Ephesians 4:7-16 – Be Mature

Christ has generously divided out his gifts to us. As the Scriptures say,

“When he went up
    to the highest place,
he led away many prisoners
    and gave gifts to people.”

When it says, “he went up,” it means that Christ had been deep in the earth. This also means that the one who went deep into the earth is the same one who went into the highest heaven, so he would fill the whole universe.

Christ chose some of us to be apostles, prophets, missionaries, pastors, and teachers, so his people would learn to serve, and his body would grow strong. This will continue until we are united by our faith and by our understanding of the Son of God. Then we will be mature, just as Christ is, and we will be completely like him.

We must stop acting like children. We must not let deceitful people trick us by their false teachings, which are like winds that toss us around from place to place. Love should always make us tell the truth. Then we will grow in every way and be more like Christ, the head of the body. Christ holds it together and makes all of its parts work perfectly, as it grows and becomes strong because of love. (Contemporary English Version)

The Body of Christ, without love as its skeletal structure, would be as ridiculous and silly as a boneless chicken ranch. 

The Apostle Paul, a concerned spiritual father, was encouraging the Church toward maturity, to act as adults in the faith and not like immature children.

Just as the physical body begins small, then grows and matures over time, so the spiritual body (the church) is to focus on incremental slow growth across the years so that it realizes maturity. And the consummate evidence of that spiritual development is strong bonds of love.

Ten days after the Lord Jesus ascended to heaven, the Day of Pentecost occurred. On that day, the Holy Spirit came upon the small band of believers and the church became a full-fledged phenomenon, growing and expanding. (Acts 2:1-47)

The gracious gifts of the Spirit are given to each and every Christian so that growth and strength will come to the Body of Christ through love. Each spiritual gift might be different from person to person, but every one of them is meant to be used in love for the benefit of the entire church.

Without any bones or skeleton, the church will be weak and ineffective. It might look like a church but will not be able to do anything in the world. 

For spiritual maturity to happen, it is necessary for every single Christian in the church to discover their spiritual gift, and then, use it in love to build up the entire Body. This is the God-ordained means of realizing a healthy functioning church. 

It may appear that you and I, as believers in and followers of Jesus, have the luxury of pursuing other interests rather than providing loving and gifted service to Christ’s Church. After all, church attendance, Christian mission and service are all voluntary, right? A volunteer can choose to sit out, right?

Uh-hem (clearing of throat). Wrong. That sort of thinking is based in the goofy notion that the Church is a voluntary society which we choose to become a part of, or not. It isn’t. The Body of Christ, the Church, the people for whom Christ died, was chosen by God – and not the other way around.

Before we chose God, God chose us. We can no more choose to decline Christian mission and service anymore than a physical heart or bodily organ can decide it needs to go do something else – as if they could simply leave the Body or just stop doing what they’re doing without consequence.

No, my friends, for the Body to function, it must work in concert, paying attention to the unique parts which keep it alive and thriving, while at the same time, maintaining the overall health of all the Bodily systems.

Bottom line: We need one another. Going off and continually doing my own thing or picking up my marbles and going home because I’m mad or frustrated, is what children do. When adults act like children, we rightly discern they are immature and need to grow up.

So, instead of lacking self-awareness or being pouty about my blog post, focus on the following questions:

What is your passion and desire for Christ’s church? 

What issues stir you emotionally? 

What group of people do you feel most attracted to reach? 

What area of Christian mission or church ministry would you most like to influence? 

Are there people whom you notice that others seem to ignore? 

Will you step out in faith and learn how God has wired you for ministry? 

Will you speak and serve in the name of Jesus through the enablement of the Spirit?

Loving God, I ask you to give me a heart of faith to trust the Spirit and the Spirit’s work in my life. I ask for a heart that desires the gifts of the Spirit for the common good of all persons. I ask you to help me be open to the gifts of the Spirit in others. I ask for jealousy of others’ gifts to be quieted in me. I pray that my gifts would build up the church. Most of all, I ask for the gift of love. Use me for the strengthening of Christ’s church, and for a positive influence in the world. Amen.

Ephesians 4:1-6 – Realizing Unity and Peace through Humility

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. 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. (New International Version)

In the economy of God, unity isn’t a privilege but a necessity. Unity is not an ancillary or side issue to the real work of the Church and the Christian life; it is very much at the center of Christianity. 

Christians have been fashioned through the Holy Spirit into a single harmonious religious community of redeemed people, called to exemplify a counter-cultural presence in the world. 

There is a solid theological reason for this: God is one. Just as the triune God exists as one deity in three persons, so the church is to reflect God’s image through its unified oneness.

Although unity has been accomplished through the finished work of Jesus on the cross, the practical implications must be daily worked out. This is why we are to strive, or to put significant effort into, having unity. 

