So Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, to equip his 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.

Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will grow to become in every respect the mature body of 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. – Ephesians 4:10-16

This is an important time in our town. This weekend is particularly important. We clean our houses, our yards, we trim our trees, brush the sidewalk, and we all get excited. We are the Swedish Capital of Nebraska and this weekend is Swedish Festival. It is an exciting moment in the business of the year. It is not a national day, hallmark makes very little from it, but our community and those who celebrate with our community are spoiled with how much joy comes out of it.

We are spoiled to have such a great church community too. Actually, when our Diaconate Board started talking about what things as a church, as church leaders, we could do better we were stopped and reminded about all that we do have going on. You our church was asked to be intentional about being a support to one another a few months ago, but it may not have been necessary.

Our church = family as our water bottles at the Swedish Festival Parade said. Numerous families are welcoming others over and spending time with them. Multiple people are being invited out to exciting sporting events, like the USA women’s national volleyball tournament. We see our church teaming up to put together a Vacation Bible School of 80 plus kids where we kicked it off in the local park with worship and teaching. This is also where you could hear and see parents and children yelling, “JESUS RESCUES!”

We have a women’s prayer and fellowship group called the Mary and Martha circle that just hosted a monthly Birthday Party at the Covenant Home, a retirement and healthcare facility, for numerous Senior Saints. They not only care for each other but the community as well. Did I mention the Swedish Festival Parade preparations where a team came together on Monday night to prepare items to celebrate our church?

This is an active and engaged church. We are blessed to be together and blessed to be excited about Jesus together. The month of August is a testament to this. There is some sort of extra event being planned every weekend where our church does not have something going on. Jacki & Jay want to host a lunch-in at their home. We are hoping to have use the square or the park here in Stromsburg to put on a little bit of a worship time.

We have unity in the Body of God, the church, because there is one God.

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 4:2-6

This section of Ephesians sets a precedent for our faith, almost rehashing what Jesus said in John 14:6-7 “Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.  If you really know me, you will know my Father as well. From now on, you do know him and have seen him.’”  Jesus goes on to repeat and expound on how knowing Him is knowing the Father and that the Helper (Holy Spirit) will come and be with them to do more in and through them than if He stayed.

The unity of the church, and arguably the churches, is of paramount importance. This is one of the reasons that I love how our church works so well with the body of believers on the north end of town. The fact that two different churches can work together not only throughout the year with Awana, but also partner to put on a large event every year like VBS is the definition of the unity in the body of Christ.

On a larger scale, even different denominations have shown unity through their bonding together at different conferences like, Catylyst, Orange 252, The Gospel Coalition, Linger Conference, Exponential, Passion, and numerous other types of conferences. Though many denominations have their own conferences these are places of intersect. Let’s not forget to mention our unity in music. Our worship songs are almost universal across the nation.

We have one God and we celebrate who He is together. There is only one God, not many. The numerous church buildings are not intentionally worshiping other gods. Many of these churches have unity in worshiping  who God is, but different cultures, emphasizes, and styles of church structure.

“First, the one Father creates the one family. Secondly, the one Lord Jesus creates the one faith, hope and baptism. Thirdly, the one Spirit creates the one body.”[1] Though we have many churches in the world we must embrace that there is one family of God born from faith in one God, and have been indwelt with God Himself through the Holy Spirit.

The most challenging position in this text comes from its ultimate conclusion. If we believe a “church” is not truly rightly one with us as believers, than we believe that, that church is worshiping another god, has a different faith, and is separate not only from us but from the King of the universe and eternity with Him.

We mature as a body, a church, when we speak truth in an effort to care for not simply know what’s right.

 So Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, to equip his 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.

Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will grow to become in every respect the mature body of 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. – Ephesians 4:10-16

       Are you right for rights sake or are you right for the person you are presumably helpings sake? This is paramount for a pastor, a leader in a church, or really anyone that is a believer. We are here to not only speak out against what is sin, but to build up what is worshipful to God. Not simply what is right and wrong. We are called to declare what is opposed to God and what brings joy to God.

