Unique and United, Part 2
Anyone in here ever had a cold? How was that for you? Not so comfortable if I’m right. Anyone ever think much about why we get colds in the first place? Theology or philosophy aside, medically speaking we get a cold because a cold virus has entered our body and is taking over certain systems so that it can reproduce and grow healthily. In other words, to a cold virus, we are just a big resource center. It is an organism looking to survive just like we are. Its survival just happens to cause us to have a runny nose, headaches, fever, chills, sinus pressure, and a variety of other not so great things. Well, what happens to the body at a time like this? Often what has happened is that some system has dropped the ball and allowed the virus into our body. From there, in the process of reproduction, the virus causes two or three or more of our other systems to stop functioning normally and instead either shut down for a time, or to go into emergency fight-off-the-bug mode in order to rid the body of whatever is causing the problem. Well, when all the systems of our body are not operating as they are supposed to what do we call that? Sick. It could be a little sick, like a minor cold; or it could be a lot sick, like MS. Either way, our general word for that phenomenon is sick. In order for the body to really be healthy, all the parts of the body must be focused on the task. It obviously wouldn’t be good if my heart got distracted, but having a distracted inner ear can be pretty devastating too. On the other side of this, each part of the body needs to be doing its job as expertly as possible in order to really be declared as healthy. If my feet suddenly forgot how to walk, I would find myself in pretty serious trouble. Finally, if a part of my body is sick and unable to do its job, the rest of my parts work their absolute hardest using the very best resources as my disposal to get it back into full operating condition. Unfortunately, there are times when a part is so broken that it becomes necessary to see it removed from the body like when my tonsils joined the other side and tried to kill me in college. But that’s a worst case scenario. Now, those of you who’ve been here each of the last couple of weeks know where I’m going with this. The church is the body of Christ and all the parts have to be actively doing their job to the best of their ability in order for the body to be healthy and if they’re not doing their job then the body’s not healthy.
Speaking of last week, I told you then that I was going to lay out for you a framework useful for bringing every member of this body on the same page and in pursuit of the same vision. I also told you that this framework is built on a two-part foundation of unity and diversity. Well, the way in which this point has been made in the past is to compare the body of Christ to the human body and draw all kinds of applications from this. This has, I hope, been helpful, but eventually there comes a time when analogies grow stale and we just want the truth presented to us in as straightforward a fashion as it can be. This morning as we keep looking at our passage in Ephesians 4 we are going to see Paul put the human body analogy to the side and speak very plainly. Having examined his call to unity last week, this morning we are going to see his explanation of the necessity and importance of diversity in the body of Christ. After exploring this and its implications pretty thoroughly, I’m going to come back around and put everything from these two weeks together for you. We are going to see that through our diversity, our unity is given substance. For now, though, find your Bibles and open them again to Ephesians 4. We are going to really focus on vv. 11-16 this morning so mark that place as we prepare to go forward.
Let me first, though, quickly summarize what we talked about last week. Walking worthy of the calling we have received means making every effort to maintain, keep, guard the unity that the Spirit of God brings with Him when He is active and present in our midst. We do this not by forcing everyone to think and behave in a rigidly uniform fashion, but with a nod to the diversity we are talking about this morning, we do this by practicing the virtues of humility, gentleness, long-suffering, and loving acceptance of who God designed each of us to be. The reason we are able to do this is because of the foundation we stand on: the triune God. Because God is a perfectly united three-in-one God with each member of the Godhead totally distinct in function from the other two and yet perfectly united as one single God we can also be perfectly united in spite of our broad distinctions in identity and function in the body. We are the only religion in the world who can say this, by the way. Every other religion in the world has a unitary god. Such a god can only demand uniformity in his quest for unity. Because our God is three-in-one, though, He can lovingly call for unity in our great diversity. Thus we can celebrate that many followers of Christ who are very much not like us still share in the same salvation if they reside under the remarkably broad umbrella of orthodoxy. On that note, I closed out our time together last week by telling you that our unity springs forth from our diversity and that our diversity is rooted in the variety of gifts that Jesus has given us as a function of His position of glory which itself stems from His humiliating incarnation.
