Sermon from 1st Aug 2021 (Pentecost 10)

Ephesians 4:1-16 (EHV)

1 As a prisoner in the Lord, therefore, I urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling with which you have been called. Live with all humility, gentleness, and patience, bearing with one another in love.

Make every effort to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit, just as also you were called in the one hope of your calling. There is one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all, and through all, and in us all.

But to each one of us grace was given, according to the measure of the gift from Christ. That is why it says, “When he ascended on high, he took captivity captive and gave gifts to his people.” Ps 68:18 Now what does it mean when it says “he ascended,” other than that he also had descended to the lower parts, namely, the earth? 10 He who descended is the same one who ascended far above all the heavens, so that he might fill all things. 11 He himself gave the apostles, as well as the prophets, as well as the evangelists, as well as the pastors and teachers, 12 for the purpose of training the saints for the work of serving, in order to build up the body of Christ. 13 This is to continue until we all reach unity in the faith and knowledge of the Son of God, resulting in a mature man with a stature reaching to the measure of the fullness of Christ. 14 The goal is that we would no longer be little children, tossed by the waves and blown around by every wind of teaching, when people use tricks and invent clever ways to lead us astray. 15 Instead, speaking the truth in love, we would in all things grow up into Christ, who is the head. 16 From him the whole body, being joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows in accordance with Christ’s activity when he measured out each individual part. He causes the growth of the body so that it builds itself up in love.

Dear heavenly Father, send your Holy Spirit on us so we may maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace established for us by your Son Jesus Christ. Amen.

Many people want to be ‘number one’!

We see this in the Olympic Games as the athletes strive for the number one position which is rewarded with gold (and a lot of media coverage). We see people competing for the number one position in various sports, business profiteering, advertising, accumulation of wealth, space exploration (or exploitation), politics, and Tik Tok videos. Many want to be the first, the fastest, the best, the richest, the most important, and the most memorable.

It should also come as no surprise that many people will also want to look out for ‘number one’!

Each of us look for ways to be noticed, valued, loved, appreciated, and included. We want to feel good about ourselves and we want others to feel good about us as well. We often want our own opinions to be agreed to. We want to win arguments because we think we know best. We want our own version of the truth to be everyone else’s version of the truth. We want others to fight for our rights and innocence. We want others to do what we say. So much so, that today an individual’s rights and expectations often seem more important than a community’s rights and expectations.

But when St Paul uses the number ‘one’, he uses it in such a radically different way which challenges our natural desires to be ‘number one’ or to look out for ‘number one’.

You see, if we’re to think about ‘number one’ at all, it’s in the context that there is only one Christ and one body. We’ve all been joined to Christ’s body through baptism into our one Lord and granted one faith through the power of the one Spirit. There is only one hope of salvation. There is only one Lord, one faith, one baptism. There is only one God and Father of all. If we’re concerned about the number one, this is a list of all the ‘ones’ we should be most concerned about. Everything else, including ourselves, is secondary.

This oneness is the reality of our Christian faith, and we are one whether we like it or not. We don’t make this reality, but it’s given to us. We didn’t bring this into being by a series of meetings or by a common inspiration, but it’s given to us by God, and we, as recipients of this unifying gift, should be eager to maintain this unity in order to receive the blessings and benefits of our common inheritance.

The typical human problem is that this isn’t the ‘number one’ that we want to maintain. We’re often too busy wanting to either be ‘number one’ or look out for ‘number one’. As naturally self-centred people, we want to get our own way, push our own version of truth, justify our own form of righteousness, manipulate people to satisfy our own demands, and win people to our own side of the argument, which always threatens our unity.

We often think in terms of ‘us’ and ‘them’. We’re the ones who have it right and haven’t done anything wrong. They’re the ones who are trouble-makers, the ones who have to admit their mistakes, and who have to make up for what they’ve done.

When we think in terms of ‘us’ and ‘them’, we’re no longer thinking about ‘one’. We’re thinking we’re ‘two’ which seeks to deny the reality of what God has given us.

Now, when we act or think in terms of ‘us’ and ‘them’, we don’t actually change the oneness of faith, hope, baptism, or of our Lord. We can’t change that. You and I can’t change the reality of God. You and I can’t divide or separate what God has joined together.

But when we act or think in these ways of ‘us’ and ‘them’, or when we prioritise our own desires over against other people’s, we show we’re in rebellion with God. We bear witness that we don’t want to be an active part of his unity of faith and hope and life. Instead of bearing witness to the oneness we have in God, we bear witness we want to be the ‘number one’ whom everyone should bow down to and obey and agree with. By rebelling against the oneness we have in God, we set ourselves up in opposition to God.

In this way, when we have divisions among us and rebel against living the faith-filled reconciled life of oneness and unity with each other, we show we have a problem with God’s word, God’s ways, and God’s timing.

