Here are the preaching notes for last week’s message as requested…
Ephesians 4 vv 1-16 – Unity and diversity in the church.
Up until now, Paul has been outlining what the church is
- You are chosen in Him (1v4)
- You are included in Christ (1v13)
- You are sealed with His Spirit (1v13)
- You are saved by grace (2:5,8)
- You are God’s people (2:19)
Now he turns his attention to what that means to us in the living of our daily lives, developing the earlier part of the letter – being a Christian means this, therefore act like this.
“I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received” (4:1).
What this means practically is spelled out in verse 2 – “be completely humble and gentle, be patient, bearing with one another in love”.
What is the essential message of the passage? Unity – in fact it is difficult to preach on anything else. This passage is one of two classic passages that teach us about Christian unity (the other can be found in John 17)
Here Paul looks at four truths about the Christian unity we are supposed to have. Four facets of the diamond, if you like –
- 1-3: Our Character – unity starts WITH ME
- 3-6: Our God – Unity reflects the very nature of God
- 7-12: Our Diversity – unity does not mean uniformity
- 13-16: Our growth – unity shows our maturity
vv 1-3 Our Character.
The Bible teaches that we should build up and encourage one another. We might consider how can we best do that, how can we best structure the church so that we can better love and care for one another, but at the end of the day, it doesn’t make any difference what structure we put in place – no amount of structure will make up for a lack of love. What is necessary is love one for another.
The bottom line is that unity starts with us – not them. I cannot control your actions, but I can control mine. So what kind of person should I be? –
Humble, gentle, patient and long-suffering.
HUMBLE: Humility or lowliness as the authorised version translates it was despised in Greek society. Today we see it as a quality, which is to be admired in others, in the ancient Greek culture, it was a description to be avoided – it was a quality that only the despised and servile had. Only in Christ is true humility seen:
Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others.
Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death – even death on a cross!
Our model for humility is seen in Christ. The humility that Paul is talking about here is lowliness of mind (attitude) rather than of status. What Paul is describing here is an attitude that recognises the value and worth of other people. I’ve just read out the passage in Philippians – what is the context that Paul writes – look at the lead in.
vv3,4 Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others.
If we want to promote unity in the church here, let’s clothe ourselves with humility.
GENTLE: Gentleness does not mean weakness. Some of the gentlest people I know are physically very big and very strong! One of the most moving things you can see is a lioness that can kill a zebra with a single bite, picking up her cub in her mouth – a deliberate decision to refrain from exercising strength. Again Jesus, the King of kings, who could create and destroy by speaking (God) deliberately laying aside His divine nature (which includes that power) in order to win us.
This couple describes our personal qualities, the next describe our attitude towards others,
PATIENT & LONG-SUFFERING: These two really need no explaining. What is patience and long-suffering? – Well it is when someone gets right up your nose, and your first reaction is to blow up and have a go, but you don’t. You swallow, count to ten and bless them. I am not talking about putting up with sin in others – we have a responsibility to each other in that respect, to lovingly correct one another and encourage one another to live, as Christ would want. What I am talking about is the actions and mannerisms of others which are not really sinful, but which irritate nevertheless.
Vv 3-6 – The unity of God
Even if you read casually through this part of the passage, it jumps out and hits you how often Paul says “one”…
Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. There is
- one body and
- one Spirit –just as you were called to
- one hope when you were called –
- one Lord,
- one faith,
- one baptism;
- one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.
Our unity comes from the one God. The church is God’s representative on earth today, if people want to know what God is like, many would say, “read the Scriptures – and you will discover God” and that is true. However, what should also be true is “look at the church – and you will also see what God is like”. He is united, he loves, he is forgiving; all too often if people look at the church to see God, they will see gossip, moaning, love that is conditional on behaviour – I need not go on. What are we like? What picture of God are we giving to the onlooker?
Our unity comes because our God is united, but it also should show that our God is united – We are one body because there is one Spirit. – I have always hated the term “spirit-filled Christian” because it gives the impression that there are two kinds of Christian – those who are spirit filled, and those who are not. My reading of the Bible tells me that there is only one kind of Christian – a spirit filled one. All Christians have the spirit – Ephesians 1:13 We also read in 1 Corinthians 12:13 “For we were all baptised by one Spirit into one body–whether Jews or Greeks, slave or free–and we were all given the one Spirit to drink.” We have one faith and one baptism because there is only one Lord.
We also are one family (over all, through all and in all) and have one God and father – Moslems believe that we worship more than one God – I say read Ephesians 4:6. We have only one God.
The disunity in (and between) churches does God a disservice – we are to reflect his unity in our own. To maintain unity in the church, we must maintain it visibly – and Paul recognises that this can be hard work! “Make every effort” – and it is sometimes quite an effort!
Vv 7-12 -Diversity in the body
How can diversity express unity? We have in v7 a switch from “all of us” which reinforces our unity, to the phrase “each of us” which emphasises our individuality – and our diversity. For me this is great – my mum always used to have a saying “it’s all part of life’s rich tapestry”. Wouldn’t life be boring if we were all alike? Can you imagine a church full of Julians? God wants us to be united – but that doesn’t mean we are all to be uniform – he doesn’t want us to be clones of one another. We are not mass-produced people, we are individuals, different in our tastes, our outlook, our characters – and our very diversity makes our unity that much more significant!
