Ephesians 4:1-16; Matthew 25:14-30
Today’s reading from the book of Ephesians brings us to the second half of this letter. And if you recall from a few weeks ago, I told you that the first half – or the first three chapters of Ephesians – focuses on universal truths that are good news for all Christians. Especially the focus on God’s grace – God’s undeserved love and favor. This grace is ours. It’s given to us as a gift. We receive it through faith. And it is made possible only because of the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. By the way – I hope you are taking some time each week to take a look at this letter. One chapter – one section – or one verse at a time. And if you want to look ahead of time to the sections that I will be preaching on each week – we list those for you each week at the end of your worship bulletin. So take that home with you
Now today, Paul – again, after laying out for us this amazing thing called grace in the first half of this letter – brings us today to the second half of the letter – using the words “I therefore” – and remember what I’ve told you about when you hear the word “therefore”? – that’s right. Sit up and take notice. “I therefore – beg you to lead a life worthy of the calling to which you have been called.”
What I like about what Paul is saying here is that this thing called Christianity – being a disciple of Jesus Christ – is more than just a set of beliefs. When he says that we are to “lead a life worthy of the calling to which you have been called,” he is saying that this is a way of life. I can’t emphasize that enough. Being a Christian – being a disciple of Jesus Christ – is a way of life.
In essence what Paul is asking us to do is to examine our lives to see if our lives – our thoughts – our beliefs – our values – our actions – our attitudes – align with what we learn from Jesus Christ. Are we good news people? Has your life – has my life – been transformed – somehow made different – precisely because you are a follower of Jesus Christ?
Now when I talk about examining our lives and attitudes – this is not a judgment against you or me or anybody else. And I certainly do not want to give the impression today that I think that Christianity is a system of do’s and don’ts. You know – “Do this,” and “Don’t do that,” and then everything will be right with God. No. That’s called legalism – a rigid system of rules that need to be followed. I do not want to give anyone that kind of impression today. Being a Christian is not about knowing and following all the rules. It’s about grace – and living a life that reflects God’s grace in our lives.
But Paul does want us to examine our lives. And there are two areas of focus from these verses in Ephesians chapter 4 that I want to look at today. The first thing I want you to notice is that Paul is concerned about the unity of the church. And to that end lists several virtues that he wants us to pursue. I like to think of them as attitudes – and attitude is everything, right? Would you agree with me? Attitude is – well – it’s everything. Remember? Life is 10% of what happens to me, and 90% of how I react to it. SO the attitudes Paul lists here are humility and gentleness, and patience. And THEN he says, “bearing with one another in love.”
I think it’s interesting that he should use that phrase, “bearing with one another in love.” How many of you have to bear with someone else, huh? No need to raise your hands – I don’t want to embarrass anybody. But do you have to bear with someone else – or put up with someone else? Or learn to live with – someone else? Paul says, “Yeah. If there’s someone in the body of Christ – someone in the church – that you have to put up with – then bear with them – but do it in a spirit of love.”
You know folks – these attitudes are not always easy to put into practice are they? But there’s a reason that Paul begs us – that’s the word he uses – he begs us to lead lives that are characterized by these virtues – humility, gentleness, patience and love. I know! Not always easy things to do. But there’s a reason why Paul begs us to have these attitudes. And here’s why. Listen! Verse 3:
3making every effort to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.
In other words, it is vital that the church be unified. Now, unity does not mean uniformity. To be unified does not mean that we all have to agree on everything in every way in every situation at all times. Come on. That’s just not going to happen.
But there are very good reasons why we need to work at being unified. Even if we disagree about some things. The reason why we need to be unified is for God’s glory. It’s for the benefit of others. And it’s for our good. Really – a church divided is not a pleasant place to be. And a divided church certainly does not offer a very good reflection to those outside the church of who we are as disciples of Jesus Christ.
