This morning is Ephesians 4, with expositional teaching from Vaughan Roberts, rector at St Ebbes Church, Oxford. If the internet holds up I’ll live blog the teaching – apologies for any spelling mistakes.
Following this we’re starting with a story version of Mark 4.
Now back into a time of worship.
Sorry we lost internet connection, but here’s the rest of the session:
The video spoke about how Trauma Healing Seminars came out of the Bible translation ministries in Africa, testimony of a young guy from the USA who walked away from church into drug use but during prison God responded when he called out.
Now the Bible reading of Ephesians 4:1-16 and then Table Group time to
John Lennon’s song Imagine has compelling words, “Imagine all the people living in peace” – how we long for a world that is completely united. Breaking divisions of creed, colour and class. The world rejoices when progress is made, e.g. the Berlin wall being dismantled, apartheid being broken. But progress is always tainted, Muslims and Christians in Sudan, Israelis and Palestinians.
We’ve never been so united watching the same TV and drinking the same drinks. Yet we’re still so divided. But we’re not surprised by that, the Bible shows division so clearly, e.g. the Tower of Babel. Yet God has a plan to put this right which we see in Ephesians. Eph 1:10 was the promise to Abraham, and we live in the fulfillment of this following the cross, resurrection and the sending of people all over the world through the Spirit to draw one another to God and each other. Church is the symbol of this, even if it looks unimpressive, the unity of the church is a foretaste of heaven. It’s so sad for the world to see so regularly the church divided.
Unity requires an outworking of God’s call
Chapter 4 is the beginning of how we are to live in the light of God’s work in our life. Note that in verse 3 it is a fact that we’re united, not something we work to, we’re one body because of verse 4 we’re called to a faith of unity. Our faith is not national or denominational but ecumenical. This is the theme of the 20th century church, which began in 1910 at Edinburgh, which recongised not only was disunity a barrier to mission but it was also an affront to God. Whilst this was good as J Packer says we’ve had a trend that abandons core truth, he termed it ecumania. We need to be clear not to lose precious truths. We need to look for unity, there is a great example in Lindsay Brown’s book on student ministry of different tribes in Rwanda fighting, and the Christian university students going beyond their tribal differences and helping each other.
So often our theological differences are because of pride, expecting everyone to fit in with our views, and yet Paul says “Bear with one another in love”. It’s only by God’s gracious love that we belong to the church and we need to use that model to effect our relationships with other people, churches and organizations. We need to first and foremost see one another as Christians. Love for those who are different is extraordinary, love to your enemies is revolutionary – that is what the Christian life calls us to.
Unity requires a proclaiming of His word.
Unity doesn’t mean uniformity. In v 1-6 Paul’s stressed our oneness, in v. 7 he speaks of a way in which we’re different – the different spiritual gifts we’ve received. When humans freeze ice cubes we make them all exactly the same, when God does it he makes snowflakes each individually made. The gifts make together the body of Christ (v. 16) – Vaughan tells a joke of a young preacher taking the body example too far – but Paul only focuses on a small number.
Verse 8 onwards is a fulfillment of Psalm 68. Jesus gives out gifts like at a party, but here Paul only mentions a few: apostles, prophets, evangelists, shepherds and teachers. This isn’t New Testament apostles and Old Testament prophets – no this is the first generation Christians who received the first gospel. Today’s prophets and apostles shouldn’t believe themselves as the same as equal to those first apostles and prophets. The Shepherd is God himself, we as pastors are under-pastors. The ministry of the Word is essential for the development of the church.
The gifts lead to ministry (v. 12) of building up the body of the church – all people need to be seen as those who are ministers – those with the word gift act as a catalyst for others. This leads in v. 13 to unity in the faith – the Gospel comes propositionally but not just as a propositional truth – it leads to personal knowledge. The church is like a bicycle wheel, the closer we get to the hub (the Lord Jesus) the closer we get to him, the more the unity is developed, which leads to maturity. Many of our churches are childish. There is a famine in the world of the word of God so we need more evangelists, but not just there, we see it happen in the church, it is the great omission, no wonder our churches are so unstable. The antidote is (in v. 15) speaking the truth in love – that is the task of the evangelist and the teacher-pastor which in turn becomes the task of all those in the church.
Truth is not a weapon to be used to attack those who disagree on detail, some people love too much to have theological arguments, instead we need to love one another. But be clear that truth is essential.
There is no greater need than to recruit, train and deploy ministers of the word to reach the world. We need to cry out to God, discern his working, investing in training and the colleges – so much of our training is weak we need to invest in colleges etc., and we then deploy not just filling church gaps but reaching the world. And let’s add maintain – too many church leaders are busy doing things they shouldn’t have to do – they should not be distracted from the ministry of the word and prayer. Check out Acts 6 where in an argument about dealing with practical needs of the widows they didn’t forget the widows but delegated that responsibility so the apostles could focus on the ministry and prayer – and we read that their ministry was greatly blessed. Today unfortunately this happens too often, too many ministers are blown from side to side with new trends – we need to commit to long-term leading of ministry of the word and prayer. It looks unfashionable and yet it is critical and will lead to unity in the word.