You don’t have to look far especially in an urban area to see that people will gravitate towards churches made up of people who are like them, we have youth churches, black churches, asian churches, disabled churches, I am aware of a surfer’s church and even heard yesterday about a “beat box” church just for beat boxers! The list is almost endless, yet I believe that when this happens we lose something of the unity that God really would want in His body. There is something significant about it when we see an old person worshipping alongside one of the teenagers, or a young single mum being loved and in fellowship with a mature married couple with grown children. When we have solicitors, judges or other “professional” people sharing fellowship with nurses and tradesmen. Full-time mums loving and supporting unemployed people, and ALL see that they have a significant role to play together in the church.
Or you can just go and find a church that’s full of people who are just like you and miss out on the richness and diversity that God intends in His church.
Our diversity does mean that Christ will deal with each one of us individually. Look at vv 11, 12 – the list of gifts, and it is important to realise that no two of us are alike – so no one should look at another’s gifting and feel in any way inferior. I used to look at one’s discernment, another’s preaching, still another’s evangelistic gifting with envy, I believe we are all sometimes in danger of looking at people we know and thinking I can do that better than them,
It’s not always internal (me thinking this stuff), but it can come from outside – I was told just last year “Julian you are not anointed like …. so you have to make way for their anointing”.
But the thing is this – but I am not David, I am not John or Debbie or Chris or Sharon, or Steve or Tony or whoever you might like to place there – I am Julian and God has given me a very special combination of skills and gifts that only I can use. You are you, and you also have a unique personality, combination of skill, gifting, interests that God has placed into YOU and no-one else. Passages like Psalm 139:14 (I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well) and Jeremiah 1:4 (Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I set you apart) are quite clear that every one of us is uniquely designed by God for a special purpose, and If you try to be like someone else rather than being just yourself, you are basically saying to God “what you have made isn’t good enough”.
Comparison in the Body of Christ is the enemy of releasing people into the gifting that they have. In fact I’d go so far as to say that ultimately it destroys fellowship in the body, it is doing the very thing that Paul warns against in 1 Corinthians 12:12ff … The eye cannot say to the hand, “I don’t need you!” And the head cannot say to the feet, “I don’t need you (v21)
EACH ONE OF US has to get to the place where we KNOW that God has done that for us.
Following quote is not from the Bible, but I believe it is relevant to this point: “No one can make you feel inferior without your consent.” ― Eleanor Roosevelt.
Vv 13-16 Maturity
It is interesting that our unity is seen as something that stands hand in hand with maturity.
Children are forever falling out and back into friendships – when our children were small, I found it hard at times to know if a particular friend was a friend or not! When adults fall out, often people will say “grow up”. One very visible indication of our maturity is how we relate to others. Are we forever falling out with people whether in the church or outside it?
If we are mature, then we will be united. Paul isn’t talking about our physical age here – or even our spiritual age (purely in terms of years). Maturity is an attitude – I have seen men and women in their 60’s and 70’s who are more immature than my children.
Maturity brings with it evenness, an ability to stay the course. When I was a child, I was always being accused of being a five-minute wonder, and some of that criticism was justified (interestingly just last week, I was reminded of that by my parents and had to point out to them that at 50, I am not that 9 year old boy anymore, so they shouldn’t judge me like I was). My own children were prone to give up too quickly at times. Maturity brings with it consistency and “stick-ability”, and when we’re working hard at our unity in Christ, my goodness when someone does that thing that really grates on me for the twentieth time, I need all the stick ability I can muster.
The picture of growth here is spiritual not numerical – we as the people of God are expected to grow and become mature. This will mean change and it will mean putting aside some things and picking up others 1 Corinthians 13:11 talks about putting childish things behind us – we need to grow and become mature. Are you still drinking milk? –
though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you the elementary truths of God’s word all over again. You need milk, not solid food! Anyone who lives on milk, being still an infant, is not acquainted with the teaching about righteousness. But solid food is for the mature, who by constant use have trained themselves to distinguish good from evil. (Hebrews 5:12-14)
or have you progressed towards maturity?
How we walk in unity is one way we can show we are moving towards maturity.
Unity is not something we choose to be – we are united whether we like it or not, whether we agree with the others or not. If they are Christians, we are united with them. It is easy to be united with people we like or agree with – the test comes when we are asked to be united with those who are not like us and with whom we don’t agree.
Where, then does our unity come from? – when we are not as united as could be, what is the problem?
Are you trusting in Structures? – True unity comes not from the structures I or anyone else put in place – it comes from an attitude marked with humility, gentleness, love and patience. Unity is not the problem of my neighbour, it is my problem. We sit sometimes and listen to teaching or a preacher (and I’ve done it), and we immediately think of someone we know “so and so should be here” – start with yourself.
Perhaps we are not aware enough of how much our disunity damages our witness – perhaps we don’t care. We should be united, because God is united. We should commit ourselves to being more united so that the witness of the church here is not compromised.
For us, the issue of internal unity (i.e. within this church here) is not one which at this stage which is a problem – there just being a handful of us – but how do we make sure that as we grow, we are welcoming and staying united with those who God will bring to us? – especially those who are not like us?
How do we show external unity? – with churches in the area? / in the wider Region? / in the local city? (for us – Bristol? Bath? Taunton? / what about our support of the Church nationally? / Globally?