January 22, 2017
The apostle Paul frequently referred to the church as a body, illustrating that the whole is made up of many different parts functioning together as one. Preaching from Ephesians 4, Alistair Begg helps us understand that our union with Christ is what makes us one body. The foundation of our unity isn’t membership in an organization but the Holy Spirit, who indwells each believer. Those who are in Christ are called to a unity that defies cultural expectations and testifies to the power and grace of God, who makes us one in Christ.
Sermon Transcript: Print
I invite you to turn with me to Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians. First Corinthians chapter 12, and we will read from verse 12.
First Corinthians 12:12:
“For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and all were made to drink of one Spirit.
“For the body does not consist of one member but of many. If the foot should say, ‘Because I[’m] not a hand, I do not belong to the body,’ that would not make it any less a part of the body. And if the ear should say, ‘Because I[’m] not an eye, I do not belong to the body,’ that would not make it any less a part of the body. If the whole body were an eye, where would be the sense of hearing? If the whole body were an ear, where would be the sense of smell? But as it is, God arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as he chose. If all were a single member, where would the body be? As it is, there are many parts, yet one body.
“The eye cannot say to the hand, ‘I have no need of you,’ nor again the head to the feet, ‘I have no need of you.’ On the contrary, the parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, and on those parts of the body that we think less honorable we bestow the greater honor, and our unpresentable parts are treated with greater modesty, which our … presentable parts do not require. But God has so composed the body, giving greater honor to the part that lacked it, that there may be no division in the body, but that the members may have the same care for one another. If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together.
“Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it. And God has appointed in the church first apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then miracles, then gifts of healing, helping, administrating, and various kinds of tongues. Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers? Do all work miracles? Do all possess gifts of healing? Do all speak with tongues? Do all interpret? But earnestly desire the higher gifts.
“And I will show you a still more excellent way.”
Amen. We thank God for his Word.
Having read from 1 Corinthians 12 by way of cross-reference, I invite you to turn to Ephesians and to chapter 4 as we continue our studies in Paul’s letter to the church in Ephesus.
And as we turn to the Bible, we turn to God in prayer:
Our gracious God, we thank you that now we turn together to your Holy Word. We’re not now here in order to listen to the meanderings of some man’s mind—well-intentioned ethical directives, whatever else—but rather that we might have a divine encounter with you, the living God; that we might have the Word of God illumined to us by the power of the Spirit of God, in order that we might be drawn afresh to the Son of God and, in the reality of that, drawn into sweet communion with one another. For we pray in Christ’s name. Amen.
Well, let’s read verses 4, 5, and 6, which is where we are. We won’t get into this hardly at all, but at least we can break in this morning: “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.” You’ll notice that this is a Trinitarian passage—hence our singing of “Holy, Holy, Holy.” It wasn’t random. It was purposeful: that we’d be reminded of the fact that God is one-in-three and three-in-one. And you will notice verse 4 refers to the Spirit of God, verse 5 to the Son of God, and verse 6 to God the Father.
Now, for any who are just joining us, we’ve been through the first three chapters of Ephesians, and we have noted and tried to make it clear to one another that the first three chapters are essentially doctrinal—that Paul is laying down the nature of God’s purpose from all of eternity, what it means to be included in Christ, the wonder of what he has done in breaking down walls and barriers between the Jew and the gentile and making a whole new body and a whole “new man,” as he puts it—namely, this one that is “in Christ.”
And having dealt with that, at the beginning of chapter 4, he moves, as he does routinely in his letters, from the doctrinal to the practical. He’s going to now say, “Here will be the evidences, the implications of the instruction that I’ve just given you.” And you will notice if your Bible is open that he is going to immediately urge the believers there in Ephesus to, as he puts it, “walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called.” In other words, he wants them to live in such a way that the unity which is theirs already in the Lord Jesus Christ may first of all be maintained and then in turn, as we will see, might be displayed.
