I've been listening to a series of messages that Earl Palmer
gave at his church in Seattle on the occasion of C. S. Lewis'
100th birthday. He called them The People of the Lion.
(1) The repeated refrain in these messages is that all of us live
our lives by a certain set of convictions that govern everything
else we do, and it's important to know what your convictions,
your great ideas are; what beliefs you are willing to live and
die for. Churches have great ideas. We at PBC have themes or convictions
that have shaped us as a church. This message is one in a series
in which Doug Goins and I are reflecting on some of these great
In this message we'll begin consideration of the idea of body life, the community of Christ (we'll continue this topic in the next message). If you were to travel elsewhere and mention this church, chances are people would say (if they had heard of it), "Oh, that's the Body Life church." By far the best-known and most widely quoted of Ray Stedman's books is Body Life. In it are his reflections going back more than 20 years on what it means to be the church.
Live a life worthy of your calling
The Greeks crowned champions in the games with a stephanos, a wreath made of leaves. Anybody who knows and has walked with the Lord is wearing a stephanos. We are all victors in Christ. James, in his letter, said this: "Blessed is the man who perseveres under trial, because when he has stood the test, he will receive the crown [stephanos] of life that God has promised to those who love Him." (James 1:12) As we persevere and trust God and learn the lessons of faith, we are given life itself, which is figured as an invisible crown that wreaths our heads. Jesus warned in Revelation, "Hold on to what you have, so that no one will take your crown." (Revelation 3:11)
We are royal sons and daughters, but we don't see it. We don't often treat each other as if it were true. But think about the Christians around you in the family of God. They were chosen before the creation of the world to inherit every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places. They live every moment of their lives in the caring gaze of Jesus Christ and with his protective hand upon them. In one of C. S. Lewis' most famous sermons, he said, "the dullest and most uninteresting person you can talk to may one day be a creature which, if you saw it now, you would be strongly tempted to worship...." (2) So we need to be urged by the apostle Paul to take seriously things that are true, yet don't command attention. We need to undertake the changed thinking and behavior that will make our lives an honor to the gospel and make the invisible known.
Ephesians 4:1 says,
As a prisoner for the Lord, then, I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received.
Let me stop at that one sentence and supply a little background to the book of Ephesians. The apostle Paul was the author of this book, and he describes himself in this sentence as a prisoner of the Lord. He was in fact a prisoner in Roman chains because he had been faithful to his ministry, because he had done what God had called him to do. He had told the truth and had refused to back down. He was willing to take whatever would come-the consternation, the overturning of expectations, the turmoil that sometimes followed the preaching of the gospel-and he was willing to stay the course. That is one of the reasons to listen to what he is going to say here. Paul is about to urge us to think and live differently. And his courage, faithfulness, and perseverance give him the right to say what he says.
The first three chapters of the book of Ephesians are filled with theology, and the last three chapters with practical application of theology. In chapter 4 we are going to be entreated to take body life seriously: to love one another and grow together in Christ.
The word "then" in this first sentence of chapter 4 hearkens back to what Paul said before this: profound instruction about how we have been forgiven, how those far away have been brought near, how we are seated with Christ in the heavenly places, how God loved us and knew us before he created the world, and how he chose us to receive honor as the companions of Christ. All this remarkable teaching should inspire us to do what he will shortly command us to do.
In the paragraph immediately preceding chapter 4 is a prayer:
"I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the saints, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge-that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.
Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen." (Ephesians 3:16-21.)
We should listen to Paul as he admonishes us because he was a man of courage and because of the marvelous insight of his instruction as to the nature of the gospel. But perhaps we should listen to him most of all because he prays for those who read his words. Even his good example and clear teaching will not penetrate us finally without his calling on the Lord to do the work of making things clear, without his marvelous willingness to be on his knees before God, holding on tightly to him and speaking to him of his beloved. We cannot underestimate the importance of prayer.
