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TEXT: Ephesians 4:7-16
SUBJECT: Ephesians #9: Do Your Part
Today, with God's blessing, we come back to our study of Ephesians, the Book in which we hear a loud and clear call to Unity in the Church. This unity is bigger than the local church, of course. We ought to love all who are in fellowship with God through Christ. Whether they go to this church or not.
As important as this bigger unity is, however, Ephesians is mostly about the smaller unity. It's mostly about-not loving God's People in Nairobi or Newfoundland-but in loving the ones here-the ones we go to church with, the ones we live with. The ones whose faces we are getting tired of! Local and visible love for local and visible saints. This is what the Book is about.
This is God's Will for all His People without exception. You have no right to not love your brothers and sisters in Christ! You have no permission. You have no excuse. This applies, not only the lovable members of His family, but, and especially, to the unlovable. Let brotherly love continue says the writer of Hebrews-not the love for some brothers to continue, or love for all brothers to continue until they do you wrong, but real and lasting love for brothers and sisters in Christ, and particularly for the ones you see on Sundays or every day.
This is the challenge Paul lays down in his masterful Letter. If it seems impossible to practice, you're right, it is-to people who don't know the love of God, the forgiveness of sin, and the Presence of the Holy Spirit. But Paul assumes the people he's writing to know all these things are more. They are, in love predestined to salvation; through the blood of Christ, they have the forgiveness of sins, and, of course, even now, they are sealed with the Holy Spirit.
They also have election, redemption, adoption, and a hope that cannot be lost. In short, God has,
Blessed them with every spiritual blessing,
In the heavenly places in Christ.
What He did for the church in Ephesus, Asia Minor, He has also done for the church in Fremont, California. Nothing hinders our love more than forgetting what the Trinity has done for us!
In the first few verses of Chapter Four, Paul tells us the Church is united-not ought to be, but is. What unites us is not personalities or politics, or preferences, but things far more important than these-
All Christians have these things in common and can live in unity, whether everybody suits everybody else or not!
While these are the things that bring us together, we have to do our part to stay together and to grow together. What is your part in unifying the church? It's the same as mine-
Walk worthy of your calling.
In other words, 'live the Christian life', which doesn't mean 'be perfect all the time' –we're never perfect any of the time! It means be humble, gentle, patient, and forebearing, and when you're not, to confess your sins to the Lord, receive His forgiveness, apologize to the people you've wronged, and try again, believing you,
Can do all things through Christ
Who strengthens [you].
This is how we live, if we want the church unified. If we don't care about that, of course, we'll live differently. We'll live in pride or stubbornness or harshness, and be slower to forgive offense than we are to take it. God save us from ourselves, from our narrow interests, and, most of all, from our oversized dignity!
UNITY AND UNIFORMITY
The church has and ought to maintain its unity, Paul says, but what does he mean by 'unity'? Some people hear this word and think, to be a member of a church means you have to be like everyone else. If everyone wears a suit and tie, you have to wear a suit and tie. If everyone has tattoos, you have to have tattoos. If everyone votes Republican, you have to vote Republican. If everyone worries about global warming, you have to worry about global warming.
Nonsense! What I've described just now is 'uniformity', which is, not only not the same thing as unity, but is its most dangerous enemy.
Unity means 'everyone working together', like a good football team. Uniformity means 'everyone trying to do the same thing at the same time'-like the Raiders!
Christ died to make each of us a member or organ in His body, not to make us all into the same body part, be it eye, mouth, or armpit!
Unity is what we want, what God wants, and not duplicates of each other.
How then, do you remain yourself and fit into the church at the same time?
You do this by realizing what you have and where you got it, vv.7-10-
But to each one of us grace was given according to the measure of Christ's gift. Therefore He says:
When He ascended on high,
He led captivity captive,
And gave gifts to men.
(Now this, 'He ascended'-what does it mean but that He also first descended into the lower parts of the earth? He who descended is also the One who ascended far above all the heavens, that He might fill all things).
These verses are easy to get side-tracked on. I won't be! If you want to talk about the Lord descending, I'd be happy to join you-after services! For now, though, let's keep our eye on the ball.
Forty days after His death, our Lord ascended to Heaven to take His crown. Like other kings on their coronation days, King Jesus gave gifts to His people. These gifts include everything we have, from a beautiful sunset to eternal life. But here, Paul has a particular set of gifts in mind. He means the gifts that build up the church (he says so a few verses later).
What he says about these gifts is also the most important-and most likely to miss: we all have them-
To each of us grace was given.
