- First Presbyterian Church, Jackson, Mississippi - https://fpcjackson.org -

How the Body Grows

Now if you would please take a copy of God’s holy Word in your hands and turn with me to Paul’s letter to the Ephesians, chapter 4; page 977 in the church Bibles. As you will perhaps have noticed, the general title for our ongoing expositions in the book of Ephesians has been “New Community” because it’s been a major concern of the Apostle Paul to explore how it is that the good news about Jesus transforms human lives, human hearts, and brings people – diverse, desperate individuals who otherwise might have no earthly reason to be together – to enjoy a profound spiritual unity with one another. God is in the business of building a new community, the Church. And that is a major focus of the book of Ephesians and this morning as we come to the opening sixteen verses of chapter 4 we are moving on from Paul’s theological exploration of that theme, the theological foundations for the new community that God is building. He has elected to save sinners out of the mass of fallen humanity, He has given them new life by His sovereign grace and united them to Christ, and incorporated them from Jewish and Gentile backgrounds into one new community – the Church of Jesus Christ. That was chapters 1 to 3.


And now as we begin chapter 4 and the second half of the book, really 4 through 6, Paul turns to tease out some of the practical implications of the truths he’s been exploring in chapters 1 through 3. If you look at verse 1 of chapter 4 for a moment you will see it begins with an exhortation that really could function almost like the heading for the remaining three chapters of the book. Here’s what he’s trying to do in light of all he’s been saying in chapters 1 through 3 in the second half of his letter. “I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called.” That’s Paul’s concern; that’s what he’s going to explain and apply in our church life, in our home life, in our professional lives, in the context of our experience of spiritual warfare – chapters 4 through 6. What does it mean to “walk worthy of the calling to which we have been called”? That phrase, “to walk,” he’s been using that already back in chapter 2 and verse 2. Before we were converted we “once walked” in trespasses and sins. The course and direction and habit and trajectory of our life before we were Christians was marked by trespasses and sins. But chapter 2 verse 10, when we were made alive together with Christ we were “created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.” Now that we are Christians there is a new life trajectory in which we are to walk; a new habit of life. And chapters 4 through 6 are about explaining what that should look like for us. What does it mean to “walk worthy” of the calling that we have received? We have been called into union with Christ; now he is going to explore for us the implications of that new life in union with Him.


And as we’ll see in a moment, verses 1 through 16 of this first section of chapter 4 are focused on unity. The first thing he wants us to understand about how to walk worthy of the calling with which we’ve been called is Christian unity and the unity of the Church under the Lordship of Christ. Before we read these verses together and see how that is so, I want to invite you first of all to bow your heads with me as we ask for God to help us understand His holy Word. Let’s pray together.


Our Father, as Your Word is read and preached would You please work by Your Spirit among us that by Your Word’s mighty power we might grow up into Christ who is the Head and attain to the measure of full maturity to which You have called us. Would You so work in our hearts by the Gospel that as a congregation of Your church we might indeed become a visible demonstration to the world of the loving unity of the people of God that by our love for one another all might know that we are Christ’s disciples. For we ask it in Jesus’ name, amen.


Ephesians chapter 4, reading from verse 1. This is the inerrant Word of Almighty God:


“I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit – just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call – one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all. But grace was given to each one of us according to the measure of Christ’s gift. Therefore it says,


‘When he ascended on high he led a host of captives, and he gave gifts to men.’


(In saying ‘He ascended,’ what does it mean but that he had also descended into the lower regions, the earth? He who descended is the one who also ascended far above all the heavens, that he might fill all things.) And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, 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, 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. Rather, 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 it builds itself up in love.”


Amen, and we praise God that He has spoken to us in His holy and inerrant Word.


The unity of the Church is basic and vital. Our Savior, you will remember in His great High Priestly prayer, asked His Father that the disciples may we one as He and the Father are one. When we use the Apostles Creed we confess together, don’t we, that “We believe in one holy catholic and apostolic Church.” The unity of the Church, the unity of Christians, is an article of faith and yet the long history of the Church, not to mention the painful personal experience perhaps of many of us, teaches us that our unity is in fact fragile and it is easily shattered. Many of you have friends who once attended the church faithfully but who now refuse to return. When asked, they give as their reason some sorry tale of personal hurt, some unresolved conflict, some slight or wound that has never entirely healed that has led them to walk away from the fellowship altogether. We are supposed to be one. We ought to be one. But the truth is, sometimes we hold grudges, don’t we? The truth is, sometimes we speak harshly. The truth is, we fight and sometimes we illegitimately divide.


