Big Idea: In Eternity God Envisaged a Church of unity, diversity and maturity
Intro: Well morning friends, visitors and those listening online. My name is Matt Johnson and today as we continue our study of Ephesians I want us to think about the church God envisaged before He created the world. WHAT DID CHURCH LOOK LIKE in Gods’ mind before he said “Let there be light…?
Well when we think about A GLORIOUS CHURCH many of us envisage big gothic buildings in Europe. In some people’s mind this is a glorious church (SLIDE 1). Anyone know the name of this famous church? (RIGHT – ENTER). Others look like this one (Slide 2). Whats the name of this church – anyone? (Right – ENTER). Now no doubt these are impressive buildings. But is this the sort of church God longed to see when he created the world? (Slide 3) This one is also pretty impressive. SYLVIA tells me she has visited this one. Anyone know the name – apart from Sylvia (Right, ENTER). Finally, one that is a bit more colorful (Slide 4). St Basils – Moscow. Hands up if you’ve seen it.
These are all glorious church buildings. But what makes church glorious in God’s eyes. Is it an impressive choir? (Slide 6). Is it the mega church with thousnads in the seats? (Slide 7). This is Calvary Church in India with 250,000 people per week. That is more than double Hillsongs total attendance in all their campuses worldwide. That’s right, double. So if a glorious church is a big church – this wins – hands down. But is this what God wants? Of course, our latest incarnation of church is the ROCK CONCERT with flashing lights and smoke machines (Slide 9). Is this a glorious church? (Slide 10) Or in our more evangelical circles the most glorious churches are usually the ones with the best speakers? Now I’m not having a go at Tim Keller because he has been a faithful teacher. But many Christians just want a spiritual TED talk that inflates little more than their intellect. So is it glorious teaching that makes a glorious church?
Well if you look again at Ephesians 3:21 (from last week) – you’ll see that Paul prays (3:21 – READ). Paul wants God to be glorified in the church and in Christ Jesus – forever and ever. That’s the church’s job. We exist to bring glory to God. But is God most glorified in our great 1)architecture, 2) choirs, 3) numbers, 4) rock-concerts, 5) TED talks or something else entirely?
Point 1: God is most Glorified in the Church when we Walk, the Walk
Show: Eph.4:1-3 (READ)
Explain: Well as we begin today I want to say this is the turning point in Ephesians. The first half of Paul’s letters – all begin with theology and then turn to application. So we are now moving from theology to application.
Second when Paul says in verse 1: “I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received,” the word LIVE is actually “WALK”. You may recall that a few weeks ago I explained that the word walk gets used 7x in Ephesians (Slide 10). Basically, Paul has finished talking the talk (theology) and now he wants us to walk the walk (application). (PAUSE) Sadly, there are many churches who are very good at talking the talk, but not so good at walking the walk. Perhaps, you know some Christians who are like that. They are very good at quoting Scriptureand always talking about God. But when it comes to simply loving another person like Jesus – they are as good as useless. Well Paul wants us to know that if we are truly going to bring God glory in the church – we need to walk the walk. Five times in the latter part of Ephesians – he says walk the walk, don’t just talk the talk.
Now Paul has been very clear in his theology. In the first half of this book Paul has explained the reason God created the world was because he wanted to create the church. God wanted a community where all sorts of people freely came together to 1) worship Him and 2) love each other. And when Jesus died on the cross for our sins this started to happen. (GOSPEL) The penalty for disobeying God is death. If we sin (and break God’s commands) – we deserve to die and go to hell. But God loved us so much that he sent Jesus to die for our sins. Jesus took the punishment for us. So when we believe in Jesus and ask God for forgiveness our relationship with God is RESTORED and we are promised eternal life. Now those who truly get all this start to love Jesus for dying for them and start to worship God for saving them.
But this same gospel message also begins to fix our horizontal relationships with other people. SIN WRECKS RELATIONSHIPS. Sin causes us to hurt one another and so avoid one another. Because of sin families and communities tend to break down. But thankfully, the gospel message of Jesus makes it clear that we are all sinners in need of a Saviour. And if God can show me and you grace and forgiveness as we try to follow Jesus, then perhapswe can learn to show each other a bit more grace and forgiveness as we try to follow Jesus. So as all this happens – the church community is born. And Paul has made it clear that this gospel message is so POWERFUL that not only does it fix our relationship with God, it even has the power to fix the relationship between Jewish believers and Gentile believers…
And this is where the RUBBER HITS THE ROAD today. There are four words in verse 2 and 3. (Slide 10). You know most problems in the church would be fixed if we could just do these four things. 1) HUMBLE – means to consider others better than yourself (Phil.2:3). HUMBLE – means you are just as big a sinner (or possibly even worse) than those around you. So are you truly humble or do you still think you are BETTER than others, SMARTER than others and LESS ANNOYING than others? Whenever we are proud and judgmental of others it robs the church of the unity that God intends. It is a sin to be proud.
