Login †††

Trinitarian life and church - Ephesians 4:1-16

This is a sermon by Nathan Buttery from the morning service on 25th March 2007.

Click here to read the bible passage. Click here to use larger text.

An audio recording of this sermon is available.

Click here to download and save for future listening

In 1630 a man called John Winthrop gave a speech on the deck of a ship called the Arbella. The group he was speaking to was sailing from England to America to start a new life as colonists of the New World. Before they landed Winthrop told the gathered colonists of his vision for the new community they were about to begin. He said this: "We must be knit together as one man. We must look after each other in brotherly affectionÖ We must delight in each other, make each otherís conditions our own, rejoice together, mourn together, labour and suffer together, always having before our eyes our commission and community in the work, as members of the same body. So shall we keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace." Well itís a wonderful vision for a new colony isnít it? A group reckoning together, suffering together, looking after one another as one body. But contrast that with the sentiments put forward in the film "About a Boy" which was released in 2000. At the start of the film the leading character, Will Freeman, says this: "In my opinion all men are islands. And whatís more now is the time to be one. This is an island age. A hundred years ago for instance, you had to depend on other people. No-one had TV or CDís or DVDís or videos or home expresso makers. As a matter of fact they didnít have anything cool. Whereas now, you see, you can make yourself a little island paradise. With the right supplies and, more importantly, the right attitude, you can be sun drenched, tropical, a magnet for young Swedish tourists. And I like to think that perhaps I am that kind of island. I little to think Iím pretty cool. I like to think Iím Ibiza."

Well like it or not we live in a time where Will Freemanís creed is the order of the order of the day as opposed to John Winthropís. We live in a time when individualism reigns supreme. It is the individualsí choices and opinions which matter, not the greater good. Independence, self sufficiency and personal freedom are the catch phrases of the day, and woe betide you if you get in the way of what I want to do with my life. 30% of people now live on their own, and we exist in isolated little units, with our own close knit circles of friends, living in closely guarded homes. In many cities, neighbours donít speak to each, and donít even know each othersí names. And although in times of crisis, people do support and help one another, sadly those times are all too few, and are the result of great need or stress. For individualism, you see, reigns supreme.

The fact is though, God does not believe in individualism. For the very simple reason that God himself is not an individual in isolation. He is trinity, and itís that profound truth that we have been examining these past few weeks. And over these weeks we have discovered three remarkable truths about God. Weíve seen first that he is One. He is a unity, and there is only one God. And yet secondly he is One God in three persons, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. He is trinity. All three are God and yet all three are distinct. There is a diversity in their work in the universe and in the church. And yet thirdly, as we saw two weeks ago, there is a hierarchy even within the Godhead. The Son submits to the Fatherís will and the Spirit proceeds from the Father and the Son. And as we have pondered these truths, we have found our minds and hearts expanded and our language stretched to the limit. And if you feel that have not been able to grasp fully these deep truths, then bear in mind that whilst God reveals what we need to know about him, yet we can never fully fathom all there is to know about him, for he is eternal. He is infinitely greater than us. And if we could understand everything fully, then either we would be God, or we would have brought him down to our level, which is idolatry. No, the God of the Bible is a very big God!

But in recent weeks, we have also found out that human beings reflect the very being of God. For the Bible tells us that you and I as human beings are made in the image of God, and as such we are to reflect the nature of God. If God relates as a person then so do we. If God loves as three persons in one in loving community together, then so are we to love as a community of people. Humanity when itís working properly reflects the very being and nature of God. For we are made in his image. And there are two areas where we are told in the Bible that human beings are specifically to reflect this Trinitarian relationship. And that is in the family and in the church. We looked last time at the family and saw that in marriage, there is a reflection of God the Holy Trinity. There is a unity as man and woman become one flesh, equal in Godís eyes. And yet there is also a diversity and godly hierarchy, as husband and wife have different roles, and the wife is to submit to her husband as he is the head of the family. And this week, we see that structure worked out in the church as well. Again, we see a unity, diversity and hierarchy at work.

