A Call to Unity and Peace | Ephesians 4:1-7
Brad O’Dell | October 16, 2022
Welcome! It’s great to see you all this morning.
If you have your Bibles with you, go ahead and turn to Ephesians 4. I have already done a sermon on Ephesians 4 in this church, but I’m not going to do the same passage. I’m trusting you guys remember that one, not so much because I was very memorable but because it’s available online and you can go check it out whenever you want. We’re actually going to be doing a different portion of Ephesians 4 today.
While you turn there, I want you to think about a three-legged race. Who here has actually done a three-legged race? Show of hands…okay, most of you. Good; this is a good illustration. A three-legged race, for those of you who don’t quite have the idea in your mind, is where your legs are strapped together with the inside leg of someone else, and there’s usually a course for you to run, and you two have to run together, and you usually have to race others and beat them. So you have to be working in unity together, working in consonance with one another, but also knowing where you’re going and how best to achieve the course that’s in front of you, a three-legged race.
I want you to think about a three-legged race and a couple errors that can happen.
One thing is you can get so focused on just making sure that you are in lockstep with the other person and that it’s smooth that you’re only looking at one another, right? You both step together, and you do that slowly; then you take the next step, then you take the next step. You just go, go, go, go, and you’re so focused on another and your smoothness that actually aren’t focused on the goal or your speed at all and you can kind of wander off from where you’re going or not make very much progress.
The other error that can happen is both people can be so focused on the goal that they’re not focused on one another at all, and if you have seen three-legged races you’ve seen this happen a few times. In the excitement, what we do is we just tumble over one another. We are making progress toward the goal, but it’s a stumbling, fumbling, not-very-efficient progress. It’s not the kind of progress we want to be making.
The key to a three-legged race is you have to be doing both. If you’re really good at it you can easily come into unity and consonance with the person alongside you while also staying focused on the goal.
What happens is you actually kind of find a new rhythm together and a new identity together. Your gait is going to be different than your normal gait, and your rhythm’s going to be different than your normal running rhythm if it were just you, but you find that together with someone, and together you can be efficient.
I want you to have that image in your mind, because I think it helps us get a picture for a little of what we’re focusing on today in the text at the beginning of Ephesians 4. We’re going to read Ephesians 4:1-7, and I’d ask you to read with me from God’s word. Paul says,
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 Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all. But grace was given to each one of us according to the measure of Christ's gift.
We’re going to stop there, though I know that opened up another whole section. Again, there’s a whole sermon that’s been preached on that; you can go back and find that for the rest of Ephesians 4. But we’re going to stop there, at the first seven verses.
Here’s the big idea of the sermon today, and here’s what we’re going to focus on, and here’s what I want you to walk away with as a church: we ought to make every effort to maintain unity and peace in this church. That’s the core thrust of this passage, and we see it right there in verse 3. In the language of the ESV it says, “Be eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace,” being bound together in peace. I think that’s a really wonderful visual for us.
That’s what we’re focusing on from this passage. Some of you might be saying, That’s a little interesting, preacher. I would actually think the main idea of the passage is to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you’ve been called. I would agree, except that that’s actually the theme of really the rest of Ephesians, Ephesians 4-6. Paul tells us here to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which we’ve been called. Later on he’ll say, “Don’t walk as the Gentiles do.” In chapter 5 he’s going to have three iterations of walking; he’s going to say “walk in love,” he’s going to say “walk as children of light,” and he’s going to say “walk as people who are wise and not unwise.” So he’s going to actually take this language of walking worthy of our calling and he’s going to flesh it out in a lot of different ways.
What I want to do is focus on this piece of what it is to walk worthy of our calling in Christ, and that is to walk in unity. Now, it’s kind of the big idea of chapters 4-6; walking in unity, especially in the midst of the diversity that’s present in the church, and then walking in purity as the people of Jesus.
This is all grounded in what Paul has laid out for us in the Ephesians letter. I’m not going to go into a lot of detail because I don’t want any Eutychus moments here—if you know Eutychus, he’s the one who fell out of the window during a long sermon, right? We don’t want that! But if I’m going to try to reduce Ephesians 1-3 into a statement, which seems a little presumptive, but roll with me, Ephesians 1-3 is essentially this: what God has done for us and thus who we are in Christ—what God has done for us in Christ and then who we are as a part of that or because of that in Christ.
