What’s Your Function?

(Fair warning: this post will be lengthier than usual

because it’s two Sundays messages combined into one.)

We are all gifted & we need all the Gifts.

          One of the positive aspects of aging is the whole gift giving and receiving thing becomes less and less important.  Whether we’re talking about Christmas or birthday, it just feels like too much trouble to go out and buy a gift for somebody else and after years of receiving crummy gifts, you give up on ever getting something you want.  So – eventually – you say, “Ah, who cares?”

A way to breathe some life into stale gifting is to give “joke” gifts.  That’s always fun, right?  I found a website that offered 42 “hilarious gag gifts” and after weeding out the stuff that’s not church-appropriate, here are my top ten.

#10 = Bacon Bandages.  Band-aids that look like strips of bacon.  If you combine this with bacon hand soap, you will become irresistible to dogs and hygienic too!

#9 = An Emergency Clown Nose.  Because no one wants to be caught without a clown nose when you really need one.

#8 = Inflatable Unicorn Horn for Cats.  Only for cats who deserve to be ridiculed.

#7 = The Bathe & Brew Coffee Maker.  The box appears to contain a coffee maker with an attached shower head, to allow you to make coffee as you clean up.  However, the whole thing is a prank as the note inside informs the recipient.

#6 = Screaming Goat Figure.  For what-ever set of reasons, screaming goats are an internet thing.  This little goat figure will scream every time you push the button.  Fun at home or at the office!

#5 = Edible Insects Bag of Edible Bugs.  Trust me; no one will care if the expiration date is passed!

#4 = Yodeling Pickle.  You will likely be the first on your block to be the proud owner of a battery-powered plastic pickle that yodels.  It’s all the rage is Switzerland!

#3 = A Chia Pet Donald Trump.  Here’s a nostalgic return to the 80s that will appeal to friends in either party.

#2 = Dynamite Fire Starter Sticks.  Enliven a boring old camp fire when you take out a box labeled “dynamite” and light it up!

#1 = Spam Can Diversion Safe.  As the average thief spends less than 6 minutes in a place he’s burgling, it seems unlikely he will waste a second look at this authentic-looking SPAM can.  But will it keep your valuables safe from a hungry thief. (See https://dodoburd.com/gag-gifts.)

OK, let’s get serious about gifts.  In Matthew 7:11, Jesus promised that our heavenly father knows how to give good gifts to His children.  His most important gift is salvation through Jesus Christ.  After that gift is accepted, the Father gives Spiritual Gifts to His children to enable each and every one of us to serve Him through the Church and in the world.  It is this set of Gifts we will examine in this message.

  1. We all have different Gifts. (Romans 12:4-6a)

In verse four Paul used the human body to illustrate how God intends the Church to function.  Science tells us that a human body is made up of cells, organs, and systems.  These “members” work together to give life to a person.

Similarly, the Body of Christ (the Church) has many members with different functions (5).

Each local church needs all its members on hand to maintain the life of the church and cause it to grow.  This teaching is intended to counter the ego, pride, and individualism that is typical to human nature.  The Bible emphasizes the gathered and united people of God.

Here and in 1 Corinthians 12, Paul used this symbolism to teach 3 things about Church.

– Its diversity = a diverse set of Gifts and personalities are required.

– Its unity = all the people working toward the same goal – making disciples – while using their diverse Gifts.

– Its mutuality = EACH MEMBER BELONGS TO ALL THE OTHERS.

The church is not meant to be a loose association of those who hold similar views, who merely put up with one another.  Instead, a church is a set of people who are bound together in a deep and spiritual way; we’ve got to be devoted to each other and devoted to Jesus.

God’s GRACE determines which Gifts each individual member is given (v. 6a).  Let us first observe that Paul launched into this section with the words BY THE GRACE GIVEN ME I SAY TO YOU: this is a reference to Paul’s apostleship.  He means to say, “By God’s grace I have the authority to tell you the following things about Spiritual Gifts.”

The other understanding of GRACE is that it is the means by which we receive these Gifts.  Every time he wrote about Spiritual Gifts Paul wanted to make that clear.  The Gifts are not to be confused with “talents.” or “skills.”  On the contrary, all the Gifts are “Spiritual” in the sense that they are given by means of the Holy Spirit, not by our choice.  While some of the Gifts are more clearly supernatural and some feel more ordinary or natural, all of them are not something the Gifted person could do on their own.

This list in Romans 12 is not meant to mention every Spiritual Gift.  We need to compare Paul’s lists, note the similarity of some Gifts, and list the unique ones separately.  I have done that and come up with 14 Gifts.

  1. Here are some of the Gifts. (Romans 12:6b-8)

Prophesying (6b).

The definition of this Gift is also based on 1 Corinthians 14 and Ephesians 4 where it is listed.  Prophecy may take either of 2 forms:

– “Foretelling” (supernatural accurate prediction of the future).

– “Forth-telling” (relating God’s word to His people in ways similar to preaching and teaching).  This is the most common form of prophesying in the Bible.

Here in Romans 12, Paul explained that the Gift of Prophesying is to be exercised IN PROPORTION TO the FAITH of the Gifted.  This means that true prophecy springs from FAITH, not from emotion (1 Corinthians 14:32) and presents itself in an orderly fashion (1 Corinthians 14:30).  Persons using this Gift speak for God and obviously always tell the truth.  Since they are not speaking to please themselves or their hearers, prophets don’t pull punches.

PROPORTION was a mathematical term, so this phrase could also mean that the prophet needs to speak only the messages that come by faith; it would violate the trust of the people if he/she were to speak out of self-interest, wishful thinking or outright falsehood.

Examples of ways this Gift might be put to use in a local church include Supply Preacher, Worship Leadership, giving Testimony, and Deacon.

Serving (7).

This Gift is not well-defined; to distinguish it from the other Gifts, we might say it is sensitivity to need and insight on how to support others.  It is based on the Greek word diakonia, which was used in Acts 6 to refer to the newly-created officers called “deacons” who waited on tables.  They were both administrators and workers in the program of feeding widows.  Examples of ways this Gift may be used in a local church include church and community service programs and social action agencies.

Teaching (7).

Identified as a Message of Knowledge in 1 Corinthians 12 and with the office of Teacher in Ephesians 4, this Gift enables knowledge of the Bible and an ability to communicate it effectively.  A difference between Prophesy and Teaching is that prophets relate truths that come to them personally from God.  Teachers use the already-existing word of God; the Scriptures.  In a typical church, this Gift is needed in all programs of Christian Education.

Encouraging (8).

Identified as a Message of Wisdom in 1 Corinthians 12 or Pastors Ephesians 4, this Gift enables the Gifted to help other believers grow in spiritual maturity.  The Greed word for “encourage” can also be translated as “comfort” or “exhort”.  This opens up a range of emotional approaches, all of them valid in the scope of this one word.

– On one end of the spectrum, the word “exhort” has an assertive feeling

– On the other end, the word “comfort” has a passive feeling to it.

– “Encourage” is somewhere in the middle, demanding change or affirming as the situation demands.

Examples of use in a typical church includes Christian Education, Mentoring, Discipleship, Small Groups, and Visitation.

Contributing (8).

Sometimes called “Giving,” this Gift  provides the means and motive to use God-given resources to meet human needs and do ministry in a way that is timely, generous, and strategic; all to God’s glory.  In Romans 12, Paul qualified the Gift as being directed at THE NEEDS OF OTHERS.  His qualification of the Gift is that it should be exercised GENEROUSLY.  This refers to giving that is done without mixed motives.  In Acts 5, Ananias and Sapphira made a generous gift to the church, but they did so with the motives of pride and greed.  They paid the ultimate price for their deception.  There are many ways in which the Gift of Contributing might be useful in a church: Tithing, Stewardship Ministries, Financial Officers, Trustee.

Leadership (8).

Also known as Apostles (Ephesians 4), this Gift enables management of God-given resources to achieve His will.  The Greek word for “leadership” literally means “to stand before others.” Paul called on Gifted leaders to work DILIGENTLY.  They are to serve with purity of motive, not abusing the benefits of office and/or neglecting the responsibilities.  They are to govern with integrity.  Any Church Office or Ministry Team or Committee would provide opportunity to use the Gift of Leadership.

