August 1st 2021 homily on Ephesians 4:1-16 by Pastor Galen
Like many of you, our family has been watching the summer Olympics over these past few weeks. Watching elite athletes perform at the top of their abilities is always awe-inspiring, but what most impresses me is those sports where multiple athletes have to work together to achieve a goal – whether it be working together to move the ball down the court or field, or the synchronized events like synchronized swimming and diving.
Synchronized diving particularly amazes me. The other day I was watching clips of the medalists in synchronized diving, and I saw these two divers take off from the springboard and execute these complicated bends and twists and flips in the air all at exactly the same time, and then enter the water at precisely the same moment. It almost looked like a camera trick, like somewhat had just duplicated the same swimmer or like watching a mirror reflection of the same swimmer diving. It was absolutely phenomenal.
I can only imagine the countless hours that these divers spent learning and refining their techniques, and the hours upon hours spent practising together to ensure that their bodies moved together flawlessly in complete harmony and unity.
Complete Unity and Maturity
Here in Ephesians chapter 4, the Apostle Paul has a lot to say about unity and working together and striving for maturity, or “perfection.” If you remember, Paul was writing to the church in Ephesus, a city located in ancient Greece (modern day Turkey). The city was famous in its day for the nearby Temple of Artemis, and many of the Christians in Ephesus had been worshippers of Artemis before they converted and gave their hearts and lives fully to Christ.
Paul had spent several years in Ephesus, lecturing in the “hall of Tyrannus,” as we read about in Acts chapter 19, convincing many practitioners of idolatry and magic and witchcraft to convert to Christ, which they did in a bold fashion, burning all of their magic books in a public ceremony that got the attention of the whole city. Paul eventually moved on to plant churches and spread the Gospel elsewhere, leaving this very spiritually very young group of Christ-followers to figure out for themselves what it looked like for them to follow Christ together.
If Ephesians was indeed written by Paul (something that is disputed by various biblical scholars), it is thought that Paul wrote this letter to the Christians in Ephesus about four years after he left them, and that this letter was written while he was imprisoned in Rome.
Unlike many of Paul’s other letters, this letter to the Ephesians was not written to address specific problems in the church, but moreso as a general encouragement to the Christians there. In the first few chapters, Paul encouraged them that, even though they were Gentiles, and not part of the Israelite nation who was known as God’s Chosen People, that God had in fact chosen them before the foundation of the world. Last week we saw how Paul encouraged them to be “rooted and grounded in love” and how he prayed and longed for the Ephesians to know just how high and deep and wide the love of Christ is, demonstrated most fully by Christ’s sacrificial death on the cross in order to reconcile us to God and to one another.
Now here in Ephesians chapter 4, Paul gets to the point of his letter, which is an encouragement to the Ephesians Christians to continue growing in their faith. He begs them to “lead a life worthy of the calling to which [they] have been called” (Eph. 4:1), to bear with one another in love “with all humility and gentleness, with patience” (Eph. 4:2). And he challenges them to make “every effort to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” (Eph. 4:3). Skipping down to verse 14, Paul challenges them to no longer be spiritually immature, “tossed to and fro and blown about by every wind of doctrine, by people’s trickery, by their craftiness in deceitful scheming, But speaking the truth in love,” he says, “we must grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ” (Eph. 4:14,15).
Getting in Sync
Next Sunday, Curt is going to talk more about that “speaking the truth in love part” – which is so essential to “growing up in Christ.” But this morning, I want us to focus in on how much Paul sees spiritual growth and maturity as being connected to unity. Paul says in verse 13, “until 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” (Eph. 4:13). Some translations, such as the King James Version, even use the word “perfection” in place of “maturity” in verse 13.
In other words, for Paul, a “perfect” or “flawless” fully mature church is one that is moving together in perfect synchronization. Paul is essentially saying, that to grow up in Christ, we must “get in sync with one another!” Paul wants us to be like synchronized divers, flying through the air as if we are one body, or like a soccer team, moving the ball down the field as if we are a single organism, or like a volleyball team, working together in harmony to achieve a single goal or purpose.
This is the polar opposite of how we often think of spiritual maturity. In our individualistic American society we tend to define maturity as “not needing anyone else or anything else.” But achieving complete independence is not only unrealistic, it is also completely counter to what we see in Scripture. Even Jesus, who was the very definition of sinless perfection, was dependent on the power of the Holy Spirit, and prayed to his Father God, drawing strength and energy from God the Father and the Holy Spirit throughout his time here on this earth.
If Jesus, in all of his sinless perfection, was not independent, but rather interdependent on the other members of the Trinity, then we too, as we grow towards spiritual maturity, do not grow towards independence, but rather towards dependence on God, and interdependence on one another.
