resources to help us get there, to help us live it out. Notice Verse Seven. Grace was given to each one of us according to the measure of Christ gift. Paul wants us to understand that the unity is thinking about here isn't some sort of flat, sterile sameness. It's not. It's not some drab generic uniformity, but it's the unity of a human organic body. It's a body containing diverse but essential and contributing parts. We've been given gifts, grace, gifts, it says, to use in the service of the unity of the whole. Without the things all Christians share the common experience of their being joined to Christ through the work of the Holy Spirit, there is no church at all. Without a diversity of gifts, the church is not healthy. We can't function completely, any more than a human body can function completely without certain body parts. And I think to back up his point, in Verse Eight, Paul Quotes Psalm Sixty eight, verse eighteen, and then he explains how he understands these verses. In Verses Nine and ten, just look there at a moment. For a moment, Paul says that each of us have received gifts from Christ to use in the promotion of Christian unity in the church. When he ascended on high, he led a host of captives. He gave gifts the men and saying he ascended. What does it mean but that he has, he had also descended into the lower parts of the earth. He who descended is the one who also ascended far above all the heavens, that he might fill all things. Now, Psalm Sixty eight is interesting. It's actually a psalm of triumph. It pictures the Lord God, Almighty Yahweh Jehovah, and it's probably picturing him in the exodus as having been victorious over his and Israel's enemies and of now ascending his throne to receive gifts and praise from all men. It's a marvelous psalm. It's written by David and by citing this Davidic Psalm, Paul puts the Lord Jesus Christ into that same role. And they're by he puts Jesus on the Same Level as Jehovah God. In other words, he's affirming Christ's Deity. Here, the same God who came down at the exodus came to us in Jesus Christ, actually in a far more glorious way, a far more wonderful way. Says here he came all the way down to the lower regions. That is he came to the earth, all the way down into our humanity, obeying for US helpless sinners, dying in our place and then rising in victory having secured our salvation. He reigns at the right hand of God and like a mighty conquering king, he distributes the spoils of his victory to his people. He gives gifts to the church and to individuals in the church, and those gifts...

...are to be used for the unity of the church. And what are those gifts? Well, how does the Exalted Christ work for Unity Within the body of Christ? By giving gifts to US verse eleven. He gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, shepherds and teachers. Now, the apostles and prophets, of course, are foundational to the Church, given by Christ to provide the inherent word of God, so that now that our scripture, the Canon of Scriptures, complete, we no longer need their ministry. Their work is done. We no longer have apostles and prophets, but they still witness to US powerfully today through the pages of scripture. Evangelists. Well, there there are only four brief mentions of the office of evangelists. And the New Testament. So we don't know a lot about them, but it seems that an evangelist in the New Testament was somebody, someone sent into a particular church with authority delegated to them to bring stability and good order in a needy situation. Think of Timothy. Timothy called to do the work of lovangelists. He was sent to Ephesus by Paul, the aid in the settlement of that church. And then there's shepherd and teacher. It's two titles for one office. They actually should be hyphenated pastor teacher, shepherd teacher. Paul's talking here about a minister in a local congregation. He's talking about an elder whose work is to Labor in word and doctrine. The shepherd shepherds his flock, he keeps the sheep in order, directs them where to go, where to feed, brings them back to the fold, looks after their safety guards against enemies liable to attack them. Now, I think the key thing to notice about all four of these offices, all four gifts given by the Exalted Christ to the Church for our unity, is, after all, word, ministers, ministries. They all relate in some way to the Ministry of teaching to the Proclamation of the Gospel. You See, Christ is aiming at our unity, and at the heart of his strategy for accomplishing our unity is deploying men of God equipped to preach the word of God to the people of God, and I think verse twelve is critically important because it helps us understand how that works in the life of all churches, this church. How do these word ministers fulfill the goal that Christ has for them and bringing unity to the Church by preaching the word? Look at what verse twelve tells us they do. Christ gave these pastor teacher's gifts to equip the saints for the work of Ministry, for building up the body of Christ. You know one writer on this passage named Simon Austin. I think he identifies a common problem in our churches today. He talks about a church as a bus and he talks about the church as an orchestra. Now, in the church as a bus, analogy, the congregation are simply passengers and the minister is the driver of the bus. Now, some of the passengers May, I don't know, occasionally helped clean or maintain the bus, and some always want to sit in the same seats. Of course they all appreciate good driving. Some never talked to new passengers. Well, there's they're really hoping that certain passengers get off at the next...

