“…endeavoring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.” Ephesians 4:3 (Read v. 1-16)
“There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called in one hope of your calling; one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is above all, and through all, and in you all” (v. 4-6).
There is only one body of Christ, one Church – the communion of saints – made up of all who trust in Christ Jesus as Savior. There is only one Savior, one Lord, one faith, one baptism and one God and Father of all who dwells in the hearts of His children by the Spirit.
It is the Spirit of God, working mightily through the Word of God and the sacraments of Baptism and the Lord’s Supper, who brings us to faith in Christ Jesus and keeps us in that faith. He brings us into the family of God and unites us with Christ our Savior. Thus, when we have faith in Christ Jesus and are baptized in His name, we are united to Him and are one with all other true believers in Christ (cf. Gal. 3:26-27; Eph. 2:11ff.; 1 John 1:3ff.).
This oneness, this unity, is of the Spirit. We do not create the unity; the Spirit does, through the Word. Through the hearing of God’s Word, He brings us to faith in Christ Jesus and keeps us trusting in our Savior. The way, then, to keep and preserve the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace is to continue in the faith created in us by the mighty working of the Holy Spirit. If we are one with Christ Jesus and members of His body, the Church, we will also be united to all other true believers of all time.
And, such unity does not occur through church mergers and cooperative efforts; it occurs where the Spirit brings people to faith in Christ and keeps them in that faith through the Word of God and the sacraments of Baptism and the Lord’s Supper.
We endeavor to live in this Spirit-created unity by continuing in and holding fast to the pure teaching of God’s Word and partaking of the blessings offered and given to us through Baptism and the Lord’s Supper. We are long-suffering, enduring one another’s sins and shortcomings with all patience, forgiving our fellow believers as Christ has forgiven us (cf. Eph. 4:32).
We consider and remember that Christ is our Redeemer and that He has brought each and every one of us to faith. Therefore, we encourage each other to continue in that unity by encouraging each other to continue in the Word and hold fast to Christ Jesus, our Head.
O gracious Father, we thank You for bringing us into Your family and Church – for giving us unity with all other believers through Spirit-wrought faith in Christ Jesus. Grant that we continue in that unity in Christ and move us to dwell within it in patience and in the bond of peace with our brethren. Amen.
[Scripture quotations are from the King James Version of the Bible]
Since we will gather for worship on Sunday and partake of Christ’s body and blood given and shed for the remission of our sins, it is indeed good and right that we examine ourselves in accord with 1 Cor. 11:28-29: “Let a man examine himself, and so let him eat of that bread, and drink of that cup. For he that eateth and drinketh unworthily, eateth and drinketh damnation to himself, not discerning the Lord’s body.”
We do so this week on the basis of God’s commandment: “Remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy” (Exodus 20:8).
We are no longer required to observe any certain day, as St. Paul teaches us in his epistles:
- Romans 14:5-6 – “One man esteemeth one day above another: another esteemeth every day alike. Let every man be fully persuaded in his own mind. He that regardeth the day, regardeth it unto the Lord; and he that regardeth not the day, to the Lord he doth not regard it. He that eateth, eateth to the Lord, for he giveth God thanks; and he that eateth not, to the Lord he eateth not, and giveth God thanks.”
- Colossians 2:16-17 – “Let no man therefore judge you in meat, or in drink, or in respect of an holyday, or of the new moon, or of the sabbath days: which are a shadow of things to come; but the body is of Christ.
And Jesus, Himself, said: “ The sabbath was made for man, and not man for the sabbath: Therefore the Son of man is Lord also of the sabbath” (Mark 2:27-28).
So, how are we to observe this commandment? Luther explains it: “We should fear and love God that we may not despise preaching and His Word, but hold it sacred, and gladly hear and learn it.”
Therefore, we see that God desires us to set aside time to gladly hear and learn God’s Word, time to remember Him and His ways and all He has done for us to give us life and salvation.
God says in Isaiah 58:13-14: “If thou turn away thy foot from the sabbath, from doing thy pleasure on my holy day; and call the sabbath a delight, the holy of the LORD, honourable; and shalt honour him, not doing thine own ways, nor finding thine own pleasure, nor speaking thine own words: Then shalt thou delight thyself in the LORD; and I will cause thee to ride upon the high places of the earth, and feed thee with the heritage of Jacob thy father: for the mouth of the LORD hath spoken it.”
