Instructions for integrity, Ephesians 4:1-16

Paul Harvey told a story of four young men who were late to class.  They entered the classroom, and solemnly told their teacher they were detained due to a flat tire.  The sympathetic teacher smiled and told them it was too bad they were late, because they had missed a test that morning.  But she was willing to let them make it up.  She gave them each a piece of paper and a pencil and sent them to four corners of the room.

Then she told them they would pass if they could answer just one question:  Which tire was flat?

What is a life of integrity?

Living a life of integrity – that is pleasing to God. That’s what this passage from Eph 4:1-16 is about this morning. In verse 1, it calls us to “Live a life worthy of the calling you have received.”

As Christians, how do we live with integrity?

God has chosen us to be Christ’s representatives on earth and calls us to live a life worthy of that calling.

People are watching our life.  Can they see Christ in us?  Is there enough evidence in our life to convict us of being Christian?  How well are we doing as Christ’s representatives?

I must admit, living a life based on integrity can be hard to do or even find in todays world.  It doesn’t seem to be a high priority for many. Since we act based on what we believe, verse 2 points us in the right direction.

Verse 2 says God helps us with the how-to’s, to become a person whose integrity counts. Paul says, “Be completely humble, gentle, be patient. Bear with one another in love, keeping the bond of peace.”

Christian modeling for peace

Verse 3 tells us to try to stay together in God’s Spirit, “in the bond of peace.”

Easier said than done!  When was the last time you saw two opposing sides disagree with love and respect? Being humble, gentle, patient, bearing with one another?  Or maybe even just civil?  Not easy to find.

But I ask you, if we as Christians don’t model that kind of behavior, who will?

Paul knows it’s not easy, and he moves on in Verse 4. He talks about the things that unite us: There is one body of Christ, that is, the church; there is one Holy Spirt, one hope, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God the Father

These are things all Christians have in common. These are things that should unite us.

Notice the word “one” is repeated seven times in three verses.  One body, one spirit, one hope, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God.  At the heart of integrity is oneness. It means that you are whole, complete, united, with one set of values.  A church with integrity is not going to show love in one situation and hatred in another.

I believe people prefer worshiping at a church that has integrity.  Integrity requires action, not just words.  We need to be trustworthy.  Remember the phase: Your word is your bond.

Right and wrong

Since none of us are perfect, we need to learn to accept and love others despite our differences and our faults.  William Barkley, an English theologian, used to say, “I believe that I am right just as often as ever, but I am not so sure any more that the other person is wrong.”

More than one thing can be true at the same time.  (Pastor Line held up a metal spoon.)  This spoon for instance. How many of you think this spoon is solid?  And how many of you think this spoon looks like Swiss cheese?  Probably most of you would say it’s solid. But if you put it under a microscope and magnify it a few thousand times, it would look like Swiss cheese.

We are not always going to agree, but we can work for the common good, to build up the church and, indeed, the world around us. We are given gifts and talents.  Each believer is given these gifts and talents so they can be used to contribute to the overall strength and health of the body of Christ and the world around us.

Now this passage does not give us an exhaustive list, because the Bible lists about 200 gifts. But here are a few of the gifts:

Paul writes in Verse 11 that some of God’s people would be apostles, some prophets, evangelist, teachers and pastors.  So why does he mention these five gifts and not the other 195?

God knits us together

People receive those gifts to equip God’s people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up. Paul writes that this happens until we reach unity in faith and in knowledge of God’s Son. We become mature in our faith and life, growing into the fullness of Christ.  These five gifts are in some way equipping you and me to serve God faithfully.

The Greek word used for “equip” is the same word used in surgery for setting a broken bone.  Putting the joint back together.  In politics, it refers to bringing opposing sides together.  In the New Testament, it is used when talking about mending nets, or discipling the offender, so that they can be restored to their position in the community.  Basically, it means putting something right so it can function properly.

Notice the vision of integrity:  The body of Christ, joined together and knitted together, with each part working properly, building itself up into love.  This is Paul’s vision of the church, a community that is the physical presence of Jesus in the world today.  Paul wants us to be a church with integrity, one that is whole, complete and undivided.

God’s work in the church takes time, it requires patience.  Paul tells the Ephesians that they are coming “to the unity of the faith and knowledge of the son of God, to maturity, to the measure of the full state of Christ” (verse 13). All of these qualities take time.

We are also to bear with one another in love. It doesn’t matter what the issue is: style of worship music, time of worship, number of services, how to spend the church’s money. There are going to be Christians of good faith on both sides of each question.

Each gift strengthens the whole body

When faced with issues in the church, Paul instructs us not to attack each other, not to undermine, not to gain victory, but to bear with one another in love.  Seek the peaceful compromise.  Seek God’s will in the situation, not your own.  Seek it peacefully, without manipulation or coercion, but with thoughtful prayer.

God gives us these gifts to strengthen the church and make disciples of others.  Christ knew we would accomplish more together than separately.

In Verse 15, we mature in our life with Christ so that we will be able to speak the truth in love to one another.  I know people who can speak the truth, and I know people who can show love, but I know very few people who can speak the truth in love.  So, if you have that gift, you are blessed indeed. 

As we become fully connected, mature in faith and behavior, as we join together, growing strong in love, we work together better for the common good.  With God’s help, lots of prayer, and self-reflection, we can strengthen the whole body of Christ.

All of this together is supposed to help bring the church together in unity and strengthen the fabric of the church.  When there is unity, there will also be integrity, honesty, love and peace.  I think it is worth pointing out this chapter of Ephesians begins and ends with exhortations to love and forgive each other. And that is when the church is able to grow.

Live like Jesus lived

I’m closing this morning with this story from the 19th Century during the Crimean War.  Florence Nightingale was passing down a hospital ward of sorely wounded soldiers.  She looked down on one wounded youth who said to her, “You are Christ to me.”  A saint is someone in whom Christ lives.  This is who we all need to be.