8/1/21 – Pentecost 10 – “The Gift of Unity” – Ephesians 4:1-16

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.

1. Our text for this morning is the Epistle Reading from Ephesians 4. We will especially be focusing on verses 11-16. But before we can zero in on those verses, I want to take a few moments to summarize what happens in verses 1-10, which are important to setting up our portion of the text. St. Paul begins Ephesians chapter 4 with a call to be a person of unity. He says, “I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to talk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called…eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” (Ephesians 4:1, 3). In verse 2, though, Paul explains what it means to be a person of unity. It means being characterized by four things: 1.) humility, 2.) gentleness, 3.) patience, 4.) bearing with one another in love. This is what it means to be transformed by the unity of the Gospel. This is the kind of attitude which the Gospel engenders in us. This attitude and the unity which comes with it finds its source in our One God and Father, as Paul goes on to say. It comes by faith in our One Lord Jesus Christ who has defeated the powers of sin, death, and the devil through his life, death, and resurrection and has brought us into his family through One Baptism. And this faith that we have been given comes through the One Holy Spirit who brings us unity from the ascended Jesus. Got all that? There’s a lot going on in these verses which I have tried to summarize concisely, but let me sum this all up even more simply: Unity is ours from the Father by the Son through the Spirit. How does this happen? Well, Paul explains this in verses 11-16.

2. As we transition into the text we will especially focus on this morning, I need to to make something clear. Paul has a major assumption in this text: When Jesus ascended to the right hand of the Father, he didn’t leave his church alone—He gave concrete gifts to lead and guide his church. Beginning in verse 11, Paul starts to talk about one of these concrete gifts, and it’s not what you might think. Paul’s not talking about the Bible. He’s not even talking about the Sacraments…he talks about something else: “And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers…” (Ephesians 4:11). I’m going to pause here before going any further because the way we understand this verse frames how we understand what follows. Paul discusses five roles: apostles, prophets, evangelists, shepherds, and teachers. All five of these roles were basically called to do the same thing (as we’ll see). These five roles were different callings for carrying out the one Office of the Holy Ministry. All five roles were tasked with being Christ’s representatives in a slightly different way. The Apostles and Evangelists were foundational roles in the Early Church. The Apostles were commissioned by Christ himself to speak the words that he gave directly to them. The Evangelists (some of whom happened to be Apostles as well) were tasked with transferring this apostolic message into written form. The Prophets and Teachers were roles that lasted a bit longer. They both traveled around to various churches to encourage and instruct them. The Prophets would bring encouragement with direct revelation from the Lord where the Teachers were primarily responsible for disseminating the apostolic faith in the time before the written Scriptures were widely disbursed. The role of Shepherd (or “Pastor”, as we tend to call it in English) was responsible for speaking Christ’s Word as taught by the Apostles and nourishing the flock of a particular location with Christ’s Sacraments. In present day, only the role of Pastor has really endured, but the work is still the same: to shepherd and guide the church on Christ’s behalf.

3. The question is, how does a Pastor shepherd and guide the church on Christ’s behalf? There’s a story which answers this question nicely. It’s told by Hershael Work, a professor at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. Prof. York says: “On one of my trips to Israel I once say a man behind a flock of sheep, driving them down the road by holding out two long sticks, one on either side, in an attempt to force them to stay together in from of him. Puzzled that I had never seen a [Middle Eastern] shepherd lead his sheep like that, I asked by guide, Zvi, ‘Why is that shepherd driving his sheep that way? I’ve never seen that before.’ ‘Oh,’ he answered. ‘That’s not a shepherd. That’s a butcher. He has bought those sheep and new he has to drive them to the slaughter house. They won’t follow him, because they don’t know him. He can’t lead them, so he has to drive the.’” The point of the story is this: Shepherds lead from the front; butchers drive from behind. Leading sheep from behind is a Western sheepherder’s practice. They utilize sheep dogs and try to corral the sheep that way because they aren’t used to the more ancient practice. In Bible times (both Old and New Testament times) the idea of driving sheep from behind would have been unthinkable. Shepherds led from the front. The shepherd would walk ahead of the flock singing and speaking. The sheep would hear his voice and follow him. It’s no doubt that Jesus had this image in mind in John 10:27 when he said: “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me.” Shepherds lead the flock by calling to them and allowing them to follow.

4. How does a Pastor do this for Christ’s flock? Paul explains in verse 12 of our reading: “…[the Pastors have been given] to equip the saints, for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ.” Now, admittedly, there is a debate among scholars about how many commas belong in this verse, but I won’t bore you with the details of that argument. The point is that Pastors are called to do three things: 1.) “to equip the saints” so that they are prepared to follow the Good Shepherd in the face of life’s struggles, 2.) “for the work of ministry”, that is, preaching Christ’s Word and administering his Sacraments to the flock, 3.) “for building up the body of Christ”, which is done by bringing new believers into the body and guiding all believers to deeper faith. The goal of a pastor’s shepherding is ultimately one thing: to bring the gift of unity to Christ’s people.

5. Paul unpacks this as our reading concludes: “…[the pastor does these things] until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carries about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes. Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love” (Ephesians 4:13-16). Christ gives the gift of unity to his church through the Word proclaimed and the Sacraments administered. The question is, will you maintain that unity here or will you undermine it? It’s so easy to think that we’re safe amongst our brothers and sisters in Christ, so the way we act doesn’t matter. But it does. What’s at stake is not the true unity of the church but your continued connection to it. So, my friends, cling to the gift of unity given to us by Christ. As Paul says in verse 8, Christ has taken captive your sin & the death that you deserve. You are free from that! And now the ascended Christ continues to give the gift of unity to his church through his Word proclaimed and his Sacraments administered. I pray that all of us would cling to and treasure this most precious gift of unity.

In the name of Jesus. Amen.

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