Ephesians 4:1-16 – Unity and Diversity in the Church (31/5/15)
Over the past few weeks, at all three parishes we’ve been looking at God’s eternal plan, which was a mystery but has now been revealed. We now know his plan is to create a single new humanity in and under Christ. To that end God has dealt with all that separated us from him. He’s forgiven our sins and raised us to new life in Christ. God’s also broken down the wall of hostility that existed between people, so that we might become one. Having laid this foundation, in the next three chapters Paul goes on to show what all this means for our lives. Over the coming weeks we’ll be thinking about what it means to be a united, holy people.
Paul says the unity we have arises from the God. Look with me at verses 4-6. Did you notice how that list focuses on the three members of the Trinity? There’s one body, the church, because there is one Spirit that dwells in us, that draws us together as the church. There is one head, Christ the Lord. It’s in Christ Jesus, God the one and only Son, in whom we have believed, into whom we have been baptised and whose coming we wait for with an expectant hope. Finally, there can be only one family of God, because there’s only one Father who is above all, and through all, and in all. Do you see how each member of the Trinity plays a part in our unity? The one Father creates one family, the one Son is the focus of the one faith, hope and baptism, the one Spirit creates the one body. But the unity within the Trinity also produces our unity. For we believe in One God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Our unity derives from the fact that we worship the One God. And so there can be only one church.
Now, you might say hang on a minute, there’s more than one church! If you know anything about history, of if you just look around us, it’s obvious that we’ve been really good at dividing the church! Let me say, the unity Paul is talking about should first exhibit itself in each congregation, in each local church. But we should also be striving for unity between churches. That’s one of the reasons we’re in a cluster together. We should also be working for unity between the churches in our community. That doesn’t mean that we all have to combine, but that we should do the best to maintain the spiritual reality, that in God’s sight there’s just one church. And we need to show the world that while we might differ in some areas, be they church governance or doctrine, we’re one family, one body, one church, worshipping the one God.
But the reality is, whether it’s at a local level, or at the cluster level, or denominational level, unity doesn’t come easily. Which is why Paul says in verse 3 that we need to: ‘Make every effort to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.’ He’s saying we need to strive, to work hard at it.
Well, how do we maintain that unity? Here’s the bad news. It’s not through structures. The ecumenical movement, the diocese, not even the cluster arrangement, will bring about unity. At least not on their own, because unity within the church starts from within. Look back at the start of the chapter. Paul lists five characteristics of the Christian life that we need to cultivate if we’re to live in unity as a church; humility, gentleness, patience, mutual forbearance and love.
Paul begins by saying we need humility. He’s not talking about the kind of false humility we’re used to. He’s more talking about humility of the mind, the humble recognition of the worth and value of other people. Humility is essential to unity. Think about it’s opposite for a moment. Pride almost always leads to discord. If I’m constantly thinking that I’m better than you, we won’t easily get along. If instead I treat you with respect and honour, you’ll most likely treat me the same way.
Next Paul says we need gentleness, or meekness. Our world might equate this with weakness, but it’s the exact opposite. It’s the quality of moderation, of strength that’s held under control. It’s the characteristic of a strong personality who doesn’t let their strength control them, nor uses it to control others. Rather it’s a strength that’s there to serve others and not to help us get our own way.
Notice that humility and gentleness form a natural pairing. They’re how Jesus described himself: “I am gentle and humble, or lowly of heart.” (Matt 11:29). The next two characteristics also form a natural pairing. Patience is a longsuffering attitude towards annoying people: the sort of attitude that God has to us I guess, while mutual forbearance is the sort of mutual tolerance without which no group of human beings could ever live together in peace for any length of time.
