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What If... I am a member of the body of Christ

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Sunday, July 9, 2017 - 10:30am
Ephesians 4:1-16
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Living as if I’m a member of the body of Christ

Greg Aikens

July 9, 2017 - 10:30 a.m.

Scripture:  Ephesians 4:1-16

 “Reaching out” article in Phila. Inquirer.  “Churches connecting in new ways.” Examples:  “Drive thru prayer”, “Free prayer” in a coffee shop, fitness programs, opening Christian cafes, bike shops.  An effort to “change or close.”

“What the church does and what the church is are two very different things” (Church Transfusion, 14)

Who we are as a church? is the question that comes prior to “what do we do?”  As in this video clip from the Bourne Identity.  Show video clip. 3.25 min.

Who are you? Do we know who we are?

If we don’t know who we are, then we, like Jason Bourne, are liable to follow whatever programming someone else has fed into us.  July 4th festivities reported on in Inquirer were revealing.  Wawa welcome America celebration. We can’t seem to celebrate anything without commercializing it.

Today we want to ask the question: “Who are we as the Church? And what difference does it make to me?” This is what the Word of God tells us about us.  Paul states the reality of our identity.  

1 Corinthians 12:27 “Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it.” Author Neil Cole speaks of a truth that the enemy of our souls has tried to keep locked behind closed doors but that “once set free, could ignite a rapid movement of transformation across the globe.  … The truth is simply this: We are the body of Christ.  As such we have within us the full spiritual DNA of Christ” (Primal Fire, 16-17). 

And Paul tells us in Ephesians 4:1 “As a prisoner for the Lord, then, I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received.”

What if I were to live as if I am a member of the body of Christ? 

Paul speaks a lot about “calling” in his letters:

Romans 1:7 And you also are among those Gentiles who are called to belong to Jesus Christ.

1 Cor. 1:9 God, who has called you into fellowship with his Son Jesus Christ our Lord, is faithful.

1 Cor. 1:26 Brothers, think of what you were when you were called.  Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth.

Gal. 1:6 And you also are among those Gentiles who are called to belong to Jesus Christ.

Eph. 1:18 I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in his holy people

Col. 3:15 Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful.

 2 Thess. 2:14 He called you to this through our gospel, that you might share in the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ.

2 Tim. 1:9 He has saved us and called us to a holy life—not because of anything we have done but because of his own purpose and grace. This grace was given us in Christ Jesus before the beginning of time,

Heb. 9:15 For this reason Christ is the mediator of a new covenant, that those who are called may receive the promised eternal inheritance—now that he has died as a ransom to set them free from the sins committed under the first covenant.

1 Peter 1:15 But just as he who called you is holy, so be holy in all you do;

1 Peter 2:9 But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.

1 Peter 2:21 To this you were called, because Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in his steps.

1 Peter 3:9 Do not repay evil with evil or insult with insult. On the contrary, repay evil with blessing, because to this you were called so that you may inherit a blessing.

1 Peter 5:10 And the God of all grace, who called you to his eternal glory in Christ, after you have suffered a little while, will himself restore you and make you strong, firm and steadfast.

We need to be clear about where everything begins for us as the people of God.  It does not begin with us.  I don’t start by looking at a list of possible religions and then say, “hmmm. Islam –no.  Buddha – nah.  Hmmm Christianity looks interesting let’s try that.”  Kind of like when our neighbor in Iceland said, “well I was thinking about being a priest or a veterinarian. I chose vet instead.” That’s not how it works.

The initiator is God.  That is so fundamentally important it is hard to overemphasize it.

Jesus says it clearly in John 15 when he’s talking to his disciples.  “You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you to go and bear fruit – fruit that will last.”  There is no question as to who initiates the relationship.  Jesus called the first disciples: the fishermen, Matthew the tax collector, Philip and Nathanael.  He calls out, “if anyone would come after me, let him deny himself, take up his cross and follow me.”  He says to Peter and the others, “Follow me”.  

Acts makes it clear as well – the Lord Jesus, through the Holy Spirit takes the initiative with us.  Peter preaching on the day of Pentecost says: “Repent and be baptized every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins.  And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. The promise [of the Holy Spirit] is for you and your children and for all who are far off – for all whom the Lord our God will call” (Acts 2:38-39). Acts 13:48 says that when Paul and Barnabas had proclaimed God’s word in Pisidian Antioch that “all who were appointed for eternal life believed.”

We are reminded in the book of Ephesians that “it is by grace we have been saved through faith – and this is not of yourselves – it is the gift of God – not by works, so that no one can boast. For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do” (2:8-10).

So please understand – it is not simply “if I choose to believe” I am a member of Christ’s body, it is rather “If I hear Christ’s call and I believe in response to that call, I am a member of the body of Christ.” You say, Greg you’re splitting hairs.  No, I’m preaching the gospel.  If it were up to you and me, we would never choose Christ.  We’re too proud and arrogant in our sin. We’re too weak and powerless in our blindness.  We’re too harassed and helpless in our slavery to the world, to our selfish desires and to the devil.  