All of that brings us to v. 11 and the real meat of our diversity. If you’ll remember, just before we finished up last week I told you that vv. 8-10 are really a parenthetical justifying Paul’s statement in v. 7 that Christ is the giver of gifts. With that understanding the flow from v. 7 to v. 11 is actually quite smooth. Let me read those two verses for you with a slight interpretive variation on the word “and” at the beginning of v. 11: “[But] grace was given to each one of us according to the measure of the Messiah’s gift…namely, He personally gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers…” Seen in this light, Paul starts talking about the diversity by giving some examples of the gifts Christ gives to His people. Quickly on this, these are examples of spiritual gifts. This is not an exhaustive list. The counterparts to this passage in Romans 12 and 1 Corinthians 12 have similar-but-not-identical lists indicating that none of them list every spiritual gift. Also, the wording of the Greek here further suggests this is not an exhaustive list, but a precisely literal translation doesn’t flow very well in English so different translations interpret the verse in slightly different ways that reveal their theological slant. Yes, it is interpretively difficult that Paul only lists five gifts here and people have dealt with that in various ways including arguing that these five each represent broad categories of gifts. While that’s certainly not outside the realm of possibility, my understanding of this is that Paul lists these five because they respectively have much to do with keeping the body on the right track theologically as well as practically and because they can offer encouragement and understanding to folks with other—equally important—gifts regarding the nature of their gifting. As for the gifts themselves, apostles plant churches, prophets proclaim the word of God to His people, evangelists proclaim the word of God to everyone else, pastors deal with the administration and care of the body, and teachers help people understand what the other four are trying to say.
Even more important than what the gifts are is the purpose behind their being given. In v. 12 and following we get into that. The first purpose (and the one upon which grammatically the other purposes depend) is that they were given “for the training of the saints” as my translation puts it. The word “training” there is the Greek word katartismos which itself comes from two different Greek words, kata and artios, which mean literally “according to” and “fully qualified or right.” So while “training” is an okay translation of the word, a better translation (which some of your Bibles might have) would be the word “equipping.” The nuance is subtle but I think important. With the word “training” it seems as if these specific gifts were given to certain people so that they can train the body in the work of ministry. Well, traditionally speaking, in what person do you think most of these gifts are expected to reside thus singling him out as most primarily responsible for doing this training? I’ll give you a hint: it’s not the deacon chairman. For better or for worse these five gifts have traditionally been viewed as residing in the pastor of a church. This comes out of a pastor-centric church model in which the pastor’s job is to do the ministry and the congregants’ job is to be ministered to. This in turn lends itself to the tragic mindset that if I come to church each week and faithfully sing the songs and listen to the sermon…or at least don’t sleep all the way through it…then I’ve done my duty. I’ve been formed. I can go on about the rest of my life as I see fit. But, when we instead translate katartismos as “equip,” things suddenly change. Instead of Jesus giving specific people the gifts of v. 11 to train others in how to do ministry, Jesus gave gifts like those of v. 11 to all of His people for the purpose of (a fuller rendering of the Greek preposition at the beginning of v. 12) the equipping of the saints in the work of ministry. In other words, Jesus does the equipping and He does it by giving these incredible spiritual gifts to His followers. One of the most worldview shattering implications of this is that there is no one person who is the minister of the church. Each and every member is a minister in some fashion. When someone comes in and asks to see the minister of the church whoever it is they’re talking to should gladly answer, “I’m one of them, how can I help you find the specific minister you’re looking for?” The person might have a need that involves teaching which I am a great person to help meet as I am a teacher by gift and by passion. They might also have a need that falls in an area in which I am decidedly not gifted and sending them to me simply because I am the recognized senior pastor—which we are tempted to do when we come at ministry from the pastor-centric model—might be the worst thing in the world to do to them. On the other hand, if there is another minister in the church who is gifted to deal with that issue, regardless of who it is, that is the person needed in the situation. If one person tries or is expected to do all the ministry then not only is he trying to operate outside of his area of giftedness (which though occasionally necessary is not ideal), but he would also be stealing an opportunity for someone else to serve in the area of their own giftedness. In this way, everyone loses. When our diversity is not properly honored, our unity loses its merit. On the other hand, through our diversity, our unity is given substance.
