Body Life – Ephesians 4:1-16
Brewster’s Millions was an idea for a movie so intriguing that Hollywood has made the movie 7 times, according to one critic! Premise: In the 1945 version, a man must spend a million dollars in a month in order to receive an even greater inheritance later.
In the 1985 version Montgomery Brewster must spend $30 million, left to by his sole relative. The catch? The real inheritance is $300 million, and if Monty wants it, he has to spend the $30 million in 30 days. At the end of that time he can’t have any assets to show for it. Oh, and he can’t tell anyone what’s going on, either.
Now while this is just an intriguing idea for a movie, the truth is that all of us have been given just such an inheritance. An inheritance that is a gift we did nothing to earn. An inheritance that is larger than we can count or even use. An inheritance that must be given away in order for it to become even larger.
This incredible inheritance we have been given is our life in Jesus Christ, if we have faith in Him. And it’s an inheritance that, although it will be larger in heaven, is ours right now and is beyond all measure.
It is this inheritance that St. Paul has been talking about all throughout the book of Ephesians in different ways. In 1:3 we heard how God has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places; in 2:7 He showed us the immeasurable riches of His grace; and in 3:16 He has given to us from the riches of His glory. And now, in 4:1-16, Paul speaks about God’s incredible gift of ministry that He gives to His people, a gift that grows the more we spend it or use it for the good of the Body.
Now we shouldn’t have to be motivated to want to share in God’s magnificent inheritance. I shouldn’t have to explain why as Christians we should want to pour our bodies, our minds, and our souls into God’s work, which is the work of ministry. But I’m going to tell you anyway, because God’s eternal purpose for our lives is so profoundly large and good that I thought you should know. (And because we are all so spiritually distractible.)
God’s ultimate goal in giving the gift of ministry is found in verses 13-16. We are to grow into the fullness of Christ (verse 15). God wants us to be made like Him, which is an incredible thought for mere men. Ever since the time of Adam and Eve, people have wanted to be God – but we go about this the wrong way. When all along, God desires for us – not to be Him – but to be like Him in every way that we can. So much so that He wants us to partake of His nature!
We are to grow to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ (verse 14). Jesus Christ was a perfect man, without sin, who completely obeyed His Father in heaven. God’s goal is for us, together, to be perfect, as Jesus was. I’ve taken jobs where I had a notable predecessor and recognized that I had “big shoes to fill.” But we’re to be like Jesus Christ – talk about big shoes (er, “sandals”)! The good news, though, is that the person we are to live up to is the one who is helping us and mentoring us.
This – and more – is the glorious goal God has in mind for His children. And He’s chosen to do this by working through His Church, by having us use the gifts of the Spirit He’s given us to do His will.
What are these gifts that He’s given?
There are different lists throughout Scripture (other lists are found in Romans 12 and 1 Corinthians 12). Here, in 4:11, Paul begins by listing 5 specific gifts: apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors, and teachers. These are precious gift indeed! Paul seems to have had all of them all rolled into one person!
There is a special purpose of these 5 gifts: to equip the saints, for the work of ministry, for the building up of the body of Christ (verse 12). Now I believe that God has given me 2 of these gifts – to pastor and to teach – or I would not have felt called to be a priest. And God has called me to equip some of you through pasturing you and teaching you for the work of God. It is a very high calling, one fraught with troubles and temptations, no doubt, but a very high calling. I am humbled that God would call one so weak as myself.
But enough about me! What about you?
There is a false view of ministry that is particularly insidious because it’s not one that is taught openly and yet practically it seems to be believed by both clergy and laity (and I believe that our actual, lived out, theologies are every bit as important as our stated theologies). It’s game I like to call The Game of Church. Here is its one simple rule:
I, the minister, call all the important shots, and all you, the lay people, have to do is show up, sit quiet and still for an hour a week, and not make waves. It’s kind of like the Game of Society they used to play in Soviet Russia, described by one worker as “We pretend to work, and they pretend to pay us,” or my version which I call the Game of School: “We pretend to teach, and you pretend to learn.”
I’ve known small churches where the rector does just about everything, and the people accept it. I suppose this can be a very comfortable arrangement: then nobody stands in the way of my Master Plan – and you don’t have to be bothered about the hard work of ministry.