       As believers we have been established in the body of Christ, in our oneness as a church to build. We are commissioned to speak the truth, and not to shy away from it, with gentleness and love in order to build up. The truth is painful to hear, yes, and it is necessary, but how we approach others is essential to the Gospel and especially the church.

       This passage in particular is not speaking about those outside the church. Yes, those inside the body and faith of Christ do wrong and are wrong at times in what they believe. This passage is telling us that as believers we can get mixed up. Paul repeatedly writes to the church about how they have been cunning crafty deceitful schemers.

However, Paul goes on to speak of things that they were being deceived into doing. He goes on to speak about how those outside of the faith have given themselves over to their desires rather than giving themselves over to God. They have hardened their hearts to the Lord. And, the believers were to shed that from their lives.

We are not able to mix the ways of the world and the ways of God. We are not able to meld the truth of God with the reasoning of man. One is centered around God and the paramount need to worship Him in all things. The other is a deluded attitude of self-importance and worth. Even the adage of loving someone as you love yourself is still premised in your desires and your wants, if it is not premised in your desires being subject to desiring God above all else.

So, how do we build one another up in love?

What was torn down was causing damage. What we build is for strengthening.

Christians must not simply become less than what they were or do less of what we previously did. We are to be more than what we were because we are building and putting on a new self. Our building gets its foundation and building materials from Christ and His church the brothers and sisters around you and me.

Therefore each of you must put off falsehood and speak truthfully to your neighbor, for we are all members of one body. “In your anger do not sin”: Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry, and do not give the devil a foothold. Anyone who has been stealing must steal no longer, but must work, doing something useful with their own hands, that they may have something to share with those in need.

Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.

And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you. – Ephesians 4:25-32

The purpose for us not doing one thing is so that we can do and will do another. We do not sin in anger because we are building up a stronghold against the devil and all who would tempt us to sin in our anger. We do not steal not only because it is wrong but because we are called to give. Did you catch that children and adults? It is not only important to not steal, it is important that we do the opposite of steal we are to be generous and give to others.

That is the hardest part about ranting about what not to do. We can get so wrapped up in what not to do that we forget that there is a counter to what we are supposed to do. Do not steal rather give. Do not lie or speak ill about others, instead find opportunities to speak about other’s successes. Find ways to applaud, encourage, and build up others.

Your words are meant to benefit the hearers. Not just in teaching the right, but caring for them. That is what pastor’s should know more than most. Every week, I and thousands of others pastors speak to community of believers from God’s word. According to these verses we are to teach from God’s Word about what we are to put on in order to be equipped!

Equipped for what? We are be to be equipped for the good works He has prepared for us (Ephesians 2:8-10). And, the Word of God that we preach from is meant to equip you and me!

All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work. – 2 Timothy 3:16-17

But still, what are we equipped to do specifically? We have been granted the Holy Spirit in order that we would do these things and not waste the power of God that has been granted to be in us!

Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you. – Ephesians 4:25-32

Who have you refused to forgive and make the first step to reconcile with, like Christ forgave you and welcomed you into His family?

       The will of God is not about what school you go to or went to, what job have, what house you buy, where you live, and which restaurant you go to. God’s will is found in God’s Word not a mystical uninterpretable sign. And, His Word clearly states that those who live in His will do not live in bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, and malice.
       God’s people do not dwell on what is going wrong or how others have wronged people. Instead, the will of God is that you and I display supernatural unprecedented kindness. That we would find ways to build others up through our own sacrifices displayed through how we forgive each other. We forgive, we are kind, and we find ways to understand others with compassion because did that for you.

       Our lives are here to display compassion, grace, and kindness in order that we would be imitators of the one who saved us! Our words and our actions are meant to prepare ways to help others not only see what not to do, but to see what God’s grace produces in us. It is meant to produce, through our gratefulness for grace, a position of humility toward those who are made in the image of God.

       Yes, sin should frustrate us, but because of God’s grace toward our sin, it should lead us and produce in us a zeal to reveal our brokenness and the power of God’s love for others.

