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May 31, 2020

Love Matters

Passage: Ephesians 4:1-6

Preacher: John Repsold

Series: Covid-19 Challenges

Keywords: love, church, unity, covid

Summary:

This message comes in the restart of gathered church after Covid-19. As there is some difference of opinion in churches about restarting, this seeks to look at the hearts we all need to be the church God longs for us to be regardless of one's convictions about regathering.

Detail:

Love Matters

Ephesians 4:1-4

May 31, 2020

Morning INTRO:

  • Logistical issues of enjoying life together here today: bathrooms, masks, singing, communion, fellowship.

It’s been another rather difficult week for our country, hasn’t it?  Between passing 100,000 deaths due to Covid-19 and the race riots breaking out across the land due to the death of George Floyd in MN.  From Atlanta to Minneapolis, New York to L.A., we’ve seen several nights of riots, looting, shootings and fires.  Some folks are clearly not observing the “Stay Home—Stay Safe” guidelines.

      Without justifying any bad behavior, be it on the part of the police or the part of the rioters, clearly America has as big a racial divide as we have a political one today.  The pent-up anger and frustration over racial injustices that have plagued our nation for centuries is probably exacerbated by the pent-up boredom of over two months of national lock-down. 

      So, what are WE to do?  By “we” I mean God’s people…those who claim to be the ‘sons/daughters of God.’  We are to be the peacemakers in this world…if we take the Beatitudes seriously.  But as I mentioned last week, the church today seems to be having its own problems with living at peace with one another in the midst of the Covid crisis. Christian marriages are experiencing higher levels of conflict in this crisis just as non-Christian ones are. And I doubt that 10 weeks of cabin fever has made many a Christian home more peaceful. 

      So rather than just jump to the next topic in the midst of our “Covid-Series” of messages, I want to return to the theme of last week, the overarching call of God to actively engage each other in love. 

      Marriages and families haven’t been the only places facing love challenges these past couple of months.  If too much time together in too confined of a space has made loving one another harder on couples and families, so has none-to-very-little time together as the people of God made loving one another challenging.  Love by nature must interact with others if it is to be genuine love.  And after 10 weeks of quarantine, I think even the most diehard introverts are realizing that “it is not good for man (or woman) to be alone.” 

      This relational love-drive in each of us has its roots in, of course, the nature of God himself.  God is and always has been Triune…or tri-unity—one God in three persons—Father, Son and Holy Spirit.  In a sense, the perfection of God in love demanded that God not be simply a unitarian God—one God in one person.  Love that simply loves itself is not God’s love; it is self-love that by nature is satisfied not loving another being in any self-sacrificing way. 

      This is why the gods/god of the other monotheistic religious…the God of Islam and even much of Judaism… is not understood predominately as a God of love but rather a God of justice or holiness, of divine law or omnipotence.  Those are all qualities of the true Triune God.  But the submissive, self-sacrificing love of God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit is not the kind of predominant quality you will see either in the gods of the other monotheistic religions of the world OR their followers. 

      God the Son’s submission to the Father through His incarnation and death on our behalf on the cross brought the love of God into a completely different realm from even what the O.T. had to teach us about the steadfast love of Yahweh.  And the Holy Spirit’s submission to Jesus in coming to live in every imperfect and still sinful redeemed follower of Jesus for now 20 centuries reveals more submissive and self-sacrificing love between the godhead than we may want to acknowledge. 

      We—ransomed and redeemed saints—are not the “lucky catch” we may subconsciously think ourselves to be when compared with the eternal union God himself enjoys in the Trinity.  We’ll one day see that we were more like the disfigured, dirty, demanding and actually disgusting street-rat orphan who was mysteriously chosen to become the bride of the most handsome, gracious, rich and loving groom ever to grace the universe. 

      So as we prepare for Communion, let’s engage in a few minutes of contemplation…of spiritual Star gazing…at the magnificence of the Bridegroom of the Church who has made each of us the object of His unparalleled sacrificial love. 

      Communion is one of life’s most startling paradoxes.  It is meant to be a time that fixes our focus upon the unequalled love of our Bridegroom for us.  And yet it holds within that very gaze the frightening reality of just how utterly unworthy, unlovable and unfit we are for such a match…for such love…for such a God.  His death that we remember with these elements was not because we were such a ‘catch.’  It was because we were so desperately ‘out of His league,’ His divine ‘league.’  It was the only way for spiritual scum to ever become spiritual royalty. 

      The other side of that paradox is that “there is now, therefore, NO condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus,” (Rm. 8:1).  Communion should never be something that makes us feel unworthy or dirty or hopeless.  It should never leave us with self-loathing or self-condemnation.  Rather it should refresh our souls with the reality that WE are the living object of the greatest love-story by the most astounding Lover that will ever be written. It should be like one more love note found inside the lunch box or cosmetic case of that husband or wife who have been married for 45 years and know the sweetness of time-and-trial-tested love. 

