You put your whole self in and that’s what it’s all about. Do you remember those words of the Hokey Pokey? The scouts sing it this way – right hand, left hand, right foot, left foot, head, seat, and whole body. Can you imagine with me about how the Hokey Pokey might apply to sanctification? Your right hand might put some money in the offering plate. Your left hand might offer some veggies to the neighbors. Your right foot might go visit and encourage someone. Your left hand might go somewhere like the school to do some volunteering. Your head might read a little Scripture. You might sit with Christ Jesus and pray a little while. And, on Sunday you might even head down to church and put your whole self into the service singing a hymn or two. But Paul’s letter inspires us to put our whole self in all the time.
As we enter chapter 4 we enter into the practical section of Paul’s letter. Based on the first three chapters Paul has established the foundation of all practical expressions of faith. Believers found their expressions of faith in their hearts and lives based on the Grand Plan: creation, covenant, Christ, Church, and the consummation. Instability in doctrine is a result of immaturity in the Body of Christ.
Paul begins this section the same way as the last section (3.1) as a “prisoner of the Lord” who is living his life worthy of his calling and he requires those who believe in Jesus to do the same. Paul has diligently presented the Gospel truths to his people – the church at Ephesus. Having reminded them of the gift that lives within them – the Holy Spirit who is able to do more than they could every hope or imagine, Paul now instructs the believers who to live a righteous life worthy of their calling (4.1).
These instructions are directed to the community and her collective response in how they are living in the world around them. Paul invites the people to experience what George Barna would call “holy discontent” for how they are living. Paul desires for the people to long for the “more” in their lives. Paul invites them to seek to ground their personal beliefs in God’s Grand Plan not their own personal beliefs nor the culture around them. Paul is stirring up the feelings of “holy discontent” that they might chase after the “more” of God in their lives.
Paul’s day humility was seen as a sign of weakness not virtue. Yet, the Jewish tradition understood that humility before God was paramount. The word that is used here in the text is “walk.” Which is rooted in the Old Testament word for pious living “halakah.” A key example of this word is used in 2 Kings 20.3 when Hezekiah prayed for the Lord to remember how he had “walked” before him faithfully and with wholehearted devotion. This is the kind of “walk” that Paul is describing to the people of Ephesus. Paul is inspiring the people to “walk” humbly, gently, and patiently. This is a spirit of “brokenness” before God. All pride is gone. In this attitude the opportunity to “walk” in surrender and submission before God presents itself.
Line by line Paul instructs the believers beginning first with humility, gentleness, and patience. Then Paul instructs the believers to live in love toward one another preserving the unity that they share in bonds of the Holy Spirit. He reminds them that they may be from different backgrounds and ethnic groups but they are called to a life in Christ that is One body, One spirit, and One hope. He further reminds them of the One Lord they all serve, and the One faith they all share. Paul instructs them that there is only One baptism and One God who is Father of all peoples. And, Paul teaches that there is One grace that is shared among all believers.
Paul offers us this vision of Oneness that is somewhat strange to our culture today. There is only one way the church can function together as One, and that’s when each participant is surrendering and submissive to what Christ Jesus wants for his church. When the church becomes our church, we have failed to be the church. We have lost sight of the bigger picture. Oneness is mention on sever different occasions here in the text. Oneness must be pretty important to Paul. But what is all this talk about oneness. What is Paul trying to get at? I think the placement of the oneness needs to be connected to the outpouring of the leadership gifts.
Paul quotes from Psalm 68 to affirm that Jesus indeed descended to earth and ascended to the heavens so that he could take prisoners for his cause and give gifts to the people. And, what are those gifts? The gifts of leadership have been bestowed upon those who believe for the equipping of God’s people to serve and build up the church. Those gifts include – apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors, and teachers. The purpose of the gifts is to reach unity of faith and knowledge of Jesus Christ, God’s Son. The gifts are to provide practical edification of the body of Christ.
The word for grace gifts here is “charis” unlike the word for grace gifts in 1 Corinthians and Romans “charismata.” The “charismata” means the manifestation or individual experiences in serving the body of Christ whereas “charis” means the whole grace “charis” of God. Perhaps another way of putting it would be that here Paul wants people to focus on the Oneness of God’s expression that is for all – the sameness of God for all. It is when you and I realize it’s not all about me, then we can understand the oneness of God in community. When we loose ourselves, then we can find the unity that Paul is describing here.
