Preached at Balham Baptist Church 26th February 2006
Focus: We are one but different
Function: to enable others to appreciate differences, rejoice in similarities and be encouraged to serve in the Church.
Arlay-looyah Cruise Lines
I would like you to imagine that the universal church is this cruise liner. The life boats are the local churches, such as this local church.
Well this is the new heaven and new earth that the Bible talks about! Yes that’s right. The world is going to be new and turned upside down! What will that world be like, I hear you say?
No tears of sadness! No screams of anguish or pain! All tears are wiped away! No more death! No more sadness! No more pain! No more killing! Babies don’t die in their cots and where all life has meaning. Everybody has their own mansion on golden paved streets! Nobody grows old and everyone has satisfying work to do! Our every desire will be fulfilled. Lions eat grass and lay down next to sheep. This cruise will take you there and its leaving soon! Are you ready? Do you want to go? Are you joyful? Are you anticipating?
Well we need workers for this cruise liner! Any volunteers for the following jobs?
Garbage collectors and cleaners?
Office Workers – gift of administration
Stewards – gift of helping
Lifter-uppers – gift of encouraging
Donors – gift of generosity
Weather forecasters – gift of Prophecy
Navigators – gift of Pastor-teachers
Defenders – gift of Evangelists
Entertainers – gift of music!
Just some of the jobs waiting for you!!
Now you may well be asking, “How is the church like a cruise liner?” Well we, the universal church, are all on a journey together. Each denomination has its own little cabin. Baptists have a full bathroom suite for believers baptisms. Anglicans have a wash basin for their method of baptism. Unlike the Titanic though, the good ship Arlay-looyah is unsinkable. Despite the best efforts of satan, the world and not forgetting those of us inside the church, (past, present and undoubtedly future), the church has been alive now for over two thousand years. Almost every day, the media issue forecasts of doom against the church! How will the church survive they ask sarcastically? Little do they know that the church will continue to be alive until her Captain, Lord and Master, Jesus Christ comes back again on that glorious day in the future!
But until then, we have work to do. A work that involves both our unity and our differences. And it is hard to be unified. Disunity is natural to us!! Its not just a Christian problem. You only have to look at the rivalry between different factions of Islam, in Iraq. Last time all of humanity had any semblance of unity, was at the time of Babel back in Genesis 11 and look what they tried to do then! Now, since New Testament times, we have been called back to unity, by Jesus and the Apostles. When JFK spoke about unity in his inauguration speech back in 1961 he said this in regards to the US relationship with friendly nations “United, there is little we cannot do in a host of co-operative ventures. Divided, there is little we can do—for we dare not meet a powerful challenge at odds and split asunder.” That is true of the church as well. To fight our enemies, satan and the world, we need to present an undivided and united front. When I ask my friends who are not unbelievers what they think of the church, they say “It appears too fragmented in order to present a challenge to us outside of it”.
And so to our text for tonight, of Ephesians 4:1-16. Paul, the great Apostle, under house arrest or in prison, has written to his beloved Ephesians. For the first three chapters he has expounded doctrine at them and now, with the weight of his Apostolic authority, he says “Therefore…”. And at that, he moves to encourage and exhort them to be united. It should be noted here that it is possible, that this letter was not written just to the church in Ephesus, but that there is some evidence to believe that conceivably Laodicea and other churches were the intended recipients. We do know, however, that the church at Ephesus, consisted of both converted Jews and converted pagan god worshippers. It is also possibly that factions were arising between them, much the same as the Corinthian and Galatian churches. So with those introductory comments out the way, lets move on!
One Encouragement To Maintain – (vv1-3)
We naturally like structures and organizations and we form them in order to show unity – examples would be the Baptist Union, Evangelical Alliance and World Council of Churches. And of itself structures are good things, but Paul does not commend any one model of structure to us here, but rather encourages us, to morality and behaviour! This is the ideal church with which to aim for!
Walk with humility and gentleness (meekness) – not self-titled but conferred upon a person by others! – This phrase “lowliness of mind” is only used elsewhere when Paul was saying goodbye to the Ephesian church elders in Acts 20:17-38.