And we noted in an earlier study—verse 3—that those who are receiving this word are to be those who are “eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.” It’s a straightforward observation but an important one: that they are not being charged with creating the unity but rather with cultivating it. And the experience and the enjoyment of harmony or unity in the gospel is going to be when those who are in Christ are taking seriously what that actually means.
Because let’s understand that this group to whom he writes, of probably various congregations in this Ephesus area, were now radically different from their surrounding culture. They were not simply slightly different; they were completely different. They had once been caught up in all of these things, as he’s going to go on and speak about many of them and to say, “You know, you’re not supposed to be like this. You were once like this. And the reason you’re not supposed to be like it is not because you’re trying to make yourselves acceptable to God but because God, the blessed one from all of eternity, has reached down into your wretched, pitiable lives and has brought you into Christ. And so now you shouldn’t look and act and seem like those who are around you.”
In other words, the unity of the gospel will be compromised in Ephesus or in Cleveland to the extent that those who are in Christ find ourselves being far more influenced by our being in our culture than being in Jesus. So if we live in a culture—which, I think, to a certain extent we do—a culture that encourages people to be horribly opinionated, to be selfishly ambitious, to be perniciously aggressive, then to the extent that that is then found within the lives and communion of those who are professing to be in Christ, then obviously, the light of the gospel is diminished significantly.
Now, these kind of ugly weeds are not, says Paul, to be tolerated. In Jesus, you’re supposed to become a flowering beauty. And the beauty that is to be seen, as he’s pointed out in verse 2, will contain “humility” and “gentleness” and “patience.”
Humility is a prerequisite for harmony. Imagine at the Christmas concerts, if we’d come to the Christmas concerts, and on one particular evening, the choir just went off its rocker, and the tenor section began to become peculiarly competitive and decided to sing louder than all the rest of the choir; and the altos became, for whatever reason, jealous of the sopranos, and they decided to sing far too fast; and the bass section, completely bemused by all of this, just stopped singing altogether. Well, what would that have been like? The noise would have been horrendous, and the visitors would have started to leave.
Well, you can make the application, can’t you? It’s a picture. Imagine that happens in the church amongst the people of God. One group begins to go this way. Another group goes that way. One group gets fed up and goes home—takes their ball and heads for the hills and so on. It’s not to be this way. It’s not to be this way, by God’s design, and it is not to be this way, by God’s enabling.
Paul isn’t encouraging these believers in Ephesus to try and become what they are not.
He is urging them to become what they are. And it is of vital importance that we remind ourselves, as we’ve tried to say, that the doctrinal provides the foundation for the practical—that the order is important, and it is imperative that they’re always kept together.
What was true of these individuals? He’s already told them: they share the same blessings in Jesus. In chapter 2, the barriers that once were huge between them have been “broken down” in Jesus. In chapter 3, they are now “fellow heirs” and “members of the same body, and partakers of the promise in Christ” and “through the gospel.” So in other words, this is a gospel church to which he writes. This is not some organization of religious types. This is a church that has been established as a result of the work of the gospel—the power of the Holy Spirit opening blind eyes, softening hard hearts, bringing people from all kinds of different backgrounds into the unity which is expressed here in this section.
Now, interestingly, having belabored the point that he is moving from the doctrinal to the practical, in actual fact, when you look at this, he’s actually right back at the doctrinal again, isn’t he? Because he’s now giving us instruction on the nature of the church. And we’re going to have to wait, really, until verse 17 till he gets back to “Now … I say and testify in the Lord, that you must no longer walk as the Gentiles do.” He started that in verse 1: “Walk in a manner worthy of the calling. Do it like this and this and this.” And then he starts to give instruction about the church.
And many of our problems as Christian believers is because we don’t understand the church. We don’t understand the nature of what it means to be placed in Christ and embedded with one another. It’s not something that is an added extra to Christian experience. The fierce individualism of our nation is such that we view most things in that way: “Well, do I feel that I will gain from this? Do I feel that I would like to participate in this? After all, it’s really about me, and what I want, and how I’m doing, and where I’m going, and how I’m spending my time.” No, it’s not! It’s actually not! Because the same grace that reconciles us to God brings us into relationships with one another—the relationships which then define our existence. It’s a truism, but it’s a truism ’cause it’s true: that God is working to put us all together in a new heaven and a new earth. Together! You’re not going to live in your own little parcel all by yourself, excluded from everybody. No! So now we’re supposed to be getting ready.
