Teaching series from Ephesians

Building Quality Christian Community

Ephesians 4:2-6

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We come now to the transition point in Ephesians—from theological explanation (1:1-3:21) to practical application (4:1-6:9), from explaining how God loves us to applying how we are to respond to God’s love.

Read 4:1 (NLT).  We might call this the Christian’s mission statement.  Paul says our mission is to “lead a life worthy of your calling.”  What does this mean?

It does not mean: “Live a life that is good enough to earn God’s acceptance.”  Everything we have learned in Eph.1-3 says that we could never earn God’s acceptance—that’s why we rejoice in the amazing news that God has poured out his love on us through Jesus even though we richly deserve God’s condemnation. 

Then what does it mean?  I could say: “Live a life that glorifies God”—but that is vague and easily misunderstood.  It means: “Live in a way that commends your Father/King to the watching world.”  How did I get this?

This is ambassadorial language.  If you were made an U.S. ambassador to Indonesia, that is a great privilege and responsibility.  You should conduct yourself in a way that would make Indonesians hold your country in high regard.  God has made us his ambassadors, which is amazing grace in view of how we have violated his character.  We should therefore conduct ourselves in a way that impresses people far from God with how good and loving he is.
This is what Jesus meant (using a different metaphor) when he said that we have been called to be the “light of the world” (Matt.5:14-16).  We are to display and communicate God’s love and goodness so that people far from God are pleasantly surprised and attracted to him.  We are to live as floodlights that draw people’s attention to God’s love through Jesus. 

I don’t have to tell you that the American church (in general) is failing miserably at this calling!  Why do most Americans view the God of the Bible as irrelevant and uptight?  And there’s no reason for us Xenoids to be self-righteous, because we could do a much better job at this ourselves!  That’s why this section of Ephesians is so important for us.  What does it look like to live in a way that attracts a watching world to Jesus’ love?  The first thing Paul says it involves is building quality Christian community (why “Part One”).  If we want people far from God to be attracted to our loving Father, they need to see that we love one another in a way that displays the way he loves us.  That’s what 4:2-6 is about (read).  It explains HOW we should relate to one another (4:2,3), and WHY we can and should relate this way (4:4-6).

HOW we should relate to one another (4:2,3)

The basic command is 4:3—“make every effort to keep yourselves united and bound together with peace.”  “Peace” (eirene) is far deeper than no overt hostility.  It is rooted in the Hebrew word/concept of shalom—which means the health and beauty come from the harmonious integration of different parts (e.g., PSYCHOLOGICAL).  A Christian community is to be bound together in shalom—harmoniously integrating very different followers of Jesus in a way that is both healthy for us and beautiful for outsiders.

That’s a tall order for people as sinful and broken as we are!  In fact, when our home group relates this way, it is more an expression of how amazing God’s grace is than of how amazing we are!  And that’s the point—quality Christian community impresses people with our God/Jesus (4:1)!

What qualities are needed to bind sinful, broken people together in shalom?  4:2 provides us with three answers to this question.  These qualities go way beyond superficial, politically correct niceness.  They are, in fact, qualities that describe the way God has loved us through Jesus.  And only by reflecting on how Jesus loves you this way will you be motivated and empowered to love your brothers and sisters this way.

“Be humble.”  This is literally “Be lowly-minded” (tapeinophrosune).  It does not mean to think less of yourself than others; it means to think of yourself less around others!  It is the opposite of being selfishly self-absorbed when you relate to others.  It means to be positively other-centered—to delight in discovering another person, and to delight in serving another person so that they progress. 

How can I possibly relate to others in this way, when I have so many insecurities about what I’m like, when I have so much need to compare favorably to others, when I have so much desire for others to admire me?  The answer is: reflect more on how Jesus is humble toward me!  Jesus is the rightful Center of the universe, yet in the Gospels he is humbly interested in sinful, broken people (e.g., Jn.4).  To the extent that I remember and revel in the fact that Jesus is humble-minded toward me, it becomes easier and more natural to be humble-minded toward others (Phil.2:3-5).  The more I live in the grateful awareness that Jesus delights in discovering me and serving me, the more secure and motivated I am to relate to others in this same way.

“Be gentle.”  Prautes is also translated “Be meek.”  Gentleness/meekness does not mean passive weakness—it means active strength under control for a worthy purpose.  Ancient Greek texts describe war-stallions under the control of their masters as prautes.  Think of the hands of my orthopedic surgeon.  They are terrifically strong; they could tear my shoulder apart.  But he uses his strong hands (guided by his knowledge) to repair my injured shoulder.  To relate with gentleness in Christian community is to act as a spiritual surgeon—to wield the power of God under his direction to have a healing and transforming impact on my brothers and sisters.