Now, that was a lot of time on a little word, but I hope you are starting to see the foundation being laid here. The diversity we have been granted by our wise Savior is a benefit to all of us. With that said, let’s take a look at the next two reasons Paul offers for this to see further why it is so. The gifts are given, the diversity is granted, for the purpose of equipping the saints in the work of ministry, to build up the body of Christ. So here, the gifts are given so that the ministries of the church can be carried out and so that the body can be built up. Let’s look at these a bit more closely. The Greek word behind “ministry” is diakonias and as you might be able to hear, is from the same family as the word for deacon. Literally speaking the word refers to someone who waits tables, in other words, a servant. Well, at the risk of being anachronistic, what does a person who waits tables today do? They cater to every whim of their customers and they do it with a smile. That’s the background of our word ministry. Change anything for you? It does imply that Jesus gifts us so that we can serve those around us. Now, the world might look at this and argue that such a service-oriented mindset is foolish because it will ultimately result in us selling ourselves out and collapsing. But the last reason Paul gave us puts a halt on that view. The body is actually built up by this. The Greek behind the phrase “build up” is the word oikodomein. This is actually an incredibly rich word that is often used of the church in the New Testament. It pictures the church being fortified and expanded with the addition of every member until the day Christ returns. At that point it will be a proper bride for the approaching bridegroom. So the idea here isn’t simply that when we use the gifts Jesus has given us we will grow numerically and have more exciting ministries and reach more people with the Gospel, though all those things might be side effects. Instead, we have this incredible picture of the church being built up with the great diversity of its various parts into a proper offering to the glorious Christ “who ascended far above all the heavens, that He might fill all things.” In other words, we don’t or shouldn’t do this church thing solely because of anything we’re going to get out of it (though we will benefit greatly), but rather because Christ deserves it. Noah loves playing with Legos right now. Normally, I will build a tower and he will knock it over. If I build a tower composed of the same brick stacked on top of itself over and over it might be tall and look really impressive as far as towers made out of Legos for toddlers go, but it isn’t very stable and it collapses at the slightest touch. But, the other day I made a tower using a bunch of different blocks stacked together in a variety of ways but with an overall unity and when Noah pushed it over…it didn’t break. It was a stable tower worthy of the name Lego. It didn’t necessarily look all that pretty from an observation standpoint, but it was strong and ready for whatever my toddler threw at it…okay so not so much that last part since it was made of Legos, but you get the picture. The same is true of the church. Through our diversity, our unity is given substance, and we become a proper offering to our Lord.
Well, a question someone might ask in response to all of this is whether or not this is all there is. Are we just going to spend the rest of eternity in a training, or equipping mode? Do we ever arrive? As a matter of fact, we do. The goal of this equipping by Jesus for the work of ministry and specifically the goal of the building up of the body of Christ is that we all reach “unity in the faith and in the knowledge of God’s Son, growing into a mature [person] with a stature measured by Christ’s fullness.” In other words, the goal of this rich diversity is perfect unity. Stated another way, we can’t be fully united until we each individually become fully who God created us to be. Or perhaps this phrasing will hit home harder. Until we belong fully to the body which necessarily means we are learning all about the gifts Jesus has given us so that we can unconditionally serve our world in His name which in turn results in our belonging even more fully to the body, we can never declare that we are demonstrating the unity of the Spirit to the degree possible. Our unity will come when each of us matures fully into the image of Christ’s fullness we were uniquely created to bear. Through our diversity, our unity is given substance.
