This blog offers a meditation on the Common Lectionary daily readings along with a headline from world news:
Egyptian Govt accuses TV show of terrorism: muppets scared of puppets
J.B. Phillips New Testament (PHILLIPS)
Christians should be at one, as God is one
4 1-6 As God’s prisoner, then, I beg you to live lives worthy of your high calling. Accept life with humility and patience, making allowances for each other because you love each other. Make it your aim to be at one in the Spirit, and you will inevitably be at peace with one another. You all belong to one body, of which there is one Spirit, just as you all experienced one calling to one hope. There is one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God, one Father of us all, who is the one over all, the one working through all and the one living in all.
God’s gifts vary, but it is the same God who gives
7-8 Naturally there are different gifts and functions; individually grace is given to us in different ways out of the rich diversity of Christ’s giving. As the scripture says: ‘When he ascended on high, he led captivity captive, and gave gifts to men’.
9-10 (Note the implication here—to say that Christ “ascended” means that he must previously have “descended”, that is from the height of Heaven to the depth of this world. The one who made this descent is identically the same person as he who has now ascended high above the very Heavens—that the whole universe from lowest to highest might know his presence.)
11-13 His “gifts to men” were varied. Some he made his messengers, some prophets, some preachers of the Gospel; to some he gave the power to guide and teach his people. His gifts were made that Christians might be properly equipped for their service, that the whole body might be built up until the time comes when, in the unity of the common faith and common knowledge of the Son of God, we arrive at real maturity—that measure of development which is meant by the “fullness of Christ”.
True maturity means growing up “into” Christ
14-16 We are not meant to remain as children at the mercy of every chance wind of teaching and the jockeying of men who are expert in the craft presentation of lies. But we are meant to hold firmly to the truth in love, and to grow up in every way into Christ, the head. For it is from the head that the whole body, as a harmonious structure knit together by the joints with which it is provided, grows by the proper functioning of individual parts to its full maturity in love.
I’ve used the J.B Phillip’s translation of this passage because it’s well done; and also because I think his paragraph headings encourage a wrong interpretation of it. “Christians should be at one” he says. Well, yes, they should be so, but not because God’s desire is a unified church; rather because his desire is a unified world. The unity of believers is a stage in the unification of the world. Yes, the world, not even just humanity. Christ is present, Paul asserts, to the whole universe from lowest to highest. The secret plan of God, according to this letter, is that the whole universe and all its creatures should be united in one family under one God and father.
Jesus Messiah has descended into the depths of the divided world to smash down the walls of division between human beings, and those between humanity and God. His resolute and reconciling love has abolished the barriers of religious law and created “one new humanity.” (see Ephesians Chapter 2)
The gifts that Christ gives, therefore, are not to be considered simply as ways of building up the church, but also as essential functions for growing into the universal body of Messiah Jesus. The skills that contribute to the growth of community to which each contributes according to to ability and from which each receives according to need (now where did that phrase come from?), are essential for the unification of humanity, the earth, the universe. The vision expressed in this letter is of communal, racial, political and ecological peace. Recently churches in Scotland were asked to produce “mission statements” according the the prevailing fashion in business; predictably there were many somewhat overblown responses; but none I think of quite such staggering ambition as the one expressed in this letter-“to grow up into Christ, the head….a whole body as a harmonious structure….by the proper functioning of individual parts to its full maturity in love.”
Perhaps more than any other book of the Bible Ephesians sets out a vision for the faith community of Jesus. In the midst of my own inadequacies and the ordinariness of church life, it keeps me loyal.