One of the sad ironies in our culture of diversity is the oft repeated line, “Sunday morning is the most segregated day of the week.” Denominational differences aside, the poignant fact is many of us attend churches where we look like, dress like, and vote like the rest of the people in the sanctuary. On the surface of things, it would seem like what creates unity in our churches is sociological or demographical. It is the great sin of a past generation of churches to strive to capitalize on this phenomenon and reach certain types of people from certain neighborhoods.
But, if we learn anything from Ephesians, it is how Paul was not interested in a church that separates types and classes of people. What unites the Church is not an ethnic background (Jew vs. Gentile) or a class (poor vs. rich), but the shed blood of Jesus Christ. Unity is a gift from Christ wrought in baptism. Baptism into Christ and the preaching of His Word produces unity in the Church.
This means, we do not choose who we are one with, Jesus does. There is a beautiful depiction of this in the new online series: “The Chosen.” The program, through the first two seasons, depicts the beginnings of Jesus’ ministry and how He chooses His followers. Though the series takes some artistic license (ok, a lot of license), one of the great storylines is Matthew’s. The show presents Matthew as an autistic tax-collector. His vocation causes him to be disliked by the other disciples, and his autism makes him hard to be around. Yet, he is one with the disciples because Jesus chose Him. Jesus called these men together and it is His call, regardless of the sort of person who receives it, which makes them one with the others.
This week, the preacher will want to emphasize how the unity we have in the Church is a gift, a gracious creation of the triune God and not a work we accomplish or decide on.
The unity we have in the Church is a gift, a gracious creation of the triune God and not a work we accomplish or decide on.
Unity is a major theme in this letter. In Ephesians 2, Paul spent a good deal of time talking about how our reconciliation with God has been accomplished by the gracious work of Christ, apart from works, lest any of us should boast (2:1-10). The blood of Christ not only reconciles us to God, but unites all who have faith in His name, be they Jew or Gentile. The blood of Christ destroys any wall that would separate people of faith from one another, even when the wall is built by the Law of God (2:11-22). Jew and Gentile are, as one body, together reconciled to God through the cross (2:16). This work of Christ, proclaimed by the apostles and prophets, is the foundation of the Church and her unity. The Church is united in and by Christ.
But this unity is under attack from many corners. Paul’s purpose in this text is to emphasize the gracious nature of our unity in Christ and how He sustains that unity by Word and Sacrament.
Thomas Winger summarizes Paul’s teaching by saying, “Christians are one; Christ makes them one; Christ provides the gifts to maintain that harmony, and all Christians are to seek it as their goal.” This useful summary offers a helpful three-point structure for the preacher to deliver the promises of this text.
Title: Christians Are One
1. Christ makes us one (4:4-6)
Though it may seem odd to start in the middle of the pericope, this text provides the foundation for the unity we have with one another as Christians. It is not our work, but a gift granted in the one baptism and one calling that comes from the one Spirit of the one Lord from the one Father over everything. It is a unity which not only has a present reality, but a future as we are united by one hope in the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. There is no other Lord or idea or identity marker that brings us together and makes us one.
2. Christ provides gifts to maintain harmony (4:7-14)
This section may get tricky for the preacher as it is an explanation of his office and purpose. But it is a wonderful reminder of how our ascended Lord continues to dwell among His people and serve them through the mouths of preachers. Paul sees Christ as the fulfillment of Psalm 68:18. He came to the depths of the earth—manger and cross in human flesh—only to be raised from the dead and given God’s right-hand authority. From here, He gives the gracious gift of preachers to unite the people around God’s Word and equip them to stand firm against any wind of doctrine that would seek to remove their faith.
3. Christians are to seek unity as their goal (4:1-3; 15-16)
Here you will want to be very clear, unity is not accomplished by our work, but received as a gift. To seek unity as a goal is to simply “hold fast” to that which has been created and given by the Holy Spirit. So, Winger: “That verb, ‘to hold fast, keep, treasure’ is not to create, but to hold onto something of value that is given... What is at stake is not the true unity of the Church, but the Christians continued connection to it.” Submitting to the faithful preaching of God’s Word, pursuing and reflecting humility, gentleness, and patient love, and speaking the truth in love are all aspects of walking in a manner worth of the Lord who has graciously united us together.
To seek unity as a goal is to simply “hold fast” to that which has been created and given by the Holy Spirit.
Christ in the Text
Jesus has not left us to create unity with other Christians or in our own congregations. In His ascension, He has won the victory over the Devil who would seek our division from God and one another. You and I are the spoils of Christ’s victory, having been graciously lifted from the strong man’s house (Mark 3:27). His cross is our victory over the divisive powers of evil. As our victorious King, He sends gifts to His servants. As shocking as this may be, those gifts come in the form of sinful pastors. Just as Christ commissioned and sent His apostles to make disciples of Him by baptizing and teaching (Matthew 28:16-20) and just as the prophets of old were sent to point towards the saving work of Jesus (Luke 24:44-49), so now evangelists, pastors, and teachers are to be the ambassadors of Christ through whom Jesus unites His Church together around His Word. A final note: The preacher should spend less time explaining his role and more time executing it. Perhaps he could conclude the sermon by saying, “I have been sent here by God’s grace to unite you around this message: Christ died for all of you and has made you one!”
Concordia Theology-Various helps from Concordia Seminary in St. Louis, MO to assist you in Ephesians 4:1-16.
Text Week-A treasury of resources from various traditions to help you preach Ephesians 4:1-16.