Already under the Old Covenant when God’s people were commanded to rest on the seventh day, the purpose was to take time and refrain from doing the things we desire and to consider the LORD God and His Word. And, under the New Covenant, God commands us to regard God’s Word as holy and to take the time to gladly hear and learn it, for it is the Word of God which makes us “wise unto salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus” (2 Timothy 3:15). “All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness that the man of God may be perfect, throughly furnished unto all good works” (2 Timothy 3:16-17).
We are not to forsake “the assembling of ourselves together, as the manner of some is” (Hebrews 10:25); but are to “let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom; teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord” (Colossians 3:16).
Despising the preaching of God’s Word, as Luther explains it, does not mean that we hate it; rather, it means that we do not esteem and value it enough to put it before our own pleasures and desires and to gladly hear and learn it and to willingly support it.
Have we broken God’s commandment? We may say, no, because we are no longer required to rest on Saturdays, but have we always regarded the reading and hearing of God’s Word as the greatest treasure? Have we valued the preaching and teaching of God’s Word enough to put it first and foremost in our lives and set aside all our own pleasures and desires that we might hear it and consider the LORD God and His ways? And do we treasure the preaching and teaching of God’s Word enough to support it as God’s Word commands: “Let him that is taught in the word communicate unto him that teacheth in all good things” (Galatians 6:6); and, “Even so hath the Lord ordained that they which preach the gospel should live of the gospel” (1 Corinthians 9:14)?
When we examine ourselves in the light of this commandment of God, we see our utter failures. How often we have not esteemed God’s Word and the faithful preaching and teaching of it as the greatest treasure – the means by which God creates and preserves faith in our Lord Jesus Christ and gives us salvation! How often we allow other cares and concerns of life come before the hearing of God’s life-giving Word! This commandment, as well as the others, reveals the sinfulness of our hearts and condemns us. We are guilty before God and deserve nothing but His wrath and punishment. The Bible says: “Cursed is every one that continueth not in all things which are written in the book of the law to do them” (Galatians 3:10).
But Jesus Christ, God’s Son and true man, fulfilled this commandment perfectly in our stead. Even at the age of 12, He so loved God’s Word that He continued in the temple to hear it and learn it (Luke 2:41ff.)! And our Lord Jesus took our sins – your sins, my sins and the sins of all – upon Himself and suffered our punishment when he died on the cross. God tells us in His Word: “Christ hath redeemed us from the curse of the law, being made a curse for us” (Galatians 3:13); and, “Jesus Christ the righteous … is the propitiation for our sins: and not for ours only, but also for the sins of the whole world” (1 John 2:1,2).
And so, I ask you before God: Have you sinned against God by despising and neglecting God’s Word in your thoughts, desires, words and actions? Have you sinned by neglecting to read and study your Bibles? By putting other things before attending the services of God’s house? By neglecting to support the faithful preaching and teaching of God’s Word? And do you desire, with the help and aid of God the Holy Spirit, to amend your life and treasure the hearing and preaching of God’s Word, regularly attend the services of God’s house and do all in your power to support the faithful preaching of the Word?
If this is your sincere confession, I announce unto you the grace of God in our Lord Jesus Christ, “the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world” (John :29); and I, in the stead and by the command of my Lord Jesus Christ, forgive you all your sins in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.
“For this cause I bow my knees unto the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, of whom the whole family in heaven and earth is named, that he would grant you, according to the riches of his glory, to be strengthened with might by his Spirit in the inner man; that Christ may dwell in your hearts by faith; that ye, being rooted and grounded in love, may be able to comprehend with all saints what is the breadth, and length, and depth, and height; and to know the love of Christ, which passeth knowledge, that ye might be filled with all the fulness of God.” Ephesians 3:14-19
What is Apostle Paul’s prayer for his readers in Ephesus? What is his prayer, and mine, for you – for each of us? “That he would grant you, according to the riches of his glory, to be strengthened with might by his Spirit in the inner man; that Christ may dwell in your hearts by faith; that ye, being rooted and grounded in love, may be able to comprehend with all saints what is the breadth, and length, and depth, and height; and to know the love of Christ, which passeth knowledge, that ye might be filled with all the fulness of God.”
