The Lord's Day Morning
March 12, 2006
“One Body, Spirit, Hope, Lord, Faith, Baptism, God and Father”
Dr. J. Ligon Duncan III
Amen. If you have your Bibles, I'd invite you to turn with me to Ephesians, chapter four. I'm going to read verses 4-6 today, but we're only going to get through verse 4.
Let me remind you again that in this book the Apostle Paul has spent three chapters telling us what we are in Jesus Christ. And this is important for the Apostle Paul, because in the three chapters that we're now studying, beginning in the first verse of chapter four, he is calling on us to live out in our lives the reality that God has given to us in Jesus Christ, which he's already described in chapters one to three.
In other words, Paul's gospel logic is that to live the Christian life, you must be who you already are. You must be what God has made you to be in Jesus Christ. It's very important that we understand this. We've said this several different ways already. We've said that Paul speaks of the indicative first, and then the imperative. He tells us in the indicative what we are, what God has done; and then he gives us the imperative, he gives us the command, the directions, for what we're to do, so that what God has done and what God has made us to be precedes our response to God in obedience and in action. So we do not make ourselves something through our actions, but our actions flow out of what God has done in us and for us by grace.
We've said it other ways, too. We've said that Paul starts with doctrine and he moves to practice, or to living. He tells us a truth about God, a truth about God's grace, a truth about God's people, and then he moves to the practical implications of that truth in our lives.
But another way perhaps to understand the radical nature of Paul's gospel logic is to contrast it to the kinds of New Age-y spirituality that one encounters in both work motivational teaching and in sports motivational teaching. Have you ever heard a sports guru explaining to athletes how they need to ‘visualize what they’re going to do ahead of time’? Many of you may remember the famous punt returner and running back and wide receiver from the University of Notre Dame named Raghib Ismail — “The Rocket” they called him. And he would, he said, visualize ahead of time what he was going to accomplish and then he would accomplish it on the field.
Well, my friends, the reason he was able to do that is because he already had the capacity to do extraordinary things. He was an extraordinarily gifted athlete. Now, you could put me out on a National Basketball Association court, and I could visualize all day long that I was going to dunk on Shaquille O'Neal, and I would not be able to do it! There may have been a time long, long ago, when I was much, much lighter and my legs were much, much stronger, when I could have barely gotten over the rim. But, no! I can visualize all day long and I could not dunk…by the way, for those of you who don't know, Shaquille O’Neal is a very large person. He's 7 feet tall, about 320 pounds, and he plays for the Miami Heat. He used to play at LSU. He is a very large person. I could visualize all day long and I'd never be able to do that. That's part of the fallacy of this kind of New Age “think and visualize and realize the latent potential in you.”
That is not what Paul is saying here when he says that he wants you to diligently pursue the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. He's not saying, ‘You, church, need to realize this latent potential for unity within you.’ He is saying, ‘God has already made you one. Now live that way.’ He's saying, ‘God has already granted you, as you have rested and trusted in Jesus Christ, an indissoluble unity with Him and with one another as we rest and trust in Jesus Christ. Now live that out.’ He's not saying that if you’ll do as good as you can, God will give you unity. He's not even saying that one day in the future, in heaven, we’ll have unity, so you strive to have that kind of unity that we're going to have in heaven one day here. He's saying ‘God has already given you unity. He has made you one in Christ. Now live that way. God has done a work of grace in you. God has made you to be one in Christ. Now be who you are. Live out what God has already done.’ That gospel logic is absolutely essential to understanding the Apostle Paul.
By the way, that gospel logic also proves the doctrine of the invisible church. Now we're not going to have time to look at that today, but we will come back to it — perhaps, God willing, next week. That doctrine is under assault in our day and time. It is being denied. Now perhaps you’re sitting out there today and you say ‘I have never heard of the doctrine of the invisible church in my life.’ That's OK, brothers and sisters, but you have heard of the truth even if you haven't heard the words. And if you want to study a little bit this week, you can even look in the back of your hymnals, or if you have a copy of The Westminster Confession at home you can go home and look at Westminster Confession, Chapter 25, ( It is in the back of your hymnals, by the way)…and look at Sections I, II, IV, and V, and see what it says about the visible and invisible church. I’ll explain why that is an important doctrine, but even in our own Reformed and evangelical community there are people who are denying that doctrine to the peril of the well-being of God's church, and this passage establishes the truth of the invisible church.
