In two weeks, members of the Maraisburg Church of the Nazarene will vote on a new pastor. Here is the sermon I was honored to preach there this morning, in slightly modified form.
SCRIPTURE READING: Ephesians 4:1-16 (Common English Bible)
There’s something about the word “secret” that draws attention. Marketers know this. Take KFC for example. They draw us in with talk of the Colonel’s “secret recipe” made from 11 tasty herbs and spices. Or what about the website, WebMD? A recent article spoke about “10 Diet secrets for lasting weight loss success.”
If a marketer had been assigned to the Apostle Paul, what might she have labelled Ephesians 4:1-16? Perhaps she would have spoken of “Paul’s 3 secrets for church unity and growth.” And here they are:
1) Keep the focus on Christ.
2) Find your niche and fill it.
3) Above all, let us love one another.
II. KEEP THE FOCUS ON CHRIST
When you read Ephesians 4:1-16, there’s no question about who the star of the show is. It’s Christ!
v. 1 – Paul was a prisoner for whom? The Lord Jesus Christ
v. 7 – our gifting is from Christ
vv. 9-10 – It is Christ who descended to earth and who ascended to Heaven
v. 12 – We are the body of Christ.
v. 13 – As his body, we are striving for the standard of the fullness of Christ.
v. 15 – We are to “grow in every way into Christ.”
Theologians like fancy words. They would say that our faith must be Christocentric. In other words, Jesus must be at the center.
By no means do I agree with all that the Roman Catholic Church teaches. However, one of things that I really like is the sanctuary. When I go into a Catholic church, very often there is a cross at the front, in the center, a cross depicting the crucified Christ. The old hymn says it well:
Since my eyes were fixed on Jesus
I’ve lost sight of all besides.
So enchained my spirit’s vision
Looking at the crucified.
It is far too easy for us as the church to be distracted by minor things and turn our gaze from Christ. We are tempted to put our eyes on minor things:
Why did our pastor not do that? Isn’t that her job?
Why would sister so-and-so say such a thing?
Why was the music too loud this morning? Why was it too soft?
And when we start down that negative path, our eyes are diverted from the One who brings us together and the One in whom we find our unity! I’m glad that I’m part of a denomination that has chosen to put Jesus in our name. We are the Church of the Nazarene. Who is the Nazarene? The Nazarene is Jesus Christ.
Yet what kind of a Christ do we preach? We preach a Christ who reaches out to the marginalized, the forgotten of our society. Because Jesus loves people, he is never content to leave us where we are. Rather, Jesus is all about setting us on a new path. We serve Christus Victor, the Christ who is victorious over the unholy Trinity of sin, death, and the devil. Because Jesus loves us so much, he can never be satisfied to leave us mired in our sin.
As the Church of the Nazarene, we’ve understood that historically. For example, in Kansas City, Missouri, in the early decades of the 20th century, we started a rescue mission for alcoholics, and to this day the churches of the Kansas City area support that rescue mission, loving the poor and homeless, many of whom are caught in the trap of substance abuse.
But who are the other marginalized people of our day, right here in South Africa? If someone stood up among us and admitted that he’s addicted to drugs, asking for God’s help and ours, would we not help him? Yet I wonder what our reaction would be if someone stood up in church and admitted being attracted to the same sex, then asked for God’s help and ours? Would we distance ourselves and reply: “No, there’s nothing to be done for that one”? Would we not welcome them with outstretched arms?
And so we keep Christ the Saviour, the one victorious over sin, death, and the devil, at the center of all we do. It is this Jesus that will draw people to himself and to his church.
III. FIND YOUR NICHE AND FILL IT
Besides keep our focus on Christ, Paul adds a second secret for church unity and growth. Each of us is called to find our niche and fill it.
In the Common English Bible, the last 5 words of v. 16 sums this lesson up well:
…each one does their part.
The danger of us a a congregation having a salaried pastor is that we might be tempted to say: “I’ve stood in the gap during the interim. Now let the pastor do it.” Imagine what an American football match would be like if our team adopted that attitude. Let’s suppose we sent in our quarterback to take on the entire opposing team. Do you think we could possible win that way? The pastor is like the quarterback, calling the plays, rallying the team on to victory. The pastor has a key role, but is just one member of the team. If we want to win, we must all play together.
Paul realized this when he wrote in 4:11 about apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teacher. It would take another sermon to thoroughly explain each of those offices. For us today, what matters is the verse that follows, verse 12 –
“His (God’s) purpose was to equip God’s people for the work of serving and building up the body of Christ…”
The best approach to pastoral ministry is the team approach. We should be prepared to have our new pastor equip us to help him perform important tasks. For example, when he goes to visit the sick at the hospital, can he not go with others, to train them how to perform this ministry? The truth is, we may have one pastor, but we are all called to ministry.
Last week we had a row of children up here to sing at the front of the sanctuary. We need people who have gifts of working with children to help in children’s ministry. Each of us has a gift to bring. It’s a matter of seeing what the needs are, knowing what we’re good at, and plugging in. When we returned from home assignment, I knew that I had two primary areas of gifting where I could serve, so I spoke to one of the board members about it. Now we meet for Bible study every Sunday morning at 9 a.m. It’s going pretty well, don’t you think? Come join us!
What do you have to offer? Plug in, and make your contribution to the body of Christ.
IV. ABOVE ALL, LET US LOVE ONE ANOTHER
How can we be a vibrant, healthy church? First, let’s keep our focus on Christ, the kind of Jesus who is victor over sin, death, and the devil. Secondly, God calls pastors whose job is to lead a ministry team with you and me as part of it. What contribution are you making to that team? Finally, and most importantly, let us love one another.
“Love” is a word used repeatedly throughout Ephesians 4. Verse 2 reminds us: “Accept each other with love.” Accepting each other means not necessarily getting our way. It means realizing that though we may have done things differently, we are a diverse people. I’m so glad that God didn’t make us all what I call “cookie cutter Christians.” Then in v. 15 Paul invites us to “speak the truth with love.” Some time ago, I met with a leader. As we talked, he publicly said some things that troubled me, so later I gently challenged him to not bring up in public those certain matters any more. The next day, he thanked me. “Dr Crofford,” he said, “it has been a long time since someone talked to me like that, with a loving, fatherly tone. I’ll be careful not to publicly bring up those things again.” And there are times where it might be easier for us to remain silent, yet something must be said. We must pray and ask God to give us the right words, then speak up with love.
Sometimes loving one another has nothing to do with the words we speak. Instead, our actions bespeak our love. Last week, Pope Francis had an audience with many people. He had already personally received more than 500 admirers when he looked up and saw an ugly man approaching. Disfigured by a neurological skin disease that had left boils over most of his body, including his face, he approached the seated Pope, knelt, and laid his head in Francis’ lap. The Pope took the man’s face in his hands, prayed for him, blessed him, then leaned over and kissed his boiled forehead.
If hurting people – and let’s face it, we’re all hurting in one way or another – come here to Maraisburg church and find that kind of love, these pews will not be able to hold everyone. Even our balcony will be overflowing.
The Apostle Paul gives 3 secrets of a unified and growing church. Such a church is focused upon Christ, a Jesus who loves us enough to transform our lives. In a healthy, vibrant church, ministry is done not by one person, but by a team. Each of us has a gift of service to bring to the body of Christ. What is yours? Finally, people will make this their spiritual home as we love one another as Christ has loved us. Let us pray that God will give even better days to the Maraisburg Church of the Nazarene as we reach this community for Christ!