Meditation on Ephesians 4:1-8, 11-16 and John 6:24-35
The Presbyterian Church, Coshocton, OH
Pastor Karen Crawford
Aug. 1, 2021
Link to Aug. 1, 2021 live-streamed worship service, including this message:
Last Tuesday, our Session gathered at the home of our clerk, Sarah Swigert, for a picnic. Once a year, with the exception of 2020, instead of a regular Session meeting in July, we meet for a potluck dinner and cookout with our spouses. We enjoyed an abundance of home-cooked food and the company of Christian friends who have become a family of God. Unfortunately, two of our members and their spouses were not able to make it. We missed them!
Our Session is a group of gifted, faithful people who have hung together and labored long and hard for the sake of the Lord and His Church—through difficult, anxious times, as well as times of joy and laughter. Last Tuesday was fun!
Near the end of the gathering, Debbie Clark made an interesting observation. It was just like a Session meeting, she said, only with food! What I think she meant was that this relaxed, comfortable way we are with each other at a fellowship gathering is the same way we are when we are together—virtually or in person—doing the important work of leading the church.
We love each other and respect and value each other’s differences. For each of us not only possess gifts to develop and share for the Lord; each of us ARE gifts from the Lord to His Church and the world.
All believers are connected by a common calling—the call of the gospel of Jesus Christ. It moves us to give of ourselves, build up those around us, and grow the Kingdom. Like the crowd of more than 5,000 hungry people who were nourished by a few loaves and fish—blessed, broken and given by the Bread of Life—we feast on Christ’s Word and Spirit so that we may be equipped to be Bread for the World.
This common gospel calling is what Paul is talking about in the 4th chapter of Ephesians. This letter is meant for the Church, encouragement for those who are trying to be faithful. But it’s also for those on different places on their faith journey, as well as those from different walks of life, backgrounds, knowledge, and experience, including Gentile and Jewish Christians.
Paul provides some basic rules of living the new life in Christ together in this chapter—for the good of the community. He tells believers to put away all falsehood, ”for we are members of one another. Be angry but do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, and do not make room for the devil.” He emphasizes the importance of our words and their effect on others. “Let no evil talk come out of your mouths,” he says, “but only what is useful for building up, as there is need, so that your words may give grace to those who hear.” (Eph 4:29)
Our passage begins a new section of the letter, where everything that came before chapter 4 is leading to Paul’s main point: “I, therefore, the prisoner in the Lord, beg you to live a life worthy of the calling to which you have been called…” It’s not enough to say you are a Christian. The Lord wants us to let our lives, demeanor, behavior, and attitude show it. Christ has given gifts to the Church so that some would be apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers. Their shared purpose is “to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ until all of us come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to maturity, to the measure of the full stature of Christ.”
Serving in the Church requires a different mindset than working in the world or serving as a volunteer with a secular organization. It’s the reason we do we what do—and for whom! We serve the Church because we love the Lord and the people God so loves.
For some people, it’s hard not to see Christianity as just “Jesus and me.” The vision of Paul’s beloved Spirit-filled community is that we are a new family of God and not just solitary believers, working alone. The church’s life and mission are shaped and given to us by Jesus Christ. We are forever connected to him and to one another and are known as his disciples by our love. Paul says a life worthy of the calling is lived: “with all humility and gentleness, with patience” “bearing with one another in love.”
“Bearing with one another” is something that shows up in other Pauline letters and is connected with forgiveness in Colossians 3:13, “Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you.” Bearing with one another in love may also be holding one another up and keeping each other from falling, helping to carry one another’s burdens. This is something that I often see happening in our church family, and it’s such a blessing to me!
Unity and peace are recurring themes in Paul’s letters. Here in Ephesians, Paul acknowledges that achieving unity in the Church is not something the Holy Spirit does alone. We have to work at it and keep on working at it: “making every effort to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.” (Eph. 4:3) Unity doesn’t mean uniformity. As Paul says in verse 7, “But each of us was given grace according to the measure of Christ’s gift.” We have to expect differences of opinion with our different gifts and perspectives, and not be afraid of respectful disagreements, which may be the path to Spirit-led transformation.
On the other hand, Paul has no tolerance for false teachers who try to lead Christians astray. He urges believers to not be like spiritual children: “tossed to and fro and blown about by every wind of doctrine, by people’s trickery, by their craftiness in deceitful scheming. But speaking the truth in love, we must grow up in every way into Him who is the head, into Christ.”
Going along with unity is peace. This is the bond or glue that holds everything together! Peace requires effort and commitment, as well. As Paul says in Romans 12:18, “If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.”
My favorite part of this passage are verses 4-6, some of which we read at baptisms. ‘ONE’ is repeated 7 times to reinforce what is common to every believer. These are reasons to rejoice and give God our thanks and praise! “There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to the one hope of your calling, one Lord, one faith, one baptism,one God and Father of all, who is above all and through all and in all.”
Dear friends, each of you possesses gifts that God wants you to use to help grow the church. But I want you to know that each of YOU are also GIFTS to the Church! I treasure you and appreciate all that you do, many of you quietly, behind the scenes, where nobody else can see. Thank you for your faithfulness and for all your prayerful efforts at maintaining the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace in our church family. Just coming to worship every Lord’s Day is a wonderful witness to our unity!
This week, kind volunteers—youth and adults—will be seeking to grow the Church by serving the children of our community through Vacation Bible School. It’s been 2 years since our last VBS! Our volunteers need our encouragement and prayers. I plan to be there whenever I can to assist them, helping to welcome our children and families, lead prayer, share Bible stories, and do whatever is needed. We will also do crafts, play games, have snacks, and just enjoy our time together. Most of all, we hope to show the love and grace of Christ through caring words and ways that children will understand. Please pray that hearts and lives will be changed—including ours!
You know, we can’t do any of our ministries without God’s help and without seeking to grow ourselves and become more spiritually mature. Like the Israelites who ate of the manna from heaven each day in the desert wilderness, we must nourish ourselves on the Bread of Life so that, serving together, we may be Bread for the World.
Let us pray. Holy One, we thank you for your love, poured into our hearts by the Holy Spirit. We pray for unity and peace in our faith community and community at large. Help us always to be gentle, patient, and kind, bearing with one another in love. Let us urge each other to spiritual maturity, growing up into our head, who is Jesus Christ. We pray for the children of our church and community. Bless them, Lord, watch over them and keep them safe. Draw them nearer and deeper into the fold and help us to joyfully and creatively minister to them and they to us. Send down your manna every day to strengthen us to do your will and live lives that are worthy of the calling to which we have been called. Feed us with the Bread of Life so that we may be Bread for the World. Amen.