I. The Call to Unity


How then shall we live together? How can we begin to see answered, in our own fellowship, our Savior’s great prayer for Christian unity? Answering that question really is the burden of these sixteen verses and I want us to consider its message under three headings. The first of them in verses 1 to 6 – the call to unity. The call to unity. In verse 2, Paul gives us a straightforward, clear exhortation to practice five core virtues, five building blocks of Christian unity. Do you see them in verse 2? Look at the text. We are to walk worthy of our calling “with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love.” Five building blocks of unity – humility, gentleness, patience, forbearance, and love. Humility here means of course that we are to think others better than ourselves. Gentleness means to restrain and sometimes even to deploy our strength for the nurture and welfare of others, particularly the weak. Patience means that we are to quietly wait on God’s timing, God’s agenda ahead of our own in any given circumstance. Forbearance means to cut other people the same slack we hope they’ll cut us. And love is the sum and the crown of all the others combined. It’s a compelling picture, isn’t it, of a community marked by humility and gentleness and patience and forbearance and love. Who wouldn’t want to belong to a community like that?


Unity and the Holy Spirit

But as attractive as it is, I hope you also see how profoundly challenging Paul’s list is here. How are we going to live these things out? Humility, gentleness, patience, forbearance, and love – that is hard and none of us find it easy. How will we begin to obey the exhortation? Well there’s some help in verse 3. Look at verse 3. Be “eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.” You see Paul’s wonderful balance? On the one hand, unity is our call, our obligation, our duty and responsibility. We must eagerly pursue it and seek to maintain it – “the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.” And yet ultimately our unity is sourced in, enabled by, the Holy Spirit. It is His work, His great project to make of us one new community. There’s help there. As we hear Paul’s exhortation to these lofty virtues – humility and love, patience and gentleness and forbearance – the Holy Spirit is at work in us slaying our sin, dissolving our prejudices, evaporating and eradicating our intolerance for one another, teaching us patience, helping us love.


The Trinitarian Basis of Our Unity

There’s still more help if you look down at verses 4 through 6. And I want you to see carefully there how Paul interweaves his doctrine of God with his understanding of Christian experience; his doctrine of the Trinity, to be more precise, with Christian experience. It’s as if he wants us to understand how every aspect of the Christian life is encompassed by and encircled by the persons of the blessed Godhead. Look at the text; verses 4 to 6. There’s one body – that’s the Church. But it is the creation and the dwelling place of one Spirit – the Holy Spirit. We have one calling and one hope of our calling, but that calling is the work and ministry of the Holy Spirit by which we are incorporated together into the body of Christ. We have, Paul says, “one Lord,” the Lord Jesus Christ, who we are told is the object of our “one faith.” And the great sign of our union with Him, our common Lord, is our “one baptism.” We have “one God” is the Father of all believers, making us one family adopted into His household. One Spirit, one Lord, one Father, underpinning, giving shape to the unity of the Church and our shared Christian experience. Our unity, in other words, is founded upon and reflects God’s unity. We are one in a way that is designed to mirror the way that God is one. He is three yet one. We are many yet one in Christ.


How do you live out Christian unity when, now let’s be honest for a moment – don’t be offended – how do you live out Christian unity when sometimes living together is really hard work, right? How do you become more humble and gentle and patient and forbearing and loving? Actually Paul is telling us here that the answer to that question is profoundly theological. The answer has to do with God. Here’s how that works. Paul’s calling us in verses 4 to 6 to a God-centered life, to see the Christian life surrounded by, inhabited with, the work of all three persons of the Godhead. And a God-centered life like this is a life that will find the glory of God more valuable than self so that self promotion begins to shrivel and we begin to learn humility. A God-centered life rests more and more in the infinite power of God’s grace and is therefore more and more set free from the need to assert its own power and so we learn gentleness. A God-centered life is amazed at the perfect timing of God’s wise providence, ordering all things for the good of those who love Him and are called according to His purpose and so the need for control in every circumstance begins to die and we learn patience. A God-centered life drinks in the wonder of forgiveness and the need, therefore, to be right all the time crumbles and we learn forbearance. A God-centered life is captured by the love of God demonstrated for us in this, “that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.” And as we see His love for us in Jesus, our self love starts to look ugly and we begin to love others the way Christ has first loved us. The flowers of humility and gentleness and patience and forbearance and love bloom best in the fertile soil of a heart absorbed with knowing the triune God – one Spirit, one Lord, one Father of us all. To the degree that we know Him in the unity of His being, in the glory of His persons, to that same degree we will love and serve one another in unity celebrating our difference, our diversity in a way that mirrors and reflects the God that we adore. The call to unity.