Now, with that introduction let's turn and go to God's word, to Ephesians 4, and look at verses 4-6 together. Let's pray before we do.
Lord God, this is Your word. We ask that You would open our eyes to behold wonderful truth in it and to respond to it with humble adoration and praise to You for grace, with realization of what You've made us to be in Christ and with a renewed affection and desire and impulsion to be what You have made us to be. In Jesus' name. Amen.
This is 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.
Any of you sports fans remember 1979? The 1979 Pittsburg Pirates? They creamed my Orioles in the World Series. They had a big slugger named Dave Parker, and they had a 39-year-old named Willie Stargel — hit 475 home runs in his career. He had played with Roberto Clemente, and that Pirates team was known by the community there and by themselves as “the family.” In fact, for those of you who still remember disco, they took as their theme song from Sister Sledge's We Are Family. Now there are a bunch of you playing that song in your mind! Willie Stargel said of that team after that season that it was not a misnomer that they were called “family.” He said, “We won, lost, played and lived as one, as a family, together. We shared everything.” And very often I think as we are illustrating the oneness that the Christian church is designed by God to experience and express, we go to metaphors of sports teams that have been particularly close-knit.
But I want you to see here today that the Apostle Paul uses an image in verse 4 that is far more profoundly connected than a sports team. In fact, he doesn't even in this passage use the family image, which is a favorite biblical image for the people of God. He looks at something that is even more organic, more connected. He uses the picture of a body, and he says to us that as believers in Jesus Christ, especially as we express our union with Christ in the local congregation, we are a body.
Notice that he doesn't say that we have the potential to be a body, that one day we will be a body, that we need to work to become a body: he says you are a body. And not just any old body – you are the body of the Spirit: “There is one body and one Spirit….” In other words, you are the body that the Holy Spirit of God Himself has brought into being, has created.
Now, you understand how radical that was in the early days of the church. There was a great controversy over what the relationship was going to be like between Jewish Christians and Gentile converts to Christ in the church. There were some Jewish Christians that thought that in order to be a good Christian you had to obey the Mosaic ceremonial law, and so they insisted not only on circumcision but the observance of the food laws and the dress laws and the various other laws that had been given by God to Moses for the children of Israel way back in Leviticus, and in Deuteronomy and in Exodus. And they said if you’re going to be a good Christian, it's Christ plus these laws.
And you remember that there was some hesitancy on the part of some in the early church to go to the Gentiles with the gospel, even though Jesus had already said that we were to go and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit; even though He had already told them to go to Jerusalem and Judea and Samaria, even to the uttermost parts of the earth, there was some resistance to this amongst the early Christians, and Peter himself, we know from Galatians and from the Book of Acts, was troubled with this at times — how to handle fellowship between Jewish Christians and Gentile Christians in the church. In fact, to prepare Peter to go to Cornelius the Gentile to share the gospel, you remember God had to show Peter a vision, a vision of a spread, a picnic spread of unclean foods. Foods that were outlawed in the Mosaic laws came down from heaven in a vision and a voice said to Peter, “Eat!” And you remember Peter said ‘Lord, I've never eaten unclean food and I'm not about to start now!’ And the Lord said, “Don't call unclean what I have made clean.” And then Peter is called to go to this Gentile, Cornelius, and share the gospel with him. And what does Peter see? He sees this Gentile confess Christ, become his brother in Christ, and then he sees the Holy Spirit fall upon his family, and he says (when he reports back to the disciples), “The gift of the Spirit has been given to the Gentiles.”
Now, what does that signify? Paul tells you in Galatians 3. What is the gift of the Spirit to the Gentiles? It is the fulfillment of God's promises in the Abrahamic promise. It is come to the Gentiles in the gift of the Spirit.
What is that saying but that the Spirit is the One who creates the church and makes the unity of the Church, He brings together Jewish believers and Gentile believers in one Church. It's the Spirit's doing that does that. That's why in Acts 15, when the apostles and elders in Jerusalem are debating, ‘What are we going to do about these people that are following Paul around, telling the people that have come to Christ under his ministry that ‘Paul's telling you the truth about Jesus the Messiah. He is the Messiah, you do need to trust in Him; but you also need to keep the ceremonial law.’ And as they studied the Scripture and as they debated in Jerusalem, it's recorded in Acts 15 that they all agreed that the ceremonial law was not to be required of the Gentiles. And they sent out a decree to all the churches, and in that decree — do you remember what it said? “It seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us to not lay these burdens upon you.”