Of course, this isn’t what God desires for us. He doesn’t want us to be rebellious and divisive. He wants us to grow in maturity of faith within his unified grace-filled and Christ-centred community.

You see, in order for us to be part of his divine community, Jesus came down into our world in human flesh. Our majestic and powerful God lowered himself to become human in order to save humanity. Crucified for the forgiveness of all our sins and raised again in order to grant eternal life through faith, he ascended into heaven so that all those who are joined to him belong where he belongs. He did this so that we would be joined with him through the one faith to our one Lord by the power of the one Spirit and purified into one baptism so we all have the one hope of forgiveness and everlasting life.

But, knowing we’ll be deceived by the ways of the world and their deceptive words, and tempted to rebel against the unity which is given to us, he sent us chosen people to equip us and help us mature in our faith.

He sends us apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers in order to teach us how to live in the unity of faith and live out the ministry which has been given to us.

One of the important things we’re taught by his chosen servants is how to speak the truth in love, but this is often misunderstood and misused within the church.

The context of this statement isn’t about winning an argument or forcing people to agree with us. It’s not used in such a way to convince someone else about what they’ve done wrong which has hurt someone.

Instead, it’s used in the context of witnessing to the truth of Jesus Christ (who is the way, the truth and the life). It’s used in the context of maintaining the unity we have through faith in Jesus. It’s used in the context of being constantly taught the true teaching of the church (by apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers) and with the hope of living out our love for one another so that we remain united in Christ.

Therefore, speaking the truth in love is not about being ‘number one’ by winning arguments, or about looking out for ‘number one’ by attacking and criticising others in our attempts to defend or justify ourselves. Speaking the truth in love also hasn’t got anything to do with seeking justice through vindication or attempting to punish others for the wrong they’ve done.

Speaking the truth in love is always about bearing witness to the forgiveness and life Jesus offers us through faith, since he is the truth we want to speak in love. Speaking the truth in love is having true concern and love for each other because we want all people to grow in their faith and remain united with Jesus Christ.

This is why St Paul is eagerly encouraging you to live out the maturity of your faith by living with certain faithful mature characteristics.

A person who is growing in Christ isn’t concerned with being ‘number one’ or looking out for ‘number one’, but will live in humility, understanding their place within the body of Christ.

A humble person doesn’t put themselves, their own wants, or their own agendas first, but is always content with the privilege of serving others. A humble person is more concerned about the welfare of other people than their own. They’re always courteous and considerate toward others. They readily waive their own rights for the sake of the common good without regard for their own pride, reputation or advancement.

A person who is growing in Christ isn’t concerned with being ‘number one’ or looking out for ‘number one’ but will live with meekness and consideration. They won’t be overly impressed by themselves, but will always consider other people and their needs, knowing a gentle word can have more lasting and healthy effect than a harsh word.

A person who is growing in Christ isn’t concerned with being ‘number one’ or looking out for ‘number one’ but will live patiently. This patience includes the willingness and endurance needed to bear up under provocation and trouble because they trust God’s ways and timing. They’ll be long-tempered rather than short-tempered. They’ll willingly suffer with, and for, the other person in order to win them over

A person who is growing in Christ isn’t concerned with being ‘number one’ or looking out for ‘number one’ but will endure troublesome people. They’ll seek to tolerate, understand, and respect each other’s uniqueness, weaknesses, and faults. This doesn’t mean they’ll ignore another person’s sin or agree with their lies or deceptions, but they’ll give the other person time and space to grapple with the word of God in their lives, look for opportunities to share the good news of the gospel with them, and patiently witness through words and actions what it means to live in the unity of faith.

If you haven’t figured it out yet, it’s not about you being ‘number one’ or looking out for ‘number one’. It’s all about Jesus Christ! He is the true ‘number One’ we should be most concerned about and looking to. He is the one Lord. He is the one who we’re baptized into. He is the body we’ve been joined to. Together with the Father he sends the one Spirit so we may all believe and mature as one in faith.

The unity of the church is a reflection of God’s gift of reconciliation in Christ, which his gifts of apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers should constantly remind us. According to one dictionary, to be reconciled is to bring two or more people back into a friendly relationship with each other after a dispute or estrangement. Reconciliation then is the constant gospel-focused ministry of the church to live out the oneness we’ve been given by Christ. Anything else is rebellion against this gift

The Church proclaims the truth in love that through Christ we’re reconciled with God the Father. Where once we were separated from him, through Christ’s forgiveness and salvation, we’re now at peace with God and can enjoy unhindered access to him. Through trusting him, we’re one with God the Father.

Through Christ and his reconciling forgiveness we maintain and celebrate the oneness we have with God and each other, for there truly is only one body, one Spirit, one hope, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, and one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.

And it’s through him that the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.