II. Gifts for Unity


And then secondly, look at verses 7 through 11; 7 through 12 – gifts for unity. It’s not enough that we are called to practice humility and gentleness and patience and love; Christ also supplies the resources to help us get there, to begin to live it out. Notice “grace was given to each one of us according to the measure of Christ’s gift.” Paul wants us to understand that the unity he’s thinking about isn’t a sort of flat, sterile sameness, a drab uniformity. No, each one of us has a part to play in all the uniqueness of who we are in God’s design. We’ve been given grace gifts to use in the service of the unity of the whole. And to back up his point, he quotes Psalm 68 verse 18 and then he explains how he understands these verses in verses 8 through 10. Would you look there for a moment? He’s backing up his point that each of us have received gifts from Christ to use in the promotion of Christian unity. “’When he ascended on high,’” verse 8, “’he led a host of captives, and he gave gifts to men.’ (In saying, ‘He ascended,’ what does it mean but that he had also descended to the lower regions, the earth? He who descended is the one who also ascended far above all the heavens, that he might fill all things.)” Psalm 68:18 is talking about the victory of Yahweh, the Lord God Almighty in the exodus who came down and defeated His enemies and then ascended in glory and triumph over them all.


Jesus is God

But here in Ephesians 4 Paul is applying what was spoken originally about Yahweh, about the Lord, to the Lord Jesus, which by the way means don’t let a Jehovah’s Witness ever tell you the Bible never calls Jesus “God.” Here is it as plain as can be – Psalm 68:18. The same God who came down at the exodus came to us in Jesus Christ, actually in a far more glorious and wonderful way. He came all the way down to the lower regions, that is, to the earth, all the way down into our humanity obeying for helpless sinners, dying in our place. And then rising in victory having secured our salvation, He reigns at the right hand of God and like a mighty, conquering king He distributes the spoils of His victory to His people. He gives gifts to the church and to individuals in it. Those gifts are part, remember, they are part of working for unity in the church. That’s the great purpose and theme of the passage. And Paul is explaining that the gifts Christ has given us aims at promoting that unity.


The Gifts of Christ

And what are those gifts? Verse 11 – how does the exalted Christ work for unity within the body of Christ by giving gifts to us? “He gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, and shepherds and teachers.” The apostles and prophets, of course, are foundational to the church, given by Christ to provide the inerrant Word of God so that now that our Scripture, the canon of Scripture is complete, we no longer need their ministry. They are foundational. You don’t lay that foundation over and over again. The work is done; we no longer have apostles and prophets. Evangelists – there are only four brief mentions of the office of evangelist in the New Testament so we don’t know a lot about them, but it seems that an evangelist in the New Testament was someone sent into a particular church with authority delegated to them to bring stability and good order in needy situations. Think about Timothy called to do the work of an evangelist and sent to Ephesus to aid in the settlement of that church. And then there’s shepherd and teacher, two titles for one office. They should be hyphenated really – pastor-teacher; shepherd-teacher. It’s talking about a minister in a local congregation. It’s talking about an elder whose work is to labor in Word and doctrine. But the key thing to notice about all four offices, all four gifts given by the exalted Christ to the Church for our unity is they are all Word ministries. They are all Word ministries focused on the proclamation of the Gospel. Christ is aiming at our unity and at the heart of His strategy for accomplishing our unity is deploying men of God equipped to preach the Word of God to the people of God. That’s what Christ is doing by bringing Tree to us, for example – raising up Gospel servants to equip the saints for works of ministry by preaching the Word.


The Church as an Orchestra

And verse 12 is critically important because it helps us understand how that works in a congregation’s life. How do these Word ministers fulfill the goal Christ has for them in bringing unity to the church by preaching the Word? Look at what verse 12 tells us they do. Christ gave these Word ministry gifts “to equip the saints for works of ministry, for building up the body of Christ.” Simon Austen, one writer on this passage, identifies a common problem in our churches. He talks about the church as a bus and the church as an orchestra. In the church as bus analogy:  The congregation are simply passengers and the minister is the driver. Some of the passengers may occasionally help clean or maintain the bus and some always want to sit in the same seats. They all appreciate good driving, of course. Some never talk to new passengers, while others are really hoping that certain passengers get off at the next stop. It’s a common enough way to experience church life, isn’t it? But, says Austen, it’s not the Biblical picture of what the church should be. No, he says the church should be more like an orchestra. The conductor helps the whole orchestra play in tune and in concert with each member performing their role, while he helps them understand the composer’s musical score correctly. The score, of course, is the Bible, the Word of God, and although the conductor is the preacher, the whole congregation responds to the score together, each part engaged in ministry as the conductor, the pastor-teacher, interprets Christ’s instructions in Holy Scripture so that the whole orchestra makes the sound the Heavenly Composer intended.


