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17 September 2023 -- One Grace-Based Body

Church Membership (part 2 of 2) -- part 1 can be found here

Daniel Brink


One Grace-Based Body

Church Membership series (part 2 of 2)

1. One body united in Christ

  • Ephesians 4:1-6

2. One body growing in Christ

  • Ephesians 4:7-16

  • 1 Corinthians 12:12-26

3. One body based upon grace

  • Ephesians 4:1-2


This is the second part of a short series we're doing on the church, and in particular the subject of church membership. Last week we took a wide angle view of the church in order to answer the question: "What is the church?" We also looked at the various ways that the New Testament assumes church membership when it talks about the life of a follower of Christ. And today we are going to use this passage in Ephesians 4 to understand what it means to be a member of the church.

Last week I gave a teaser saying that in today's sermon we would look at what is the most difficult aspect of being in the church – the thing in the church that causes the most frustration. I'm referring to a problem that affects every church, and if you have spent much time in a church, I'm confident that this problem has bothered you at times. In fact, it's a problem that has been bringing harm upon the church since its beginning in the first century.

So what is the biggest problem in the church? It's the people. The problem in the church is that it has people like you and me in it. Why is this a problem?

Well, because people are also different, and the differences within a community often prove to be a challenge. We all have different ideas, different perspectives, and different experiences. It takes a lot of effort to be in community with people who are different from me and different from you.

People are also difficult. And you know this. People do things that bother me and that bother you. People have opinions that I don't like, attitudes that I don't like, and behaviors that I don't like. They believe and say things that I disagree with. And let me go a step further and say that people are sinners. People offend one another, neglect one another, and hurt one another. People are sinners; people like me and you.

At the same time, we are beings who are created in a personal God's image, and so we desire community. We desire to be with people where there is a bond and where there is love. We want to belong to a community that welcomes us and values us. We don't want to be lonely and isolated. There are many people who are drawn and attracted to the church because they have a deep desire to be in community with others. And when the church is what it is supposed to be, it offers a warm, welcoming, and supportive community with whom to share life. We talked last week about how the church is the people of God. The church is the people who belong to God, and it is a sweet and precious thing to belong somewhere, even if it's belonging to something that is imperfect.

So there's something we find very attractive about the church community, but the church has a big problem in that it is made up of sinners. We have our opinions, we have our preferences, and we have our own idols. We have things in our lives that are more important to us than the two greatest commandments – loving God with our whole heart and loving our neighbor as ourselves. And when we don't love others the way we should, we get friction. We get frustration. We get conflict.

The passage we are looking at today in Ephesians 4 tells us how we are to live within the church community. An important detail about this passage is where it comes in Paul's letter to the Ephesian church. In the first 3 chapters of Ephesians Paul goes into great detail about the gospel – how sinners have been rescued by Christ and reconciled with God. It is a gospel of grace. And when we get to chapter 4 Paul begins with the word "therefore". He's making a transition. He's saying, "I've told you that you've been saved by grace, and now I'm going to explain how you are to live." And be careful here, because the order is important. He's not saying, "here's how you are to live in order to be part of God's family." Rather, he is saying to the church "Because you are already in God's family through the gospel, here is how you should live."

And Paul puts a key word before us, and that word is unity. To be a member of the church community means having diversity and unity at the same time. We are all diverse, but we also have unity as one body in Christ.

1. One body united in Christ

In the opening verses of chapter 4 Paul says I "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."

If you think carefully about this list that Paul gives us in verses 2-3, you'll probably feel daunted. This is not an easy list! How much gentleness do you want to show to a difficult person? How much patience do you show to the person who offends you?

This list is very similar to what Paul writes in Galatians 5:22 – what are called the fruits of the spirit. It's also similar to what we see in 1 Cor. 13 which is where Paul talks about what love looks like. Paul is making sure the church knows how important it is to treat others with love. And to treat others with love means living with one another in humility, gentleness, patience, forbearance, and peace.