Now, if we wanted to work our way through the sixteen verses, I’ll just give you a possible outline here, which we’re not going to use. In verse 3, he’s called on them “to maintain the unity.” Down in verse 12, he’s going to encourage them in relationship to “the work[s] of ministry.” And by the time he gets to the conclusion of this section, he is reminding them that they are to be growing in maturity.
So, first of all, “Maintain this unity. Get involved in ministry. Grow up to maturity.” And again, in relationship to the insert this morning, if you want to grow up to maturity, then get involved in ministry, because it is involvement in ministry that gives expression to the nature of our unity.
So, you say, “Well, let’s begin.” All right. “There is one body.” “There is one body.” That’s as far as we’ll go. He provides, you will notice, a seven-fold foundation upon which the unity is built. Seven times he uses the word “one.” “One.” “One body,” “one Spirit,” “one hope,” “one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all.”
Now, let’s just make the point—it’s a small point but an important point—that he is stressing unity, but he is not calling for uniformity. Uniformity. Unity and uniformity are not necessarily the same. You can put a group of people all in the same uniform in a basketball team and yet not have unity out on the court. You can ask people to all dress in the same way and yet not in their heart of hearts be united. The beautiful thing about the church, as we’ll go on and see later in the chapter, is that the unity is not by the diminishing of diversity, but it is in the embracing of that diversity—hence the picture of the body. And we can all understand that. The various parts of the body are absolutely vital because there is only one body, and no one part has prominence over the others.
Now, Paul uses the body, I think, as his favorite metaphor. He’s already mentioned it twice in chapter 1 and again in chapter 2, and now he comes to it again. He uses other pictures of the church. Here in Ephesus, he has referred to them as “fellow citizens” and as “members” of the same family, as living stones in the temple that God is building. And as we will see in chapter 5, he’s referring to the church as the bride of the Lord Jesus Christ. But this body metaphor, I think, is uppermost in his writing. And actually, I think it may well be unique to Paul. I wonder why? There’s no good answer to the question. I was just letting you know that I wonder why.
And as I wondered, I wondered whether it is not directly tied to his own conversion experience. Because you will recall that when he was on his way to Damascus, “breathing out threatenings and slaughter” to the followers of Jesus, that he encountered Jesus on that road. And the word that came to him from heaven was “Saul, Saul, why [do] you persecut[e] me?” And, of course, Saul’s reaction would not necessarily have been “Well, actually, who are you, Lord? I don’t know. But I wasn’t persecuting you. I was persecuting them.” And then the dawning realization: that for Saul of Tarsus to be involved in the persecution of the followers of Jesus was to be involved in persecuting Jesus. Why? Because of the unique union between Christ, who is the head of the body, and the body itself. You cannot make an impact on one part of the body in isolation from the rest, if the body is fully functional. You can’t say, “I have a problem with my thumb, but it’s got nothing to do with the rest of us.” It’s got everything to do with the rest of you! Localized there, but impinges upon all.
Now, when Paul works this out for his readers in writing both to Corinth, as we’ve seen, and also to Rome, he makes it very clear. This is Romans 12: “For as in one body we have many members, … so we, though many, are one body in Christ, and individually members of one another.” So there is only one body. You only have one body, and so do I. And you have life which animates your body. When that life no longer animates your body, your body will be dead, and it will be dispensed with. That’s his picture.
When he says there is only one body, what he’s saying is there is only one church. There is only one church, because there is only “one Spirit.” And the same Spirit that indwells you, as an individual in Jesus, indwells the person next to you, who is also in Jesus. It’s the same Spirit. You don’t have your own. It’s the same! But even greater than that, the same Spirit that indwells us this morning is the Spirit that indwelled the Reformers five hundred years ago. The same Spirit that is at work in the people of God in a locale here in North America is the same Spirit that is at work in Northern India and in North Korea and in the heartlands of Europe and so on. That’s what he’s saying. There’s nothing like it in the entire universe! This is not just, like … You can’t find an analogy here in simply organizational structure or in visible unity or in external things. No! It is far more fundamental than that.