What about GENTLE? The word “GENTLE” actually carries the idea of being gentle in spirit. Aristotle defined gentle, not as being soft, but as being in control of our emotions at all times. Not easily angered. Nor disproportionate in our anger. Some of us BLOW OUR STACKS at the smallest offenses AND we MAKE MOUNTAINS out of mole hills. Friends that is not a gentle spirit. That is a harsh and judgmental spirit. Jesus said; “Come to me, all you who are weary and heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am GENTLE and HUMBLE in heart…” If Jesus is GENTLE AND HUMBLE with us, surely we should be like that with each other…
What about PATIENT and FOREBEARING? What sort of people do you need to be patient with AND what sort of people do you need (literally to put up with in love) – easy people or hard people? (PAUSE). That’s right – hard people. The church will always have hard people in it – because Jesus saves sinners. So, are you a patient person OR a fly off the handle at the slightest offense sort of person? If you are the latter – you need to ask God to forgive you and change you oever and over again until he does changes you. 1) BEARING GRUDGES, 2) NOT FORGIVING and 3) FLYING OFF THE HANDLE at others is NOT walking the walk, no matter how much you talk the talk.
Apply: Paul is urging us to do everything we can to preserve unity in God’s church. So we need to learn to say SORRY. Practice it with me – SORRY. We need to learn to say sorry for the sake of unity. We also need to learn 2) to FORGIVE and 3) bear with others faults and foibles. We need to be PEACEMAKERS, instead of troublemakers. THIS IS SIMPLY PRACTICAL CHRISTIANITY. It is preserving the bond of peace that we share with other Christians. And when we do this – it is more more beautiful to God – than the SISTINE CHAPEL. Yes, there is something beautiful about God reaching out and touching Adam’s finger in PEACE. But what is even more beautiful to God is when Christians follow God’s example being peacemakers with each other. Remember blessed are the peacemakers for they will be called children of God (Matt.5:9). Who does God want you to make peace with today – for the sake of church unity?
Point 2: God is glorified in the church when we maintain our Unity
Show: Eph.4:3-7 (READ)
Explain: Well Paul talks now about THE THINGS we must agree upon to have Christian unity. Paul is saying our unity together as Christians is based upon a group of non-negotiable fundamental truths that unite us. So lets look at them briefly (Slide 13)
Well the first thing we see is ONE BODY. This is talking about what we might call the universal Christian church. THE UNIVERSAL CHURCH is made up of all true believers worldwide – regardless of denomination. Now of course, there are other groups – like the Mormons, or Jehovahs Witnesses or even Muslims – who sometimes associate themselves with Jesus. But they are not part of the church. The idea of one body is that there is one true church scattered worldwide. And it is only with this one true body of believers that we can maintain our UNITY. You cannot have unity with those who belong to a different body.
Well, the second thing we see is ONE SPIRIT. This is talking about the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit – is the one who forms the church AND gives us our unity together. Now do you believe the Holy Spirit is a DISTINCT, but EQUAL spiritual person to the Father and the Son in the Trinitarian God? If you are a Christian your answer should be yes. As Paul talks about what unites Christians – he talks about the Trinity. He talks about 1) the Holy Spirit, 2) the Lord (talking about Jesus Christ) and 3) God the Father. And I’d say one of the things that unites ALL true Christians is a belief that God is Trinity – one God in Three Persons. Catholics, Orthodox, Protestants and Pentecostals all believe God is Trinity. Any group or person that does NOT recognize that God is Trinity – like JW’s, Mormons or Muslims is NOT part of the true universal church. This is a non-negotiable. Belief in the Triune God is one of the things that unites us. We believe in unity and diversity.
The third thing is ONE HOPE. True Christians have the hope of JESUS’ RETURN. We know that Jesus is coming again to judge the world and that when he comes – all those who believe in him will be ushered into heaven. This is the Christian hope.
Fourth, the ONE LORD – is talking about God’s Son, Jesus Christ. Throughout EphesiansLord always equals Jesus. And true Christians agree that Jesus is the Lord. Not Mohammad. Not Joseph Smith who founded the Mormons and not even the Pope. What unites true Christians is that we all agree that Jesus alone is the Lord we should follow and obey.
ONE FAITH expresses the idea that our Christian faith has an agreed shape. Our Christian faith is based on the BIBLE. Of course, the way Christians interpret the Bible may vary a bit among denominations. But all true Christians will agree that our faith is based solely on God’s Word in the Bible. If people A) reject the Bible or B) base their faith on the words of some guru, or C) their own thinking or D) even their own visions and dreams – then they are starting to depart from the one true faith. The Christian faith is based on the Bible.
SIXTH, ONE BAPTISM is pointing to entry into the church. Now again, there may be some debate among Christians as to how and when baptism should be done. But all Christians agree that IN BAPTISM we are identifying ourselves with Jesus’ death and resurrection. Its not our good works that save us. It’s not our ancestry as Jews and its not our church attendance that saves us. What saves us is Jesus’ death on the cross. And in baptism all true Christians identify themselves with Jesus’ death and resurrection. This again is something that unites us.
