by The Rt. Rev. Daniel R. Morse
In Ephesians, St. Paul gives us a great deal of helpful instruction about starting a new church. We learn here what the church is supposed to be, who we are as the Church of Jesus Christ, what Jesus has done for us, and so forth. We are trying to work our way carefully through the first part of the book because in the first three chapters St. Paul lays down the theological principles upon which the practical applications of chapters 4 through 6 will be made.
Practical application without the theological and biblical underpinning is simply moralism, and we don't want to be engaged in moralism. We are a Gospel church. The Church of Jesus Christ is built upon the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ and His sovereign grace. So we are carefully working our way through that part so that we understand the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ as we find it in the first three chapters. Then the practical applications will come out of chapters 4 through 6. Today we come to Ephesians 3:14-21. The opening words of this passage, "for this reason," refer to the mystery of Jesus Christ, which is that Jew and Gentile together are made one new nation in Jesus Christ—not a civil nation with an army an air force and taxation and civil service and so forth, but the new nation that supersedes all other national boundaries and is based upon the grace of God in Jesus Christ. Now we are not considered Jew or Gentile, white, black, Hispanic, or whatever. National distinctions are done away with. We are all one in Christ, and it's a great mystery as to how that can work. It hasn't worked very successfully in any other area of the world. How can the Church make it work? That is what Jesus Christ has come to do through His blood. That is what the Holy Spirit has been poured out for, to make us one in Christ.
Every time I read that section of Scripture. I almost feel like saying, O.K, we're finished. There's not anything else to say. I'll just pronounce the benediction and we'll just go home because that is the most incredible statement in all of Scripture. But I'm sure if I read some other passage of Scripture, I'd have to say the same thing. It seems as though every time we come to a verse or passage, that one is the most important one in all of Scripture. But certainly if there is any passage for which that could truthfully be said, this is it. So this morning I want us to appreciate the communion of saints. That is what we have in this room. We are enjoying union and communion with each other and with God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit right now, here this day. But we also enjoy that will all the rest of the Church throughout the world. The communion of saints is what Jesus Christ has purchased for us.
If I can go back just a bit and give you a few reminders of what we have done previously in this consideration of the book of Ephesians, St. Paul talks in chapter 1 about the riches of God's glory in Christ Jesus. In Ephesians 1:7, 18, he says, "In him [that is, in Christ] we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of His grace, the eyes of your understanding being enlightened; that you may know what is the hope of His calling, what are the riches of the glory of his inheritance in the saints." Now, I want to be very particular and very specific here. St. Paul does not say to us that God gives us riches, but he gives according to his riches. There's a big difference. The gifts of God are given to us out of the unlimited storehouse of riches that God has in heaven and in earth. God owns everything--the cattle on a thousand hills, all the stars in the sky. God owns all of it. He has this incredible storehouse, this unlimited, infinite wealth, and St. Paul says that in Jesus Christ, God is going to share that with you. He is going to give you out of that storehouse of his riches. In other places St. Paul says that one way to describe that is that God gives us himself. You don't possess a few pieces of gold or a few spiritual blessings here and there. No, you have the greatest of all riches, God himself. There is nothing greater that God can give to us. And that, you see, is what is the foundation for this communion of the saints that we enjoy in the Church.
I. The Foundation of Fellowship
The foundation of communion is the grace of Christ in raising us to newness of life. You see, we have already enjoyed the resurrection from the dead. We tend to think of the day coming one day out there in the future someplace when Jesus comes back to raise the dead to life again, and we will appear before the Judgment Seat of Christ. But for the Christian, we have already been given this resurrection to life. Jesus Christ has brought us from the dead and given us new life in him.
Secondly, St. Paul tells us that there is now the unity of Jew and Gentile in one household. We don't have any consideration, or we ought not to have any consideration in the Church any longer regarding whether you are white or black or Arab or Chinese or what your national background is. We have all been made one with Jesus Christ in one household.
And then in the first 13 verses of this third chapter of Ephesians, Paul tells us about the wonderful purpose of God. It is God's purpose to give us not just riches now in this life but the riches of His glory forever, and also the dynamic of the Holy Spirit. By the Holy Spirit, Christ dwells within us. Those things are the foundation of our fellowship
II. The Purpose of Fellowship
Why would God do such a thing as giving us this communion of saints or this wonderful fellowship in Christ? St. Paul tells us that the purpose of that fellowship is first of all strength, wisdom, comprehension, and knowledge. That is, we will be strong in the faith, strong in the Lord Jesus Christ, not blown about by every wind of doctrine, but we will have wisdom as we will not only know the truth but will have wisdom to know how to apply it. We will have comprehension of God's plan through the ages and knowledge of that.
But above all, St. Paul says, the purpose of our fellowship is love. There is a great danger, you see, in having a worship service like this in which I stand up and talk to you or where we say words out of a book. The danger is that we will tend to think that the substance of our faith is words or knowledge, and we become puffed up because of how much we know. The danger is that our faith becomes simply intellectual. We go home and pride ourselves in how much we know, how many Bible verses we can quote or how much of the Prayer Book we can quote. You know that story about the Baptist lady and the Episcopal lady who were friends in the neighborhood and the Baptist lady was concerned that her Episcopal friend was not converted. She didn't believe that Episcopalians really knew what it meant to love Jesus. So she was trying to think of a gentle, non-offensive way to communicate the Gospel to her Episcopal friend. So she hit upon the idea of giving her a Bible. So her friend thanked her very much, took the Bible home, and a week later she came back and said, "You know, I read that book. It's wonderful! It's just full of quotes from the Prayer Book!