Having now been stirred to listen carefully, here's what we're commanded to do. Verses 2-16:
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.
But to each one of us grace has been given as Christ apportioned it. This is why it says:
"When he ascended on high,
he led captives in his train
and gave gifts to men."
(What does "he ascended" mean except that he also descended to the lower, earthly regions? He who descended is the very one who ascended higher than all the heavens, in order to fill the whole universe.) It was he who gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers, to prepare God's people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.
Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of men in their deceitful scheming. Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will in all things grow up into him who is the Head, that is, Christ. From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work.
There are three ideas here that I would like us to focus on. The first is the experience of what it means for all of us to share one kind of relationship with God. The second is that each one of us individually has been given an opportunity, a gift from Christ, so that we can play our part in doing good to everyone. We discover what we were made for, our place, what open door God has given us. And the third idea is that the church makes progress only as we all make progress together. There is no such thing as competitive maturity, where I'm determined to know more and look better, to outshine everyone around me with my spirituality. Remember Paul's prayer at the end of chapter 3-it is only "together with all the saints" that we can learn of God's love.
Verse 2 is an introduction to all the responsibilities that follow. In order for us to have unity in this family, to think well of each other, to understand our place, we must get over being selfish. So if you have a bad attitude, the first call is to deal with it. "Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love." If you're prickly and impatient, involved with yourself, habitually tapping your foot and being put off by all the inadequacies and foolishness of the people around you, you've got a problem. Get over it. We have no right to pout and have things our own way. Learn to be sweet in your response to people. How impressed you are with yourself is of no interest to God or anybody else.
Keep the unity of the Spirit
Then Paul says how we should regard each other, and that begins with this series of "one" phrases in verses 3-6: one body, one Spirit, one hope, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all. We're told in these verses to keep or preserve the unity of the Spirit. It doesn't say, "Create unity." The unity already exists; we are already joined to one another as sons and daughters of the King because of what Christ has done. Our responsibility is to value the unity, to hold on to it, to commit ourselves to experiencing it, to resist everything that would drive wedges between us, to stop listening to the innuendoes and the complaints and all that pits one against another, group against group. We should be diligently, anxiously, seriously committed to the preservation of unity.
Unity is Trinitarian in Paul's writing of it here. The Spirit, the Lord Jesus, and the Father are all mentioned. We all experience God the Father in the same way. Your experience of joy in the Lord Jesus is just like the experience of everybody else. Your insights into the wonders of the gospel are shared by other Christians who have found the love of God to be as glorious as you have found it to be. The Spirit who empowers and changes you is the same Spirit who is at work in the people around you. None of us has unique insights. None of us has God in a way that no one else does. We all have him in the same way. We all fail and are forgiven our failures in the same way and for the same reason. There is one Spirit, one Lord, one God. It should create a sense of appreciation for one another that any good thing we have from God, he's given away a million times over to others.
The "one baptism" Paul speaks of is baptism in the Spirit. It doesn't matter by which means you were baptized or where you were baptized. Water baptism is a symbol of baptism by the Spirit, which occurs in only one way.
There is only one basis for our hope. Our hope is in the victorious return of Christ.
Now consider some of the things that divide Christians. There are those who are exuberant and expressive in the body of Christ, and there are others who are contemplative. The exuberant folks don't understand how it is that the others can fail to be bodily engaged in the worship of God in active expressions of praise and thanksgiving. The contemplative folks, on the other hand, who take the time for quiet reflection, slow appreciation, and wonder, feel that it's a bit inappropriate to be tapping one's foot all the time when, if one would rest and wait and listen, one might hear even more overtones of how good God is. But both are discovering the same God. What seems to us to be a great difference in our habits or personalities is of very little consequence to God. He receives worship of all kinds.
