Tuesday, September 15, 2009

This week's sermon: Sonship 101

Ephesians 4:1-16.
Paul has been telling the Ephesians where they stand. He told them to rejoice and praise God because they were adopted as his children, and they had received every spiritual blessing in the heavenly realms. He reminded them that they used to be dead, and now they are alive. He reminded them again, that as gentiles, they were separate, foreigners, outcasts, and now God has brought them near in Christ. Paul shared with them that he prays for them, twice he has shown them his prayers for their hearts, their eyes, their inner being to be enlightened to know the hope God has called them to, his power for them, and his love that surpasses all knowledge. Paul has been showing them right where they are: loved, accepted, adopted, blessed, prayed for, appointed a special ambassador in Paul himself. Now he tells them the rest of the story.

Now Paul tells them that their position in Christ, their calling, requires a change in the way they live. It didn’t require a change to get them into that position, but once they are there their lives must change. Why is that? Well, let’s play pretend for just a minute. Let’s say there is a beautiful kingdom, with a great and mighty king. Let’s say that this king has a son who one day sees a beggar in the street and through his intercession with the king on behalf of the beggar the king decides to adopt the beggar as his son. So now the beggar is the son of the king. In order for the beggar to become the son of the king he had to do nothing, the prince did all the work. But because he is the son of the king now there are certain things required of him.

He can’t go around wearing a beggars clothing. He can no longer sleep on the street without a blanket. He must eat good food. He may be given assignments by the king. And he needs to get along with the other members of the king’s household. The same is true for the Ephesians that Paul is writing to. They were adopted into the king’s household. Now they must not live like the beggars they were before. Paul tells them, and we need to hear this as well today, that the first thing about living in the king’s house is getting along with others.

Paul gives some nice baby steps: humility, gentleness, patience, love, and unity. These are the values of the kingdom, and as the king’s children, we must live them out with each other first. We talked about some of these kingdom values at the recent ladies tea. Humility is simply a matter of being grounded, knowing who we are as children of the king, without forgetting the beggar we used to be. Gentleness is being approachable, available to those in need. Patience is waiting for God to work in us and in others in his own timing, even when it hurts. Love holds all these things together, and really is what makes it possible for us to consider being humble, patient, and gentle; love that does not come from us, but that comes from God at work in us. Paul reminded the Ephesians of God’s work in them, his mighty power, and his love that surpasses knowledge. That love is at work in our hearts to produce love in us for others. When all of these kingdom values are in play, we will be unified. This is of vital importance, because as Paul tells the Ephesians, we are all part of one body.

When we are adopted as his children, God not only makes us part of his family or his household, but he makes us part of the church, the bride of Christ, which is one organic unit. The church, no matter how we try to divide it into denominations or sects, is one body. We all have the same hope, we all have the same Holy Spirit at work in us, we all have the same Lord Jesus. We may disagree on how to baptize, but we all agree in the necessity of the baptism with the Holy Spirit. We have one Lord, one Faith, one Baptism. We all have the same God and Father who is over all and through all and in all. Paul wants the Ephesians to know this, to grab onto it, to hold tightly to this truth because sometimes it is hard to see the bonds that hold us together.

We are all part of one body, but even though we are one, we have many different gifts, different roles to play, different assignments from the king. Paul tells the Ephesians that Christ led captives in his train and gave gifts to men. These assignments and talents come from Christ by way of the Holy Spirit. Here Paul calls it grace. Grace has been appointed to each of us as Christ saw fit. He didn’t do a survey to find out what you think you should be doing, he gave you a gift and he expects you to use it. But that isn’t fair! Some people would protest, but I would answer that it is not fair to take a beggar and make him part of the king’s family. The king doesn’t ask those in his household what they want to do, he knows them well and he gives them the tasks as he sees fit. As independence-loving Americans it takes a while for us to wrap our minds around that concept. Trust me, I would never have thought that I would make a good pastor. It was nowhere on my radar, but God called me. I argued strenuously against it. But you can’t win an argument with the king. He is the king. He wins.

Grace has been apportioned to each one of us, that means we all have a job to do, and that we have been given the ability to do it. Paul doesn’t list all of the spiritual gifts here, so don’t worry if you don’t see your gift in these verses. Paul gives a basic overview not of God's gifts to men, but of what God has given to the church in order to produce maturity. It says he gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers. Apostles are sent ones, the ones that God tells to go somewhere else to tell the gospel, these are our missionaries. Prophets get a bad rap as spooky mystics who tell the future, really a prophet is simply someone who speaks forth the word of God. This is the person who will tell you the truth no matter how much you want them to blur the lines for you. Evangelists are those who are devoted to the good news. These guys can’t wait to talk about the good news of the gospel of Jesus to anyone and everyone. At the end of the list are a squashed together double-teamed group of pastors and teachers. Pastors are shepherds, they live in the field with the sheep. They lead them to water and show them where the good food is, and keep the sheep from eating poisonous plants or falling off cliffs. Teachers teach the word of God, the things of God. Good teachers don’t just throw information at you, they get you to take hold of it yourself and spur a hunger for more.

These are not just gifts that God gives individual people, rather they are the gifts that God gives to the church. He gave to the church some people to go, some to speak the Truth, some to have a passion for the gospel, and some to shepherd the people and engage them in learning about God. He gave these gifts to the church so that the body might be built up. The job of missionaries, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers is not to make a name for themselves, but to prepare God’s people for works of service. Their job is to get others ready to go, to speak the truth, to share the gospel, to lead and to teach so that the whole body is built up and comes together in unity.

Unity is so important because it is only by learning to stick it out together and learn from each other that we can hope to attain a maturity of faith and understanding that will enable us to grow up in all things. Paul ends this section with a reminder of who is really in charge, Christ is the head of all things. We are supported by ligaments, but the whole body has to do its part as the head directs it so that the body can be in tune. Then the body works together to build itself up instead of tear itself apart. This is a lesson the church is desperate to learn. More blood has been shed and more martyrs made in the church because of Christians killing Christians than by any other means. Usually it is over matters that don’t really matter. I am not suggesting we accept every new wave of thought and teaching, obviously Paul would say that would make us still infants. But not rushing to judgment, considering our standpoint, returning to scripture and evaluating both perspectives in humility, gentleness, patience, and love; we may just find that we are the ones in the wrong, or that it is a matter of no consequence one way or the other. If there must be confrontation, after this time of searching, it can be done as we are instructed "speaking the truth in love." Then we will find when we are neither persuaded nor provoked to wrath at every new wave of teaching, that we have grown up into Christ-likeness. And we will have passed the first level of Sonship 101: how to get along with others in the king’s household.

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