Ephesians 4. 4-6: The One
August 14, 2011 Series: How to be the Church
Topic: New Testament Passage: Ephesians 4:4–4:6
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.
This sermon is titled ‘the one,’ and it does not take a genius to see where the title comes from. This will not be like on of those movies where you get to the end and realize that the title had little to nothing to do with the film. Instead, I simply chose the word that was repeated seven times, because I figured that if Paul felt the need to say it that many times than it must be important.
The oneness that he is focusing on here is the unity that we touched on last week. That text (and what we said about it) and this one are linked. As a matter of fact, the majority of pastors teach 1-6 when they cover Ephesians 4, but if I had done that last week, it would have ended up as a two bathroom visit sermon, which is to say, LONG. So though I split it in two, I want you to recognize the connections that exist between these verses:
1. Last week we spent the majority of our time talking about our part in unity: those sins that we allow, excuse, defend, and enjoy, that get in the way of God being glorified by our relationships. We focused on how we fail to mirror what has been done internally. Today we get to dig in depth on what that internal change looks like. What has been done in us that we are to reflect.
2. Last week we talked of a central core that was necessary for the existence of unity. That unity cannot exist without a unifier. Today we get to focus on what that distinctive truth is.
3. Last week we talked about what happens when our goals, motivations, and strength come from anything other than God. And today we get to define how God’s work unifies our goals and motivations and gives us the strength to endure.
These verses are really the completion of what we started, as they formulate for us both the WHAT and HOW of unity. Commentators have said that the organization of Paul’s list sounds like it could be an early Christian creed. If that is the case, than what Paul is doing here is reminding the people of something that they already know. Creeds are established to give the central doctrines, usually to refute specific false teaching that had come up, and they become the statements that read and repeated. We have lost much of this in our I have to create everything new from scratch culture. We tend to think that repeating old truth is dead and cold. But what Paul does with His creed is takes a standard mantra and places it into a context that breathes new life into it. He takes a list of beliefs and puts them into a conversations on unity, showing how these beliefs are both the what and the how.
The facts that we unify around cannot be divorced the truth of how we are unified. Paul’s list is not just a list of things to agree with. They are not the theology that will make us right with God. Instead, this creed is an explanation of how we have been made right with God.
Paul seems to say that the manner by which we have been called is the truth which unifies us. So these seven ones provide for us an idea of truths that the church believes, but also what the details of our story of redemption are. People have different testimonies, but we all share the same story. We are united by the details that we share. So in the same way that our actions must match our internal change, the beliefs that unify God’s people are the truths of how we came to be God’s people.
So today we will spend our time talking about what God has done. We will look at this creed and see how it unites God’s people in oneness.
1. ONE BODY
Paul starts by using the metaphor of the body to describe the oneness of God’s people. Body is a commonly used descriptor for the church. The body is a single unit that is made up of many, very complex parts. It is easy for us to think of our body as one thing working together, and it is also simple to comprehend the individual aspects that make up the body, especially when they aren’t working properly: my head hurts, I just smashed my finger with the hammer… It is a perfect illustration of who we are as the church. A single unit, referred to in Ephesians 1.22-23:
And he put all things under his feet and gave him as head over all things to the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all.
Jesus Christ is the head and the church makes up His body, to be the hands and feet, the physical reflection controlled by the head. To think of the church as a body is certainly helpful in organizing our thoughts around the different roles that God gives (as we will look at in this series), but I think it is also helpful for recognizing God’s purposes and plans. God does not use the body as an analogy simply because it is the most fitting thing that He can think of; He created the body. So in a way, we can say that the body was created as it is for the express purpose of revealing to us how we should relate to one another. And when we think of how God created the world, the most remarkable aspect is its organic nature. [Fearfully and Wonderfully Made]
If I break my arm, I don’t have to go out and buy a new arm. Instead, my arm repairs itself. Medical science can do all sorts of fun things to reset it, screw it in place, install metal plates, but the body has to do the work. And who is it that has created and upholds the body? God. The church works the same way. As a pastor, I want so badly to heal people’s hearts. I want to have a perfect plan to bring someone along to grow as a Christian. God certainly gives us steps on this path, but ultimately He is in charge of the healing. Only He can turn a heart of stone into a heart of flesh.
As we tell each other the story of how we have been brought into the Christian family, we will see different paths, experiences, trials. God leaves it organic so that we must always rely on Him rather than the system.
2. ONE SPIRIT
Though everyone has a different story of how they come to God, they are all drawn by the same Spirit. Not only did the same Spirit do the work to draw us back to God, but that same Spirit is living inside of each and every one of us who identifies with Christ. I Corinthians 3.16 tells us that this indwelling Spirit transforms us:
Do you not know that you are God's temple and that God's Spirit dwells in you?