And the wonderful thing we will see is that the truth that God is Trinity has very practical outworking. It actually affects what we do together as Godís people. It affects how we relate to one another. It affects how we use our gifts. It affects how we structure our church fellowship. And it challenges us to be radically different from the rampant individualism that has gripped certainly the Western world. For we as Godís people are a community built together in God for his glory. And we as his people are to reflect or mirror his character and nature. So letís turn to Godís word and weíll discover three things about the Trinity and the church:

1) The Church should reflect the Trinityís Unity

2) The Church should reflect the Trinityís Diversity

3) The Church should reflect the Trinityís Hierarchy

1) The Church should reflect the Trinityís Unity

So first then, the church should reflect the Trinityís unity. And for this weíll look at Ephesians 4 vv 1-6. Now before we immediately leap to thinking about church unity and the denominational unity that many people work for, we need to remember that that is not what Paul is addressing here. He is addressing a local church and talking about their unity. If Paul were here in person, heíd be saying exactly the same things to us, as he did to the Ephesians. Itís possible these verses have a secondary application to unity beyond the local church, but our focus this morning is ourselves and what Paul is saying to the local church. So what does Paul say to us about our unity. Well notice first the grounds of our unity in verses 4-6: "There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to one hope when you were called, one Lord, one faith [probably referring to the gospel itself as opposed to our belief in it], one baptism; one God and Father who is over all and through all and in all." Now for our purposes this morning notice that each member of the Trinity is mentioned by Paul in these verses. He talks about the Spirit, the Lord, who is Jesus, and the Father. By the Spirit the church, or the body, comes into being. Paul is probably referring to the heavenly church, that gathering of all Christians around the throne of God, of which St. Johnís is an earthly manifestation. Thatís why each week we say that we believe in the universal church. We as Christians are members of that heavenly gathering, but as we gather on earth like today, we reflect that heavenly gathering. And we are brought together by the work of the Spirit in our hearts who gives us that hope. Itís in Jesus, the Lord, that we have this faith, the gospel, and in him that we were baptised, which is the outward sign of Godís grace in our lives. And says Paul, there is one God and Father who is over all and through all and in all. Paul is saying that there is just one God, in three persons, Father Son and Spirit, and because of the unity and oneness of God, there is only one gospel. And itís that gospel, that faith that is the grounds of our unity. Our unity as Christian people is grounded in the one gospel which comes form the one God. There are not several gods with different opinions. There are not several universal churches, there are not several faiths. No one faith from one God. And itís this God and his gospel that is the grounds of our unity. That is what unites us as the church of Godís people. Itís not a passion for trains, or a football team, or Tupperware. Itís the gospel of the only God, who is Father, Son and Spirit. And that means that we cannot have unity with those who preach a different gospel, or a distorted gospel. There is one gospel, because there is one God. And thatís the grounds of our unity.

But Paul also shows us what this means in practice for a local church, a church such as ours. He goes on to teach us the character of our unity in verses 1-3. And itís character is loving. Verse 1 "As a prisoner for the Lord, then, I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received. Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. This, says Paul, is what it means to live a life worthy of the calling you have received. Paul doesnít start with structures, he starts with love. Weíre to be completely humble, to put others first, and to be willing to play second fiddle. The church is not the place for showing ourselves off or for climbing over others to get to the top. Rather we are humbly to recognise the values and strengths and concerns of other people. Weíre to be gentle with others, not putting others down, but being gracious with them. Weíre to be patient, bearing with one another in love. How easy it is to get short with others, to find fault in them and to become irritated with one another, forgetting the planks in our own eyes, when we see the specks on othersí. And do you notice that all these things could be said of Jesus? He was the model par excellence of humility, gentleness, patience and love. He placed othersí needs above his own, considering othersí needs more important than his own.

