Bethel CRC Lacombe

January 21, 2024 Unity of the Spirit Ephesians 4:1-32

January 23, 2024 Pastor Jake Boer Season 1 Episode 3
Bethel CRC Lacombe
January 21, 2024 Unity of the Spirit Ephesians 4:1-32
Show Notes Transcript

Today we will reflect on Ephesians 4:1-30,  Unity of the Spirit. Paul returns again to his ongoing theme of grace in this letter, this time it’s about living out the grace that we’ve been given by God.  By living and growing together in the Lord it builds strong unity in the faith. Showing a maturity in Jesus; a growth in our faith, and recognition that how we live together, reflects to the world who Jesus is.

Unity of the Spirit

Ephesians 4:1-32


What are some of the pictures you have of what the church is? I appreciate the image of the church here that Paul uses of a body. Part of the reason is the book I first read years ago by Dr. Paul Brand and Philip Yancy called In His Image. In this book, I discovered just how truly fearfully and wonderfully our bodies are made, as the writer of the psalms tells us. Our bodies are way more complex and amazing than I had ever imagined before reading their book. Brand and Yancy tell how the wondrous complexity of our bodies relates to being created in God’s image. When we talk about being created in God’s image, we’re talking about spiritual things here. All other creatures were also created, just like humans were, and they’re all living breathing creatures; the difference between humanity and the other animals is that God breathed his breath, his spirit into us to give us life. This is an intimate spiritual act that gives us a glimpse of God’s love for us.

Paul, the apostle uses the body as an image of the church. We are all interconnected, we all are part of the same whole, we cannot really do well without each other, is what this image comes down to. “There is one body and one Spirit,” as Paul says. The call is to make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. It’s all connected to Jesus as our one hope. This whole theme of oneness comes through again and again in these verses, “one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.” Yet how important is unity and peace in the church to most of us? In a culture, even a church culture that often emphasizes being right over peace and harmony, unity is not always considered important. You only have to look at how many denominations or independent churches there are to see that unity is often not a high priority for many. 

Jesus gives the church the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God. This image Paul gives us goes against how we often do church, where we hire someone to do the work while we focus on what we get out of church. Paul believes that Jesus gives the church the workers we often hire to do the work of the church, to equip and train us to do the work of service. This is how we are built up as a church and reach unity in the faith and knowledge of Jesus as the Son of God. We learn through serving that life is not about me, but more about serving you. 

Jesus gives us leaders to equip us to do works of service. The works of service don’t save us, only Jesus saves us from our sin through his work on the cross for us. We cannot save ourselves from our sin, we need Jesus; but, like the Heidelberg Catechism tells us, we do works of service because it helps us to be more like Jesus, it’s a way of showing our thankfulness to God for his grace, and it helps to win our neighbours over to Jesus. Paul reminds us that works of service makes the church stronger and healthier, helps us to be more united together. It’s part of how we mature as followers of Jesus. 

Jesus’ last prayer in the Garden focuses on his followers, his body being one, “I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message (his disciples), that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me.” If all the parts of a body don’t work together in unity, it’s hard. If you have Parkinson’s disease, or epilepsy like my brother did and my grandson does, if you’re missing a part of your body like a hand or a foot, it makes life more difficult and you have to learn new ways of doing everyday things. It doesn’t make you any less a person, but you have things to deal with that others might not have to. It’s also true that those whose bodies might not work the way God created them to in the beginning, often learn more grace and appreciation. I think of people like Joni Tada Eareckson who became paralysed after an accident, or Helen Keller who is blind and deaf and the depth of their faith grew because their physical bodies were hurt or didn’t develop the ways other bodies have. 

Just like God’s breath, his Spirit gave life to Adam, Jesus’ Spirit gives life to the church. The coming of the Holy Spirit on Pentecost was like getting a blood transfusion, a filling to new life. Dr. Paul Brand tells of a woman in an accident who came into the emergency and had lost most of her blood. She was almost dead and pale white. Once they started a blood transfusion, colour returned to her skin and her life was restored. This is what Paul is getting at here, “That, however, is not the way of life you learned when you heard about Christ and were taught in him in accordance with the truth that is in Jesus. You were taught, with regard to your former way of life, to put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires; to be made new in the attitude of your minds; and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness.” The Spirit works within us as the body of Jesus, pointing us to who Jesus is and working in us to make us more like Jesus, to renew our minds and become more righteous and holy.

What does this look like in the church? Partly it’s about holding common beliefs, which is why we have created the creeds and confessions which are based on Scripture. This is why educating our youth and new believers is so important because it joins us together. This is why we have developed mentoring relationships in our youth ministry. Learning together, mentoring others is partly how we put on the new self, this is partly how we become mature so that we aren’t tossed around like ships in a storm without a rudder, helpless and grabbing onto anything to find safety and hope. 

Holiness and righteousness are revealed through the loving relationships found within the church. John puts it this way in his first letter, “This is how we know who the children of God are and who the children of the devil are: Anyone who does not do what is right is not God’s child, nor is anyone who does not love their brother and sister.” In Jesus’ prayer in the garden, he prayed that we would be one in him so that the world may believe that you have sent me. Unity in the church leads to the world believing that Jesus has been sent by God; that Jesus is the Son of God who has come to save the world! We can be different and diverse in our gifts and talents and still be unified in our beliefs and focus on working together to build the church in order to reveal to the world who God is.

It all comes down to the Holy Spirit, to how well we listen to and follow the guidance of the Holy Spirit, allowing the Spirit to flow into and through us. This means taking the time to listen to the Holy Spirit as we pray, to listen to the wisdom of the Spirit as we study God’s Word together, as we do works of service within the church and our community to grow stronger together. There is something about working together that draws people closer together. Talk to people who serve in various organizations and you will often hear how their closest friends come from among the people they serve with. The key is combining our works of service with Jesus’ humility and love. 

How we relate to each other is so important, especially how we talk to, with, and about each other. Paul writes, “Therefore each of you must put off falsehood and speak truthfully to your neighbor, for we are all members of one body. “In your anger do not sin”: Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry, and do not give the devil a foothold. Anyone who has been stealing must steal no longer, but must work, doing something useful with their own hands, that they may have something to share with those in need. Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.” How do you speak to others? Are you focused on building them up, being an encouraging presence? Do you enjoy talking about others, and not always in positive ways? Paul calls us to “Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice.  Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.” Another way of saying this is, “live with grace, speak with grace, offer grace because in Jesus we’ve received unmeasurable grace.” This is heart attitude, this is Spirit-filling shaping ways of living, echoing the fruit of the Spirit encouragement Paul gives the Galatians.

Unity and growing mature together is not always easy, but anything precious takes effort and sacrifice to achieve. Anything Jesus prays for is precious to me. Unity is not something we can achieve in our own strength; this is why Paul reminds us of the importance of the presence and power of the Holy Spirit in the church. Will it take some sacrifice to refocus our lives and rhythms around these things, yes, but you will discover the blessings of the Holy Spirit’s life blood building Bethel Church into a stronger, larger and blessed body of believers who bless the community and bring glory to God.