Finally, THE FOCUS ON ONE GOD AND FATHER OF ALL – is again not only 1) a statement of Trinitarian faith, but also 2) monotheistic faith. All Christians agree that there is one supreme Creator God who is over all, through all and in all. Christians do not believe in a pantheon of gods like Hinduism. Christians are united in the belief that there is one Sovereign creator God who is Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
Apply: Now whether these SEVEN TRUTHS are the TOTALITY of non-negotiable truth or REPRESENTATIVE of what is non-negotiable truth is left unsaid. But the point is – our unity as Christians is actually based on a set group of beliefs and values. Of course, where these fundamental beliefs of Christianity are denied – we cannot have fellowship or unity. COMMUNITY is based on shared convictions and values. But wherever these fundamental Christian truths are acknowledged Paul urges us to extend the right hand of fellowship (even if the people themselves are very different to us). Even if the difference is as big as Jew & Gentile, or Aboriginal & White fella, or Chinese & Taiwanese – wherever these fundamental truths are upheld – we should make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit – because this is how GOD IS GLORIFIED IN THE CHURCH.
point 3: God is also glorified in the church when we value our diversity
Show: Eph.4:7-11 (READ)
Explain: Well in verse 7 – Paul begins to emphasise the importance of DIVERSITY in the church. Paul explains that to each Christian different graces and insights have been given as Christ apportioned it.
Now Paul says these differences are actually good. And to make his point Paul says in verse 11; Jesus has made some people apostles, others prophets, some evangelists, others pastors and teachers. Now all these different people still teach the Bible. And the reality is the DIFFERENCE between an apostle and a prophet and an evangelist is pretty small. Most commentaries on this passage will tell you that the difference between a pastor and a teacher is almost unquantifiable. So what we are talking about are 1) really small, but 2) important differences in church leaders. And Paul’s point is that these small differences actually add value. Now who’s more right in their application of God’s Word – the evangelist, or the prophet or the pastor? They all have their own nuances. Ask a Christian evangelist, a pastor, an apostle, a prophet and a teacher what is the most important thing in the Bible you’d probably get 5 slightly different answers.
So Paul’s point is that these small differences in the church actually add value. What we need in the church to attain true maturity is an appreciation of both our unity and our diversity.
When Paul talks in verse 7 about Jesus giving grace to each one of us – he means all of us, (not just the church leaders). Like the different church leaders we all have subtle differences that shape our Christain lives in slightly different ways. Some of that may come from our Jewish or Gentile ancestry. Some of it will come from our life experiences whether rich or poor. But what Paul is saying is that those small differences between Christians (that sometimes drive us crazy) – are actually there for our good. The differences between us – actually create opportunities for us to learn from each other.
That Christian in the church whose 1) spiritual emphases, or 2) biblical focus or 3) cultural lens that really annoys you the most – may actually be Jesus special gift to teach you something important that you are currently overlooking or missing. Just as the pastor has something to teach the evangelist and the evangelist something to teach the prophet – so each Christian because of their differences has something to teach other Christians. But do we have the humility, gentleness and patience to listen and learn?
Apply: Here’s the APPLICATION. To truly be a church that glorifies God we need to be a church that not only talks the talk, but also walks the walk. And to really walk the walk we need to have the MATURITY to know what are 1) the Christian non-negotiables and the MATURITY 2) to know where small differences in interpretation and application may actually be an opportunity for us to learn and grow. But the problem is – all too often THE CHURCH A) maintains unity with those who are throwing the non-negotiables out the window, while B) we break fellowship with real Christians over secondary things that don’t really matter half as much.
When this happens Paul says – we are like INFANTS tossed back and forth by FALSE TEACHERS because we lose our moorings. These deceitful teachers tell us the fundamentals are really secondary matters AND the secondary matters are really fundamentals. And the next thing that happens is Satan has us COMPLETELY COMPROMISED or COMPLETELY DIVIDED and we fail to bring God glory in the church. This is infantile and stupid.
Paul explains that we will only become A TRULY MATURE CHRISTIAN CHURCH that speaks the truth in love when we understand and value both our unity and diversity as Christians. A) Yes, there are some things we must all agree on as Christians whether Jew, Gentile, black, white, rich or poor. But B) there also some things we can agree to disagree upon as we humbly and gently learn from the difference gifts and insights Jesus has given to each of us. Im sure there are some things Paul wants the GENTILES to learn from the Jews AND there are probably some things he wants the JEWS to learn from the Gentiles. But it is only as we have the maturity to know 1) what is non-negotiable and 2) what is negotiable that we will A) maintain our unity, B) speak the truth in love into each others lives and C) grow upto become in every respect the mature body of him who is the head, that is Christ. …