Mercy (8).

The command associated with this gift is cheerfulness; it may be a “contagious kindness” that lifts up the virtue of patience and the practice of forgiveness. This word is associated with helping the sick and needy.  Help should be offered CHEERFULLY so it does not impart a sense of obligation or insult upon the people being helped.  In a local church, this Gift would be useful in small groups, auxiliary organizations, and in all kinds of Visitation.

  1. Here are the rest of the Gifts.

There are five Gifts that are unique to 1 Corinthians 12:1-11.  All five of them are the most supernatural of the fourteen Spiritual Gifts we will identify.

Faith (9).

Everyone needs faith to believe in Jesus Christ as Savior to be saved.  This cannot be that kind of faith.  Instead, this Gift is a boldness and confidence to express one’s faith and live by faith.  The Gift of Faith provides an ability to perceive God and His will (“vision”) and trust Him even “common sense” may disagree.  This is a degree of faith that accomplishes more supernatural things.  In 1 Corinthians 13:2, Paul referred to a FAITH THAT CAN MOVE MOUNTAINS.  This echoes the teaching of Jesus in Matthew 17:20 where He promised that a faith no bigger than a mustard seed could move a mountain.

In 1 Corinthians 12:7, the Apostle Paul noted the manifestations of the Spirit are GIVEN FOR THE COMMON GOOD.  This reminds us that all the Gifts are designed to benefit everyone when they are used.  In this case, it is the exercise of the Gift of Faith that calls God’s people to a vision of God and what He is doing among us.  In a local church, the Gift of Faith might be exercised in groups setting forth a vision and/or writing a Mission Statement, in prayer meetings and groups, and in all leadership positions.

Healing (9).

This Gift provides miraculous deliverance from illness, injury, even death.  This Gift cures all aspects of illness; physical, mental, and spiritual.  Paul listed this as GIFTS (plural) OF HEALING.  It seems likely he chose the plural form to indicate the multifaceted aspects of healing we have just mentioned.  In other words, Healing is not just for the body, but for the mind and spirit as well.

We see numerous examples of healings in the book of Acts; chapters 19+20 highlight Paul’s healings.  Examples of the uses for a Gift of Healing include Hospital, Hospice, and Homebound Visitation.

Miraculous Powers (10).

Miracles are acts accomplished outside normal human power or the laws of nature.  In the Greek, this expression is literally translated as “acts of power.”  I see it as a general term that covers supernatural phenomena not expressly covered under the other Gifts.  Biblically, miracles are a means of validating the testimony of a person or church, that they truly represent God.  This was true of Jesus’ ministry as well (see John 14:11).  Given the broad definition of this Gift, examples of use are a little difficult to nail down, but I would love to have someone with this Gift leading service ministries and prayer ministries.

Distinguishing Between Spirits (10).

Also called “discernment,” this Gift allows a person to sense the true nature of persons and things, identifying their source and purpose as spiritual good or spiritual evil.  The Gifted is given insight into the true moral and spiritual nature of people and things.  All believers are commanded to exercise good judgment and not accept claims of being in Christ at face value (1 Thessalonians 5:20-21; 1 John 4:1).

This Gift would be useful in examining expression of the other Gifts, making certain they genuinely come from God and are not counterfeits.  Other uses of this Gift could include advocacy on social Issues and spiritual leadership in a church, such as Deacon or Elder.

Tongues (see also 1 Corinthians 14:1-25).

Another word for TONGUES is “languages.”  As he did with Healing (GIFTS OF HEALING), Paul listed this Gift in plural form too; DIFFERENT KINDS OF TONGUES.  I believe he was thinking of two KINDS of this Gift: the public kind, appearing in worship and the private kind, appearing in prayer.

Paul observed two sides to this Gift.  First, “Speaking in Tongues” is the supernatural use of a language the Gifted does not know, done in a public or private context.  The first instance of Speaking in Tongues was in Acts 2, on the Day of Pentecost, the very first time the Holy Spirit was given to all God’s people.  On that occasion, the worshipers spoke in known human languages that were recognized as such by bystanders.  Other instances are recorded in Acts 10:46 and 19:6, where we are not told what specific language was used.  In 13:1 he referred to THE TONGUES OF MEN AND ANGELS; these two kinds of languages may be the KINDS to which Paul referred in verse ten.

Second, “Interpretation of Tongues” is a supernatural ability to translate a language not known by the speaker and the interpreter.  In 1 Corinthians 14:27-28, Paul set a limit on speakers (2 or 3 at a time) and required an immediate interpretation.  When an interpretation was lacking, Paul required the speaker to be silent.

The Gifts of Tongues (Speaking and Interpreting) became a fixation and source of division in the Corinthian church and that’s why Paul devoted more of his writing to these Gifts than to all the others combined.  Paul attempted to curtail their use in worship in two ways (1 Corinthians 14:27-28); he set a limit on the number of speaker (no more than 2 or 3 at one time) and required an immediate interpretation or the speaker should be silenced.

Combining all the teaching in 1 Corinthians 12 and 14, we emerge with an understanding that Tongues is a Gift to be used in worship but in a controlled way, so as not to bring disorder or disunity (see 14:33+40).  Paul preferred the Gift of Prophecy to the Gift of Tongues (14: 1, 5)because intelligible speech has an obviously greater value in communicating truth.  Whether the Speaker speaks in a human language or an angelic one, an Interpreter must understand what was said and translate it for the benefit of the worshipers.  Speaking in Tongues is also manifest in private prayer (14:4) and in that context requires no interpretation.

The Give of Evangelist is found in Ephesians 4:11-13.

All believers are called to be witnesses to their faith.  Our Christianity is not something to be kept “private,” but it is to be on display in everyday actions and conversations.  Persons gifted to be Evangelists are better equipped and enjoy more success in making new disciples.  In Ephesians 4 passage Paul developed a teaching about the unity of the Church by listing some of the officers of the Church. The diversity of Spiritual Gifts demonstrated unity because they had all the officers were appropriately Gifted and they had received their equipping from Christ.  It is their shared job was to build up the Church into maturity.  Echoing the language of Romans 12 which linked grace and the Gifts, verse seven says that GRACE has been APPORTIONED to each of us by Christ.  The Gift of Evangelist would be useful in positions of ministry in outreach and service-oriented witness.

The fourteenth Gift is Workmanship, found in Exodus 31:1-6.

This Gift empowers the use of one’s mind and hands for the creation and maintenance of physical items and the house of worship.  This is for the glory of God and the benefit of God’s people.  Take note of God’s words in verse three: “I HAVE FILLED HIM WITH THE SPIRIT OF GOD, WITH SKILL, ABILITY AND KNOWLEDGE IN ALL KINDS OF CRAFTS.”  The crafting ability that Bezalel demonstrated in creating the tabernacle and all its furnishings was based on the filling of the Spirit.  By means of the Filling of the Spirit, God endowed this man with the knowledge and ability to create items with ALL KINDS OF CRAFTS.  This kind of language is unique in the Old Testament but fits with what we’ve studied about the Gifts of the Spirit in the New Testament. For this reason I have chosen to list Workmanship among the Gifts even though it is the only Gift not included in Paul’s lists.  This Gift may also be the most practical; it is useful in maintenance and improvement of a church’s facilities; a Gifted person could also perform acts of service outside the church building, doing good work for the needy.

We are all gifted & we need all the Gifts.

(The following story is from an article entitled “Living Our Spiritual Gifts: The Challenge of Carl” by Dan R. Dick, director of connectional ministries for the Wisconsin Annual Conference, UMC.  What appears below is an abridged version.  The unabridged version may be found at  http://www.umc.org/what-we-believe/living-our-spiritual-gifts-the-challenge-of-carl.)

“Once in a great while God grants us the opportunity not only to hear the gospel, but also to meet it incarnate. For me, one such experience materialized in the form of a huge, lovable, mountain of a man named Carl.  Carl stood fully seven-foot tall, wide as a doorway, with a bushy beard — reminiscent of Bluto from the old Popeye comic strip.

