LIVING IN PEACE
This morning, we’re going to take a look at a passage from the book of Ephesians. The book of Ephesians is one of the epistles in the New Testament. “What is an epistle?” you might ask. The word epistle is just a fancy word for a letter. So this is a letter written by Paul probably around 60-61 CE. At that time, Paul was in prison in Rome. During that time, he wrote other epistles/letters that are also in the New Testament: Philippians, Colossians and Philemon. That is why these four letters are often called the Prison Epistles. He may well have written others letters but these are the only ones that survived.
Ephesians is divided into two clear parts. In the first three chapters, Paul discusses God’s creation of a holy community by his gift of grace in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Paul talks about how the people are adopted by God as sons and daughters and that, while they are dead in their sin, through faith in Jesus they are given new life through his resurrection.
The last three chapters of Ephesians deals with how all of that is lived out faithfully in the real world. Today, we take a look at the beginning of the second part Ephesians – how to live out our faith in our day to day lives. Let’s begin reading at Ephesians 4:1-6 (NIV):
As a prisoner for the Lord, then, I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received. 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. 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; 6 one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.
In the first verse, Paul uses an interesting image. He calls himself a prisoner. On one hand, that makes sense because he really is a prisoner. He’s in jail for preaching the gospel. But still, prisoner is an odd image because, in our minds, a prisoner is someone who has been incarcerated for breaking the law. At least that’s where our minds probably go. But that is not what Paul is talking about here. His reference to being a prisoner is a prisoner is someone who no longer has control of his or her life. Prisoners are people who live not the way they would like to live but rather the way they are told to live.
The sense of this then is that, as a prisoner, Paul is called to live the life that he told to live. Told by who? Told by Jesus of course. If Paul is the prisoner, Jesus is the warden of the prison. It’s a tough image but it’s also a strong image once you get your mind wrapped around it. Those who truly follow Jesus are like prisoners whose lives are directed and controlled by him. But these prisoners are not incarcerated against their will. They have chosen to give control of their lives over to Jesus who shows them how to live fully and faithfully.
In verse 2 Paul gets into some of the details about what it means to live faithfully. Ephesians 4:2 (NIV) says: “Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love.” That, of course, is just the beginnings of what Paul could say but humility, gentleness, patience and love is a great place to start. But we’ll get back to that in a few minutes.
DISCERNING THE WILL OF GOD
But then he gets into the focus of this passage. Ephesians 4:3 (NIV) says, “Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace.” We are called to live in peace in the unity of the Spirit. That should be easy. Right? We’re all Christians. We believe in following Jesus and living in harmony the way he told us to. The truth is that while it should be easy, it isn’t always as simple as it sounds. Why? Because we’re sinful people and every now and then we blow it and forget why we are here.
People make all kinds of assumptions about Christians. One of those assumptions is that we’re all good people who seek to get along with each other. That’s sometimes true. I think it’s generally true around here. But it’s not true everywhere and let’s be honest; we have had some challenging times in the past. Who hasn’t? The question is, how do we respond faithfully when we find ourselves in a situation where there are disagreements in the church?
Every church, from time to time, will find itself with some internal tension. That’s not because we’re bad people. In fact, quite the opposite is true. Normally, tensions arise because we care and we are passionate about the church and the mission of the church. That’s a good thing. It’s important to be enthusiastic about our mission. That’s because when you’re passionate about something, you are more likely to be engaged in it and if you’re engaged, you are more likely to be successful at what you are hoping to accomplish. So bring on the enthusiasm. Bring on the passion.
There is, however, a downside to that enthusiasm and passion. The downside is that people sometimes take too much ownership in a ministry – forgetting that it’s not their ministry, it’s Jesus’ ministry – and it causes them to act as though they have blinders on. They believe they know best and that they have listened to the voice of God and that God has shown them the way things are to be. And it is their divinely inspired job to convince everyone else that they’re right.
We’ve all seen this happen in the church. We’ve seen people get so caught up with what they believe God is calling them to do that they forget one simple truth. That truth is that the will of God is not discerned by an individual. It is discerned by the community.
Actually, let me rephrase that because there really are two types of discernment that happen in the Christian life. First of all, there is the discernment of the individual. I believe that God speaks to individuals. I believe that God directs our lives and leads us to fulfill the purpose for which we were put on this earth. Where are you going to live? What job or vocation are you going to follow? Are you called to be married or single? In which church is God calling you to worship? How much is God calling you to place in the offering plate? The answers to those questions are discerned by the individual. You need to listen to God’s voice as it speaks to your heart and you need to follow it in your life.
That’s one type of discernment – individual discernment. But there is also another level of discernment that we need to talk about. That’s the discernment about the ministry of the church as the body of Christ. That too must be discerned. Who does the church believe that God has called to be their minister? What are the specific goals of the church for the coming year or five years or ten years? What type of music or style of worship is best for the congregation? What mission projects is God calling it to support? These are all decisions that are made not by an individual but are made together by the body of Christ.