We have been transformed then from an empty vessel into God’s temple. Now this verse has been misused to argue against smoking and alcohol, promote healthy eating, as well as printed onto the shirts of weightlifting teams (look how well I am taking care of God’s temple). But this verse is actually within a section of scripture that is talking about divisions in the church. It is followed by this verse:
If anyone destroys God's temple, God will destroy him. For God's temple is holy, and you are that temple.
Now, I am pretty sure that this goes a bit deeper than eating organic or spending time at the gym. God is talking about His spiritual temple, which He says here are His people. This isn’t about your body itself being the temple, but the fact that God’s temple is no longer a physical location, but is now a spiritual reality. Destroying God’s temple, then, is not done by destroying the physical body (and God’s temple is not built up by taking care of your physical body), but it is destroyed by focusing on the physical world rather than the spiritual one. Specifically, by allowing physical differences: style, personality, subculture…to overshadow the Spiritual bond that we share in the Spirit.
Think about that for a moment. If you are a Christian, the Holy Spirit is working inside of you to sanctify your heart and make you more like Jesus. But also recognize that this is true of all God’s people. Nothing is more unifying between two estranged brothers than this: while we may have conflict between us, we have the same Spirit inside of us, sanctifying both of us to be more like Jesus Christ. We may be very different in every other way, but we share a common experience of having our lives changed by the Spirit. We now share in the same future.
3. ONE HOPE – that belongs to your call
Too often, hope is something that we anticipate, but are not necessarily confident about: I hope that things work out, I hope I find a new job, I hope my kids don’t kill each other. But the hope that we have in Christ is much more than wishful thinking. This is not a matter of just waiting to see what will happen, and hoping for the best. The ONE HOPE that belongs to your call is the inheritance that has been given to us by God. This is a hope that rests not on our own ability to do it, but rests entirely on the work of Jesus Christ: both what he has done and what He will complete when He comes again. 1 Peter 1.13 reminds us:
Therefore, preparing your minds for action, and being sober-minded, set your hope fully on the grace that will be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ.
We may have different goals and dreams for our lives here on earth, but after that, all Christians are set on the same thing. Our Hope is set on being united with Jesus Christ in glory for eternity. Everything else pales in comparison to this hope. The arguments we feel so necessary will be gone. That specific pet issue, that thing that you bring up in every conversation, that thing that all your friends roll their eyes when you start talking about it…whatever it is, will now be an afterthought. There will only be one difference that matters, and that is the separation between those who have given their lives over to Jesus and those who have not. When you look Jesus in the face, all of those short term hopes; the things that you spent so much time worrying about, will seem pointless.
As for the church, we will be one. We will be unified completely in the presence of Jesus. This should change the way that you look at all of these differences right now. It should make the petty differences melt.
But also make the need to preach Jesus that much more urgent. If that is what will matter in the end, than that should be what we spend our time on now. This life becomes a practice for the next life. And what do we see everything doing in heaven. Bowing at the feet of the savior and praising Him.
4. ONE LORD
When Jesus said, ‘I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father, but through me, He was making a very exclusive claim as to who He was, and how many paths that there are to God. He was not saying that as long as you include Him in your list of deities, or give Him credit for being a great teacher, that He will be appeased. Instead, He claimed to be the one and only God. He claimed that it was only by His perfect life that we could ever be united to God the Father. Romans 10 echoes this exclusive claim:
if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved. For the Scripture says, “Everyone who believes in him will not be put to shame.” For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; for the same Lord is Lord of all, bestowing his riches on all who call on him. For “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.”
everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved, which also implies that anyone who does not confess with their mouth that Jesus Christ is Lord and believe that God raised Him from the dead will not be saved. This means that you either call Him LORD and are united with Him, or you disagree and brand Him a lunatic. By nature of His claim, there is no in-between. There is no ‘Jesus is my homeboy.’ Or Jesus is a good example. He is Lord of all, and a heart that believes this will automatically submit itself to Him.
Those who make this commitment are brought together as family (we are adopted brothers and sisters of the king), for those who do not believe, Jesus divides. This is the strongest glue in the Christian faith (it is what makes us Christians), but it is also the greatest offense to those who deny His lordship. Because the claim that Jesus is the one and only way means that a lot of people are going the wrong way. If Jesus is the truth, then a lot of people are wrong. And if Jesus is the only way to life, then a lot of people have none.