“Over time, this small congregation embraced Carl in spite of itself. He was so friendly, kind, generous, and lovable that he was met, first with tolerance, but soon with real affection.

“Through our time together, we determined that Carl’s gifts were evangelism, exhortation, and shepherding. He once said, ‘God gave me a car with four seats in it, so it would be poor stewardship to show up at church with one of the seats empty.’

“Longtime members were often distressed about the people Carl invited. They saw disruptions to their comfort where Carl saw children of God.

“[It came to a head one Sunday when Carl entered the sanctuary] followed by seventeen inmates and four armed guards from a nearby correctional facility. The prisoners were in prison uniforms and leg irons.

“Carl’s ‘prison ministry’ brought everything to a head. I fielded dozens of phone calls and visits in the first twenty-four hours after the service. Carl himself came by on Wednesday and said, with tears in his eyes, saying that might be a good idea for him to look for another church. Twisting a baseball cap in both his mammoth hands, Carl looked me in the eye and asked, ‘What did I do wrong?’ I received word a few years ago that Carl had passed away. Rarely a week goes by that there wasn’t a place for Carl in a church I pastored.”

 

RESOURCES:

Expositor’s Bible Commentary #10, Everett F. Harrison

The Communicator’s Commentary #6NT, D. Stuart Briscoe

Thru the Bible #4, J. Vernon McGee

Zondervan Bible Commentary, F.F. Bruce, Gen. Editor

https://dodoburd.com/gag-gifts

Messages #338 & 761

Zondervan Bible Commentary, Paul W. Marsh

http://www.umc.org/what-we-believe/living-our-spiritual-gifts-the-challenge-of-carl

Wise Guys (and Gals)

Please read Ephesians 5:15-20 in your go-to version of the Bible.

Wise Guys and Gals (1)(Image by James Best, (C) 2019, https://www.behance.net/gallery/82544295/Sermon-Illustrations-2019.)

I came across this bit of wisdom that has undoubtedly made the rounds on the internet but also bears repeating:

The SIX most important words: “I admit I made a mistake.”
The FIVE most important words: “You did a good job.”
The FOUR most important words: “What do you think?”
The THREE most important words: “After you, please.”
The TWO most important words: “Thank you.”
The ONE most important word: “We”
The LEAST important word: “I”

This set of important words is the kind of attitude the Apostle Paul commanded the Ephesian church to have.  This is the last of the section where he urged them to behave in these ways and will next turn to three specific sets of typical relationships where these imperatives may be applied.

CONTEXT = Much of the book of Ephesians is about relationships and that may be another good reason for closely studying this book.  Having good relations does not come automatically; sometimes they don’t come easily.  Being wise, spiritual, and knowledgeable makes relationship-building better.

The exercise of wisdom builds relationships.

  1. Wise people make best use of every opportunity to build relationships. (15-17)

As is often done in the book of Proverbs, Paul explained wisdom by comparing it to foolishness.  The first of two comparisons is between the wise and foolish person.  Paul didn’t directly describe the UNWISE/FOOLISH person because the point is the UNWISE person fails to do what the wise person does.

Paul does give details about “wise guys/gals” in these verses.

– They are CAREFUL how they LIVE.  Wise people are proactive, sensitive, and motivated by love to do the right thing in the right way at the right time.

– They make the MOST OUT OF EVERY OPPORTUNITY.  In the Greek, this is a word picture of a savvy businessman who sees the condition of the market and acts in a way to make a profit.

– They recognize THE DAYS ARE EVIL.  To follow up on the meaning behind the phrase MAKE THE MOST, Paul implied sensitivity to our situation is necessary for appropriate action and thereby success.  In this case, the wise person sees THE DAYS ARE EVIL and makes the most of every opportunity to do GOOD to counter-act the evil.  These DAYS ARE EVIL because they are full of worldly enticements to sin and because the times as we know them will soon end.

– They UNDERSTAND WHAT THE LORD’S WILL IS.  When God gives us unexpected insights into His will, that’s called prophecy.  That’s one way we understand His will.  Most of the time we come to an understanding of God’s will by putting in time and effort of our own, in cooperation with the Holy Spirit.  Activities that increase our understanding are prayer, Bible study, conversation with brothers and sisters, and acts of service and witness.

  1. People Filled with the Holy Spirit share in building maturity and unity. (18-20)

Here is the second contrast: drunkenness versus the Filling of the Spirit.  There are at least two big problems with drunkenness.  One, the Bible identifies it as a sin.  (See Proverbs 20:1; 1 Corinthians 5:11; Galatians 5:21; 1 Timothy 3:8.)

Two, as Paul observes here, it leads to other sins: it LEADS TO DEBAUCHERY.  DEBAUCHERY means “wild living;” it is indulging every fleshly appetite.  The relationship between drunkenness and sin is obvious and has been proven many times in human experience.  Alcohol is a depressant and it has the effect of lowering one’s inhibitions.  In a state of impaired judgment, people are more likely to do the wrong thing.  Drunkenness often makes a person more vulnerable to peer pressure.

Instead of being “under the influence of spirits,” wise people are under the influence of the Holy Spirit.  The “Filling of the Spirit” is a word picture of spiritual maturity.  If maturity could be measured as a volume, the maturing person is “filled” with the Spirit, where an immature person has little or none.

Paul listed three ways in which Spirit-filled people help each other mature in the faith.  To one degree or another, these three examples happen in the context of shared worship.  The first is to SPEAK TO ONE ANOTHER in worshipful, musical ways.

– PSALMS are songs of praise that are preserved in the Old Testament book of Psalms.

– HYMNS refer to epic ballads sung by pagans in praise of their gods and heroes; in this case, offer praise to God instead.

– SPIRITUAL SONGS can be the opposite of secular songs or spontaneous, Spirit-inspired music.  Either way, it’s SPIRITUAL because it comes from God.

No matter which kind of music we make, the objective is to SING AND MAKE MUSIC IN YOUR HEART TO THE LORD.  Truly worshipful music is sincere (it comes from the inner person, the HEART) and is directed to the Lord.  As someone observed years ago, we tend to think of worship the wrong way.  We see God as the director, worship leaders as performers, and the people as the audience.  Biblically, the worship leaders are the directors, the people are the performers, and God is the audience!

The second way we can help each other mature is to encourage the attitude of gratitude in each other = ALWAYS GIVING THANKS TO GOD THE FATHER FOR EVERYTHING IN THE NAME OF THE LORD JESUS CHRIST.  Contra Unitarians, let’s note all three members of the Trinity in are mentioned in 18-20.  Let’s note the two words that make this command unconditional: ALWAYS and EVERYTHING.  Let’s notice that gratitude motivates our worship.  We gather because we are grateful for what we’ve done.

I’m saving v. 21 for next Sunday, so I’ll only briefly mention this third way believers help each other: mutual submission.  While it is good in some contexts, competition is inappropriate and can be toxic in the church.  Mutual submission requires humility, the death of pride, and putting others ahead of one’s self.

The exercise of wisdom builds relationships.

Ironically, the last 25 years has seen a proliferation of communication technology and a decrease in communicating.  What we’ve also seen is an emphasis on emotional intelligence to facilitate better relationships while our culture isolates us from each other.

That said, the emotional intelligence industry is a good thing.  While it’s not biblical, it gives scientific insight into human nature that is consistent with what the Bible reveals about people.

For example, emotional intelligence expert Harvey Deutchendorf suggests six habits of relationship-builders.  Here’s an abridged version of his article.

  1. BECOME A GREAT LISTENER. Most people are too busy thinking of what they want to say next to really listen to what the other person is saying. We naturally bond with people who really listen, hear us, and that we’d want to relate to.
  2. ASK THE RIGHT QUESTIONS. The best way to let people know that we hear them is to dig deeper and ask questions.
  3. PAY ATTENTION TO THE WHOLE PERSON. Focus not only on the words, also the tone of their words, but also facial expression and body language.
  4. REMEMBER THINGS THAT ARE IMPORTANT TO OTHERS. Remembering people’s names, what is important to them, keeping facts accurate.
  5. BE CONSISTENT AND MANAGE EMOTIONS. Regardless of how we are feeling, we need to be able to temporarily put those feelings aside to fully listen and engage others. If we are experiencing strong emotions, we are better off letting this individual know what is going on.
  6. BE OPEN AND SHARE WHEN THE TIME IS RIGHT. To build strong relationships we need to be able to pace ourselves and share when it’s appropriate to the depth of the relationship.