That doesn’t mean that someone can’t come before the church with an idea. That’s should happen. It’s a good thing. Good ideas often start with one person. But those ideas must always be discerned by the community.
For example as you know, our son Andrew is currently seeking to be an ordained minister within the United Church of Canada. He felt called by God to this ministry. He completed his undergraduate work in theology and history. He just graduated this year with his Masters of Divinity. And we are so proud of him. But does that mean that the church should automatically ordain him? Of course not. When he began the process towards ordination, we set up a Discernment Committee here at Cottam to help Andrew to verify the call that he thought he heard. That committee met with Andrew and eventually recommended him to our denomination. Andrew has now completed his education. At the same time, has been working at Charing Cross United Church for the past five years. But even with all of that, he still has to get the final approval from the denomination. Because when it comes to things like ordination, God’s will is discerned not by an individual but by the wider church.
Never forget this. The ministry of the church is always discerned within the community of faith. Listen to what it says in 1 Corinthians 14:29 (NIV): “Two or three prophets should speak, and others should weight carefully what is said.” If someone has something to say to the body of Christ, then they need to say it. But others need to weigh carefully what is said so that God’s will can be verified.
HUMILITY, PATIENCE AND LOVE
The church must seek the will of God in its life and ministry. But what happens if there are two different ideas? How do we maintain unity in the midst of a diversity of opinion within the church? Let’s go back to Ephesians 4:2 (NIV) which says, “Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love.” There’s some good advice.
Be humble and patient. Humility and patience are key characteristics if we are to maintain the unity of the body of Christ. Humility enables us to listen to what someone else has to say because a humble person has the wisdom to understand that he or she may not always be right. Imagine that – that someone might be willing to say, “Maybe Joe knows more about this than I do or maybe Sue really has been listening to God so maybe I should take the time to really listen to what they have to say.” Humility allows us to do that.
Pride forbids it. Pride closes the mind, seals the heart and put blinders on the eyes. It says, “I’m right, you’re wrong and because I’m right you should listen to what I have to say and do what I tell you to do.” That’s pride. Pride does not really listen to what others have to say. Pride does not seek the advice of others. Pride does not have the ability to say that it is wrong. Pride does not work in the Church. All it does is create heartache and division.
We need humility. Ephesians 4:2 also tells us that we need patience. But patience seems to be an elusive quality very much in short supply in our world today. Today everyone wants everything right now. They just aren’t used to waiting. We live in a world that has become increasingly used to instant gratification.
I remember, a while ago now, having a conversation with Rebekah about what it was like before cell phones. She was curious about how we arranged to meet up with our friends. I told her that we talked on the phone – we had one on the wall in the house that everyone used – or sometimes we just made arrangements the previous day: “I’ll meet you at the beach tomorrow at 10:00 a.m. and we’ll go swimming.”
Then Rebekah asked, “But what if they didn’t show up? They couldn’t text you to change the plans so what would you do?” To me the answer was easy. I told her that if my friend didn’t show up and there were other people there, I’d still probably go for a swim. If no one else was there, I probably would have gone home.
“But wouldn’t you wonder what happened?”
“No,” I said. I’d find out soon enough. It was been no big deal.
That answer was unthinkable to someone who has grown up with instant communication all the time. They have so little patience with the concept of waiting.
Patience is key if we are to maintain unity in the body of Christ. Some things take time. Sometimes you have to plant seeds and it takes a while before those seeds start to grow. Some people take longer to understand certain ministries. Some people are more comfortable with change than others. Some people accept new ideas more quickly than others. Sometimes before the church can move ahead, it has to wait for everyone to get on board because if they aren’t then the unity of the body of Christ can be compromised.
Humility and patience, we need both of these in the church to maintain our unity in Christ. It also says in Ephesians 4:2 that we need to bear with one another in love. That can be a challenge because bearing thing can be frustrating and it can be painful. I know that because I watched my dear wife Ruth bear four children into the world. I didn’t experience it directly but from what I saw it was painful and there was certainly some frustration going on from time to time.
Bearing with one another in the Church can sometimes feel like that. Sometimes it’s painful. Sometimes it’s frustrating. There are times when you wonder why people just can’t see things the way you see them. If only we did it this way, it would make so much more sense. But the people who do it that way may have done it that way for years and they just have trouble understanding how doing it this way could possibly be any better. It’s at times like that that, despite the pain and frustration that we may feel, we need to bear with one another in love. The birth will eventually come and we will love the results but to get to that point, you have to deal with the labour. Be humble. Be patient. Bear with one another in love. Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace.
