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Being the body of Christ

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Christ has brought us together as a unified church, and our diverse function serve to help us grow.

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Struggling with others

One thing that I think is common to every single house where there is more than one child, siblings will fight!
Some more so than others - I know some families where even though the children are at an age where they could possibly be left alone for a short period while the parents pick something up, they just couldn't leave certainly sibling together unsupervised because world war 3 would surely start.
But even if we put those families aside for a moment, even when you have brothers or sisters who are best of friends, there will surely come times (and not that infrequently mind you), where they get on each others nerves and things turn ugly.
The problem is that we are all different and we all like our space, and when you spend a lot of time together, those difference really get highlighted and without the space, the frustration of it all will often get the better of us all.

The problem with church

And here lies the big problem with church, and the reason that so many people have turned their backs on the establishment in favour of a more personalised spirituality.
You see, being in church means you have to deal with other people, and we well know that everyone else are flawed human beings. We might recognise that we too are flawed, but that usually is secondary in our thinking.
These other flawed people can make going to church unpleasant. Maybe it's those in leadership who make the music too soft or too loud. Or too modern or not modern enough.
Maybe it's those people at morning tea time who just won't shut up, or who constantly talk to you about something that you just couldn't care less about.
Then of course there are all the hypocrites who expound so well the virtues of living well, but then live completely contrary to that.

Ephesians 4:1-16

Well today, I want to use the passage I read earlier in Ephesians 4, to argue that though these things very well may happen, coming together as a unified body is far better.
To do this, I'm going to take John Stott's lead, who has found four truths from this passage about the kind of oneness which God intends his new society to enjoy.
From verse 2 he finds the truth that our oneness depends on the charity of our character and conduct.
From verses 3 to 6, we see that our oneness arises from the unity of our God.
In verses 7 to 12, we see that our unity is enriched by the diversity of our gifts.
And finally, we see that our unity demands the maturity of our growth, which is in view in verses 13 to 16.
So as we explore each of these points, let's try to move beyond the mentality that we're better off alone because we can't trust anyone, to an attitude where we recognise we are better off together.

Context of passage

Before we do however, it is always good to get the context of the passage in which we are looking at.
The first three chapters consist mostly of information of what God has done for us.
In the second chapter, I dare say that a good number of you have most likely memorised a number of the verses, particularly 2:10. That's because Paul is laying it to them straight, and the truth's he is teaching, are just so beautiful.
It is the truth that though we have been separated from God, He sent his only son and through Jesus we have been reconciled to God, not because we deserve it, but because God loves us.
So after making it clear what God has done for us, it is then only in chapter 4 that Paul then moves onto what this means for how we live.

Paul, a prisoner

And while he might not state it explicitly, the fact that he starts by describing himself as a prisoner for the Lord implies that it isn't easy living this life.
You see, when Paul was writing this letter, he was doing so from prison, which might seem an odd place to be writing from when you are trying to encourage other people. You might expect that the encouragement should be coming the other way, but Paul has his sights set so clearly on God's mission for his life, that he counts it a privilege to be suffering for him.

Living a life worthy of calling

You see even in this extreme condition he finds himself in, he is urging the reader to live a life worthy of the calling that they have received.
Now we could dwell on that, but the instructions given by Paul quickly change from this personalised message for the individual, to instead thinking about the importance of how we all get along together.
And so Paul quickly moves to the attributes that you so desperately need if you are going to being working with other people.

Characteristics of charity

I find it interesting that today in many work places you'll find a big emphasis on team work. It'll often be one of the criteria for many job applications, because the work place wants you to work together. Yet despite this emphasis, the characteristics that we are about to see from Paul, don't seem to rate much of a mention.
So let me read verse 2 for you:
"Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love".

Humility

Humility for starters isn't going to get you far. You quickly learn in the real world that if you don't blow your own trumpet, not many other people are going to do it for you.
But it's perhaps not hard to see how this worldly wisdom is counter productive to working together. It is in being humble that will stop us butting heads with those who are trying to achieve the same goal.

Gentleness

Again, being gentle is seen as a sign of weakness, but this is not at all what is meant - instead, it can be a characteristic of someone with great power, just power that they are well in control of and used to serve other.

Patience

The next one was patience - something that is always hard to achieve when working with other. How many times have you thought - it is just so much simpler if I do it myself!
With patience however, we can allow others to shine.

Bearing each other...