Folks – we may not always agree on everything – and it’s not required that we do – but one thing I do hope you will accept. That Jesus Christ is at the center of everything we think, do and say here at Zion Lutheran Church. Christ is at the center. And when Christ is at the center – then we will be salt and light to a world that needs to hear the good news of God’s love and grace and forgiveness in Jesus Christ. When Christ is at the center.
It’s our job to offer hope to the hopeless. But the world is in a heap of trouble if we cannot love one another – even if we don’t always agree. We are a team. We must work as a team. And I will say this – this church – we have come through a few rough spots over the years – and thankfully just a few – but because you do have tremendous love and respect for each other. You know what it means to keep that sense of unity that is so critical – again for God’s glory, for the benefit of others, and for our good,.
I Like the story told “…about a pastor who gathered his congregation in a circle and told them to picture Christ at the center of the circle. Then he instructed them to move forward to Christ. The group complied but at one point they came shoulder to shoulder with each other and stopped. This pastor then said, ‘You can’t get closer to Christ without at the same time getting closer to one another.’”
Now, I’m not going to ask all of you to stand up and do that. Although maybe we ought to try doing that some time. I can guarantee you you’ll remember the point better that way than just by me telling you about it.
Anyway – when it comes to our unity in Christ, then we need to understand that our attitudes – humility, gentleness, patience and love – these are important – in fact I would say they are essential – because our unity in Christ is essential.
So Christ is at the center and the first focus Paul points us to is our unity in Christ. And because we have that unity, we can move on to the second focus of this section, and that has to do with the gifts God gives to be used in God’s service – again – for God’s glory, for the benefit of others, and for our good.
This is where Paul notes that Christ gave gifts to some of us to be apostles, and some prophets, and some pastors and teachers. This is certainly not an exhaustive list, but I want you to catch what the purpose of these gifts is. Don’t miss this. He gave gifts, “…to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ.” So not only is unity essential – but so is the building up of the body of Christ. And you can’t have one without the other!
Now, the gifts Paul lists here fall under the heading of leadership gifts. So I understand that not everyone here is called to be a pastor or a teacher. I know that. But everyone here – everyone of us here today has at least one gift to be used in some ministry.
So we are to equip the saints for the work of ministry. By the way – do you remember what a saint is? That’s right. All of us. A saint is anyone who is a disciple of Jesus Christ. So all of you here today who are disciples of Jesus Christ – you are saints – and the purpose of the leaders of the church is to equip you – the saints – for the work of ministry.
So all of you have gifts for ministry. Every one of you! So when you organize or teach or help at VBS this week – you are using your gift. Or when you’re teaching Sunday School – greeting people – working at Habitat – working with teenagers – feeding the hungry – praying for others – using your musical skills – these are just examples of some of the gifts that you have that you use. And some of us will do our best work in quiet ways that most people will never see or know about. Making a difference for the sake of Jesus Christ – is not just something we give lip service to. It is a way of life.
Let me share with you a story that I love. I’ve used it once or twice before. It’s the story that “…says the angel Gabriel approached Jesus in heaven after his time was finished on earth. Gabriel asked Christ, “Master, did you accomplish everything you set out to do on earth?”
“No,” replied Jesus, “not yet. There is still much to be done.”
Gabriel was perplexed. “Then what’s next?”
Jesus said, “I’ve left it in the hands of my disciples. They will carry on the work I have begun.”
Gabriel frowned and looked rather skeptical. He said, “Do you really think they will? What if the people somewhere along the way forget? Do you have a plan B?”
Jesus answered, “No. I’m counting on them. There is no plan B.”
Folks – I hope you find it an honor and a joy to be a part of this church – this congregation – as much as I do. Together – we are the body of Christ. To the world we bring a message of hope – the good news of Jesus Christ. Our attitudes are crucial. Our unity in Christ is essential. Each one of us using the gift or gifts that God has given us – these are the things we cannot do without.
Jesus is at the center of everything we think, do and say. Jesus is counting on us. We are his hands. We are his feet. We are the ones who carry on the work that Christ gave us to do. If not us who? If not now, when? There is no plan B. Amen