Someone has said, when we enter the door to the Kingdom of God we read over it the sign that says, “Whosoever will may come.” But when we’ve crossed the threshold and look back at the same door we read another sign over it that says “Chosen in Christ before the foundation of the world.”

The reason we need to be taught about how to behave as members of Christ’s new community by the Holy Spirit through the Scriptures when we become apprentices of Jesus is because we are not used to living with our new identity yet.  We’re used to thinking of ourselves as free moral agents.  And as independent individuals.  We have been deceived by the enemy into believing that we are free to make our own choices and that we know what’s best for ourselves.  This is untrue.  First of all, because before we answered Christ’s call we were not free, we were dead in our transgressions and sins and were slaves to the ruler of the kingdom of the air, “that spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient” (Eph. 2:1-2).  Secondly because freedom comes through submission to Jesus Christ.

We think submission is bondage.  Actually submission is a love word.  It means trusting someone else with me.  So when we submit to Christ we are saying I trust Christ with me.  I am not my own, I am bought with a price – the precious blood of Christ.  I will live in accordance with a new law – the Law of Christ.  Under the rule of Jesus, I am submitting to the body of Christ, to the word of God and to the spirit of God.

Now let’s examine what Paul says about what is.  About what the reality of our life in the body of Christ consists of. 

Another reason why it is hard for us to live according to our calling is because of the fragmented individualistic society in which we live. The first century living conditions and church forms were much more conducive to community than are ours today.

It consists of love.  So we are to be completely humble and gentle with each other.  We are to be patient with each other.  We are to bear with one another in love.  We are to make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace.  These are the signs of the Christian community.

When Paul speaks of the “bond of peace” what is he speaking of?  He is speaking of a reality that is beyond our five senses.  A reality that exists in the realm of the Spirit, namely, that we are all one in Jesus Christ.  We may be Caucasian, African-American, or Native American.  We may be men or women.  We may be from North America, Africa or Asia.  But the reality is that “in Christ” we have been joined together (2:21).  Now we are also in process of “being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit.” So God is not finished with us yet.  We still have a ways to go, but Paul is instructing us by the Holy Spirit, to not hinder the process by being divisive, hurtful or destructive.  Constructive criticism is one thing.  Destructive, self-centered complaining or abuse of power is another.  The reality is “Christ has made peace between us, whatever our differences.” We are all to lean into that, working together to sort out our problems, so that love may prevail between us.

Now this unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace that we are to work towards rests on the seven fold oneness that Paul describes here.  This is our preamble to the church constitution if you will.  

“There is one body – Christ’s body

And one Spirit – the Holy Spirit of God, the helper, teacher, counselor

One hope to which we were called when we were called – the blessed hope of Christ’s return

One Lord – our master, our leader, is Jesus only

One faith – we together believe in Christ and build on the foundation of the apostles and prophets

One baptism – we are all baptized into Christ Jesus, buried with him, and raised with him.

One God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.” – therefore we strive to see God in all things.

So here is the basis of our unity together in the body of Christ.  

Then Paul moves from unity to diversity.  There is a wonderful collage in Christ’s body.  Paul talks about it in 1 Corinthians 12 where he reminds us that we are the body of Christ and individually members of it. The eye cannot say to the hand I don’t need you.  The head can’t say to the feet I don’t need you.  We need one another.  You need me and I need you.

Here in Ephesians 4 Paul says, “to each one of us grace has been given as Christ has appointed it.” This word grace “charis” from which we get the word charisma or charismatic means “gift.” We’ve each been given at least one spiritual gift in the body of Christ.  Now the gifts of the Spirit are resident in individuals.  Gifted people who are appointed by Christ for the good of the whole church.  Not just the local church, mind you, but the universal body of Christ.  Notice who gives them = Christ!  We don’t decide which ones we receive.  Christ Jesus is the distributor. And not only does Jesus give the gifts, all the gifts point back to him!

These gifts come as a direct result of Christ’s victory over death and over the powers of this world when he ascended.  So the quote from Psalm 68:18.  The context has to do with the victory of God, Israel’s true King, in battle.  Described as a procession of the conqueror into the capital city leading a train of captives and bringing the spoils of battle to his loyal subjects. 

Our conquering King is Jesus!  When he rose from the dead and ascended into heaven he led prisoners with him. Paul puts it this way in Colossians that Jesus “disarmed the powers and authorities, he made a public spectacle of them of them, triumphing over them by the cross” (Col 2:15).  Jesus took the world’s spiritual and governmental authorities that are in opposition to God prisoner by his death and endless life and made a mockery of them.