Paul prays that the Holy Spirit, working through the Word of God (Romans 10:17), would strengthen and keep us in the true faith in Christ Jesus, that we would trust in Him and His atoning sacrifice for the remission of all our sins and that He, Himself, would take up residence in our hearts and dwell in us, as He does in His members, His Church (Ephesians 2:19-22).
Paul prays that our faith would be rooted and grounded in God’s love for us sinners in Christ Jesus and that we – together with all other believers in Christ – would be able to comprehend “what is the breadth, and length, and depth, and height; and to know the love of Christ, which passeth knowledge, that ye might be filled with all the fulness of God.”
But do you – do we – even begin to grasp and understand the love of Christ for us? The Bible tells us of God’s love for us in Christ Jesus, the only-begotten Son:
- John 3:16 – “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.”
- 1 John 4:9-10 – “In this was manifested the love of God toward us, because that God sent his only begotten Son into the world, that we might live through him. Herein is love, not that we loved God, but that he loved us, and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins.”
- Romans 5:5-8 – “And hope maketh not ashamed; because the love of God is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Ghost which is given unto us. For when we were yet without strength, in due time Christ died for the ungodly. For scarcely for a righteous man will one die: yet peradventure for a good man some would even dare to die. But God commendeth his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.”
But do we understand and grasp this love of God for us sinners – that God, in love unmerited by us, sent His Son into the world to redeem us from our sin and the eternal death and damnation we deserve. Do we understand and grasp the fact that God, in love for us sinners, sent His Son to be the propitiation and atoning sacrifice for our sins? Do we understand that Christ Jesus gave Himself to die on the cross in our stead, for our sins, that we might not have to die and suffer the eternal punishment we justly deserve and which God’s law demands on account of our sins? That is the apostle’s prayer for us.
Do we still fear death and God’s judgment? The Bible tells us (1 John 4:16-18): “And we have known and believed the love that God hath to us. God is love; and he that dwelleth in love dwelleth in God, and God in him. Herein is our love made perfect, that we may have boldness in the day of judgment: because as he is, so are we in this world. There is no fear in love; but perfect love casteth out fear: because fear hath torment. He that feareth is not made perfect in love.”
If we truly know God’s love for us in Christ Jesus, it will remove our fear of judgment. Consider the words of the Apostle Paul in Romans 8:31-39. Who will condemn us on the last day? Christ will be our judge and He is the one who died for our sins and rose again and now intercedes for us before the Father (v. 34).
Can anything or anyone separate us from the love of Christ? No, no matter what happens in our lives, even if we are persecuted and suffer death, we still have God’s love in Jesus Christ our Lord. Paul writes: “For I am persuaded, that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:38-39).
Paul’s prayer for the believers at Ephesus – and mine for you – is that the Holy Spirit, working through God’s Word, enables you to know and grasp in faith the love of God for you which is in Christ Jesus our Lord (and in Him alone); that you see His great love for you in sending His only-begotten Son into this world as a true man to die for you; that you see that Christ Jesus so loved you, even when you were yet dead in your trespasses and sins, that He suffered your punishment and provided salvation for you in His cross; that God so loved you that He brought you to see your sinfulness and the punishment you justly deserve but also brought you to trust and believe in Christ Jesus and His sacrifice on the cross for the sins of the world for your pardon and your salvation; and that, knowing God’s great love for you in Christ Jesus, you continue to trust in Him unto the end, knowing that you have forgiveness and will not be condemned in God’s judgment, and knowing that no matter what you face in this life, nothing will able to separate you from the love of God in Christ. God grant this to you for Jesus’ sake.
Dear Father in heaven, by the Holy Spirit, graciously open our hearts and minds and grant to us to know and grasp Your great love for us in Christ Jesus that we might trust in Him and Him alone for pardon, peace and life everlasting. In Jesus’ name, we pray. Amen.
[Scripture quotations are from the King James Version of the Bible]