All one in Christ Jesus: Duncans thoughts on unity and maturity from Ephesians 4

Duncan 2017

Duncan 2017‘It’s a marvellous book, with some wonderful passages in it,’ Duncan said.

The passage he was preaching on this morning was St Paul’s letter to the Ephesians 4:1-16, and he had chosen to emphasise two of the key words in this passage:

‘Unity’ (v3) : we see many examples of disunity in church, politics and society. What does the unity St Paul writes so eloquently about look like?

‘Maturity’ (v13): what does it mean to be a ‘mature’ follower of Jesus? Duncan mentioned that in the past few days he had visited 91-year-old John Macleod, who preached at Hilton in the past, and who was an exemplar of a mature believers. (Duncan also passed on John and Sheila’s greetings to the church.)

Ephesians 4 in context

Bur in preparing to preach this morning, Duncan had look at Ephesians 1-3, chapters which lay the foundations upon which Paul’s instructions in the rest of the book are based. He read us some of the powerful verses which these chapters contain:

Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ. (1:3)

For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith – and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God – not by works, so that no one can boast. (2:8-9) (A pivotal verse, Duncan said, in this 500th anniversary year of the Reformation.)

And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love,  may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ,  and to know this love that surpasses knowledge – that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God. (3:17b-19)

It’s against the background of teaching like this that we come to Ephesians 4.

Practising resurrection

Duncan mentioned a group of friends with whom, for ten years, he has met for lunch once a fortnight, a group where there is prayer and sharing and encouragement. They group always has a book ‘on the go’, which they folks discuss when they meet. For eight months last year, their focus was on a book by Eugene Peterson called Practising resurrection, a study of Ephesians. Duncan recommends this book to us if we want something deeper, and challenging to read.

God’s active partners

This passage was the very first Duncan ever preached a sermon on, 31 years ago, when he spoke for over an hour! But today he would be focussing on the highlights.

And one of those highlights is that whether we see it, or fail to see it, God is active in the world today, and seeks us to be active participants.

To this we have been ‘called’ – both verses 1 and 4 refers to this ‘calling.’

The challenge comes to each of us, therefore. How are we to respond to God’s daily call on our lives?

The challenge of church

And the answer, according to this passage, is that we are called to share in God’s work as part of a local congregation. But churches are full of imperfect people, like each of us. Churches often seem flawed, their activities often appearing ordinary, humdrum. Surely God could have chosen a better way of making a difference in the world?

The fact is that God has chosen the Church to be God’s agent in the world, and we are invited to grasp the wonder of this:

For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do. (Ephesians 2:10)

We are God’s chosen vehicles for showing and sharing God’s wonder.

Chapter 4 is a bridge between chapters 1-3 and chapters 5 and 6. It explores what God has done and is doing to make it possible for us to be what we have been called to be.

Unity

St Paul sets a high priority on unity – ‘ Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace.’ (4:3)

God, what we refer to as the ‘Trinity’, is a perfect community of Father, Son and Holy Spirit. This perfect community is to be reflected in our expression of community. Paul describes a fundamental unity which we are called to evidence in our lives together:

There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to one hope when you were called; one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all. (4:4-6)

Duncan pointed out that in this list St Paul enumerates seven things we have in common – this is not accidental, for in the Bible the number 7 represents perfection, and completeness. Unity takes us to the heart of God’s character. How are we to reflect this in our lives together, in sticking together and being there for one another?

A practical exercise

Duncan invited us to undertake a practical exercise – to ask who the person in the church family is with whom I struggle most in terms of relationships, and then, with that person in mind, reflect on Ephesians 4:2-3:

Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace.

Humility, gentleness, patience, love, peace. These are the qualities we are called to display – and Duncan admitted, it’s a very challenging calling. Often we respond in very different ways to our Christian brothers and sisters.

And yet, the church is where we learn to love people whom we perhaps find it hard to love, and wouldn’t have chosen to journey with.

And the truth is that we grow towards maturity as we seek this love.

Maturity

Spiritual maturity, is, Duncan said nothing to do with chronological years. He quoted a passage from Eugene Peterson’s book, mentioned earlier about maturity:

There are no maps to the mature life, and certainly not to the mature life in Christ. Growing up involves an assimilation of nothing less than everything, the ‘all’ to the one.

The ‘all’ of parents, biology, schooling, neighbourhood, worship, Scripture, friends, prayers, disappointments, accidents, injuries, songs, depression, politics, money, sin, forgiveness, occupations, plays, novels, children, poems, marriage, suicides – and the ‘one’ of God, also referred to four times in Ephesians as ‘the fullness’: Father, Sone and Holy Spirit.

Duncan encouraged us to think and talk about these things. There are, he said, no quick fixes.

We are invited to be fully involved in the messy life of the local church. The whole body grows as each part of the body does its work. (see v 16)

Duncan invited us to think of someone we know who exemplifies spiritual maturity. What stands out in their lives? How can we learn from them as we journey together?

 

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