That’s what Paul says in verse 12. Who does ministry in the local church? Not the one with the title, “minister,” rather their role is to equip the saints. It is the saints who do the work of ministry. How does Word ministry help us live in unity? It does it by equipping us and encouraging us and moving us to service. That’s how we are to respond to the Word of God, not to be mere consumers of it. Perhaps our pallet is refined and we know what kind of preaching we like. That is not a godly response to the ministry of the Word, to be a mere consumer with rarified tastes. Rather, the response Paul is calling us to is a response of service. Who are you serving? You don’t need a title and an official recognized ministry. That’s not what he’s talking about. For whom are you praying? When last did you set yourself to look out for a new face in the crowd on a Lord’s Day Morning? Make a beeline for them and welcome them and open your life to them? You have homes – do you practice hospitality? How are you serving? That is the call of Jesus Christ to you. And as we begin to serve one another, unity is the great fruit.


III. The Contours of Unity


The call to unity, then the gifts Christ gives the Church for unity, then finally in verses 13 to the end notice the contours of unity. Paul gives us a wonderful picture of what that unity will look like in verses 13 to 16. Notice in verses 13 and 14 Paul tells us clearly that unity and maturity go together. Do you see that? We will 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.” Unity and maturity are connected. In other words, you haven’t grown in Christian maturity, however profound your knowledge of the Scriptures may be, however deep your theological awareness may be, if you’ve not also grown in humility and gentleness and patience and forbearance and love. William Still, the late pastor of Gilcomston South Church of Scotland in Aberdeen, used to talk about Christians who look as though they have been baptized in vinegar. You know, sour faces, aloof, unresponsive, uncaring, distant, severe, sour. A standoffish, distant, sour, unmoved, unloving, uncaring Christian is at best an infant in spiritual things. But as verse 14 exhorts us, we are to grow up, we are to grow up “no longer children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine.” For Paul, right thinking, getting your doctrine right, what you know, and Christian maturity only fit together as cause and effect when knowledge, understanding, is married to love. And so he says, verse 15, “speaking the truth in love” the body begins to grow as each part is knit together. Each part does its work, works properly; it builds itself up in love.


The Apologetic of Love

You don’t yet know as you ought if you don’t yet love as you should. You don’t yet know as you ought if you do not yet love as you should. “Speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, even Christ, from whom the whole body, joined together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love.” Francis Schaeffer once said, “The final apologetic which Jesus gave is the observable love of true Christians for true Christians.” He meant that as the world is looking at us, the final proof of the veracity and authenticity of the Gospel we say we believe is the way we treat each other and love each other and serve one another in humility and with patience. There is nothing so compelling, so obviously supernatural in character to a generation of isolated, lonely individuals in our day and in our context than a church like ours really loving one another. Wayne Husband, this morning, told me a story of being engaged in ministry in Eastern Europe training others to do evangelism and they were invited into an educational institution, and all the teachers and others were there and they were sharing the Gospel. And they were met with real hostility and it seemed to them that by the end of the week of teaching the Gospel there was simply no response until one of the women who were invited to these seminars stood up and spoke for the whole group and said, “You know, we thought you had no message for us and quite often we were unpersuaded by what you had to say, but we have been watching you guys all week long and the way you love one another has changed our minds. You love one another. It’s got to be true. There’s something supernatural about the way you care for one another.”


Brothers and sisters, that’s what we’re called to; that’s why Christ has given you the ministry of the Word. That is who God is – a community of love, three persons dwelling in one being, delighting in one another, in unity and harmony and love. And as we follow Him, that is what we are to be also. May God be gracious to us so that the watching world may see among us, between us, the supernatural reality of people who have no earthly reason otherwise to belong together, profoundly united in love because of a common Savior. Let’s pray together.


Our Father, we praise You that the Gospel makes enemies friends, takes outsiders and brings them in, takes sinners and makes them saints, takes aliens and strangers and adopts them into Your family. Thank You that we have tasted that reality. Please will You teach us how to live out, to walk worthy of the calling to which we have been called, and to begin to practice between us and among ourselves the supernatural gift of love with humility and gentleness and patience and forbearance to the praise and glory of Your name. Amen.