Paul lays this out in chapter after chapter, wonderful phrase over wonderful phrase, and he says, “So this is who you are because of what God has done for you in Christ by grace; therefore, I’m calling you to walk worthy of that calling. Key to this—the first thing I’m going to mention is, make sure that you are eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.”
Why do I say “make every effort”? “Make every effort” was a phrase I used. It’s tough to see in the English language, but that Greek verb there is a very strong verb, when it says “eager to maintain.” One scholar, Marcus Barth, said it like this, and I think it’s a good quote. He said,
"It is hardly possible to render exactly the urgency contained in the underlying Greek verb. It’s not only haste and passion, but a full effort of the whole man is meant, involving his will, sentiment, reason, physical strength, and total attitude. The form of the Greek verb excludes passivity or quietism or a wait-and-see attitude in the people of Jesus; instead, it communicates this: it communicates, 'Yours is the initiative; do it now! Mean it! You are to do it, and I mean it!'"
Such are the overtones in verse 3. Such a calm way of finishing that. All of that is the strength of the verb. That’s why I say we need to make every effort. This is a strong admonition from Paul.
I think one reason I was drawn to this text as I prayed over the course of the last few weeks, asking God to say, “What are you going to do in this single sermon in the midst of our Exodus series?” He brought to mind a lot of conversations we’ve been having at the elder table and staff meetings. We just kind of have attached this phrase to it: growing pains.
Our church has been growing a lot in the last couple of years. We’ve grown by about 50 per cent in our attendance in the last couple years. From averaging around 200 people per week we’re actually averaging closer to 300 people per week. That’s a lot of growth. That’s a lot of adjustment. Maybe a lot of you have recognized some of that adjustment. Maybe you don’t see it as much because of the one service, but especially if you’re in the 11 o’ clock service, we’re pretty packed. It’s a good thing; it’s a blessing. God is doing through our church. He’s reaching people in this community, and there’s a lot of growth.
But with a lot of growth comes growing pains. Our children’s ministry—one reason we added a children’s minister is we’re averaging around 20, maybe 25 children a couple of years ago, week after week. We’re now regularly hitting 50 and even 60 children per week, and it’s not really showing any signs of slowing down. There’s a lot of growth.
As a church grows, some changes happen, some adaptations happen. You don’t know everybody. New relationships have to be formed. It’s a good time for us just to remember what Scripture calls us to. Let us make every effort to maintain unity and peace in this church.
I don’t preach this because this is something that isn’t happening. I think the blessings of God are evident in you in that all of you are quite good at this, and this has been something that God has really blessed this church with over the course of many years. But let us not let our hands off the wheel and coast; let us continue to make the effort.
Now, as we’re talking about unity in this sermon, it’s important that we kind of have an idea of what we’re talking about. I’ll just attach two words to it: relational unity and doctrinal unity. There are a lot of things we can put in this, but I think this will help us.
Relational unity—I think that’s the big idea, right? Scripture calls us to be peacemakers; it says to be united in the Spirit in the bond of peace. This is this relational unity. This is a mutual giving of ourselves to one another, sacrificially in service, with regularity. It’s a brotherhood atmosphere amongst ourselves. It's mutual peacemaking, right? Everyone’s involved in that.
But I think 1 Corinthians 12:24 gives us some language. It says, “God has so composed the body that there may be no division in the body . . .” There’s that idea of unity, no division in the body. “. . . but that the members may have the same care for one another. If one member suffers, all suffer together. If one member is honored, all rejoice together.”
I think that’s it, right? As one person called it, it’s a heart unity. We deeply care about one another and we are affected by one another and we’re shaped by one another, such that we rejoice with those who rejoice, we mourn and weep with those who mourn and weep.
However, John Piper I think made a good point that helped me this week. He said unity is actually value neutral in itself. You can be unified for bad things and you can be unified for good things, right? We see a lot of examples of people being unified for things that do not accord with God’s truth in Scripture. Unity in and of itself is not a good thing.
Unity must be unified in what is true and right and good, and that’s why I have the second, a doctrinal unity, that we are united in what we are pursuing from Scripture. Of course, this demands a little bit of theological triage. Triage is a German word for “tier”; it just means prioritizing things.
There are foremost things that we’re united in. We’re united in the gospel, justification by faith; we’re united in the fact that God is Trinity, that Jesus is a hundred per cent man, a hundred per cent God; that the incarnation is true; that Scripture is authoritative. These are first-tier issues that the people of God all across time and all across denominations must be united in.