At the same time, after Christ ascended, he showered gifts on his followers, who are his body, the Church. He says in effect, you are the reason I died and rose again.  I want you to share in my victory.  Here are the benefits that come to you because I won the battle over sin, death and the grave.  Paul says that the one who ascended is the one who first descended into the lower parts of the earth.  Philippians says that Christ, though he was God, made himself nothing, took on the form of a servant and humbled himself all the way to the point of death, the humiliating excruciating death on the cross.  Then he ascended. Paul says in Philippians “therefore God has also highly exalted him and given him the name that is above every name” and that one day every knee will bow to that wonderful name.

So he gives some to be apostles, prophets, evangelists, shepherds and teachers.  For the benefit of the body.  This five-fold gifting is, I believe, a package that is for the entire church today and the individual gifts are intended to work in synergy.  They are distinctive of the body of Christ because they are each true of Jesus Christ himself.

Let’s examine them one at a time. 

Apostle – sent one. Jesus was the original apostle. Hebrews 3:1 Consider Jesus, the Apostle and High Priest of our faith.  Jesus was sent by God the Father into the world. The role of apostle is seen as foundational to the advancement of the church, and Jesus is the chief cornerstone (Eph. 2:20). As instigator of a global movement, Jesus is the best example of what it means to be an apostle.

Prophet – one who speaks words from God that people need to hear.  Jesus was the supreme prophet.  He not only foretold the future, he spoke truth into the here and now.

Evangelist – one who is particularly gifted in proclaiming the good news of Jesus and leading people to Christ.  Jesus was the quintessential evangelist.  He had an overwhelming concern for the lost. Saw them as harassed and helpless like sheep without a shepherd.

Shepherd or pastor – one who has the gift of caring for the flock of God and looks to meet their needs.  Jesus is the good, GREAT Shepherd.  Jesus calls his sheep and they hear their voice and follow him.

Teacher – one who is able to skillfully communicate truth so that it is understandable and applicable.  The people of Jesus’ day called him rabbi and teacher.  His teaching shed light on the truth.  Jesus is THE teacher sent from God.

Each of these gifts is functional and the people who have them are intended by Jesus to work together in synergy, complementing one another with the strengths of the other, for the good of the whole body of Christ.

The goal is that the body may be built up, growing higher, wider, deeper, longer.  We are as local churches and as the Church designed to become adults in Christ, not little babies. What is the outcome of the building up of the body of Christ?  Paul says the body of Christ is to be built up “until we all reach unity of the faith.”  This has to mean more than simply a common assent to a certain set of beliefs.  It has to do with being drawn closer together in the “knowledge of the Son of God.” 

Knowing things about someone and knowing someone are two different things.  I can tell you about Betsy, but you can’t know her the way I do unless you have lived with her and observed her.  You can get closer to knowing her by spending time with me and hearing me tell you things about her.  This is the kind of knowledge we are talking about with the Son of God, the Lord Jesus Christ.  By exercising these gifts of APEST we together come to know the Lord better as a group, even as we are built up in Him.

Further, the outcome of unity in faith and knowledge of Christ is maturity.  Maturity as God defines it for the body of Christ is “attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.” This is an ongoing process.  The more the body builds itself up in love, the more mature we become and the more we look like and act like Jesus in all his fullness.

Paul’s description of a baby-church is a group of believers who are weak and un-grounded so that whichever way the wind blows the church blows with it.  Tumbleweed churches are not the ideal.  Rather churches that are like rich, rooted, fruit bearing trees.  

You see the problem is that as God’s holy people who are striving to be loving, gentle and kind, we are also vulnerable to the cunning and craftiness of those who would destroy the body, fatten themselves on the flock of God or use the body to satisfy their own ambitions.  We’ve seen this happen in Iceland. Those who want to be “somebody” misuse power to engage in a “hostile church take-over” or in another case a theology graduate who couldn’t be ordained by his denomination uses the church in order to be recognized as a leader. 

What we need is to be a community of disciples who make disciples.  Speaking the truth in love begins with our disciple making.  Are we ready to hear the truth about ourselves?  Are we ready to ask each other the questions that allow the Spirit of truth to work in us?  This is what groups like transformation groups do.  They exercise us in speaking and hearing the truth.

When we practice this and become accomplished at it we grow up in to Him who is the head, even Christ, because through godly habits and spiritual practices, God is implanting a spiritual DNA deep within us.

Because it is through Christ’s nature, his very life blood, that the church grows and builds itself up in love. And each member, each “joint and ligament” (relationships with each other), plays a role in it.  You and I are absolutely essential in the building up of the body of Christ.

So what does this mean? It means that who we are determines what we do.

I am unlearning independence and learning interdependence. I don’t do things on my own.

I am seeking clarity and counsel from others.  I ask my Christian brothers for help.  Clarity circle.

I am being discipled and I am discipling others. 

And I am submitting to the Word, the Spirit, and to members of Christ’s body, believing that love expresses itself in mutual submission.

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