Ephesians 4:1-6 (4:5) – August 1, 2021
The Summer Olympics are going on right now – different athletes from countries all over the world coming together. Each country’s team competes for medals, yes; but they also compete individually in accord with the Olympic motto: faster, higher, stronger.
The apostle Paul refers to sports several times in his letters to the churches. Not a new thing, at all! Many of the people of his day were great fans of different sports, too. We can compare the local church to a sports team – members have different abilities, different strengths. Each individual member provides their different God-given gifts in unique ways to make up the multi-faceted, multi-colored, multi-gifted congregations many of us know.
The letter to the Ephesian church is divided into two parts. Paul ended the first section with Ephesians 3, with a prayer for an outpouring of Christ’s love. Paul wished the Lord might grant strength and power to the Ephesian believers, prayed they might experience the full-ness of God, and closed with a spontaneous doxology to the immeasurable praise and glory of God.
Here at the beginning of the second section of his letter, Paul gets practical. He starts Chapter 4 with a description of the Christian walk – walking together, helping one another, and supporting one another. And, walking with our Lord Jesus Christ, as called believers.
Paul says, “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.” It doesn’t sound to me as if the church Paul had pastored for many months (he did, you know – Paul was the pastor for what probably was over a year) was in pure brother- and sisterhood, and harmony. No, Pastor Paul uses the imperative tense. That means he is using commands.
I don’t know if you know anyone this way, but when I hear about someone who barks orders, I sometimes pause, and take a step back to consider and evaluate. I want to know who is giving the orders, and why. But, when it’s the apostle Paul? Let’s take the example of a sports team, again. What if the sports teams you watch had minor, petty disagreements amongst themselves, on a regular basis? Even, all the time? There wouldn’t be much togetherness, or teamwork. Sometimes, disagreements do happen. On sports teams, between friends, in families, and in church congregations.
Let’s remind ourselves of what Paul says: we are “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.” Put another way, we are to put in the effort to maintain our relationships with each other. That doesn’t refer to just one area, like our family, and I don’t need to care about anything or anyone else. No! We need to strive to mend hurt feelings and negative vibes in all our relationships. It is then that you and I are stronger in our life together – our lives in our families, with our friends, and in our congregations. 
Take this congregation. If we wanted to see a good trustee, someone who takes excellent care of the physical plant of this church, we look to Bob. For an excellent usher and caretaker for the morning services each Sunday, we would consider Al, for years and years. Now that Al has moved in with his son in Lake County, David has ably stepped up and is continuing the excellent usher duties. What about caring for hospitality in our congregation? I know we have not met together for coffee and fellowship after the morning services for over a year, but all our congregation thinks highly of Carol and Lois. And David, Bill and Pete? Assisting Bob with trustee business. What about Sunny? If there is anything creative to be done around the church, look to Sunny to head that up. Jieun heads up our music leadership for each Sunday service. I could go on and on. We have many facets of our congregational life together, ably represented.
Paul goes on to say that “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.” In this shorter version of the gifts and graces God provides (expanded in other lists in other New Testament letters), Paul sets forth a number of different jobs, duties and gifts God freely gives to all God’s people.
Yes, God has gifted each of us with unique gifts and abilities – those are separate and individual. Except, we are all called to be Christ-followers – each one of us, individually, and all of us, collectively, in a body. We are all called to be worthy of this higher calling, this Godly adoption, to live as God would have us to live.
I can just hear the objections now: “What, no disagreements, ever? What are we supposed to do, hold hands together and stand around singing ‘Kum-by-yah’ all the time?” Not in this imperfect world, no. Paul doesn’t expect us to always get along with one another, and he’d be the first to say so. God has also gifted us – that is, each one of us! – with the ability to repair and heal hurt, broken relationships, as we work through things about which we disagree.
Two simple, powerful tools for this? First, a genuine “I’m sorry,” from the heart. Second, a sincere, caring “How can I help?” These two phrases are caring ways to maintain unity and practice peace with our families, friends, and our congregations, too. I leave us all with the exhortation of Paul: “Maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.” God’s peace passes all understanding, and it is God’s gift to us all. As I say at the end of each worship service, go in God’s peace – and, God’s peace is truly a gift for all of us to treasure!
(Many ideas from this sermon come from this lesson from Illustrated Ministries. Thanks to Illustrated Ministries for the use of their lesson for the 11h Sunday after Pentecost from Ephesians 4, from their 2020 Summer Children’s series.)
Illustrated Ministries, lesson for the 11th Sunday after Pentecost from Ephesians 4, from their 2020 Summer Children’s series.