Then there are second-tier issues, maybe like baptism and the specific mode and timing of that; maybe church government. There are third-tier issues that we can stay in a congregation united with—maybe our view on eschatology, our views on the presence of alcohol in the believer’s life—right? Stuff like this where we can disagree.
But relational unity and doctrinal unity. I think in a church we also share some priorities and goals. I think that’s what we’re talking about when we’re talking about unity in this sermon.
I would say this: with relational unity you can fall into error, like the three-legged race, where this is only looking at each other. If you only try to be united relationally and never make any waves, you can go into error really easily because you’re not paying attention to where you’re going. If you’re only focused on doctrinal unity and you’re only focused on the goal, then you can all pursue it, and you can probably make some progress, but you’re probably going to beat each other up on the way. That doesn’t manifest what God has called us to in Scripture either.
Instead, it’s coming alongside. We’re finding rhythms together and finding how we walk this walk and run this race together as a people. I think this is what these Scriptures are calling us to.
Paul has some supporting things. I’m going to give three reasons why we make every effort to maintain unity, and then I’m going to give two reasons how. Why and how; three reasons why we do this that we see in the text, and two reasons how.
Why to maintain unity
The first is, why? Why do we need to do this? Why is this something that we need to make an effort, that we need to be active in?
(1) The first is that the diversity of the church demands it. Do you understand that in God’s sovereign plan, in his wisdom, he decided to make the church very diverse? We see this in the text as we go forward. It’s going to focus on the diversity of gifts. People have different personalities, they have different gifts. They’re good at different things, they’re weak at different things. And all of us together manifest something wonderful, and we grow up into the fullness of Christ. That’s what it’s going to give us in the rest of Ephesians 4.
But we also see it earlier in Ephesians when it’s talking about the Jew/Gentile distinction, right? It says that God has broken down the dividing wall by reconciling all in one body; that is, in Jesus. What we’re looking at is we’re looking at cultural backgrounds, we’re looking at socioeconomic backgrounds that are different. We’re looking at ways of life that don’t quite mesh together, and God’s saying, “Now you are all one in Christ, and I’m calling you to be one.” God has made the church diverse across backgrounds, cultures, nations, tongues even. He calls us to be unified.
That’s one reason we need to make an effort; because those are things that naturally divide human beings in the secular world, or apart from God’s Spirit. Our effort is to make sure that we seek unity and peace in the midst of those things that make it a little more difficult. It makes us change our gait a little bit, if you will, as we’re running.
(2) Second, another reason why. This is what we see right there in verse 1. I’m going to say it like this: it is fitting to our calling in Christ. It is fitting; it is consonant with, it is appropriate to our calling in Christ or our identity in Christ.
I think that’s the meaning of that word “a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called.” We’re not gaining worth for ourselves and making it to where we have some type of recognition before God that we didn’t. We’re not attaining something for ourselves; that’s not what’s in mind. It’s a walk that is consonant with; it is fitting to what God has called us to in Christ.
What is our calling? Have you asked that of the text? What actually is our calling? I can maybe say it like this: it’s to walk fully in the reality of our new life and inheritance in Christ. That’s the answer of Ephesians 1-3: to walk fully in the reality of this new life and inheritance we have in Christ. So in Ephesians 1:18-19, after laying out all the blessings that have been given people in Christ, Paul says, “I pray that you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints, and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power toward us who believe.” “I pray that you would truly know these things. I just told it to you, but now I’m praying that you would really know it at a deep heart level; that you would experience it; that it would change how you walk day by day.”
He says again in Ephesians 3:16, after going on and talking about the unity that exists between Jews and Gentiles, he says, “[I pray that you would be] rooted and grounded in love, that you may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge.” That’s his prayer.
We also see it later on in chapter 4:15. It says, “Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ.”
He’s saying there is a walk that is consistent with, that truly manifests, the realities that are true in Christ, based on what God has done for you in grace. So this is a walk that is fitting.
But why is unity fitting? If this is our call, to walk fully in this reality, why is that fitting to this? Why does it fit? Why is it consonant with it?
I’ll say this: it’s because all of these realities that Paul lays out about our salvation in Christ are communal realities. They’re communal realities. Almost all of the personal pronouns in Ephesians are plural. That’s “y’all.” If you have ever been in the south—I don’t know if they do it much here; I guess in the midwest we take some of the things from the south and throw it in here and there, right? “Y’all.” This is “y’all.” All throughout the letter, Paul goes hick and he says “y’all.”
