Gospel Unity. Missional Urgency. (Ephesians 4:1-16)

MOTIVATE

Krakatoa is a small Indonesian island.[1] In May of 1883, smoke and ash began to pour out from one of its volcanoes. Three months later in August, one of the loudest, deadliest, and most destructive eruptions occurred in recorded history. The explosion was so violent that

  • Ash reached estimated altitude of 27 kilometers high.
  • Ash fall and hot pumice reached over 12 miles away.
  • Earthquakes were reported in the Indian Ocean and multiple tsunamis occurred on shores 25 miles away.
  • The energy released from the explosion has been estimated to be equal to 200 megatonnes of TNT, roughly four times as powerful as a thermonuclear weapon.
  • A pressure wave was generated and radiated at 675 mph.
  • The sound was heard 1,900 miles away. It’s said that the sound was claimed to be heard in 50 different locations around the world and the sound wave travelled the globe seven times over. It was calculated at 310 decibels.
    • It was so loud that it ruptured eardrums of sailors 40 miles away on ships and caused a spike in pressure gauges 100 miles away.
  • 36,417 deaths were attributed to the eruption and its created tsunamis. Thousands of bodies washed up on the east coast of Africa over a year after the eruption.
  • The Krakatoa eruption darkened the sky with deeply tinted sunsets for multiple months, and insertion of sulfur and C02 impacted global weather patterns for several years. It is theorized that these events even shifted some of the cultural mood. One of the many pieces of art from this time period is called “The Scream.”[2]
The Scream
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/
The_Scream

Many people thought the world was ending and judgment was coming upon the earth. Interestingly, the telegraph (think industrial internet) communication was developing around this time and set the news of this event around the world. While the world was beginning to be connected globally, there should have been joy and anticipation for what could be achieved, yet instead anxiety and fear gripped many parts of the world.

In the early years the Krakatoa Island was obliterated with a charred existence. Yet, as the years went on the island was rebirthed with extensive vegetation by grass, shrubs, and trees. Plants and vegetation grew by seeds washed by ocean currents, carried by birds, and some likely brought by natives. Krakatoa is a reminder that when life looks depleted and destroyed, there is always the potential for renewal. Extreme environments undoubtedly produce stress and havoc, but they can also produce the fertile soil for hope.[3]

In some sense, the 2020 pandemic is a Krakatoa moment. I’ve said from the beginning of this journey that what we are experiencing is not an episode but an era[4] and encouraged us to unpack our bags for the present moment to not get tripped up by present luggage or spiritual lethargy.[5]

Pandemic impact on churches: attendance / budget / cultural interest (hostile, for various reasons). What the church needs is gospel unity and missional urgency.

EXAMINE           Ephesians 4:1-16      Gospel Unity

Christians have a united calling.

Ephesians 4:1 “prisoner for the Lord” cf. (Eph 3:1)

Paul wrote Ephesians from a jail cell, most likely when he was in Rome. He is not just a prisoner physically but spiritually. Paul is in prison from his unrelenting testimony about Jesus Christ as Lord (cf. Ac 16:37; 20:23; 26:31; 2 Tim 2:9). His chains and persecution reflected the unjust suffering of the Lord Jesus (2 Tim 1:8). The last and prime portions of his life were lived as a slave to the Lord Jesus, and advocating others to do the same.

A prisoner of the Lord means our freedom is not our own. Christians, especially in USA, like to promote their freedom and for good reason. American freedoms come from the belief that all are created equal and the ultimate sacrifices of men and women in military, in addition to those who continue serving to protect our rights. Yet, it can become easy to forget freedom has limitations. Scripture says:

“All things are lawful for me but not all things are helpful… You are not your own, for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body.” (1 Cor 6:12, 20).
Paul’s argument is that we should exercise freedom. Whatever is not from faith is sin (Rom 14:23). So, we are free on any number of decisions if they do not contradict God’s word. Yet, a Christian should never exercise their freedom if it means harming others. If we flaunt our freedoms at the expense of others, then we are also bringing dishonor to God.
 

Ultimately, our identity is as a prisoner servant than one seeking to promote our own platform. A couple ways to apply this reality are

> Look at your clothing (cf 2 Ki 25:29). Prison garments are quick identifiers. My reference isn’t directly physical clothing but more how you outwardly present. Do your attitudes and actions reflect others to quickly identify you as a follower of Jesus?

> Look at your chains. Our chains are not metal locks but often sources of suffering. Everyone has wounds and scars from a world that is not always fair or kind. In your struggles or suffering, are you seeking worldly or faith solutions?

