I think that the biggest curse of the modern world is captured in just one question, “Does what I do matter?”
So many of us have vain regrets because we think our lives and what we do doesn’t matter. Dylan reflecting on his life wrote, “I wish I’d been a doctor, Maybe I’d have saved some lives that had been lost. Maybe I would have done some good in the world, instead of burning every bridge I crossed.”
Why do we carry around these sorts of regrets? Why do we think that what we do won’t matter? Well, there are many messages that we continually receive that feed into this sort of thinking.
First, evolutionary theory constantly tells us we are nothing more than an accidental and random collection of atoms. We come from no one and we end up as nothing. The fate of each of us is programmed into our genes, and there is nothing we do can change it.
Second, the world is too big and my contribution too small to make a difference. My contribution is a drop in the ocean! What’s the point?
Third, and closer to home, too many of us are scarred by the words that continually circle around and around in our heads. These are what I call the ‘death words’ that were said to us as we were growing up. I recall a group of four men I used to meet with as a group, and these four men never sing at church. Why not? Well, a teacher had said to them many years previously when they were part of a choir, “Be quiet! You can’t sing.” These ‘death words’ scarred each of them for life. We have all heard words like this, spoken to us by important people in our lives. Here are some of them, “You idiot! You’re useless! You’ll never amount to anything.” They do get in, and work their insidious and destructive work for decades.
Fourth is the dynamic of coming to a ‘bigger church’ like MBM. You walk in on a Sunday and see everything going on, and it seems to be humming. You might easily think that there is no need for you, and you have nothing to offer, because everything has reached a certain level of ‘slickness’. But this is a superficial way of looking at church. Did you know that at our church, MBM, right now, we have 104 opportunities to serve, a 104 needs that need addressing.
How do we challenge these self-defeating ideas? What we must do is to think God’s thoughts after him. What do I mean? Well, we mustn’t listen to our self-doubts and be immobilized by our deeply rooted negative feelings. We need to put these things aside. And as we look at God’s word, we must say to God, “Show me from your word what it is you would have me do? What can I do that will make an impact for eternity?”
From our passage, Ephesians 4:1-16, I want to make six points from God’s word so that you know and understand that you can and will make a difference.
My first point is from Ephesians chapter 4 verse 1. If you want to make a difference for Christ, you need to know who you are. Verse 1:
As a prisoner for the Lord, then, I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received. (NIV)
What is the calling that you have received? To answer this, you need to know who you are, where you have come from, and where you are going. For Paul urges us to live lives consistent with who we are, where we’re from, and where we are going. And Ephesians elsewhere tells us all these things.
You need to know who you are. You are citizens of heaven, already raised with Christ and seated with him in the heavenly realms (Eph 2:5-6). You have redemption through Christ’s blood, the forgiveness of sins (Eph 1:7).
You also need to know where you have come from. God chose you and adopted you in Christ Jesus before the world was made (Eph 1:4-5, 11). God here is like the billionaire who bursts into the orphanage and says, “You will be coming home with me”.
And you need to know where you are going to end up. The world is going to end with a wedding reception at the close of this age. You are heading for the wedding supper of the lamb—the marriage of Christ to his people, the church (Eph 5:32). So you need to be dressed appropriately. You need to put on your wedding clothes. Now I know that many of you pay good money for those torn jeans that you wear. But few of you turn up to weddings like that. You know that for a wedding you need to dress appropriately, and it’s not in ripped jeans! And our dress code for the wedding to which we are going is ‘the fruit of the Spirit’. We are heading to the wedding reception of Christ, so we need to act like it.
So if you want to make a difference, you need to remember who you are. That’s my first point. But my second point is, if you want to make a difference for Christ, then in his church, relationships are everything.
Look with me at verses 2 to 3:
Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. (NIV)
The church is to reflect, is to mirror, is to copy, the Lord Jesus. What did he do? He “humbled himself even unto death on a cross” (Phil 2:8). Here is the classic fruit of the Spirit: humility, gentleness, patience, and bearing with each other in love. God’s word is very realistic. We bear with each other in love because, well, the church is like a whole lot of porcupines thrown into a suitcase. The mark of the Christian is not the tattoo on your arm with John 3:16 in Greek. The mark of the Christian is the fruit of the Spirit that you can’t fake. It is gentleness, humility, patience, and love. And as Paul says elsewhere, “If I […] have not love, I am nothing (1 Cor 13:2). The maths is simple: the most heroic gift minus love means we are nothing. We aren’t a half or a quarter without love. We are nothing.
