The prime reason for creating for God creating us is to be in fellowship with him. That is central to the Gospel message. The entire ministry of Jesus, from birth to death to resurrection and ascension, was to reconcile us to God so that we could be in fellowship with him.
The other essential message from the Bible, is that he also created us to be in fellowship with one another. We are created to be in fellowship with God and we are created to be in fellowship with one another. We’re going to look at that this morning as we focus on Ephesians 4:1-16 which talks a lot about what this means.
As we do that, we will discover something else. We will discover that being in fellowship with God and with each other is a process. It happens when we submit ourselves to God who, in his grace, works in our lives by the power of the Holy Spirit to make that fellowship happen as we grow and mature in faith.
And so, to get at this, I want to rearrange Ephesians a little bit and start with the last three verses of the passage. Here is what Ephesians 4:14-16 (NIV) says:
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.
We are no longer infants in Christ. At least, we shouldn’t be. When we come to Jesus Christ and accept him as Lord and Saviour we begin a new relationship with God because through the blood of Jesus, shed on the cross to pay the price of our sins, those sins are forgiven and we are cleansed and made right with God. When that happens, when you first give your life to Jesus, you are an infant in Christ so to speak.
But God doesn’t want you to stay that way. It is God’s desire that we grow in Christ, that we learn what it means to be Christ followers, that we seek to follow him and submit ourselves to his will for us on a daily basis.
This learning to be Christ followers protects us. As Paul wrote to the Ephesians in verse 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.” Children are great but children are also impressionable and easily influenced. As Christians, we want to be open to new ideas and thoughts but we also need to be able to tell the things of God from the things of the enemy. We need to be able to discern the difference between deceitful scheming and the truth of God’s word. Maturing in Christ helps us to do that. It helps us to stay grounded in the word and open to the inspirational leading of the Holy Spirit.
Paul then goes on to talk about the difference between the impressionable child and the mature follower of Christ. Verse 15 says, “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.” It is the grace of God, shown to us in the truth of his love, that enables us to grow in Christ, to become mature adults of faith who put Jesus first as the head of the Church and seek to live according to his purpose and plan for each of us.
And then we read the result in verse 16 which says, “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.” Note the first two words: from him. I can’t emphasize enough that this work of maturing in Christ is not something that we do on our own. It is something that happens by the grace of God as we allow the Holy Spirit to live and move within us so that we can be the people God created us to be. So that we can live in fellowship with God and in fellowship with one another.
For all of us, it is time to grow up in the faith of Jesus.
PRISONERS FOR THE LORD
Now that we have touched on the last three verses of the passage, let’s look at the first thirteen to find out how we got there. Ephesians 4:1 (NIV) says, “As a prisoner for the Lord, then, I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received.” Let me explain a bit of that language because it’s not exactly the way we might talk today. What does it mean to be a prisoner for the Lord? To a lot of people, it doesn’t sound very good at all. Who, after all, wants to be prisoner? I get that but we also need to understand what Paul meant when he wrote this.
To be a prisoner for the Lord, does not mean you have done anything wrong. It doesn’t mean that you are being incarcerated. What it does mean is that we have volunteered to give up some of our freedoms. We have agreed that we will no longer simply do what we want to do but rather will live the way God wants us to live. That doesn’t mean that we do it right all the time and that we never make mistakes. But that is the intent and the hope is that, as we grow from infants to mature Christ followers, that we get better and better at it. So don’t be put off by the reference to prisoners. It’s just saying that we have given control of our lives over to God.
But even that’s not easy to do because so much of the messages that we hear in the world are that you should do exactly what you want to do, that you are in control of your life, that you are number one so if you want to do something, then go for it.
To address that, let’s go back to the infant image for a moment. You remember that we read in verse 14 that we are no longer infants? How many of us let our infant children do exactly what they want to do. I guess we all know some parents who do that but I think most of us would agree that it’s not the best idea.
“Hey Dad, can I go outside and play on the busy street”
“Go ahead son. I’m sure the cars and trucks will all stop for you.”
“Hey Mom, can I put grapes up my nose?”
“Sure, go ahead Jessica. I used to do that when I was your age too.”
“Hey, Mom and Dad, I’m tired of going to bed at 8:00 p.m. I’m going to start going to bed at midnight after I watch Maury Povich.”
“No problem. We may stay up and watch it with you. It will be a great family bonding time.”
I’m not denying that those conversations actually happen in some homes but they shouldn’t. The bottom line is that, as parents, we don’t let our children do whatever they want to do. Neither does God. God doesn’t stop us. If we really want to do something, God will let us but then God will try to teach us through those things that it is always so much better to follow his will so that we can fulfill the purposes for which he put us on this earth.
In the process, we mature into the people God created us to be.
FELLOWSHIP WITH ONE ANOTHER
As prisoners of Christ, we seek to do what he calls us to do and live the way God calls us to live. And here’s the reason we do that. It’s because when we do, we grow into closer fellowship with God and with other people.
Ephesians 4:2-6 (NIV) give us some hints about how we live in closer fellowship with each other: “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; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.”
