The Message: Equipping the Saints…Yes, that Means You!, Ephesians 4:1-16

Sermon:        Equipping the Saints…That Means You, Too!
Scripture:     Ephesians 4.1-16
Preacher:     Patrick H. Wrisley, D.Min.
Location:      First Presbyterian Church Fort Lauderdale
Date:             August 5, 2018, Communion Sunday

This morning, our text is in Ephesians 4.  Although the title of the letter is “Ephesians” many believe the letter was an encyclical, i.e. a letter that bore the name “Ephesians” but was used to pass around and share with several churches in the region. As you listen out for three things in our text: listen as to how the author begins with setting the bar for the Christian community; listen he then describes gifts given to members of the community; and finally, listen how he hammers home as to why those gifts were given in the first place.  Listen and see if you can hear what Paul is getting at as we read Ephesians 4.1-16.  Listen to the Word of the Lord!

Ephesians 4:1-16

4.1 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[a] into the lower parts of the earth? 10 He who descended is the same one who ascended far above all the heavens, so that he might fill all things.) 11 The gifts he gave were that some would be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers, 12 to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, 13 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. 14 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. 15 But speaking the truth in love, we must grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, 16 from whom the whole body, joined and knit 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.[1]

Now, did you hear the bar Paul raised?  He’s urging us to lead a life worthy of the calling to which we have been called in Christ.

Did you hear the gifts he mentions? Some are apostles, or, sent ones to new places to share the gospel. Some are prophets or those women or men who not only see into the future but also call for justice in the present. Prophets are as much future-tellers as they are truth tellers. Some are evangelists, i.e. those who are able to share the Story of Jesus in naturally winsome ways, so others come to faith.  Some are pastors, or as it has in the original, shepherds of the community flock of believers who watch out for them, nurture them and keep them safe. Finally, Paul says there are teachers who are able to unpack the faith, the scriptures, and theology and explain it to others.  Apostles. Prophets. Evangelists. Shepherds and Teachers. Each and every church has members in it who have these gifts.

Finally, did you hear the reason why gifts are given to members of each church community? Gifts are given in order to equip the saints so as to help us grow up and practice our faith so that the whole community, the Body of Christ, moves in rhythm and beauty. When Paul is referring to saints, he is not referring to those spiritual giants the Catholic tradition refers to like St. Augustine, St. Francis, or St. Teresa. Paul is referring to the likes of ordinary women and men like you and me. You see, a saint simply means “one who is set apart” which is the root of the word we use as referring to that which is holy.  Saint literally means “holy one” or “set apart one.”

You and I are saints…set apart ones from the world. Saints are people who have said “no” to the culture but “yes” to the God. Saints are people who have said “no” to trying to live life on their own and have said “yes” to being part of a spiritually driven community transforming the world. Saints are women and men who say “no, I’m not going to look at the world as hopeless” but instead declare through their words, their actions, “Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection is the heavenly Father and Spirit’s Divine “Yes!” that this life is precious, and we are to hope in the future and for our neighbor!” Saints are people who say “no” to looking at people and our world’s resources as means to our happy end but declare “yes” in seeking to love people into this new way of living we have been shown and given. Behind every “no” we utter there is a “yes” with gifts attached that we are able to pick up and celebrate.

The deal is this brothers and sisters: We need to remember that we live in a world that is hell-bent on keeping us living in a “no”-oriented world; we live in a world that tries to out-shout, obscure, and muddle up the life-giving “yes” of Christ.  How are we to navigate our way through this world of cacophonous noise that screams at us the virtues of loneliness, hatred, bigotry, and greed? Paul tells us we are to be equipping ourselves.

Equipping means to consciously strive to do what it takes to be a set-apart or holy one for Christ. It does not mean you’re more special or better than anyone else but that you are intentionally trying to live your life as Jesus lived, i.e. consciously living your life counter-culturally loving on others and showing others through the fabric of your life, my life, that there really is a different way to experience the moment, God, and one another.

If I were to hit a pause button right here, and I am, let’s pause and reflect: How spiritually equipped am I to live a Christly counter-cultural life in a culturally driven world that promotes self-interest instead of loving neighbor and power over humility? Presbyterian pastor, Eugene Peterson in his biblical paraphrase, The Message, writes verses 14-16 in our text this way:

14-16 No prolonged infancies among us, please. We’ll not tolerate babes in the woods, small children who are an easy mark for impostors. God wants us to grow up, to know the whole truth and tell it in love—like Christ in everything. (MSG)

Paul is adjuring his church, “Be wholly dissatisfied where you are in your faith!  Grow it! Stretch is! Practice it!” Beloved, God is so much larger than any box we have placed Him in and yet so much simpler than we have made Him be.  The only way to discover that, however, is that we grow up spiritually.

It means reading the Bible.

It means gathering in small groups and learning from one another what the scripture is saying.

It means challenging our old assumptions about God and who God “like” or “doesn’t like” and “who’s in and who is out?”

It means taking time to understand different Christian perspectives and seek to understand why that person believes what she or he does.

It means to intentionally embark on a path of the spiritual formation where you take what you learn and then put it into practice with others in the community through acts of love and service.

Do you remember the old theme song from Toys R Us?  It goes, “I don’t wanna grow up, I’m a Toys R Us kid.”  Never mind Toys R Us is bankrupt and out of business now but their song is still applicable for us today as we look at our spiritual life and walk with God in Christ. Do you wanna grow up in Christ? What concrete steps can you and I take that will help equip us to grow up in our life of Christ-followership that enhances the gifts and graces of other members within our Body?

As you come to the Table this morning, ask the Holy Spirit to reveal to you those places you are spiritually weak and flabby and need to pay attention to and get into shape.  Let us all grow up together in our one faith, in our one love, and in our one baptism in the family of Christ.  And all of God’s people said, “Amen.”

Patrick H. Wrisley, D.Min.
Senior Pastor & Teaching Elder
First Presbyterian Church
401 SE 15th Avenue
Fort Lauderdale, FL 33301
pwrisley@drew.edu
wrisley.org

© 2018 Patrick H. Wrisley. Sermon manuscripts are available for the edification of members and friends of First Presbyterian Church, Fort Lauderdale, Florida and may not be altered, re-purposed, published or preached without permission.   All rights reserved.

[1] The New Revised Standard Version, copyright 1989, 1995 by the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.