There is only “one body,” only one church. Well, how can that be? You drove here this morning. How many churches did you drive past? You drove past a whole ton of churches, didn’t you? And you’re sensible people, and you’re going, “Well, there are church buildings all over the place.” Of course, there are. And Paul knew that there were churches in Ephesus, there were churches in Crete, there were churches in Corinth, and so on. So what’s he saying?
Well, clearly, he’s not talking about the visible entity. He’s talking about the invisible reality. He’s not talking first about the external expression. He’s talking about the essential nature of the church: one body that is made up of all kinds of people from all kinds of places living at all kinds of time in history. That’s why when we say, as we often do, that God is in the business of putting together a company that no one could number, from every tribe and nation and language and tongue, a people of his very own—when we say that, this is what we’re referring to. This is what we’re referring to.
Now, who are these people that make up this “one body”? Well, that’s why the doctrinal precedes the practical. You say, “Well, who is he talking to? What is it that makes them this ‘one body’?” If you’re here this morning, you’re saying to yourself, “Well, I don’t know if I’m in it or I’m not in it.” Don’t confuse a question about where your “membership” is in an external structure for the moment. Just go back to the beginning, and you’ll have the answer to your question. All who are in Christ are in this body. Chapter 1, the way he begins—verse 3: “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing.”
And we’ve said this again and again, but it’s important to note: that Paul would not have asked somebody, “Are you a Christian?” He would have asked them, “Are you in Christ? Have you been united with Christ? Are you in union with the Lord Jesus Christ?” That’s the way he drives this home all the way through the opening chapter: “In him,” verse 11, “we have obtained an inheritance.” “In him.” There’s no inheritance outside of him! Our inheritance is “in him.” Our adoption is “in him.” Our security is “in him.” Our salvation is “in him.” “The Lord is my salvation.” What does that mean? It means that there is salvation only in him and is known only by those who are placed into him. Who places us into him? God does! How does he do it? Miraculously! Will we know? Absolutely. Will it be the same in every case? Probably not. But everyone will be able to say, “The wonder of it is in this: that I, who was once outside of Christ—‘I once was a stranger to [God] and to [grace],’ to quote the old hymns—once I was proud and believed I saw everything. But that has changed.” And the relationship into which we are brought in Christ is a relationship with one another.
You see how at odds this is with any attempt on the part of any church to claim that they are actually the only true church? Every so often, when you’re traveling certain places, and you’ll come on a church that’s got so many adjectives in its name that it’s basically trying to make sure that it’s got everything completely covered and has excluded everybody else that doesn’t like the adjectives. So it’s not simply Roman Catholicism that has done this, although Roman Catholicism has done it traditionally. Because traditionally, the Roman Catholic Church has claimed throughout all of history to be the only true church—read Roman Catholic dogma—and consequently that other visible churches, if they are to have any hope, on the basis of real Roman Catholic theology, must somehow or another find their way back to Mother Church—for in Mother Church, which is the only true church, there is security and hope and peace.
Well, of course, the Bible is not saying that. The Bible is not saying that. It’s clearly possible to be members of a visible church and yet not members of the body of Christ. I mean, somebody gave me a Steph Curry T-shirt for my Christmas, ’cause I like to wear that just to annoy people around here. Well, I can wear it and, like, you know, represent. But anyone looks at me says, “Well, I’ll tell you what, you’re not a Warrior. You may wear the jersey, but you’re clearly not.” You can get involved in the externals of a church and not be in Christ.
That’s why, incidentally, we interview people for membership at Parkside. And when we interview people, we’re saying to them, “Tell us, if you may, about how you came to faith in Jesus. Or if someone asks you, ‘What does it mean to be in Christ?’ what would you tell them?” And sometimes the answer is “I haven’t got the foggiest idea.” And so it becomes an opportunity for those who are conducting the interview to explain the very nature of what it means to be in Christ.