...stop. Sounds familiar, doesn't it? It's a common way to experience life in many churches today, but it's not the biblical picture of what the Church should be. No, this writer, I think he rightly says that the church should be more like an orchestra. The conductor helps the whole orchestra play in tune and in concert, with each member performing their role well. He helps them understand the composer's musical score correctly. And the score, of course, is the Bible. It's the word of God. Although the conductor is the preacher, the whole congregation responds to the score together, each party engaged in ministry, as the conductor, the pastor teacher interprets Christ's instructions in holy scripture, so that the whole orchestra makes the sound that the heavenly composer intended. See, that's what Paul says in Verse Twelve. And when it's done properly, see the church produces a beautiful sound, beautiful in God's sight, and so useful to him in this world. WHO DOES MINISTRY IN THE LOCAL CHURCH? Not The one with the title minister. His role is to equip the saints. It's the saints who do the work of ministry. How does word ministry help us live in unity? It does it by equipping US and encouraging US and moving us to service. See, that's how we're to respond to the word of God, you know, not to be mere consumers of it. Rather, the response Paul is calling us to here is the response of service. So I pressed the question on us to warning. Who are you serving? You don't need a title and an official recognized ministry. That's not what he's talking about here. How are you serving? That's the call of Jesus Christ, I think, to us, and as we begin to serve one another, unity is the great fruit of that service. The call to unity, then the gifts Christ gives the Church for unity. And then finally, in verse thirteen to the end, just notice quickly the contours of unity. I think Paul gives us a wonderful picture of what that unity will look like here in verses thirteen through sixteen. Notice in versus thirteen and fourteen. Paul tells us clear, very clearly, that unity and maturity go together. We will maintain attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ. Unity and maturity are connected. In others, Paul says that you haven't grown in Christian maturity, however your knowledge other scriptures may be, however deep your theological awareness may be, if you're not also grown in humility and gentleness and patience and forbearance and love. You know, I heard someone say that the other day, that uh, he was talking about Christians who look as though they've been baptized in vinegar. And you know the type. Surfaces, a standoff, ease, distance, Sura, unmoved, unloving, uncaring Christian, I think, is at best and infant in spiritual things. But, as verse fourteen exhorts us, we are to...

...mature, we are to grow up, no longer children tossed to and fro by the waves, carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness and deceitful schemes. So you know, for Paul, right thinking, getting your doctrine right, what you know, and Christian maturity only fit together as cause and effect when knowledge, understanding, doctrine is married to love. And so he says in Verse Fifteen. Speaking the truth and love, the body begins to grow and as each part is knit together, each part does its work, it builds itself up and love. Well, let me conclude, I want to conclude this morning by him by emphasizing again that Paul's vision of our individual Christian maturity, it's not an individualistic vision. In fact it's very much a corporate vision. ECCLESIOLOGY, the doctrine of the church, is absolutely supreme in Paul's view of the Christian life. And it's supreme in Paul's thought because it's supreme in Christ thought. Christ said I will build my church and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. He didn't say I will build up each individual believer and let them live for me as he or she will. That's the Bible's viewpoint from start to finish. You know, I don't get me wrong, the Bible recognizes the place of the individual, to be sure, he and he furnishes US lots of rich portraits of individuals. You No, from believers, from Noah to Abraham, Moses, you know, David, Peter, Paul, Barnamas, many other individuals. But most of the time, most of the time, when the Lord addresses his people in the Bible, he addresses them together as a unity. Let's just Paul does right here in Ephesians. Look there to Phesians Chapter Two, verses eighteen through twenty two. That's Paul's Marvelous view of the church, for through him we both have access in one spirit to the father. So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints, members of the household of God, built on the foundation of the Apostles and Prophets, Christ, Jesus himself being the cornerstone in whom the whole structure being joined together, grows into the Holy Temple in the Lord. In Him, you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the spirit. To Paul, it's the church, not the individual Christian, who is the bride of Christ. It's interesting Peter picks up on that same theme in his first letter, Chapter Two, verses four and five. As we come to him, Peter says a living stone rejected by men but in the sight of God, chosen and precious. You, yourselves, like living stones, are being built up as a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifice, is acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. Now, to be sure, Peter is describing an individual Christian here, but he's describing him as a living part of an entire household, and what he's saying is that, as living stones, the meaning of our lives is...

