The Lord's Day Morning
March 26, 2006
“One Body, Spirit, Hope, Lord, Faith, Baptism, God and Father (3)”
Dr. J. Ligon Duncan III
If you have your Bibles, I'd invite you to turn with me to Ephesians 4 as we continue to work our way through this great book…and we see God's kindness to us in knowing what we need before we know what we need.
We've been looking at Paul's exhortation in Ephesians 4:1-3 to live out our calling as Christians by loving the family of God and by pursuing peace with our fellow Christians, our fellow brothers and sisters in the Lord Jesus Christ, especially in the local congregation, and I want to encourage you that the Apostle Paul knows how difficult that is.
It's one thing , isn't it, to love someone that we're not around: it's another thing to love someone that you’re around all the time. It's one thing to love someone who's always kind to you and always good to you, and it's another thing to love someone who disappoints you and lets you down. And the Apostle Paul is a realist, and he knows that life in the Christian congregation is not a flowery bed of ease, of unbroken, unmitigated joy and delight. He knows that we step on one another's toes. He knows that we wound one another deeply. He knows that fissures and factions can break out in the local congregation. He knows that families can be divided. He knows that Christians can become at odds with one another, and he's dealing with those realities in this local congregation at Ephesus.
Don't misunderstand Paul. Paul is not speaking on this subject because it's a nice theoretical abstraction that he can get by with in the local congregation with no practical implications. He's speaking to this congregation because these Jewish Christians and these Gentile Christians that are part of this little congregation in Ephesus are very, very different. They have very, very different religious backgrounds; they have very, very different ethnic and cultural backgrounds; and here they are, plopped together in this one congregation. And he's exhorting them to be one, to be united, to be manifesting God's full oneness in the family of God. And he knows that that is a difficult thing, and so the Apostle Paul brings to bear big theology.
Isn't it interesting that in the Bible Paul is perhaps the great example of the one who, when he sees a practical issue in the life of the local congregation, he doesn't come after it with a fly swat? He comes after it with a big boulder of theology. He knows that in order for us to live the Christian life as God called us to live the Christian life, we need big theology because we are big sinners.
The Apostle Paul doesn't look deep within the hearts of the Ephesians and say to them ‘Find the love within you to love one another as you ought,’ because the Apostle Paul knows that if you look deep down in there you’re not going to find what you need in order to love one another. The Apostle Paul instead points us to something that is outside of ourselves, something that we contribute absolutely nothing to, and he says that is the foundation of your ability to love one another. It's not something within you. It's not the infinite resources of your own personal loving heart. (Ever tried to love someone who is unloving with the infinite resources of your own heart? Doesn't last very long, does it?) And the Apostle Paul doesn't say that to these Ephesian Christians. He says ‘I want to tell you that the foundation of your ability to love one another and to express gospel unity is not found in yourself, it's found in something else.
And that's really where Paul takes the Ephesians and us here in verses 4-6. He's already spent three chapters telling us who our God is and what He's like, and what His great plan is for summing up all things in Jesus Christ, and the implications of that for us as His family, as His body. But now, having said all that and having already moved into the practical section of the book in Ephesians 4:1, he takes us back again in verses 4-6. It's almost like he said ‘Now, just in case you missed what I said the last three chapters, let me summarize it for you again.’
And he's saying to this congregation there are two great objective realities, two great truths, that have a controlling influence on how we live with one another in the body of Christ, and the first great truth is who God is and what He has done, and the second truth is what God has made you to be. And the beautiful thing about it is that we have not contributed anything to those things. We’re beneficiaries of them. We’re caught up in it, but we haven't created it, we haven't contributed to it. This is God's work. And so we turn to Ephesians 4:4-6 today. Before we look to God in His word and hear His word proclaimed, let's look to Him in prayer. Let's pray.
Heavenly Father, we thank You for this Your word. It is a lamp to our feet, a light to our way. It is wholly sufficient to guide us in the living of the Christian life. It is profitable for both instruction and for correction and to equip us to live in integrity as brothers and sisters in Christ. By Your Spirit, bring the word to bear on our hearts this day, we ask in Jesus' name. Amen.
Hear the word of God:
“There is one body and one Spirit, just as also you were called in one hope of your calling; one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all who is over all and through all and in all.”
Amen. And thus ends this reading of God's holy, inspired, and inerrant word. May He write its eternal truth upon our hearts.
