Text: Ephesians 4:1-16
I have very few memories of my childhood before the birth of my little sister. Mostly, I have vague images and the general feeling of Something Changing when the baby was born. I do have one particular memory that largely sticks out because of how embarrassing it is to think about in retrospect. Like many kids who were born in the late 70’s, part of my Saturday morning routine was watching the Smurfs cartoon. One Christmas in early childhood, my Abuelita, knowing how much I liked the Smurfs cartoon, bought me a pair of Smurfs slippers with a plush Smurf head on each foot. You’d think that would have made me very happy, but since it wasn’t a Smurfs toy, I actually cried instead! My poor grandmother! Oh, the ingratitude and selfishness of little kids!
Today, as we continue in our Trinitytide sermon series from the Epistle to the Ephesians, we will see that St. Paul discusses gifts and calling from God, and how they’re not always the same for every person. Nevertheless, God knows what he’s doing; his distribution of the gifts is ultimately for our benefit and the benefit of his whole Church. Please open your bibles to Ephesians 4 beginning at the 1st verse:
I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit – just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call – one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.
Once again St. Paul begins a major section with a conjunction, “I therefore.” This points us back to the end of Chapter 3 in which Paul praises the Lord for the common root in love, and for God’s work in his people, the work that is “far more abundant” than we could imagine. That is, because of what God has done in on a spiritual level, in the “inner man” with Christ dwelling in our hearts by faith, because of all this, Paul urges us to “walk in a manner worthy of the calling.” Humility, gentleness, patience, bearing with one another in love, unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace – these things are possible because of what God has done in our hearts. We are called to live according to who we are, who we have become in Christ Jesus. Indeed, as we have often mentioned, as we paraphrase from Article XII, our good works are the fruit of our justification. They are the fruit of having been made righteous by Christ. They are the fruit of the faith that is the gift of God to us. In your flesh you may be proud, harsh, and impatient. In Christ you are a new creation who is humble, gentle, and patient. And this is how you should walk. The change of heart that is at the root of those new actions is the first of our gifts from God, not explicit in the text, but certainly implied! And this gift is given in one way or another to every Christian. You don’t earn your call by being humble, gentle, and patient. But because you have been called to be God’s adopted child, united with his Son Jesus, you are urged to walk according to that calling.
Part of the calling, part of God’s gift is this consistent theme of unity. St. Paul wrote “There is one body and one Spirit.” Even though the Church is tragically and sinfully divided on an institutional and political level, on a spiritual level we are one body, for we are empowered by the one Holy Spirit. How do we know this? Because we have been called to the one hope: the hope of resurrection in Christ. This idea and this verse are why we don’t re-baptize when Christians from other traditions become Anglican. So long as it is Christian baptism (that is, Trinitarian baptism: in the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit), we consider it to be valid. There is not a Catholic baptism and a Presbyterian baptism and a Baptist baptism any more than there is a San Antonio baptism versus a London baptism. There is one baptism, just as there is one God and Father of all.
Though there is one faith, one baptism, and one God, there are different gifts in the Church. Verse 7:
But grace was given to each one of us according to the measure of Christ’s gift. Therefore it says, “When he ascended on high he led a host of captives, and he gave gifts to men.” (In saying, “He ascended,” what does it mean but that he also descended into the lower regions, the earth? He who descended is the one who also ascended far above the heavens, that he might fill all things.) And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes.
You may recall from our Communion liturgy that we group together “his mighty resurrection and glorious ascension.” In the Great Litany we do something similar when we pray that the Lord would deliver us “by thy glorious Resurrection and Ascension.” When our Lord ascended into heaven he completed the glories of the Resurrection. In the Resurrection he conquered death, and in the Ascension, the Resurrected Lord entered into the Heavenly Temple to pray for us and to minister as our High Priest. When he rose, he freed us from captivity to sin and death. When he ascended he gave us the gifts necessary to continue his mission here on earth. Notice that the list of gifts in this particular passage of Scripture all have to do with leading and equipping the Church: Apostles, prophets, evangelists, shepherds, and teachers. There has never been full agreement as to what each of these titles translates to in the Church today. St. John Chrysostom sees these as historical descriptions of different ministries in Paul’s day. Other Fathers see them as having equivalents in various Ecclesiastical offices we have today. Others see them as various roles or even talents that different folk may have in the leadership and equipping ministry of the Church. It’s certainly not an exhaustive list, as deacons are not present, and we know that they were an office of the Church by this time.
