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Sermon 2019-12-01 Ross Woodhouse

 

PURPOSE 

 

There is a risk in a topic about such things as purpose because it can appear philosophical, ideal, unattainable even. Purpose can be a very worldly pursuit, like success. This is not how I want to frame it this morning.

When it comes to asking what is God’s purpose for us, we could turn to just about any book of the bible to find the answer to that question. We have established throughout these messages that main purpose is “to know him and the power of his resurrection…” (Phil. 3:10). Why is this important, why should I, why must I? This statement of Paul’s undergirded his own life, ministry and love for Jesus, and it can do the same for us.  In the previous chapter (2:13) Paul says “it is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfil his good purpose”. That “good purpose” Peter also summarised like this” “so that in all things God may be praised through Jesus Christ. To him be the glory and the power forever and ever. Amen.” (1 Peter 4:11).

What is Purpose? Our aim, goal, objective or plan[1].  Also speaks of our resolve and determination. What do I need to do, to purpose, to live my Christian life daily so that “in all things, God might be praised”?

Ravi Zacharias tells the story about a visit to Ohio State University, on his way to a lecture there driving past a then-new building called the Wexner Centre for the Performing Arts. His host commented this was “America’s first postmodern building.”

Ravi then asked, “What is a postmodern building?”

The host said, “Well, the architect said that he designed this building with no design in mind. When the architect was asked, ‘Why?’ he said, ‘If life itself is capricious[2], why should our buildings have any design and any meaning?’ So he has pillars that have no purpose, stairways that go nowhere. He has had a senseless building built and somebody has paid for it.”

Ravi said, “So his argument was that if life has no purpose and design, why should the building have any design?” The host responded, “that is correct.”

Ravi then asked, “Did he do the same with the foundation?” All of a sudden there was silence.[3]

The point of the story is that the building may have been without design, but there was absolutely a foundation that had to have design and purpose. Life in Christ, like the building, does not need to be devoid of purpose like the building was. Christian life does and can have purpose when Christ is the foundation. By faith Abraham looked forward to a city with foundations whose architect and builder was God. (Hebrews 11:10

It is not assumed that just because we are Christ-followers we are automatically aware of our purpose, connected with our purpose, or even that we’re purpose-full. I want to suggest its essential we be clear on what our purpose is, and I think Ephesians 4:1-16 gives us a good explanation of this for us…

Ephesians 4:1-16

As a prisoner for the Lord, then, I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received. 2 Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. 3 Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. 4 There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to one hope when you were called; 5 one Lord, one faith, one baptism; 6 one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all. 7 But to each one of us, grace has been given as Christ apportioned it. 8 This is why it says: “When he ascended on high, he took many captives and gave gifts to his people.” 9 (What does “he ascended” mean except that he also descended to the lower, earthly regions? 10 He who descended is the very one who ascended higher than all the heavens, in order to fill the whole universe.) 11 So 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. 14 Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of people in their deceitful scheming. 15 Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will grow to become in every respect the mature body of him who is the head, that is, Christ. 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.”

Prior to this passage, Paul had prayed for the Ephesian church, that they grasp the love of Christ. He has taught and encouraged them about grace, loving one another, growing in unity and being committed to a path of maturity, and directs the focus of the church onto the power and glory of God and to live daily in the fullness, and the immeasurable moreness of God.

Every time we come to Paul’s writing, we are – if we are open to the Holy Spirit – immediately confronted with how our lives align with Christ, align with godly values and practice. The idea was he wanted the church to constantly wrestle in the same way he wrestled and strained to know Christ. And in that wrestling, Paul wanted to convey clearly what our purpose is.

So I want to address this question of what is our purpose, through 4 responses, firstly…

 

Our purpose is to:

 

  1. Respond to His Grace

Ephesians 1:7. In him, we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace that he lavished on us.

Ephesians 2:7-8. in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus. For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God

Ephesians 4:7. But to each one of us, grace has been given as Christ apportioned it. 