The results of this are truly remarkable. I have used the image of storms in the past to describe times of trouble in this life. The reason for this is that these times can batter us about and do a lot of damage to the established structures of our lives. Last week we compared our unity here to the unity on board one of the Deadliest Catch ships. On those ships they have some pretty high-tech sonar and GPS gear. Even in the midst of the strongest storms, as long as they trust their instruments (and as long as those instruments are working) they always know where they are and where they need to go. When we are growing along this path to full Christian maturity, Paul says in v. 14 that “we will no longer be little children, tossed by the waves and blown around by every wind of teaching, by human cunning with cleverness in the techniques of deceit.” You see, the thing about the faith is that maturity does not necessarily come with longevity. Someone could be a Christian and go to church their whole life and yet if they are not actively seeking to grow in all of the ways Paul lays out here, then they might be no more mature in the faith then a student who has only been following Christ for a few years and yet has been seeking this growth the whole time. Oh they might be able to quote Scripture and win Bible drills, but that’s not the kind of maturity Paul has in mind here. I hope I’ve made that clear. One of the charges often leveled by critics of the faith towards believers is that we are all driven by a bunch of mindless superstition. The thing is, while there very well may be childish believers (not child-like) who fit this stereotype, maturing in the faith tends to cause people to become much less superstitious than those with a minimal or no faith. When we are immature in the faith we are like a rudderless, instrument-less boat in the middle of a stormy sea. When the waves of life rise up they will bat us this way and that and we will run to anything that looks stable, even if it is really only a flimsy buoy. Or, to change analogies, we will be like young children who are gullible and will run to whatever idea is newest and flashiest. When maturity comes, all of this shiftless drifting stops. And according to Paul in this passage, maturity comes when we grow in the gifts Christ has given us so that we can effectively serve the world and build up the body in preparation for the coming of the kingdom. All of this, then, results in an unshakeable unity built on the foundation of our triune God. Through our diversity, our unity is given substance.
Well, if the result of a lack of growth is that we remain children in the faith, tossed hither and yon by every new doctrine—and as an aside, such a lack of growth characterizes much of the modern American church which has fallen victim to the perpetuation of the passive, pastor-centric model and which has bowed to the culture and celebrated its breadth (marked by theological inclusiveness and secular tolerance) to the exclusion of any real depth which will sustain it in the face of the growing cultural hurricane—the opposite of this is offered in v. 15. “But rather, speaking the truth in love, let us grow in every way into Him who is the head—Christ.” Instead of remaining children in the faith, waiting for someone to come along, wave a magic wand, and make us grow, let us take our spiritual growth personally and actively seek opportunities to grow fully into the image God has designed us to bear. This will happen when we learn to speak the truth; when we learn to embrace reality as it actually is. Indeed, until we understand where we are, we cannot understand where we need to go. But, it is important that we speak the truth in love. The truth must not be used as a club with which we abuse people in the direction we wish for them to go. The truth must be used as a life-giving thing whereby, as God calls us, we call them to this same maturity. By this we grow in every way to be more like Christ who is our true head. He is our leader and no one else will do. Thus, our diversity yields itself once again to unity, giving it the proper form and substance. Through our diversity, our unity is given substance.
So now we have explored the foundation of diversity in as much detail as we did the foundation of unity. We have seen this morning that this diversity comes from Jesus Himself through the gifts He gives to His followers. The intention of these gifts is to equip them so that they will be fully reflective of what is right in the course of their ministry (i.e. service), and to build up the body so that it is rightly prepared as the bride of Christ when He returns. From here we started piecing things together. This diversity, when properly embraced, will result in our becoming fully mature in the image of Christ we bear and will draw us together so that we all know our Savior equally well. We must move every day away from spiritual childhood to maturity by embracing reality so that we can stand in the swell of alluring words and not be enticed off-course. In this way, through our diversity, our unity is given substance. Let me, then, draw this series to a close by offering you a final picture of what this all looks like when done right.
