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03.30.14 Unity in the Body of Christ Ephesians 4:1-16 Sermon Summary

by on March 31, 2014

Need a new way to read and understand the Bible? Try figuring out what the authors’ presumptions were, and what these presumptions imply today.

Summary Points

  •          Three presumptions the author of Ephesians 4 makes
  •          A fourth presumption that underlies and empowers the other three
  •          Why we need unity in the Body of Christ
  •          Questions for discussion and reflection

Sometime the biblical authors are clear about their presumptions, such as in Colossians 3:1 with the words, “Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God.” The chapter that follows is based on this presumption. In these cases, the flow of presumption to implication is obvious and easy to follow.

But sometimes we have to read between the lines to find the hidden implications following an author’s presumptions. For example, Ephesians 4:2-3 says, “With all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, making every effort to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.” What is the presumption here?

The presumption is that there is diversity in the church. The Latin word behind “congregation” (congregare) means to herd together. If you know anything about sheep, they wander; they each have different opinions. What this means for us in the church is that we should not expect to agree with everyone, or even like everyone, in the church. This was a very liberating lesson to me in seminary—I don’t have to be liked by or like everyone to be a pastor.

But while we don’t have to like everyone, Ephesians does say we must exercise humility, gentleness, patience, and love, and especially to work for unity. With the right presumption of diversity, we don’t have to be avoidant or anxious about not liking someone or about disagreements in the church.

A second presumption is included in verses 7, 11, and 16: “Each of us was given grace according to the measure of Christ’s gift. The gifts he gave were that some would be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers, so that the whole body, joined and knit together by every ligament, with each part working properly, promotes its growth, building itself up in love.”

The presumptions here are 1. Each one of us is important and 2. It takes work, together, to grow as a Christian. To borrow from another passage using the same body metaphor (1 Corinthians 12), some in the church are “hands,” others are “feet.” Some are “eyes” others are “ears.” Some members of the church are weak or strong, public or private. Some are ordained to “ordered ministry” in the Presbyterian church, others are “unordered” ministers. The point is each one of us is called to function in a ministry in the body of Christ. This is true in the worship of our lives from Monday to Saturday. But it’s especially true and obvious in worship on Sunday morning. The body of Christ is less when just one person is missing.

A third presumption comes with verses 15 and 13: “We must grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, to maturity, to the measure of the full stature of Christ.” Here they are 1. There’s always room to grow and 2. God want to grow us. Remember Jesus’ famous depiction in John 15 of the vine and the branches? There he assures us that God delights in pruning us in order that we may grow and bear more fruit. This applies individually as we grow spiritually, or in our knowledge of the Bible or theology, or in our charitable giving. This is what Lent is about—growing spiritually through prayer, fasting, almsgiving, study, etc.

But it’s also true congregationally. We have room to grow, and God wants to grow us. As I look at our communion, I have to ask: who’s not at the table? How could our congregation better resemble the kingdom of heaven—because even though some folks are not yet at our table, they will be at God’s table? How could our congregation better resemble our town, the neighborhood the church building is located, the neighborhood where you commute from?

So far we’ve seen three presumptions from Ephesians 4: the diversity of the church, the giftedness of each member for ministry, and a presumption of growth both individually and as a church. Underlying all these presumptions is a fourth one from verses 4-5: “There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to the one hope of your calling, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is above all and through all and in all.”

Here what we remember is that it all depends on the one foundation of the triune God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Diversity, giftedness, growth—all these come from God. God himself is diverse, being revealed as a trinity. God knows the vulnerability of living in community, where it’s possible not everyone will agree. God also is familiar with the differentiation that accompanies gifts. The Father created us, Jesus justifies us, and the Spirit sanctifies us. And God also grows. I think God grew when Jesus was incarnate and when he died. And God was pleased to grow by adding us, the church as the body of Christ, to himself in Jesus’ resurrection.

What this means is that today we can be diverse, use our gifts, and grow with confidence, without fear, because it all starts with God who is one. The unity we need in the body of Christ comes about through diversity, giftedness, and growth founded on God alone.

I remember serving a church where two members who had served communion for decades came to me. One was suffering from dementia and could no longer remember people’s names. The other had begun to exhibit the shaking effects of Parkinson’s disease. In both cases, as with others with mental illness or brain disorders, their bodies were not under the control of one mind. They were frustrated and distressed when they asked to be relieved of their joyful service at the Lord’s Table.

As heartbreaking as this reality is, another reality emerged based on the unity of the body of Christ, and that is that these faithful servants for so long are now being served by other faithful servants, exercising diversity, giftedness, and growth.

Each of us is important, each of us has a role to play, the strong serve the weak—all because God is one and we are Christ’s body.

Questions for discussion and reflection

  •          Using the metaphor of the body of Christ, what is your role in the church? How do you contribute to the diversity, giftedness, and growth of Christ’s body?
  •          Whom can you invite to worship to diversify the body, to bring their unique gifts, to grow the church?
  •          Be honest about whom you don’t like or agree with in the church. Do you avoid them? How can you be humble, gentle, patient, and loving towards them instead?

 

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