What is a spiritual gift? We have four or five of them in v.11. In Romans 12 and I Corinthians 14, we find several more. But the lists are not complete. Maybe yours is not on any of them. Or maybe you can find it on them all!
In a word, your spiritual gift is what you can do for the church. It's as simple as that. Whether it is preaching or unlocking the door or bringing food to shut-ins or advising people with family problems or defending the faith or showing people how to draw up a budget or just being there for people when they need a shoulder to cry on.
Knowing every member of the Body is gifted builds harmony in the church. Because it means you have what I need and I have what you need. By pooling our resources, we all have what we need. This promotes respect and love, and a healthy sense of depending on each other--instead of forming parties or withdrawing into parties of one.
Some of the gifts Christ gave His Church are not abilities or talents or opportunities, bur rather, men to lead the Church. They're named in v.11-
And He Himself gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers.
The Apostles were chosen by Jesus Christ Himself, in person. As far as the Bible teaches, they have no successors in the Church today. For nearly 1,500 years, the Pope in Rome has claimed to be one, but He isn't. Neither are the Patriarchs of the Eastern Church. Or Evangelical men with great learning and strong personalities. We don't have Apostles today, because we don't need them. Their work was to give eyewitness to Christ and to found the Church. Because no one living has seen Christ with his eyeballs, and because the Church has been founded, the Apostles' work is done, and they rest from their labors.
But, if the men are now resting, the labors are as busy as ever. For they left us the New Testament, whose testimony and guidance keeps the church alive in every generation, and tells us how to keep it healthy and together.
Then we have prophets. Who were they? In the Old Testament, they were men who received the Word of God in a special way and spoke it with the same authority as God Himself. Moses and Elijah were the greatest of the prophets from that time.
But, when we come to the New Testament, we find the same word applied to.lesser men-and women. They seemed to have spoken God's Word, but not necessarily infallibly, and the Word they spoke served only local and temporary situations. Agabus was such a man.
They helped the Early Church stay together by providing special, God-given insight. I do not believe the office is functional any more, but I know the Lord still gives special wisdom to some in the church. And they, too, can unify the church, as we listen to them with care and take their good advice.
Evangelists is next on the list. The word means Gospeller. While this, too, may have passed away as an office, nothing keeps the church together like hearing,
The old, old story
Of Jesus and His love.
Pastors and teachers. Some think Paul means two offices here, but I believe he has only one in mind: pastors who teach. When the men who serve in this office are humble and patient, and when they emphasize the big things instead of the little ones, they help glue the church together. Of course, many pastors have the opposite effect. Pray I won't be one of them. For my sake. And yours.
WHAT THE GIFTS ARE FOR
Starting in v.12, Paul tells us what the gifts are for and what they will do if they're exercised faithfully. The wording is dense and rich and overflowing, but whatever some of the fine print means, we get the idea-
For the equipping of the saints for the work of ministry for the edifying of the Body of Christ, till we all come to the unity of the faith and the knowledge of the Son of God, to a perfect man, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ; that we should no longer be children, tossed to and fro and carried about by every wind of doctrine.
.by the trickery of men, in the cunning craftiness by which they lie in wait to deceive, but speaking the truth in love, may grow up in all things into Him who is the head-Christ-from whom the whole body, joined and knit together by what every joint supplies, according to the effective working by which every part does it share, causes the growth of the body for the edifying of itself in love.
Officers are given to the church to equip people to serve one another, which is to say, 'to identify their gifts and put them to use'. As we do this, the church grows in knowledge while false teachers lose their power to pull us away from Christ, and each other. As each uses his gift, all are made better by it, and the church, born weak as a baby, grows up to be strong and fit and beautiful. In short, we grow up to become what we are.the Bride of Christ.
If you're a Christian, you have been given a gift or perhaps, many of them. What are you doing with them? Of course, some or even most of them have to be devoted to people outside the church: your neighbors, the people you work with, your unbelieving family. By all means, use the gifts for them-
As much as we have opportunity, let us do good unto all men.
Says Paul in another place. But then he adds-
Especially unto them who are of the household of faith.
Are you putting the same focus and passion into your church life as you are into the rest of your life? This is what the Lord wants us to do. Not to neglect people outside the church, but also, not to neglect people inside the church.
I don't have to invent a reason to care for the Church of Christ, for we have the best reasons already. First, because we're part of, and then, because it is His Church.
Let us, therefore, thank God that He has brought us to Himself-and to each other. Let us think hard on what others need, and insofar as we can help them, to help them, while not taking away their dignity. Let us be willing to admit we need their help too, and take it without feeling guilty. And best of all, let us remember what we are: the Body of Christ, and Members one of another.
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