Thursday, April 18, 2013

The Great Gig In The Sky - Ephesians 4 (part 1)

Click the banner to read Ephesians 4
Chapter four begins the second half of the book of Ephesians, turning sharply from the theology of who we are in Christ to the practice of living out our faith in community as the body of Christ. What we do is a reflection of who we are. The two cannot be separated.

The first direction given to the newly formed multiethnic community is that they would be in unity. If we truly believe that God has removed the wall of hostility between us and him through Jesus, and between each other through our mutual faith, we will live this out in our humble and mutual respect and love for one another.

We are a community of the good news of the Kingdom of God. Our relationships of service and mutuality are a reflection to each other and the world of our faith in God's forgiveness, grace, and love. It is no surprise that the very first appeal to our practice of the gospel would be that we remain in unity.

The second half of the chapter contains the second major appeal to the practice of our walk of faith. To the old religious insiders, the letter urges unity and patience. To the new members in community, the letter warns us that life in this community of faith will mean living differently than we did before. We are free to live in community and grace and love. We are not free to sabotage our new community with our old selfish behaviours.

Every effort is to be made to offer grace, patience, forgiveness, and respect for those who are new or weak in faith. Every effort is made by new members to grow in faith and leave those immature, weak, and selfish ways behind. With both sides of this practice given full honour and attention, in and through faith, unity and peace in the body is the result.

Ephesians 4:1-6
I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit—just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call— one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all. But grace was given to each one of us according to the measure of Christ's gift.

Following Jesus transcends all other earthly authority. It is of such high importance, even if you should risk prison to do so, a disciple still should follow. If this writer can resist to the point of incarceration, surely those of us in less oppressive conditions can do everything we can to stay in peace with one another. Jesus gives the power to humbly and gently resist the powers of this world. Jesus will also give us the humility to resist our base and selfish desires that would destroy our community with one another. He is at the centre of our community. We are all equal disciples. He empowers each of us to love and serve all the others. We're all going the same direction, and we all need each other to get there. Jesus is the reason we're all in unity, so let's remain in unity for his sake.

Ephesians 4:15-16
Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love.

When we recognize that we need one another in this shared life of Christ, we'll have to start communicating well, and communicating often. The best way to grow in community, knowing and understanding each other, and having one another's needs met is by talking. We need to share, and we need to listen. It's cumbersome, I know, but it's the only way that we will truly be able to work together. This isn't about efficiency, as though we're all part of some assembly line just getting the job done. Our community is about love. We serve each other because we love one another, each putting another's needs before their own. This changes our communication even further. I speak and listen with intention and humility. I submit my needs to be served by the body, and serve the other members in their needs. As we do, we each serve Jesus and are served by Jesus, allowing his passions and desires become our own, and growing stronger together as a single body under his headship. Under him, in him, and for him, we grow effective and true, each of us essential as we accomplish his work of love and grace and justice in the world.

Ephesians 4:32
Be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.

Jesus is perfect, but we are not. Though we are all growing and maturing, we still live as imperfect people in an imperfect world. We will hurt each other sometimes. When we are hurt in community, it is in community also that we are healed. Jesus forgave us and redeemed us. Now, in community, we will have opportunity to forgive others. In this act, we have our greatest opportunity to look like Jesus. In every offense, we each can become the body of Christ to one another, ministering forgiveness, and remembering again the forgiveness we've each received. Our kindness and compassion toward one another reflects his. Even in our weakness, and especially in our weakness, the character of Jesus is manifest among us.

In Christian community life, all members strike the balance of serving as though they are essential, while being served by others as though they are interdependent. We need one another, and others need us. Each member does their part.

When this is how we understand community, the unity that this passage is talking about becomes essential. It isn't just a nice idea or a romantic notion that we live together and serve one another in unity. This is basic survival. Unity isn't even a goal. Unity is only a basic beginning point, so we can get started being the body of Christ together. When a person's body is done being formed together, all the parts are working, and it has matured, that person begins practicing their occupation in the world. This is basic maturation. Once we get unity down, then we can get to business.

The gift of forgiveness was the missing piece that allowed unity to be possible. Eye for eye justice tears a community apart. Offenses are inevitable. We are imperfect. Without forgiveness, any community can become a complicated network of vengeance and allegiances of convenience. Our own selfishness rots us out from within.

When Jesus took every sin, and every offense onto himself, he opened the door to forgiveness for all of us. Any eye lost has already been repaid. I have been forgiven, so I can forgive. This is the Jesus centred unity of Christian community.
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