Jesus told us “Blessed are the meek for they will inherit the earth” Mt 5:5. But what is meekness? It is accepting God’s dealings with us as good, without disputing or resisting. It is a giving up of our own rights. Somebody who claims no rights of their own, and who is willing to yield all possessions and personal rights to God and see them as loaned to them by God and for His work & glory. Just as Jesus did. As Paul writes about Jesus in Philippians “Let your attitude to life be that of Christ Jesus Himself. For He, who had always been God by nature, did not cling to his privileges as God’s equal, but stripped Himself of every advantage…” (Phil 2:5-6). Another example is that of the early church where “All the believers were one in heart and mind. No-one claimed that any of his possessions was his own, but they shared everything they had.” (Acts 5:12)
Meekness is NOT weakness. It certainly does NOT mean we become walking doormats for everyone to wipe their feet on. It takes a strong character to deliberately set aside their own rights. For example Moses was the meekest man in all the earth (Number 12:1-3) and he certainly was no doormat. At the time when Paul was writing this letter, meekness was not a virtue the society valued. Nor is it today in this post-modern society. We hear all the time “I have my rights, leave me alone”.
Walk with patience – Forbear one other. Too often we condemn other Christians when we need to have patience with them. We don’t tolerate others actions or words that are different to our own, but are equally biblical!
Walk with love – Paul tells Timothy elsewhere that Christians “shouldn’t be argumentative, to be kind to everyone and patient when wronged”. Show your love! Just as Paul does to the church in Corinth… 1 Corinthians 13? “Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails.” The church, the new community of God, is to love.
Bind with peace – make every effort to live at peace with each other. When some Anglicans have a communion service, often as part of the service, the congregation say “Peace be with you” to each other in a general melee!
Here is a good example of how to put these into action. You hear somebody like the Scientist Richard Dawkins speaking about how Darwinian science naturally leads to atheism, and that all religions are inherently evil. I sit there and think “You wait till one nanosecond after you die mate, and then you will find out how wrong you are!” And that thought may well be accurate. If Mr Dawkins does not become a Christian, he will realize the foolishness of his materialistic atheism. However, on my part, it’s a thought that is smug and lacking in humility and meekness and I have to confess and repent of my attitude. And I know I am not alone in thinking like that about Mr Dawkins.
So often within the church, both at a universal level and sadly in our own local communities, we are too busy fighting each other, rather than getting on with what we are supposed to be doing, which is getting this world back into relationship with the God we serve and love, with the compelling message of Jesus Christ. A story I heard once was that a tourist on a guided tour of Central London once remarked to his guide, that with all the churches in the area, that they must really love God. To which, the tourist guide cynically retorted “Well, I don’t know about that, but they sure do hate each other!”
So lets put on humility, meekness, gentleness, patience and love. Tie them to ourselves with the bonds of peace. And when we do, the world will have to sit up, take notice of us for all the right reasons and not for the negative reasons it so loves to highlight.
One God To Follow – Father Son and Holy Spirit (vv4-10)
Father (v6) – there is only one Father God who works through each one of us as a father loves his family! The Father works both in the large detail and in the small detail.
Son (vv7-10) – there is only one Son, Jesus Christ who the object of our faith, our baptism and our hope!
Holy Spirit (v10) – there is only one Holy Spirit indwelling us who are believers in Jesus, so therefore there can only be one universal Church!
These are our core beliefs, that bind us and is the foundation of the universal church and the local church. We believe in one God: Father, Son and Holy Spirit. The Father figure of the Christian family. We believe in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus. We believe in the indwelling gift of the Holy Spirit, to activate and empower the Church. These are our primary doctrinal beliefs, and are part of Christian creeds down through the years. Now there are other doctrines that we believe and adhere to, but they are essentially secondary doctrinal beliefs – such as baptism. You will note in the Evangelical Alliance statement of faith, baptism isn’t mentioned. Nor is worship style. The way we worship in our church services, is the one big area in which we differ the most. We worship in the way our church tradition suggests to us and also to our own particular individual liking. My own particular favourite style is a spoken liturgy, intercessory prayers, a good 30 minute sermon and songs only sung by a choir. But that is my own choice and when I worship at college chapel, my regular church in Bournemouth or here, I am not going to get any or all of those things. Some people like to have an hour of songs and that’s it. And at Anglican ecumenical meetings, the worship tries to incorporate at least three styles of worship and during the prayers, you don’t know whether to stay seated, kneel or stand up, depending on the church tradition you want to follow! But our core beliefs are the ties that bind us, and worship style is secondary to that.