 

RESOURCES:

Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament, Ephesians, Clinton E. Arnold

Message #778

https://bible.org/illustration/most-important-words-getting-along-people

https://www.fastcompany.com/3041774/7-key-habits-for-building-better-relationships

Unity, Maturity, and Vice-Versa

Communion Table (1)

Art by James Best, used with permission.  More are can be found at https://www.behance.net/gallery/82544295/Sermon-Illustrations-2019.

Please read Ephesians 4:7-16.

          A ladder is a common household item.  But – can you name the parts of a ladder?

The steps or “rungs” are the most familiar part as that’s where we put our feet.  But what are the side pieces called?

Rails.  The rails are the vertical pieces to which the steps are attached.

The spreaders are the hinges which connect the front and rear rails, allowing the ladder to open and close.

There are lots of NT images for the church, but I felt lead to offer a ladder as a metaphor.  Here’s the point; what part of a ladder can you do without?  Steps without rails are useless.  Rails without spreaders would make the ladder unstable.

So it is with the church.  All the parts are indispensable.  Whenever any of the parts fall away, a local church becomes something less useful than it was before.  There is nothing in the Bible that makes attendance and activity optional; just the opposite; we are to be on campus and in service as often as possible.

CONTEXT = V. 7 starts with the word BUT, indicating a contrasting idea is about to be introduced.  In verses one through six Paul examined the topic of UNITY from the perspective of all we have in common.  In verses seven through sixteen he will explore it from the perspective of what makes us diverse.

In this passage the important mark of diversity is a supernatural one: Spiritual Gifts.  As Paul made clear in Galatians 3:28; the superficial distinctions of nationality, gender, and economic status are irrelevant in Christ.  What matters in the Church instead is the diversity of Spiritual Gifts.  As we will see later, Spiritual Gifts are God-given abilities to do ministry. Paul refers to them here as GRACE.

All who believe in Jesus share the “ONE” items listed in vs. 4-6.  BUT, GRACE has been APPORTIONED to each believer individually, as Jesus wills.  GRACE (charis) is close to charismata in the Gk; the word translated as Spiritual Gifts, it literally means “a manifestation of grace.”  Paul will explain this statement after he digresses on a brief theological interlude.  For now, it’s enough to know that Jesus is in charge and He has a plan.

Unity and maturity are inseparable necessities.

  1. A theological interlude. (8-10)

This is a long “rabbit trail.”  Only here and in 1 Peter 3:19-20 does the New Testament seem to teach that Jesus went to some kind of underworld to preach to dead folk.  That is a provocative statement and it may be new to you, but it’s been talked about for a long time: it’s in the Apostle’s Creed.

There is no productive way for us to touch this discussion in our time this morning.  Instead, we’ll just observe Paul’s line of reasoning and move on.

– In vs. 1-6, he described unity by noting all we share.

– In v. 7, he introduced the idea that we have diversity in our unity, a teaching he will complete in vs. 11-16.

– In vs. 8-10, he introduced a new idea, seeming to go off on a tangent.

This paragraph is here to show that Christ exercised authority, the kind of authority that allows Him to apportion GRACE.  Verse eight quotes Psalm 68:18 which refers to a king who gives gifts to his subjects.

Paul’s thought might be paraphrased in this way; “Considering all God has given all of us – all that we share – we must be unified.  On the other hand, we’ve also been given GRACE – gifts for ministry – that underline our diversity.  Jesus Christ has the power to do that.  After all, He’s the only one who’s come from heaven to earth, gone under the earth, and to back to heaven again!”

  1. We have a diversity of gifts in order to promote maturity in each other. (11-13)

Let’s don’t overlook the little words and phrases in verse eleven.  IT WAS HE: Jesus, who descended from heaven and ascended back, He is the one who APPORTIONED GRACE to every believer.  Don’t miss the word GAVE; these are Spiritual Gifts we’re talking about.  SOME refers to “some individual believers,” but not to all.  Here’s where diversity runs parallel to unity, both to the benefit of the Church.

What are these “Spiritual Gifts?”

The subject can be a little confusing.  Though these verses list five offices in the Church, the Gifts and the offices are not always the same.

The Gifts are, at the same time, individualized and universal.  The Gifts enable some to do things all believers should be doing.  For example, Paul lists “Teacher” as a Gift.  All of us have opportunity to teach and we must all be prepared to do so.  Not having the Gift of Teacher does not relieve us of that responsibility.  It does mean that persons with that Gift will be better suited to teaching and be more successful at it.

The Spiritual Gifts are particular endowments that God grants to individual believers.  Followers of Jesus will have individual combinations of Gifts.

These five are offered as examples; they are not an exhaustive list.  If we cull Gifts from other listings and eliminate the duplicates, then we have about 20 different Spiritual Gifts.

APOSTLES = In 2:20, APOSTLES were one of the two foundational roles in starting new churches.  The word apostle means “one who is sent.”  Their authority rested in being sent by Jesus.  In our time we might call them “church planters” and “missionaries.”

PROPHETS = Also mentioned in 2:20 as foundational in new churches.  Their function is not often telling the future.  Prophets give messages of strengthening, encouragement, and comfort to build up the church (1 Corinthians 14:3-5).  We would call a prophet a “preacher.”

EVANGELISTS are gifted with messages directed primarily at non-believers, to help them accept Jesus as Savior and Lord.  Evangelists aid church members by calling them to take their eyes off themselves and their comfort to keep working to make Jesus known outside the church walls.

PASTORS is a role we mix with preacher, but the two were seen by Paul as separate offices and Gifts.  This is the only place in the New Testament to use this word for a church leader; in Hebrews 13:20 and 1 Peter 2:25 it was used as a title for Jesus Himself.  The work of a pastor tends to focus on people who are already Christians, helping them mature in their faith.  The role is a nurturing position not unlike shepherds to their sheep.

TEACHERS = All four of the other roles will require a person to teach Bible truths.  In Paul’s letters to Timothy and Titus, he required the ability to teach as a qualification for all church leaders (1 Timothy 3:2; 5:17; 2 Timothy 2:24; Titus 1:9).  Godly teachers do not just pass on intellectual content, but they also exhort and encourage the hearts of their students, and provide an example of their teaching lived out.  This is a big responsibility and is no doubt part of the reason James warned against aspiring to be a teacher (see James 3:1).

The diversity of Gifts serve a single purpose: maturity.  The Gifts are used to PREPARE GOD’S PEOPLE FOR WORKS OF SERVICE and build up the BODY OF CHRIST.  In contrast to our modern version of church (with its professional clergy versus laity distinction), the leaders are not to be the ones DOING the ministry for the members, they’re to be preparing the members to serve each other and people outside the faith.  Serving others has the effect of “building” the church by maturing the believers and converting the unbelievers.

Building each other up is a process of growth measured by experiencing UNITY achieving MATURITY.  UNITY is manifest in a church in two ways.  First, in UNITY IN THE FAITH.  This means that we share the same views and values.  Sure, there is room for different opinions about doctrines that are on the periphery.  (Verses eight through ten are a prime example.)  But on the central parts of our faith, the things that are only true or false, we must have perfect agreement.  (The doctrine of Jesus Christ (verse thirteen) is a prime example.)

Second, UNITY IN THE KNOWLEDGE OF THE SON OF GOD. Our beliefs about Jesus are central and on these there can be no compromise.  Salvation is at stake.  Our experience of UNITY is one of the things that create MATURITY.  MATURITY is one of the things that enable UNITY.  Logically, the two virtues are two sides of the same coin.

  1. How we recognize maturity. (13-16)

Paul supplied five benchmarks of maturity.

The first is in verse thirteen: ATTAINING TO THE WHOLE MEASURE OF THE FULLNESS OF CHRIST.  Paul never lowered his expectations for the Church; he always set forth perfection as the goal.  As perfection is a state only possible in God, this goal forces us to rely on God.  You don’t get a higher ambition than the WHOLE MEASURE of the FULLNESS of CHRIST.  Paul promised the eternal perfection of the Church will occur when Jesus comes again (5:27).  For now, it only occurs in part.  But having the ambition raises us higher than having a lower ambition.