Now it is pretty obvious that a church which is founded on those principles will be able to maintain its unity and togetherness. We will be prepared to let things happen which we may not like but which we know others want and which are for the good of the church. Weíll be willing to lay aside our own small hang ups for the sake of others be they theological or otherwise. But what happens when petty jealousy and rivalries take over. If you reverse these qualities what do you get? Pride instead of humility, bitterness instead of gentleness, sharp tongues instead of patience, hatred instead of love. How often do we see that in churches? Churches are more often than not split from the inside out, than from the outside in! And that is why Paul says in verse 3: "Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace." It might at first seem an odd thing for Paul to say. I thought we were united. How then can we be disunited? Well thatís the point. We are united in the gospel. We are by definition one because we believe in the One God and his only gospel. But we need to work hard at keeping that gospel unity. We need to work hard at loving one another and keeping central things central. Because in every church there is a temptation to put secondary matters first and to pursue our own agendas. Rather make every effort says Paul to keep the unity of the Spirit.

And that is why in verse 16, Paul explains that we are one body who are to be committed to one another, building one another up in love. Love is intensely practical. If I make speak personally for a moment, itís been wonderful how Debbie and I have barely had to cook anything in the last four weeks since Matthew was born, because Christian brothers and sisters have looked after us and provided us with meals. And that is a wonderful testimony to a loving Christian community. A very practical way of caring for people. And itís normal Christianity. And itís not just seen with new parents. It should be seen in hundreds of different ways each and every week as we care for and encourage one another. In fact I was reminded this week, that Christians should be like meercats. I donít know whether you know anything about meercats, but they are remarkable creatures which live in the plains of Southern Africa. And they are communal creatures. They live in communities together and they do everything together. Eat together, live together, groom one another, defend each other from attack, even baby-sit each othersí children. It is remarkable seeing how these creatures care for another. Now Iím not saying we are to groom one another after the service in the church hall over coffee. But they certainly teach us a lesson or two about mutual love and unity. Because itís that committed love for one another that is the practical outworking of being united together in the one and only gospel. And it all springs from the One God, Father, Son and Spirit. For the church, you see, should reflect the Trinityís unity.

2) The Church should reflect the Trinityís Diversity

But secondly, the church should reflect the Trinityís diversity. Because whilst the church is to be united, it does not mean we are to be uniform. There is to be a diversity within the church. And that diversity is to be seen in the way we have all been given different gifts to be used in the life of the church and the building up of Godís people. And this diversity is a mirror of the diversity of God himself. Now although Paul does not talk about it here, one thing we have seen in our series in the Trinity is that God as Trinity operates in different ways. We saw in Ephesians 1 that Father, Son and Spirit do have different roles in our salvation, and yet they are all committed as the one God to the same end. So it is the Father who chooses us. It is the Son who dies on the cross for us. It is the Spirit who comes into the believer and who equips the church. So whilst there is a unity in Godís nature, yet there is also diversity. And the church is to mirror this rich diversity in itís life together.

So see what Paul says in verse 7: "But to each one of us grace has been given as Christ apportioned it." Paulís point here is that the risen and ascended Christ has given each one of us unique gifts. We are uniquely made. And notice that those gifts are given- our skills and talents are God given, not to be used selfishly but for the benefit of others. The exalted Lord Jesus has given each one of us wonderful gifts to use. That is what Paul is saying in these slightly baffling words in verses 8-10. If youíre confused then you are not the first! Paul is quoting from Psalm 68 which tells how God goes up to his city, Zion, in victory leading a whole train of captives. And he is giving out the booty of the victory. And Paul sees that Jesus has fulfilled these verses by his own ascension and exaltation. The Jesus who came to earth, descended from heaven and who humbled himself, even to death on a cross, is the very same Jesus who now rules the heavens and equips his church. It is this risen and glorified Jesus who has given us gifts. And in the NT there are about 20 such gifts mentioned but it is clear that those lists are not meant to be exhaustive. Godís people have a whole range of gifts.

