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Ephesians

Chains of Unity

Ephesians 4:1-6

It comes as a surprise to many people, but as far as I have been able to find, there are only two governments on the face of the planet more than two hundred years old. Both of them were founded by men who profoundly believed in the truth of the Scriptures. Neither will last much longer than their abandonment of the principles found in the Scriptures. The oldest is the United Kingdom of Great Britain. The other is the United States of America. If you want something to last, build it on God's principles.

The church was built to last. Today we will see its principles of foundation, and learn how they are to be applied in our lives. First, however, a review. Paul is now about to appeal to us, after three chapters, on this basis:

·         Consider this appeal in light of all the things that Christ has done for us. He has taken the Gentiles, who were once far off, and made them one people with the Jews by his sacrifice.

·         Paul ends that chapter by giving all glory to the one who deserves it: Jesus Christ. To him is due praise and honor and glory, forever, Amen!

·         He now appeals to us on the basis of Christ's work, as shown in his person: He is a prisoner for Christ, quite literally in chains.

·         Those chains are exceedingly powerful. For while they hold Paul to the walls of a Roman prison, they are the emblem of his sacrifice for Christ. He is a prisoner for Christ, and therefore one of his greatest servants. It is not that he is saying, "Do as I say, not as I do," but rather, "See how I have sacrificed for the truth I am giving you."

·         We should not think him powerless, for God's power is made perfect in weakness. Do you recall Elisha? His mentor, Elijah, was a fearful man. But Elisha had a double portion of his spirit. When surrounded by the enemy, he could see that those with him were greater than those against him.[1]

·         In this, he asks us to live a life worthy of this calling. The word used literally means "walk." It is something we do, not just something we intellectually agree with.

(Eph 4:1-6 NIV) As a prisoner for the Lord, then, I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received. {2} Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. {3} Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. {4} There is one body and one Spirit-- just as you were called to one hope when you were called-- {5} one Lord, one faith, one baptism; {6} one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.

The Personal Requirement

Paul begins his begging by asking us to be or do four things:

·         First, we must be completely humble. The King James Version uses the word "lowliness," and I think that expresses the meaning very well. It is the basic virtue, for it is the virtue set against the basic sin, which is pride. Note well, too, that we are to be "completely" humble. Can you see that we must be humble in,

·         Words - do our words sound the call of our own glory, or do they praise our Lord Jesus Christ?

·         Actions - are we always concerned with our own status, or do we care more that others have what is theirs?

·         Bearing - even in the way we carry ourselves, we can either be strutting in the world's way or walking gently in Christ's.

This is all the more important when we consider ourselves in the light of the sins of others. If we are called on to correct the sins of others, our ministry will not be received if we are judgmental. But we must pass judgment on the sin. How can this be? Only if we are clothed in humility, so that the sinner knows that it is not our judgment he faces, but God's.

·         We must be gentle. The King James word was "meekness," and it means someone who is not easy to provoke. It does not, as some think, mean weakness; it means powerful but under control. As Wesley said, it is "our passions in due proportion."

·         We must be patient, or as the King James so expressively puts it, longsuffering. We need to be able to suffer the faults and irritations of others for a long time if we are to please God in this.

·         We are to bear with one another in the bond of love. The word for "bearing" hear carries with it a sense of using your body to hold something up. We are to use ourselves to hold our brothers and sisters up.

The Seven Fold Unity

As a preliminary, Paul asks us to "make every effort" - which implies that we must be diligent. This is not easy. We are to do this to keep the unity of the Spirit - remember, when the spirit of man departs, the body falls apart. To do so (can you not see Paul writing and looking at the chains on his wrists?) we must act in the bond of peace. Let us examine the seven fold unity of the church:

One body

In this context this phrase obviously refers to the church universal. Its oneness, interestingly, depends upon its differentiation! Think of it this way: when you see a man with six fingers on one hand, you don't think of him as having an extra body. But when you see the tragedy of Siamese twins, you think of two bodies. Why? Extra parts don't make a body; extra heads do. To be a body means to be composed of different parts, and we, the body of Christ, are just that. Each of us has his function in that body. But we have one head, and that defines one body.

This is particularly important in a body in which servant leadership is required. The unity of the body is greatly enhanced when its leaders are servants, and not squabbling prima donnas.

