Ephesians 4:1-32 Raising our view of church
Celebrating New Year’s in September - Our Fall Ministries Kick-Off Sunday! Looking forward to Sunday, September 7, 2008 – Closing Day to a Week of Prayer! – Communion Sunday –
Raising our view of church
16 From Him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work.
Ephesians 4:16 NIV
When I was in seminary in the mid 70s, there was much debate about the reliability and inerrancy of Scripture. Many impressively intelligent people were making their arguments on how we should think about the Scriptures. But really, the bottom line in all the discussions and debate was this: what are we going to do with what the Bible says? Are we going to obey God or are we going to ignore and disobey God?
Probably the most surprising observation I have made over the years is to find those who say they believe in the inerrancy of Scripture, that is, that the Bible does not contain any errors in the original manuscripts that alter any teaching of the Bible, yet, they manipulate Scripture to accommodate their own self interest.
Though I do not present Mark Twain as having been a godly man, he is credited with a very remarkable statement. He said, “It’s not the things in the Bible I don't understand that bothers me, it’s the ones I do.”
C.J. Mahaney says, “The purpose of Scripture is to provoke obedience and produce change in our lives.” (Mahaney, Why Small Groups, p.9)
I submit to you that in practical terms, our debate is not about the accuracy of the Scriptures. Our debate is about the authority of the Scriptures. When the teaching of Scripture is more than adequately clear, are we going to submit our lives to obeying what God tells us or are we going to stand as the sole and arbitrary judge of Scripture and do what we want to do, regardless?
I believe we must face that question nearly every time we find that our behavior is not a match for God’s command.
We have spent the month of August in the 4th chapter of Ephesians and I submit to you that Paul has presented to us a much higher view of the church than is our practice. And the question we face today is, what are we going to do about it?
Paul has outlined for us a strategy for how a local church family is able to grow and build itself up in love. His strategy calls for a very intentional focus on Jesus Christ.
Paul’s strategy also calls for a very intentional effort to maintain the unity of the team by expressing support and encouragement at every turn and in every situation. It is Christ who has put this team together. As a result, all of us are brothers and sisters and are called to humbly serve our Lord side by side in worship and evangelism.
I believe the Scriptures tell us that it is through the local body of Christ that our love for Christ is given the best opportunity to develop and be employed. It is in the context of a local assembly of believers where our faith is best lived out, not in isolation from the world, but in its most effective impact on the world.
Faithful, obedient, loving Christians, who are committed to the mission of a local church that is faithfully serving Christ, have the greatest potential for impacting the unbelieving world that surrounds them.
So, one more time I hope to persuade you through the truth of Ephesians 4 and through the work of the Holy Spirit applying the truth to your life, that there is not one thing that you would want to commit yourself to more than to Christ, to His Church and to His work in the world. And Paul is giving us a strategy to make that happen right here at New Heights Christian Church.
Let’s read together the first 6 verses of Ephesians 4.
Ephesians 4:1-13 (NIV)
1 As a prisoner for the Lord, then, I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received. 2 Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. 3 Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. 4 There is one body and one Spirit— just as you were called to one hope when you were called— 5 one Lord, one faith, one baptism; 6 one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.
7 But to each one of us grace has been given as Christ apportioned it. 8 This is why it says:
“When He ascended on high, He led captives in His train and gave gifts to men.”
9 (What does “He ascended” mean except that He also descended to the lower, earthly regions? 10 He who descended is the very one who ascended higher than all the heavens, in order to fill the whole universe.) 11 It was He who gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers, 12 to prepare God’s people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up 13 until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.
Is there any doubt that Paul is saying that we must always bear in mind that it was through God’s mercy and grace that each of us were placed on His team, call the church? So, anytime we are tempted to withhold love and forgiveness from another team member, we need to remember on what basis we, ourselves, were made members on the team. It wasn’t because of our own righteousness. It was strictly on the merits of Christ’s righteousness.
Paul goes on to say that as owner of the team, Jesus has appointed a team of coaches to train, equip and prepare the entire team for works of service that will build up the whole team to be effective in bringing others into a saving and sanctifying relationship with Jesus Christ.
Again, it’s not the clarity of strategy that is our problem here. Rather, it’s our compliance with it.
Now, let’s read together the next section, verses 17-24.
17 So I tell you this, and insist on it in the Lord, that you must no longer live as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their thinking. 18 They are darkened in their understanding and separated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them due to the hardening of their hearts. 19 Having lost all sensitivity, they have given themselves over to sensuality so as to indulge in every kind of impurity, with a continual lust for more.
20 You, however, did not come to know Christ that way. 21 Surely you heard of Him and were taught in Him in accordance with the truth that is in Jesus. 22 You were taught, with regard to your former way of life, to put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires; 23 to be made new in the attitude of your minds; 24 and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness.