There's too often a gulf between those who appreciate the transcendence, the sovereign control and power of God; and those who love the existential experience of God's tenderness and mercy. There are those who love to tell the truth of the gospel and others who prefer to act on it. Some experience a divine encounter with God in nature-the ocean, the mountains, a redwood grove-and they'll hear the birds sing and breathe the fresh air and say, "How can anyone go any other place to find God but here?" Others find themselves weeping before God in a cathedral with vaulted ceilings, incense burning, candles lit, and hymns being chanted in the background, because for them this is the place where God can be met. Still others will say that it's in the circle of friends meeting in a home, holding hands and praying for each other, where God is most powerfully met. And God agrees with each one. He's in all those places. He loves each one of those responses to him. To prefer our own way of discovering God and resist someone else's way is foolish.
There are two words of instruction in the first three chapters of Ephesians in which Paul makes the case for Christian unity. The first has to do with prejudice. One of the great things that divides people everywhere, and it certainly divides Christians, is an antipathy we have toward certain kinds of people because of how we were raised or because of some negative experience. We regard certain kinds of people as deserving rejection. Maybe we can wish them well at some great distance, but we don't want anything to do with them. Perhaps they are people who are of a particular nationality or of a certain age (whether older or younger). Perhaps they are of a different race or gender or level of education.
But one of the arguments we find earlier in Ephesians is Paul's clear, ringing declaration about the chasm between Jews and Gentiles, the chosen people of God and those who were to be influenced by them, a difference that formed perhaps the greatest of all prejudices. Chapter 2 verse 14: "For he himself [Jesus] is our peace, who has made the two one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility...." Paul is saying, "Let the walls come down! We are all one in Christ. You who were far away have been brought near. There are no categories of people who are outside and people who are inside." So there is no rationale for the wickedness of prejudice by one group against another group.
The other thing Paul alludes to in Ephesians 2 that often creates disunity is failure. If I have failed in a particularly heinous way, if I am guilty of some awful thought or peculiar action or disquieting comment, I assume I will be rejected. Or we are the judgmental ones, finding other people distasteful because of whatever they've done or thought or said. But consider 2:3: "All of us also lived among them [those who are disobedient] at one time, gratifying the cravings of our sinful nature and following its desires and thoughts. Like the rest, we were by nature objects of wrath." All of us are failures. Our rejection of another person because of their failure just means that we have an inadequate understanding of our own. This is no reason to be divided, to fail to love and appreciate.
Each is given a part to play
The second idea we're going to consider, in 4:7-13, is the statement that each one has been given a gift, a part to play: "But to each one of us grace has been given...." And the parts are different: We have been given various spiritual gifts, we have varying physical health, we were born in different years in different places with different capacities of all kinds. And rolling all these factors together, the Lord has created each of us to do something in service to him that no one else can do, to make a contribution in his family that no one else can make.
The gift we are given is from a Warrior who has won a great battle. I remember when I was a youngster, my dad used to travel a fair amount, and when he would come back from his travels he would most often bring gifts for my sisters and me. Sometimes he would buy something in the airport on the way home because he had forgotten to get anything before then. But other times he gave attention to the gifts, and got us something that we would particularly like or benefit from. Jesus went to war at enormous cost, to the depths of hell itself, to the heights of heaven, filling it all, winning the victory, and bringing back treasure. And he has personally given the best thing he could give to each one of us.
So don't let anyone take the part you have to play away from you. Don't become a spectator. Don't settle for enjoying the Christian experience of someone else and losing your part in the symphony.
Leaders (apostles, prophets, evangelists, and pastor/teachers) are given not to become figureheads or celebrities so that we can point at them from a distance and cheer and say, "That's the Bible teacher I favor. What a wonderful person she is! I've bought all her books and I read them faithfully." And leaders are not like the Ghostbusters: "Got a problem? Who you gonna call? The pastor-he'll come fix it." If pastors are faithful to their calling, they ought to come and help you fix it, train you in what to say, give you the confidence to enter into situations that used to be difficult for you, assume that you can honor God by what you do and say and think. Leaders are given to train, equip, encourage, and build up the saints, not to do their work for them. Don't let anybody in leadership get away with not investing in you and being willing to be part of your training. If you're willing to learn, we're here to help you become everything God wants you to be.
