Ephesians chapter four includes so many verses that resonate through the church's memory. I wonder which of its verses resonate most powerfully with your life? with our life together? Some of the verses that are familiar to us include ...
"I therefore, the prisoner in the Lord, beg you to lead a life worthy of the calling to which you have been called." (vs. 1). The second half of Ephesians moves from the work of God's grace in Jesus Christ to our response, what is often called "therefore ethics". This is life lived out of the mercy of God rather than in order to obtain the mercy of God. What difference does it make to live out of God's mercy rather than to live trying to earn God's love? The "you" mentioned in this verse is plural, it is a communal "all y'all". What kind of communal life would be worthy of the calling to which we have been called?
"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." (vss. 4-6) The Ephesians were a varied assortment of very different people. We do not hear that there is trouble in the group. Yet Paul here emphasizes the essential unity of the church - one body, one Spirit, one hope, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all - perhaps knowing that it will be tempting for the church to splinter into competing factions. How do we experience the temptation to think that the church is not a unity in God's eyes?
"But each of us was given grace according to the measure of Christ's gift ... The gifts he gave were that some would be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ." (vss 7, 11-12). How would you describe the measure of grace that has been given to you? to others in our company of pilgrims? The list of gifts offered here is a list of the gifts given for leadership within the church "to equip the saints for the work of ministry". This assumes that the ministry of the church is the service offered by the baptised as we live out our daily lives and that leadership in the church (apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors, teachers) are not the ministry but, rather, build up the ministry of the whole people of God. How would you distinguish the various roles listed here in our life? What is the calling of an apostle, a prophet, an evangelist, a pastor, a teacher? How do these callings differ in kind? Which are most needed in the church now?
"We must no longer be 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." (vss. 14-15) Paul commends a steady hand on the tiller so that the church maintains a true course. The word "govern" means, literally, to steer. In our congregation the role of steering the church's course - of governing our direction - is assigned to the elders on the Session. What advice would you give the elders in charting the course of the congregation in the years ahead? Can you think of times when you have spoken the truth in love? What have you learned from experience about such loving, truthful speech?
"Now this I affirm and insist on in the Lord: you must no longer live as the Gentiles live, in the futility of their minds ... That is not the way you learned Christ! ... You were taught to put away your old self ... and to clothe yourselves with the new self." (vss. 17, 20, 23, 24) Entering the church means living a new way of life (the early church called itself people of The Way - Acts 9:2). Notice that Paul does not speak of learning about Christ but, rather, of learning Christ. This sounds like learning French or learning Mandarin. Christianity is like a whole new language world with new rules of grammar, new ways of constructing and mending relationships. How would you described some of the distinctive new ways of life that are essential to Christian community? What are some of the old ways that we have been taught that need to be put away when we put on the new self in Christ?
"Be angry but do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger" (vs. 26) Some of us have imagined that the new way of life in Christ does not include anger. Paul invites anger, but not sin. When does anger shift from speaking the truth in love to becoming captive to sin? How do you keep the sun from going down on your anger?
"Put away from you all bitterness and wrath and anger and wrangling and slander, together with all malice, and be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ has forgiven you." (vss. 31-32) The last verse of the chapter reminds us of "therefore ethics": "forgiving one another as God in Christ has forgiven you". What causes a congregation to become a place of bitterness and wrangling and malice? What helps a congregation to live its life out of God's forgiveness in Christ?
We should have plenty to discuss when we meet. I am looking forward to hearing what all y'all have to say.