What he’s trying to communicate is that everything he’s talking about these realities, they are shared in community. They are accomplished in community; they are walked out in community. If you’re going to do this in community, you need to do it with unity and with peace among you as you pursue these things.
This is who we are in Christ. This is who he’s made us to be. He hasn’t just saved us as individuals to kind of walk our own spiritual walk and do our own thing and come to church and check in individually and check out. No, he’s called us into this community. He’s actually called us into this identity in Christ that is only realized as we walk in community. We are one member of the body; we are one piece of the temple. This is all language from Ephesians to communicate what our identity is in Christ.
These are communal realities. That is why it is fitting that we would have a walk that is unified and that makes sure that we are bound to one another in peace.
I’ll just ask at this point, how are you doing? How are we doing? I think any time we see some admonitions like this in Scripture it’s always good to just turn around and say, “How am I doing? Am I connected? Am I engaged? Am I letting myself be shaped by these people? Am I a peacemaker? Am I one who’s full of forgiveness and grace, the way Jesus was full of forgiveness and grace toward me?”
That is a high and holy calling, and that is a beautiful calling. That’s my next point.
(3) The last reason why we see in this text is that it reflects the glory of the Triune God. Triune is just another word for Trinity, another word for the three members of the Godhead. It reflects the glory of the Triune God.
We see this in verses 4-5. It says, “There is one body and one Spirit—just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call—one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.”
What you see immediately, just at a cursory glance of the text, is oneness. Paul really thinks oneness is important and God really thinks oneness is important. But if you look a little closer you realize, you know what? This is the most iterations of the word “one” in this amount of text anywhere in the Bible. If you look a little closer you see that the word “one” is repeated seven times, which in Scripture usually reflects the perfections of God’s glory.
We see that Paul is actually grounding this call in the oneness of our Triune God. He’s saying throughout the Scriptures that as we walk this way, this is who we’re reflecting. One body and one Spirit; those go together because the Spirit is the one who has indwelt all the members of the body. He seals them for the day of redemption.
We see one hope, one faith, one baptism all in Jesus. Jesus is our hope, we are all baptized into Christ, Jesus is the object of our faith. And then we see one God and Father of all; one family, with one Father over all.
What Paul does is he kind of grounds this call to unity in the oneness of God, and he says that as you live this out you will radiate something of the majesty of God and his perfect love and his perfect goodness, and the life that is in him, and that life will not only catch you but it can catch others.
Jesus says it like this in John 17. I think this should be on the screen. Right before he goes to the cross he’s praying for his people, for believers, and he says, “Father, I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me. The glory that you have given me I have given to them, that they may be one, even as we are one; I in them and you in me; that they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that you sent me and loved them even as you loved me.”
As we pursue this, as we make efforts, as we check ourselves and lay ourselves down for this great goal, the world sees, and it knows that we are sent by the Almighty God; that he is true, that his life is real, and that his love is real and is manifest and is available.
Those are our three reasons why in this text we see we make every effort. What a wonderful call!
How to maintain unity
I also want to look at a couple practical things, and that’s how. How do we do this? We see those in the text as well. I think we see two reasons how we do this.
First, connected to what we just talked about, not only is God the goal of our unity and the manifestation of it, but he’s also the source.
Flip two pages over to Philippians 2. That’s easy, right? It’s just a couple pages over in your Bible. Philippians 2 is another great passage on unity. At the beginning of Philippians 2:1-11 Paul is calling for unity, and it’s the same themes. He’s saying, “Let this unity be manifest in you, and let this humility that accomplishes this unity be manifest in you the way it was in Christ.” Then in verse 14 he says, “Do all things without grumbling or disputing.” He’s going on with that theme. “Don’t do things that disrupt unity.”
Right between this we get these verses that we say all the time, but we don’t usually say it in context. It says this: “Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you both to will and to work for his good pleasure.”
“It is God who is at work in you both to will and to work for his good pleasure.” I think that involves a lot of things related to our salvation. I think it’s appropriate for us to apply it to a lot of paradigms in our Christian walk, but I think we should at least apply it to the things that Paul is talking about here, and that is a humility and a oneness of mind and a unity that should be manifest in the body of Christ among the members of the body of Christ. He’s saying that God is at work in you to work this out. This is his plan; this is his heart for the church. He is faithful to do it.