At any rate, all of those debates and discussions are really beside the main point: God’s gifts. God gives these gifts as he sees fit, for the sake of building up the body of Christ. Chrysostom observes that the temptation to arrogance, despondency, or temptation when we look at what others have been given is constant. He writes:
For this reason [Paul] uses the simile of the body everywhere…. Pay attention to what he says. He does not say “according to each one’s faith,” so that he may not induce despondency in those who have not received the great gifts. Rather what does he say? According to the measure of Christ’s gift. “The truly capital things,” he says, “are common to all: baptism, salvation by faith, having God as Father, and partaking of the same Spirit. If someone has more in grace, feel no resentment, for his task is greater too.” … What does according to the measure mean? It does not mean according to our own merit, for if so then no one would have received what he has received. But of his gift we have all received. Why has one received more, another less? This, he says, means nothing, but it is a matter of indifference, since each person contributes to the work of upbuilding.”
In whatever way you have been called to serve in the Church, in whatever way God has given you gifts for serving the Church, rejoice and serve gladly, for the equipping and edification of the body of Christ. Earlier this week we received an email from Bishop Orji saying that he had received permission from the Church of Nigeria standing committee to move forward in the election of some suffragan bishops for our diocese. Unfortunately, he also had to include a rebuke in the email telling people not to get their bishop friends or other clergy friends to lobby on their behalf to get the office! Such politicking has no place in the life of the Church, even though it sadly has ever been present. Rather, we should all use our gifts to help ground the Church in the truth of Scripture so that we wouldn’t be “tossed to and fro” by doctrinal fads, by human cunning, or by craftiness. Whether apostles, prophets, evangelists, shepherds, teachers, whether bishops, priests, deacons, bible study facilitators, catechists, ushers, choir members, etc. we are to exhort each other to put our anchor in the truth of God’s word.
St. Paul gives us an idea of what the proper use of our gifts looks like. Verse 15:
Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love.
Spiritual growth requires the truth and it requires love. It can be all-too-easy to weaponize the truth. Rather than using it in love, it can be easy to use it to hurt the other person, to belittle him, and to build ourselves up. This is a misuse of the truth. For example, as important as apologetics (that is, the reasonable explanation and defense of the faith) is, we need to remember that no one has ever been argued into the kingdom! You may win an argument while losing a soul. On the other hand, the truth can be hard to hear at times. Love doesn’t excuse us from telling the truth. It is not loving to tell comfortable lies. It is not loving to hide the truth lest we hurt feelings. The truth is itself a gift from God, as we are spiritually blind without his intervention. As Christians have a responsibility to use the truth with love and to love in a true manner.
One of the ways we can tell true love and truth that is in love is that it points us to Christ. Ultimately everything we do as Christians should be pointing to Christ. Indeed, St. Paul uses the analogy of the body, with Christ as the body’s head. This is also very helpful when we think of the differing gifts as well as the call to unity. None of the members of the body works independent of the rest of the body. Even our Lord himself doesn’t act on his own. Rather, every Christian needs Christ, and every Christian needs the other Christians. That interdependency, that diversity of gifts, keeps us from ingratitude, from envy, from arrogance. Since each member of the body is necessary, we can be grateful for whatever gifts God has given us. He’s given you your specific gifts for the sake of the body! Since each member of the body is necessary, we all have our part to play and there is no room for envying our neighbor. Since each member of the body is necessary, no member is more important that the others and there is no room for arrogance. Chrysostom writes:
One might say that the whole body receives increase as each member partakes of the distribution of gifts proportionally. In this way … the members, receiving the distribution in accordance with heir own capacities, are thus increased. The Spirit, flowing abundantly from above, comes into contact with all the limbs and distributes according to the ability of each one to receive, thus “enabling bodily growth.”
St. Paul urged the Ephesians to walk in a manner worthy of their calling: in humility, gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love. When we use our gifts in this way, we will be a body built up in love. There is nothing uglier than a church that is driven by arrogance, strife, and pettiness. But there is nothing more beautiful than a church walking together in humility, gentleness, and patience, walking together in the Spirit, imitating our Lord Jesus, to the glory of God. May it be so here at All Saints, in the San Antonio Archdeaconry, in the Diocese, Province, and in the whole Church.
In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.
Part 1: Ephesians 1:1-14 – “The Family Secret”
Part 2: Ephesians 1:15-23 – “Remembering you in my Prayers”
Part 3: Ephesians 2:1-10 – “From Death Valley to the Highest Peak”
Part 4: Ephesians 2:11-22 – “One New Man”
Part 6: Ephesians 3:14-22 – “A Glimpse Behind the Curtain”