Let me apply this need for humility, gentleness, patience, and bearing one another to one area—the consequences of the same-sex marriage survey. The results of the survey are now in. While nearly 5 million Australians voted ‘no’—and many of these were in Western Sydney—the fact is that 62% of Australia voted ‘yes’ to changing the definition of marriage to allow same-sex couples to marry. No real surprises here: just another reminder that Australia has drifted from its Christian heritage. We already knew that we were in the minority, and this decision confirmed it. The results also provide a good argument for migration, because it is religious immigrants who are slowing the drift (at least towards gay marriage). But there are two things the now follow for which we must pray.
First, we must pray that the legislation will provide protection for a wide range of religious freedoms. For example, we want scripture teaching in state schools preserved, as well as the current freedoms churches have to meet in government-owned public buildings.
Second, this change will mean that we will all have some difficult decisions to make, and this will require prayer. Many of us know someone whom we love who is in a same-sex relationship. If they decide to marry, you will most likely be invited to their wedding. What will you do? The pros and cons for going to the wedding, or for staying away, are for another day and another sermon. But for now, let us simply observe that Christians will be found on either side of the fence. And now I would ask of you that, in the heat of debate, you keep this passage in mind. As you disagree with your brother or sister in Christ for going or not going to their child’s, sibling’s, or friend’s same-sex wedding, I want to urge you to “make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace.”
The unity of the Spirit is about relationships within the local church, and love is the greatest argument for Jesus. Let me share with you a story. A teacher in a state school who comes to MBM told me what a gay teacher said to her. The gay teacher say, “the moment I knew you were a Christian, I started building a wall between us. But as I got to know you, things changed.” And then the gay teacher said to her, “Does your church have a class to explain Christianity? I would like to come.” So in the midst of a heated national debate on marriage, a woman in a same-sex relationship wants to know about Jesus, because she got to know a Christian who showed her love.
So if you want to make a difference, point one, you need to remember who you are, point two, relationships are everything, and point three, we make a difference because we know what unites us.
It is amazing that with such differences existing in our church—differences in style, culture, age, gender, personality, relationship status—there is still so much that we share in common. Look at Ephesians 4 verses 5 to 6:
There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to one hope when you were called; one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all. (NIV)
Paul gives us here seven facts that establish our unbreakable unity in Christ. First, we all worship the one God and Father. We share the same heavenly Dad. Second, we all share the same best friend, the Lord Jesus, the Son. Third, the one Spirit dwells among us and within us, the Holy Spirit.
So each of us has the Father, the Son, and the Spirit. The one God and Father chose us and adopted us, the one Lord Jesus died for each of us—and as we frequently say, the ground at the foot of the cross is very flat—and the one Spirit came to make his home with each one of us.
For you do not worship one god and I worship another. You need to understand that these Ephesians before they were Christians once worshipped different gods like Zeus and Hades. As one book on the Greek gods put it, “the gods were said to be cruel, over-sexed, mad or just plain silly.” Take Mr Zeus. Zeus was a serial adulterer, seducing or raping other gods, women, and boys, whenever the fancy took him. In the end, humans cannot rise above the standards of their gods. If there is no unity in the heavens, there will be no unity on earth. In contrast, when you run your hand along the will of Father and Son, it’s so seamless, you can’t tell where one’s will begins and the other’s will ends.
And the oneness of the church mirrors the oneness of God. There is so much diversity in the church, but we share an unbreakable unity. So fourth, we share the same entry point into the body of Christ. For we were all dead in our sins (Eph 2:1), and fifth, we are all saved by grace through the one faith (Eph 2:8). We are all in the one body of Christ, whether we came to faith 3 minutes ago or 33 years ago, whether we are mature or immature. And seventh, we share the same destiny, which is the one hope of heaven. We are all God’s forever people: the ones I’m rubbing shoulders with here and now are the ones I’ll be rubbing shoulders with in heaven for eternity.
You make a difference when you remember who you are, that relationships are everything, that we know what unites us, and point 4, you make a different because your gifts remind the devil that he has lost.
Look with me at Ephesians 4:7-10:
But to each one of us grace has been given as Christ apportioned it. This is why it says: “When he ascended on high, he took many captives and gave gifts to his people.” (What does “he ascended” mean except that he also descended to the lower, earthly regions? He who descended is the very one who ascended higher than all the heavens, in order to fill the whole universe.)
While these verses are complicated, it is clear that Paul is picking up Psalm 68, and that Paul is saying that Jesus in his death and resurrection disarmed the devil, returned to the Father installed as ruler of the universe, and then gave the gifts of the Spirit to each one of us. These gifts are the spoils of Christ’s victory over Satan. So wherever you serve joyfully—as you make coffee, work on the sound desk, serve as car parking attending, play bass, mow the lawn, welcome a visitor, set up a chair, provide morning tea, show hospitality, teach the bible to 5, 10, 15, or 55 year olds—you are sinking another nail into Satan’s coffin. Your service is a constant reminder that at the cross, the satan lost. So we come to point 5.