Christians have united character.

Ephesians 4:1-3 “walk worthy…” Paul’s verb is περιπατέω (peripateo), which means to live. It is a dominant verb in the remaining of the Ephesian letter (4:1, 4:17; 5:2; 5:8; 5:15). Further, Paul’s command was to all believers (urge all of you / plural) and the churches as a whole (cf. also Col 3:12-14; Gal 5:22-23). This is a pastoral appeal of significant importance.

There were at least four ways believers were to walk worthy of the gospel.

  • all humility (ταπεινοφροσύνη tapeinophrosyne)
    • implies “lowliness of mind” and humble thinking
    • Humility was not common or even culturally appreciated, as it was ridiculed in Greek and Roman culture.[6] Yet, humility does reflect the heart of Jesus (cf. Php 2:5-8 with application of unselfishness).
    • J.I. Packer in his 80’s wrote: “Real spiritual growth is always growth downward, so to speak, into profounder humility, which in healthy souls will become more and more apparent as they age.”[7]
    • Humility is believing that you could be the problem or source of division.
  • gentleness (πραότης / praotes)
    • gentle = meek; power and strength under control (cf. Mat 11:29; 21:5; 2Tim 2:25; 1Cor 4:21).
    • Gentleness is a contrast to responding with inappropriate tone, insensitivity, harshness, threat, or violence. Christians must be different from how many react and respond in relationships. We should view people with a giant label wrapped on their body and life saying, “Fragile, Handle with Care!”
    • Gentleness is how we treat others even when we know we are right and others are wrong.
  • with patience (μακροθυμίας makrothumias = long suffering not short tempered) bearing with one another in love
    • Long suffering reminds life is not solely about an event but endurance, and especially with relationships.
    • John Chrysostom said patience means “to have a wide and big soul”[8]
    • The length of our love will determine the level of our patience. When we love others, we choose to show empathy and listen because our love is not based merely on feelings but a common faith.  
  • eager to maintain unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace
    • Paul writes to a church filled with ethnic diversity needing exhortation toward unity (Eph 1:10; 2:11-22; 3:1; 3:6; 4:2-4; 4:17; among other indirect unifying statements).
    • The gospel creates the unity, we maintain it. If we are not actively and aggressively maintaining unity then we are opposing the gospel. When we don’t have unity it is because we are promoting ourselves at the expense of God’s grace and glory. The church is to have “unity in essentials, liberty in incidentals, and in all things charity.” In a time of a divided world, we need a united church.
  • My Christian friends, I have been asked multiple times if there are religious exemptions for wearing masks or receiving a vaccine. My response is that there is not. It would seem there is biblical evidence pointing to why one should wear a mask or receive a vaccine, simply in the command to love our neighbor. As a pastor, I am not advising healthcare or commenting politically. These health actions have varying scientific and medical studies that provide complex data for unique individuals who need to make their own decision. The issue is not that we should not discuss these topics – we should! – but how we discuss them. Therefore, we must be careful about mandates or proposing what every Christian/church should do or not do; or worse disparaging those with differing views. The problem within Christianity is not so much about outward health as much as inward character. Christianity is experiencing a pandemic crisis of character. There is much grieving the Spirit with bitterness, wrath, anger, and slander (cf Eph 4:31). Yet, Christians are called to a higher standard of speech, gentleness, and peacemaking.  

Christians have united convictions.

Ephesians 4:4-6 “one body and one Spirit… called to the one hope… one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.”

There are different kinds of unity: relational, practical, and theological. The Christian faith is not just about love but truth. The church is a pillar and bulwark of truth (1 Tim 3:15). Our convictions do not change based on cultural opinion, changing presidents, favorable attention, or ease of practice. Instead, Christian conviction is fixed and unchanging; it is timeless truth in truthless times. As Christians, we should pray:

  • From spinelessness that stomachs new truth.
    From timidity that tolerates half-truth.
    From conceit that considers it knows all truth.
    O God of Truth, deliver us.

Paul lists a seven-fold list to heighten the full and foundational unity that comes through the gospel.

  • One body: Christians are part of the universal church but also the local church. It is one body with individual expressions. We cannot claim unity with Christ if we are not in tangible love the bride of Christ.
  • One Spirit: The tangible presence of God is in every believer.
  • One hope: Christians are future oriented toward heaven. While it’s ok to have achieve milestones and make memories, the “bucket-list” for Christians is how future hope impacts the here and now.
  • One Lord: Jesus of the Gospels/Scripture is the only Lord, not the misappropriation of Jesus and the cross that excuses sin and promotes forgiveness to the exclusion of actually following Jesus.   
  • One faith: Christianity is inclusive for all to receive but exclusive for its one way, truth, and life in Christ.
  • One baptism: Emphasis on believer’s baptism, though we believe paedobaptists are not accurate, we still affirm their spiritual baptism into Christ (cf Rom 6:3-4).
  • One God and Father: Not polytheism but one profound and personal deity.

