Living in Organic Unity
Topic: Discipleship Passage: Ephesians 4:7–4:16
Before God saved you, you belonged to the world. You were tied to the world, to the people of the world and the systems of the world. When God saved you, he took you out of the world system and put you into the church. He put you into the family of God, into the community of people who belong to God. In the New Testament there is no such thing as someone who comes to Christ but does not come into the church. Even as God raised you up and seated you with him in the heavenly realm, he also seated you (or placed you) in the church. And...God gives you something to do in the church.
Vs 7 says, “But to each one of us grace has been given as Christ apportioned it..... When he ascended on high he gave gifts to men.” And vs 16 “when each part is properly working”, using these gifts, the whole body of Christ is built up. Our present teaching series is: How are we to live in response these enormous blessings of the New Covenant? This passage tells us that to live a life worthy of the calling you have received, you devote yourself to “every-member ministry” for the well-being of the church.
Jesus Christ gave you a gift to enable you to play a role in the family of God. This grace is the capacity to do something for others in the family of God. Christ gave you a unique energy and disposition and capacity to bless others. You have a part to play, a contribution to make. You have something that others need. You have a gift that will benefit others. 1Corinthians 12:7 says, “Now to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good”. A gift is just the peculiar way the Holy Spirit chooses to manifest himself through your life for the common good of the church!
You don't earn this gift. You don't deserve this gift. It is not given to you because you are smarter or more talented or from a better family. You don't even select this gift. There is a sovereignty about who receives what and who can do what. Our gifts differ, and the measure of our gifts differ. But there is no one who is left without a gift.
Think about it: Before God asks you to do ANYTHING, before you do any work for the Lord, before he sends you out to do something, before you lift a finger, you are given a gift to BE ABLE TO WORK, TO BE ABLE TO SERVE. Your work of service in the church STARTS with a gift from Jesus Christ! You are not stuck with trying to do something you cannot do. Ministry is not forcing something that is not there. You serve OUT OF a gift. You contribute out of a gift. Anything you do or are able to do is only a giving away of what you have first been given by God.
1 Chronicles 29:14 “But who am I and who are my people that we should be able to offer as generously as this? For all things come from you and from your OWN HAND we have given you.”
When I was a little boy we went to an old baptist church in Indianola. Back in those days we sat with our parents during church, and they passed the offering plate every Sunday. My parents used to us a quarter or a dollar to put into the offering plate when it came by. I still remember how much fun that was to put money in the plate. We gave, but we were really just giving what belonged to someone else. In a sense, Christ is saying to you, “Here, take this gift that I have given you and put it in the offering plate. Take this capacity for service and donate it to other people.”
Vs 8 “Christ ascended on high, he led captives in his train and gave gifts to men.” Forty days after the resurrection, Christ ascended into heaven. He was victorious over death, sin, and Satan. Christ is pictured as a victorious general coming home, leading a parade with his captives behind him and then passing out the spoils of war as gifts to his people.
When Christ went back to heaven he did not leave us without direction, without help, or without gifts. “When he ascended on high he gave gifts to men.” The church is not meant to operate on its own. Christ IS the head of the church, right now and he is presently orchestrating the affairs of his church. He runs the church. He does that by giving gifts to you and me and others, to enable us to do something, to prepare us to function in the church. He sees the need for an encourager and he gives you the grace to encourage the saints. He sees the need for a pastor/teacher and he raises someone up with that call and gifting. He sees the need for someone to speak and he gives someone the gift of prophecy.
The church is a supernatural thing! It does not operate by human work or ideas or plans. There is divine power flowing through our lives, inspiring, equipping us to serve JUST AS HE WILLS. The church is built by these gifts, and continues by these gifts.
Up to this point, Paul emphasized that we walk in a manner worthy of our calling by living in unity, by being completely humble and gentle, being patient, and bearing with one another in love, making every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. God wants us to live in ONENESS with one another! And to emphasize that Paul said, we are in ONE body, we are all indwelt by ONE Spirit, we have ONE hope, ONE faith, ONE baptism, ONE God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all. ONE ONE ONE!
That might prompt the question: If we all are to be one, does that mean you have to be like everybody else? Should we all be doing the same thing? The short answer is “no”.