The second is in verse fourteen: NO LONGER INFANTS.  INFANTS are believers who are immature, ignorant of what the Bible teaches and thereby easy targets for false teachers.  Maturity brings a stability of character because it is developed by learning the Bible and correctly understanding the experiences of life.  To put it another way, immature people are characteristically credulous and are also easily bored; they tend to shift to follow what is new and exciting whether it is true or not.  Paul is not warning against innocent misunderstandings, but against those who deliberately distort the truth by the CUNNING AND CRAFTINESS seen in the DECEITFUL SCHEMING men do.

Paul pictured immature instability with the image of a ship adrift at sea; it is not going in a direction chosen by anyone.  Instead, its heading is determined by the forces of WAVES and WIND.  (James 1:6)

The third is in verse fifteen: we will counter evil falsehood by SPEAKING THE TRUTH IN LOVE.  SPEAKING THE TRUTH without LOVE is legalism and shows none of the humility, gentleness, patience and forbearance Paul commanded in verse three.  On the other hand, showing LOVE without SPEAKING THE TRUTH excuses sin and removes our need for a savior.  To avoid these deadly and false extremes, followers of Jesus must be careful to uphold both TRUTH and LOVE in their relationships in and out of the church.

The fourth is also in verse fifteen: we will GROW UP (mature) into greater Christ-likeness.  Where TRUTH and LOVE are actively practiced, MATURITY will follow.  In 2:21 the verb “to grow” was used to encourage numerical growth.  Here it is used to encourage spiritual growth, greater maturity.

Paul did not leave the virtue of MATURITY undefined; he defined it in the person of Jesus Christ.  Mature people will bear more moral, emotional, and spiritual resemblance to Jesus Christ than immature persons.

The fifth mark of maturity is submission to the authority of Christ.  After all, Christ is the HEAD (source and ultimate authority) of the Church.  As we are the BODY below the HEAD, we do nothing apart from Christ.  The local church as a BODY of CHRIST functions well when all the parts build each other up in LOVE and as EACH PART DOES ITS WORK.  It’s not a matter of love OR work; both of these virtues are necessary for the building up of the BODY.  It’s not a matter of waiting around passively for God to do something.  Our partnership with Christ is God’s will and it is the primary way things get done in this world.  Things that happen that don’t have some human agency are called “miracles” and they are rare.

Back to UNITY and DIVERSITY.  The WHOLE BODY benefits when all the parts are healthy and working together, as God designed them to do.  EACH PART refers back to the Spiritual Gifts, the diversity of the members being equivalent to the diversity of parts in the human body.

Maturing is a way of life that starts in LOVE.  It grows because we stay in the TRUTH and connected with Jesus our Head.  LOVE is a virtue that is best expressed in community; loving God together is God’s command and the very best way to live.

Unity and maturity are inseparable necessities.

  RESOURCE:

Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament – Ephesians, Clinton E. Arnold

Worth the Effort

Raising the Cross (1)

Please read Ephesians 4:1-6.

          Enthralled with tales of the wonderful life in the country, a family from New York bought a ranch near Eagle Butte, intending to raise cattle. When their friends visited and inquired about the ranch’s name, the would-be rancher replied: “I wanted to name it the Bar-J. My wife favored Suzy-Q, one of our sons wanted the Flying-W, and the other liked the Lazy-Y. So we call it the Bar-J-Suzy-Q-Flying-W-Lazy-Y.”

“So where are all your cattle?” the friends asked.

“None of them survived the branding.”

https://ministry127.com/resources/illustration/the-result-of-disagreement

This little joke proves that disagreements can be DEADLY.  It’s better to avoid them and better still to exercise “preventative maintenance” by coming together in the UNITY Paul describes in this passage.

CONTEXT = Two observations of verse one:

THEN is a small word that marks a change in the direction of the letter.  Paul spent the first three chapters describing our new identity in Christ.  For the final three chapters he will concentrate on exhortations to live out that new identity.

Paul admonished the Ephesians to put some effort into their faith.  He did so AS A PRISONER FOR THE LORD.  Is this his way of saying, “Look at all I’ve sacrificed to serve the LORD, how can you gripe about what He expects of YOU?”

Unity in the church is worth maintaining.

  1. Christian living requires us to put forth some effort. (1-3)

We must put effort into being worthy of our CALLING (not our salvation, as that is a gift of God’s grace).  I URGE YOU = this word has a sense of comfort that is nonetheless challenging.  Paul appealed to the Ephesians on the basis of the love of Jesus in them.

“Worthiness” here means “appropriateness.”  Appropriateness is measured in degree of conformity to Jesus Christ.  A truly saved person will exhibit a character that is changing into the character of Christ (i.e., showing Fruits of the Spirit; see Galatians 5:22-23).  Paul mentions four virtues in v. 2, four examples, not an exhaustive list.

The first is humility.  There are few vices that are harder on relationships than pride.  Pride and selfishness are the launch pads of a great array of sins that distance us from God and people.  That’s why God despises pride so thoroughly (see Proverbs 11:2; Isaiah 2:11; Luke 1:52).  Prideful people make self an idol; they take glory that should be directed to God.

The second virtue is gentleness.  In Matthew 11:29 Jesus described Himself as “GENTLE AND HUMBLE IN HEART,” touching both of these first 2 virtues.  People following His example will develop these virtues. The King James Version of the Bible uses the word “meek” but in our time that word means “weak-willed,” describing someone who’s too easily persuaded.  A GENTLE person does not lack courage, but does exercise self-control.  GENTLE people do not lack conviction, they are simply careful how they show it.  Their passions are tempered by love for others.  People who are legalistic, self-centered, impatient, or otherwise ungracious will find gentleness a challenge.  God is described as GENTLE as He leads and teaches His people (Psalm 25:9).

The third virtue is patience.  While anger itself is not a sin, it often leads to sin; sins that are especially hard on our relationships.  Patience is the preventative medicine to anger.  Paul repeatedly called on church folk to be PATIENT with one another (Colossians 3:12; 1 Thessalonians 5:14; 2 Timothy 4:2).  The Greek word translated as PATIENT is a combination of the words for “anger/rage” and “a long time.”  (James 1:19 commands us to be SLOW TO ANGER.)  This does not condone staying angry for a long time (that would be contrary to Ephesians 4:26-27); instead it means taking a long time to become angry.  Patience is a Fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22), a defining feature of love (1 Corinthians 13:4), and a virtue God empowers us to practice (Colossians 1:11).

A fourth virtue is forbearance: BEARING WITH ONE ANOTHER IN LOVE.  Jesus exhibited this virtue in relation to His disciples when their ignorance or unbelief tested His patience (Matthew 17:17).  True tolerance requires loving God and others: this motivates us to overlook the small offenses people give us.  Whether it is sin, immaturity, or a personality quirk, the more we let go without anger and without comment, the closer we are to experiencing the UNITY God wants us to have.  Proverbs 19:11 makes this plain: “A person’s wisdom yields patience; it is to one’s glory to overlook an offense.”

The lives of church folk are to demonstrate good works, are truthful, are motivated by love, and bring glory to God.  “Easy peasey,” right?  Not always.  It is sin that complicates matters and forces us to substitute political machinations and rules to achieve the same ends.

Paul based his appeal on worthiness to our CALLING.  We are called to two things.  First things first , God calls us to salvation.  None of this is possible apart from a real relationship with God.  We can’t be WORTHY until Jesus is our Savior and Lord.  Second, God calls us to sanctification.  Salvation is decided in a moment but we spend the remainder of our days working out its effects.  In Philippians 2:12 Paul exhorted, “WORK OUT YOUR SALVATION WITH FEAR AND TREMBLING.”  In v. 4 Paul stated we are called to share ONE HOPE.  Part of the answer to this question of calling is to put all our HOPE in Jesus Christ and nothing else.

UNITY is so important it is worthy EVERY EFFORT to keep it (3).  This UNITY comes from God; it is OF THE SPIRIT.  Here’s a “bumper sticker” truth: “Unity: you didn’t make it so don’t you break it.”

