A Life Worthy
Wesley Memorial United Methodist Church
July 19, 2015
Ephesians 4: 1-16 (CEB)
Therefore, as a prisoner for the Lord, I encourage you to live as people worthy of the call you received from God. 2Conduct yourselves with all humility, gentleness, and patience. Accept each other with love, 3and make an effort to preserve the unity of the Spirit with the peace that ties you together. 4You are one body and one spirit, just as God also called you in one hope. 5There is one Lord, one faith, one baptism, 6and one God and Father of all, who is over all, through all, and in all.
7God has given his grace to each one of us measured out by the gift that is given by Christ.
8That’s why scripture says, When he climbed up to the heights, he captured prisoners, and he gave gifts to people.
9What does the phrase “he climbed up” mean if it doesn’t mean that he had first gone down into the lower regions, the earth? 10The one who went down is the same one who climbed up above all the heavens so that he might fill everything.
11He gave some apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers. 12His purpose was to equip God’s people for the work of serving and building up the body of Christ 13until we all reach the unity of faith and knowledge of God’s Son. God’s goal is for us to become mature adults—to be fully grown, measured by the standard of the fullness of Christ. 14As a result, we aren’t supposed to be infants any longer who can be tossed and blown around by every wind that comes from teaching with deceitful scheming and the tricks people play to deliberately mislead others. 15Instead, by speaking the truth with love, let’s grow in every way into Christ, 16who is the head. The whole body grows from him, as it is joined and held together by all the supporting ligaments. The body makes itself grow in that it builds itself up with love as each one does its part.
We continue this week our look at the letter to the young Christian Church in Ephesus. Even as our thoughts are centered on the way our community has been rocked in recent days, there is here a message relevant to all that is on our minds this morning. Isn’t it wonderful and amazing how God speaks through his Words so appropriately in just the way we need it? Even in the midst of this week’s shocking events, God is speaking to our community this morning in these words. In light of all that has happened this week, there is an important message here.
Last week, we studied the opening of the letter, and the powerful words about our identity in Christ and all that Christ has accomplished for each of us. The whole first half of the letter, the first three chapters, are filled with these beautiful words about God’s work through Jesus Christ. This morning, we are in the opening of the second half of the letter to the Ephesians, which focuses on how we should live as a result of Christ’s work for us. When you take into consideration the fact that our identity in Christ brings with it a call to serve God in Christ Jesus as we talked about last week, then what is laid out here in the opening to the second half of this letter is a pretty big deal. There is a lot here that is worthy of careful consideration, but what I want to focus on the word “one” and the call to unity that is so central to this passage.
There is one thing I have come to believe rather strongly in my brief time as a minister of the gospel, and that where I want us to begin this morning. It is this: there is no fight worth fighting that is worth tearing the church apart. None. Not a single one. No fight worth fighting that is worth tearing apart the body of Christ. Essentially, that is the message at the heart of our Scripture reading this morning. Listen again beginning in verse 4: “You are one body and one spirit, just as God also called you in one hope. There is one Lord, one faith, one baptism, and one God and Father of all, who is over all, through all, and in all.” I don’t know if any of you were counting or not, but if you were, you would’ve noticed that the word “one” is used seven times in those two sentences. Seven times! Do you think we are supposed to work together? Do you think we are supposed to be united as one? Of course we are! But are we in actuality? Of course not!
As a matter of fact, I don’t think the world has ever been as divided as it is now, and Christians in particular. I think we are about as opposite from “one” as you can get while still carrying the same name. We fight and argue about just about everything, and when it looks like things aren’t going to go “our” way, then our response is to divide, to separate ourselves from the people with whom we disagree. Our response is to dis-unite. Why? Why do we do this? Why, when Christ has already given all of himself for us do we have to tear him apart again and again and again?
On Thursday of this week, something terrible happened in our city. It was the kind of attack that you hear about on the news, but it’s always somewhere else; New York, Boston, Washington DC. Not here. Not Chattanooga. But this time, we were the news, it was here. In fact, it started less than two miles from this very spot. We know the story; it’s one that has played out in our news bulletins in recent years more times than we care to count. Someone, believing they are right and others are wrong, lashes out at innocent people who in their mind represent the wrong. Lives are lost, five soldiers. People are injured. All because one person thinks they are better, thinks they are right and others wrong. A young extremist has a selfish, single-minded agenda, and that person believes the only way to achieve his aim is to do away with anyone or anything that he perceives to stand in his way.