After all this oneness, Paul adds the word, “BUT”, meaning, what I just said is vital truth but “hold on, there is more that needs to be said. Despite us being ONE in SO MANY WAYS, to each one of us grace has been given or measured out. Romans 12 :6 says almost the same thing, “We have different gifts according to the grace given us”. Here is a way that we are NOT alike. We have been given different grace! It is not just that we have different personalities, and natural abilities, and different tastes, we have something different from God! You have a unique God given ability to serve, a unique ability to impact others, a unique effect on the church! And so does everyone else.
BUT instead of these different gifts or measures of grace diminishing our unity, the idea here is that these differences actually work to bring about a superior kind of unity. These different gifts are essential to this organic, living, functioning unity we are to have. When God made Eve did he make her exactly like Adam? Of course not. God made them different to they could have unity. These very differences help us fit together in a way that benefits all of us.
God called us not just to get along in peace with each other, but to engage with each other, to live and work and function together so that something is happening that is greater together, than could ever happen on our own.
The unity he calls us to goes even beyond being humble, gentle, patient and bearing with one another in love! He calls us to a functioning or working unity. It is the unity that eleven men on a football team must have to be able to run a play. Each guy plays their position and together they accomplish this amazing thing called football that guys like to watch! It is like the notes on a piano that make up a chord. One finger plays a C, the other fingers play other notes and all those fingers together make this amazing thing called music!
And this unity goes even deeper than that. It is an organic unity, or a living unity - like the unity of your body parts. Your body limbs and organs work together in this amazing unity. Your mind makes choices, your brains send signals to you legs they move and you walk. Your lungs expand and breathe air, blood that your heart pumps carries that oxygen to your cells, and you are this amazing living thing we call a human being. That is how the church works.
We are members of one another like members of a body, like an arm is a member of your body. So if you say, I never bother anybody. I'm nice. I stay out of the way. I don't cause any trouble. That is a total misunderstanding of the unity we are called to!
Verse 11 shows that even among the offices and leadership in the church you see people with different gifts yet all functioning together for the building up of the church. Christ gave some as apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors (or shepherds) and teachers. Christ gave the church apostles, men like Paul himself, and Peter and others who founded the churches and had apostolic authority. And all we do today must be based on that authority. He gave some to be prophets, men who were commissioned by God to speak with prophetic authority into the church. He made some evangelists, men who are especially gifted to proclaim the gospel to lost sinners. Christ gave some as pastors and teachers to lead in the local church. This itself shows the great variety of gifts and calling. And the very calling of these men is “to prepare God's people for works of service”. To make every member a minister.
Vs 12 tells us the PURPOSE of this every-member ministry to which we are called. These men prepare God's people for works of service, SO THAT the body of Christ may be built up.” The purpose is NOT just to be unique or different. But by bringing our different works of service to each other, all together we are built up. Vs 13 goes on to describe what this being built up looks like, “Until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God, and become mature, attaining the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.” We reach this unity of faith and knowledge of Christ with others in the church!
All together we become this mature man, who looks like Jesus! All together we look like Christ. Together we are to take on the personality of Christ, the spirit of Christ, the love of Christ. Together we are to look and act like the “whole measure of the fullness of Christ”. Not like a partial Christ, or some what like Christ, but like Christ in his fullness. This all happens as we all do our work of service!
Vs 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.....” When you are living in this kind of engaged, functioning relationship with other believers, THEN..You will not remain spiritually immature ( you will no longer be infants). You will not live a spiritually confused life. You will not be tossed back and forth by every new teaching that you hear. You will not be deceived by cunning and deceitful men.
Many people who withdraw from the family of God actually feel that they are very mature and maybe even more spiritual than others, but that does not mesh with Paul's teaching at all. It is critical to understand that AUTHENTIC Spiritual growth takes place IN his body. When people ask, “Why am I not doing better spiritually? Why does my Christianity not seem to be working for me?” The answer, very often, is that that person has disengaged from the Body of Christ.
Vs 14 continues, “Instead, speaking the truth in love we will grow up into him, who is the head, that is, Christ.” Instead, of remaining immature (and maybe not even knowing it, instead of being being deceived and not knowing it), by being in this body of believers, speaking the truth in love to one another, you will grow up into him, who is the head, that is, Christ.”