Finally, Paul tells us to bear with one another in love.
You know, when you work with others it can be hard. They will let you down. They will do things in a way that just don't make sense to you. They'll make decisions that are poorly thought out or sometimes just clearly illogical.
Yet we bear with one another because as we will consider shortly, there is much more to be gained doing it together.

...in love

But the key to this one, is that we bear with one another in love. Even though there might be a benefit to working together as I just mentioned, the truth is, we need to bear with them because that person is loved by God, and God wants you to love them too.
Love becomes the essential ingredient that is going to make it all work.
If you feel you lack this love, then I suggest you spend time meditating on the love that God has shown you in all your failings.

Importance of these attributes

Each of these characteristics go against the culture we are in which promotes self-congratulations, but if we are going to have anything that resembles unity in the church then these are the attributes we need to take on.

Unity of God

Well, after briefly considering how we should act, Paul then moves back into a theological underpinning for this unity.
Essentially, the unity that we have comes from the fact that God is one, and as believers we find our identity in him.
Verses 4 through to 6 starts a series of statements where you don't need to be some expert to notice the common word that is repeated 7 times.
Just look at them all, there is one body, one Spirit, one hope, one Lord, one faith, one baptism and one God.

One body

The one body, is actually a direct reference to the fact that there is only one church. You see while, there are many local expressions of the church, when we consider the true church, which in the language I used 2 weeks ago, the invisible church, there is only one. Anyone who has been called of God and has accepted him, belongs to this church.

One Spirit

But we see that there is one body, because there is only one Spirit. While sometimes there can be a question mark over the word spirit, because sometimes it is used in a general sense, and other times in the more specific understanding of the Holy Spirit, but in this case, the meaning seems pretty clear. The one spirit is the Holy Spirit. The person in the church down the road who has accepted Christ, and the person in the most far flung reaches of Africa who has accepted Christ, have the very same Spirit which each of us who have called on the name of Jesus.
Now I won't go through each of them in detail, but you will see that each of the things Paul mentions are things that unite us. We'll have differences in various aspects of what we believe, but these things should be true for all of us.

Trinity

But if I can draw you to one aspect of it, and that is the Trinity. You Included in this list is one Spirit, one Lord and one God. Here we have quite clearly the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, and it is in the Trinity that we truly find what it means to be unified.
The Trinity is one of those truly hard concepts to grasp, and even though we might not fully understand how you can be truly separate but also truly one, it is the perfect analogy of the unity that we share.
We're about to get onto the diversity we share, but it is in the trinity that we see different functions, but all working perfectly together.
You know, sometimes the Trinity can seem one of these theoretical things that isn't worth thinking about because it just makes us too confused, yet the more you look into the Trinity, the more you realise it sets a perfect basis for how we should consider many of our social constructions.

Diversity

So on that note, let's now turn to understanding the importance of our diversity.
Now, I put it to you, that if God thought that unity meant that we were all the same, he would make us all the same. He could quite easily give us all the same personality traits, and help us to all think the same.
But this is clearly not the case. You don't have to read a single word of scripture to realise that God has made each of us very different. Some are extroverts, some introverts. Some think in a highly organised way, others in a more free-flowing creative way. Some are bold, some are timid.
It is these kinds of differences which make things hard, but it seems clear that this variety was clearly intended by God - because this is the type of God he is.

Charis

In verse 7, Paul tells us, "but to each one of us grace has been given as Christ apportioned it".
Now the word "grace" here can be a bit confusing. The word grace normally refers to the undeserved gift of salvation bestowed upon us.
But the word can also be used in a more broad sense to include all the gifts that God gives us, in other words, the gifts of the Spirit.
In the Greek, the word grace is "charis", and the word that is usually translated as "spiritual gifts" is 'charismata', which of course is where we get our word "charismatic" from. So you'll see the word "charis" (or grace) in the word charismata.

The ascended Christ

Now I'm going to quickly gloss over verses 8 to 10, not because they are not important, but because they can get a little confusing and will only have limited help to us now.
But just quickly, in these verses, Paul takes a quote from Ps 68 to show how Jesus became human (which is what Paul is trying to get at when he talks about descending), and in ascending, pours out his gifts to us.

The different gifts

It is in verse 11 however, that Paul then starts describing some of the gifts that are given to different people.
Now last term we looked at 1 Corinthians, and I spent a message looking at chapter 12 to 14 which concern the gifts of the spirit. In this chapter (in 1 Corinthians), we saw the image of the body being used and explored in quite a lot of detail.
One thing I noted back then was that when we get lists of spiritual gifts, we shouldn't see the lists as exhausted. In numerous places, Paul lists spiritual gifts, and on each occasion the list varies quite dramatically. So we shouldn't get too caught up in the particulars other than to note that God gifts us each individually.
That being said, I do want to very briefly consider the gifts listed here.