      So as we enter into Communion this morning, may I invite you to see, not your reflection in the cup of the Lord’s suffering for you, but God’s face—His approving smile, His loving gaze, His whispered words of divine romance for your soul. 

  • This is God the Son’s body broken…for YOU, the beloved daughter or son!
  • This is God the Bridegroom’s blood shed…for YOU, the beloved Bride of Christ!

Do this in remembrance of Him.

COMMUNION

MESSAGE

      I would like to take us for a few minutes this morning back to the book of Ephesians.  Ephesians is a book all about unity—unity of the Godhead, unity of the church, unity in marriage, family, etc.  It is a book that teaches us about the ground of unity for a very diverse people of God. 

      Just as the love of God virtually necessitated that He be a tri-unity in nature, so His tri-personhood necessitates that unity with diversity be the experience of all who claim to be His children.  Here, too, is another spiritual paradox.  When humans think of unity, we tend to think uniformity.  Diversity and differences is not the first thing that comes to any of our minds when we hear the word “unity.”

      But if we are to engage in the kind of unity God has in mind for us, diversity MUST be a huge part of our experience. 

NOTE:  I’ve always been perplexed why so many churches and so many people in churches seem to demand a level of uniformity that I do not see God requiring.  And in so doing, we far too often destroy the very unity God is requiring of us.

      Why do we have such a hard time agreeing to disagree agreeably about so many things that God has not demanded we see exactly the same?  Why do we think that others must be “wrong” if what we believe is the only truly ‘right’ belief?  If God is willing to demonstrate such great and ongoing love for us each day when there are SO many things in our lives that must certainly fall SO short of Him and His truth, why can we not treat each other with a fraction of the grace and forbearance God shows us every moment of every day? 

      Ephesians 4 gives us a clue as to what we must embrace both personally and deeply IF we are to experience loving one another as He has commanded us to. 

      So let’s pick it up reading in Ephesians 4:1ff.

 As a prisoner for the Lord, then, I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received. 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.

       Paul begins by telling us how he is viewing his prison experience there in Rome from where he is writing.  He’s not a “prisoner of Rome/Nero/Caesar.”  He’s a “prisoner for the Lord” or literally “in the Lord.”  Even life in prison is an experience that Paul wants to ‘try out’ “in Christ.” 

      APP:  Most of us have felt a slight bit like we’ve been “in prison” these past 10 weeks.  But I wonder if we’ve seen it as something to experience “in the Lord”?  Have we ‘found Christ’ in a deeper way in that ‘prison’ of solitude?  Did the new and unique stresses lead us to turn to Jesus more, depend more on Him than our routine and call out for His help more?  Did missing the fellowship of the saints lead us to more loving…or more critical…thoughts and emotions towards other believers?  If Paul’s prison experience could lead Him to Jesus, surely Covid-19 quarantines can lead us to Christ. 

      So we could paraphrase this passage, “As a Covid-Quarantine participant in our Lord Jesus…”  How would you complete that sentence if you were asked to tell someone what you experienced of Jesus in this time?  “As a Covid-quarantine participant in our Lord Jesus, I experience the ______ of Christ more deeply in this time.” [Ask for 1 or 2-word responses.] 

      If we’d been studying this entire book leading up to this passage, you would know that the first 3 chapters laid the theological groundwork for the last 3 chapters of practical application.  We don’t have the benefit of that today but suffice it to say that Paul is calling believers to a lifestyle, a way of living, that He is going to lay out here now. 

      “The calling you have received.”  What “calling in Christ” do we all share in the church?  Sure, it’s God’s calling on our lives to be His, to belong to Christ, to be conformed to Christ in all of this life so that others will be drawn to Him. ALL of us who belong to Jesus have a calling.  That word doesn’t refer to our careers or some special “call to the ministry.”  We’ve ALL got the same call to “live a life worthy of” God’s call on us. 

      Remember, we began this service talking about God’s “marriage proposal” to us that we are to be reminded of in Communion.  We’re called to “live a life worthy” of that ‘proposal’.  We’re in the engagement phase right now.  God proposed, we accepted, and he gave us a ‘ring’—the Holy Spirit as a guarantee that He’s going to carry through with this deal of making us His forever Bride. 

      So if you are engage to Mr. Wonderful, what does an engagement worthy of Him look like?  Well, it means everything in our lives is now focused on getting ready for the wedding, right? 

Q:  For those of you who were engaged at some point in life… successfully engaged, that is, how did…

  • your social life change during engagement?
  • How about your free time?
  • Your finances?
  • Your plans?
  • Your dreams?