Then he says, so, if he is working it in—here it is—“why don’t you go work it out among yourselves?”
That’s the next point I have. Not only do we receive it from God, but we have some practical instructions in the text for how we do this, and that’s this: we walk in Christlike humility, gentleness, patience, and love. Those are the four things it says. Walk in Christlike humility, gentleness, patience, and love.
We could also call this the fruit of the Spirit, if you have that memorized. All the same language is there: humility, gentleness, patience, and love.
I want to give us a couple understandings of this before I bring this home for us in our context.First, humility and gentleness.These are kind of interesting words that Paul layers together, because they seem to be contrasting ideas. Humility—the main way this word was used is that of a servile fear or a servant’s posture before those in control of him, right? Kind of a groveling posture, this very humble posture.
That’s kind of what he has in mind there. You might say, “That seems a little odd,” but we do see it manifested not only in Paul, who’s a prisoner for the Lord on behalf of these Gentiles (that’s what he says here in chapter 4 and also in chapter 3), but also we see it in Jesus right before he goes to the cross, right before he prays that great prayer we just read, when he takes off his garments, he takes on a servant’s towels, and he starts washing the feet of his disciples. He’s saying something there. He’s saying that “the way of my kingdom is a way of servanthood, this very humble heart posture.”
This is literally a lowliness of mind. It’s this reverence and this respect for others that you put yourself underneath—maybe not ultimately, in God’s eyes, but just kind of in your attitude. So there’s one idea.
The idea of gentleness is actually that used of a horse that has been reigned in, that has been broken, and is useful for a purpose. This is the idea of strength that has been brought under control.
We see that both of these words together—this idea of this very lowliness of mind and then there’s one who’s a very strong personality who’s brought it into control for good and right purposes—we see these are the two words used of Jesus, that Jesus is gentle and lowly in heart, or he’s gentle and humble in heart. So these specifically radiate our Savior.
Then we see that we are called to patience. It says, “. . . with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love.” Church, if we’re going to make an effort to walk in unity and to maintain peace together, we’re going to have to do it with a lot of patience. We’re going to have to bear with one another.
Brian said this in a sermon not too long ago, but I’ll say it here, and maybe you will say that I said it down the road and give me credit for it. “Bear with one another in love.” The fact that that command is given to us in Scripture means that there are going to be times where we have to really bear with someone. That means someone’s going to give offense, someone’s going to be frustrating. We’re just not going to click with someone, but we still have to work with him.
Do you know that that’s how the church works? God specifically designed it that way and he has a purpose in it. He says, “That’s what’s in front of you. Engage. That’s what I’m calling you to, because this reflects something of who I am and what I am able to do, so that the glory is mine and people’s eyes are turned to me, not to whatever you might be doing in your own power.”
I want to think of a few things that keep us from doing this. I think if we’ve been in the church long enough we kind of know, “Okay, I know that we’re supposed to be unified, I know we’re not supposed to be jerks,” right? I know I’m not supposed to divide easily. But I think some things keep us from doing this.
I’ll just say it like this: maybe it’s different forms where we can kind of slip into self-inflation. This is really one of the biggest barriers. We’ve talked about some of the natural barriers, just kind of the diversity in the church, but this is the barrier in and of our own hearts. We have a tendency to self-inflate ourselves in different ways.
I’ll say it like this: “My desires are best, my thoughts are best, my goals are best, or my ways are best.” I want you to examine maybe if some of these things could be manifest in some of your thinking, some of your language.
“My desires are best.” I know what I really want to see happen in this church. I have some ministries that I’m really passionate about and I don’t see anyone else passionate about them. I know this is how I feel comfortable. My desires are best. It’s not that other desires aren’t good, but I kind of think mine are best, and that’s why I made it a point of tension. My desires are best.
“My thoughts are best.” I’ve been in the church a long time, preacher. Hey guys, if you would listen, I know some things! I know how we’re supposed to do these things. I have a lot of experience; I have a lot of wisdom; I have a lot of great thoughts. If you guys would just . . . because in some ways I kind of think my thoughts are best. You guys have good thoughts too, but mine are a little better. Maybe you should listen to mine instead.
We can kind of entrench in these things, right? If we don’t get our way, then something’s wrong with everybody else. I think we need to look in here.