Let me tell you a secret about this arrangement, where I get to play the part of the minister who has all the answers and does all the work, and you get to be the people in the pews who only have to sit down and be quiet: it doesn’t work!
In the first place, I, and your pastors, are incredibly small people. There are a lot of things we’re not particularly good at. In the second place, even if we were competent at everything, it would be wrong for us to try to do it all. It’s not just that I’m too limited in my abilities, my time, and my energy: it’s that God did not design His Church to work this way. We are the body of Christ.
Last time I looked, unless you’re an ameba: a body has more than one member!
You may have noticed something interesting about Ephesians 4:12. In the very same verse where Paul is talking about the role of the leaders of the church, which is to equip the saints, he is also talking about each of you. For if my job of teachers and pastors is to equip the saints, then there must be saints to be equipped! To equip you for what? For the work of ministry (verse 12).
There it is! See? The work of ministry is not that of the clergy or leaders alone: it is all of ours. One of my roles, through pastoring and teaching, is to equip you for the work of ministry, for that is what God has called you to.
We are all God’s ministers in His church, and God has given His grace to every one of us for the work of His ministry (verse 7). Your calling to ministry is just as important as mine: God calls you a minister, and He has equipped you for the work of ministry.
God has given His ministers gifts, for the building up of the body of Christ (verse 13). 1 Corinthians 14:12 – “Forasmuch as you are zealous of spiritual gifts, seek that you may excel to the edifying of the church.” Only when the whole body is working – every part – is there growth and health (verse 16).
I remember first moment I fell in love with biology. I as sitting in my 10th grade biology class, and Mr. Mahoney was talking about the different body systems in different organisms: first the sponges, and then the worms. When he got to vertebrates and began talking about the different systems, I had an epiphany. You might not expect an epiphany in 10th grade biology class, but I believe that God has planted potential epiphanies in just about every corner of every one of our lives every day.
A light suddenly went on, or, you might say, a baby was born, and while Mr. Mahoney kept talking, I saw the parts of the human body begin connecting in my mind: It started with my lunch being digested into animated bits of food and entering my digestive system. First, the mouth masticated and mixed it with saliva, and then I sent it down my esophagus to be digested both mechanically and chemically by my stomach. By the time it had passed through the rest of my GI tract, those animated pieces of food had become so tiny that they could enter into the circulatory system by the microscopic capillaries in the intestine. In my lungs, other capillaries surrounded my alveoli and picked up oxygen so that I could make energy from the food. But my breathing by which my respiratory system took in good air and exhaled bad air was an involuntary action regulated by the cerebellum in the brain of my nervous system, which had to be fed.
And on and on, every part in some way connected to every other part, and much more complex than any of us could ever imagine. If the digestive or nervous system were to shut down, it wouldn’t just be a catastrophe for that one system; your the whole body would be in trouble. Just like the human body, each part of the Body of Christ – each of you – must do the part that God has given you.
You are not some insignificant piece of humanity. You are not a vestigial appendage of the mystical Body of Jesus Christ. You are united to the life of Jesus Christ and therefore to the life of every other Christian. How you function or don’t function as a part of that Body, how you do or do not use the gifts God has given you to build His Body should be your special concern this day and every day.
Consider, therefore, the great ministry to which God has called you, and for which He has divinely equipped you. Consider how together we can spend the gifts and inheritance God has given us, so that this great treasure, the Body of Christ, may grow and prosper. Consider our life in Christ, our salvation, which we work out together with fear and trembling.
Prayer: O gracious Father, we humbly beseech thee for thy holy Catholic Church; that thou wouldst be pleased to fill it with all truth, in all peace. Where it is corrupt, purify it; where it is in error, direct it; where in anything it is amiss, reform it. Where it is right, establish it; where it is in want, provide for it; where it is divided, reunite it; for the sake of him who died and rose again, and ever liveth to make intercession for us, Jesus Christ, thy Son, our Lord. Amen.
Point for Meditation:
- Do you know what your spiritual gifts are? How are you presently using them?
- Meditate on how God has been asking you to use your gifts more for Him than for yourself.
Resolution: I resolve to identify one gift God has given me and to find one way to consciously use it today to build up part of His Body.