And some, of course, have got a story to tell that is quite dramatic, and others don’t have one that is dramatic. But what will be true of everyone is that they would be able to say something along the lines of Ephesians 1:13–14: that I “heard the word of truth, I discovered that it was the gospel of my salvation, I believed it, and the Holy Spirit has sealed me. Things are different now. Things have changed. I used to think there was something I had to do, something I had to observe, something I had to try and engender. But I’ve realized that that’s not the case at all.” And in the interviews, all of this would come out.
It’s the same when we conduct baptisms. Not everybody gives a testimony of their particular journey. We don’t require it of everyone. We require of everyone to answer the questions: “Do you believe in God the Father?” “I do.” “Do you believe in his Son, who loved you and gave himself for you?” I mean, go out and ask the man in the street that question. You get pancakes after church and say, “Oh, by the way, just before I pay my bill, do you believe in the Son of God who loved you and gave himself for you?” You’ll find out the difference between what it means to believe and what it means to be an unbeliever. The person’d say, “I don’t know what you’re talking about. You’re talking through your hat.”
The third question we ask is “Do you believe in the Holy Spirit, who sanctifies you?” “I do. I do. I do.” Then we say, “Upon your profession of repentance towards God and of faith in our Lord Jesus Christ, we now baptize you in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” What are we doing? We are fulfilling what the New Testament says, and we’re baptizing these individuals not on assurance of salvation but upon their profession of faith. They are professing to be the followers of Jesus. Not all who profess to be his followers actually prove to be his followers. We’re not in charge of that.
That’s why Paul is saying what he’s saying: “I urge you now to walk in a manner worthy of the calling by which you have been called,” so that God does not justify those whom he does not sanctify—so that the outworking of the final three chapters of Ephesians provide indications to both the believer and to the watching world that that which is there as the doctrinal basis of being united with Christ is now seen and worked out in the everyday life of this person.
Well, let me let me just work this out at one more level, because I think some people stumble over this. If I listen carefully, I’m sure they do. And that is because few of us, if any, would have been able to answer the question “So tell me about how you became a Christian?” and we answer in terms of Saul of Tarsus. You know: “Well, I was going down Euclid Avenue, and all of a sudden, there was a light shining,” and so on. If you come in and tell us that, we’ll probably send you for a little help somewhere. But few would be able to answer in terms of Saul of Tarsus. But some of us have had a very dramatic conversion. Some of us have come out of, you know, a real mess, and we have to be honest and say, “This is what I was.” Others of us have not, and we’re unable to speak in those terms. Some are able to say, “Yes, it was on the twenty-ninth of October. I was at such and such a place, and I was with my friend,” and so on. And somebody else couldn’t even tell you the day or the time. And the danger is that if you make a form of expression of what it means to be in Christ, as a means of being identified with an external, local church such as our own, then actually we probably create a potential barrier that ought not to exist.
You see, some of us have come to faith quietly, gradually, almost unobservably. It’s happened over a period of time. Some of us, as men, were change jinglers. You know who you are or who you were. When we sang the songs, your mouth never moved. I used to see you. I can still see you. You just jangle your change, just do something, make a small contribution. But there’s no singing. Why would you sing? Why would you take words like “The Lord is my salvation”? You’re an observer. You’re a bystander. But you began to listen. And you even surprised yourself: you started to sing, just a little bit. And then you found yourself saying, “You know, I think I should get a notebook here and make one or two notes about the Bible.” Before, you used to tell your wife, “Why do you even bring that Bible?”
What happened? Well, you see, you’re beginning to get cultivation in your heart. The Spirit of God is at work. And when you come and you say, “I’d like to identify and get involved here at Parkside,” that’s the story that you tell.
Now, just because you weren’t a Hells Angel and fell off your motorbike and banged your head and were converted, you know, it doesn’t mean you’re not converted.
I know not how the Spirit moves,
Convincing men of sin,
Revealing Jesus through the Word,
Creating faith in him.
