Week of Dec. 16: There is unity in the Body of Christ
By Helen and Rev. Sam Rogers
Lesson for Dec. 16
Scripture: Ephesians 4: 1-16
Paul was in prison many times in his ministry, and he wanted his readers to know the cost of discipleship. If, as we believe, Ephesians, Philippians, and Colossians (with Philemon) are a group, this time he was in Rome and facing the end of his work. Like the other letters, Ephesians has both a theological and an ethical content. The contrast is not so dramatic in Ephesians, but it is none the less there! The break begins here in chapter 4, where Paul calls for Christians to live like Jesus!
He uses the phrase, “a life worthy of the call from God.” Too often lay people have a different standard for clergy, but there is only one standard by which we all are measured. That bar was set by Jesus and nothing less will do. The world judges Him by how we “practice what we preach!” Remember the poem “I’d rather see a sermon than hear one any day. I rather one should walk with me than merely show the way!”?
This lifestyle is not just for individuals but includes the whole church—clergy and laity! We are the church on earth, and we are the very Body of Christ. In verses 2 and 3, after listing the marks of the character of a Christian, Paul makes a startling statement: “Accept each other with love, and make every effort to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.” One translator suggests that a more contemporary way to say this is: “Put up with one another!” I like that paraphrase because it relates to how things really are in the local church. There are many “hot button” issues that are pretty important to each of us, and we certainly do not all agree! As we are writing these lessons, there is an election to be held. It is so difficult “to put up with one another” under these circumstances. Yet, we must! The world will judge us by how we act and react to each other when we are divided by such issues. When Christians start using labels and calling names, the world stands off and laughs at us. “See how these Christians really are!” rather than, “They’ll know we are Christians by our love.”
The writer declares, in verses 4 and 5, one of the great truths of scripture: “You are one body and one Spirit – just as God has called you in one hope. There is one Lord, one faith, and one baptism, and one God and Father of all, who is over all, through all, and in all.” Seven times the word “one” is used like a hammer pounding home the central unity of our experience in Jesus Christ.
The metaphor of the body is crucial in knowing our unity. There are many parts but one controlling Head. Without Spirit (breath—pneuma in Greek), there is no life. The hope that holds it all together is a world redeemed by Christ. Our methods, organization, practices, even some beliefs may differ, but that is not the source of our unity.
“Jesus Christ is Lord” was the only creed of the early church. When someone is your lord, he is your master. One faith does not mean one creed, but absolute trust and surrender to the love of Jesus. At the time of baptism there was a public declaration of faith that let the world know Jesus, not Caesar, was Lord!
Finally, Paul says much about the God in whom we believe. God is Father of all—love is at the center of that affirmation—not King, not Judge, but Father! God is above all—in control; God is through all—His providence permeates everything; God is in all—His presence is everywhere in all of life. As William Barclay wrote so powerfully, “we Christians live in a God-created (Father), God-controlled (above all), God-sustained (through all) and God-filled (in all) world.”
In the final verses of this lesson, Paul once again turns to the practical application of the grace of God. The New Testament word for grace is the same as gift. So when God gives gifts, we have been ‘graced’ once again. The gifts are given for the church to function as a healthy body.
As this lesson is being written, our grandson Daniel has been critically ill and on life support for over a week. His body was under attack—his lungs, his heart, his stomach and more. His body could not function as God designed it because of illness. Paul sees the same thing happening in the Church when there is dis-function in the body, the church. A great variety of gifts were given so different purposes could be fulfilled. The offices listed were designed by God for the healthy functioning of the body. The church needed all of them, just as the church needs each one of us today! The one thing all of these functions (offices) had in common was the purpose: “to equip God’s people for the work of serving and building up the body of Christ until we all reach the unity of faith and knowledge of God’s Son.” There is so much work to be done! Learning in a class together, working on projects together, reaching out to the unsaved and un-churched together, showing mercy and concern to the last, the least and the lost together, and becoming mature together—measuring up to Jesus Himself.
With such a stance, the world will take notice of the kind of people we are-- who truly make a difference. A word of caution: don’t get caught up in the latest fad theologically, and, when persons do go off on tangents not central to the work of the church, the correction is done in love, not belligerence or animosity. We speak the truth in love. That type of answer will do far more than trying to prove who’s right and who’s wrong. WWJD? You just did it!