In all of this remember that being at peace and being in unity in Christ does not mean that we must have 100% agreement in everything that we do. As I have said many times before, the essentials of the faith are non-negotiable. The Bible is clear. There is one way to salvation and that is through faith in Jesus Christ who paid the price for our sins on the cross and rose again for our eternal life. But there are all kinds of other non-essential areas of faith where we can disagree.
Don’t sweat the small stuff. Don’t let differences of opinion on non-essential matters disrupt the peace of the church. Talk about things. Discuss them. Debate them if you need to. But be humble, be patient and bear with one another in love. And as we read in Ephesians 4:14-16 (NIV): “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. 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. 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.”
To say it as simply as I can, we are called to grow up. Don’t be infants. Don’t be babies. Just because you don’t always get your way, don’t pick up your marbles and go home because that could very well be your opportunity to learn to be more humble, more patient and more loving.
Paul also said something more about this in 2 Timothy 2:14 (NIV): “Warn them before God against quarreling about words; it is of no value, and only ruins those who listen.” Again, don’t sweat the small stuff. Don’t grumble over details. It does no good. Be humble, be patient and bear with one another in love.
When we do that, not only do we grow in our relationship with Christ, so does the rest of the church. When we are at peace in the church with each other, when we choose to get long despite our differences, when we treat each other with humility, patience and love, all of us win. We don’t waste energy on foolish fights. We don’t seek to push our own personal agendas. We realize that it’s not all about us but it’s all about God. That’s when we grow and that’s when we grow up. That’s when we move forward in the ministry that we have been given. That’s when we truly are who God wants us to be as we live that unity in Christ.
PRAYERS OF THE PEOPLE
Father God, we offer our praise to you in morning and in the evening, in our homes and at work, everywhere, without hesitation or reservation! When difficult times arise, you are our refuge and strength. Thank you for the assurance that we are never alone. We can depend on you when our own resources come to an end. You are worthy of praise and adoration and we will honour you with our thoughts, words and actions, acknowledging who you are and what you have done for us.
Holy and Living God, we come before you as the summer vacations continue. We would pray for travelling mercies as people journey from place to place. Even as we pray those words, we are awed by our ability to travel so easily. This is a freedom that we often take for granted. Remind us that it is a gift.
We pray for those impacted by the Olympics in Japan. We with the athletes and staff that they may be kept safe and the competitions continue. May they be a signs of unity, cooperation and healthy competition.
We ask you to come to us and abide with us, to be in fellowship with us. Help us, O God, to grow in faith. Reach out to us by the power of your Holy Spirit to strengthen and renew us on a daily basis.
Our prayers are lifted up for the sick of our congregation and community. Bless them with a special measure of your Healing Spirit. We think especially of Mark, Rachel, Richard, Angela, Carol and Gary. May your Healing Spirit be with them and with all those who need your special touch.
Lord of Love, thank you for the assurance that, as we grow to know your Word, peace and grace will increase in our lives. That is your promise and your promises never fail. Thank you for the many other promises that you have given. Enable us to walk in them fully, trusting in your great mercy, so that through them, and by them, we may become more like you. Amen.
WORSHIP RESOURCE PAGE
August 1, 2021 / Pentecost 10 / Proper 13
2 Samuel 11:26-12:13a; Psalm 51:1-12; John 6:24-35; Ephesians 4:1-16
CALL TO WORSHIP
Hear us when we call to you, O God.
Speak your word of peace to your people.
Make our paths straight, O Lord;
as we come into your presence.
PRAYER OF APPROACH
God of Justice, we come to you with great rejoicing, with an exuberance of praise and heartfelt thanksgiving for the great and incomparable things you have done. You are the source of our live and the fountain of our strength. By your hand the heavenly bodies move upon their courses. By your love you take note of the smallest of your creatures. Through your word, you teach us how to be your children. Come into our presence and renew us with your Spirit that we may be empowered for compassion and ministry. Amen.
PRAYER OF CONFESSION
Merciful One, we offer our thanks for the ultimate expression of love that you gave to us in Jesus Christ. Through your grace, when we had no hope, you made it possible in us to achieve righteousness through your Son. We acknowledge that it would be impossible to stand before your throne of grace by mere human means but you, by your grace, have made it possible through faith in Jesus’ sacrifice. Lead us back to your path everyday that we may confess our sins and walk in your light. Amen.
ASSURANCE OF PARDON
In the midst of the darkness of life, there is a light which shines God’s love. Our light is in Jesus. Our hope is in Christ. When we honestly repent of our sins. God will forgive and, in forgiving, will give to us a place in the procession to God’s heavenly kingdom.
DEDICATION OF OFFERING
We offer our resources for your work. We offer our touch that we might be at one with all people. We offer our lives for your redemption and service. We present all that we have in the name of Jesus Christ who gave all for us. Amen.
God has called us. God has blessed us. God has opened our eyes to new and wonderful possibilities. Let us walk the road that God has placed before us with hope and confidence.