Constituent elements will always be present. Essentially, however way it is expressed, the person will say, “Well, you know, I actually discovered that I began to be convicted. I used not to really pay much attention to this stuff about the sin or anything. I figured, ‘Yeah, there’s plenty of sinners, but I’m not one of them.’ And then I realized, ‘Yes, I am.’ And then that conviction began to burn into me, and then I realized and became convinced that this death of Jesus on the cross was because of the sin of which I’d been convicted. And then I realized that it was one thing to know that, and it was another thing to believe that, and I believed it. I’m not sure I believed it right, but I certainly got started on believing it. And I was converted. And then I discovered that this thing about the church and the body actually meant something. It mattered. And I was brought into communion with those who similarly believe.”
Well, I’ll finish in this way—to make this point in a way that perhaps that hasn’t. Martyn Lloyd-Jones tells a story of an old minister who, in making this observation, contrasted two men who were blind and were healed by Jesus: one who’s recorded in John chapter 9 and the other who’s recorded in Mark chapter 8. You can do it for homework. And in John chapter 9, Jesus spits on the ground, makes clay, rubs it together, puts it on the man’s eyes and sends him to the pool of Siloam to be washed, and he comes out seeing. In Mark chapter 8, there’s no making of clay. And Jesus puts spittle on the man’s eyes, and he says to him, “Can you see anything?” And the man says, “Well, I can see men, but they look like trees walking.” And Jesus lays his hands on him again, and he says, “Can you see?” He says, “Yeah, I can see good now.”
So the old minister says, “Can you imagine these two guys meeting one another in the street?”—the John 9 fellow and the Mark 8 guy. And the John 9 man says to the Mark 8 guy, “Hey, what was that like when he spat on the ground and started making that clay?”
And the Mark 8 guy goes, “Well, he never did that.”
“Oh, oh. Well, wow. Oh. Well, how about… Tell me how you felt when he said, ‘Go wash in the pool of Siloam’? What were you thinking about when he said that?”
“I wasn’t thinking about anything, ’cause he didn’t tell me to go wash in the pool of Siloam.”
The guy goes, “Well, I think… Yeah, I think you have… You’ve got to get washed in the pool of Siloam. It’s absolutely of vital importance.” And as he presses him more and more, eventually he says to the guy, “Look, I don’t actually believe that you’re healed at all. You’ve got to still be blind.”
Because, you see, he took the way that Jesus had dealt with him as the mechanism whereby Jesus was going to deal with his friend. And the old minister said, “And on that occasion, two new denominations were established: the Muddites and the Anti-Muddites.”
You see, we’re so prone to do that, aren’t we? You see, there is only one body, because there is only one Spirit. And to that one Spirit we can come when we come back this evening.
Father, thank you that your Word is clear. We’re the ones who cloud it up. Lord, grant that the words of my mouth and mediation of our hearts may be found acceptable in your sight, Lord, our health and strength and our Redeemer. For we pray in Jesus’ name. Amen.
 Ephesians 2:15 (ESV).
 Ephesians 2:13 (ESV).
 Ephesians 2:14 (ESV).
 Ephesians 3:6 (ESV).
 Ephesians 2:19 (ESV).
 See Ephesians 2:22.
 See Ephesians 5:25–33.
 Acts 9:1 (KJV).
 Acts 9:4 (ESV).
 Romans 12:4–5 (ESV).
 See Revelation 7:9.
 Robert Murray M’Cheyne, “I Once Was a Stranger” (1837).
 See Ephesians 1:13֪֪–14.
 Daniel Webster Whittle, “I Know Whom I Have Believed” (1883).
 See John 9:1–7.
 Mark 8:23–25 (paraphrased).
 See Psalm 19:14.
Copyright © 2023, Alistair Begg. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations for sermons preached on or after November 6, 2011 are taken from The ESV® Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
For sermons preached before November 6, 2011, unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are taken from The Holy Bible, New International Version® (NIV®), copyright © 1973 1978 1984 by Biblica, Inc.TM Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.