The calling of the church - Ephesians 1:1-14
An audio recording of this sermon is available.
When I was a student here in the 1970s I came across a book which simply knocked my thinking sideways. It was by the Christian missionary speaker Michael Griffiths and the opening chapter began like this: Christians collectively seem to be suffering from a strange amnesia. A high proportion of people who go to church have forgotten what it is for. Week by week they attend services in a special building and go through their particular, time-honoured routine, but give little thought to the purpose of what they are doing... The Bible talks about the bride of Christ, but the church today seems like a ragged Cinderella, hideous among the ashes. She has forgotten that she is supposed to be growing up, as the soap advertisements used to have it, to be a beautiful lady! Many Christians can rattle off glibly the various biblical pictures of the church as building, and body and bride but in their experiences these ideas have never got beyond a theoretical stage, and they continue to be disappointed with, and disillusioned by, the church as they know it. Now, Griffiths called his book Cinderella with amnesia. And when you think about it, that is a pretty good description of the way many churches operate. The church is in fact a princess, the bride of the King of glory, destined to be the most dazzling and beautiful entity in the whole universe, more splendid than the greatest supernova in the heavens, more captivating than the most ravishing bride on earth .But instead the picture we conceive of ourselves and convey to others is that of an abandoned orphan, sitting by the fire grate amongst the cinders, looking puzzlingly at a glass slipper which seems to suggest that we should be much more but not quite knowing what.
Well, this morning we are going to turn to a passage in the Bible which is guaranteed to snap us out of our spiritual amnesia and remind us once again just who we are and where we are heading as the people of God- Ephesians 1:1-14. So do turn with me to that passage.
A few weeks ago we saw that the word church- ekklesia, from which we derive the term ecclesiastical' , simply means a gathering a meeting. And when the term is used in the NT to describe Christians gathering it almost always has two gatherings primarily in mind- the gathering of Christs people around his throne in heaven, and the smaller gatherings of his people on earth-local churches. Each local church is meant to reflect, and be a preparation for, the heavenly church. Just as an OHP projects onto a screen the figure on an acetate, so the local church is to project into the world something of the perfected and glorified church which is now rejoicing in glory. The very life of heaven is meant to pulsate through us even as we meet.
You see, a gathering or a congregation doesnt just happen to come together by chance, it is called into being by God with a specific purpose in mind .Indeed, this is suggested by the Greek word for church. Ekklesia is linked to the verb ek-kaleo, to be called out. The call, calling and the church are intrinsically related to each other. So if you just turn over to Eph 3:21, we read these words To him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever .Amen. And then straight away in chapter 4:1 Paul goes on to write: Therefore, I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received'. You could translate it something like this: Walk worthy of the churching by which you have been churched.
Now just what the calling together of Christians as a church involves is spelt out for us in Ephesians 1. In the original this is one long sentence. And it all flows from those opening words of praise and adoration in v 3 Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ ,who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ. What a way to begin a letter! Here we are told quite plainly that we are anything- but a Cinderella -although that is what we may look like to the world, rather we are a princess who has all the promised spiritual treasures of her adoring groom just waiting for her. And notice that Paul uses the plural here. We tend to read this letter as if it is addressing us individually when in fact it is speaking to a collective group of people who together are the recipients of all of Gods gracious love- so, v1 To the saints in Ephesus, the faithful in Christ Jesus. Paul talks about us and you in the plural. There is no such thing as a Lone Ranger Christian, going it alone, just me and Jesus, why, even the Lone Ranger had Tonto. We are in this together- as we are called together. So lets think for a moment of how we are called by God into his glorious family.
First, we are called before that is our election -v4a For he chose us in him before the creation of the world.. v5 In love he predestined us to be adopted as his sons through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will. v 11 In him we were chosen, having been predestined according to the plan of him who works out everything in conformity with the purpose of his will. The gathering together of a special people was not some afterthought for God. It was in his heart even before the dawn of the time. And notice three things about this choosing by God. First, this choosing is personal - he chose us in Christ. We are not faceless numbers to him, each of our names are engraved on the palm of his hands. As a parent chooses specific boys and girls to be adopted into their family ,so our Father God chose us to belong to his family, we are know to him and we matter to him. Secondly, this choosing is unconditional- in accordance with his pleasure and will . God did not choose Melvin Tinker because he was a particularly nice fellow or because he foresaw that he had bags of potential and was bound to make a fantastic Vicar someday. Of course not. It was simply his will and good pleasure to look upon me in his tender love and save me .He simply wanted to. Isnt that amazing? And thirdly, this choosing is successful- he has a plan for his people and because he is the all knowing and all wise God he is able to work out everything in conformity with the purpose of his will. Everything? That is what the text says. And when you think about it, it has to be everything. If God is going to satisfy the eternal longing of his heart in gathering around his throne in heaven a family devoted to his Son, then he cannot afford to be taken by surprise, for then he would run the risk of failure, losing one of his children, ending up with an incomplete church. And since we live in a world where everything is interconnected with everything else, then God has to superintend all events, great and small, weaving them into a pattern and direction which will result in every single one of his children making it to their true heavenly home. So yes, God was not taken by surprise with the rage of men like Nero, Hitler, Stalin or Pol Pot- as they sought to obliterate his people. God is not taken by surprise with that change in your personal circumstances either , with that illness, or that loss of a job, or the failure of that exam. God will use even these to shape us and clean us up ,getting his bride ready for the great day. Our calling began in eternity and will take us into eternity. Now I dont know about you but I find that strangely comforting. Isnt it the sort of belief we need to hold on to when life throws up all sorts of nasty surprises and disappointments, to know that God has so fixed his love upon us, that nothing can ever shake it off?