The Holy Spirit creates unity in the Church by recreating the MIND OF CHRIST in every believer.  In 1 Corinthians 2:16 Paul promised that we share THE MIND OF CHRIST.  That means that we ought to think like Jesus.  If we did that, it stands to reason that we would more often agree and more frequently behave agreeably.

God-given UNITY is kept through THE BOND OF PEACE.  The Greek word literally means “bind with chains.”  This is ironic because during his imprisonment, Paul was often chained to a Roman soldier who guarded him.  Similarly, PEACE should exist between all believers in Christ.  PEACE should keep them together and in relationship.

  1. God has given us a lot in common. (4-6)

An important piece of our unity is all that we share as God’s called-out ones.  Paul lists seven gifts of grace that define our shared identity.  Any one of these is more important than any of the trivia that usually divides churches.

The first gift is the Church; the ONE BODY of which we are all members.  The human body is a collection of diverse cells, organs, and systems all functioning together.  This is a symbol of the Church Paul used frequently (1: 22-23; 2:16; 4:15-16; Romans 12:4-5; 1 Corinthians 10:17; 12:12-13, 20; Colossians 3:15).  True unity occurs in situations of diversity; the most valuable UNITY in churches built on the greatest diversity.

The second gift is the Holy Spirit; the ONE SPIRIT.  The Holy Spirit is the means by which all the diverse personalities of a church become ONE.  This was an especially important point to the believers in Ephesus.  Because the culture of that city was so superstitious and tended toward the occult, people would have come into the church believing there were many “spirits” in the world.  What Paul wrote here is exactly contrary to that belief.  There is only ONE SPIRIT.

The third gift is a future; we share ONE HOPE.  Paul taught in 1:13-14 that the Holy Spirit functioned as a SEAL and DEPOSIT, guaranteeing our hope in God.  He saw these second and third points as being interrelated.  A reason we have HOPE is that God called us out of this world into the world to come.  So Paul’s mention of our CALLING in v. 1 is directly linked to this reference to HOPE.  The hopeful status of the Ephesian believers is directly opposite their hopeless status in 2:12.  Apart from Jesus, we have no reason to have hope.

The fourth gift is Jesus Christ, our ONE LORD.  The Lordship of Jesus Christ is an important theme of this letter (1:2-3, 15, 17; 3:11; 5:20; 6:23-24) and of the New Testament in general.  Jewish believers needed to be assured that Jesus was not a new god, but a fuller understanding of who God is.  The central belief of the Jewish faith is expressed in Deuteronomy 6:4, affirming there is only ONE God.  The Gentiles recognized several gods and people back then tended to think and act like all religions were equally real.  (Sound familiar?)  They needed to unlearn that belief and recognize only ONE LORD, affirming there is only one true God. Accepting the belief there is only one God in three persons is central to our faith.  It was a distinguishing mark in Paul’s time and it must be in ours as well.  If we count the notion that all religions are equally true (or equally untrue) then we do not have a saving faith.

The fifth gift is definition to what we believe and how we act upon our belief; ONE FAITH.  Faith is a set of things we hold to be true, which determine our actions.  ONE FAITH means that most of these particulars are non-negotiable and are held in common among all true believers.  A big difference between the Church in Paul’s time and the Church in ours is the depth of agreement they had on matters of theology.  With the exception of false teachers (4:4) and splinter sects, the Church in the first three centuries shared a common faith.

The sixth gift is membership in a local church by means of ONE BAPTISM.  Believer’s baptism by immersion following a confession of faith was the normal practice of the early church (Acts 2:38, 41; 8:12, 36, 38; 10:47-48; 16:15, 33; 18:8, 19:5).  Believer’s baptism was the standard practice and one believer’s baptism was all a person needed.  Baptism is a public identifying with Jesus Christ and by Him having received salvation.  It is a ritual of initiation that provides for membership in a local church.  One’s baptism is a joyous occasion that unites a believer to a congregation of believers. In the history of the Church baptism is a practice that has been a reason for many schisms.  There have probably been more new denominations formed over the practice of baptism than any other aspect of Christian faith.  It’s fair to say that between our denominations BAPTISM is not a gift we all use the same way.

The seventh gift is God Himself: ONE GOD AND FATHER.  Our earlier comments on monotheism apply here.  In perfect continuity, the Bible asserts from beginning to end that there is only one true God.  However, as history wore on and God revealed more about Himself, we came to understand that our one God has three persons, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  We created a name for this truth; the “Trinity.”  The sub-points Paul affirmed here – FATHER OF ALL, OVER ALL, THROUGH ALL AND IN ALL – are reminders that God made everything and that He sustains everything.  All that exists continues to exist because of Him.  Therefore we owe Him constant praise and worship. (Romans 11:6)  In contrast to pagan religions of Paul’s day that believed in many gods, Jews and Christians held to ONE GOD.

Though we hold these most important things together, we are still individuals.  That’s where our next message comes in, as we look at the affirmations of individuality in verse 7-16.  To put it another way, 4:1-6 reveal the truth about UNITY, 4:7-16 reveal the complimentary truth about diversity.

Unity in the church is worth maintaining.

God gives His Church unity.  We don’t have to create it, but we are responsible to maintain it.  This is not as hard as it may sound, because we have all these things common.  They are far greater than the trivia that threatens to divide us.  Also, love is supposed to characterize our relationships and we have God as our example.

What we need to do is work on our social skills, keep our priorities in order, be patient with one another, communicate in godly ways, be selfless.  Take a moment soon to read John 17:11-23.  This is Jesus’ final recorded prayer.  Count the number of times Jesus prayed we should be ONE.  Understand the depth of oneness He described.  That will give you good perspective on how important the maintenance of UNITY really is.

 

RESOURCE:

Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament – Ephesians, Clinton E. Arnold

One OR Done

Please take a moment apart from your busy-ness to read Ephesians 2:11-22 in your Bible. I used the NIV (1984) to prepare these remarks.

Unity in the church is not a luxury; it is a necessity.

ichabod

One of the best meetings I ever attended was at an elementary school.  The principal had called a meeting to discuss how our community might to meet the needs of a family whose poverty was causing the children to fail in school.  I had been invited to attend because the mother had identified me as her pastor.  I was to bring to the table whatever means our church could offer to support them.

What pleased me so much was the positivity of the meeting.  Without any pretense, compliments and praise and gratitude flowed like a river.  It was contagious; I found myself looking for praise-worthy things so I could join in the fun of being positive.

The other thing that set this meeting above all others was the focus of the group.  We all wanted to help.  School faculty and staff, counselors, social workers, and I were compiling all the forms of assistance we could offer in order to keep t kids in school.

Afterward, I was hit with a pang of jealousy.  It occurred to me that in all the meetings I had attended for church functions, I had never attended as pleasing a meeting.  It was a secular meeting in a secular place, joining people who may have had little or no agreement about God but it shone above all the meetings that supposedly had those advantages.

It may help us to know that God expects us to be in unity and gives us all we need to experience it.  Paul wrote to the church in Ephesus and set forth God’s standard.

  1. Without Christ we are separate from God and from one another.

The Ephesians were Gentiles when Paul wrote these words; GENTILES AND UNCIRCUMCISED, EXCLUDED FROM CITIZENSHIP IN ISRAEL (11-12) but because of Jesus, that distinction no longer mattered.  Where birth, ethnicity, and nationality once divided the saved from the unsaved, Jesus came to save everyone.  Contrast these strong words describing division with Paul’s promise in v. 19 that all who believe in Jesus are FELLOW CITIZENS.

Before Christ, being Gentile meant you were WITHOUT HOPE AND WITHOUT GOD IN THE WORLD (12).  Without Jesus, people have to live in the present without HOPE for the future or God’s grace to forgive their past sins.  To be hopeless and godless is horrible; it ought to frighten us into having faith instead.

  1. Jesus acted to make us one. (He did five things.)

ONE = Jesus sacrificed Himself.  God did it THROUGH THE BLOOD OF CHRIST (13) and THROUGH THE CROSS (16).  Jesus’ death on the cross paid the penalty for every person’s sins.  Since it has been bought at so great a price, we show our gratitude when cherish our unity and protect it, rather than toss it.