All of these attributes in Ephesians 4:2-3 are aimed at maintaining unity within the body. Peacemaking seeks after unity. Humility is needed for unity. Humility requires that I recognise my own sin before I react to the sin of others. In other words, humility means that I assume my sins are probably more troublesome to other people than their sin is to me. Patience and bearing with one other is selfless. It requires that I endure what is difficult for the sake of the other person. I show my love for them in being patient.

In verse 2, when Paul says we are to bear with one another in love, he's assuming that we are involved in each other's lives. You only have to bear with someone if there is some level of closeness. It assumes that their life touches yours in such a way that their mess gets on you; their sin affects you. And you have to bear with it, and you need to do so in love. That's what unity looks like. And note that unity is not something we need to create; it already exists. If you are a Christian, you are by definition united to your fellow Christians. And Paul is urging the church to live like it. Live out the unity that is there.

Let's look at verses 4-6. It says…

"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."

Paul uses the word "one" 7 times in those verses. Oneness is of utmost importance to Paul. It's essential to being a healthy church, but we don't always want to be united to everyone else in the church. Sometimes we prefer to keep our distance and as much as possible to do things the way that we want to do them. But Paul says the church community is one in Christ. Galatians 3:28 says there is no Jew or Greek, male or female, slave or free. It's not that distinctions between us cease to exist, but in Christ we are one. That oneness supersedes any of our unique differences. As fellow Christians we are all equally united to Christ, and we all have the same Holy Spirit within us.

2. One body growing in Christ

As we move through our text we see Paul explaining what is to come from our unity, and it is a church that grows. Through our unity the church is to grow to be more like Christ, and Christ is actively bringing about this growth, which he does through his Spirit.

Verse 7 says that grace is given to each member of the body according to the measure of Christ's gift, and verse 8 references his giving gifts to his people. This is echoed in 1 Corinthians 12:4-6 where Paul says that there are a variety of gifts given to his people, but they are given by the one Spirit. There's diversity in the gifts that he has given to each of us, yet there is unity.

In verse 11 Paul talks about something that Christ has given to the church. It says, "And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers." I don't think Paul is intending to give an exhaustive list of church offices in this passage, but he does seem to be giving examples of leaders that Christ has given to the church. That includes the 12 apostles all the way down to those who lead the church today. What's the purpose of these leaders? He tells us in verses 12. He has given leaders in order… "to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ."

The purpose of these leaders is to equip. It's not that the church has leaders who do all of the ministry of the church. Rather, it's the church as a whole – it's all of the members who are to do ministry. If you are a Christian, you are counted among the saints in this passage who are being equipped in the church for the sake of doing ministry. There's not a division in the church between those who serve and those who don't.

In verse 13 Paul says that the outcome of the unified body is…

"the faith and the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes."

He's talking about spiritual maturity. Because if we aren't maturing as a body, we are susceptible to deceitful and destructive forces that are working against us.

Continuing in verse 15

"…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."

Paul is using this image of the human body to make his point about the church body. All of these parts of the body are held together by Christ, and they are to function in an interdependent way so that the whole body grows. We are called to grow as a body, for the good of the body. And we need all of those diverse parts working in unity.

In 1 Corinthians 12:12-26 Paul goes into greater detail on the diversity of gifts and how that is reflected in a unified body. He says:

"For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ.

…For the body does not consist of one member but of many. If the foot should say, “Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body. And if the ear should say, “Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body.

…But as it is, God arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as he chose. If all were a single member, where would the body be? As it is, there are many parts, yet one body.

The eye cannot say to the hand, “I have no need of you,” nor again the head to the feet, “I have no need of you."

Paul is saying that the church body is a living organism with many parts (or members) that are interdependent – members that didn't choose one another but who need one another to be healthy and fully-functioning. God chose and arranged the members that make up the body, and he has given each member unique gifts and abilities.

But the body doesn't always function in a unified way. Paul gives the example of some members saying "I don't belong" and other members saying "you don't belong". What Paul is doing is giving 2 problematic attitudes that get in the way of unity.

The first is self-pity. In verse 15 he talks about a foot not feeling like it's part of the body because it's not a hand. And in verse 16 the ear is upset about not being an eye. Those are examples of thinking too lowly of yourself. "I can't sing, I can't teach, I'm not good at anything,..." That is self-pity; it's false humility. It's being self-focused, self-absorbed, and dissatisfied with who God has designed you to be.