One Church To Believe (vv11-13)
Spiritual Gifts – Perhaps in the last 40 years or so, nothing has split the church as much as it has, when it comes to Spiritual Gifts. Some people say that some of the gifts are no longer for today. Other churches concentrate on just three gifts – speaking in tongues, prophecy and healing. Yet in the New Testament, there are over 20 gifts listed, and there are probably many more as those lists are not exhaustive. Some churches concentrate on just the Gifts of the Holy Spirit, yet the New Testament says that the entire Godhead gives gifts. Here in Ephesians, Paul writes that it is the ascended Christ who is the giver (v11-13)! Elsewhere, Paul writing to the Romans says that God the Father is a giver of spiritual gifts (Romans 12:3-8). So to say that just the Holy Spirit gives gifts is error. The Holy Spirit empowers us to use our spiritual gifts, but is not necessarily the giver. Spiritual Gifts, then, are not a radical changing of who we are, but are instead a radical becoming of who we already are
What are the five gifts mentioned here? Apostle, Prophet, Pastors, Teacher and Evangelists.
Some church traditions say there are no more Apostles or Prophets. Certainly there can be no more Apostles and Prophets as in those who are the foundations of our faith (Eph 2:20), but to say that there can not be a gift of being an Apostle or Prophet seems to me a little far fetched. Certainly if one kind of gift is still around, such as the gift of evangelist, pastor or teacher, then there must be some form of Apostolic or Prophetic gifting as well. What about these gifts?
Apostle (apostolos). The Greek word means “one sent forth” as in an ambassador on an official errand. Such as Paul and the twelve original disciples who became apostles, who lay the foundations of the Christian church and impart a full body of truth which would guide Christian faith and conduct. If there are any apostles today they might be found among pioneer missionaries who establish churches in foreign lands where the gospel has not yet been proclaimed. We Christians today, are under apostolic authority, as we read the Bible and obey it. Using the analogy of a human body, the apostles are the skeleton and musculature of the human body.
Prophet, means “to speak forth,” and proclaim the mind and counsel of God, for example the gift of preaching. The NT prophet to the nervous system of the body. NT prophets do not make predictions about the future as the OT prophets did, but gather their message from the Scriptures. Nor do I think, is God giving the church new revelation through such individuals today. The gift of prophecy is not for giving secret messages from God to individuals in the church. Prophets vigorously stimulate and challenge the Body of Christ, pastor-teachers patiently feeding the sheep, caring for their needs and always edifying, encouraging and consoling.
Evangelist, The gift of bringing the good news of God to unbelievers individually and in groups, and training others how to lead people to Jesus is the role of evangelists. Evangelists are the digestive apparatus of the human body, taking material which is not a part of the body and transforming it into parts of the body. We all may not have the gift of evangelism, but we are all called to do the work of an evangelist in proclaiming Jesus to a dying world.
Pastor-teacher (poimenes kai didaskalos), shepherd and teacher. The pastor-teacher is the circulatory system of the human body, cleaning and feeding the members of the body.
What is the purpose of Spiritual Gifts? Here to the Ephesians it was service and to keep the church united in doctrine and fellowship.
What Paul seems to be saying in verse 13 is “Come together and then sort your differences out”. This strategy is so unlike the world, which strives to first sort out differences, in the hope unity will follow. How we work that out in Balham, I don’t know, and I will endeavour to come up with some form of answer for one of the essays about my time here. But I do know that the key to our unity, is love, peace, humility and meekness.
What I do know about Balham, is that serving a population of about 13,000 people – we have at least 19 churches, of differing traditions and worship styles, composed of: [Anglican (4), Anglican church plant (1) Baptist (2), Metropolitan Community (1), Free Evangelical (4), Pentecostal (1), Salvation Army (1), United Reformed Church (2), Roman Catholic traditional (1), Roman Catholic charismatic (1), Polish Church (1), Evangelical Spanish Church (1)]. All those churches would say that at least on some level, we agree in God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit.