Simply getting along outwardly with someone or some group, while inwardly harboring animosity toward them, is not unity. Just because two people are not at each other’s throats does not mean there is peaceful unity. 

Unity only occurs when the Body of Christ works together in its diverse gifts toward a common goal of knowing Christ and making him known… with humility.  

In yesterday’s blog post on Ephesians 1:17-19, I laid down the challenge of praying chapter one’s prayer daily for two weeks. To up the ante on the prayer, try doing it with another person in the church. Having a common unity of purpose in mind and heart through prayer is a beautiful thing. 

In fact, if there is to be any sort of church revitalization, personal renewal, and national revival, it will begin in the prayer rooms of unified believers who share a common love for God and neighbor, a similar attitude of humility and gentleness, and a shared commitment of showing patience toward others.

This is the way of unity and peace. And it requires a great deal of effort to unpack these gracious spiritual gifts which have been mercifully given to us.

Unity is at the center of the earliest ecumenical creeds of the Church. The early church fathers (and mothers) wisely discerned the great importance of a unified faith and striving toward peace with all believers.

We believe in one God,

            the Father, the Almighty,

            maker of heaven and earth,

            of all that is, seen and unseen.

We believe in one Lord, Jesus Christ,

            the only Son of God,

            eternally begotten of the Father….

We believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the giver of life,

            who proceeds from the Father and the Son….

We believe in one holy catholic and apostolic Church.

            We acknowledge one baptism for the forgiveness of sins. – The Nicene Creed

There is one Father, not three fathers; one Son, not three sons; one Holy Spirit, not three spirits.

And in this Trinity, no one is before or after, greater or less than the other; but all three persons are in themselves, coeternal and coequal; and so, we must worship the Trinity in unity and the one God in three persons….

Although he is God and man, he is not divided, but is one Christ.

He is united because God has taken humanity into himself; he does not transform deity into humanity.

He is completely one in the unity of his person, without confusing his natures.

For as the rational soul and body are one person, so the one Christ is God and man. – The Athanasian Creed

Since God is one, we are to be one people. This is the path of peace. One God. One people. There cannot be unity and peace apart from humility.

Invalidating a person’s feelings or thoughts does no one any good. It happens because of pride and a profound lack of humility.

Imagine going to see a doctor who turns out to be arrogant. He doesn’t really listen to you. He just gives a quick exam and offers his diagnosis with a regimen of more pills to take. You’re left sitting there while he’s off to another patient, colonizing another person’s mind and emotions with his expertise.

I’m not giving doctors a hard knock. I know many physicians, and they do wonderful compassionate work. Yet, it’s likely that you, like me, have had that occasional experience of the doctor, all full of themselves, having all the right answers on your pain and situation.

You may have also had the unfortunate experience of having a pastor, therapist, or counselor assess your situation with little information and even smaller compassion. Like writing a script for pills, they give you a few Bible verses and tell you to quit sinning and live obediently.

If pride and arrogance are the original sin, then the remedy to that malady is humility. No matter who we are – whether doctors, pastors, laypersons, patients, or whomever – we are meant and designed by our Creator God to live a humble life.

Humility is the cornerstone to the unity and peace we desire. Jesus said:

“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 5:3, NIV)

The door of God’s kingdom swings-open on the hinges of humility. The Apostle Paul, seeking to follow his Master Jesus in his teaching and humility said:

“Since God chose you to be the holy people he loves, you must clothe yourselves with tenderhearted mercy, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience.” (Colossians 3:12, NLT)

Basic human kindness with one another is grounded in humility.

The beauty of a humility-based existence is that multiple people discover together how to grow, thrive, and flourish in a situation where it isn’t currently happening. Breakthroughs occur in the soil of humility when all voices are heard and given weight.

We live with the confidence of the Psalmist:

“God leads humble people to do what is right and teaches them the way.” (Psalm 25:9, GW)

In the end, it’s a common commitment to exercise humility which realizes unity and enjoys peace.

May it be so, to the glory of God and for the sake of the world.

Blessed Holy Trinity, the God whom I serve, may your church on earth be one as you are one. I pray our unity of love and purpose will transform individuals, churches, organizations, systems, and the entire world for the glory of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

Galatians 6:7-10 – You Harvest What You Plant

Photo by Johann Piber on Pexels.com

Do not be deceived; God is not mocked, for you reap whatever you sow. If you sow to your own flesh, you will reap corruption from the flesh; but if you sow to the Spirit, you will reap eternal life from the Spirit. So let us not grow weary in doing what is right, for we will reap at harvest time if we do not give up. So then, whenever we have an opportunity, let us work for the good of all, and especially for those of the family of faith. (New Revised Standard Version)

“You reap what you sow” is one of those famous (or infamous) phrases of the Bible. Some people have a visceral reaction to the statement because it was used in the negative sense to keep kids obedient. 

