Wednesday, 12 October 2011

Make Every Effort Part 5

Make every effort to guard the unity that the Spirit gives, with your lives bound together in peace. Eph 4.3 Translated by Tom Wright.

Eph 4.1-16 is a key passage of scripture. Once again the phrase ‘Make every effort’ is used. Notice that we are not asked to produce unity, only to guard it! It is not of human origin. It is based on the work of Jesus. His death on the cross has removed all barriers to God and to each other.

In Paul’s context the biggest social and religious barriers existed between Jews and non-Jews, (often called Gentiles). They simply didn’t mix. But now Paul declares that through Messiah Jesus the partition that divides them is broken down. Now they are both united in Him. Together they make up the one new man, Eph 2.14-18.

From Ephesians we can say a number of things about this unity.

1. It is organic not organizational. It may develop organizational expression over time, but in essence it’s organic in nature. In other words it is based on a shared life source. Trees have structure but its life is organic. A tree can remain standing even after it is dead. But its fruitfulness is dependent on maintaining life.

2. It is communal not common. The life that we share is ‘in the Spirit’ and we all share it in Christ. To use Paul’s language again from 1 Cor 12.13 NIV For we were all baptized by one Spirit so as to form one body—whether Jews or Gentiles, slave or free—and we were all given the one Spirit to drink. Our sense of community is created by this shared life in the Spirit.

3. It is a unity based on fulfilled righteousness that is now sealed in God’s peace. Jesus didn’t conquer armies to secure this unity. He was no Alexander. He died on a cross to fulfill the penalty of the law securing righteousness as a gift for all those who believe. Now we have peace with God and each other. So we can’t keep this unity through fighting for it! We don't fight flesh and blood! We guard against the enemy destroying it through believers that become fleshly in their attitudes and actions. More on that later.

If we unpack these sixteen verses from Ephesians 4 we can see seven things that help us to preserve the unity of the Spirit. They are seven things we must make an effort towards. Here they are as I see it:

1. Live up to your calling – Eph 4.1 This is so needed today in the body of Christ. Our calling is characterized by four things; it’s a high calling – Phil 3.14; it’s a heavenly calling – Heb 3.1;It's a holy calling - 2Tim 1.9 and it’s a humble calling – 1Cor 1.26.

Prince William in the UK has been educated differently to most people because he is 2nd in line for the throne. It is a high calling. Things that ordinary people do he can’t do. His calling demands lively differently. And he accepts it. A high call means high privilege and high responsibility.

A heavenly calling shows us the source of our call. It is from above. John the Baptist said that a man can receive nothing unless it is from heaven. This is the source of all true authority and anointing. A church can give you a salary, a car, a manse and insurance but only God can give you a calling that empowers you to fulfill His will.

Christians who get drunk are not living up to their holy calling. Something is missing. One way of making a real effort to keep the unity of the Spirit is not to grieve the Spirit by living as though we don’t know Jesus. This issue of personal holiness is important. Holy means separated, set apart for God’s use. If we learn to live with that attitude it is easier to say no to stuff that makes you an instrument in the hand of the enemy.

Finally we have a humble calling. None of us get into the Kingdom through self effort. We all have to become like little children and receive God's grace and forgiveness. Boasting is excluded.

2. Work on attitudes and actions – Eph 4.2. Paul includes four; humility, gentleness, patience and forbearance. Each one of these is both an attitude and an action.

Humility is not thinking less of yourself, it’s thinking of yourself less! Jesus demonstrated this by washing feet. He didn’t see Himself above this task. That was His attitude. He washed the feet of the disciples, that was the action that followed. We need both. I know those who work hard on having a good attitude but are light on actions that follow through. Others are good at following through but do so with gritted teeth. Attitude is somewhat lacking.

Gentleness. I love this word. None of us like to be handled roughly either physically or emotionally. Recently I had keyhole surgery to unlock my ‘frozen shoulder’. For the first time in a year I can raise my left arm above my head. Wonderful! But I am enduring five weeks of physiotherapy where my muscles are being stretched in order to regain full movement. It’s painful at times. But the folk who work with me know what they are doing. Above all they are gentle. They understand that after invasive surgery like this I don’t need an aggressive body building maneuvers. Slow and gentle does it. We need to handle people in the same way. Too many are broken and abused. Paul tells us in Gal 6.1 that those who need restoration should be cared for by those who are spiritual and have a spirit of gentleness. Attitude and action again working together.

Patience is the ability to handle pressure without letting your blood boil. There will always be situation in life where people press your buttons. They get to you. They wind you up. The temptation is to ‘let them have it!’ But blasting people in this way seldom helps. You may feel justified, you may feel better for getting that off your chest but it does nothing to preserve the unity of the Spirit. Those who work with anger management talk about AT - Anger Threshold. Some people have a LAT – low anger threshold. They have to work at getting a HAT – high anger threshold. In other words they keep cool for longer. For the believer this is not just about keeping a lid on things then punching a cushion when you get home – however helpful that might be! It’s about an inner transformation through the work of the Spirit. Paul tells us we need to show patience to ‘all men’.