...determined by our relationship to the whole, to the entire body of believers organized into the House of God. Now, notice Peter doesn't, he specifically doesn't call US priest he calls us a priesthood. We're a spiritual house, a holy priesthood, and later he says we're a chosen people, we're a holy nation. You know, Peter looks at us from this vantage point, not as individual believers, in our distinctiveness, but in our unity as a priesthood, a nation, as the church, and he views individual believers as stones, each of which takes his or her place in a house, a temple that's being built. We're individual stones being pieced together by Christ. And how is how is Christ doing that? Well, we're chosen and shaped for our individual position by God himself, were placed into position by Jesus Christ himself, and all the stones in this temple are not identical, they're different. The stones are chosen, they're shaped, they're placed not to draw attention to themselves but to contribute to a building in which God dwells, and the placing of each stone is only part of a work begun thousands of years ago and which will continue until the end of the age when Christ returns. Each stone is important, you know. Peter isn't saying that they aren't, but he is saying that the purpose of each stone can only be realized in its union with all the other stones. He's saying that you and I are building blocks how to putch together. When properly arranged, a spirit virtual house can be built, a church can and will be built with great impact for Christ. I think Peter says here that the Lord is not as interested in you as a priest as he is in you being part of the priesthood and as a priesthood, he looks upon the Church as the great agent of his work, his cause, his kingdom in the world. So I think all of this is to say that that's one of the great themes of the Bible. Paul here in Ephesians, Peter, the Bible sees every Christian as a vital part of this spiritual house, contributing to its life and work and, together in concert like an orchestra with all other believers, powerfully and beautifully proclaiming the name and the glory of the Living God in Christ, his son, to a dying world. And Paul reminds us here in this text that our spiritual maturity is measured by the extent in which we come to see our lives precisely in that way, in terms not of ourselves but the life of the body of Christ, the Church of God. It's welfare, it's happiness, it's it's fruitfulness, it's faithfulness, now becoming the measure of my life, in your life, dear ones, I want to remind you there is but one institution and one family that exists in this world that will also exist in the world to come and forever, and it's not your biological or your nuclear family, precious as that is. It's this family, this family right here, it's the...

Church of Jesus, Christ, his body, his fullness. You know Jesus. Christ may have saved you in your biological or nuclear family or, contrarily, he may have saved you out of your biological or nuclear family, but he saved you for this family. When you live for this family, when you are a faithful son or daughter of this family, when you employ the gifts God gave you for the benefit of this family and Paul and the Bible says, you are a mature Christian. You have grown up into the fullness of Christ. When you live for this family, you are living as Christ would have you lived. You are living the life he shed his blood that you would live. When you invest your life in his body, in this family, in God's Household, the Lord Christ who descended and then ascended, looks down on you with a heart of Thanksgiving and fulfillment and pleasure and with his smile because you are more completely and perfectly a part of himself, his body. That's what he lived for, that's what he died for, that you should live in it, and for the unity and the holiness and the happiness and the fruitfulness and the harmony of his people. Dear when this is an amazing way the Bible speaks about us, about US Christians. We are still, more and more profoundly, a part of Jesus Christ himself, a member of his body. We're no longer strangers, were no longer aliens, but were fellow citizens with the saints, were members of the household of God. May God make it so in all of our lives and all of our churches. Let's pray our father, we praise you that the Gospel makes enemies friends, takes takes outsiders brings them in, takes centers and makes them saints, Takes Aliens and Strangers and adopts them into your family, and thank you that we have tasted that reality. Please teach us how to live out, to walk worthy of the calling to which we have been called and to begin to practice, between us and among ourselves, the supernatural gift of love, with humility and gentleness and patience and forbearance. Lord, Build Your Church to the praise and glory of your name. Amen.

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