5. ONE FAITH
We are unified not only on who the savior is, but also on what Jesus saves us from. Jesus came to earth to save us from a world that was out there to get us. He did not come because we were the good people in a sea of sinfulness. Jesus came to save us from ourselves. He came because we were sinful and fully deserving of Hell. It was an act of absolute grace that He reached down and spared us from the death that we had purchased through our actions. Our one faith recognizes that it is His grace alone is enough.
Our faith unites us as sinners. It also unites us as redeemed by the blood of the Lamb. One faith is a recognition that no matter what we have done or what has been done to us, Christ’s death is enough to cover it. Past sins, present sins, future sins. For ourselves and for others.
If we believe that all sins have been forgiven through the death of Christ, it makes us able to forgive other Christians when they offend us.
6. ONE BAPTISM
We recognize our Lord, we have faith that it is only through Him that are sins are covered, and then we identify with Him in baptism. As Romans 6.4 states:
We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.
Baptism is the moment in which we declare that our former lives have been put away in order that we can live in the new life as part of the body of Christ. This unifies us to one another in mission, as we are no longer living for ourselves but living for the purposes of Christ with the church.
Baptism is public identification with Jesus and the initiation into the church. We are baptizing people next week to share in this identity. So if you have never declared publicly the change that God has brought about within you, I encourage you to participate in the sign and seal of Baptism. I urge you to take this opportunity to celebrate with the church how God has reconciled you back to Himself as well as to a spiritual family in the church. If you are interested in taking part, please meet with Pastor Mark in the commons during second service.
7. ONE GOD AND FATHER OF ALL - who is over all and through all and in all
The seventh and final unifying ONE is God the Father, described by Paul in three ways: Over All, Through All, In All. By describing God the Father this way, Paul is laying out the Trinitarian aspect of our God (three persons, one God).
1. He is ABOVE ALL as Sovereign God and creator of the universe
2. it is THROUGH Jesus that all came to be (John 1) and all was accomplished
3. it is IN ALL of God’s People that the Holy Spirit now dwells.
So Paul describes the unity of the church in relation to the unity of God. We are a people of unity because we have a God of unity. God did not just decide that unity is good, and then command us to do it because it seemed like a good idea. He calls us to oneness because that is the essence of God. As Jonathan Edwards puts it:
The ultimate reason that God creates, is not to remedy some lack in God, but to extend that perfect internal communication of the triune God’s goodness and love to us.
And the story that we see unfolding in the Bible is the story of unity. It is the story of God’s plan to reconcile us as individuals so that we could be one. We are one because He is one. It is the nature of God and what He has done that is the core of our faith. It is that nucleus that pulls us all together.
It is in the trinity, the nature of God, that we see perfect community: three separate persons, with unique roles, relating in perfect submission and love. We see the Spirit submitting to the Jesus, and Jesus submitting to the Father. We see the Father loving the Son, and the Spirit bringing glory to the Father and Son. We see in this relationship: perfect give and take, perfect self-giving, perfect respect and love. In the interplay of God’s persons we see what has been referred to as the Divine Dance. It is not something so static and chartable that can be pinned down. Instead it is a beautiful drama, in which the oneness continues to support and build up the differences, while the differences submit to bring more to the whole.
This is what we are and strive to be as a church. No matter where we come from, or what we have been to, we are now God’s people, meant to image Him with our lives. As another pastor put it in his commentary on Ephesians:
Whatever else you may say about the church, the church is God’s church. It is composed of God’s people, it is the result of God’s work, and it exists for His glory. So let that be our vision.
The church is a group of sinful people held together by a glue that is stronger than the many differences that pull them apart. I mean look around the room for a minute. Old, young/white collar, blue collar/Huskies, Cougars, maybe even a few Ducks. What in the world could bring a group like this together? And yet you are all here. You have all come together because there is something greater that unifies you. THAT IS THE CHURCH.
I am going to close with a few verses from the High Priestly Prayer in John 17. These are the words of Jesus as He was preparing to take the sins of you and me upon Himself. He prays for His church, specifically that they display unity, that in it, the world may know the love of God as it was poured out through Him.
I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me. The glory that you have given me I have given to them, that they may be one even as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that you sent me and loved them even as you loved me.
Jesus did not just come to earth so that you could be saved from Hell, though that is a very nice benefit. Jesus came to make us one. One with Him, and one with His people. And He continues to call people into this oneness and He does it through us.
I would just like to encourage you to see God for who He is. Those things that seem confusing or downright offensive when you first hear them become joyful when you see them played out in the nature of God.
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love he predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved. In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace, which he lavished upon us, in all wisdom and insight making known to us the mystery of his will, according to his purpose, which he set forth in Christ as a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth.