Ephesians 4:1-16, 1 Corinthians 12
Last week I received an e-mail, not a strange event in and of itself, but this was a message written to one person who then passed it on to me and a number of others because the sender felt the content was both interesting and important. Has that ever happened to you? Have you ever received an e-mail that has passed around from person to person? I would bet you have! Now just suppose all of the other e-mails sent out were lost and only my message survived. Anyone coming after me and reading my e-mail would think “ah, this is a letter to Ruth, and for that reason my name becomes attached to that e-mail forever. Well that is what most theologians believe happened to the Letter to the Ephesians. It is believed this was a circular letter sent out to many congregations but the only one to survive is the one directed to the congregation in Ephesus.
Now that doesn’t change the fact that what is written Ephesians is any less important, but it does mean every community Paul was writing to was having issues about what it meant to be unified as the body of Christ. It also means this letter has a lot to say to us as Christians in the 21st century about how we are called to be unified as One in the Body of Christ.
I have always loved the idea of being part of a body, a community, and all the metaphors derived from a body image. A number of years ago now I enjoyed a skit, written by one of my former pastors, about the rebellion of body parts. The outline of the skit was the foot became tired of taking orders from the head and quit listening to it, then the hand and the rest of the bodies parts decided that they too weren’t going to listen to the head. Well to make a long story short the body kept falling down, smacking itself about, couldn’t get anywhere and was starving because it couldn’t eat. It wasn’t until all the parts began to listen to the head that the body started going places. Places important, you know like the dinner table or reaching out and helping someone else to their place at the table. Of course we all laughed at such a silly sight and thought how clever our pastor was for writing this play. But the important message wasn’t about how silly the premise was rather it was the message we all need to have a coordinating force in our lives, a message provided by Paul in 1 Corinthians 12 and right here in Ephesians 4:1-16.
In this scripture from Ephesians Paul is pleading, well actually begging us, to lead a worthy life holding each other in unity, with all the love and compassion, strength and gentleness we can create. What my pastor was trying to demonstrate is we can’t do that without Jesus at the head of this gangly entity we call the body of Christ. We as members of this Body are give gifts to use in building up the many parts that comprise our lives together as community, but we can’t use them without each other. Now I know I’m not an actual a foot, nor are any of you real hands of a strange kind of body. But, in a way we are those very parts and Paul identifies how those parts work, in Ephesians 4 and in 1 Corinthians 12.
You know we are fortunate to be have both of these scriptures because the two together call us to use the gifts given to us by the spirit to “equip the saints for their ministry,” live a life worthy of walking in the way of Christ, growing up in the spirit, and no longer being children, but rather mature members of the entire body of Christ. Wow that’s a big job and it would be difficult for any one person to do all of those tasks to keep the body growing. But no one person has to, or is supposed to do it all by themselves. That’s the beauty of being part of the community, the body of Christ, we work together. Paul is telling all of the churches, Ephesus included, and all who have come along since the first century that working together to bring about the Kingdom of God is way more fun and a lot easier than going it alone. If Paul had had a computer he would be sending e-mails like crazy.
Let me read to you a little from 1 Corinthians 12:
“14 Indeed, the body does not consist of one member but of many. 15 If the foot were to 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. 16 And if the ear were to 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. 17 If the whole body were an eye, where would the hearing be? If the whole body were hearing, where would the sense of smell be? 18 But as it is, God arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as he chose. 19 If all were a single member, where would the body be? 20 As it is, there are many members, yet one body. . . .
26 If one member suffers, all suffer together with it; if one member is honored, all rejoice together with it. 27 Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it. 28 And God has appointed in the church first apostles, second prophets, third teachers;”
Just as in Ephesians 4 Paul identifies the spirit given gifts to those who follow in the path of Jesus. And, each of those gifts together is important for the body to open up the Kingdom of God to the world. We may no longer be able to see the gifts of apostle or prophet among us but we do have evangelists, which we now call missionaries, and they still go out to those who haven’t heard the good news and through the example of their lives demonstrate what it means to be a Christian.
We still have pastors and teacher who work hard, here at home, to teach the gospel story, guide those whose faith are just forming, and try to keep our communities safe places to worship and praise God. I love William Barclay’s description of pastors and teachers found in commentary The Letters to the Galatians and Ephesians; Pastors and Teachers . . .
“(are the) shepherd(s) of the flock of God … who bears God’s people on (their) heart(s), who feeds them with the truth, who seeks them when they stray away, and who defends them from all that would hurt their faith. And (that) duty is laid on every Christian that (they) should be … shepherd(s) to all (their) brethren.” (additions in parenthesis are mine)
That is our task, that is our call, does it mean we are all going to do it in the same way, no it doesn’t. Each of us has our own specific job to do amongst the whole body and if we don’t live into the gifts given to us, then whole body suffers. It also means that we together, the people of our local Churches, Regional Churches, the National Churches and the Global Churches must work together to be the Body of Christ in the world today and that includes uniting in spirit with the many other Christian Traditions. It also means welcoming all to our table people from all traditions just as Jesus did when he welcomed all to his table and to do it in joy and laughter, in pain and in sorrow.
In just over a month I will be starting a semester of study at the Ecumenical Institute at Bossey Switzerland. The Ecumenical Institute is the educational arm of the World Council of Churches and I am honored to be chosen for this experience of a of a life time. John and I will be living in community and learning how to joyfully join in celebration and worship with individuals from Christian traditions from all over the world. So you see the words of Paul in 1 Corinthians and Ephesians has a special meaning for me. I am going to put what I’ve learned here in this culture into practice in a new culture.
But none of us has to move as far as John and I are going just to practice Paul’s words or the way of Christ. We do it in our neighborhoods, the communities around us by living and speaking what we believe. Paul says in verses 14-16
14 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. 15 But speaking the truth in love, we must grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, 16 from whom the whole body, joined and knitted 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.
It is up to us to show what we are made of, to be the body, to be the movement of wholeness, to do as Jesus would, in our everyday lives. That is all that is asked of us, it seems simple doesn’t it, but it isn’t and we can’t do it alone. We can do it only if we are united in the love of God, Christ, and Spirit; we can do anything when we work together as the one body of Christ.
Ruth Jewell ©August 9, 2012