One Spirit

In Ephesians to this point Paul has already pointed out the Spirit and his role many times:

·         The Spirit is the seal, or guarantee, of our salvation.[2]

·         The Spirit is our source of wisdom and revelation, so that we might know God better.[3]

·         The Spirit gives us access to God the Father.[4]

·         The Spirit builds us together into the Temple, or dwelling, of God.[5]

·         The Spirit is the one who has revealed the mystery of Christ.[6]

·         The Spirit strengthens us.[7]

Perhaps this is easiest to see in terms of a military unit. Military units have morale, whether high or low. Our "morale" is from the Spirit, who has done all this for us.

One hope

The hope referred to in this passage is clearly the resurrection of the dead. That is a great hope, but for the unity of the church it also means that we all have a common view of the future. We've read the ending, we know what's going to happen. God wins.

·         We know that there is a judgment to come, at which the righteous will be rewarded and sinful punished. There is a heaven to gain, a hell to shun.

·         We also know that righteousness will triumph when he comes again.

These common views help unite us even more.

One Lord

That we have one Lord seems entirely too obvious. That we need only one Lord may not be so obvious. That this oneness of Lordship is a basic part of the character of the church, and hence the Christian, is opaque.

·         First, it is necessary that there be only one person in charge. As Clemenceau once said, "It is not so much a question of one general being better than another. It is a question of one general being better than two."

·         Any relationship which is permanent cannot be based on "equal partnership." Eventually a dispute arises which must be settled by the senior partner making a decision. That is true in the church; it is also true in marriage and many other relationships.

·         It also implies that submission to authority is a constant of the Christian life. For Americans, this concept is quite foreign, each of us feeling we are good as anyone else. But consider: each has his function, and some of us have the function of leadership. These are to be obeyed as they are part of Christ's church, working at his command.

One faith

In the sense used here, this is "the faith" in the intellectual sense. That is, it is the Apostle's teaching. I have on my shelf a book entitled "On the Apostolic Preaching" by Iranaeus of Lyons. It is rather dull writing, but the doctrines outlined in it are common in our congregation today. This may seem remarkable considering that Iranaeus lived in the second century. He was a student of Polycarp; Polycarp was a student of John the Apostle in Ephesus. The teachings he gave are, in general, the teachings we give. They are the faith.

It is not, however, just a matter of intellectual assent. This is not an exercise in the intellect alone (but it is at least that). We must also take matters into action. Faith without works is dead.

Faith is also a group activity. It is not something one does solely in private in quiet times. The faith requires us to proclaim the faith; it requires us to join together in prayer. There is one faith; there is no faith in solitude.

One birth

Veterans will recall how basic training in the military welds a unit together. I still have a friend, almost thirty years later, who went through basic training with me. In a sense, this is the initiation into the military. In the church, our initiation is baptism.

It is symbolic communication, the highest form of communication. It teaches us as we tell the world who we are. For in baptism we say:

"I died with Him"

"I was buried with Him"

"I rose with Him"

"I shall reign with Him"

(Note: there is no sense in the early church of baptism in any form other than immersion. Indeed, the early church took it so far as to baptize its converts while they were naked, so that they would appreciate the sense of death, burial and resurrection.)

One God

There is one God. "Hear, O Israel, the Lord your God is One." By saying "Father" we acknowledge him:

·         As creator. As our fathers on earth were our progenitors, so our heavenly Father gave birth to the worlds.

·         As ruler. Fathers are to rule their households, and this is a reflection of God's rule over the universe.

·         As head of the family. If He is our Father, then are we not brothers and sisters?

He is also shown in three characteristics:

·         He is above all - superior in all respects to us.

·         He is through all - there is no place you can go without his presence

·         He is in all - all who believe have the Father inhabiting them; they are His Temple.

Epilog

Let us boil it down to three main points:

·         Because of what Christ has done, at the cross, which was intended from the beginning of time,

·         We, the church, are one, united in body, Spirit, hope, Lordship, faith and birth under God the Father, and therefore

·         We should be humble and gentle, patient with each other, bearing each other up.

In the coming weeks, we shall see this model applied in a number of different relationships. But consider the points above in regards to your own personal relationships - as, for example, husband and wife.


[1] 2 Kings 6:8-23

[2] Ephesians 1:13

[3] Ephesians 1:16

[4] Ephesians 2:18

[5] Ephesians 2:22

[6] Ephesians 3:5

[7] Ephesians 3:16

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