Your Identity in Christ: A Builder
SERMON TEXT: Ephesians 4:1-7,11-16
Unity and Maturity in the Body of Christ
1 As a prisoner for the Lord, then, I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received. 2 Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. 3 Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. 4 There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to one hope when you were called; 5 one Lord, one faith, one baptism; 6 one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.
7 But to each one of us grace has been given as Christ apportioned it.
11 So Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, 12 to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up 13 until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.
14 Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of people in their deceitful scheming. 15 Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will grow to become in every respect the mature body of him who is the head, that is, Christ. 16 From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work
There are many companies that are starting to dedicate a lot of time, money, and energy to bettering the employee experience. Reason being, is that there has been a fair amount of research coming out about the work atmosphere. There’s a whole hoard of statistics but I’ll just kind of simplify it and say this: studies show that billions are lost to extra healthcare costs and decreased productivity at workplaces where the environment is negative and stressful. Where as, they’re finding the opposite to be true for places that invest in their employees and are very mindful of their work atmosphere and environment. More productive. More creative. More driven. Less sick days. Less health issues….
While the church is not a business, I think there are some things that can be learned from this shift of business practices. And in fact, I think a case could be made that the importance of workplace atmosphere is not a new concept. We’re going to see Paul talking about it today, not with the same terminology, and not within the context of a business, but within the context of the body of Christ.
Today I want to start with the last verse first. Because everything that comes before it is leading up to it. This last verse here, verse 16, it’s our goal, its the pinnacle of our existence as a church: "16 From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work." So right there, we have the identity in Christ that we are considering today: a builder. The body of Christ grows and builds itself up in love as each part does its work. And so when you think builder, well you could picture construction worker here if you wanted, but Paul is using imagery again. Maybe it’s better to think, "encourager." Have you ever had a friend who is down in the dumps for some reason or another, and you encourage them. You pick them up and get them back on their feet. You build them up. That picture of the body of Christ building itself up in love as every part does its work is an inspiring picture, isn’t it?? Every single person doing their part to encourage one another, to show love to one another, to be there for one another, to help to one another…. Who wouldn’t to be in a place like that, right?
As we go through our verses today, we’ll keep that end goal in mind. In the verses leading up to it, Paul is going to tell us how we get there. And it has to do with workplace atmosphere, or… if you’ll allow me a pun… it has to do with our Christ-motivated "churchplace" atmosphere.
Paul starts off by urging us to, "live a life worthy of the calling we have received." So right away, before we even get started, it might be helpful to note that, really for the entirety of the verses in front of us today, we will be dealing in the realm of sanctification. At the Seminary they tell us to never leave big words like that hanging. So, quick recap: Justification has to do with the process of your salvation. Jesus dying on the cross for your sin, and through faith you receive the benefit of that work of his. So as you stand before God, you’re justified. God does not see your sin because Jesus has taken it away. You are no longer guilty. Justification is complete. It’s done. It’s cartain. There’s no if, ands or buts about it. But sanctification, that’s different. That’s life after salvation. In our Christian lives we desire to know God’s Word better. We strive to do a better job upholding his law and all he commands… NOT because that’s how we get to heaven, but because we know that what he tells us is good and right. His commands were given to us in love… not in spite or anger.
So… here’s an easy way to figure out if a particular section or even phrase your reading is gospel or law… if it has to do with justification or sanctification. If whatever you’re looking at says, "do this" then it’s probably law—it probably has to do with sanctification. If whatever your looking at says, "this has been done for you" then it’s probably gospel—it probably has to do with justification.
So when you hear Paul say, "Live a life worthy of the calling you have received." What is it, law or gospel? "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." Justification or sanctification?
Right. So here were speaking about life as a Christian (sanctification). And thank God… because I don't know about you, but when I look at that list, It’s immediately apparent that I fail to uphold it time and time again. There’s not a day that goes by that I don't just utterly fail when it comes to that list. You probably don't have to go very far back either to think of a time that you’ve failed to do these things perfectly. Maybe even this morning we have already failed. Completely humble, gentle, patient… bear with one another in love….be one who seeks to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. And it’s so convicting because it’s not just a matter of outward actions… it’s also a matter of the heart. Pride, harshness, impatience… all those things originate in here… It doesn’t matter if you’re one of those who does a good job of keeping your cool on the outside.
Here Paul is expecting us to remember who we are and what we have in Christ. On the cross, Christ paid for every single time you’ve been impatient, harsh, and prideful; every time you’ve been one who creates strife rather than one who seeks to keep the peace. That includes times in the past. It includes the times you’ll mess up today. And it includes all future blunders. Paul knows full well that we can’t keep this list perfectly as sinners. Paul’s the one that wrote that famous discourse in Romans 7… "What I want to do, I do not do. But what I hate, this I keep on doing."