       I learned this the hard way. As a young believer, and a younger man, a friend had asked me about abortion and I went on a tirade about its sinfulness until I noticed how my friend was breaking into held back tears. Her parents had forced her to have an abortion, she was from a different country, and now had to live with this loss she didn’t want to have ripped away from her. In my zeal for the truth, I failed to build up to produce an ounce of compassion until the damage had been done.

How do you view the lost? Are they simply those who do bad things or are the lost those who do good things, but not for Jesus? How are you reinvigorated about grace for others because of your own brokenness because of your sin? Or do you feel that because you grew up with Jesus or have been with Jesus for so long that you forget that Jesus says that you were hostile in mind and enemies of God (Colossians 1:21).

How do you transfer the grace you so desperately needed and need to those around you? Because, even the random door to door guy who shouldn’t have been knocking on the doors this week needs to hear about Jesus. He needs grace, he needed compassion, and he needed to be forgiven because Jesus did those for you.  

How you build people up who have not earned that right, your respect, and your attention shows how much you embrace the gift you have been given. The grace so lavishly given to you is not to be squandered on you alone.

Did you know that one of the hardest things to teach on is not the sins not to do, but the kindness we must give? It is immensely difficult to be gentle in telling someone you must forgive because you have been forgiven. Being compassionate toward those who are hurting, and who have been hurt, is also part of the teaching on forgiveness.

My brother Thomas and Kate often remind me of my lack of empathy. Because I get so heated about different things. I get lost in myself and what I’ve been through. Instead, I must look at what Jesus did.

For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet he did not sin. Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need. – Hebrews 4:15-16

Jesus was tempted in every way and was without sin. Yet instead of saying see I did it, you can too. Jesus shows that He understands our difficulties, our hurts, and states that we can approach the thrown of grace with confidence.

We must join in this same view. We who have Christ and forgiveness must move past what we have, what we have done, and embrace others where they are. We must not simply let go of what others have done to harm us or others, but find ways to be kind and compassionate to them.

It is not simple nor is it easy to, Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice.  – Ephesians 4:31

How can we move past those who have hurt us? How do we stop our anger and in this verse rage against those who have done us wrong? Getting rid of any of these feelings are intensely difficult things to do. But, they are for those apart from Christ and not to characterize those who love Jesus. We are instead to,

Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you. – Ephesians 4:32
       Remember the forgiveness of Christ is not just letting something go. The forgiveness of Christ is one that invites you and me into the most intimate of relationships, the family of God. The grace He gave us is one of unparamounted invitation. We are granted life eternal and wholly invited to become as Jesus in Him as He is in the father.

“My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their [through your message] message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. – John 17:20-21

Your ability to forgive one another and others outside of the faith in order to invite them in is what deepens and defines the message of the Gospel. Your good deeds and right actions are meant wholly to build others up and invite those who do wrong, do not love God first, and have hurt you into a relationship of unparamounted invitation of unity.

That is the body of Christ where those who are lost are sought desperately to be found, and those who come are to be welcomed in with such praise and excitement to pail the joy of those who stay steadfast through life (Luke 15).

So, let’s continue to press forward. To make new exciting moments in our church. Where we see people challenged by God’s Word to change. Where our family of faith, reject sin, and put on a grace and compassion.

Let’s continue to invite others into our lives. Let’s continue to make avenues for people in our church to join the family. Let’s continue to work through our salvation with fear and trembling so that others can know that grace was not cheap, but it is freely offered to them even at a cost to ourselves.

Let’s find ways to build each other up when we see areas of failure. Let’s look for areas to grow as well as areas to celebrate. Let’s not hold on and let bitterness and hurt fester in us, rather we must let the Christ absorb all sin, and cast our hurts, pains, and concerns on His sacrifice that paid for us and for them.

Do not simply move on from hurt and pain, move toward those who have harmed you in order to embrace them with love, kindness, and full of grace. Does it happen all at once, no, I wish, but one step toward grace at a time is a lot more like Christ than not.

 

[1] John R. W. Stott, God’s New Society: The Message of Ephesians, The Bible Speaks Today (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1979), 151.