In v. 16 Paul says this: “From Him the whole body, fitted and knit together by every supporting ligament, promotes the growth of the body for building up itself in love by the proper working of each individual part.” With Christ as our head (the Father as our goal and the Spirit as our driving force), the whole body promotes the growth of the body. In other words, the spiritual growth of this church is the responsibility of every member. Certainly our salvation does not depend on anyone else around us, but if even a single member refuses to pursue their personal spiritual growth with the rigors Paul has commended here, the rest of the body will suffer for it. Remember: if one member suffers, all suffer. We are united as a body. Our way lies together. Well how does the body do this? It is fitted and knit together by every supporting ligament and builds itself up in love by the proper working of each individual part. Paul goes back to his human body analogy here so let us do the same thing. The whole body promotes the growth of the body only when every part is operating like it should be. In the human body there is a different part for every different function. The body of Christ is no different. In the human body, each member must do its part in order for the rest to be free to do their part. In the body of Christ this is no different. If one member or a small group of members are serving in areas in which Christ has gifted others to serve then they are necessarily not serving in the areas in which He has gifted them to serve as effectively as possible meaning everyone suffers unnecessarily. Using our analogy, if my heart decides it wants my brain’s job and my brain decides it wants my stomach’s job and my stomach decides it wants my lung’s job and so on…I’m going to be one sick puppy. In His wisdom and grace Jesus has given out a variety of different gifts including, but not limited to, the list we saw in v. 11. The purpose of these is to make sure that every single part is equipped to carry out its ministry. And whether that service is to the world or to the body itself, it is all done with the purpose of advancing the kingdom of God on the earth. Thus, the word that properly describes a body that has members who are not living out this great truth is one you heard earlier this morning: sick. And if you’ll notice, Paul didn’t say this applied only to the young, or to the old, or to the wealthier members, or to the poorer members, or to the men, or to the women, or to anyone in particular. There are no limits on who can serve the Creator. He only needs a willingness to be obedient and He will take care of the rest. As for this body, He has gifted us with people who have a gifting and passion for everything from missions to prayer to youth to children to adults to the shape the buildings and grounds are in. Every single one of these is necessary in order for us to be fully the church we were created to be. In other words, the answer to the question we started with last week (which model is right?) is yes. The right model for us is the one that properly reflects the identity and direction God has given us and with a healthy dose of humility, gentleness, patience, and loving acceptance, will meet the needs of both our membership and our community. Christian unity requires all hands to be on deck and active and it is through our diversity that our unity is given substance.
As a final question: what does all this have to do with our mission and vision? In a word: Everything. Our mission sets the parameters on the identity God has currently given us in order to accomplish the tasks He has for us. This is the truth spoken in love. It allows us to say no to a whole bunch of good things (and bad things) so that we can say yes to the best things. If we do something that does not foster a sense of belonging, lend itself to greater learning, or give way to unconditional service then we as a church should not be doing it, period. Our vision sets the path for our growth into Him who is the head. We will be sending the message that people matter and will thereby be empowering them to engage their world for Christ when we are actively helping them become fully who God created them, Jesus gifted them, and the Spirit enables them to be. In order to effectively send even that message, however, we have to internalize it ourselves. For my Wednesday night crowd, we have to eat the scroll before we can proclaim it. And this is a vision that can empower us indefinitely. Event-driven visions like preparing the parsonage or, more recently, for Homecoming, will always create cycles of feast and famine in terms of our maturity and unity. In other words, when the vision stops so do the maturity and unity. But when our vision becomes the building up of the body until we are fully mature in the image of Christ then the momentum doesn’t stop. So, my friends, with Christ as our head and our vision before us, let us pursue the kingdom together as a unified body in all our glorious diversity until we reach the full maturity of Christ. Let us embrace the great diversity among us in order that our unity, grounded in the character of our triune God, has real substance. And let us truly become a place where people matter and are empowered to engage their world for Christ.