However. the actual context for the statement, while not excluding the need to avoid disobedience, is aimed much more toward the necessity of doing good works for others. 

In the Church’s and the Christian’s work of burden-bearing on behalf of those with crushing loads to carry, we are not to become weary as the walk goes on and on. Persevering in good works will eventually lead to a bumper crop of righteousness.

We don’t typically use the words “sow” and “reap” much anymore. We really don’t use very many agrarian metaphors anymore since most folks are no longer living on farms and working the soil. We’re likely more familiar with the words “plant” and “harvest.”

We understand that if we plant seeds in our garden, it will take some time for them to germinate, take root, break the ground, grow, and produce what we want from them. The same is true in life. To expect instantaneous results for the spiritual life is unrealistic; it just doesn’t work that way.

The main orientation of today’s New Testament lesson is patience and perseverance in the doing of good works. Although it might not seem, at the moment, that our labors are really making a dent at all, God is taking notice. The Lord sees each act of service.  Eventually, if we will keep up the slow, tedious, and often dull work of persisting in doing what is right, it will all pay-off in a harvest of righteousness.

Perhaps you have been struggling lately – wanting to see something happen that you’ve been working on or praying for. And it hasn’t happened yet. You’re ready for the harvest and are tired of waiting. 

There are times when I grow weary of having the same conversations with people over and over again. I sometimes grow impatient with impenitent people who only seem to think of themselves. Alas, welcome to the human race! 

God cares just as much, or more, about the process of planting and tending as the actual end of the harvest. In other words, the means of how we go about things are as important as the end result. To help us be accountable, we very much need the encouragement of others in our Christian pilgrimage through this life. 

Accountability is a humble willingness to accept the consequences of our choices, our words, and our behaviors. That is, we need to own our part in situations we’ve been in. It’s about taking responsibility (not for others and their behavior) for one’s self and making things right.

Now all discipline seems painful at the time, not joyful. But later it produces the fruit of peace and righteousness for those trained by it. (Hebrews 12:11, NET)

Honesty, integrity, wisdom, courage, forgiveness, and humility don’t simply fall out of the sky for us. A good and abundant harvest which can be shared with many requires patient and tedious work. These virtues, along with the fruit of the Spirit – love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, and self-control – need careful attention. Like a faithful and patient gardener, we must tend to them, keeping ourselves free of weeds, bugs, and critters.

As we daily tend to our personal garden, we pay attention to how we use our time; know and honor our limits; and remain open to change. We cannot control outside forces, such as the weather, but we can take responsibility for our own choices and the consequences which result from them.

We cannot care for others and do good works unless we have done the work of self-care. Doing good flows from being good, first to ourselves, then to others. We can only give what we have. If we have tended to our garden with care, then the bounteous harvest can be shared with many. But if we neglect our own garden, there will be nothing to give when the season of harvest comes around.

“Which of the commands is most important?” Jesus answered, “The most important command is this: ‘Listen, people of Israel! The Lord our God is the only Lord. Love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, all your mind, and all your strength.’The second command is this: ‘Love your neighbor as you love yourself.’ There are no commands more important than these.” (Mark 12:28-31, NCV)

Caring for ourselves isn’t a luxury. We must give ourselves permission to do it. The way in which we talk to ourselves will eventually become the manner in which we talk to others. The care we learn to extend to ourselves will be the care we give to others.

If we sow and plant good things in our own lives, then we will reap a harvest of good works for others. So, let us do good, especially to our sisters and brothers in the faith.

Patient God, you have been waiting for several millennia to complete your work in this world. It is a small thing for me to keep doing your will with perseverance over the span of my own lifetime. I look to my model, Jesus Christ, who for the joy set before him endured the cross and reaped eternal life for all who would believe. Amen.

John 17:20-26 – The Need for and Importance of Unity

“My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, 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. I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one—I in them and you in me—so that they may be brought to complete unity. Then the world will know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.

“Father, I want those you have given me to be with me where I am, and to see my glory, the glory you have given me because you loved me before the creation of the world.

“Righteous Father, though the world does not know you, I know you, and they know that you have sent me. I have made you known to them and will continue to make you known in order that the love you have for me may be in them and that I myself may be in them.” (New International Version)

What is the Church’s identity?

What is the Church all about?

Why is the Church important?

The Church’s Identity

The Church is made up of people who have been reconciled to God through Christ’s sacrificial death on the cross and brought to new life in the Spirit. This special relationship that believers and Jesus enjoy with their God is a covenant relationship, and, so, the Church is a covenant community – receiving the blessings first promised to Abraham in the Old Testament that all nations would be blessed by grace through faith. 

God mercifully acts on the Church’s behalf through choosing, adopting, and redeeming people. This new covenant community receives the promises of God and exists to follow Jesus Christ in all things. 