TWO = He became OUR PEACE (14+15) and HE CAME AND PREACHED PEACE (17).  Unity brings peace and is threatened when the peace is disturbed.  Jesus’ presence gives us peace.

These verses agree with Matthew 5:9; “BLESSED ARE THE PEACEMAKERS, FOR THEY WILL BE CALLED SONS OF GOD.”  God’s children are characterized as being peacemakers.  They will make sacrifices and have courage in bringing people together.

THREE = He DESTROYED THE BARRIER, THE DIVIDING WALL OF HOSTILITY (14) and HE PUT TO DEATH THEIR HOSTILITY (16).  On a historical level, this is another way of describing the Jew vs. Gentile dynamic.

On a personal level, we know that unity cannot be found when people have divided into opposing camps.  Unity brings people together, destroying barriers/walls, not putting them up.

FOUR = He abolished IN HIS FLESH THE LAW WITH ITS COMMANDS AND REGULATIONS. (15)  This verse parallels Paul’s earlier teaching about the BLOOD of Jesus and the CROSS: Jesus’ physical death abolished the Law by meeting all its demands.  He was the perfect sacrifice for sin and thereby brought an end to the need for any sacrifice for sin.

As the Law is part of what kept Gentiles and Jews separated (the Jews had it, the Gentiles didn’t), this verse parallels vs. 11+12.  Jesus’ sacrifice made this division inappropriate, bringing us all together in one family and citizens of one kingdom (v. 19).

FIFTH = He IS THE CHIEF CORNERSTONE …IN HIM THE WHOLE BUILDING IS JOINED TOGETHER. (21)  (We will talk about this later.)

  1. Descriptions of our unity.

The first benefit of unity is obvious: unity brings us together!  Paul wrote, YOU WHO WERE FAR AWAY HAVE BEEN BROUGHT NEAR. (13+17)  No matter what measure you use to describe the distance, it no longer exists.  The worldly things that ensure separation lose their significance in Jesus and are no longer a reason for keeping us apart.

God’s unity effectively makes us ONE. (14+15)  This verse reminds me of the statements made in the Bible about marriage (see Genesis 2:24 & Mark 10:7); the two persons becoming one.  Ideally in married life, the partners are to think and act as one.  So it should also be in a church. This is Jesus’ PURPOSE: He has worked to make us unified.  We are to receive it, then avoid breaking the unity God gives.

Jesus brought us together so that IN THIS ONE BODY (His) He aimed TO RECONCILE BOTH OF THEM TO GOD. (16)  Unity is both the product of and the means to reconciliation.  Jesus’ greatest purpose is our union with God.  That must happen first. Then, the degree to which to which we have union with God, we will experience unity in our church.

A second benefit of unity is that it empowers our prayers.  In Matthew 18:19 Jesus promised, “I TELL YOU THAT IF TWO OF YOU ON EARTH AGREE ABOUT ANYTHING YOU ASK FOR, IT WILL BE DONE FOR YOU BY MY FATHER IN HEAVEN.”  Here in 2:18, Paul explained how we have that kind of power in prayer: THROUGH HIM WE HAVE ACCESS TO THE FATHER BY ONE SPIRIT. (18)

The word ACCESS refers to prayer.  It is having a means of communicating with a king.  As Romans 8:26-27 teaches, the Holy Spirit facilitates prayer.  Even when we don’t know how to pray, the Spirit makes prayer happen; effective communication with God occurs.

The third benefit to unity is belonging: We are a holy nation, the Kingdom of God.  As Paul expressed it here: YOU ARE NO LONGER FOREIGNERS and ALIENS, BUT FELLOW CITIZENS.  And YOU ARE…FELLOW CITIZENS WITH GOD’S PEOPLE AND MEMBERS OF GOD’S HOUSEHOLD. (19)  CITIZENS have a responsibility to respect one another in civility and keeping the law.  More than that, Christians are GOD’S PEOPLE AND MEMBERS OF GOD’S HOUSEHOLD; having relationships deeper than citizenship.

Put another way, we are God’s temple, the people among whom He dwells.  GOD’S HOUSEHOLD is BUILT ON THE FOUNDATION OF THE  APOSTLES AND PROPHETS. (20)  Paul also referred to A CORNERSTONE in vs. 21, which is the most honored part of a building because it is a symbol of the actual and moral foundations on which the building was built.  In ancient times, it was also the first part of the building erected.

The rest of the building was measured and built around the fixed point of the CORNERSTONE.  In these senses, Jesus is the origin and the most honored part of the church.

In verse 21 Paul wrote that the Church people are A HOLY TEMPLE IN THE LORD.  Similarly, in 1 Peter 2:4-5, Peter described the Church as being made up of LIVING STONES.  Just as it takes many bricks to create a structure, every church is made up of several individual persons coming together.  A stack of bricks is not a building.  It is only when the pieces are put together with Jesus they become a place on earth fit for God.

Paul expressed this truth a third way in verse 22: YOU ARE…A DWELLING IN WHICH GOD LIVES BY HIS SPIRIT.  God created the Church for many different reasons.  However, we must remember that necessity is not one of those reasons.  He does not need a place to live but He wants a people in a place that give evidence to the world that He exists and He loves all people. To be a church we have to do more than maintain physical property; we have to BE the people of God in this place.  We have to cherish and protect the unity God gives us.

You’ve heard the expression “one and done” used in sports.  When teams compete in a single-elimination tournament and are eliminated by losing their first game, we say they were “one and done.”

I want to suggest a variation on that slogan that puts the importance of unity in its biblical perspective.  Based on this passage and others, I say “One OR Done.”  This means that we are ONE as a church or we DONE being a church.  A local body of believers that perpetuates disunity has ceased to be a church and has become something else, something less than what God has commanded.

Unity is a precious gift from God.  It is worth every sacrifice, every effort, every slice of humble pie or crow we have to eat to maintain it.

Unity is a precious gift from God.  It is worth defending against every pretender, peace-breaker, and offender of the cross.

Unity is received, not achieved.  We partner with God when we protect our unity because without it we cannot be a church.

Unity in the church is not a luxury; it is a necessity.

 

RESOURCE USED:

Zondervan Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament: Ephesians, Clinton E. Arnold

Last Supper, Last Words (5 of 5)

upper-room

(Please pick up your favorite Bible and read John 17:20-26.  I used the NIV (1984) to prepare these remarks.)

A man had been shipwrecked on a remote island in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, spending the last twenty years utterly alone.  When a ship finally discovered him, his rescuers were impressed with the three buildings he’d built & asked him about them.

“Well,” the man replied, “this is my house and that building over there is my church.  It is a wonderful church and – to be honest – I hate to leave it.”

“And what is that third building yonder?” a rescuer asked.

“Oh, that is the church I used to go to,” the man replied.

(Via “The Joyful Noiseletter.”)

Why is that joke funny?  Is it because it’s a little too close to the truth?

  1. Jesus prayed that the world would believe He was sent by the Father. (17:20-21)

He said, “MAY THEY ALSO BE IN US” that is, “May my followers be in fellowship with God.”  We need to go back to chapter fifteen to Jesus’ image of the VINE & BRANCHES to understand the object of Jesus’ prayer.  There He taught every separate branch must remain in connection to the vine in order to survive and BEAR FRUIT (words and deeds useful to glorifying God and building the Kingdom of God).  There Jesus used the word ABIDE to describe the closeness of our relationship with God.  As we observed in our study of 13:15, 21, 23, Jesus identified LOVE of God as obedience.

An objective of abiding and one kind of fruit-bearing is making disciples; as Jesus said, “SO THAT THE WORLD MAY BELIEVE.”  An outcome of have a relationship with God is having a witness to His reality.  This news is too good to keep to ourselves.  Our fellowship with God isn’t just for our own salvation but also so that God may use our words and deeds to help others be saved.

In these verses Jesus clarified what the WORLD is to believe; “THAT YOU SENT ME.”  Jesus’ power and authority flowed from the Father, enabling Him to accomplish His mission in the world. Similarly, we receive power and authority through the Holy Spirit to do the work the Father has set before us.