Now, is that the way we speak today? “It seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to me that I do so and so.” That's a strange way of speaking, isn't it? What does that mean? Well, of course it means that the Holy Spirit had made it patently clear to them by bringing the Gentiles into the Church, into union with Christ apart from the Mosaic ceremonial codes, falling upon the Gentiles with the gift of the Holy Spirit, the Spirit had made it readily apparent to the disciples that there was a unity in the Church which broke down the old barriers between Jew and Gentile, so that all in the church — Jew and Greek, slave and free, male and female, barbarian and Scythian — were one in Jesus Christ.
In other words, the Spirit had created this unity in the Church, and the Apostle Paul is saying to us here that we are one body because there is one Spirit that has given us being and life. He's saying that the oneness that we ought to work for, that we ought to experience, and that we ought to express in the life of the local congregation, is based upon what the Holy Spirit has done in making us one body, and it is based upon the fact that there is only one Holy Spirit, and there is only one God.
Isn't it interesting that if you look at this passage, if you look at verses 3-6, the word one is used seven times? Think God's trying to make a point there? And three of the times that unity is expressed, that unity is spoken of about the three persons of the one true God, the three persons of the Trinity. First, in verse 4, the Spirit; second, in verse 5, the second person of the Trinity, our Lord Jesus Christ. Notice what it says: “You are called in one hope of your calling; one Lord, one faith, one baptism….” Who is the Lord? The Lord Jesus Christ. And then in verse 6, the first person of the Trinity, “…One God and Father of us all.” And so the Apostle Paul reminds us that though the one triune God who eternally exists in three persons — Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, yet the oneness of those three persons is not compromised in any way — and it becomes the model, the picture of how we, though many, can be one and in fact are one in Jesus Christ. Our diversity, our difference, our distinct individuality is not compromised or lost.
We’re not to borrow a Star Trek metaphor…we're not “assimilated into the Borg” in the church. We don't lose our individuality and become a number, but our unity is real and true, and even absolute in the way that the persons of the Godhead, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, are one — the Father loving the Son, the Son loving the Father, the Father loving the Spirit, the Spirit loving the Father, the Son loving the Spirit, the Spirit loving the Son, and so on forever. They express their unity in their works, they express their unity in their communion, they express their unity in the oneness of the personal God. And so the Apostle Paul is saying it is because the Spirit is one, it is because God is one, and it is because the Spirit has made one body, one church, that you are one.
Notice again his argumentation. It is not that we ought to strive to become a body, it is not that we need to work to be more or a body; it is that we are a body. We've been made a body, we have been created as a body; therefore, we are to live that way. The gospel logic is powerful. We are a body.
It is this reality, by the way, that proves the doctrine of the invisible church. Let me just explain that briefly to you. If we look at the world today, we see many, many different denominations of Christians. Travel around our city, and you will see various expressions of the Christian communion, and some of those expressions not in communion with one another. And so if we look at the world and say ‘Is the church united?’ – if we look at the way things are to our eyes now, our answer is going to be ‘No, the church is not united.’
And then even if we look inside of this congregation and we ask ‘Is every member of this church in intimate communion and fellowship with one another?’ the answer is going to be no. And the Apostle Paul does not start there and say now what you need to do is you need to work to be a body, you need to strive to be a body. No, he says ‘You are a body. Whether you realize it or not, whether you know it or not, whether you are experiencing it or not, whether you’re living it out or not, you need to understand this about yourself: you are a body. That's what you are. Now live that way.’
You see, Paul starts with this grand reality of oneness that has been brought to pass by God Himself. He Himself has created this Church and given it unity, and when we look out in the world and we do not see that unity expressed either in our inter-communion between various branches of the Christian church or in our fellowship in the local church, we see that there is an aspect of God's church that is invisible to the eye. And that's a very, very important truth for a variety of reasons. The reason that church is invisible in that aspect to us is in part because of our finiteness, in part because of our fallen-ness, our sinfulness. By our own sin we detract from the public expression of that unity as it ought to be expressed, but that unity nevertheless is real, so that I am united to all who are united to Jesus Christ. And you, as you are in Jesus Christ are united to all who are united in Jesus Christ. That is a real unity, it is an indestructible unity, it is an indissoluble unity, and the Apostle Paul is saying ‘Live it out. Live out that unity that exists.’