So self-pity is one attitude that gets in the way of unity. And the second is arrogance, which we see in 1 Corinthians 12: 21 where one member tells another that "I have no need of you." This is an attitude of independence. It is a form of saying, "I'm better than you, and I don't gain anything with you around." Those attitudes tear down the unity that we are supposed to reflect in the body.

Paul is telling us that we need one another because we all have gifts to put to use. We need one another for our own growth as disciples of Christ. We need the other members bearing with us, building us up, and helping us grow in Christlikeness. If you are a Christian, you are a member of Christ's body, and you need to be ministering to the other members because your unique gifts are needed by everyone else.

When members don't use their gifts, those gifts get buried due to idleness, and then the whole body suffers. Consider the human body: when a part of the body goes unused, it atrophies. It loses its ability to function. In order to maintain a healthy and fully-functioning body, it is necessary that it moves and exercises its various parts. Likewise, the church is going to be healthier when its members are engaged in the ministry of the church, building up one another in love, and growing in Christlikeness.

If you aren't using your gifts within the church, if you aren't living out your unity with the other members, if you aren't serving… you are not going to be happy in the church. The church is not designed to be a place where you come get what you need and then go about your life. Rather, this is a place designed for service to one another as we all grow as Christ's disciples.

3. One body based upon grace

I want to go back to two things I said earlier. The first is that the biggest problem in the church is the fact that it is made up of people – people who are all sinful. And it's not easy being a diverse group of sinful people who are called to be in unity with one another. The second thing I want to remind you of is that we are called to unity after having been shown grace. Gospel comes first (as in Ephesians 1-3), and then in chapter 4 we are instructed how to live as the church in light of the gospel.

I'm reminding you of these two things because it is essential to the health of the church that we live according to the grace we've been shown. If you are a Christian, your testimony is one of God saving you by grace. You didn't earn your salvation; it's all because of God. That is the gospel. Therefore, you extend grace to others.

If you are a Christian, you are united to the other members of the body of Christ. You are united to his church. And it is a church full of sinners. Full of people that are going to sin against you, and against whom you are going to sin. When that one person again forgets to do what she said she would do… I need to bear with her, and I do so humbly recognizing that – you know what – there are times when I fail others, and I need them to bear with me. That is showing grace to others. And when that one guy continues to talk on and on only about himself and never asks about me… I need to show him patience and gentleness. The easy response is to complain about such people, to gossip about them, to think poorly of them. But those responses tear down unity. And Paul is urging the church to love one another; to maintain unity in the body.

This is what the church looks like. It's a body of diverse members who are sinners, who are dependent upon Christ for their salvation, and who need to grow to be more like him. One of our values at Hope is "grace-based community", and that's exactly what we're talking about here. I need grace and you need grace. In order for us to have unity – in order for us to have the sort of community that Paul is talking about in Ephesians 4, we need to live according to the gospel of grace. We need to understand the depths of our own sin. We need to understand that yes, others are going to sin against me, and I'm going to sin against others. We all bring our mess into this community, and that means it can get messy as our sin affects one another.

I pray that this church is one where the diverse members of the body build up one another in love. I pray that this church grows in faithfulness and obedience to Christ. If you consider this your church, I pray that it will be a place where you can serve and be served; a place where you are encouraged and supported to grow as a disciple of Christ. At the same time, you will be sorely disappointed if you come here expecting to never be hurt, never frustrated, and never offended. It is safe to say that this church in some way is going to let you down. We will frustrate you at some point. And we will need your forgiveness. We are sinners who have just as much need as anyone else for God's grace. We have just as much need as anyone else to be built up by the other members of the church, members who will bear with us when we sin and who will point us to the gospel of grace. To be a grace-based church we need to understand that we all have a long way to go, yet by God's Spirit we seek to extend grace and forgiveness to one another knowing that grace and forgiveness is all that I have to stand upon.

And what an amazing privilege to be a member in such a body. A body united in Christ, growing in Christ, and extending grace as has been extended to us.


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