Sunday, May 13, 2012

Sermon: Ephesians 4: 1-16 Body Building

One of the TV programmes we used to like watching was ‘The World’s Strongest Man’. Each week, competitors from around the world would seek to show their strength by pulling a bus along a track, or lifting cannon balls, or carrying tractor tyres. It was unbelievable to watch their strength, thinking about the dedication they’d put into building up their bodies, enlarging their muscles, to make them big and strong. All the more so when you’re watching them with the body of the old Mr Muscle advert guy - a weakling!

This morning, in our reading from the letter to the Ephesians, Paul says that each of us should be body builders. But we’re not unveiling plans for a gym over in the hall; don’t worry about wearing a leotard; the body we’re building is the body of Christ - the church. But how do we go about it? How can we be body builders?

As we begin, it’s important to remember that Paul is writing a letter to the church in Ephesus. It would have been read as a whole, altogether. It’s been over a month since we were last in Ephesians, so it might be good to have a little reminder of the ground we’ve covered. In Ephesians 1 - 3, Paul celebrates in God’s plan (the mystery) for the whole universe, bound up in Jesus and his work. Through what Jesus has done, God is forming his people - the church, turning sinful people into saints through his amazing grace, showing his grace to the universe, as people from different backgrounds/cultures/nations come together as one in Christ.

So as we’re called into the church, into the body of Christ, how should we live? What will it look like to ‘lead a life worthy of the calling?’ Have you ever heard the old poem: Living above with the saints we love, oh, that will be glory. Living below with the saints we know, now that’s a different story. It’s not always easy to get on with everyone, there are always (at least, this side of glory) going to be disputes and quarrels, as personalities clash.

Nevertheless, in verse 2, Paul begins to explore it: ‘with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love’. Are we humble in our dealings with each other, or insistent that we’re always right? Are we patient with others? Do we put up with some things we don’t like out of love for others? Or are we out for ourselves all the time?

Paul goes on to urge us to make ‘every effort to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.’ Are we striving for unity in the church? Why is unity so important anyway? As Paul declares, there is only one body - listen out for the number of ones: ‘There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to the one hope of your calling, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all...’ one, one one - There is only one true church, only one body of Christ in all times and places. As we meet here, and live together here, we are part of the one body - just as other churches are also part of the one body. We’re on the same team.

But unity is not uniformity - in the one church there are different people and races and classes and cultures - all joined together as one. There is one body to be built, but many gifts. To come back to our strongman bodybuilder, he’s not just going to use press ups, or just sit-ups, to grow strong; he’ll use a lot of different training routines.

Verse 7: ‘But each of us was given grace according to the measure of Christ’s gift.’ The risen Lord Jesus, having ascended to the Father, gives gifts (grace) to each of his people. That means that you, me, everyone of us, has been given grace from Christ to fulfil our part in his purpose, but the things we will do in his grace will be very different. In verse 11, Paul outlines some of the leadership roles which have traditionally been taken to be ‘the ministry.’ ‘the gifts he gave were that some would be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers.’

Notice that each of those have to do with the word - apostles are those who establish new ministries in new areas, they’re sent; prophets proclaim God’s word; evangelists explain and teach the good news; pastors and teachers (the two are one and the same person) are those who teach the word in the congregation.

But the tendency is to see the pastor-teacher as ‘the minister’ - which must mean that ‘the ministry’ is something that only ordained people do - you must need a collar to do ‘ministry.’ That’s not what Paul says here, it’s not God’s intention in the church - you see, we stopped in the middle of a sentence: ‘some pastors and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ...’ The word gifts lead to each of us doing the work of ministry / service. We’re in this together. Some churches even express this on their noticeboard at the front door: Rector: Rev such and such; Ministers: The whole congregation. Each of us have been given grace from God to serve in particular ways to build the body. How are you serving? What could you be doing? How can you use the gifts and graces that God has given you in his service?

Our goal is to build the body of Christ ‘until all of us come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to maturity, to the measure of the full stature of Christ.’ There is one God, and one body - to which God gives a diversity of gifts so that we can all be built up together in the unity of the body to accomplish maturity.

We don’t want to keep on being infants, children, rather than growing up. We don’t want to be like a little boat in a big storm, being tossed about, blown by every wind of doctrine. There are winds of false teaching blowing in the church today - will we be carried away by them, or will we stand firm in the truth? We’re wanting to grow up - but how do we do it?

‘But speaking the truth in love, we must grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ...’ Speaking the truth can be easy enough - especially when it’s the truth about someone else. It can be easy (even therapeutic) to point out the faults and failings of others. But speaking the truth in love, motivated by love, not anger - that’s the hard part. We’re back to those instructions in verse 2 - bearing with one another in love, but that’s what we seek to do as we seek to build the body, as we hear God’s word and put it into practice in the church.

You may not be very strong today. You might not ever feature on the World’s Strongest Man (or Woman). Yet God calls you to be a body builder. How will you fulfil your ministry this week as you love and serve? How can you use the gifts that God has given you?

Let’s pray that we see the body of Christ being built in this place, for the glory of his name.

This sermon was preached in Aghavea Parish Church on Sunday 13th May 2012.

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