A reflection on Ephesians 4:1-16 for Sunday, August 23, 2020 at Mosaic Baptist Church
I therefore, the prisoner in the Lord, beg you to lead a life worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, making every effort to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to the one hope of your calling, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is above all and through all and in all.
But each of us was given grace according to the measure of Christ’s gift. Therefore it is said,
‘When he ascended on high he made captivity itself a captive;
he gave gifts to his people.’
(When it says, ‘He ascended’, what does it mean but that he had also descended into the lower parts of the earth? He who descended is the same one who ascended far above all the heavens, so that he might fill all things.) The gifts he gave were that some would be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until all of us come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to maturity, to the measure of the full stature of Christ. We must no longer be children, tossed to and fro and blown about by every wind of doctrine, by people’s trickery, by their craftiness in deceitful scheming. But speaking the truth in love, we must grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and knitted together by every ligament with which it is equipped, as each part is working properly, promotes the body’s growth in building itself up in love.
Ephesians 4:1-16 (NRSVA)
How easy it must have been for Paul, imprisoned in his cell, to resign to the idea that his mission was over. He can no longer travel. Entering a synagogue is out of the question. He is essentially separated from his community and livelihood.
Perhaps Paul could even justify all this spiritually if he put his gifted mind to it. God is offering me rest. I’ve become too controversial to be any good. Maybe God is saying my time is up. Perhaps Paul is tempted into questioning his very calling.
I have no doubt that Paul wrestled with imprisonment. I also have no doubt that, if he did, he came out the other side still invested in the Kingdom of Heaven.
How do I know this? Because Paul wrote in prison.
Circumstances could have been more ideal for writing. Sure he has time, but a Roman cell is not set up for leisurely scholarly pursuits. They are dirty, dark, dingy.
Yet Paul writes. Where he can he receives and responds to news of the new temple, the church. Paul plays his part. Even in his cell, Paul is ‘…leading a life worthy of the call…’
I hear something of the challenge of this as Paul urges the communities he writes to with the words: ‘humility’, ‘gentleness’, ‘patience’, ‘bearing with’, and, ‘make every effort’.
This call has a clear direction. According to Paul, the direction is ‘unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace’. I hear Paul asking himself – and each member – of the church to contribute what they can to the ongoing work of oneness.
Paul is doing this – even in his time of restriction – and would have every member of the community formed by Jesus do the same. After all, Paul can list all the ‘ones’ of God. He would like to be able to do the same for God’s community.
Importantly, oneness is not a call to sameness. As if to make this exact point, Paul insists that each one has been given at least one gift. I love the list he makes: ‘apostles,…prophets…evangelists,…pastors and teachers.’ Nowadays we would probably look at this as a list of leadership gifts recognised in church professionals.
It is not. Yes, these are to ‘equip the saints for the work of ministry’, but when did that become something only done by paid or trained staff.
Building the church is the call of us all. The Spirit speaks through us all.
Only when we are all making our contribution does the body of Christ work ‘properly’ and grow in love.
What will you contribute today?
What are the aspects of your life that become excuses for not being on mission? How can you reframe these?
What opportunities has COVID-19 restricted fro you? MOre importantly, what has it opened?
What do people see as your gift? What do you see as your gift?