I wonder how our understanding of what it is to be a Christian and the church in this world changed over this last year. I’m guessing just over a year ago before the pandemic we would have said the biggest challenges facing the church were secularism, a lack of interest in spiritual things among younger generations, competition from so many other things; sports; online games; films; internet and so the list would have gone on. Now the biggest threat has become Covid-19; social distancing; fear of crowds and gatherings; churches can no longer have large gatherings where we invite people to come along. Our traditional understanding of evangelism, worship, family and fellowship has changed and traditionally we in the church have been slow to adapt and change and so the future… well we already know we are fearful. What does this changing world mean for how we live our lives as Christians?
Tonight’s session describes what it means to be a spirit filled Christian. This is about how we understand the relationship between authority and submission, but this relationship is one modelled on Christ’s headship of the church; how he submits to the Father and exercises authority over us. The authority he shows is quite different to many of our experiences in modern life.
As we come to Ephesians 4: 17-24 Paul begins to teach the Ephesian church what must change in their lives. We need to put this into some context. Paul’s not arguing for salvation by works, in other words he’s not saying this is what you must do if you want to get to heaven. No, he spent the first three and a bit chapters reinforcing the idea that these Christians were saved because of what God had done for them. He chose them from before the creation of the world, planned for Jesus’ atoning sacrifice and opened their eyes so as they could respond to Jesus in faith. Paul’s now saying it’s because of what God has done, because they’ve been enabled to respond in faith, that there needs to be repentance as evidence that God has been at work, that repentance is the change in lifestyle which he’s about to detail.
When Charles McMullan was Moderator of the Presbyterian Church, he said at his 2018 installation and then again on the night he handed over to William Henry that the Christian life rises and falls on the devotional. He was very clearly stating how important he felt the personal devotional is in Christian growth. I agree with him, I think the traditional quiet time, devotional, personal bible reading and prayer; whatever name you want to give it, plays a central role in the Christian life. When I look back over my life, recent and long ago, I can see the ups and downs in my walk with God clearly linked to times when I was diligent in my own personal devotions and when I was careless with them. What is interesting is that as we come to Ephesians chapter 4: 1-16 Paul answers this question and his primary concern is not the personal, but the corporate. In other words, it is not what we are doing on our own that Paul addresses, but how we live, or fail to live, together as one people. For Paul, the community of believers was paramount, and it is this sense of community he addresses.
We’ll never be apostles in the same way Paul, John, Peter, Thomas, Matthew or James were. But that doesn’t mean that we’re not sent by God. God has sent us into our workplaces, families, churches, sports clubs and so on. We’re not just sent by God to be the best workers, parents, children, footballers, organists or whatever we are. We are sent as servants of the gospel just as Paul was.
This study tries to understand how we as a church are united in Christ and so should be working to overcome divisions, but also how this impacts our society. Christ’s unity shaping our thoughts and actions, destroying our prejudices and so making our world a better place for all.
If we want an honest, unbiased assessment of who we are, then God is the only one who can give us what we need. Which is why Psalm 139 ends with this request, ‘Search me, God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.’ (Psalm 139: 23-24) As we come to Ephesians chapter 2, we’re asking God to give us an honest assessment of who we are. As we do it’s important to note the tense. Who we are, not who we once were! While Paul will point to our sinful past and how we were dead in our transgressions because of how we used to live. Again, past tense, were dead, used to live.
Paul centres his argument that salvation is based entirely on what God has done and not on what we have done by highlighting the role each part of the trinity, God the Father; Son; Holy Spirit, plays in our salvation.
As we come to this study in Ephesians, we will be uncovering God’s plan for his church. Hopefully, it will challenge our understanding of the church regardless as to whether we have had positive or negative experiences, because we will be getting back to God’s plan for the church, his hope for his people.