The final characteristic in Paul’s list is love. Love is what’s required for the others to be expressed. Love’s essential for unity. If I don’t love you, I won’t want to be with you, let alone work together with you for the gospel! Paul’s prayed that we will know the love of God which passes all understanding. As I said last week, it’s a love that we can only comprehend together. A part of knowing God’s love only comes as we love, and are loved, by others in the church. John, in his first letter has much to say about the love that we are to have for each other, how it’s a sign that we are part of God’s people. He writes:
7Beloved, let us love one another, because love is from God; everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. 8Whoever does not love does not know God, for God is love. 9God’s love was revealed among us in this way: God sent his only Son into the world so that we might live through him. 10In this is love, not that we loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the atoning sacrifice for our sins. 11Beloved, since God loved us so much, we also ought to love one another. 12No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God lives in us, and his love is perfected in us. (1 John 4:7-12)
So here are five characteristics which make or break our efforts to live in unity: humility, gentleness, patience, mutual forbearance, and love. Let me ask you, which of those do you lack? Humility, gentleness, patience, mutual forbearance, love? Take a moment to look around the room. [Probably not the people right next to you.] Ask yourself, ‘How much am I willing to put aside myself in order to serve this person? How much am I wiling to forgive this person? How much do I love this person in Christ?’ If you find it hard answering one of those questions, or showing one or more of those characteristics in your relationships with people then repent of it. Ask God to change you, to make you more like Jesus, so you can do your bit to make the Church more of the new creation that God wants it to be.
As you looked around the room you probably noticed that everyone looks different. It’d be much easier to maintain unity and to love each other if we were all the same. Or would it? Because while we’re to strive for unity, Paul says we’re aided by the fact that God has made each of us different. These differences don’t hinder our unity, they enhance it! And if fact, these differences are essential for the unity of the church, because Christ has given each of us different gifts; ‘7But each of us was given grace according to the measure of Christ’s gift.’ These gifts are part of Christ’s sharing his triumph over sin and death with us. That is, the differences you see are often the result of the different things Christ has for us to do. Each of us has been given a different gift and each gift is necessary for the building up of the body.
In speaking of gifts, Paul singles out a few:
11The gifts he gave were that some would be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers,
I don’t think this is meant to be an exhaustive list. We can tell that because other gifts are given in the other lists in the New Testament. The gifts Paul focuses on here have to do with the sharing of God’s word. Initially through the apostles and prophets, those who revealed the mystery of God to us as Paul said in 2:20. The evangelists are those who take God’s word and share it with people for the first time. Pastors and teachers are those who help us learn God’s word more fully and to apply it to our lives. Because God’s word is the foundation of our unity, these gifts are essential for the correct building up of our unity. We need to be grounded in the truth of God’s word if we’re going to be united as the church.
Did you notice that qualification on our unity? We’re not to strive for unity at the expense of the truth. The point isn’t to say we all get along and isn’t that great. If that were the case, it wouldn’t matter what we think or believe. But Paul says we’re working towards unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God. The goal of the church is our own maturity in unity, which comes from knowing, trusting and growing up into Christ. In speaking the truth in love that we must grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ.
If we’re to truly grow as a church, we need every part mature and working together. The gifts Paul’s mentioned, the apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers are all gifts with the same purpose: to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ. They’re essential for the rest of our gifts to be properly identified, equipped and released. It’s speaking the truth in love that we must grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and knit together by every ligament with which it is equipped, as each part is working properly, promotes the body’s growth in building itself up in love.
I want to take a moment to speak to those here from Rochester and Lockington. Stuart’s a great guy. I know he’s been with you for a few years, and because he’s a great guy, you probably haven’t realized this yet, but he doesn’t have everything it takes to grow the church. Those who are from Echuca, I’ve only been with you six weeks. But you already know this about me! I told you so in my first sermon. I don’t, Stuart doesn’t, have everything it takes to grow the church on our own. But we, do. God has given us every gift needed to grow the church. Because of the unity we share, it might even be that those gifts are spread around our cluster!
We need every member striving for unity, every member striving to maturity, so that the church can grow in unity, so that the church can grow in maturity, so that the church can grow. Let’s make every effort to see that happen.