Read Ephesians 4:1-16
In the Bible, there is no such thing as a churchless Christian. Although we are not saved by going to church, the Bible does presuppose we are saved into a church! That is, we are not lone rangers. We are incorporated into Christ’s body. We become part of a new family. We are the living stones of a new temple.
And even in these strange times, where we cannot gather physically as a church, nonetheless that doesn’t mean the body of Christ has ceased to exist, and we have become individual limbs, severed from one another! God’s intention has always been that through the church, collectively, his manifold wisdom will be displayed (Eph 3:10).
So even though we are currently scattered, what can we do to ensure the church can continue to put on display God’s glory? Ephesians 4:1-16 suggests 3 actions we can take.
Firstly, seek to maintain our Spirit-won unity. Ephesians 4:3 reminds us that our unity is important to God, and that he wants us to put in the effort to ensure we do not break into little, self-centred factions! Why is that? Because the unity Paul is referring to here is no mere, superficial, man-made unity, that is tolerant of a wide range of contradictory and even sub-biblical beliefs. Rather, it is an authentic unity built around a common faith and the one hope of the gospel (v4-6). It is nothing less than a spiritual unity.
How then, should we seek to maintain this unity? Verse 2 shows us the way. We need to be humble, patient and gentle with one another. This will be especially important in the coming days as the MCO is gradually modified and eased. Many of us will have a variety of opinions about how we should navigate the transformed landscape of our lives. Some will feel that some Christians are too reckless, while others will feel other Christians are being too cautious. Some will feel some Christians are being too fearful, while others will feel that another group of Christians are being presumptuous and even selfish.
It is vital, then, that we do not automatically impute bad motives to one another and accuse each other too quickly of dishonouring Christ. Rather, we need to practise verse 2, being quick to listen, giving counsel where it is prudent to do so, and in turn being open and teachable. When we are quick to show grace, we maintain unity and become distinctive in an often graceless society.
Secondly, seek to utilise the gifts Christ has given sovereignly. In verses 7-10, Paul tells us that the ascended Christ, like a triumphant general, has distributed gifts to his people. In verse 11, he particularly gifts some people in the ministry of the Word (all the people mentioned here exercise such a ministry) to equip the church as a whole.
That means we all can still contribute. God has given each Christian particular abilities, talents or skills as a gift! It doesn’t have to be gifts of a dramatic sort. Perhaps you have a natural gift for encouraging conversation! It comes easily to you. So perhaps you could give that elderly person from church who doesn’t really have anyone in her household a telephone call (yes, that’s what phones were originally invented for). Perhaps you can handle and communicate the Scriptures faithfully and with clarity. If so, use it to strengthen the confidence of other Christians to walk with Christ. Whatever the case may be, as Romans 12:7 puts it, just use it! – “if it is serving, then serve; if it is teaching, then teach.”
For even in the Covid-19 age, the aim of every Christian remains the same, which brings us to our final action. Thirdly, seek to build the body to maturity. Notice in verses 13 and 15 that is the goal. That’s why the church has to be equipped, and why members should not stop speaking the truth in love to one another. And it happens when everybody joins in, moving in the same direction (v16). There is no room for “spectator” Christians.
What does that mean for today? It means though we are physically apart, we should all still be thinking: how can I help my brother or sister in Christ grow spiritually? Perhaps I could arrange to study the Bible together with that person once a week for 45 minutes over Skype. Perhaps I could arrange to be accountable to a prayer triplet. Conversely, it means that we shouldn’t fall prey to the temptation to act like a spiritual consumer during this time, hopping from one livestream to another to see what that church can offer me. That would be directly in contrast to the picture of church Paul has in mind here. Indeed, there is the danger we could remain like the infants of verse 14 when we do so, and worse still, encourage others to also remain as infants.
So regardless of whether Covid-19 exists or not, the aspiration of the church remain the same. We want to put on display God’s glory. Let’s do that in the way Ephesians 4:1-16 prescribes.
- Pray that God will help us not become spiritual consumers or spectator Christians, but to seek to keep building the church towards maturity in Christ by utilising our gifts and remaining godly in our relationships.
- Pray for journalists everywhere to continue to be responsible purveyors of news, for social media not to be a place where fake and even dangerous information could spread, and for people to be discerning in their consumption of news sources.