Grace. I go on and on about God’s grace, and I do and will because, without Christ, there is no grace, there is no pathway to God, there is no undeserved favour toward us for the forgiveness of our sin. His grace lavished on us, grace a great gift to us and apportioned to us.

Our purpose then, as we attempt to comprehend grace, should be nothing else than what translates into profound thankfulness in a life of worship; our lives being one big long thank you! That’s what our purpose is: let’s dig into that a bit more through today’s passage.

In the first three verses, Paul lays down a challenge to the church. Ephesians 4:1-2.  “As a prisoner for the Lord, then, I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received. (How?)[4] Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love.”

Paul is encouraging the church with this letter from prison. Not from a nice comfortable seat, what he writes implies that radical Jesus-following is dangerous, unpopular, risky, but “shamelessly audacious”. Nonetheless, he says “I urge you”, in light of this gift of salvation, this grace, to live a life, that is in keeping with, or worthy of, that calling. This does not mean that by works we deserve our place in God’s favour. It means that we should recognize how much our place in God’s favour deserves from us.[5]

In other words, an appreciation of God’s grace will affect how we live, and how we live will be evidence of how much we appreciate God’s grace. That’s how we show the worth[6] of our calling.

Writer Richard Wurmbrand tells us of Tahir Iqbal, a Muslim convert to Christianity who was imprisoned December 7, 1990, in Lahore, Pakistan and died in prison on July 19, 1992. He was a paraplegic and confined to a wheelchair. When asked about the possibility of being executed he said, “I will kiss my rope, but will never deny my faith.”[7]

Does not that kind of faith in the face of death do something to stir our souls? This is the extreme end of what our purpose is: to live for Christ and to die is gain. Such stories and truths serve to stir us out of any sense of complacency that may have crept into our lives. “I urge you”, Paul says.

What does a life worthy of the calling…look like? How do I know I’m responding appropriately to his grace? The answer is in verse 3 – “Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love.”

Let’s break these down a little more…

Humility.  Humility has to do with how we view and what we think of ourselves. Bible says Rom. 12:3. Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment…[8] The opposite of humility is seeking out glory for ourselves and turning the spotlight on ourselves, going to all lengths to look good, that this is my world, I am the centre of it.

Humility is deflecting the glory to God, it is thinking lowly of ourselves and highly of Christ. The attitude of the Christian with humility is that the unmerited mercy of God is enough. All his longings are satisfied and met in God. God is the one he esteems. God is his confidence.[9].

Joel Houston the leader of the band Hillsong United and the son of Hillsong pastor Brian Houston commented in a documentary about his father. He made the point that everyone else sees this person out on this massive platform every week because that’s what he’s called to. Joel said that his dad often would prefer to stay in the background and allow space for other young leaders – like (push in the back) you can do this.

Gentleness.  Gentleness is the demeanour [10] of the Christian who has humility. Not being gentle occasionally, but as a constant, valuing of others in the way we conduct ourselves. Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Philippians 4:5.

Especially, can I say, in our marriage relationships and with our kids, and friendships? Gentleness will beget gentleness. “Be completely humble and gentle”.

Patience.  “Patience is the exercise of a largeness of soul that can endure annoyances and difficulties over a period of time”[11] Which means when we appreciate God’s grace, and we understand our own sinfulness, we don’t presume to deserve special treatment over anyone else. We live in a ‘want it now, get it now, pay for it later, why haven’t they replied before I’ve even texted them, shift your car the light is green, whack it in the microwave, world…I’ve just described me actually. I have to change this!  Let’s respond to his grace and practice patience. We’ll see it will have a profound effect on our relationships…when we trust God for the strength to wait.

Being able to bear with others in love is the demeanour of the Christian who is patient.

Bearing with one another in love…this is about enduring the journey together through the highs and lows, giving others the highest value. This love is about being directed toward others, it’s not a doing nothing about it kind of love, it’s giving all I am love because that’s the love shown me in Christ.

When we’re bearing with others in love it’s not conditional, it’s not indifferent or dependant on who they are, what they have done to us or how we feel about them. Paul is far from naïve. He knows that Christians can be proud and critical and easily-offended.  But the encouragement is, that imperfect Christians, responding to God’s grace means we bear (we endure) with one another.

