Tuesday, August 01, 2006

First Pass at This Weekend's Bible Lesson: Ephesians 4:1-16

[Each week, I present as many updates on my reflections and study of the Biblical texts on which our weekend worship celebrations will be built as I can. The purpose is to help the people of the congregation I serve as pastor, Friendship Lutheran Church of Amelia, Ohio, get ready for worship. Hopefully, it's helpful to others as well, since most weekends, our Bible lesson is one from the weekly lectionary, variations of which are used in most of the churches of the world.]

This Week's Bible Lesson: Ephesians 4:1-16
1I therefore, the prisoner in the Lord, beg you to lead a life worthy of the calling to which you have been called, 2with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, 3making every effort to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. 4There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to the one hope of your calling, 5one Lord, one faith, one baptism, 6one God and Father of all, who is above all and through all and in all. 7But each of us was given grace according to the measure of Christ’s gift. 8Therefore it is said, “When he ascended on high he made captivity itself a captive; he gave gifts to his people.” 9(When it says, “He ascended,” what does it mean but that he had also descended into the lower parts of the earth? 10He who descended is the same one who ascended far above all the heavens, so that he might fill all things.) 11The gifts he gave were that some would be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers, 12to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, 13until 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. 14We 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. 15But speaking the truth in love, we must grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, 16from whom the whole body, joined and knit together by every ligament with which it is equipped, as each part is working properly, promotes the body’s growth in building itself up in love.

General Comments on Passage
1. For background on the book of Ephesians, see here.

2. Pastor Bryan Findlayson well summarizes what happens in these sixteen verses:
The "mystery", once hidden now revealed, namely, "the unsearchable riches of Christ", is central to Paul's letter to the Ephesians. In Chapter 1 he introduces the subject, in Chapter 2 he relates the mystery to the church, in Chapter 3 he explains his part in the mystery, and in chapters 4-6 he deals with the practical application of the mystery. In the section before us, the substantial issue is how the Spirit-empowered ministries promote unity in Christ.
3. If written by Paul, as I'm inclined to think that our New Testament book of Ephesians was, the apostle begins with a strange affirmation of his authority to give the counsel of God to the first-century church in Ephesus: His imprisonment. "Because I'm in jail," he seems to tell the Ephesian Christians, "listen to me."

But, as we've already learned from the previous chapters of the book, Paul's incaraceration is for the sake of sharing the life-saving Good News of Jesus Christ with others, the Gospel which allows Jews and Gentiles alike to be part of God's new creation. That does give him authority.

4. This is one of several places in the New Testament where Paul addresses spiritual gifts. All who believe in Jesus Christ are granted such gifts, Holy Spirit-granted abilities (s0me say Holy Spirit-enhanced natural abilities) that allow every believer to contribute to the overall ministry and well-being of the Church and, as a consequence, help us all to mature as Christians.

The object of Christian maturity is for us to become like Jesus Christ. The Church is meant to be a massive support group in which, using the supernatural gifts Christ gives all His followers, we help one another toward that goal.

5. Last week's passage from Ephesians found Paul praying that members of the church in Ephesus would be filled again with the Holy Spirit with which they were already filled. This week, Paul exhorts the church to a unity it's already given by virtue of their belief in Jesus Christ and having "one Lord, one faith, one Baptism."

Whether we Christians like it or not, we have unity. "A" may drive us crazy with his verbosity and "B" may be a mad user of cologne. But all believers in Christ are on a common adventure: Growing into Christ.

God has structured things so that each of us has something we can offer to help one another make that journey to maturity in Christ together! Christianity is not a solo religion. It is intrinsically relational. In fact, Christian faith is about relationships.

So, Paul, is saying in our lesson, get down to the business to which you were called. Livein the unity Christ has given to you and help each other grow up!

More specifics on this passage later in the week, I hope.

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