Sermon: Pentecost 11, 5 August 2018, Bishop Ross Nicholson, St Aidan’s

Unity and Diversity- Ephesians 4:1-16
-I stumbled across a quote from a book I’d read a number of years ago by Bill Hull.
-He wrote in ‘The Disciple Making Pastor’;
“The evangelical church has become weak, flabby and too dependent on artificial means that can only simulate real spiritual power. Churches are too little like training centres to shape up the saints and too much like cardiopulmonary wards at the local hospital. We have proliferated self-indulgent consumer religion, the what-can-the-church-do-for-me syndrome. We are too easily satisfied with conventional success: bodies, bucks and buildings. The average Christian resides in the comfort zone of ‘I pay the pastor to preach, administrate, and counsel. I pay him, he ministers to me. . . I am the consumer, he is the retailer . . . I have the needs, he meets them . . . that’s what I pay for.”
-That is really a scathing commentary on modern church life, isn’t it?
-Hull goes on to say that we see this most clearly in the American megachurch.
-The bigger it is,
-And the more it mimics the American entrepreneurial spirit, the better.
-The measure of greatness of these churches is the number of people who turn up.
-If there’s three thousand people filling the pews,
-The snap judgement is that ‘this is a great church’.
-Bigger is better.
-More is definitely the merrier!
-But Hull says the measure shouldn’t be ‘how many people are present?’
-But rather ‘what are these people like?’

-Paul begins Ephesians 4 with these words;
“I therefore, the prisoner in the Lord, beg you to lead a life worthy of the calling to which you have been called,” Ephesians 4:1
-Like Bill Hull,
-Paul’s concern is not with numbers but with character,
-What he wants his readers to be like,
-How they are living,
-How they’re relating.
-And that standard is to be ‘living a life worthy of the calling to which you have been called’.
-It’s taken Paul three chapters to describe that calling beginning in the very first verse:
“Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, to the saints who are in Ephesus and are faithful in Christ Jesus:” Ephesians 1:1
-To the saints.
-Don’t be fooled by that word,
-A saint just means a follower of Jesus.
-But Paul shows how significant that idea of being a follower of Jesus is when he says in vv3-5;
“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, 4 just as he chose us in Christ before the foundation of the world to be holy and blameless before him in love. 5 He destined us for adoption as his children through Jesus Christ, according to the good pleasure of his will,” Ephesians 1:3-5
-Can you see how Paul is laying a foundation for the answer to,
-‘What are these people like?’
-What should a people be like who have been blessed with every spiritual blessing?
-Chosen to be holy and blameless?
-Destined for adoption as God’s children?

-Well Paul’s not ready to answer that yet because he still has to remind his readers,
-That this was not how they always were.
-In fact once;
“You were dead through the trespasses and sins 2 in which you once lived, following the course of this world, following the ruler of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work among those who are disobedient. 3 All of us once lived among them in the passions of our flesh, following the desires of flesh and senses, and we were by nature children of wrath,” Ephesians 2:1-3
-Once, even the saints, the followers of Jesus,
-Were spiritually dead,
-Enslaved to evil,
-God forsaken.
“But God, who is rich in mercy, out of the great love with which he loved us 5 even when we were dead through our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved.” Ephesians 2:4-5
-We’ve been saved.
-We’ve been moved from enemies of God,
-To children in his family,
-Members of his body the Church.

-Now it would be very easy to think that those first three chapters of Ephesians are about you and me.
-But they’re not,
-They’re about us.
-Bill Hull has rightly assessed the nature of the modern church as individualistic, spiritual consumers.
-I once got an email from someone leaving a church because, they wrote;
-‘I am finding that Saint Dot-dot-dot’s no longer gives me the spiritual nourishment I require.’
-Notice the focus on ‘I’ and ‘me’,
-My requirements.
-But for the first three chapters of Ephesians Paul talks about we, us, youse.
-And just to drive home the significance of this new community,
-He reminds his Gentile readers that this new body, the church,
-Is made up of two groups that once had an implacable enmity,
-Jews and Gentiles.
-But now both have access to the Father by one Spirit.
-Jews and Gentiles have been reconciled in Christ to form a new society, the church.

-And to life in that new society Paul now turns with his opening exhortation in ch4:1;
“Lead a life worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, 3 making every effort to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.” Ephesians 4:1-3
-Humility, gentleness, patience, forebearance, love.
-To show how radically different this new society the church is,
-From the old societies both Jews and Gentiles have come from,
-Paul begins with ‘humility’.
-To a certain extent we accept humility as an honourable virtue,
-We hate arrogance and posers,
-But in the ancient world humility was seen as a weakness,
-As something to be avoided.
-They equated humility with humiliation.
-But with the coming of Jesus,
-These values are turned on their head.
-Jesus humbled himself,
-The Son of God descended to the human realm in order to die for our sins.
-That gives a whole new meaning to humility.

-Maybe surprising to us,
-‘Gentleness’ or meekness was seen as a virtue in the ancient world.
-Gentle Jesus, meek and mild sounds very weak and wishy washy to our ears,
-But to Aristotle and other Greeks meekness wasn’t weakness,
-But rather strength,
-A strength that navigated the narrow path between being too angry and never angry at all.
-Gentleness is strength under control.
-The meek don’t fly off the handle,
-But will energetically defend the weak against the powerful,
-Truth against lies.
-Humility with gentleness is a potent combination.