But in verse 11, Paul mentions four in particular. "It was Jesus who gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists and some to be pastors and teachers." Now why does Paul single out these gifts? Well the reason is that these people have a unique role in preparing Godís people for works of service. Itís likely that Paul intends us to see the apostles and prophets as foundation gifts for the church. He says as much in 3 v 5 and 2 v 20. These are the original apostles and prophets of the OT and NT who laid the foundation of the church and we have their teaching in the Bible. In this unique sense they have been and gone. But the evangelists and pastor-teachers are still very much around and needed. The evangelists are, if you like, the spiritual midwives. They are the ones who lead others to new birth, who bring non-Christians to a faith in Christ. And the pastor-teachers, Paul links the words in the original, are those who teach the people of God. They have a job of shepherding the flock. Thatís what the word means. And they do it by teaching Godís Word, by teaching the apostolic and prophetic foundations. So the reason that Paul mentions these gifts in particular is because these are essential for the growth of the body. As Paul says, they prepare Godís people for works of service. Without evangelists and pastor-teachers, the church will die.

But what does that mean for the rest of the body? Well Paul says that they are prepared for works of service. So the idea is every member ministry in service of God and one another. Now very often, churches are seen to be pleasure cruisers as opposed to battle ships. On pleasure cruisers, the vast amount of people on board just lounge around having a good time- they enjoy the food, swim in the pool, and relax in their sun loungers. And for many, church is seen in that way. They turn up on a Sunday simply to enjoy the ride but never get involved in more ways. Itís up the clergy to take the lead and do what is necessary. But that is a very unhealthy and unbiblical view of church. And it leads to a raising of clergy to a level which is unbiblical. For instance, Debbie and I were on holiday a few years ago, and we were sitting in an airport departure lounge in another country when I saw three seats set apart from the others. They were plush and clean and then I noticed a sign above these seats: "Reserved for clergy". A friend of mine told me that in America he had seen threes types of toilet: "Men, women, clergy." This only reinforces the stereotypes. Yes, the pastor is important but heís not that important. He is simply one of the body, where everyone has a role to play. So instead we should think of a church as a battle ship. Everyone has a very important part to play. Everyone has a job to do, and gifts to use for the good of the church and the glory of God. Now of course, sometimes there will be some who are in the shipís hospital, who need carrying because they are sick or in need of special care. There will be others who are investigating the faith, who are passengers for the time being. But the vast majority will be hard working crew, committed to the battle, the cause of the gospel. So we are united in the gospel, but we are diverse, uniquely gifted by the risen and exalted Lord Jesus to do works of service.

And so we need to ask ourselves, are we just along for the ride? Or are we using our God given gifts for the benefit of the whole body? I rejoice that there are many different gifts at St. Johnís. I delight in those who are musically gifted, or have the gift of administration, those who are brilliant at encouraging others, those who are good with their hands. For every person, there is another gift. And that is the joy of being part of a body. No-one has everything. Everyone has something. For some it will mean getting stuck in where previously you havenít. Maybe others will be thinking, well I feel I can offer less than I used to be able. But let me encourage you by saying just by turning up on a Sunday you are encouraging others. Maybe you have more time to pray for the church. That would be brilliant. Maybe you simply get along side one or two people at the back of church, or take the time to visit one or two in need. Well it all counts. Every part matters, and when one bit is not functioning the whole body is affected. Each of Godís people are to do works of service for the benefit of the body. Are you involved? Or are you just sitting on the deck in the lounging enjoying the ride. Well if so, let me gently warn you that you have not understood what church in the Bible is all about. Because as a church we are to mirror the Trinityís diversity.

3) The Church should reflect the Trinityís Hierarchy

But then finally, the church should reflect the Trinityís hierarchy. Now we saw two weeks ago, that within the Trinity, there is equality of relationship. The Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit are each fully God. And yet in terms of their relationships to one another, there is a godly hierarchy. We saw that the Father is the one who sends the Son into the world, and the Son submits to his Fatherís will. The Father predestines us to be conformed to the image of the Son. The Father creates the world through the Son. And never are those roles reversed. So the Son does not send the Father. The Son does not allow the Father to die on the cross. The Son does not predestine us to be conformed to the image of the Father. And we could mention many other verses which say the same thing. Similarly with the Spirit. The Spirit proceeds from the Father and the Son and it the Father who pours out the Spirit on his people because of the saving work of Jesus the Son. And this hierarchy within the Trinity is not something that is made up just to save men and women like you and me. It is something that has happened for all eternity, because it is the way the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit have always related. These are eternal truths. So it means that the concept of a loving submission to another person, or the concept of authority and headship and hierarchy, are not in and of themselves wrong or bad things. They are good because they are truths eternally practised within God the Trinity himself.

