We are still in our series looking at the book of Ephesians. This week we are looking at the passage in scripture that I take as my overarching job description. It was on my resume. It’s on my website. When the Presbytery asked me to state my goal as a pastor, these verses were my answer. On my list of life verses – scriptures that have shaped my life – this one is close to the top.
Ephesians 4:1-7, 11-16
1I therefore, the prisoner in the Lord, beg you to lead a life worthy of the calling to which you have been called, 2with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, 3making every effort to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. 4There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to the one hope of your calling, 5one Lord, one faith, one baptism, 6one God and Father of all, who is above all and through all and in all. 7But each of us was given grace according to the measure of Christ’s gift.
11The gifts he gave were that some would be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers, 12to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, 13until 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. 14We must no longer be children, tossed to and fro and blown about by every wind of doctrine, by people’s trickery, by their craftiness in deceitful scheming. 15But speaking the truth in love, we must grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, 16from whom the whole body, joined and knit together by every ligament with which it is equipped, as each part is working properly, promotes the body’s growth in building itself up in love.
What’s your favorite number? My favorite number is ten. Or more specifically the number one followed by the number zero. I love it because it looks so complete and simple. But I also love it because it’s slippery. I’m a computer programmer, so I’ve worked plenty in binary. In binary, which is base 2 math, “1-0” is how you represent 2. Computer programmers also use octal, where “1-0” equals 8. And we also use hexadecimal, where “1-0” equals 16. It’s only in base 10 math that “1-0” equals 10. That’s what we normally use, but it’s not the only way to do things. So I love that “1-0” looks simple but it adapts to its context. That’s kind of a short-hand version of how I try to lead – simple but adaptive. What’s your favorite number?
My son Charlie is very into counting. If he’s in the mood – which is no guarantee – if you say “one,” he’ll give you “two, three, seven, eight, eleven!” There are a few gaps as a result of his numerical excitement. But one of the hardest numbers to get him to say? “One.” He doesn’t like to start at the beginning. It’s not “1-2-3-go!” It’s “2-3-go!” Why stay at one when you could get to eleven?!?
I tell you this because I think the Ephesians were also struggling with that number. Paul uses the word “one” seven times as he “begs them” to lead their lives in a Christ-like way. Apparently the number one is important. And apparently the Ephesians were, like Charlie, focusing on other numbers. One was NOT their favorite number.
What other numbers might they have been focused on? Well we know they liked the number two, as in there are two camps in the church: the Jews and the Gentiles. The last three chapters of this letter were spent reminding them that God broke down that divide. The two are one.
They also may have liked the number seven, as in the seven churches of Asia Minor. That’s a good number for the Ephesians, because they took pride in being the most important of those seven churches.
But Paul gives them the number one. “ONE body…ONE Spirit, ONE hope, ONE Lord, ONE faith, ONE baptism, ONE God and Father of all.” And so, Paul tells them, regardless of your differences, you are one in Christ. Regardless of your ethnicity, you are one in Christ. Regardless of your gender, you are one in Christ. Regardless of your background, you are one in Christ.
But it sure doesn’t look that way, does it? Wikipedia lists 30 different Presbyterian denominations in the United States. Regardless of our particular theologies, Paul would say, we are one in Christ. Almost every income level is represented in our church. Regardless of wealth, we are one in Christ. Born in Colorado, moved to Colorado, from another country. Regardless of birthplace, Paul would say, we are one in Christ. Church worship has been called the most segregated hour of the week in America. Regardless of race, Paul would say, we are one in Christ.
Paul’s favorite number appears to be ONE. For we are one in Christ.
But does being ONE in Christ mean we are all the same? Is our oneness shown by looking the same? Is our oneness shown by singing the same? Is our oneness shown by believing the exact same things? Is our oneness shown by being for or against the same things? No! Our oneness is shown by having faith in the one Jesus who died and rose again for us.
After spending six verses telling the Ephesians how they are one in Christ, Paul then tells them how they’re each different. Verse 7: “each of us [not all of us – EACH of us individually] was given grace according to the measure of Christ’s gift.”
This verse reminds me of when I was in seminary. I was deeply troubled because it seemed like all those denominations were being a bad example of our unity in Christ. Were we sinning by separating ourselves like that? But then my time in non-denominational churches showed me that, by and large, those churches are also being a bad example of our unity in Christ. Instead of only affiliating with their denomination, they’re often affiliating just with themselves or people who agree even more narrowly than a denomination.
Finally toward the end of seminary I found a measure of peace as a result of this verse. Instead of seeing our various denominations and conferences and conventions and affiliations as just evidence of our splits, I started to see them as ways for different gifts to emerge. For example, if you go to a Pentecostal church, you’re going to see people expressing their faith very differently than in this sanctuary. For that to emerge and thrive, it needed a different structure than what we have. Now if we are sinfully proud to be Presbyterian, if we look down on others for not being like us, that’s a bad witness to the unity of Christ. But if we’re able to celebrate when other Christian groups succeed, maybe we can still show our ONE-ness without having to be in the same building.