This is the only time that Paul ever uses the word “pastor” or “sheepherder.” And, it is to be read together pastor-teacher. The way that the sentences is structured it seems to imply that the job of the pastor-teacher is the equipping of the saints. The foundational work of the church is laid by the apostles and the prophets whereas the evangelists and pastor-teachers are to take those foundational teachings and give them to the church proper so that they can grow-up. Paul is establishing the hierarchy of the church that serves the needs of the people. The role of the pastor-teacher is to protect the flock from every kind of theological wind that might blow their way so that the flock remain steady her remembrance of the whole gospel that is to be a whole-hearted experience.
Paul instructs the believers that God’s goal is maturity. Paul describes maturity as being fully grown and measured by the fullness of Christ alone. Paul wants us to know that we aren’t suppose to be infants in the faith who are tossed and blown about with deceitful teaching, scheming, and trickery. Only infants intend to mislead others. Instead mature Christians speak the truth with love – not meanness. Christ is our head and we all together form his body supporting one another in this great goal.
When each person exercises their gifts, the body grows and builds itself up in love. When each one does their part then the body grows up into maturity. As Paul writes these exhortations I am reminded of another letter he wrote to the Corinthians (1 Cor. 12-14). To be sure Paul is consistent in his understanding of the Gospel of Good News. As Jesus came out of the wilderness into the community to begin his ministry his first message was to require the people to repent and believe the Good News (Mark 1.14-15). That message has never changed. God still requires of us deep change within our hearts and subsequently in our lives.
The mission of the church is only as successful as the sanctification of its people. The reason the church isn’t growing across America is because its people aren’t growing up into her maturity as sanctified believers. George Barna reported that out of 15,000 folks interviewed only 11% of them were growing into their maturity as sanctified believers. Only 11% were what the Hokey Pokey would call “putting you whole body all in and shaking it all about.”
In 2011 George Barna did some research that was eye opening for churchgoers today. Barna describes in his research 10 transformational stops:
56% – Prevenient Grace – Unaware of sin, Aware of sin, Indifferent, or Worried about sin
33% – Justification – Forgiven from sin, Forgiven and Active at Church
10% Sanctification – Holy Discontent, Broken by God, Surrendered & Submission
1% Entire Sanctification – Profound love for God & Profound love for People
Count Zinzendorf, a German reformer, once said the many people will follow the Lord half way. They will surrender their possesses and their wealth. However, it touches them too deeply to surrender the fullness of self. When Paul preaches the whole Gospel here in the 6 chapters of Ephesians, he is preaching so that all might come to a profound love of God and neighbor. Last week in chapter 3 we found Paul on his knees in a posture of prayer desiring only one thing for the believers of Ephesus. And, that one thing is God’s profound love that comes by revelation in the heart and minds of people by the working of God’s great power in and through the Holy Spirit.
Where do you find yourself today? Are you still wrestling with your sin? Maybe you’re experiencing prevenient grace. Are you on the porch of true religion and have you experienced forgiveness? Maybe your experiencing justifying grace. That’s what John Wesley would call it. You’ve just stepped upon the porch of the church, and you’re at the doorway of all that God has for you. Come on in the water’s fine!
But there’s more. Now listen closely. Have you experienced holy discontent, brokenness before God? Have you surrendered? Are you submitting to Jesus? This is the place of sanctification. This is what Wesley believed was most important. Only 1% of the 15,000 people interviewed by George Barna actually believe that they possessed the profound love of God and neighbor. They had made it to the fulfillment of the Great Commandment. Have you figured out where you fit into the mix?
Today we celebrate communion together in Oneness – One body, One faith, One hope, One baptism, One God and Father of all, One grace poured out for all to receive. Together we partake of this One bread and One cup and the One gift of salvation for all. Did you know that the Hokey Pokey song was originally connected to the Catholic Mass and the Latin words spoke over the Eucharist… the same words spoken over our bread and juice today – this is my body and this is my blood. Folks were making fun of communion. But you and I can reclaim this song for ourselves to remind us when we come to the communion table that we have the choice as to whether we’re all in or not. We may come to receive forgiveness, and at the same time we may give forgiveness away – then we can be all in!