But to each one of us grace has been given as Christ apportioned it.
When it comes to gifts, not one Christian has missed out. So every Christian has to shift their thinking, from being a consumer to a contributor at church. You have been called to serve on God’s team, and what an honour that is.
Imagine being hand picked for the Australian soccer team to play in the world cup. Then when the first match is about to start—Australia versus Italy—oh no, Italy missed out—Australia versus New Zealand—oh that’s right, they missed out too—you are about to play for the Socceroos against France, with 100,000 in the stadium, and you, who have been chosen to represent Australia, you are no where to be found. Everyone is asking, “Where is he?”, and the answer is “He has gone shopping, he’s fishing, he’s doing his hair”. What! He’s been chosen to play for Australia!
Brothers and sisters, you have been chosen to not only be adopted into God’s family, but you have been called to serve the king of kings. And can I say, that is what you are doing when you become a Christian, and we want to continue to help you identify and use your gifts. For you have been chosen and called to serve.
Identifying and using your gifts to serve Jesus is not just for adults, for but teens and kids. One of the key elements in establishing a child or a teenager in their own faith is to get them to serve those younger than them. We want our teenagers and kids to serve in the wider church. And kids are more likely to serve if they see their parents serve. When families serve together, that is gold. Consider the July holiday club, or packing-up ministry, beach mission, or handing out Christmas hampers.
We want to help you steward your gifts. If you have gone off line in serving for whatever reason, we want to say, “fan the flame of the gift God has given you.” And for a few of you, and in a few cases, we want you to do less. The Christian life is a marathon not a 100 meter sprint, and we will be required to give an account on the last day. And so we come to point 6.
Verses 11 to 13.
11So Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, 12 to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up 13 until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ. (NIV)
There are 20 gifts identified in 5 different places in the New Testament, but here Paul is emphasizing the five teaching gifts. Some he gave to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, and some teachers and pastors. The unique role of these word gifts is to unleash God’s people to use their God given gifts. That is why our teaching must focus on transformation and not just information.
Every pastor must stop trying to be jack-of-all-trades. There is no well-rounded leader: there are just well-rounded church and leadership teams. Pastors must stop pretending to have all the gifts. For example, I don’t want our deacons choosing the colour for the small hall as we paint it over Christmas. I want those who are gifted in that area to do that.
That is why in this area there are two shifts, two changes in mindset, which have been happening at MBM for the last 7 years. These changes in the way of us thinking have led us to grow and be more effective.
The first is that congregation members have moved from being consumers to being contributors. And the second is that congregation leaders have moved from being ministers to being equippers, from being doers to trainers. The constant push is for the leaders to work at a higher level. What we need is for our leaders to be donkeys and not mules.
What is the difference? Donkeys are their own family and they reproduce. Mules are a hybrid, the result of a male donkey, a jackass, mating with a female horse. Mules can’t reproduce; donkeys can. In our church, we need more jackasses and less mules. Ministers must reproduce their leadership. We need ministers who equip.
But the 2016 NCLS survey tells us that we have more work to do in this area. In our survey results, 52% of our church agree that their gifts are being used well at MBM, but 31% want to be more involved at MBM. Now, we will not be a mature church if the leaders of MBM are not unleashing people for works of ministry. We will not be a mature church if 31% of MBM are still saying that they are not using their gifts. We have much more to do.
Let’s skip down to Ephesians 4:16:
From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work. (NIV)
Today we celebrate how so many of you are doing just that—doing your part of the work, and building up the body. We have much for which to thank God over 2017—and all of it is only possible because each part has done its work.
There have been some great movies: just think of ‘Casablanca’, ‘The Godfather’, ‘Star Wars’, ‘Titanic’, ‘Toy Story 2’. What do you think of when you think of your favorite movie? Chances are that you think of the actors, the action, or the artistic script. But I want us to think about something else about our favourite movies.
Whenever a movie ends, the credits at the end of the movie tell us that a lot of people were behind the production. It was only a good movie because each part did its work. Here are some of the credits from the recent ‘Stars Wars’ movie. To make the Stars Wars movie required not just the main actors and director: we also read of the ‘gaffer’ or ‘best boy grip’ or ‘dolly grip’. And just like a classic movie, for MBM to be a church that is seeing lives transformed lives through Jesus Christ, it takes all hands on deck. As is our custom each year, here are the rolling credits, which list the heroes of MBM, mindful that there will be countless acts of love not listed. But all we need to know is that our father in heaven knows. And as you see the MBM credits roll, give thanks to God for the many at MBM who made a difference in God’s kingdom in 2017. For the church grows as each part does its work.
 Barbara Graziosi, The Gods of Olympus: A History (London: Profile Books, 2013), 1.