“Unity in the Body” / Ephesians 4:1-16

Our reading today is from the book of Ephesus. Ephesus was a young church, and Paul was in constant prayer for the Spirit to help them grow and thrive.

Earlier in the letter, Paul prays for:

  • The inner strength of the Spirit
  • The indwelling of Christ in the believer’s heart
  • For incomprehensible love to permeate our lives
  • To have God’s own fullness
  • For God’s glory to be manifested and proclaimed

Chapter 3 ends, and the message of the letter changes. In the first 3 chapters, Paul deals with the essentials of the Christian faith. Now, he tells what each person must do for the mission of the church to be carried out. The focus this morning is unity.

Would you say Hillcrest is unified? Do we all have our eyes on the same thing? If we are united, around what are we united? If we are united, around WHOM are we united?

Let’s see what Paul has to say this morning, Ephesians 4:1-16

To begin, verses 1-3: As a prisoner for the Lord, then, I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received. Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace.

Paul is urging us to do something. Other translations say Paul is begging us. Paul is begging us to live a life worthy of our calling.

Paul loved the church at Ephesus. In fact, you could say, I love the church at Monroeville. More than once, I have encouraged you to follow what God had to say. A few times, my remarks have been so strong, so passionate, it could be called begging.

Verse 2, to be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. Humility, gentleness, patience, and love. Scholars call these “The Four Virtues.”

Humility: The ancient world looked at humility as a cowering and cringing thing, something to be despised. It was a derogatory term suggesting low-mindedness and groveling servility. And yet, this word was actually coined by the Christian faith! We put it at the forefront!

Christian humility comes from self-knowledge. As we become aware of our own unworthiness, we should have no other reaction. Once we set our life beside that of Christ, our perspective changes; we are humbled.

The second virtue – gentleness. Some translations use “meekness.” I looked – nowhere did I find it called “wimpyness…”

According to Aristotle, gentleness is somewhere between being too angry, and never being angry at all. It is not that you are never angry; you are angry always at the right time – but never angry at the wrong time.

The third virtue – patience, sometimes referred to as long-suffering. We need to be careful with this, so as not to create the wrong impression. This is the spirit which never gives in, always endures. We should never admit defeat! But this is important – never admit defeat, but never retaliate.

The New Testament repeatedly uses patience to describe God.

Listen to Romans 2:4: Do you despise the riches of his kindness and forbearance and patience? Do you not realize that God’s kindness is meant to lead you to repentance? Imagine! What if God was as patient with us as we are with him?

The fourth virtue – the quality of love. Five Greek words for love are eros, storge, philanthropos, and philia. The fifth is agape, which can mean unconquerable benevolence. If we love someone with agape love, there is nothing that person can ever do to us for us change that love. This is not an emotional thing – we don’t fall into agape love; agape love is an act of the will.

Verse 3 – “ Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace.”

Humility, gentleness, patience, and love – from all these four virtues comes a fifth virtue – peace. The only way for Hillcrest to have unity is for these four virtues to be present. The only way for Hillcrest to have peace is for these four virtues to be present.

Humility, gentleness, patience, and love

Paul continues, verses 4-6: There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to one hope when you were called; one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.

“One body” depicts the church (that’s us, folks) as a single visible community. For your information, Paul was writing to a once-divided community of Jews and Gentiles, now united in Christ.

What about Hillcrest? Are we singular in our devotion to Christ? Are we singular in our response to the will of God in our midst?

“One Spirit” indwells the Body of Christ. The Greek word for spirit, pneuma refers to both spirit and breath. Without breath the body ceases to live. Without the Spirit, the Body of Christ cannot function.

Earlier in his letter, Paul speaks of the guarantee, the promise of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is the pledge of our inheritance, the “one hope” to which we are called.

Verse 5 – One Lord, one faith, one baptism; There is only one Lord or master to whom all Christians; towe allegiance; there is one faith in one Lord, uniting all believers; there is one baptism, the external seal of our incorporation into the Body of Christ.

Verse 6 – One God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all. Paul has used this expression before – God is the Father of all. And our Father is above all, through all, and in all.

Paul has been speaking of the church, the Christian community, as a whole. Now he turns his attention to the individual members of that community.

Verse 7: But to each one of us grace has been given as Christ apportioned it. In this particular passage, however, Paul is describing equipping grace rather than saving grace. The grace of God is manifested in the gifts given by God.

God’s grace is manifested thru our gifts – what about those gifts?

Let’s move down to verses 11-13: So Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, 12 to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up 13 until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.

Earlier this year, I did a sermon series on Spiritual gifts, but today I want to focus on the purpose of these gifts of grace. Every gift is to equip the saints (gee, that’s us!) for the work of ministry.

The translation I just read talks about works of service; other translations speak of our ministry to one another.

We are to use our gifts to minister to one another!

How many of us really think of our gifts as ministry?

Whether you are:

  • Doing administration
  • Teaching
  • Folding bulletins
  • Sharpening pencils
  • Serving at a luncheon
  • Fixing a sink
  • Even plunging a toilet, it’s ministry.

And the purpose of that ministry? To build up the Body of Christ.

That’s us, Hillcrest Church!

Should we live out our ministry until we get tired? Should we live out our ministry until someone younger replaces us?

“…until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.”

Looks like our work is cut out for us – at least until we are called home, or until Christ returns.

Verse 14: Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of people in their deceitful scheming.

To keep grounded in the faith, which will be important for Hillcrest to move forward, you need to be here each week, and you need to study each and every day. If you do not, your spiritual life will atrophy, along with your theology.

Finally, verses 15-16: Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will grow to become in every respect the mature body of him who is the head, that is, Christ. 16 From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work.

I read in the comic strip “Dilbert” that as long as you preface your remarks with “With all due respect…” you can say whatever you want.

We need to be very careful when we approach someone with “I’m speaking the truth in love…” Is it really the truth? Do we really love this person?

My friends, let us be truthful with one another – but first and foremost, love one another.

With God’s help, with the Spirit’s empowerment, you will all grow up together in every way into Christ, who is the head.

Everyone, the whole body, will be joined and knit together.

Each part will work properly, and with each other part.

The body will grow, and will be built up in love.