These answer the question: what is my purpose? It is to respond to his grace, in a life of worship evidenced by, being “completely” humble, gentle, patient and bearing with one another in love. This is the Christian who is walking in the grace of God, has identity in the oneness of God, and is fulfilling God’s call.

 

  1. Our purpose is (also) to Respond to His Grace in Unity

Ephesians 4:3-6. “Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spiritthrough the bond of peace. 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.” 

Paul says “make every effort”. There is work and there is effort required on our part, even though unity is Spirit born. How are we to keep this Unity of the Spirit with people who we know don’t like us, have a beef with us, who frustrate us, etc.? Just talked about it: humility through patience, and gentleness through enduring. As Christians, we’re able to do this when we’re consciously aware of the enormity of the debt we owed God, were it not for his amazing grace.

The closest example I can give is from an experience Karyn and I had when we were students. Struggling with debt, barely been able to afford the bare essentials, our car had broken down and Karyn needed a vehicle for her work. Good friends of ours anticipated that need and gave us a car. No one had ever given us anything of such value…I remember feeling so indebted, yet so grateful.

Unity is a big deal because the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, though they are the three distinct persons of the Godhead, they are one, distinct in function, but still one (see Deuteronomy 6:4). Working together, obviously, toward and with one purpose. 

Christianity is not an individualistic thing; it is about a community. And when we recognise that – by participation, contribution and by receiving within the diversity of the community – we are activating the Unity God’s wants us to live in. Unity doesn’t mean we don’t disagree, or there is an absence of confrontation, unity though is always the higher value and oneness is what ought to personify us.

I love the picture of unity in Psalm 133. David believed for better for these people and knew it could be different when living for God and his purposes are the priority. He urged people to unity where it was lacking because he wanted to see a united, cohesive, spiritually robust nation that stood out from the other nations, and a people who lived to honour God; that was his heart.

“How good and pleasant it is when God’s people live together in unity! For there the Lord bestows his blessing, even life forevermore.” [12] When God’s people live – respond to his grace – in unity, that is the place and the occasion where God bestows commands his blessing.

And then there’s Jesus’ prayer for his followers in John 17:22-23.  I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one— I in them and you in me—so that they may be brought to complete unity.

So our unity is to be a reflection of the person of God himself. It was what Jesus himself prayed for, for us, it is complete unity, it is good and pleasant and that’s where God commands his blessing.

There is great Maori proverb (whakatauki) that very simply compliments this point. He waka eke noa. Literally translated: the canoe which we are all in without exception.[13]

 

  1. Our purpose is to Respond to His Grace in Ministry (contributing to the body)

Every member of the body of Christ is to minister to the body of Christ. What scripture supports this?

Ephesians 4:7. But to each one of us, grace has been given as Christ apportioned it.

Paul teaches here that every Christian is gifted by Christ with various measures of grace.

Ephesians 4:11-13. It was he who gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers, to prepare God’s people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up 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.

Paul teaches here that the church is gifted by Christ with certain people for ministry in specific functions who equip Christians for ministry.

We are recipients of grace in salvation (we receive), but also for ministry (we respond). And this grace, given by Christ, is given in the ‘amount’ he chooses, according to his purposes to get HIS work done by the (His) body. Grace is given to suit his purposes for you and for the body[14]. Christ has given to the church the five-fold ministry gifts (A.P.E.P.T) all working together[15], not one without the other. Why? So the body will be built up. For what reason? Unity, maturity and the fullness of Christ.

Lastly…

 

  1. Our purpose is to Respond to His Grace in Growth

Ephesians 4:14-16. “Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of men in their deceitful scheming.  Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will in all things grow up into him who is the Head, that is, Christ. 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.”

What we notice first in these verses is that the building and the growing come from somebody, who is? Jesus. The Head!