“My goals are best.” Sometimes we want to see something specific happen. We have a vision for some different ministries. Those are all good, those are wonderful; we want to hear from the vast experience and the contribution of everybody, right? This is not to say anything against that. But when you take it to the point where it creates disunity or tension, in some ways you kind of think your goals are best, and you’re not letting yourself submit to the goals that the church has decided on collectively through its forms and functions.
“My ways are best.” What I have here is, the way I carry myself, the way I live life, right? This is my personality; this is how I’m comfortable. This is how I think we’re supposed to behave in spaces like this. When other people don’t do that, I don’t like that person, right? Or I have an issue with that person, or maybe I withdraw from that person and I disengage. In that way I’m not actually making an effort toward unity, kind of slipping into a separation.
I think these are things that we can all fall into. If we just look at our language we find that, yikes, we do this kind of in everything in life. This is what we are! This is how we are as humans. These are tendencies we have; it’s something to be aware of and to check ourselves with.
What might this look like practically in the church? I said it a couple times, but this is important.
First, engage. Engage in the church. Get involved. Bring your experience, bring your wisdom, bring your ideas to bear. Don’t step back and avoid. There’s a way we can come to church and be a part of a church and not actually ever be a part of the church. You know why? Because we don’t have to bear with anyone. If we’re just disconnected, we don’t have to actually commit to anything and walk alongside; we don’t have to change our running gait at all. But that’s not what God’s called us to. He’s called us to engage. You are a member of the body of Christ—you are a vital member of the body of Christ. The body only grows effectively if you are playing part! It says that later in Ephesians 4. So engage.
But maybe a little practically, when you join the worship team, we want your talent on the team, but don’t come with your ideas of what you think worship is, and it’s not there yet, so you’re coming to surreptitiously flip the whole script and make worship the way you want to make worship. Instead, come alongside and join with the worship team and the leadership and walk alongside. As you’re walking alongside in mutual respect and love and unity and peace, then the Lord will use you to shape that team appropriately and to bring your strength to bear on that team; as opposed to coming as a source of division or disunity.
When you seek to be a group leader, come seeking to carry on the rhythms and the patterns of the team and some of the goals of the team. Don’t come because you kind of want to do your own thing or you just want to get together with your friends with whom you don’t have to do this stuff as much because it’s easier. Right? No, no, no! Engage in the life of the body. Come looking to connect with where the church is going. Then, as you walk alongside, desiring the good of everyone there, then the Lord will use you to shape and to mold and to better that team. He’s going to shape you and mold you in the midst of those teams as well.
Same thing with children’s ministry or hospitality. That’s the idea that we have in front of us.
A couple other practical things. People, watch your speech. You know that as we speak things we can kind of speak things into reality into our own hearts. I’ll use an example. In marriage, one of the greatest pieces of marriage advice is, don’t have a pattern of going and talking bad about your spouse with some group of people and that’s just kind of what you do because that’s the rhythm. You know why? Because as you speak that out more and more regularly it entrenches in your heart more and more deeply. Those things that maybe were a joke actually become a big source of grievance and maybe dislike, and maybe animosity.
The way we speak can actually become reality in a lot of ways, so watch your speech. We want you thinking critically; we want everybody here bringing what they can bear on the church and speaking their wisdom into us. We have some mechanisms and some ways to do that. But watch your speech, that you don’t consistently just speak out what is negative.
Connected to that, watch your thoughts. Sometimes we’re really good about not speaking it out, but we’ll just sit here and steep in some negativity. Every time I walk out of the service—I didn’t hear the message really, I didn’t get caught up in the worship, I’m not thankful at the table—I’m just focused on that one thing I don’t like that much, and I go and I just sit and I think and I think and I stew in it. It’s something that can happen to all of us. Let’s just be aware of it, because these are things that kind of breed disunity in our hearts, and that fleshes out eventually in the church.
A couple other things. We saw in this text that we can expect to be offended. So, when that happens, don’t take everything to a ten at the level of offense. Can’t we do this? When we’re offended, we’re like, “That person’s the worst person, and I’ve never been more offended than this in my life!” Really? I mean, really? The guy got in and took the spot in front of you in the parking lot. But we can do this. Be aware. “I’m going to have some charity and some love, and I need to do this. I’m going to make an effort in and of my own heart to do this. I’m not going to escalate everything to a ten.” There are some tens out there, maybe, but they’re rare. Save it for the right moments.
That’s good enough. I’ll leave that there.
