Built Up in Love
† In His Name †
As the waves of this life, and the strong winds that would steal from you the hope given you by Jesus, may you realize the grasp of God on your life, as He surrounds you with His love and mercy, and may you rest and rejoice in His peace!
The Tossed Church
This week, a scrap of parchment, no bigger than a business card, was supposed to have enormous impact on Christianity. It was supposed to revolutionize everything, and it was soon nicknamed in the press – the “gospel of Jesus wife”.
All the major papers and news stations picked up on the story, as a lady Ph.D. showed the 4th century Coptic manuscript, which she claimed was a translation of a second century Greek manuscript. She “translated” the passage, then interpreted the words as meaning that Mary Magdalene was Jesus wife. The articles then extrapolated that since the 4 true gospels never mentioned Jesus having a wife, that they were unreliable, and this business card size peace of parchment was the true gospel. One reporter said, that even if it wasn’t authentic, it should cause us to re-examine (i.e. doubt) what scripture tells us about Jesus.
Do you remember the Ossuary’s of James, those white marble boxes where Jesus’ bones were supposed to be? What about The Gospel of Judas Iscariot? This wasn’t the first time in the last decade that someone promised their revelation would drastically change our faith, and I seriously doubt it will be the last attempt to discredit the claims of Jesus.
For each one of these lies, for each one of these hoaxes, there are people who hear them, and as Paul describes – are carried about like a feather floating in the wind, or like someone caught in the winds and riptides at the beach. Some of us buy into the “experts” analysis, some of us get caught up in the hype and have to try and prove their theory wrong, with so little to work with, and both gradually lose focus on the why God created the church, the Body of Christ. They are blown about, tossed about, and distracted from why the church exists… what its purpose is…
What is the church’s purpose – What is our goal?
That question, “What is the church’s purpose?” is on our second reading focuses us upon this morning. The purpose doesn’t change by location, it doesn’t change by the name on the sign, or how the pastor dresses, or even what kind of music and liturgy is used. The purpose of the church, both a congregation and the church throughout the world is simple.
The purpose of the church is the title of the sermon – “to build itself up in love,” which means that it is “to build itself up in Christ”.
Let me read verse 12 and 13 from a different translation:
4:12 …(Christ gave the office of holy ministry) to equip God’s people to do his work and build up the church, the body of Christ. 13 This will continue until we all come to such unity in our faith and knowledge of God’s Son that we will be mature in the Lord, measuring up to the full and complete standard of Christ. Ephesians 4:12-13 (NLT)
Three times it describes this “building up in love” as our purpose, our goal.
It’s why the people of God are equipped to serve, to do the work of God.
It is what is described if all come to such unity as we trust and know Jesus
It is what it means to mature in the Lord, to measure up to His completeness, to meet the Father’s expectation of His children.
For when we are described as such, we are living in complete accord with the two basic commandments, to love our Father in heaven with everything we are, and to love His children, our neighbors, even as we love ourselves.
Not an easy task, and yet it is why God has given the church those who would proclaim the gospel – apostles and prophets and evangelists and pastor-teachers. Not to do the work building each other up, but rather to equip the church to do that work in their daily lives. My friends we have a lot of work to do, both in the equipping, and in the actual work, what is called the poeima Theo in Greek, the Gottesdienst in German, the Opus Dei In Latin. Or to use the words of Paul two chapters prior to our reading today,
2:10 We are God’s work of art, created in Christ Jesus for the good works which God has already designated to make up our way of life. Ephesians 2:10 (NJB)
That’s what it means to live in Christ – that each of us works in the same vocation as Jesus, working to see every person mature in Christ. That’s what I call “job security”.
How do we measure it?
In business, when you have a task – there are things called benchmarks. Ways you can measure both progress and effectiveness of the work being done. It’s not a pass/fail thing for us, but there is a benchmark for our growth as believers.
It is our unity, how we truly work together, how we see ourselves so joined together in Christ, To understand that we are so united in Christ, that we can together stand, even thru the challenges in life.
That is why Paul encourages us to not be subject to the schemes and manipulations that would distract us from Christ, but rather to “speak the truth in love”. To speak in such a way requires tremendous faith in God, and tremendous love for those to whom we are speaking.
In talking about the truth spoken in love, the Greek word pictures not just our words, but all of our communication being focus and communicated through love, as it is translated in 1 John 3:18, “let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth.” It isn’t talking just about speaking truth in love as we confront each other either, it isn’t about what some have called “tough love” in the past. Were we talk about our needs as well as helping others reveal their need. Speaking the truth in love means sharing the difficult burdens and tasks, and identifying how we need to grow, together. It’s talking about a life lived transparently, and know that we can expect care and compassion and that God will use every situation, every pain, every challenge that have, or that we bring to others.
It’s the kind of love Jesus showed, as He willingly forgave others, as He shared His life on the cross, and the night before in, through and under the bread and wine. As he sought to bring healing more than He sought His own pleasure.
So can we live lives like that, can we trust in God deep enough?
We are equipped, built up, given hope
The answer is no.. and yes.
No if we try to love each other that completely on our own. No if we protect ourselves from pain, and hold back. No if we are waiting for others to make the first step. There will be times were we are betrayed, hurt, and the challenge is not to become to defensive, to accept the challenge and even the pain, knowing the strength the enables Jesus to love in such a way, and endure the cross.
Remember, this passage started out by listing the various roles within what we call the Office of Holy Ministry, or the “Pastoral office” and that they were given to equip you all to do this work, to fulfill this commission.
Each of those aspects of the office of ministry exist to train the Body of Christ to build itself up in love – to do the incredible work of God of living a life that is true and loving and merciful, where we do that which God has always desired,
6:8 …the LORD has told you what is good, and this is what he requires of you: to do what is right, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God. Micah 6:8 (NLT)
The way it is done is described in those four offices, which we’ll talk more about in Sunday School. Yet how is relatively simple – we speak the greatest truth in love, when we reveal our need for Christ to heal us of our sin, and reveal the promise of that healing as well.
Another way the way the church is equipped is described in our confessions – the teaching and administering the sacraments, being in a sense, the conduit of grace that is poured out upon the church. Pipes aren’t special – what they carry is – and that is the basic role of pastor-teachers – to pour out on you grace as we preach and teach, and to feed you the nourishment needed to have the strength to love, to be the people of God, entrusted with building up each other in love.
And there, as we live in His love, we find His strength, His wisdom, in His presence we find that which allows us to heal, and be knit together, to see that happen, as we live in peace.
The peace of God which passes all understanding and guards our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. And may you always know, and be reminded, that that peace is yours.