  1. Jesus prayed that the world would believe that complete unity is possible. (17:21-23)

The ultimate standard for unity is found in God’s nature, specifically, in the Trinity. In verse twenty-one Jesus prayed “THAT ALL OF THEM MAY BE ONE, FATHER, JUST AS YOU ARE IN ME AND I AM IN YOU.”  When you consider what Jesus is praying for, it is staggering: He asked the Father that His followers would have a depth of unity JUST LIKE the unity in the Trinity!  We struggle so much to barely communicate, to get along and be civil, this kind of unity is hard to believe.

I will let you in on a secret; all God’s moral standards are beyond our capacity to achieve on our own.  If we could do it on our own, why would we ever turn to God?  God sets impossibly high standards because they’re right, because they’re best for us, and to deepen our relationship with Him.

This works when we succeed in doing right, because it is through the Holy Spirit He has made us able to succeed.  This also works when we fail to do right, because we can ask God and others to forgive us and move on.

In verse twenty-two Jesus again requests unity for His Church; “I HAVE GIVEN THEM THE GLORY THAT YOU GAVE ME, THAT THEY MAY BE ONE AS WE ARE ONE.”  The word GLORY refers to the visible manifestation of God’s presence.  Jesus has given us all we need from God the Father to be in divine unity with Him and with each other.  This verse reaffirms we are to be in unity JUST AS God the Father, Son, and Spirit are one.

In verse twenty-three Jesus expanded on our unity in 2 ways.  First, He prayed, “I IN THEM AND YOU IN ME.”  The Trinitarian depth of unity isn’t something we achieve; it is God’s gracious gift.  Second, He prayed, “MAY THEY BE BROUGHT INTO COMPLETE UNITY.”  The unity God gives is COMPLETE.  God’s standard for relationships is COMPLETE UNITY, no exceptions or conditions.

The outcome of unity is TO LET THE WORLD KNOW two things.  One, that Jesus was sent into the world by God the Father.  Two, [YOU] HAVE LOVED THEM EVEN AS YOU HAVE LOVED ME. This is the message Jesus wants you and I to take to the world.  One way we demonstrate the truthfulness of this message is loving and living in unity.  How can the world take the message seriously if the messengers don’t live as though they believe it?

  1. Jesus prayed that the world would believe that a glorious future awaits the faithful. (24)

“I WANT THOSE YOU HAVE GIVEN ME TO BE WITH ME WHERE I AM” is a prayer directed at a future moment.  Go back to John 14:1-4.  What did Jesus promise His disciples?  He promised a heavenly home with lots of room!   That should create confidence.

Though it may sound incredible, Church is supposed to be a taste of heaven.  Our fellowship on Earth ought to be so characterized by UNITY that we are together experiencing what heaven will be like.

We don’t truly serve God if our main motive is something other than His glory.  We work to invest in eternal rewards and not for praise, power, or profit.  (See Matthew 7:21-23.)

“AND SEE MY GLORY, THE GLORY YOU GAVE ME BECAUSE YOU LOVED ME.”  In this verse Jesus organized his prayer chronologically.

“BEFORE THE CREATION OF THE WORLD” refers to the time before creation and before Jesus’ birth.  Jesus existed as God before He entered into human history as one of us.

“TO SEE MY GLORY” refers to Jesus’ time on earth, the Incarnation, when His glory was perceived by physical eyes.

“TO BE WITH ME WHERE I AM” refers to the time between Jesus’ going back to heaven (Ascension) and the future, where we will be united with Him in heaven.

  1. Jesus prayed that the world would believe their righteous Father loves them. (17:25-26)

The WORLD doesn’t know the Father but it must.  Why don’t worldly folk know the Father?  There are at least four reasons:

One, they are under the influence of the system that hates God and actively works to destroy faith.

Two, the system is under the influence of Satan, the “prince of this world.”

Three, the devil blinds unbelievers to the truth, even clouding their minds when they read the Bible (see 2 Corinthians 4:4).

Four, another reason people don’t know the Father is the failure of church folks to introduce them.

Having observed these four reasons, the fact remains that everyone exercises their free will; people actively reject God.  They are not innocent or ignorant victims.  The Bible says unbelief is an act of wickedness and that unbelievers are self-condemned.

Jesus revealed the Father to the WORLD.  In John 10:9 + 14:6, Jesus said no one can come to the Father except as He leads them. Romans 5:1+2 promises we have ACCESS to God’s saving grace, but only by means of Jesus Christ.

“THEY KNOW YOU HAVE SENT ME” is Jesus’ assertion He clearly communicated the Father: no one can make excuses.

“AND WILL CONTINUE TO MAKE YOU KNOWN.”  Jesus keeps this promise through you and me.  He makes God known through us!

LOVE is the best means by which we make God the Father known to the world.  We use words, of course, but actions speak louder than words.  The faith about which we speak must be made evident in words and deeds.

Jesus prayed for all believers and for all to believe.

The final scene in the upper room is one of prayer.  The final moments of Jesus’ freedom would also be a time of prayer.

Those facts ought to be instructive to us.  Jesus depended on prayer, we must too.

Today we’ve looked at the subject of Jesus’ final prayer with His disciples and noted two things for which Jesus prayed.  First, He prayed for all who would believe in Him and follow Him.  He turned His attention from the Eleven to future generations of believers and prayed for us.  He prayed for us to have unity & love as means of witness and blessing.

He also prayed for all people, that the world might come to know Him as Savior and Lord.  While He knew this would not be the case, Jesus nonetheless asked the Father for every living soul to be saved.

Are you living in a way that makes it clear God answered Jesus’ prayer for you with a “Yes?”  Jesus prayed that all His people would be distinguished from the WORLD by their unity and love.  These are two means by which we gain a hearing with folks outside our faith.  We earn the right to be witnesses for Jesus and supporters of our church by making these virtues so evident that they can be perceived by all people.

An Ethic Based on Life

A Suggested Ethical Basis for Neighborliness for All World Citizens: A Common Valuation of LIFE

Acknowledging my naivte, I hold out hope that one day people will come together around a commonly held ethic that transcends national, religious, and philosophic lines.  I get energized by ideas, but have learned repeatedly that not everyone else does.  With those caveats, I humbly submit for your consideration the first plank in a platform for citizenship and world cooperation.

 

TAKE                    USE/DENY         TOLERATE        AFFIRM           GIVE

LIFE1                     LIFE2                 LIFE3                 LIFE4                LIFE5

<———————————————————————————————————————–>

-2                           -1                         0                        +1                     +2

Evil                        Offensive          Neutral               Good              Ideal

 

1 Respect for life is truly the foundation for civilization.  However, there are always exceptional situations that prove the rule.  On an international and individual level, we observe that sometimes we have to take life in order to save more lives or defend innocent lives.  Taking life is the ultimate act of negativity.  Examples of this value are murderers, serial killers, and mass murderers.

 

2 These people devalue life with words and/or deeds that treat human beings as something less and animals even worse.    When life is something to be manipulated for personal gain, then that person is making a negative contribution to society.  Examples include bigots, criminals (pimps and pushers), sweat shop owners, and slavers.

 

3 It can be argued that not caring IS making an ethical decision and it is choosing sin.  However, here I compare the societal impact of actions and attitudes rather than evaluate them from any particular ethical system.   People in this category are indifferent and/or circumspect about their value of life, preferring privacy or isolation to engagement.  People who take a hard “scientific” view of humanity can devaluate human life to being merely equivalent to animal life.

 

4 Attitudes and actions at this level are more characterized by words than deeds.  Lots of people have positive, life-affirming beliefs, but not as many get involved in defending life from encroachments on life that happen because of greed and/or negative philosophies.  Examples of this level of affirmation of life include theologians, philosophers, and social scientists who are champions of life on paper and in their armchair, but who do not take those views into the street.  Their advocacy is limited to private or academic circles.

 

5 Those who can be said to “give life” are active advocates for life, defenders of the weak and innocent; those whose love is both public and persuasive.  They aren’t necessarily “activists,” but they act on their convictions even when such action threatens their personal comfort zones.  Parents who raise their children with life-affirming values are perhaps the best example of this valuation of life.