The Apostle Paul has been arguing that our shared union with one another, our communion with one another, our fellowship with one another, our shared life in the local congregation, our gospel fellowship in the Christian church, rests on two things that are not in us but which are objective to us, which we have not contributed to. He tells us in this passage that our communion, our shared life, our fellowship with one another, our ability to express our union, our united-ness, in our lives with one another — these things rest on who our God is and what He has given us.
Let me elaborate. The Apostle Paul is saying here that we are to live in a certain way. Remember what he said in verse 3, that he wants us to be diligent to preserve the unity of the Spirit in the bonds of peace, that he wants us to preserve the unity that the Holy Spirit has already given us, by living peaceably with one another in the Christian church. And he has told us this: that we are to live this way, because of who our God is and what He is like.
Isn't that extraordinary? That the Apostle Paul does not ground our ability to love one another and to express fellowship in something in us, but in something about God? He said it is who your God is and it is what He is like that is the foundation of our living together and expressing unity. Our God — Father, Son, and Holy Spirit — he says, is one; and, therefore, we are to express the unity that flows from the character of the one true God in the way that we live with one another. It's quite extraordinary, isn't it?
Look at the flow of Paul's argument from verses 3-6: Preserve the unity that the Spirit has given you. Why? [Verse 4] Because one Spirit has made you one body; [verses 4,5] because you have one hope, faith, and baptism; because you have one Lord, Jesus Christ; [verse 6] because you have one God and Father, and all of us have been brought into His family. There's Paul's flow of argument. We are to express unity in the life of the local congregation because of who our God is and because of what He is like. He is one, He is united in His work of redemption, and, therefore, we are to express that kind of unity in the local congregation.
It reminds us again, doesn't it, of the importance of truth in the Christian life, and that's so important in our own day and time because there are many Christians today — and even evangelical Christians — who are treating truth at a discount. They do not believe that truth is important for the Christian life, and here's the Apostle Paul reminding us again that the Christian life flows out of truth, and without that truth there can be no Christian life; and so the truth of this objective reality of who God is and what He is like, for the Apostle Paul that is not some abstract theoretical, speculative thing for scholars to talk about in some classroom of highly educated post-graduate students. That's something that has practical implications for the Christian in everything that we do in the Christian life together in the local congregation. And so again, Paul's just reminding us of the importance of truth and teaching truth and doctrine in the Christian life.
But he doesn't stop. He goes on to say that we're not only to live a certain way with one another because of who God is and what He is like, but we're also to live a certain way because of what God has already made us to be in Christ. We've emphasized several times now that Paul's argument is not that we should be one because one day we will be one; his argument is we should be one because we already are one. Paul is saying be who God has made you to be. And that's why he goes back to this subject in verses 4-6.
Now, you've already been here for two weeks, and we've never gotten out of verse 4! And I'm determined to get to verse 6 with you today! So, I want to look again at how Paul argues with us, how Paul exhorts us here, how God through the Apostle Paul pleads with us to be what He has made us to be.
Let's start again in verse 4, because there the Apostle Paul says “There is one body and one Spirit,” and we've seen over the last couples of weeks that this means that we are one body because there is one Holy Spirit that has given us being and life. And we've emphasized the fact that Paul says there that we are a body — not that one day we will be a body, not that there is potential within us to become a body, but that we are a body, and that we have been made that body by the work of the one Holy Spirit.
Now think of the significance of that in this congregation in Ephesus made up of Jewish believers and Gentile believers, Jewish Christians and Gentile Christians. These Jewish Christians — good Bible students as they were of the Old Testament — knew the promises of Amos, they knew the promises of Joel, they knew the promises of Ezekiel…and what did that promise say to all the children of Abraham? That one day God was going to pour out His Spirit, and His Spirit was going to come down upon His people, and His kingdom was going to be established, and the nations were going to flow into Zion. The one true God was going to be worshiped. And the Apostle Paul says ‘You understand, dear Jewish Christians, that that Spirit has been poured out.’ We saw it at Pentecost, and what happened? That Spirit came down, yes, on Jewish believers; but much to the surprise of so many in Israel, that Spirit also came down on Cornelius, and that Spirit also came down on the Gentile believers (we are told) in Ephesus, in Acts 19.