Paul’s vision for spiritual maturity being expressed through unity has massive implications, then, for how we think about spiritual growth and what it means to be the Church. We know that church is not a place for perfect people. If it were, then none of us would be here, or at the very least we would make it an imperfect place as soon as we walked in the door! But church is supposed to be a place where we together are striving and working towards full spiritual maturity, full Christlikeness, which is defined here as the complete unity and harmony that we will ultimately experience in heaven, where there will be no more wars or fighting, or divisions based upon race, or class, or gender, or orientation. In heaven we will experience complete harmony and unity with God and with one another.
And so I see Church then as practice. This is our training ground for an eternity of living and worshiping God together in complete harmony and unity. Church is where we put in the hours and hours of hard work and sweat and labor so that we can one day experience the complete harmony and unity that God ultimately has in store for us.
You may have heard of the 10,000 hour rule, which was popularized by Malcolm Gladwell’s book Outliers, in which he argues that it takes 10,000 hours of intensive practice to achieve mastery of complex skills. According to Gladwell and others, the difference between someone who’s an amazing athlete or musician or business executive and an average person is not just natural talent or ability, but the sheer amount of hours that they have devoted to practicing and honing their craft.
If that’s true for individuals, then how much moreso is that true for people who are seeking to work together to achieve harmony and unity. Like synchronized divers who put in hours and hours to achieve the seemingly flawless perfection of moving completely in sync, part of growing towards spiritual maturity together as a community is simply putting in the time and effort to work together, to get to know each other, practicing and honing our gifts and skills so that we can work and live together in harmony and unity.
At the church that Eboni and I attended for the first 14 years of our married life, the men of the church would get together on Thursday mornings for coffee at 7:00 a.m. at an old diner called The State Diner. When I started attending, I noticed that the conversations didn’t really seem to be all that spiritual or that deep. The guys would talk about the latest news, or sports, or tractors or cars or motorcycles. It was hard for me to enter into the conversation since I don’t really keep up on those subjects. But what I realized was that the guys were just simply practicing getting in sync. They were spending time together getting to know each other, building relationships, learning from each other, so that they could be there for each other when and if something difficult and challenging happened in their lives. And sure enough, they were there for each other, and for me, over and over again, sometimes just simply listening, other times helping each other in practical ways. When they met together for breakfast on Thursday mornings, it may not have seemed all that spiritual, but they were putting in the time and energy to get in sync with each other, and to become a community interdependent on one another.
Different Gifts, One Team
Now one of the things Paul mentions here is that we’re not all the same. We each have different gifts, and they are each equally valuable, and they can each be used for the building up of the Church. Pauil says some are apostles (or “sent ones”). Their primary ministry is establishing new structures. They’re always looking to help expand and grow our outreach and effectiveness. Others are prophets – in other words, they’re great as speaking harsh truths in love (something that I’ll be the first to admit that I struggle with!).
Others are evangelists – they’re great at explaining the good news about Jesus to those who have not yet chosen to follow Christ. Others are pastors – or shepherds. Their primary role is to care for the church – not just the people, but also the organizational structure. This looks different in different contexts. Some pastors love to encourage people, or sit with people in their pain. Others are more like CEO’s of large corporations, helping the church thrive institutionally. And then there are teachers, whose primary role is to instruct, to help others learn and grow through gaining knowledge and skills.
Within our congregation we have all of these gifts and more! And it’s not just the people serving in official leadership roles who have these gifts – each and every one of you is gifted in ways that can serve the Church. There are many apostles and evangelists and pastors here in our congregation – whether you’ve ever been granted an official leadership role or not. And it’s OK if you haven’t been here for a long time – you can still serve. Last week I noticed we had a few visitors come in after the service had started. Our greeter Elizabeth, who herself has been attending our church for less than a year, noticed then come in and quietly slipped to the back, handing them her bulletin so they could follow along with the service and in general making them feel welcome. Elizabeth was utilizing the gifts God has given her, she was moving in sync, and helping to bring others into sync as well, drawing them into community.
Some of you might be wondering to yourself, yes, but what can I do? What gifts of skills do I bring? Well if that’s you, I want you to look around right now, and finish the sentence, “I wonder why no one does ___________ around here?” It could be that’s what God is calling you to do! It could be that you’re seeing that hole, that vacancy because that’s something God has called you to do. I would encourage you to bring it to the attention of the leaders, and let’s explore together whether God might be calling you to step in and serve in that way.
None of us are called to do everything, to be perfect or flawless in and of ourselves, but we are called to use the gifts God has given each of us, working and striving together towards harmony and unity, for the building up of the church and one another. Let’s put in the time to get to know one another, let’s practice and hone our gifts together in community. Let’s practice getting in sync with each other, “for building up the body of Christ, until 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 (Eph 4:12,13). Amen!