I want to focus on this last one, and that’s the simple little phrase that got dropped in here, and I think it wraps all this up and encapsulates it together. It says, “. . . with all humility and gentleness, with patience . . .” Remember, this is how we carry out this call. It says, “bearing with one another in love.” That’s really what we’re called to do. We’re not called to just kind of get along, we’re not called to be acquaintances, we’re not called to be a work team that we can work together on a project and then split up. We’re called to genuinely and deeply love one another with the love that Christ has for us. That’s what Paul prayed for them, right, at the end of chapter 3: that Christ may dwell in their hearts through faith and that they would be rooted and grounded in love, and that they would have strength to comprehend the full extent of this love, and that they would truly know this love of Christ that surpasses knowledge.
He’s laid this out for them already. He’s already explained this to them. But now he’s praying to God, and he says, “God, I know that their hearts need to get it more, and it needs to go deeper, and I’m asking you to do it fully so that they may be filled to all the fullness of God.” What a phrase!
That’s ultimately what we’re called to. We’re called to love one another the way Jesus loves. We’re called to humble ourselves the way Jesus humbles himself. It says this in 1 John 3:16: “By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us, therefore we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers.”
I think we see in Jesus a few things—we see our example. Don’t we see the example Jesus set in Philippians 2? I’m not going to read it because we’re getting long on time, but it says that Jesus is our example, and what did he do? He humbled himself by coming down out of heaven. He emptied himself, and then he humbled himself to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore God highly exalted him. Jesus is our example. This is how Jesus lived and brought life and joy. Isn’t this how we should live, so that we can experience and bring life and joy?
Jesus is our logic. I said it right there. Jesus shows us that the way to exaltation in God’s kingdom doesn’t go through self-inflation, but it goes through self-sacrifice. Look at your patterns, look at your language; look at the way you’re walking in relationship with people. Is that what it is characterized by—self-sacrifice? That’s how exaltation happens in God’s kingdom. Jesus is our logic. He’s our example.
Jesus is our delight. Don’t you see how wonderful, don’t you see how glorious [he is]? We can’t put into words how lovely it is that Jesus did this for you. For you! He took your pain on the cross, he took your punishment on the cross, and he gained the victory that you could not gain, and he gives it to you to walk in.
It says in the beginning of Ephesians that God has “blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus,” and it says he gives us an inheritance that is sure. What is the inheritance? The same inheritance that the Father gives to the Son, Jesus. We get to share in that. How lovely, how wonderful! Do you just rejoice? Do you rest? Are you overawed by it? Out of a deep love for Jesus, do you love what he loves? Don’t you understand that he died for the church? Right before his death he prayed that they would be unified; that they would be one as he and the Father are one. Jesus is our delight.
Ultimately, as we see in Ephesians 3, Jesus is our goal. As we live this way, we grow up into the fullness of who we are in Christ, and we truly know our Savior, Jesus Christ.
That’s our calling from Ephesians 4, church: that we would make every effort to maintain unity and peace in this church. Why is that? Because it’s how God constructed the church, it accords with the life that he’s called us to, and it magnifies God and reflects his glory. But also, ultimately, it’s because Jesus for the church, and he lives to accomplish this through us by his power. As we walk by the Spirit, seeking him, following his example of humility, following his gentleness of heart, we’re going to see the grace and the love and the life of Jesus being manifested in this church more and more. We will build ourselves up into the fullness of what we’re called to be in Christ in love. That’s how this section of Ephesians 4 ends.
How are we doing? What’s the Lord pressing home on your heart from these? Where does it hit home in your life; where does it hit home in your own thoughts? I ask that we dwell on that as we transition to our time of reflection. Let’s pray.
Lord Jesus, we thank you for your grace and your love. Words cannot express the wonder of the hope and the promises we have in you, the life we have in you. God, we can’t grasp the grace that has been shown to us and is continually shown to us in Christ. God, we thank you for the forgiveness that you’ve given in Christ. We thank you for the steadfast love that you give us in Christ. We thank you for your longsuffering, day after day, and we thank you that you have sealed us with the Spirit and you’ve called us your own.
Lord, our prayer is that we would manifest that grace, that love, that mercy, that gentleness, that kindness for the magnification of your name and for the radiation of who you are in this church and in this city. God, that’s our heart. We ask that you would do it. It’s in your name, Jesus, we pray these things. Amen.