Finally we have forbearance. This is similar to patience but is more nuanced. It is the ability to let things that are legitimately irritating to us slide. To use the JB Philips translation; ‘Make a generous allowance for one another’. I like that. Most parents understand this. If you over correct a child they loose heart. The motivation to want to do better next time goes. I had to learn how to major on the majors and let the other stuff go. Some parents major on the minors and the majors and all the chords in between. It doesn’t really work as a long-term strategy for ringing about change. It doesn’t make for peace, only conformity. It doesn’t preserve the unity of the Spirit.

3. Eph 4.4-6 NIV 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. This verse had a beautiful chiasm structure that places Jesus at the centre of everything. There may be many churches that express the Kingdom of God locally but only one body. This should have a profound impact on the way we relate to other believers from other fellowships. It is not a competition. It’s collaboration. Recognising this truth gives us the motivation to make more effort with other believers who see things differently from us. Jesus died for them too. He loves them as well as us. Let’s not erect barriers He died to pull down!

4. Get to know your grace gift – Eph 4. 7 NIV But to each one of us grace has been given as Christ apportioned it. Each one of us has a grace gift. It is much easier to make an effort to keep the unity of the Spirit if I know who you are and what you’re called to do. Too often I have seen grace gifts defined purely in terms of Eph 4.11 and the zenith is reached when you are full time. But the grace gift of pastoral care can operate in many vocational settings. I know a businessman who is great at discipling other businessmen. His pastoral gift works in the market place looking after other businessmen. Trying to be what we are not doesn’t preserve unity, it destroys it. I read a report recently of a large church that imploded after five years. It was a church with thousands of members. 60% left over a very short period of time. An analysis was made by a Christian Consultant as to why. He did a personality profile test of the leadership and then of the members. He discovered that the members were trying to be like the leaders in personality but it was contrary to their type. They were trying to be what they were not! And after a few years of trying they couldn’t sustain the pressure. Some people are more intuitive while others are ore analytical. Some are introvert while others are more extroverts. Our grace gift will work through our different personality types.

5. Learn to receive the grace gift of others, especially those that equip you for service – Eph 4.11-13. Jesus put it like this; If you receive a prophet in the name of a prophet you receive the prophet’s reward; Matt 10.41 Receiving from others helps to preserve unity. We receive as well as give. We minister and are ministered to. That’s how it works. The ministries of apostle, prophet, evangelist, pastor and teacher are there to, "give God's people the equipment they need for their work of service", Tom Wright's translation. Only by receiving them within the sphere of the gift they operate in do we benefit from their ministry.

6. Aim for maturity – Eph 4.13-16. Some Christians need to grow up! The basic problem of the Corinthian church was immaturity. They acted as babes in Christ. Babies are cute and adorable but we rightly expect them to grow and mature. A child that isn’t able to talk and be potty trained by five is a worry. Here are three things Paul highlights in the text that he looks for in a maturing Christian.

Discernment. The ability to spot a wind of teaching and navigate through it so that you stay on course instead of jumping from one Christian fad to the next.

Truthing it in our relationships. I am trying to convey the force of the Greek here as Paul wrote it. Most times it is translated ‘speaking the truth’, but ‘truthing it’ is better. Again the force is attitude and action. Being truthful, not just with our words but with our life.

Being connected. Joints are the points of connection in the body. It is where two members meet and interact. Mature believers understand the importance of connection. They don’t need to be told to go to church or get into a connect group. They understand that this was how the early church organised itself in order to do life together. Who are you connected to? Who speaks into your life? Who do you go to for advice and counsel? And do those people demonstrate that they too are following Jesus?

7. Finally Eph 4.16 focuses on every part doing its share of the work. This causes growth of the body in love, ‘as each part does its work’. Taking personal responsibility for your life is crucial. Nothing significant or lasting will happen until you do. Every one of us has a vital part to play in building up the body. So play your part. Getting connected puts you into a set of relationships that helps you to know where, when and how you can serve. My hand is joined to my wrist. It is not on the end of my ankle! It knows it’s a hand through the connection of relationships it has. It’s the same with us. Our relationships are intended to help us know who we are so we can serve effectively. You can’t serve in isolation. You need the body and the body needs you.

To make an effort in anything requires us to re prioritize our life. The unity of the Spirit is a reality Jesus gave His life for. Ask for grace to apply these seven points of progress to your life so that you become a person who actively guards unity. And then watch what God is able to do with a company of people who live in this way.