And it’s the same in our own church. If everyone were like me, we would have wonderful computer systems. But our quilting group would be duct-taping sheets of paper with stick figures on it. If everyone in our church thought like me, we would be able to move really quickly and renew our ministry areas and start new ministries, too. But there wouldn’t be anyone to keep those ideas rolling after the initial burst.
We are ONE in Christ. We have unity. But that doesn’t mean we have uniformity. We aren’t clones.
If everyone in our church were like you or thought like you, what would we be great at? But what would we be duct-taping together if everyone were like you?
Using Your Gifts for Others
The ways we would be great if everyone were like you – those are your gifts. Those are the areas that Christ has given you a measure of his grace. Those are the ways you aren’t just like everyone else – God has something special in mind for you. And Paul says this is true for each and every one of us, not just the select few. Not just the staff. Not just the elders or deacons. Not just the committee members. Not just the youth. Not just the seniors. Not just the working-age people. Not just the healthy. Each and every one of us – just as we are – have been given a measure of Christ’s grace – abilities, insights, wisdom, compassion, peace, love, something.
Do you know some of the ways Christ has built you for a purpose? Do you know some of the ways Christ can use you? If not we’re happy to help you figure it out, but start off by asking God to reveal it.
And once you have some idea of your gifts, Paul says that Christ directs them in a particular way. Paul says in v12 that all of our gifts are to used “for the building up of the body of Christ.” That’s the goal. They aren’t just for yourself. Your gifts and abilities are for building up others. You’ve been blessed SO THAT you can be a blessing.
For some that will be found in v12, “doing the work of ministry.” Maybe that’s ushering, or bringing hospitality, or being a youth leader, or driving people to church who can’t anymore. Doing the work of ministry.
Now for church leaders, he says some are apostles, some are prophets, some are evangelists, some are pastors and teachers – I’m a little perturbed that my job is listed last, but I’ll get over it – all of those church leaders are supposed to do everything themselves so others don’t have to. Oh wait, no, the job of a church leader is to “equip the SAINTS for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ.” My job as your pastor, the job of Carol and Anne and Allie and Karen and Susan and Mary and every other staff member, our jobs are to make sure you know how Christ wants to use you and that you are able to follow through. I mean, do you want your choir director to just be singing solos every week, or do you want them to build up a choir to use their voices to worship God?
So maybe God wants to use your gifts to do the work of ministry. And maybe God wants to use your gifts to equip others to do the work of ministry. Either way, the goal is to build up the body of Christ. We are blessed, not to hoard what we have, but to bless others. How does God want to use your gifts for others?
Mature Attitudes for Unity
So we are ONE in Christ. We have unity. But we don’t need uniformity. God created us differently for a reason. But that’s not an easy balance to keep.
And so Paul ends this section of the letter by describing what it looks like when we are able to be the kind of people who can celebrate unity in diversity. People who can be a witness to our common bond while also encouraging others to be different. People who can know and use our own gifts while also making space for others to be a blessing in their way. People who can have good relationships with each other even if *GASP* the other person only watches CNN, or only watches Fox News, or only watches MSNBC, or doesn’t even care about the news.
And the image Paul uses for this, in verses 14-16, is growing up. Maturing. Going from children to adults spiritually. The image of a child being tossed around by the wind reminds me of Caleb, who’s just getting his crawl together and he’s trying to pull up and stand. Sometimes he gets it all together and he moves toward his goal. Other times he accidentally goes backwards (which is quite distressful apparently). When he gets too frustrated, he reverts to rolling toward his goal. There’s no guarantee that his efforts will result in forward progress. In fact, sometimes when he’s sitting and playing he just plops over for no apparent reason. That’s the image of the infant in verse 14 – someone who is easily thrown off and often not making progress toward the goal.
The antidote to spiritual infanthood is to continue growing in both truth and love (v15). The evidence of spiritual adulthood is found in the humble spirit that promotes unity, ONE-ness (v1-6), and using your spiritual gifts and disciplines to help others in Christ’s name (v7-13).
So sisters and brothers, let us be spiritual adults together. I pray that we continue to speak the truth – no need to hide our opinions – but speak the truth in love. I pray that we will have the attitudes, the humility required to promote our ONE-ness even in the midst of our uniqueness. I pray that we will know how God has gifted us and use those gifts for others. And I pray that I wouldn’t get distracted, but that I will equip the saints – that’s you – for the work of ministry, for the building up of the body of Christ. I hope you pray the same thing. Amen.