[Paul says,] 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.
This morning’s reading reminds me of the one about three sons who left home, went out into the business world and all prospered. Getting back together, they discussed the gifts they were able to give their elderly mother. The first one said, “I built a big house for our mother.” The second one said, “I sent her a Lexus with a driver.” The third smiled and said, “I’ve got you both beat. You know how much Mom enjoys reading the Bible? And you know she can’t see very well. So I sent her a remarkable parrot that recites the entire Bible. It took the pastor 12 years to teach him. He’s one of a kind. Mama just has to name the chapter and verse, and the parrot recites it.” Soon thereafter, mom sent out her letters of thanks: “Milton,” she wrote to one son, “The house you built is so huge. I live in only one room, but I have to clean the whole house.” “Gerald,” she wrote to another, “I am too old to travel. I stay most of the time at home, so I rarely use the Lexus. And the driver is so rude!” “Dearest Donald,” she wrote to her third son, “You have the good sense to know what your mother likes. The chicken was absolutely delicious!”
So maybe not all gifts are appropriate for all people. I mean, the third son knew his mom had poor eyesight. It’s only fitting that it worked against his gift the way her humble, non-mobile lifestyle worked against the gifts of her other two sons. It goes to show that giving creative yet appropriate gifts is truly an art form. And giving practical gifts is always better than giving extravagant gifts!
We’re three weeks into our sermon series on Ephesians and Paul has decided to flush out how we are to live peaceably united with each other in fulfilling God’s will for our lives. Recall that God’s will is for us to simply receive his forgiveness and grace and praise him for it. It is God’s grace that unites us into one body and one Spirit. We all sin in our own unique ways but it is God’s grace, poured out on all of us, that ultimately brings us together. God forgives you, God forgives me, and God wants us to forgive each other. And in that forgiveness lies peace. All too often people believe that peace can only be achieved through violence and conflict. But they’re wrong. Peace can only exist when there is genuine forgiveness, both given and received. We’re all sinners and no sin is without a need for forgiveness. We all need to give and receive grace and forgiveness if there’s any possibility of peace to exist in our relationships with each other. Jesus understood this, Paul understood this…pretty much any great leader throughout history understood this. Fear and terror only last so long in effective leadership. Sharing grace and promoting peace are far more effective and longer lasting. The world wants to live in harmony, it just doesn’t know how to get there. But an important first step to reaching that harmony is in sharing grace and forgiveness.
Now then, God blesses us with a variety of gifts to help us fulfill his will and live peaceably united with each other. And unlike the impractical gifts of that opening joke, his gifts are always practical and appropriate. They all help us to live peaceably with each other. In our reading, Paul lifts up a few of God’s many gifts: humility, gentleness, patience, and bearing with one another in love. When we humble ourselves, are gentle and patient with each other, compassionate and empathetic towards each other, we are creating a world for peace and grace to flourish. Friends, the world wants to live in harmony! The world is full of sin but that doesn’t mean it wants to stay in sin. No, the world wants to rid itself of sin. The world wants to exist in absolute harmony with itself and the greater universe. God doesn’t create chaos and disharmony. God creates order and harmony and this world is one of his many creations. So don’t give up on this world! I know we like to think of it as “broken” but it doesn’t like being “broken.” It wants to exist in harmony for as long as God allows it to exist. Don’t give up on this big, blue rock quite yet!
God blesses us with gifts to live in harmony. We typically consider them as “gifts of the Spirit” but for whatever reason Paul considered them as “gifts of Christ” as we heard in our passage this morning. Paul goes on to explain that “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.” Friends, this cannot be overemphasized! God blesses us with his gifts for one, specific purpose: FOR BUILDING UP THE BODY OF CHRIST! Yes, they help us to live in harmony but, more importantly, they also build the body of Christ in this world. Remember from last week…there is peace in Christ and Christ makes peace and Christ is the most effective way to peace there is! Can’t live in peace or create peace? That’s fine, let Christ do it for you! His peace is far richer and longer lasting than any peace we might create! Just live in Christ and share Christ with those around you! You’ll be amazed by his peace!
Each of us has been blessed with a variety of uniquely practical and appropriate gifts. As Paul writes in his letter to the Romans, “we have gifts that differ according to the grace given to us.” (12:6) Some of us need more grace than others and that’s okay. What we do with that grace is what’s important. Peter writes in his first letter, “like good stewards of the manifold grace of God, serve one another with whatever gift each of you has received.” (4:10) We need to put God’s grace to use in serving each other, living in harmony with each other. Remember, this world WANTS to live in harmony! God CREATED it to live in harmony! Paul writes in his first letter to the Corinthians, “to each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good.” (12:7) For living in harmony! Let us put our gifts to use in promoting harmony. Let us “promote the body’s growth in building itself up in love” as Paul suggests at the close of today’s passage. Perhaps more importantly, let us give thanks for all our practical and appropriate gifts. Thanks be to God!
In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.