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Unity in the Body

August 2, 2015 Speaker: Rev. Jack Meehan Series: Life Together

Topic: Biblical Verse: Ephesians 4:1–4:16

The Tenth Sunday after Pentecost
August 1-2, 2015
Ephesians 4:1-16

“Life Together: Unity in the Body”

Over the summer, we are making our way through Paul’s letter to the Ephesians. Week by week in the appointed Epistle lessons, we are hearing portions of this letter to early Christians who lived in the city of Ephesus. And this becomes the basis for our summer preaching series, based on Ephesians, entitled, “Life Together.” That is really what Paul’s focus is all about in this letter: our life together in Jesus Christ, who is the Head of his Church, which is the Body of Christ, and how by his grace we are knit together as living members of that body. Paul spent nearly three years with the Ephesian congregation (Acts 18-20), longer than with any other mission congregation he helped to establish. Chief among his concerns for this congregation was the question of unity, something he already addressed in chapter two (2:11-22), stressing that the “dividing wall of hostility” between Jews and Gentiles has been torn down through the redeeming work of Jesus Christ. The gift of unity is just that: a gift through the life, death and resurrection of Jesus. It is not something we ourselves achieve; in Christ it is already accomplished and received by grace through faith (Ephesians 2:8-10). We recognize that unity, but we do not create it. Today’s Epistle lesson marks the beginning of the second half of this letter. Chapters 1-3 spell out the theological basis for this God-given unity in Christ, and now in chapters 4-6 Paul describes what this unity looks like in the life of the people of Christ. This becomes the theme for today’s message, “Unity in the Body.” May the Lord’s rich and abundant blessing rest upon the preaching, the hearing, and the living of his Word for Jesus’ sake.

What does this unity look like? Paul urges his fellow believers then and now “to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called” (Ephesians 4:1). And he does so writing this from prison. This is one of Paul’s “captivity letters,” written while under arrest on charges related to preaching the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Paul isn’t playing the sympathy card here, hoping that the Ephesians will listen to him because he’s in jail. No, he reminds them of what both he and they have been called to do. Faith is a journey, and we have been called by God to walk that pilgrim way following our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ who himself has walked before us and even now walks with us. That word “worthy” has the idea of equal weight: conduct and calling are to balance one another out. Those who are called (κλητοί) by God have a calling (κλήσις) to live in such a way that God is glorified in them. The New Testament word for “church” (έκκλησία) is based on this same word and means those who have been called out by Christ from darkness into his own marvelous light (1 Peter2:9-10). Humility, gentleness, patience, bearing with one another in love – these are the Spirit-given marks among the “called out” ones. These are the marks and signs that help maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace (Ephesians 4:2-3). We ourselves do not make the unity; we can only reflect this unity in how we live as the Body of Christ. Have you ever experienced a congregation where there is disunity and division instead of unity? Instead of humility there is prideful arrogance? Instead of patience there is impatience and irritation? Instead of bearing with one another in love, people are quick to judge and hasty to condemn? It is a painful thing to see because the Body of Christ turns on itself, and our witness to the world of Jesus is then compromised. We may not always recognize or appreciate this unity when we see it, but we sure know when we don’t see it. May the Lord preserve us all from such a thing!

In contrast to this, “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” (Ephesians 4:4-6). Notice how Paul contrasts those two words “one” and “all” over and over. Over against all of our individuality, something which we so prize in our culture, there is this divine gift of oneness and unity in Christ. Again, this is not something which we create, but it is God’s gift to us in Christ. We can only recognize, affirm, and guard this unity. The One who creates this unity is the One who descended among us, as we confess in the Creed, and having lived, suffered, died, and rose again for us and for our salvation, he then “ascended far above all the heavens, that he might fill all things” (Ephesians 4:10; Psalm 68:18). This is Jesus, who works unity in his Body, the Church, and builds it up through gifts of apostles, prophets, evangelists, shepherds and teachers (Ephesians 4:11). Jesus’ instituting these gifts is not for institutionalism, but so that his kingdom may indeed come and his good and gracious will be done among us here on earth, even as it is in heaven. The work of all these individual gifts has a common goal: to attain unity within the Body of Christ. This can only happen as the individual members of the Body are being built up in faith toward God and in love toward one another; to full maturity. This is not some “6 easy steps” process, but it occurs over many years; in fact, over the course of a lifetime. It comes through holy habits of regular worship and Bible study, prayer time and service to others in Jesus’ Name. It comes through fellowship with other members of the Body and through sharing our faith. This full maturity in Christ comes through hardship, sacrifice, and sorrow, as well as joy and thanksgiving, as we learn to rely on the Lord and his power to help in time of need and in every season of life. Through all of these things, by the grace of God in Jesus Christ, we learn to “speak the truth in love” (Ephesians 4:15) with one another, and grow to “the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ” (Ephesians 4:13).

God’s gifts are in God’s people! Through the gifts of the apostles and prophets, evangelists, shepherd pastors and teachers all have the same purpose: “to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ” (Ephesians 4:12). The word for “equip” (καταρτίσμος) is actually a medical term that refers to setting a bone (Theological Wordbook of the New Testament, BAGD). To strengthen and build up, to set right what is fractured or weak – this is the work that Jesus the Bread of Life has come to do: to feed us with his grace and truth, and to set right what is broken in our lives. And that same Lord Jesus now works through his appointed servants. God’s gifts are in God’s people! Through the gift of one another within the Body of Christ, we grow up into Christ who is the Head of his Body, which is the Church. Joined together, held together, working together as individual members of Christ’s Body, the Body grows in unity and love.

As we seek day by day to join Jesus on his mission in our homes and neighborhoods, our places of work and leisure, the unity of the church is essential for our witness. May the Lord Jesus Christ keep us steadfast in unity and love now and always. Amen.

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