19th Sunday after Pentecost October 3, 2021
743, 783, 767, 800
Hymns from The Lutheran Hymnal (1941) unless otherwise noted
+ In the Name of Jesus Christ +
May God’s grace, his undeserved love, be multiplied to you, providing you peace and comfort in the sure knowledge that Jesus has indeed died for your sins, and that his forgiveness is yours through faith alone in him. Amen.
Dear Fellow Christians, you and I have someplace to be, and it’s not here. It is here, but it’s not here. Right now we are on a path to somewhere else. Yet if we don’t focus on where we are right now, we risk never getting to where it is we want to be—where we need to be.
Any of this making sense to you? As a Christian, in a strange sort of way it ought to, since this is a description of the life of every single Christian that has ever or will ever be born.
Life for a child of God is a never-ending struggle to be content, but never to settle; to acknowledge reality, but never to accept the sinful way things are; to excel, but to do so by putting everyone else first. It is a constant struggle to be all that you can be, but always with the goal of building others up instead of self, and of advancing the Kingdom and glory of God.
Confused yet? For help in understanding this strange and wonderful walk of the child of God we turn to the Word and wisdom of our God. That part of God’s Word that will instruct us this morning is found in the 4th Chapter of Paul’s Letter to the Ephesians:
I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager 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 that belongs to your call— one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all. But grace was given to each one of us according to the measure of Christ’s gift… And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to maturity, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes. Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love.
This is God’s Word. We are blessed and privileged to have the very words of God as our perfect guide through life—our certain source of clarity in a world of great confusion and uncertainty. Asking our God to bless us through the study of his Word with the gifts that he would very much like to give us this morning, so we pray, “Sanctify us by Your Truth, O Lord. Your Word is truth!” Amen.
Fellow servants of Christ Jesus, the introduction made Christianity sound impossibly complex. It is and it isn’t. (Not helping much, am I?) The point here is also the problem. The point is that Christianity will always be a struggle, but the problem is that there is a continual gravitational pull to give up the struggle to do or be anything more than mediocre—to just get by and to expend as little time and effort as possible in the process. We never want to abandon the pursuit of “Christian excellence” in favor of a sort of apathetic, fatalistic indifference. Yet “excellence” is too vague. We need a goal or target. What, in other words, is God’s idea of excellence in his children? We want to know what that looks like, because that’s our target.
Our text gives us God’s answer. Listen again to the goal that the Holy Spirit through the pen of the Apostle Paul laid out for us in our text, where he told us about God’s will that we all “walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you were called,” and that we “all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to maturity, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ.”
That doesn’t sound anything like apathy, indifference, or mediocrity. It sounds like the Holy Spirit is promoting pure excellence in every single one of his children. No slackers, no excuses, no exceptions.
We know it to be true that everyone here is included, in part, because we here also find the Holy Spirit’s declaration that “grace was given to each one of us according to the measure of Christ’s gift.” That statement is even more amazing when you realize that it is preceded by these remarkable words: “God (the) Father of all… is above all, and through all, and in all.”
Have you ever met someone with charisma; someone who just seems to light up a room upon entering? This is infinitely more true with God. It is simply not possible for any place where God himself dwells to be considered ordinary or common—to be anything other than absolutely magnificent and regal. God immeasurably elevates every place where he resides. Acknowledging that to be true, now consider again the fact that our text assures every single Christian that he is living within you. That is incredible. And this is not the only place where God revealed this to us. To the Church in Corinth he wrote: “Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body.” (1 Corinthians 6:19-20)
What does this mean, in practical terms, for each one of us here this morning? For starters, it ought to make every single Christian feel pretty special. Beyond that, the answer is not left to our imagination. It is spelled out precisely in the opening verse of our text: “I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called.” Having identified who and what we really are, our God is here encouraging us simply to walk and live in keeping with who and what we really are.
And by the way, our text includes every Christian. True, it mentions those who work in the public ministry: “And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers…” but the Holy Spirit’s words don’t end there. The work of called servants is “… to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ.” The calling and work of public servants has as its goal the preparation of God’s people for “the work of ministry.” All serve, but all perform different, vital functions. Called servants train lay members—who in turn are thereby both qualified and commissioned by their God to carry out the work of ministry, which is simply to “Go and make disciples of all the nations.”
But we still need a target or goal, don’t we? We need to know exactly what God’s idea of Christian excellence looks like. Listen again to how our God in this morning’s text described the goal: “Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love.”
Pause for just a moment here and take the time to re-read and contemplate especially the underlined words above: “…when each part is working properly.” Another translation puts it this way: “…by which every part does its share…” This represents more than just a statement of God’s will (which certainly in itself makes this priceless information). This also is a statement of God’s formula for success in this or any other generation—a statement of his will for this and every other Christian congregation. The Great Commission is the privilege of God’s Church, which means every single individual member of God’s Church. That means that no matter who you are, no matter what your status or occupation, God’s Great Commission is your calling, your mission, your purpose in life.
So how then do we carry out that shared privilege or calling? How do we carry out what our text referred to as “each part working properly” or “every part doing its share”?
Again, our text answers, but with words so profoundly simple that they can easily fly under the radar of our notice or contemplation: “Speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ.”
One of the first things that jumps out at us here is the fact that Paul cannot even talk about “speaking the truth in love” without also mentioning Christ in the same sentence. There’s obviously a good reason for that: there really is no “truth” without Jesus Christ.
It’s clear, then, that our Triune God wants us to be more than we are right now. Two questions remain: First, how do we even create or obtain the desire to grow and to become more than we are right now? Second, once we have the desire, where do we go from there?
The answer to the first (How do we learn to even want to be more?) is that such a desire has to come from God himself—as is the case with every holy desire. Pray then that God the Holy Spirit would create in your heart the will, the desire, to be a better Christian. Ask him—beg him daily—to teach you to be more like what he wants you to be. Know also that this is not an impossible dream or goal. Our God has repeatedly invited us to bring our requests to him and he has promised that he will grant every petition that does not conflict with his will. Ask, and we will receive.
And then here finally is where we get to the target or goal—to God’s answer for what Christian excellence looks like. What we want to ask him for specifically are the gifts of humility, gentleness, patience, and eagerness. These are the gifts or attributes specifically listed in our text. Receive these gifts and we will also have our answer to what Christian excellence looks like.
The world imagines that progress is accomplished through force—the stronger and more persuasive individuals imposing their will upon their subordinates. Yet when it comes to Christianity and faith, no one can be forced to believe or to accept anything. The more you force, the more society resists. Jesus didn’t push, he drew. Peter and Paul didn’t convert the masses through their clever arguments; they humbly, gently, patiently, and eagerly brought God’s Word into the lives of those around them. They trusted that that Word alone could accomplish anything good or positive, and God’s Word never disappointed them. It never could.
That part of God’s Word, that message your friends, family, and coworkers need to hear is, first of all, that sin is sin, and we all are guilty in every way. But the next thing they need to hear is not “You have to…” but “Jesus did.” We’ve been given the greatest job in the world—to tell hurting souls the best possible news that all that needed to be done for them to enter heaven has already been done. Jesus paid the terrible price for all sins when he offered his perfect like on Calvary’s cross. Trusting alone in Jesus Christ, our sin is gone, and the door of heaven is open. That’s what Christian excellence looks like. That’s what mission work looks like—sharing that simple message with “humility, gentleness, patience, and eagerness." That is also therefore how souls are saved, one sinner at a time. Amen.
Ministry by Mail is a weekly publication of the Church of the Lutheran Confession. Subscription and staff information may be found online at www.clclutheran.org/ministrybymail.
All scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.