Paul states in nearly graphic terms that our past still tries to pull us back into its grip and beckon us to return to the lifestyle we left behind. Thus, it is important that we are committed to take full advantage of being members of a united body of believers, making certain that we are keeping our focus on living in Christ and that we are in a healthy relationship with our coaches and the fellow members of our team.
Based on what we have heard from Paul in Ephesians 4 so far, I presented a challenge for all of us. Practically speaking, are we being equipped here at New Heights Christian Church for works of service so that this church is being built up? I stressed the issue of making a deal with each other. If those whom God has appointed as equippers are willing and prepared to do equipping, are those whom God has instructed to be equipped willing to report in and get the training?
Many of you responded by saying that you want to be equipped for works of service and that after being equipped you will do your part to see that New Heights is built up in love. Your responses were, and continue to be, greatly encouraging to me.
For any of you who have or will today declare to us that you want to be equipped for works of service and to apply yourself to seeing New Heights built up in love, at noon today for one hour the elders are hosting a lunch where we can gain clarity about how to really apply this instruction from God’s word.
The final section of Ephesians 4 amplified some earlier teaching that was shot like an arrow, striking the very core of our being.
Let’s read that section together.
Ephesians 4:25-32 (NIV)
25 Therefore each of you must put off falsehood and speak truthfully to his neighbor, for we are all members of one body. 26 “In your anger do not sin”: Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry, 27 and do not give the devil a foothold. 28 He who has been stealing must steal no longer, but must work, doing something useful with his own hands, that he may have something to share with those in need.
29 Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen. 30 And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. 31 Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. 32 Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.
We rightfully conclude from these words that to not speak truthfully to our neighbor, to withhold truth from a fellow member of the body of Christ, we will injure the whole body in some way, as a result.
Thus, we must filter all our grievances through a disposition or attitude of love and patience and forbearance. Plotting revenge is unacceptable for us as a Christians.
Our thoughts need to be made new through a new attitude that is being bathed in righteousness and holiness.
I believe Paul is making clear that some of our thoughts are actually corrupted data because they were filtered through deceitful desires. As members of Christ’s body, we must always be having our attitudes renewed in righteousness and holiness. That’s because, as Christians, our words have been tagged with an assignment. They are to be truthful. Our words are to be spoken in love. And, our words are to assist Christ’s body to grow up into Christ. That is to say, the words that we speak should result in other members of Christ’s body to become more tightly bonded to Christ as our head and for our fellow members to be more tightly bonded to each other.
So, Paul is not just saying, “Look, we are all in the same family so get along.” He is saying that we all have a calling to bring honor to our Lord in how we live in His family.
Chuck Miller, in his book, The Spiritual Formation of Leaders, writes: “Living as a Christian involves being enfolded into the body of Christ, into a local community of Christ-followers. Though we come to Christ alone, we grow in Christ together.” (Miller, The Formation of Spiritual Leaders, p.176)
Dave Harvey writes in his contribution to the book, Why Small Groups?, “God does not call us out from this ‘corrupt generation’ so we can meander aimlessly over the Christian landscape – a meeting here, a teaching there, some occasional small group involvement just for variety. We have been called out to be added in! All believers should be committed to a local church that cares for their souls, equips them for ministry, and benefits from their service.
“Church can’t be a mere accessory. We must be added.” (Harvey in Mahaney, Why Small Groups, p.9)
Chuck Colson has written, ‘It is scandalous that so many believers today have such a low view of the church. They see their Christian lives as a solitary exercise – Jesus and me – or they treat church as a building or a social center. They flit from congregation to congregation – or they don’t associate with any church at all. That the church is held in such low esteem reflects not only the depths of our Biblical ignorance, but the alarming extent to which we have succumbed to the obsessive individualism of modern culture.” (Colson, The Body, p.31)
Chuck Miller describes the impact on the entire body when one part is missing or in a world of hurt.
“Imagine getting out of bed on Monday planning to start the day with a tennis match. On the way to the court, your right arm decides not to join you. It just doesn’t feel like playing tennis. Can you imagine how frustrating—and ineffective and inefficient—this would be? Yet so often we Christians treat our commitment to the church—to the people of a particular congregation—just as carelessly as your right arm treated its commitment to a game of tennis. We are at church if it’s convenient for us, if we like the program, or if the timing fits with what we already have planned. But a body simply cannot function well if all the parts don’t show up ready to do and be what God designed them to do and be.” (Miller, The Formation of Spiritual Leaders, p.177)
So, here is the body of Christ. Each of us is a member of that body. You may be an arm or a toe, an ear or an eye, a tongue or a leg. Maybe you’re a kidney or a lung. Whatever the part, you are vital to the body. God has placed you in the body to build up the body.
I believe this body is here today. Let’s see. If you are a member of this body (i.e., you have a piece of this picture), come on up and lets make it possible for this man to do works of service.
The good news is that as we fulfill our calling as members of Christ’s body, the whole body will be built up into maturity and the unity of the Spirit will be maintained in the bond of peace. That’s the body we all want to be part of. That’s the body we ARE part of.