To be sure, most people in this world would never even consider such acts as we saw from the young man here in Chattanooga this week. But even as we condemn the horrible actions of this one man here, we need to understand that we in our own ways have at times put our own selfish motivations above all else. Rather than seeking union with our brothers and sisters, our neighbors, friends, and enemies alike, we have instead selfishly pursued our personal agendas. And when we do this, it is always to the detriment of our relationships with God and with one another. When we are only concerned for ourselves, we tear apart the body of Christ.
Yet as Christians, we should live differently; we must live differently. That is what the writer is saying to the Ephesians here in the heart of this letter. If there is anytime when we must unite as one, this is it. If there is anytime that we need to work together as the body of Christ, this is it. Our church, our community has the chance to truly embody the highest ideals of Christ as we come together in the wake of this tragedy, but we must work together. Instead of looking out for number one, we must work on being ONE; one with our brothers and sisters in Christ, one with our Lord, and one with all of God’s creation. We have to be characterized by these qualities that are named in the early verses; humility, gentleness, patience, and love. Our soul aim should not be building up ourselves as the world directs us, but instead “preserv[ing] the unity of the Spirit with the peace that ties [us] together.”
So what does this look like? It means we Christians here in Chattanooga and around the world need to set aside our congregational and denominational pride, and we need to humbly reach out to our brothers and sisters from all walks of life. We need to be gentle and patient with one another as we deal with the grief and the anger we are all feeling. We need to work together to share the love of Christ with those in our community who do not know Christ’s love and yet are so desperately needing it, especially right now. And let me just say this; if we Christians are fighting with one another, then that’s what people will see, not Christ’s love. This is why it is so important for us to be one, for us to work together as the Body of Christ. And right now, part of our work is forgiveness. It’s not going to be easy, which is why we need each other. This is precisely the point which the writer of this letter is trying to drive home in this passage. We can accomplish so much more when we are united together in service as the body of Christ, “the whole body joined and knit together by every ligament.” The news tells the story of a divided world, but we in Chattanooga have the opportunity in the midst of this tragedy to show what it looks like to be united as one in Christ.
This image of the body of Christ is rather common in the New Testament. We heard earlier today from Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians and the central phrase of that passage, “Christ is just like the human body—a body is a unit and has many parts; and all the parts of the body are one body, even though there are many.” He goes on to talk about how the eye and the hand are different and have different roles, but both are important to the functioning of the body. And this morning, we hear in this letter to the Ephesians that, “He gave some apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers. His purpose was to equip God’s people for the work of serving and building up the body of Christ until we reach the unity of faith and knowledge of God’s Son.”
I don’t know that we can hear these words enough. I said last week that we need to go back to that passage from Ephesians 1 again and again to remember our identity as ones called and claimed by God. Well, we need to come to this passage again and again as a reminder of our unity in the body of Christ. This is a message our very divided world, and especially our community, so desperately needs to hear right now, and Christians more than any. Though we should be on the forefront of living and sharing the message of our unity in Christ, we are divided right along with everyone else. Instead of seeking after our own wishes and desires, we Christians (all of us) need to accept that our mind is in Christ Jesus. We’ve spent decades, even centuries trying to be the “head” ourselves because we want things to go our way; we think we know how things “should” be. The problem with this, though, is that we have obscured the gospel of our Lord and Savior.
But we have before us this morning the message of unity made possible in Jesus Christ. If each of us will simply take these words to heart and “live a life worthy” of our calling, then this world will continue to look more and more like the kingdom of God. If we can “accept each other with love, and make an effort to preserve the unity of the Spirit with the peace that ties [us] together,” then the divisions of this world will melt away. But here’s what it comes down to; we have to work for Christ, who is our head. We have to play our part in the body and not disrupt the work of others. As they say up at Camp Lookout, “We are in the build ‘em up business, not the tear ‘em down business.” In the midst of a very divided world, we should be a picture of unity. We need to live this out today more than ever. When people think of July 16, 2015, what will they remember? Will it be the malice and violence exhibited by a single person, or will it be the way an entire community came together as one body, with Christ as their head? When the world looks at us, they should see one, and they should see nothing less than Christ himself.
May we indeed live lives that are worthy.