Growing up all together
The third idea, in 4:14-16, is the reference to growth. Verse 15: "...We will in all things grow up into him...." We're to stop being defenseless infants, preyed upon by cunning and deceitful schemers, so immature that we don't know how to defend ourselves. We're to grow up beyond that. We're to stop being like ships that are bounced around on the waves with no rudder and no sail, no ability to choose our own course. We're to grow into a community that is strong and faithful, that knows its charter and does what it ought to do, that is going somewhere and will not be deterred from it. We're to become sure, godly, humble-grown up just like Jesus. He's the measure.
But we can't grow unless everybody grows. Everybody contributes, and we all grow together. So we need to be as excited about helping the person next to us become what God wants him or her to be as we are about becoming what God wants us to be ourselves. As often as we ask, "What do I need?" we need to ask, "What do you need? How can I help?"
The wonderful summary in verse 15 is that we speak the truth in love. That is a profound description of Christian ministry. Only those who know that God loves them and keeps them secure, who are aware of his companionship, can do that.
Truth and love often are in tension with each other, but if we don't maintain that tension, we most often end up with neither truth nor love. The loving person recognizes elements of the truth that are unpleasant and difficult. So they decide, "I'm just going to be loving." And they don't tell hard truths when it's time to. On the other hand, the person who majors only in hard truths thrives on harsh correction with no empathy or commitment to help. But to be loving and truthful together, so that we are heard as being certain of what is true and as being completely committed to caring, is the secret to Christian ministry. That's how we grow. In a community of people we'll be for each other and we'll be honest with each other, and we'll expect that God will use these things to change us.
I mentioned Earl Palmer's series on C. S. Lewis. In the sermon he gave on the church, he ended the sermon the way I'm going to end this one. He made reference to The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe, (3) one of C. S. Lewis' Chronicles of Narnia. In this story four children travel to Narnia, a land of talking animals, where Christ is the great lion Aslan. As he does in our world, he dies for the sins of his people and is raised again. After his resurrection he says to Susan and Lucy, "We have a long journey to go. You must ride on me." The children climb up on Aslan's back, and Susan holds on tightly to Aslan's mane, and Lucy holds on tightly to Susan. That's what it's like to have faith; riding on Aslan's back is a picture of letting Jesus take us where we ought to go. And it's a wonderful picture of the church. We hold on tightly to Christ, and we hold on tightly to one another, and that's what allows us to live by faith. We're growing together, making progress together.
I urge you as the apostle urged us to live-a life worthy of the calling you have received, to make whatever changes of mind and changes of behavior that will allow you to contribute from your heart to the life of this family. Take seriously what it means to be part of the community.
1. Earl Palmer, The People of the Lion, © 1998.
2. C. S. Lewis, The Weight of Glory, © 1996, Simon and Schuster, New York. P. 39.
3. C. S. Lewis, The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, © 1950, copyright renewed. All rights reserved. Collier Books, Macmillan Publishing Co., New York.
Scripture quotations are taken from the HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION. © 1973, 1978, 1984 International Bible Society. Used by permission of Zondervan Bible Publishers.
Catalog No. 4602
January 31, 1999
Copyright © 1995 Discovery Publishing, a ministry of Peninsula Bible Church. This data file is the sole property of Discovery Publishing, a ministry of Peninsula Bible Church. It may be copied only in its entirety for circulation freely without charge. All copies of this data file must contain the above copyright notice. This data file may not be copied in part, edited, revised, copied for resale or incorporated in any commercial publications, recordings, broadcasts, performances, displays or other products offered for sale, without the written permission of Discovery Publishing. Requests for permission should be made in writing and addressed to Discovery Publishing, 3505 Middlefield Rd. Palo Alto, CA. 94306-3695.