Notice especially how he characterizes us. He says we are a body. “There is one body and one Spirit….” We are a body. It is an intimate, personal, organic connection. We need one another like the parts of our body need one another. If your heart goes on strike, you’re not here this morning. If your lungs go on strike, you’re not here this morning. On your way into the sanctuary, your arm is not having a gossip session with your knee about your fingers…and Paul uses this intimate physical description to describe the connection that we have as believers. We are a body, and we literally need one another.
Do you realize that when you come to the public worship, when you gather with the congregation to worship, you not only come to bless the Lord and you not only come to receive the blessing of the presence of the Lord, but you become a blessing to your brothers and sisters because you are a part of this body? And we need one another. And your presence together with the saints praising God becomes a blessing to them. You are ministering to one another by coming to church. By coming to church on the Lord's Day morning and evening and fellowshipping with the saints in the worship of the living God you are ministering to one another, because we need one another.
And Paul emphasizes here that it is the Spirit who has made us this living body. It is the work of God the Holy Spirit that has brought about this unity.
And I want to say as I close that the unity, the peace, the love that is expressed in this body is expressed not generically but particularly. We are not loving and one generically; we are loving and one particularly. Let me illustrate what I'm trying to talk to you about.
Last week we had a couple, and they were on their way to the Ligonier National Conference in Orlando. They were from Michigan, and they made their way from Michigan to Jackson, and then to Orlando, and worshiped with us. They spoke to me in Orlando. They spoke to me and they said, “Oh, we so enjoyed worshiping with you last week! Yours is the friendliest church that we've ever been in.” Well, I almost had to fall over at that one!
Now let me tell you. They experienced the friendliness of this church not generically, but particularly. I'm not going to embarrass anybody, but they were sitting right over here, and the people around them were incredibly attentive to them. They were welcoming, they were kind — they even called out, “Ligon, you need to come meet this couple.” And I came down and met the couple, and we welcomed them, and these folks around them just fussed on them and loved on them. Now, they drew the deduction from the particular expression of kindness of the people who were around them that our whole congregation is friendly!
You see, parts of the body were ministering on behalf of you and blessing you by making you all look really good to this sweet couple from Michigan! Now you see, that kindness was not expressed generically, like we're a generically ‘kind’ congregation: it was expressed particularly by just a handful of people who showed that kindness, and it had a dramatic ramification on their perception of this whole fellowship. It is the same way with love. It is the same way within unity. It is not expressed generically, it is expressed particularly.
You know, when Billy Joseph goes down the hall just loving on people, it's a particular expression of Christian love. He genuinely cares about you, knows your name, he's glad you’re here, he's glad to see you. He speaks to the janitors, he speaks to the nursery workers, he speaks to the crossing guard. He genuinely cares! It's a particular expression of love.
When Brister is visiting with you in your time of need, it's a particular expression of love. It's not some generic expression of love, he genuinely loves you. He wants to be there.
When Brad is meeting with you and there's a marital difficulty, it's a specific and particular expression of his love and concern for you that he's spending time with you. He's investing his life in you. And I could go on and on. I could draw examples from the congregation. But this love and unity is expressed particularly, not generically, and that means that just a few expressions of it can have a dramatic and explosive effect on the congregation.
And I want to say as well that it's a very powerful witness to witness to the world that the grace and the power that is at work in this local congregation is not something that is an earthly product, but a supernatural and divine and heavenly product. You know, when someone is in the congregation, someone is visiting the congregation, and they see people who have been deeply wounded even in the bonds of this fellowship still committed to this fellowship, forgiving in this fellowship, serving in this fellowship, allowing love to cover a multitude of sins in this fellowship, it is a powerful witness that despite human failure there is a gospel grace at work that could not have been produced by the human heart. And that is an irrefutable witness to the world. That is an argument that no atheist can begin to address, much less answer.
The Apostle Paul is saying ‘I want to see that expression of gospel love, for your good, for God's glory, and for your witness to the world around you — a witness to your friends and neighbors, to your community, not so that one day you will be one, but because you already are one, so be who you are.’
And you see, I told you we’d only get to verse 4. There's so much more to do, and we’ll continue it the next time we're together. Let's look to God in prayer.
Our Lord and our God, we thank You for Your word. We know that we do not live up to this reality, but we do know that it is true. You have made us one in Christ, so, O God, grant that we would diligently pursue the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace in this congregation for Your everlasting glory and our everlasting good. We ask it in Jesus' name. Amen.
[Congregational Hymn: How Excellent a Thing It Is]
Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God the Father and our Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.