So the Holy Spirit of promise was poured out on believing Jew and believing Gentile, so that together that one and the same Spirit brought them into the same family, the same body, the same community. And God is saying to those Jewish Christians and those Gentile Christians ‘It wasn't two different spirits that were poured out on you: it was one Holy Spirit, and because it was one Holy Spirit poured out on you, Jewish Christians and Gentile Christians, you were brought into the same family.’ And so the reality of what God had done in fulfilling His promises through the Holy Spirit had constituted them not to be two peoples with two futures and two paths and two communities, but one people with one future and one path, one community, one family…one body, they were so close, the Apostle Paul could say.
And so Paul was saying God's Spirit has made all believers into one body. And that truth was so important that last week we stopped and we parked on the truth of the invisible and visible church and the significance of that distinction. And it may have seemed somewhat abstract and theoretical to you, but I want to tell you: In the last 48 hours that truth has not seemed abstract to me at all. It has been utterly concrete to me.
You know we celebrate that truth from time to time. You may not notice it, but I almost always try and remind us at the time that we commune that the previous time that we gathered for the Lord's Table there were people here sitting with us who are not with us now, but have been gathered to their fathers. And yet we are not less one with them now, in Christ, than we were when they were sitting next to us. That is the doctrine of the invisible church, and that is the doctrine of the communion of saints.
You know there are many today saying that our doctrine of justification needs to be changed in order to emphasize that we are brought into one family, one community, on the same basis. And I want to say in response to that we already have a doctrine that does that. It's called the doctrine of the communion of the saints, and it's talked about right here by the Apostle Paul in Ephesians 4. And that dear boy that was wrenched from us in these last hours, three months from a wedding, is no less one with us in Christ now than he was 72 hours ago. And that is the doctrine of the communion of the saints, and the reality of the invisible church, and it is to me today very, very real.
And we sing about it. You know, tomorrow at that funeral service we're going to sing (as we so often have at the home-going of believers) For All the Saints. And you know there's that beautiful stanza:
“O blest communion! Fellowship divine!
We feebly struggle; they in glory shine.
Yet, all are one, for all are Thine.
That's the doctrine of the communion of the saints. We are one body. By the Spirit, all believers in the Lord Jesus Christ have been made to be one body, and we are not separated from them. We are one with them. And the Apostle Paul is driving home this truth: that this objective reality that we contribute nothing to is the foundation for us loving one another in the life of the local congregation.
And then he goes on (notice in verses 4 and 5) to pile up another reason, because he knows it's not easy to love — because we're sinful and we hurt one another. And so he's piling up reasons, piling up inducements for us to love one another as we ought in the local congregation. He says there “…Just as also you were called in one hope of your calling; one Lord, one faith, one baptism….” What is he saying? He's saying ‘Look, you share the same desire, and that makes you one. You share the same belief, the same trust, and that makes you one. You have the same Master. You share the same desire, you have the same belief and trust, you have the same Master, and because of this, because of the fact that you have one and the same Lord, you are one.’
Look at his argument: “…Just as also you were called in one hope of your calling….” He's saying you have the same desire, the same longing, the same hope — you all have it, you all share it. You’re all longing for the same thing. You are looking for the coming of the Lord, the day of His enthronement when the kingdoms of this world become the kingdoms of our Lord and of His Christ, and He reigns forever and ever, and you are looking for it with ever greater longing as you go on in this life.
Do you ever become burdened and weary with the pain and the heartbreak of life in this fallen world? Do you say ‘Lord God, Lord God! Bring this to an end! Bring a day…’ Have you ever become burdened with sin (and not just sin in general, but with your own sin), and you've said ‘Lord God, bring a day where this is gone, where this is past, where my sin is no more’? That's the longing for the coming of the Lord that every believer has.
You know, we sing about it. You may want to take your hymnals out. There's that glorious hymn that we sing about the work of Jesus Christ (page 253), There is a Fountain Filled With Blood. But look at the last stanza of it:
“Dear dying Lamb, Your precious blood
Shall never lose its power,
‘Til all the ransomed church of God
Be saved to sin no more.”
Have you ever gotten tired of life in this fallen world — its pain, its heartache, its sin — your sin? There is a day when you will have been ransomed, saved to sin no more. It will be gone. That is our hope! And the Apostle Paul says that same longing, that conjoint longing that we share together, it makes us one. We have the same goal, the same desire, the same longing, the same hope: the coming enthronement of the Lord.
And then he says you have “one faith” — you believe the same thing, you trust the same Savior. You all trust in the same Lord Jesus Christ for salvation. You believe the same faith once for all delivered for the saints. You have a common belief and trust.