When Christians do not walk in united calling and character, then we are saying there are multiple convictions: multiple bodies, Spirits, Lords, faiths, baptisms, Gods, and Fathers. May it never be!

> Best way to grow in conviction is to connect to our Sunday AM Bible Group and/or a Small Group (co-ed, women, men groups).

Christians have a united commission.

Ephesians 4:7-11 “grace was given to each one…”

The practical implication of unity is mission. Before Jesus went to the cross, He prayed for unity of disciples for the sake of the world to believe the gospel (cf Jn 17:21). His ascension to Heaven necessitated the giving grace gifts to the church.

In v.8, Paul is quoting Psalm 68:18, which is a messianic hymn promising God’s future and final victory. The psalm references a king who conquers his enemy and brings back the spoils of war, which in turn are given to soldiers to be used for the further advance of his kingdom.[9] See the connection? Spiritual gifts are the spoils of war that Jesus gives to us to further do battle and win the war against our enemy.

Further, the gifts of the church are people – “offices and function.”[10]

  • apostles: office of disciples of resurrected Christ / function as gospel leaders in new frontiers.
  • Text Box: Evangelism Events need increased participation. 
Evangelism convos need increased planting seeds.
prophets: office as spokespersons for God / function as truth-tellers who insist on righteousness.
  • evangelists: office as heralds of good news / function as contagious public & personal communicators.
  • shepherd teachers[11]: office of pastors who shepherds of God’s flock to care, coach, correct (cf. Jer 23:18-22; Ez 34; 1Pet 5:1-2; Acts 20:17, 28).

Definitively, there are two offices of every church: Pastors/Elders and Deacons. SPBC has been studying this pattern and is ready to implement these principles and structure… see handout/email. All members should participate in this process to affirm the future and direction of our church. We cannot afford apathy, nor adversarial critics.

Ephesians 4:12

  • for the equipping of saints καταρτισμός / katartismos = word means to restore something to its original condition; used for resetting of a bone (MacArthur) or refitting of a ship (Vincents).
  • for the work of ministry διακονίας / diakonias = service.
  • for building up the body of Christ οἰκοδομὴν / oikodome = word for architecture & building up of a house.

Ephesians 4:11-16 is one long sentence carrying the idea that maturity occurs through ministry in the body. A Christian uninvolved in church ministry would not only be foreign to Jesus & NT Christianity, but would reflect extreme immaturity. So when we ask: How much should I be committed and connected to the church? The answer is: as much as you should be committed and connected to Jesus Christ, the Head of the church.

Ephesians 4:13 “… until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ…

  • This time hasn’t arrived, therefore the gifts have not ceased… (cf. 1 Cor 13:10)

Ephesians 4:14-16 “… so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes… speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that is builds itself up in love.”

  • Contrasts
    • Infancy vs Maturity
    • Tossed vs Joined & Held Together
    • Deceived vs Truth
    • Purpose
      • A Christian and church exercising spiritual gifts protects itself from aimlessness / error / apathy

> What is your spiritual gift?

APPLY/THINK
“Christ Jesus is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down the dividing wall of hostility” (Eph 2:14)


[1] Information from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Krakatoa

[2] By Edvard Munch – Google Art Project, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=37624942

[3] Inspiration from Mark Sayers, https://www.instagram.com/tv/CTQiyCYBr8c/?hl=en

[4] https://growinggodlygenerations.com/2020/03/27/how-is-our-church-responding-to-covid-19/

[5] https://growinggodlygenerations.com/2020/07/26/child-games-jesus-obedience-matthew-2123-46/

[6] Pillar NT Commentary, Peter O’Brien, Eph 4:2.

[7] J.I. Packer, Finish Our Course With Joy: Guidance From God For Engaging With Our Aging.

[8] Quoted in NIV Application Commentary, Klyne Snodgrass, Eph 4:2, pp.197.

[9] Ibid. Eph 4:7-8.

[10] Peter O’Brien, Ephesians 4:11.

[11] Pastor-Teachers are linked by a single definite article which suggest close association, but not necessarily the same function. So, all pastors are teachers even if not all teachers are pastors. – Peter O’Brien, Ephesians 4:11.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s