-As is patience and forebearance.
-Whenever any group of humans get together there will be friction and misunderstandings.
-Throughout the Old Testament God is said to have been patient with the failings of his people.
-Paul argues that a life worthy of God’s calling will reflect God’s character,
-The follower of Jesus will reflect his patience with our weakness.
-In Romans 12:18 Paul writes;
“If it is possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.” Romans 12:18
-That is a direct call to exercise patience and forebearance.
-In order to live together peacefully we need to make allowances for others’ shortcomings.
-There was a reason Jesus said,
-‘Before you take the speck out of your brother’s eye,
-‘Remove the log in your own.’

-With humility and gentleness,
-Patience and forebearance,
-Then the foundation of our life together will be evident,
-Love.
-In ch3:17 Paul prays for his readers
“That Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith, as you are being rooted and grounded in love.” Ephesians 3:17
-Now he urges them to live that way.
-In our narcissistic society,
-Love has been reduced from the powerful sacrificial love,
-Demonstrated in Jesus’ death on the cross for those who put him there,
-To an emotional sensation that strokes personal desire.
-Love in the Bible is other person centred,
-The romanticised love of Western culture is self-centred.
-And what comes next is a direct challenge to that individualistic, consumer culture we breathe in,
-As Paul calls the followers of Jesus to make;
“every effort to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. 4 There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to the one hope of your calling, 5 one Lord, one faith, one baptism, 6 one God and Father of all, who is above all and through all and in all.” Ephesians 4:3-6
-Paul again is stressing the unity we have as the people of God, the Church.
-It’s a unity that lies in the Trinitarian nature of God,
-Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
-We’re one body because there is only one Holy Spirit.
-We have one hope because there’s only one Lord, Jesus,
-We are one family because we have only one God, the Father,
-Who is above all and through all and in all.
-That unity raises us above the petty individualisms that mark the self-centred life,
-We’re called to live for others.

-And only after laying that foundation of unity does Paul move from the corporate to the individual,
-Because unity doesn’t mean uniformity.
“But each of us was given grace according to the measure of Christ’s gift. 8 Therefore it is said, ‘When he ascended on high he made captivity itself a captive; he gave gifts to his people.’” Ephesians 4:7-8
-Notice he says to ‘each of us’.
-Now Paul is going to get personal,
-As he tells his readers that each and everyone one of us has a unique contribution to make to the life of the church.
-He quotes a verse from Psalm 68 that pictures God as the victorious king,
-Returning to his capital city with the conquered people and captured booty,
-In a huge procession.
-This would have been a picture citizens of the Roman Empire would have been well aware of.
-But here the allusion is to Jesus,
-Who after conquering sin and death on our behalf on the cross,
-Rose from the dead and ascended victoriously to heaven.
-And just as the Roman Emperor would share the victor’s spoils with his people,
-So Jesus gives gifts to his people.
“The gifts he gave were that some would be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers, 12 to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, 13 until all of us come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to maturity, to the measure of the full stature of Christ.” Ephesians 4:11-13

-These are spiritual gifts that come through the Holy Spirit for building up the church.
-Apostles were not just those first disciples who saw the risen Jesus.
-The word apostle means ‘one who is sent’.
-In this case sent to begin or contribute to new ministries.
-It’s a leadership function.
-Similarly prophets spoke forth the word of God in the Old Testament,
-It was an authoritative message spoken by God to the prophet.
-In the early church the prophets brought words from God,
-But the church was to test these words,
-They didn’t carry the same divine authority of an Old Testament prophet.
-Evangelists are specially gifted to give a compelling witness to Jesus.
-Pastors provide care and biblical support to others.
-And teachers open up God’s word to guide, reprove, correct and train in righteousness.
-There’s a good argument that each of these different roles are essential to the health of every local church.
-But again note why these gifts are given;
“To equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ,” Ephesians 4:12
-These gifts are not for personal use,
-They’re for serving,
-For helping others to be what they were created to be,
-With the end goal that we’ll all grow in maturity.
-What does maturity look like?
-It’s being united in the faith,
-Knowing Jesus more deeply,
-And ultimately becoming exactly like Christ.

-In a rather clever but pointed way Paul contrasts the mature from the childish.
-He’s spoken of maturity in the context of the unity of the body of Christ,
-But using the plural ‘children’ implies an immature individualism,
-That’s easily swayed by seductive doctrines,
-People’s trickery,
-And the Evil One’s deceitful schemings.
-The antidote to such immaturity is not just speaking the truth in love,
-But living a life that proclaims the reality of a changed life in Christ.
-And in saying this Paul has come full circle.
-Opening this chapter he’s begged his readers to live a life worthy of the calling of Jesus.
-This isn’t just an individual action,
-But a corporate lifestyle that encourages and strengthens each follower of Jesus,
-To live out that calling.
-As members of the one body,
-Through the gift of the Spirit and the spiritual gifts he pours upon the church,
-We work together,
-Loving and serving each other with the aim that as one,
-We will all come to the full stature of Christ.