Have you ever met a Christian — maybe from another country, very different culture from your own, a culture you don't understand — and you've been with that believer for just a few minutes. Maybe at first you didn't even know it was a believer, and in the course of the conversation it dawns on you: This is a brother in Christ…this is a sister in Christ. And suddenly you begin to feel a kinship. You say ‘This person believes Who I believe. This person believes in what I believe. This person believes the Bible, believes the gospel, trusts in Jesus Christ’ — and immediately, this person from a radically different background and culture feels like someone you know.
And the Apostle Paul is saying ‘Look, you share the same trust, the same belief, the same gospel trust in Christ, the same gospel embrace of biblical truth, and it makes you one, so that no matter who you’re with, no matter how different they are from you, from whatever part of the globe they are, if they share those things they are your brother and sister and part of your same body.’
And then he speaks — “one baptism”. And that baptism, you understand, places us in the sphere of Christ's lordship: Christ is called Lord here – “One Lord…one baptism”. In other words, in baptism we are baptized into the sphere of Christ's lordship, Christ's authority. We declare Him to be our Master. We declare that we are under His rule, in baptism. That's the significance in the Book of Acts of that phrase “baptized in the name of Jesus Christ.”
Some people have wrongly thought that in the Gospel of Matthew we have one formula for baptism — in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit — and in the Book of Acts we have another formula for baptism — baptism in the name of Christ. That's wrong. They go together. Why would it be called baptism in the name of Christ in the Book of Acts? Because it's emphasizing the truth that's laid out for us in Acts 19:1-5, that John's baptism, though important and a baptism of repentance, was not the same as Jesus’ baptism; and baptism in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit is a baptism that's indicative of the lordship of Christ. Christ is the Lord of those who are baptized in His name. He is our Master. And so the Apostle Paul is saying we have one Master, and therefore we are all fellow servants.
He's saying that what we long for and what we believe and who we trust and who our Lord is, these things bind us together. And, therefore, live out that peace and unity and love in the life of the local congregation, because there's something inside of us that binds us together.
And then finally, in verse 6, he says we're all the same family because we have the same God and Father: “…One God and Father of all who is over all and through all and in all.” You see what he's saying there. He's saying that Christians share one and the same heavenly Father, and therefore we are in the same family. It's not one God for the Old Testament saints and another God for the New Testament saints. It's not one God for Jewish believers and another God for Gentile believers; it's one God and Father of us all. All who trust in Christ come to the one Father, the same Father, through Him. And, therefore, the Apostle Paul says, there is and can be only one body, only one church, only one people of God; and because of that reality, he says, live out your unity in the life of the local church. He's saying to these Jewish and Gentile believers in Ephesus, you worship one and the same God, you share one and the same heavenly Father, and that is true for all believers; therefore, he says, be diligent to preserve the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.
Now, very frankly, my friends, it is relatively easy to love those who love us and who are wounded in the family of God's people. It is important to do that, and we should do it lavishly, and especially in these next days. It has been a beautiful testimony to the gospel to see you doing just that for the Stephenson's. But it is much harder, isn't it, to love those who have wounded us and who we have wounded, but we should and we must, especially in the family of God, the household of God, in the body and fellowship and the communion of the saints, because it is that kind of self-denying and self-giving love for one another in this imperfect but redeemed family that God, through the Apostle Paul, is calling us to in this passage, and it is a glorious witness to this world.
Jesus said to His faltering, feeble, disciples on the night that He was betrayed, “Love one another as I have loved you. By this the world will know that you are My disciples.” That is exactly what the apostle is calling us to do. May God bless His word and by His Spirit enable us to respond to it in faith. Let's pray.
Our Lord and our God, You know the challenges that are there in our hearts to obedience to this great word, and that's why You've piled up this truth on us: because it's hard to love when we've been betrayed, deeply disappointed, wounded. But You tell us to love not out of the finite and meager resources of our own hearts and spirits, but to love out of the boundless resources of who You are and what You have done and are doing, and what You have made us to be in Christ. O Lord God, help us, we beg You, to preserve the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace in our homes, in our Christian friendships, in this local congregation, and with fellow brothers and sisters in the Lord Jesus Christ here and around the world, that eternal good would be done to our souls, that a witness would be given to the world, and that You would be glorified. We ask this in Jesus' name. Amen.
[Congregational Hymn Medley: Christ Is Made the Sure Foundation; Glorious Things of Thee Are Spoken; The Church's One Foundation; Christ Is Made the Sure Foundation]
Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus, the Messiah, now and forevermore. Amen.