How can I possibly relate to others in this way, since I often feel weak and fearful and threatened?  How can I be liberated from passively acquiescing, or using my mental power to manipulate others to get my way, or using my personality power to intimidate them into acquiescing to me?  The answer, again, is: reflect more on how Jesus is gentle toward me!  Jesus was infinitely powerful, and he could have (rightfully) used his power to intimidate others into bowing to him.  But he never did this.  He always used his power gently—teaching and loving others and inviting them to voluntarily follow him (Matt.11:28-30).  And his power is with me so that I can relate to others in this same way and for this same purpose.  I don’t need to fear what people can do to me; I can relate gently out of God’s strength and power to invite others to follow him.

“Be patient.”  Makrothumia means literally “long-suffering.”  It is linked with “make allowance for each other’s faults.”  It means to be tolerant—not in the postmodern sense (“I affirm however you behave as right for you”)—but tolerant in the sense that “I will continue to accept you and move toward you even though you have annoyed/hurt/disappointed me.”  It is the opposite of being self-righteous (“I can’t believe you did that!  I am outraged by the way you hurt me, so I’m going to X you from my life”).

You should know by now how to learn to relate to others with patience and forbearance—reflect on how Jesus relates to you!  Like his disciples and like me, you snub and offend and ignore and disappoint him dozens of times every day.  And when needed, he (gently) corrects us for our own good.  But even though he has every right to X us out of his life, he went to the cross to pay for our sins so that he can relate to us with amazing and undeserved patience and forbearance without compromising his righteousness.  How can I contemplate this without being motivated to relate to others in this same way?

The kind of Christian community that impresses people with our God is a community in which people relate to one another with humility, gentleness and patience/forbearance.  And the key way we build this kind of community is by deepening our appreciation of how Jesus loves us this way.  Now here are two very practical questions for those of us who know Christ and want to bring honor to his reputation: Are you focused enough on God’s love that you are motivated to be involved in this way?  The more you focus on God’s love, the more you will have the desire to glorify God by loving the people he loves the way he loves them.  Conversely, Christians who live legalistically are aversive to this kind of relating (EXAMPLES).  Are you involved enough that you need to reflect on God’s love to be able to relate to others in this way?  Over the last month, when have you needed to draw upon God’s love to relate with humility, gentleness, and patience/forbearance?  If you can’t answer this question, you’re not involved enough—even if you’re in a home group.  Nothing magical happens when you join a home group—unless you get involved to the extent that it drives you to a deeper dependence on God’s grace.  Are you doing this?  Do you want to grow in God’s love?  Does God’s reputation matter to you?

WHY we can & should relate this way (4:4-6)

This is how we relate to one another so that people far from God become attracted to him.  And it is his love that provides us with the example and motivation to relate this way.  But Paul gives us other important reasons why we can & should relate to one another this way (see 4:4-6).

On the one hand, each of these seven “one”s gives us a reason for why we can and should build quality Christian community:

“One body”—we actually are Christ’s “body,” the visible expression of Jesus to the watching world, so we should demonstrate his love through quality community.

“One Spirit”—we are each indwelt by God’s Spirit, so we already have the greatest spiritual reality in common.

“One hope”—we will spend eternity together, so we might as well learn how to get along with and enjoy one another now!

“One Lord”—we have all decided to follow the same Leader in every aspect of our lives, so we can expect that he will lead us in a unified way.

“One faith”—we all have the same body of truth (the gospel), so we can agree on what is true and right.

“One baptism”—we all publicly confessed our allegiance to the same Jesus (OR we have all been identified with the same Jesus), so we should honor him in this way.

“One God and Father”—we are all children of the same heavenly Father, and are therefore brothers and sisters of the same family.

On the other hand, the structure of this list emphasizes what we call the Trinity—God the Spirit who makes us one body and calls us to eternal life, God the Son whose teaching we believe and whose name we confess as Lord, and God the Father who is our Sovereign and works out his purpose through us.  In other words, the God who calls us into loving community with one another is a Community of love relationships. 

This means more than just that God practices what he preaches (“We get along—so you should get along”).  It means that Ultimate Reality is Community, and that we were created to experience community with one another in the Community of God “himselves” (read Jn.17:21-23,13).  It means that unless we are personally experiencing the love of God in community, we are missing out on the fundamental purpose for which we were created—and the Joy that results from fulfilling that purpose.  No job promotion, no investment portfolio, no sensual pleasure or comfort, no vacation, no hobby, no sports team championship, etc. can ever provide the joy for which we hunger and thirst.  At best, they are only echoes of the real Joy that whet our appetites for it.  At worst, they are deceitful counterfeits that prevent us from finding it.  True joy is being loved by and loving the Triune God in community with others who have the same love! 

This is why you need to receive Christ—so you can be included in this community and begin to experience the Joy that will never end!
This is why you need to be actively involved in Christian community—so you can participate in the community (even though partial and imperfect) that you were designed for and which you will spend eternity enjoying!

NEXT WEEK we’ll look at Part Two—how we build quality Christian community as a harmoniously functioning Body.  But now let’s praise God for the wonderful privilege of being part of his community, and ask him to help us bring honor to his reputation by the way we relate to one another...