Everything in life began to orient around sharing life together, right?  Everything became about how you could love and please and make happy your beloved.  You began to conform your life to the life of someone else, perhaps for the first time in life.  You began to discover how hard that can be, especially when that ‘someone’ surprised you and wasn’t as perfect as you thought they were at first. 

      But just imagine they were perfect…and you knew you were far from perfect.  Then the objective of joining them in their maturity, their perfection, would have meant knowing them every day was just bringing you closer to being not only a better person but the best couple ever to walk the planet. 

This is what Paul is calling us to when he tells us our “calling” by Jesus is to be increasingly conformed TO Jesus.  If we are ever to enjoy the unity Jesus has in mind for us as His Bride, we need to make it our goal, our “calling”, to absorb and conform to as much of the life of Jesus as time and life will permit.  This life “in Christ” is what will enable us to experience unity in life with one another. 

Paul writes,  “Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love.”

      Certainly humility in strength was one of the astounding characteristics of Jesus.  When you are God and you choose to leave a level of splendor and glory in this universe that will make a million suns appear dim…and you shrink yourself down into this beautiful but sin-soaked world…you allow yourself to be abused and maligned and mistreated…all while hiding your true nature in the humanness of a perfect man…without demanding that others treat you like God that you are...day after day, year after year, maddening encounter after maddening encounter with stiff-necked and stubborn sinners—that’s is real humility.  And that was precisely what Jesus was: “completely humble and gentle.” 

      Paul is going to move in this passage into talking about the kind of unity we should experience.  But he prefaces it with the kind of character, the kind of persona we must have:  Christ’s humility and gentleness. 

APP:  When was the last time you actually exercised humility?  When were you last used or taken for granted or maligned, misjudged, misunderstood…and you chose humility instead of offense…or anger …or defensiveness…or criticism? 

APP:   Who in the body of Christ needs humility from you right now…even though they may not know it?  Who in your family?  When our humble Savior fills our vision, humility will fill our behavior.  There is no way we’re actually going to experience unity in the family of God without humility. 

      Next Paul mentions “gentleness.”  It’s amazing how both humility and gentleness go hand-in-hand.  I grew up with the best model of this I’ve ever know—my earthly father. 

ILL:  My Dad was certainly one of the most gentle man I ever knew. (BTW, the Greek word for “gentle” here has the idea of “domesticated strength.”  Picture a massive, powerful stallion that has learned to respond to its rider by the click of a tongue or the nudge of a knee.  It’s not out of control and it isn’t weak.  It is power that has been trained and harnessed.) I never saw my Dad hit anyone (though he told us of a few fist-fights he was in as a farm boy!).  I don’t even remember being spanked by him, though I’m pretty sure I was.  He was a genuinely even-tempered, gentle giant of a man.   

      That went hand-in-hand with his humility.  EX:  He was an amazing pianist, but he never talked about it.  He just came home after work some days and would sit down before dinner and play an amazing Chopin or Liszt piece by memory that he had learned when he was 14 or 15.  I never heard him play in public but had he decided to be, he could have easily pursued a career in music.  Instead he became an attorney.  He did so as a young man with few resources…and he went to the best universities American has to offer—Harvard, Yale, Amherst…but I never heard him talk about that in public either. 

      Humility doesn’t demand that others recognize you as anything special.  It earns that recognition through the way it treats others with dignity, kindness and goodness. 

      So, if we are going to have any hope of really experiencing unity in this family of God, it is going to require that we keep letting go of our demands that others recognize us or honor us or even respect us or even agree with us.  Humility doesn’t demand to be treated a certain way.  It treats others with respect, kindness, gentleness and love—what every human being longs for…even when we don’t deserve it. 

      Take humility and gentleness away and you will never have heartfelt unity. 

      Next Paul talks about our need to “Be patient, bearing with one another in love.” Q:  When do you have to exercise patience and “bear with” someone?  When they are being a jerk.  My wife doesn’t “bear with me” when I’m kind and patient and gentle.  It’s when I’m upset and angry and short with her that she has to “bear with me in love.” 

APP:  Is this our expectation of life together in the church?  It is SO easy to get offended in the family of God. 

ILL:  I was talking not long ago with a brother from another country who mentioned that he was a bit surprised when he first came to America to see how quickly American Christians would just leave one church and go to another.  They get offended at something and, rather than trying to work it out by “bearing with one another in love,” we seem to ‘walk it out’…right out the door and on to the next church.  Sure, there may be times when God wants us to change churches.  But I really doubt if it is as frequently as most of us in this culture actually do so. 

Paul continues:

Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace.