The danger, you see is that we become so full of the words that we memorize, either from the Prayer Book or from the Bible that we think our Christianity is totally intellectual. But St. Paul reminds us that the main point of all of it is that we will love Jesus, love one another, and love those who have not yet heard the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ. St. Paul tells us in the book of Colossians, "Let no one cheat you of your reward, taking delight in false humility and worshiping angels, intruding into those things which he has not seen, vainly puffed up in his fleshly mind. These things indeed have an appearance of wisdom in self-imposed religion, false humility, and neglect of the body, but are of no value against the indulgence of the flesh" (Colossians 2:18; 23).
Again, St. Paul says in I Timothy, "Do not give heed to fables and endless genealogies, which cause disputes rather than godly edification which is in faith" (1 Timothy 1:4). And again, "If anyone teaches otherwise and does not consent to wholesome words, even the words of our Lord Jesus Christ, and to the doctrine which accords with godliness, he is proud, knowing nothing, but is obsessed with disputes and arguments over words, from which come envy, strife, reviling, evil suspicions" (1 Timothy 6:3, 4). If you think that you know a lot because you can quote a lot of Bible verses or quote the 39 Articles of Religion, or quote all kinds of theological books, but you don't have love, you don't know anything, St. Paul says. You are "obsessed with disputes and arguments over words, from which come envy, strife, reviling, and evil suspicions."
St. Paul is not arguing against a deficient faith because it is merely intellectual, but he is saying that “true knowledge” of God is unattainable without love. If there is no love, the Spirit of Christ is not present, and therefore there is no understanding or knowledge. You may know all kinds of things. You may have memorized the Bible from one end to the other, but if you don't love your neighbor, if you don't love those who have no knowledge of the Gospel, if you don't love Jesus Christ, if you don't love your brothers and sisters in the Church, you don't know anything. That is the message of the Gospel. (John 15:9-12— As the Father loved Me, I also have loved you; abide in My love. If you keep My commandments, you will abide in My love, just as I have kept My Father’s commandments and abide in His love. These things I have spoken to you, that My joy may remain in you, and that your joy may be full. This is My commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.)
III. The Necessity of Fellowship
It is not enough for you to have faith in Jesus by yourself. It's not enough for you to sit on a creek bank with your Bible and Prayer Book and have your faith in Jesus by yourself. The fellowship of other Christians is most necessary. That is, the truth can never be held by an individual in isolation from the Church, which is the reason St. Paul mentions the phrase “with all the saints.” It is also a very difficult task, which is the reason that St. Paul prays that we may be strong to earnestly grasp the truth. This is obviously not a mere intellectual exercise. For you to know the fullness of the Gospel, you have to learn to get along with some very scruffy individuals, like the people in this room. You look pretty nice, and you clean up well for Sunday worship, but St. Paul says that you have to learn to love people who have some pretty rough edges, who have some streaks of meanness to them. You cant use the excuse, "I just can't get along with that person. I'm going to another church." It doesn't work that way. The true Gospel means that we learn to work together in the fellowship of the Church, a most difficult task, which is why we need the Holy Spirit. We need to pray that God will empower us by the Holy Spirit to get along with each other.
The content of the knowledge and wisdom of God is love, and we will only grow as we use those gifts for the benefit of every other member of Christ's Church. We are of necessity limited in our understanding of the purpose of God until we see it working itself out in the family of God. What happens in a family when one child acts selfishly and alone without taking into consideration the interests of the other children or the parents? You know if you've been a parent very long and have more than one child—or maybe if you have only one child—when a child starts acting selfishly it disrupts everything. It breaks the unity of the family, the peace of the family, and that is exactly what happens in the family of God when people stop working together and being obedient to Christ and loving one another.
Paul says in Ephesians 4, "To each one of us grace was given according to the measure of Christ's gift, for the equipping of the saints for the work of ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ, till we all come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a perfect man, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ" (Ephesians 4:7, 12, 13.) Christ didn't give this gift to us that you may go home and enjoy it all by yourself. He gave it to you for the equipping of the saints for the work of ministry and for the edifying of the body of Christ. If we all don't come together to the unity of the faith and the knowledge of the Son of God, then not one single one of us will come to the knowledge of the Gospel. We all have to come together, or nobody comes at all to a perfect man and the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ.
So, my dear friends, St. Paul is hammering upon us this necessity of the fellowship and the communion and the love of the Church. We love Christ, and we love others for Christ's sake. St. Paul prays that we will know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge. Catch the play on words— that we will know what is past knowing. You see, it's not an intellectual exercise. You can't know this love; it's so deep, broad, and high that it passes human understanding. But St. Paul prays in the only words that are available to him that we will know that love, that is, that we will experience that love that is past knowing. It is far greater than we can know, and it is more than an object that can be known and studies. It must be experienced.
And then he prays that we will be filled with the fullness of God, not just one attribute or gift, not just love, knowledge, strength alone or in combination— but as I said at the beginning, we will know God himself. What an incredible thing that is to say, "I know God." Is it possible that we could in truth say such a thing and not be arrogant and proud and bragging? My dear friends, that is the whole reason Jesus came, so that we will know God in our experience day after day. As we read in St. John chapter 1, "Of his fullness," that is, the fullness of God, "we have all received, and grace for grace" (John 1:16). May God give us this blessing today that we may know what surpasses knowledge.