We grow up into Christ by “speaking the truth in love to one another”. I believe this means speaking God's truth, speaking Bible truth, speaking the mind and heart of God.... but doing it it love. It has become a stereotype that those who speak Bible truth are NOT strong on doing so with love. Knowledge so easily outpaces humility, love and gentleness. We desperately need to hear truth, but it must be doled out in love.
Vs 16, “From him (from Christ) the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does it's work.” The body grows from Christ. But it is through the body parts, the joints and ligaments that that that power from Christ flows to each person. You are that joint or ligament that he is talking about!
This all happens “as each part does its work in love!” Here is the third time Paul has mentioned love already in this chapter. We bear with one another in love. We speak truth with love, and the whole body builds itself up in love. If you serve in the children's ministry you do it with love, if you pass out communion you do it with love in your heart for people. If you serve on the worship team, you do it out of love. If you set up or tear down after the service, if you bring tomatoes, if you share an opinion in a Bible study, or on face book, you do it in love. Love is the atmosphere in which the church thrives and grows.
Choosing to live in this kind of every-member ministry, in love, is your reasonable response to this grace given to you. This is how you live in a manner worthy of the gifts you have received. I urge you to respond to this grace by offering yourself and your gift to the work of the Lord. You have received a donation, now donate yourself to the well being of the church. By the shear grace of God you are given this capacity to work . Now let each member do his work.
In any family would it be appropriate to isolate yourself in your room? Would it be right for you to refuse to participate in conversation? Would it make sense for you to withdraw from actively helping the other members of your new family?
You have been welcomed by the Father in to the family of God. Your response to this grace is to be engaged, to play a part, to give and receive, to function, in the family of God. You yield yourself up to life in the body of Christ. I say yielding because there is a certain kind of submission involved. It is saying I am no longer my own, I am now a part of a family of God's people, a community of saints.
Offer yourself as a living sacrifice, which is your reasonable act of worship. Offer yourself to the Holy Spirit and get in touch with what he is telling you to do. This should be something we jump at the chance to do. Cindy shared a quote with my by Hudson Taylor that says it so well. “In the gladness of my heart I poured out my soul before God and again and again confessing my grateful love to him who had done everything for me, I besought him to give me some work for him as an outlet for my love and gratitude”.
One: Breath a sigh of relief. Nothing is a heavier burden to bear than the burden of trying to be something you are not, or like somebody else. You function according to the grace that was apportioned to you. Don't compare yourself with those who seem to be able to do greater things or different things than you can. You can say, let me be all that I am called to be but let me be JUST who I am in your power and according to your grace.
Two: You can let go of jealousy. You can accept and appreciate different grace on each person. There is no room for envy, jealousy or resentment. Christ apportioned the gifts. Be grateful for the gift and the proportion given to you. Be grateful for the gift and the proportion given to others. There is no room for disappointment or resentment that your gift is not greater. Wayne Barber said, “anything you have received short of hell is grace”.
Three: Think in terms of seeing a need and meeting it,instead of seeing a need and telling somebody else what you think THEY out to do to meet it. If you see that our youth really need this or that, then step in and play this part in their lives. If you have an administrative gift and you think boy the way things are done is a mess. Then jump in a help with administrative things. If you are thinking people really need encouragement during the week, then begin to make some encouraging phone calls or sent some encouraging cards or begin meeting with someone for coffee and fellowship.
Four: Be with the body so you can function in the body.
For this to work you have to be with the body. You have to be there for one another, to pray for one another, to sympathize with those who are suffering, to encourage those who need a boost, to be happy with those for whom things are going great, to share Bible truths with one who needs to hear promises and truth. You have to be there to show God's love in all ways to all people, week in week out, year in year out.
Resist the natural tendency to slide into non-participation. You are not just an individual believer, but a member of his body. Give up living as an individual and pursue a lifestyle of in-depth fellowship with the people of God.
I know we are all busy. I know many of you have several young children. This message is not meant to give you another 50 pound sack to carry. God understands your situation and he will give you a way to minister to others, if you want him to. Ask the Holy Spirit to use you in the family of God. Offer yourself to Jesus Christ. Just say to him, give me an open door, give me a way I can use my gifts, even now, at this point in my life.
It all really comes back to understanding the immense love you have been shown and then responding to that as Hudson Taylor did, “I besought him to give me some work for him as an outlet for my love and gratitude”. Your response to the love and grace of God is to engage in every-member ministry for the well-being of the church.