But secondly, we are called out, our redemption -v 7 In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins. I dont know how many of you have seen the film Schindlers List It certainly is one of the most harrowing and powerful films I have ever seen. It tells of a German businessman, Oscar Schindlers attempt to rescue Jews from the Nazi concentration camp. Towards the end of the film, there is a moving scene in which Schindler can do no more. He has given so much of himself, his money, everything simply to rescue these people from the most wretched nightmare, imaginable. And he simply breaks down and says, But here I have a ring, maybe this could have been used to buy one more soul. Or words to that effect. By that one mans action, hundreds were taken out of a living hell into freedom. Do we need to be reminded what price God has paid for our freedom, so we can be saved from a literal hell? Well, yes we do, that is why we are celebrating the Lords supper reminding us that we are saved by His blood, not with gold rings or bribes - but by a single man hanging on a Roman gallows in our place to free us from our sin , to take us out of a world immersed in darkness and moral corruption into a new spiritual dimension filled with light and goodness. And how does that happen? By being baptised? By going along to a special building once a month? No, but by believing a message and receiving a Spirit- v13 And you were included in Christ when you heard the word of truth, the Gospel of your salvation. Having believed, you were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit. There is something very special about sharing a common experience isnt there? It forms a common bond between them. Think of those reunions like those my brother attends each year as a Falkland war veteran. In theory I could be invited along as his guest, but I know for certain I would feel out of it, no matter how friendly the others might be. Why? Well, because I have not been through what they have been through. For one thing they came face to face with death and survived, and they are grateful. Well, you know, there are many people who would come to a place like this week after week and still not feel a part. Not because folk arent friendly, by and large they are, not because there are class or cultural differences. The main reason is that they are those who have not yet personally responded to this message-who have not yet seen themselves as lost ,unworthy and in need of a loving Saviour. But when they do and ask Christ to forgive them and come in and make his home with them by his Spirit, then almost by magic, they feel one with the rest of the family. And that may well be your position here this morning. If so, then God is calling you to get out of the rat race, and into the Christian race to become a real church family member- all you have to do is ask from the heart.
And when that happens you see what you are called to-our identification- v4 For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. v13 You were included in Christ. The church is intimately identified with its Lord, the risen and ascended Jesus-its all a matter of being in Christ or with Christ, which means becoming more and more like Christ- holy and blameless, do you see? And this takes us to the heart of what being church is all about. It is a love relationship. In fact the picture Paul uses in chapter 5 of the church being the bride of Christ underscores this. You may have noticed that those who start to fall in love, soon begin ,often unconsciously, to mimic each other. They find themselves mirroring the others movements. She leans forward over her coffee cup, so does he. She is interested in ballet, and now, miraculously, so is he, although a few minutes earlier he couldnt tell a Nutcracker from a Swan Lake. And of course in marriage itself, the unity enters a new dimension-one flesh- we have- to use a modern term-an item. Well, the church gathering is an item with the Lord Jesus. He has infused his very life and soul into his people by His Spirit, so that by-and-by his likes become their likes, his concerns their concerns. Sure, like any relationship it has to be worked at, old habits have to be replaced with new ones, but as the love is kept fresh the understanding develops and bit by bit the church begins to reflect the life of Jesus himself, exhibiting the family likeness.
Which brings us on to the next aspect of our calling, we are called with, -our unification, just take a look at v10- Paul says that Gods will is to bring all things in heaven and on earth together under one head, even Christ. That is the goal of redemption history and the church is meant to be a symbol of that future now. The local church is to reflect the unity and community of the heavenly church and so display before the watching world that there is a better way. We live in a society which is increasingly fragmenting and isolating. Even the community offered by work now seems to be under threat as with high tech computers , Internet, and cell phones, people work alone at home or simply travel around from one place to another. Our society is becoming soulless with more and more lonely people. Where are people to look to see what real community is if not the local church? This is the way Charles Colson puts it: The church is no civic centre, no social club or encounter group, no Sunday morning meeting place. It is a new society, created for the salvation of a lost world, pointing to the kingdom to come. And that is right isnt it? That is why we need to create opportunities to meet together, work together, pray together, share together and give financially together .That is why we have home groups, Tuesday groups, student meetings and the like, why we need to work alongside each other in practical matters in keeping the building and grounds in good order so people are not put off coming to hear the gospel by a shabby looking place. It is why Project Newland is crucial so that we can have better facilities to provide counselling, luncheon clubs, drop in facilities for youth and so on- to show that we are a church for the world to win the world, allowing people to taste on earth what can be fully enjoyed in heaven.
Which brings us to our final calling, we are called for- proclamation -v12 To the praise of his glory. We have been called to proclaim the glory of Gods grace, his undeserving ,saving love. You know, people should be able to point to us and say, Look at these people, what a God they have, look at how he is working amongst them and through them! God should be glorified in how we live and what we say as a fellowship. Sure, at the end of time when all his people are gathered in, then the whole world will praise God for what he has don, and the angels will be caught up in that too. But it should be going on now. Every time we pray the Lords prayer and say Hallowed or honoured be your name we are committing ourselves afresh to proclamation, so that people will get to know this God and so honour him as they submit their lives to his beloved Son. Howard Snyder in his paper for the Lausanne Congress on World Evangelization in 1974 wrote these words: The church is the only divinely appointed means for spreading the gospel... Further, evangelism makes little sense divorced from the fact of Christian community... The evangelistic call intends to call persons to the Body of Christ. Biblical evangelism is church- centred evangelism. Evangelism should spark church growth, and the life and witness of the church should produce evangelism. In this sense the church is both the agent and the goal of evangelism.
My dear friends this is our calling. The God of the universe has called us to this. The God of the cross died for this. The God of the resurrection sent his Spirit for this. May the Lord look with mercy upon us and grant us a new zeal to so that we may respond in humble obedience to this.
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