The church is in a bad shape, I have heard people say. “How can it be the unstoppable force God intended? How will we change the world? I wish things were like the church of Acts. Let’s pray for a move of God.”
These are things that you may have heard in the context of the universal or the local church. Recently I did a series on what it means to belong to a church, and I believe the message shared can weigh in with our concern about the church.
I shared largely on Ephesians 4 in my recent series. The sum of it is that Ephesians is indicating that there is more to improving the shape of the church, than just a well meaning prayer, or a sole dependence on a move of God. The apostle speaks of a mysterious unity with one another, that if not understood, could impinge our maturity, and thus our function in Christ. Can you believe that? My actions could affect how you function in the body of Christ, and vice versa. Indeed you and I have a part to play in getting the church healthy, to be able to stand up to the task of fulfilling God’s call.
Unity for Paul is key to the church standing up to fulfill its purpose, to be a voice for God, and make his wisdom known to the world, and the satanic realm. (Eph 3:10)
Out of Paul’s discourse, we can glean three distinct truths in walking in oneness.
Let’s look at the text together, as we explore these three thoughts:
As a prisoner for the Lord, then, I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received. 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. (Ephesians 4:1-6)
Paul firstly calls us to understand our salvation in the light of a corporate body. The first few verses of Ephesians indicates our unity in faith, and experience of the son of God. Christ cannot be divided – he is one. If we belong to Christ, then we belong to each other. After all, according to Ephesians 4:25, we are members of one body. And as stated by Christ:
I in them and you in me–so that they may be brought to complete unity. Then the world will know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me. (John 17:23)
Am I different than you? Of course. Am I accountable for myself? Definitely. But in some mysterious way, I am also responsible for you. This is the depth of the union that we share with one another, as we share in the communion of faith in Christ.
Secondly, Paul urges us in our unity to be accountable for each other. See without true accountability, I cannot bring the maturity that God wants to work in your life. So he asks them to “speak truthfully with one another” (Eph 4:15,25). This truthful speaking can only occur amongst believers who commit time and effort in developing covenant relationships, particularly in a local assembly. Too often contemporary believers are not deeply planted in a local church community, and thus lack a context where such heart felt words could be spoken over them. Thus eliminating this important avenue of mutual edification that fosters maturity in Christ. In the individualistic west, we seem to have departed far from the biblical value of a corporately accountable practice of faith. The western Christian says “if God hasn’t spoken to me, then I won’t do.” While the biblical believer discerns God’s truth, not only in a personal context (ie what God says, or doesn’t say to me) but also what is He saying through my local community of believers to me. The biblical Christian truly understands the sharpening effect of iron, and sees the other member as part of their spiritual formation into maturity. Addressing the deep issue of an overly individualistic mindset will challenge both the clergy and the laity. Church leadership may have to hold difficult conversations with misguided saints, always remembering to hold love as the goal of instruction, while church members will need to be functionally active members of a local assembly. This functional membership is one where I submit to the discipleship oversight of the church, and commit to intentional fellowship, forming a few vital relationships where transparency is prevalent.
Finally in our passage in Ephesians 4:28 Paul urges us to meet each other’s needs, as we share with one another. A picture of the first church in Acts comes to mind. These believers were so bound up in a communal faith, that they seemed to instinctively know how to meet the needs of their fellow believers. This church is shown to give as needed, raise up offerings for the starving poor, maintain a significant feeding program (Acts 6) and even sell property when the need for extra funds arise. Can you imagine your fellow believers in your local assembly doing this for one another? Though this may be an ideal for many communities of faith, I believe this is where we are headed as a church. The problem is not being generous, it’s simply not understanding how much we belong to another. After all if your family member was in desperate need, surely you would be generous in alleviating their trouble. Paul thus, as he challenges the Ephesians to give is saying we are one. We are members of each other, indeed family. So let’s endeavour to earn funds so that we can share freely, for that is what a united body does.
So according to Paul, you and I have a part to play in restoring the church to the condition it needs to be “until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature…” Eph 4:13. Notice that it is an inclusive effort. We are in this together, and the sooner we are able to support each other as a local and global church, the quicker we will be mature, and able to fulfill the glorious role that God has for His church in these last days.
– Pastor Olu Jegede