Jesus is working, moving to build his church. A simple biblical reality. Unlike what then-Governor Bill Clinton in the 90’s at a democratic convention when he exploited a biblical vision of the New Covenant into a political vision when he misquoted 1 Cor. 2:9, “Scripture says: ‘Our eyes have not seen, nor our ears heard nor our minds imagined what we can build.'” That is emphatically not what the text says. A glorious promise of what God has prepared for those who love him was twisted into a biblical endorsement of human effort.[16]

And he is the supplier – if you like – of power to the body. How, are we receiving that power, and working together as his body, to do what Jesus the head wants us to do? In our corporate prayer and praise, prayer gatherings, in our small groups, café connect, through our hospitality…these are all occasions where every one of us exercises a gift, our gifts, we minister to each other in the power of the Holy Spirit.

His body, actually, his “whole body” is only held together as “each part does it work”. Jesus is the head but the whole body causes the growth of the whole body.

When the church is functioning according to God’s design, with the body ordered, & people functioning in their called role, the benefit for all is maturity. Christians who have spiritual backbone (“no longer infants…”), Christians who stay on course. That’s a response to his grace!

But the opposite is true of course…if the church is not operating how it ought – and remember it involves all of us (“whole”) working together – that weakens us, and puts us all at risk.  I think we can see by now that Paul wants the church, to be so focused on Christ, that our spiritual walk and life is robust to the point where there is no wavering, we are undeterred, undistracted by the subtle wow-factor of worldliness, not easily split in our affections between Jesus and other, things …this is the responsibility of the whole body.

If there was a relevant verse of scripture for the church today it would be v.14. Why? When the whole body is focussed on Jesus, the body matures and becomes more like Jesus, and the effect is that the members of the body grow, strengthen, and stabilise. Maturity in Jesus increases our awareness of sin and the little subtle worldly ways and habits that creep into our lives, like the ways we can tend to handle issues between each other.

But the challenge is that we live in such a liberalised, confused-about-truth day that even the softest gospel message is hard, is judgemental, or worse is hate speech. Oh, how we need God, to avoid falling prey to the cunning and craftiness of the world.

The passage we have looked at today is a description of our God-ordained purpose. Of how the body must work, together. Church be encouraged, see the Lord and what he has called us to. Begin today to appreciate his grace, activate his grace, respond to his grace, in your life; that’s our purpose! In unity, in ministry and in your and our growth.

“There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to one hope when you were called; 5 one Lord, one faith, one baptism; 6 one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.”

 

[1] https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/purpose

[2] Unpredictable and impulsive

[3] https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/justin-taylor/ravi-zacharias-on-postmodern-architecture-at-ohio-state/

[4] Italics mine

[5] https://www.desiringgod.org/messages/maintain-the-unity-of-the-spirit

[6] How something deserves (or warrants) being valued

[7] Adapted from: https://www.desiringgod.org/messages/one-lord-one-spirit-one-body-for-all-time-and-all-peoples#fnref1

[8] Rom. 12:3 (Mess. Ver.) The only accurate way to understand ourselves is by what God is and by what he does for us, not by what we are and what we do for him.

[9] https://www.desiringgod.org/messages/maintain-the-unity-of-the-spirit

[10] Conduct, behaviour

[11] NIV Comm. Eph.

[12] The New International Version. (2011). (Ps 133:title–3). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.

[13]https://www.bing.com/search?q=he+waka+eke+noa&form=EDGTCT&qs=AS&cvid=782d7aac5a204fb6b67a4b8916629ccc&refig=2ef13faa48684dad9751a370774773f1&cc=NZ&setlang=en-US&elv=AQj93OAhDTi*HzTv1paQdnhOSU*ihmVusjrcEY6PdMEtdG5HGKCocHU4jTTePS07O4Cm0MUA*WMEsSymPC3rbaRLxCLuGrMr7B3qWRbPqSCg&plvar=0&PC=HCTS

[14] https://www.desiringgod.org/messages/why-the-saints-minister-to-the-body

[15] Paul is making the point that the body needs representation of each of these areas for the church to be prepared for God’s service.

[16] Adapted from: https://www.desiringgod.org/messages/how-the-saints-minister-to-the-body