This reminds us of how we are to be together in faith and grow in fellowship. Be humble. Be gentle. Be patient. Bear with each other in love. Don’t be proud and arrogant. Don’t always put yourself first but seek the good of others. Be patient with them when they make mistakes and, when they have problems, bear with them in love. These are the kinds of things that bring us together in Christ.
Do you know why that is? It’s because they reflect the character of Jesus. That is how Jesus was with the people he encountered as he walked this earth. He showed humility when he washed the disciple’s feet. He was gentle with the Samaritan women he met at the well. He demonstrated patience with the woman caught in adultery and when, time and time again, the disciples just couldn’t figure it out what he was trying to teach them. This is what Jesus did and this is how he wants us to live with each other.
Verses 5 and 6 also remind us of something else that brings us into closer fellowship with one another. It’s the common faith that we share. There is one body and one Spirit. We all share the same hope that is ours in Jesus Christ. There is one Lord, one faith, on baptism and one God. These are all things that bring us together, things that we share, that unite us.
It’s like when we come together in worship on Sunday morning. We come together because of the common faith that we have. Think about it. If it were not for our common faith what would bring us together? Larry and Sharon live in Windsor. Herb and Karen live in Kingsville. Linda Raymont lives in Leamington. Jim and Deanne live in Albuna. Carol and Kevin live in Essex. There is nothing that would bring most of those people together except for the common faith that we all share in Jesus Christ.
And when we worship, this congregations, which sings so well, sings its praises, and when we pray together and read the Bible together and share the message together, that also is done as a demonstration of the faith that we share. One Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of us all who brings us together in holy fellowship. And as we grow in faith, we also grow in fellowship with one another.
FELLOWSHIP WITH GOD
Then there’s fellowship with God and we see that in Ephesians 4:7-13. Let’s start with Ephesians 4:7-8 (NIV): “But to each one of us grace has been given as Christ apportioned it. This is why it says:
‘When he ascended on high,
he took many captive and gave gifts to his people.’”
The first thing I want to note about verse 7 is that it says that to each one of us – to each Christ follower – grace has been given. You have grace. I have grace. All who call upon the name of Jesus as Lord and Saviour have God’s grace.
Then we get to verse 8 that says that when he ascended on high, he took many captives. What’s that all about? This actually is quote from Psalm 68:18, a psalm written by David in the Old Testament and referring to the Exodus where God led the people of Israel through the Red Sea. In that event, those who were captives in Egypt were set free by the power and grace of God. The reason why Paul uses this verse from Psalms is because it sounds very similar to what Jesus did.
He freed captives, not from Egypt but from sin. He broke the chains of death and the gates of hell so through faith in him, we can be free to be who God created us to be. So we who were captives to sin no longer are but we are free by the grace of God through Jesus who died for our sins and rose again so that through faith in him we may have eternal life. So we are no longer captives but we are free in Christ Jesus our Lord.
That is emphasized in Ephesians 4:9-10 (NIV) where we read: “(What does “he ascended” mean except that he also descended to the lower, earthly regions? He who descended is the very one who ascended higher than all the heavens, in order to fill the whole universe.)” This isn’t complicated. It’s just another reference to the crucifiction and resurrection. Jesus died for our sins and rose again for our salvation.
Why did he do that? So that we could have fellowship with God. Until then, until the crucifiction of Good Friday and the resurrection of Easter Sunday, we were separated from God because of sin. It was a chasm deep and wide but in Jesus God bridged that chasm and enabled us to be in fellowship with him once again.
And so we get to our final verses in Ephesians 4:11-13 (NIV): “So Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up 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.”
It’s interesting how God gives us things to do. It says that some of us are called to be apostles or prophets, evangelists, pastors or teachers or any one of a number of other jobs that God has us do because this is not intended to be an exhaustive list. It’s just some examples of the many callings that we can have in life.
But here’s the other things. Not only does he give us things to do, he also equips us to do those things, to do those works of service so that the whole body – the whole church – can be built up. God equips us to do his work so that we can succeed in what we do.
None of that can happen, however, if we are not in fellowship with God. God will not force himself on us. God will not demand that we accept the roles that he’s given us whether that be apostles, evangelists, pastors, teachers, plumbers, lawyers, nurses or whatever. Before God can call us to our various roles and before God can equip us to do those things, we must first be in fellowship with him.
Finally, Verse 13 reminds us that we need to keep growing in our relationship with God and we need to keep maturing in faith so that we can attain to the whole measure of Christ. What that means is that, as we continue to mature in faith and in our relationship with God so that we can be the people God wants us to be and fulfill the mission that God calls us to fulfill.
So let us grow and let us mature into who God wants us to be. And as we do that we will grow in fellowship with God and with one another.
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 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 Sharon, John Lyle, and David. May your Healing Spirit be with them and with all those who need your special touch.
We also lift up in prayer the Johanson family as they mourn the death of Jim who was once the minister of this very congregation. Thank you, God, for his years of faithful service. We remember, especially, Eleanor as she begins a new phase in her life apart for a while from her life partner.
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 5, 2018 / Pentecost 11 / 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.