Apostle

Firstly, he mentions the apostles. Now there is some debate regarding how to understand apostles today. On one hand, there is the narrow understanding of apostle, which are the 12 that were specifically set aside by Jesus to establish his church, and also Paul in his role of bringing in the Gentiles to the church.
But there is also the broader understanding of apostle, in which the title refers to people who are sent out into world to be God's witnesses, often thought of in terms of doing pioneering work.
So whether Paul has the broad or narrow definition in mind here, in some ways isn't too important, because it is clear that God gifts people to do his work.

Prophet

The role of the prophet is also another one which can prove a little tricky for us today, but without going into all the nuances of this gift, I'm going to broadly describe it as someone who is able to speak the words of God into the lives of others.

Evangelist

The evangelist is then the one who shares the good news with others. In one sense, we are all called to be evangelists, yet some people are especially gifted in this area, in which case they need to take further action in this respect.

Pastors and teachers

Paul then also lists pastors and teachers - both roles which are to help others in their walk with the Lord.

Helping gifts

While all gifts are important, these one are listed specifically here, because they each play a very specific role in the body of Christ.
Each of these gifts have a specific purpose of building others up.
Now I believe all gifts actually serve this purpose, but some more directly than others. That's not to say that some people are more important than others - far from it. That's because all gifts are so vitally important.
We need those who are gifted in hospitality, or administration, or whatever it may be. Without those, the body just wouldn't function properly.

Diversity is important

The important thing in this discussion, is that our differences don't harm our unity as the body of Christ, rather it very clearly works to make the body far better.

Maturity

Which brings us to the fourth truth taught in this passage regarding unity, which is that Christian unity demands the maturity of our growth.
You see, as fun as it is to be one big body, our growth also happens as a result.
Now I recognise that it is possible to grow in isolation. If you are reading your Bible, praying regularly, and listening close to God, you will grow. Technically, you do not need any other person to do those things, but I say technically, because I believe it is so dangerous otherwise.

A boat in a storm

Paul gives us the image of a boat out at sea in a storm.
If I can, I want to expand on that image. You can imagine as an individual you are like a little dinghy. When the water is nice and calm, it is easy to move that dinghy where you want. You might not go very fast, but at least you're in control.
The moment the wind picks up however you start to get in a bit of trouble. In a small boat its hard to keep it in the direction you want. When the wind picks up and the waves start, it isn't long before you've got no hope at all.

The solo Christian

It's the same trying to do the Christian life by yourself. When life is coasting along nicely - you're relationships are fine, your career is on track, your health is good - you very well may find that you can find time for God in your own time.
But let's imagine you've got no Christian friends around, suddenly your hit by one crisis, maybe you lose your job. Then while you're down, you develop health problems. In your mind you start questioning God.
You start joining the dots together, but because you've lost any benchmark of what the Christian life is like, you make conclusion like, 'God isn't fully in control', or 'God is punishing me'.

A big boat

But now imagine that instead of a small boat, you are in the world's largest cruise-liner. That same storm hits, it might seem scary at the time. But you've got an expert captain who knows how to avoid the worst of the storm. The boat is strong enough to hold.
Now you can see God's goodness in what is happening. You might be tempting to form bad conclusions, but you have people around you who tell you as it is.
This is the real beauty of what it means to be part of the body of Christ. Keeping with the analogy of a ship, we see that God has made the most amazing ship. He has given everyone on board the ability to keep it going no matter how bad the storm.

The body matures

If I change back to the analogy of the body, God is not only growing it in size, but also maturity.
You see, you start as an infant being very small. As time goes on, your body grows in size. Later in life, you stop growing at the same rate, but you are constantly getting more mature.
This is the purpose of the church. It is just a beautiful image.
Let me just read the last 2 verses: "speaking the truth in love, we will grow to become in every respect the mature body of him who is the head, that is, Christ. 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".

Conclusion

I know that when we look at the church, sometimes this beautiful image might not seem accurate. We might instead be more familiar with the image of us tearing each other down.
To a degree, we are guilty of that, but I'd suggest on to a degree. Because when you look closely at the true church of God, you do start to see this beautiful church.
You can be a part of it, in fact if you've accepted Christ you are a part of it. Now is the time to not only be a part of it, but to really live the way God always intended.
Let's pray.
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