Unity takes effort…a lot of effort.  Whether it’s a marriage or a church or a nation, you have to be working hard at unity to achieve it.  Don’t buy the false notion that if you’re in the right marriage, oneness will come easily.  It won’t.  It’s no different for the people of God, the church. Unity will require effort.  But it will pay great dividends too. 

      We won’t be able to do it without walking in the Spirit—God’s Spirit.  Unity is the fruit of a Spirit-filled people.  When marriages or churches fracture, I can guarantee you that it is not because the Holy Spirit is reigning all over the place.  It is because the life of the Spirit is missing from one or both of the fractured parties.  Wherever there is discord and dissension, I can guarantee you the life of the Spirit is not dominating.

It is precisely here that Paul wants to remind us of all we have in common as people belonging to Jesus Christ.  Unless we realize we have far more in common in Christ, we will see our differences as BIG and our commonness as small.

 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.

Paul is very clear that “making every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit” will require that we focus on what we have in common rather than how we are different.  If you are a true follower of Jesus Christ by faith, then you have this entire list of things “in common” with every other Christ-follower in human history…and seated next to you.

  • One body = the church, the “body of Christ” present in the world. This is the church universal we talked briefly about last week.  It doesn’t matter what local church you are a part of and what particular doctrine or traditions they have.  What is important to keep in mind is that there is, ultimately and eternally, only ONE church in this world made up of all true Christ-followers.
  • One Spirit = the Holy Spirit. Notice that every member of the Trinity is mentioned clearly in this passage.  Without giving a sermon on pneumatology, suffice it to say that every true believer shares the same Holy Spirit with every other true believer. 

Here’s where the rub comes.  If we were all walking in the Spirit all the time, would there be any fighting and bickering and divisions?  Of course not.  The Holy Spirit doesn’t fight itself.  But Christians do…sadly!  When we do, you can be sure that at least one and usually both of the parties fighting are not fully following the Holy Spirit…no matter how strongly they may affirm they are.   

  • One hope = the common future of eternity in heaven in our resurrected state. Every Christ-follower has this same future.
  • One Lord = Jesus Christ
  • One faith = either personal faith in Jesus or the body of basic Christian doctrine/faith we ascribe to, i.e. salvation through faith in Jesus Christ. Both are something every true believer has in common with every other believer.  NOTE:  If it is the ‘body of basic Christian doctrine/faith we ascribe to in order to be saved,’ then everything else outside of that salvation-faith core should/must take a secondary place if we are to experience this kind of unity.  There is nothing wrong with different churches and denominations as long as we don’t let those differences make us indifferent, critical or negative about other believers. 

ILL:  Conversation with Joe W. about not being able to sign the doctrinal statement of the 4-Square—“That’s okay.  Denominations are just a bunch of people who have decided to be wrong about the same things.”   

  • One baptism = either water baptism in the name of the Triune God given here OR baptism of the Holy Spirit (also mentioned in this passage). Baptism = to be immersed in.  They both have been the consistent experience of believers through the entire church age: water baptism (of some sort) and life immersed/baptized in the Holy Spirit 
  • One God & Father of all = we all share the same heavenly Father. Having the same father has always been intended by God to be a uniting experience.

ILL:  My children have a bond and unity together because they share the same dad/mom that they don’t have with even good friends. 

Even people who didn’t grow up with their siblings…or may not have even known they had any…usually go searching for them later in life.  Paternity was meant to provide a deep, meaningful bond in this life…both relationally and spiritually. 

As my African-American brothers will sometimes remind me, “We’re just brothers from another mother.”  That’s a reality that could actually heal the racial divide in our nation!

Notice what Paul doesn’t focus on:  the same opinions, same exact theologies, same priorities, same traditions, same styles, same beliefs about everything, same passions, same leaders, same church government, same you-name-it.

      I can guarantee you that if any two believers will focus on the shared things Paul mentions here, stick with them and avoid getting all knotted up about other things…and do so dominated by humility, gentleness and love, we will walk in unity.  NOT uniformity, but genuine unity. 

APP:  Feeling disunity with anyone in the body of Christ?  Try to humbly, gently and lovingly focus on these unifying realities… basically on God himself…and you probably will be able to enjoy the joy of peaceable unity.  Get off onto other side issues and I guarantee you that things will deteriorate between us. 

      This is important in what we are experiencing right now.  As I mentioned earlier, even the issue of simply when churches should restart after Covid-19 has and can become a divisive issue.  But only if we get our eyes off what we share in common in the God we serve.  Only if we abandon the fruit of the Spirit.  And only if we walk away from hearts, thoughts, words and actions directed by the Holy Spirit that lives in us until we meet Jesus face-to-face. 

BENEDICTION:

Ephesians 5

Follow God’s example, therefore, as dearly loved children 2 and walk in the way of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.