As we know, there is only one person of the Holy Spirit for all these churches. Therefore only one universal church, but all those churches in Balham. One Holy Spirit, but 9,000 different christian denominations world-wide including 253 in the UK and 635 in the USA. An example of some of the more peculiar names include:
Two-Seed-in-the-Spirit Predestinarian Baptists
Duck River and Kindred Baptists
Church of the Little Children of Jesus Christ
Israelite House of David
Israelite House of David as Reorganized by Mary Purnell
Ancient Orthodox Church
Apocalyptic Orthodox Church
How can this be you ask? Well the universal church has an invisible bond – Jesus. Paul wants this unified universal church, to be visibly united, or why else would he be writing? John Stott gives the example of a family, so I have adapted it. All of my closest family are all in Australia. I do have some family over here in this country. Now when my parents emigrated to Australia in 1953, they ceased being a visible family but were still family tied with invisible ties. As am I, tied invisibly to my family back in Australia, or even to my wife who at the moment is down in Bournemouth. When my wife comes back with me later on this week, we will be a visible family again, and hopefully by seeing the love we have for each other, you will see the visible bond that reflects the invisible bond between us. So it is to be with the church. Invisibly tied together, but currently visibly broken. How do we show our invisible ties? From the Apostle John comes this: “No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us.” (1John 4:12) Not only will we be seen to be united, yet diverse individually, but God Himself will be seen through us.
One Path To Maturity (14-16)
(v13 – be like Christ in maturity!) – Don’t be babies – know what you believe and why you believe it! For this one, let me give you an example to get you thinking about knowing what you believe and why you believe it.
Dotha Blackwood, one of my tutors at college, who some of you may remember spoke here a few months ago has a favourite saying “What sort of God? And so what?” Or in other words, “Know what you believe and why?” I hope that after any sermon or bible talk you hear, you don’t just accept what the speaker is saying. But rather, you take note and decide for yourselves. I am sure Steve and Charles would rather you weren’t being spoon fed like infants but rather listening to what they say, and making it your own. Too many Christians beliefs are defined by the latest sermon they have heard or the latest “new” teaching to come around in that glossy magazine. So here is where truth and love come into play, to help us become mature, self-thinking people of God. Unlike the brainwashing cults, you are allowed to think for yourself in the churches of God.
Truth & love – Truth and love are to be partners in equal proportion. Some churches practise love and no apostolic biblical truth. Other churches practise apostolic biblical truth but don’t love!! We give thanks to those churches who practise truth, but oh that they would show love. Similarly we give thanks to those churches who show love, but fail to practise mature biblical truth. So as God’s people in this new community, Paul wrote earlier about in this letter, we are to be balanced lovers and truth-speakers.
Love – Paul tells us to love people. But loving does not necessary mean liking everybody. I do not think that Jesus liked everyone he met. Such as when he called Herod “a fox” [Lk13:32] and called some Pharisees “white-washed tombs” [Mt23:27]. Unless of course they were secret code words, saying that he liked them! But when it came right down to it, Jesus still loved them. When his beard was being pulled out. When he was being flogged with a whip. When the nails pierced his hands and feet. When the thorns dug into his head – he loved them.
Elsewhere Jesus said, “they will know you are my disciples by the love you have for one another” (John 13:35). That is how the community out there, will know the truths about Jesus. Not through any structure, but through our love for each other. Our love reflects God’s glory and makes Him known.
I used to pray most mornings, that I would be filled with love for others. Sometimes by 2 in the afternoon I would have run out of love. Other times, it had expired just after breakfast! Then one day I heard somebody say that if you want love somebody, particularly that aggravating person you cannot avoid, then willingly pray that God would bless them and pray God’s best for them. Hard to do, but essential in the pursuit of loving those we find aggravating.
Truth – We have heard about love but what about truth? Truth develops character, Peter writes (2 Peter 1:3-9) – The strongest Christians are those with a good growing knowledge of biblical truth. Since understanding the Bible, increases our knowledge of God, it increases the possibilities for love, growth and service. “Ignorance is the mother of superstition not of devotion“. “Truth combats error” Satan and the world, do and will distort scripture to put people off the truth, so therefore, get to know what the Bible does say, so you will not be led into error by others who would want to deceive you. As John elsewhere writes “Dear friends, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world. This is how you can recognize the Spirit of God: Every spirit that acknowledges that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, but every spirit that does not acknowledge Jesus is not from God.” (1 John 4:1-3)
However, for truth to be truly effective, it needs to be an animated truth, by our being doers of the word and not merely hearers. Paul develops this further when he says our lives must be a balance of love AND truth. Love and truth, require us to make small miniature self-sacrifices. But in order to become mature in the faith we profess, a balanced love and truth are necessities.