So then, the Church is not a voluntary society, like other human institutions. Rather, it is divinely called by God. The Church is the community of the redeemed whom God has joined through the Spirit to Christ. Therefore, an individual, theologically speaking, does not join a church; instead, God joins the Church to Jesus.

The Nicene Creed

This ancient ecumenical creed describes the Church with four identifying marks:

  1. The Church is one. The unity of the Church comes from being in fellowship with God through Jesus in the Spirit – expressed through the bond of love and a common worship which includes the spiritually forming practices of preaching, liturgy, and sacraments. Since believers serve a triune God of Father, Son, and Spirit who exists in unity, so Christians are to work toward maintaining their unity through the bond of peace.
  2. The Church is holy. The Church is holy by virtue of Christ’s finished work. Therefore, the members of the Church are saints, called by God to live in holiness and participate with him in carrying out his purposes on earth. As God is holy, so believers are to be holy in all they do. Since Christians are holy through God’s justification in Christ, so the Church as saints must uphold justice in the world.
  3. The Church is catholic. This means that God’s people are found in all parts of the world throughout all times in history, including every race, class, gender, and ethnicity. Since the Church includes all kinds of people from different cultures, these believers must work together. The Church, across all kinds of denominations, ought to minister together to the total life of all people through gospel proclamation and good works done in the Spirit.
  4. The Church is apostolic. Apostolic means “to be sent.” The Church is not only a people who are gathered for worship and teaching; they are also sent into the world as salt and light to those who remain in darkness. Where the Church goes, the rule and reign of Jesus goes with them so that good news is spread to all nations.

The Church’s Mission

  1. The Church is called to love God.  The Church is the temple of the Holy Spirit, and the house where God dwells. The Church exists to glorify God and enjoy him forever. Christians are to develop intimacy with Jesus through the Spirit.
  2. The Church is called to love one another. The Church is the Body of Christ and is to be a haven for saints. The Church exists for community and is the place where believers are strengthened in faith through the proclamation of the Word in preaching and sacrament.
  3. The Church is called to love its neighbors. The Church is the people of God, being a hospital for sinners. The Church exists to serve the kingdom of God so that God’s benevolent and gracious rule might extend to all creation.

These three dimensions define the Church as being a “missional” community of redeemed persons who are concerned and focused on making disciples of Jesus Christ. The forward direction of the Church is to come ever closer to Christ through faith, be strengthened in that faith together through the Word of God, confidently stepping into the world to engage it with the love and grace of God so that others may come to faith in Jesus Christ.

The Church’s Importance

  1. The Church is a Trinitarian community, birthed as a free expression of God’s love through Word and Spirit. As people created in the image and likeness of God and redeemed for his purposes, believers reflect the image of the triune God.  The Church was important enough for Christ to die for.
  2. What the Church “does” flows from its identity as a redeemed community, being the people of God. So, then, the Church’s mission is not so much about establishing evangelistic programs so much as it is to listen to the Spirit of God and live in the power of the Spirit as it rubs shoulders with unbelievers.
  3. Just as the Father sent the Son, and the Son sent the Spirit, so the Church is sent into the world armed with the grace and love of God as if believers were ambassadors for Christ in a ministry of reconciliation.
  4. God has moved in a “downwardly mobile” way to bring reconciliation to all of creation. God has gathered the Church on earth to be sent as witnesses of Christ’s person and work through humility, meekness, and gentleness so that God’s mercy and peace might become realities in this world.

Therefore, the Church is to glorify the triune God by embracing its missional identity and mandate by making disciples of Jesus Christ through worship, community, and outreach. The Church is to aim its love toward God, one another, and neighbor through Jesus Christ in the power of the Spirit.

The Belhar Confession

This Reformed Confession of faith directly addresses the need for and importance of Christian unity, which was of great significance to Jesus in his high priestly prayer.

We believe in one holy, universal Christian church, the communion of saints called from the entire human family.

We believe that Christ’s work of reconciliation is made manifest in the church as the community of believers who have been reconciled with God and with one another.

We believe that this unity of the people of God must be manifested and be active in a variety of ways:

That we love one another;

That we experience, practice, and pursue community with one another; that we are obligated to give ourselves willingly and joyfully to be of benefit and blessing to one another;

That we share one faith, have one calling, are of one mind; have one God and Father, are filled with one Spirit, are baptized with one baptism, eat of one bread and drink of one cup, confess one name, are obedient to one Lord, work for one cause, and share one hope.

That together we come to know the height and the breadth and the depth of the love of Christ;

Together are built up to the stature of Christ, to the new humanity;

Together know and bear one another’s burdens, thereby fulfilling the law of Christ that we need one another and upbuild one another, admonishing and comforting one another;

That we suffer with one another for the sake of righteousness; pray together; together serve God in this world; and together fight against all which may threaten or hinder this unity.

Amen.