And as we saw last time, that humble submission to a loving authority is to be reflected in male-female relationships within marriage. The wife submits to the husband, as he is he head, and he is to love his wife as Christ loved the church. For Christ is the head of the church. And for the one submitting there is no inequality or servitude. It is question of equal but different. Equal in status, different in responsibility, just as it is within the Trinity.

But we see now that those same truths of equal but different, of loving authority and submission are found in the church as well. The Trinitarian hierarchy is seen in the way men and women fulfil their roles in the church as well. Now sadly time permits going into huge detail on this, and the topic merits a sermon or two in its own right. But just for a moment, come with me to 1 Corinthians 11. Now here Paul is talking to a local church facing particular problems. And it appears in this passage that one of the problems Paul was facing was the inappropriate blurring of male and female roles in the church. Itís possible that the freedom now found in Christ was causing some to misunderstand how they should behave in church, particularly amongst the women. But Paul argues that there are certain principles concerning male-female relationships which need to be observed so that God is honoured in the congregation. And notice how he argues in verse 3 from Trinitarian and creation principles. Verse 3: "Now I want you to realise that the head of every man is Christ and the head of the woman is man, and the head of Christ is God." Paul is talking here about authority structures within the Trinity and the church. Just as the Father is head over the Son, so the man is head over the woman. And that principle, which Paul will later argue from creation as well, is seen in the workings of the church fellowship. So here in 1 Corinthians 11, some of the women were wearing their hair in culturally inappropriate ways which was blurring the lines between men and women. There is a right and godly submission of women to male headship. And elsewhere in 1 Timothy 2 Paul argues that such male headship means that it is inappropriate for a woman to have a teaching position over men in a local church. So one application of this truth is that the teaching elders in a church should be male and not female, or the vicar needs to male and nor female, or as is being discussed in the Church of England today, the bishops must be male and not female. Now its extremely important to say that this does not mean that women have no part to play in the teaching life of the local church. In 1 Corinthians and 1 and 2 Timothy and Titus women have key roles in the local churches especially in teaching other women and having oversight over children. Itís one reason why its is vital to have women on a church team in full time paid employment. And again we must not assume that male headship means denigrating women or downplaying their status. Again the principle is equal in status but different in responsibility. And the scriptures teach it consistently. So as it is within the Trinity, so it is within marriage and the church.

Now it has to be acknowledged that there are those who take a different view, perhaps within our fellowship here. And we need to bear in mind what we saw in Ephesians 4 that we have unity in the gospel, and we need to make every effort to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. In other words we might graciously disagree but we need to lay aside our differences for the sake of the gospel. And yes, such teaching is counter cultural, with all the talk of equality in male- female relationship both in status and responsibility. But just because itís counter cultural does not mean its wrong or we shouldnít obey. In fact, God says things which are always for our good, even if they are hard to swallow in our particular cultural context. And the fact is such teaching springs not from the culture of the first century, but from the very being of God. Because even with the Trinity there is loving submission and headship. And as such the church should reflect the Trinityís hierarchy.

You see the doctrine of the Trinity is not just some ivory tower matter, something for crusty theologians to ponder whilst sipping tea in their university rooms. This is something which impacts you and me in our relationships and in our church. Because contrary to what the world thinks, we are not all individuals doing what we want. We are a family, a community of people gathered by God for his glory. And as such we reflect his nature and character as Trinity, both in unity, in diversity and in hierarchy.

Copyright information: The sermon texts are copyright and are available for personal use only. If you wish to use them in other ways, please contact us for permission.