And yet, with all confidence, Paul tells us to do these things. It’s because Paul is not expecting us to look within ourselves for the strength to do these things. He wants us to look to our Savior for the strength to move forward with these attitudes.
Right before our verses for today, Paul had another prayer, "(3:16-19) 16 I pray that, according to the riches of his glory, he would strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner self, 17 so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. Then, being rooted and grounded in love, 18 I pray that you would be able to comprehend, along with all the saints, how wide and long and high and deep his love is, 19 and that you would be able to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, so that you may be filled to all the fullness of God."
We are capable of creating this "churchplace atmosphere" that Paul has set in front of us today… not because of our own strength, but because we are strengthened by Christ himself who dwells in us. And the longer we stay grounded in that self-sacrificial love of Christ, the more deeply we come to understand that self-sacrificial love of Christ, the more naturally we simply reflect it and overflow with it because we are filled to the brim by it.
And then Paul goes on to give us a reason we strive to maintain the "churchplace atmosphere"... "(4-6) There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to one hope when you were called; 5 one Lord, one faith, one baptism; 6 one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all." All of us here are on the same team. It’s not pastors team. It’s not the elders team. It’s not this member or that members team. It’s God’s team.
Paul then goes on to speak about some of those that God has given us to help us in this process of maintaining a Christ-motivated churchplace atmosphere as we build up the body of Christ: "11 So Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, 12 to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up 13 until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ."
And indeed, we give thanks for all those listed. We hear terms like apostles and prophets and we think of the characters we find in Scripture that God used to bring his Word of salvation into the world and build up the body of Christ. Then we hear words like pastors and teachers and we think of those people in today’s world. Maybe you think of the pastors and teachers that have been a part of your life. They have sought to build you up. They have sought to equip you. They have sought to prepare you for works of service. They have sought to walk alongside you at your faith matures. And so this is certainly a prayer of mine, that by the grace of God I might be one of those pastors for you, the people of SL & NH & OYC and for the communities of Kenosha and Racine.
But Paul doesn’t for a second leave us to think that the pastors and teachers are the only builders. It takes everyone’s involvement to build up the body of Christ takes every part being involved. You too are a builder. In the verses we just read, as you are equipped for and as you perform acts of service, you too are taking a part in the building of Christ’s body. And you too play a vital and important role. Now we’re back to the last verse that we started with today, "16 From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work." The body of Christ grows as each part does its work. Building up the body of Christ is not a one-man show. It takes that whole team participating and actively striving for and seeking that churchplace atmosphere that Paul laid out for us: gentleness, patience, humility, bearing with one another in love.
A couple weeks ago in India, in a division on the north side of what is called Greater Noida, a 6 story building collapsed and killed 9 people. It caused a fair amount of uproar because it was something that could have been avoided. The building project was rushed, cheap materials were used…Safety guidelines weren’t followed... There’s testimonies from the workers about the poor working conditions. It was a tragedy that could have been avoided.
As we think about how our congregations move forward and reach out into the communities around us, I think there are some spiritual applications to be gleaned from that story. Inspired by the love of Christ, let us think about how we go about building up the body of Christ. Firstly we fall on our knees before God and ask for forgiveness for the times we have been lazy or relied on ourselves as we seek to build up the body of Christ. And we’re all guilty of it because we’re sinners. When we rely on ourselves the building project goes awry. An atmosphere of selfishness and self-interest is created. Impatience, greed, pride and hostility take root and breed. Our focus is no longer outward: What can we do both in our midst and in the communities around us to build the body of Christ? Rather it becomes an inward focus: what can I do to build my own kingdom here on earth? What can I do to protect myself and my own self-interests? And while our building may not literally come crashing down, our efforts are hindered and crippled.
But by the grace of God each day is a new day. Each opportunity is a new opportunity in which we might strive for that churchplace atmosphere Paul speaks about.
Here’s a quote I came across in preparing for this sermon that struck me. It’s a secular quote from an architect and designer by the name of David Craib. He said, "Design should never say, "Look at me!" It should always say, "Look at this!"
That quote is just begging to be spiritualized, isn’t it? By the grace of God, may we keep that concept in mind. This church is not about us. Our outreach efforts are not about us. The goal is not to say, "Look at me!" It’s to say, "Look at this!" Look at our awesome God. Look at the love he pours out on each of us in Christ. Look at the amazing things he has done for us! We’re not a congregation that strives for humility and gentleness and patience because it makes us feel better at the end of the day. We are a congregation that displays these things because we ourselves have been filled to the brim with Christ’s love and we are overflowing with it. May Christ strengthen each of us as we live out our identities as builders in him. Amen