The Seventeenth Sunday after Trinity| Rev. Rolf D. Preus| October 12, 2003| Ephesians 4:1-6
Jesus teaches us to be humble. “Whoever exalts himself will be abased, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.” His apostle Paul teaches us the same thing. “I beseech you to have a walk worthy of the calling with which you were called, with all lowliness and gentleness, with longsuffering, bearing with one another in love.” Humility is the opposite of pride. Pride insists on its own way. Humility gives in to others. Pride does all the talking and never listens. Humility listens to others. Pride is harsh, impatient, and intolerant. Humility patiently puts up with the faults of others.
As St. Paul urges us to live a humble life that is worthy of the calling we have received as Christians, he relates this to the unity that we enjoy in the Holy Spirit. “Endeavoring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.” He then speaks of the nature of this unity. “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.” The number one is used seven times. Seven is a holy number that signifies God’s relationship to His world. Three is the number for God. Four is the number for the world. God desires a relationship with the world He made, and this relationship can be known and enjoyed only within the fellowship of His church.
There is one body, one Spirit, one hope, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, and one Father who is above us all, through us all, and in us all.
The one body is a reference to the one holy, Christian, and apostolic church. The church is a body. Each part belongs to every other part and no part suffers alone without the rest of the body. The one Spirit is the Holy Spirit, who is the Creator of the one body, the church. The Holy Spirit calls, gathers, enlightens, and sanctifies the whole Christian Church on earth as we confess in the Catechism. The one hope to which every member of the one body is called by the same Spirit is heaven. There is only one heaven. The one Lord is the one Lord Jesus Christ, whose body the church is. The one faith is the Christian faith that every Christian holds in his heart. The one baptism is the means by which the one Spirit calls the one body to the one hope through the one faith in the one Lord Jesus Christ. The one Father is the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who is over all, through all, and in us all.
These are wonderful words. They are higher than anything the human mind could conceive. They are more beautiful than any words a mere man could weave together. Yet, they are so simple that they can teach any child whose heart is open to divine instruction. God’s instruction must be received in humility. Pride won’t be taught. He already knows everything he wants to know. Only the humble, only those who admit their ignorance, can be taught by God. And when God is the teacher, he unites us as one.
Pride divides. It divided Satan from his fellowship with God and caused his fall into hell. All false teaching stems from sinful pride. Pride is what prevents us from submitting to authority, bearing another’s burdens, or accepting the cross that God lays on us. What do I think, or say, or do? It’s not more important than what anyone else thinks, says, or does. I am not the center of the universe. When I think I am, I am headed for a fall.
This is not a uniquely Christian teaching. The ancient pagans taught that pride was the downfall of everyone who gave in to its temptation. In most of the classic tragedies, pride plays a prominent role. You may know of the ancient Greek myth about a very handsome young man named Narcissus who fell in love with his own reflection in a pool. Narcissism, or self-love, used to be considered a rather pathetic kind of thing. Nowadays, it is advanced as a positive thing. It’s called self-esteem. Pride has become a virtue. Humility is despised.
But a humble faith is the only way to receive these wonderful words that tell us so plainly of the unity of God and of His holy church. Humility lets God be God and every man a liar. Humility believes God’s word even when what we see, feel, sense, and experience say something quite different.
Let us take a closer look at these words that God gave to St. Paul for our instruction.
There is one body. That is, there is one church. That is hard to believe. How can we say that there is only one church, when what we see is the church divided into many different competing and disagreeing churches? How can this be true? God said it. That settles it. There is one body. We may see that the church is divided, but what we see is not so. What the Bible says is so. There is one body. We sing in the hymn, “Though with a scornful wonder men see her sore oppressed, by schisms rent asunder, by heresies distressed.” This is what people see. But this is not what is. Listen to how Martin Luther confesses the wonderful truth of the church’s unity in these words from the Large Catechism:
I believe that there is on earth a little holy flock or community of pure saints under one head, Christ. It is called together by the Holy Spirit in one faith, mind, and understanding. It possesses a variety of gifts, yet is united in love without sect or schism. Of this community I also am a part and member, a participant and co-partner in all the blessings it possesses. I was brought to it by the Holy Spirit and incorporated into it through the fact that I have heard and still hear God’s word, which is the first step in entering it. (Large Catechism, Creed, paragraphs 51-52)
There is one Spirit. Since the Holy Spirit is the Creator of the Church, there could not possibly be more than one Church. The Holy Spirit cannot be divided. Neither can the Church. He is the Spirit of truth. The Church is built on the truth. Truth and error don’t mix. Whatever is false does not belong to the Spirit or to his Church. False doctrine cannot but divide folks from the true Church. Those who mark and avoid all false doctrine are falsely accused of being divisive. The very opposite is the case. Those who promote and tolerate false doctrine cause division by contradicting what the Spirit of truth teaches.
There is one hope. It’s not here on earth. It’s not in any political, social, or economic solution to our troubles. The hope of every Christian, the hope of the whole Church, the hope to which the one Holy Spirit calls us is everlasting life in heaven with the blessed Trinity. The Church is on her way to heaven. Only the Church will go there. The world won’t go there. The world will be destroyed. Only the Church will survive. Only those called out of this world before this world is destroyed will make it to heaven. There is one hope. There are not two hopes. There is not a hope for a heaven on this earth to be followed by a heaven in heaven.
The word hope, as it is used in the Bible, means the same thing as faith, except that it is always directed to the future, that is, to heaven. Hope is not any less certain or sure than faith. Hope is faith in what God has promised for the future. There is one hope to which all Christians are called. Jesus said, “I go to prepare a place for you.” Jesus tells us only the truth. The place He is preparing is a place where there is no doubting of God, there is no sinful pride, there is no death, no sickness, no pain, or anything else that sin has brought into this world.
There is one Lord. Jesus cannot be divided. It’s not as if there is the human Jesus and then there is the divine Jesus. No, Jesus is always true God and true man at the same time. When Jesus stilled the storm, displaying his divine powers, it was a man who did it. When Jesus was crucified, suffering as a man for all mankind, it was God who was nailed to that cross. Jesus is one Lord.
There is one faith. It never changes. Every Christian has it. The personal faith of each individual Christian is always the same. True faith may exist in a Christian’s heart along side of all sorts of doubts and false notions, but there is only one Christian faith and that is the faith that receives and lives on every word that proceeds from the mouth of God. This is the faith that receives Jesus, the one Lord.
The Bible talks about faith in two ways: the faith that believes and the faith that is believed. Faith believes. “I am trusting thee, Lord Jesus.” Faith receives Jesus and with Jesus every spiritual blessing that God has to give. This is the personal faith that believes. The Bible also talks about the faith is believed. St. Jude urged the early Christians to “contend earnestly for the faith which was once for all delivered to the saints.” (Jude 3) The word faith here means doctrine or teaching. The doctrine is always the very same. It doesn’t change. Any new teaching must be a false teaching. There is only one faith.
There is one baptism. There are not two baptisms: one of water and one of the Spirit. There is only one baptism, which is of water and the Spirit as Jesus teaches us in John 3. The faith in the one Lord Jesus and the baptism by his authority can never be separated. “He that believes and is baptized shall be saved.” The true faith always includes baptism. Jesus has joined Himself to the waters of Holy Baptism. Jesus alone has forgiveness to give and yet St. Peter preached, as recorded in Acts 2:38-39), “Repent, and let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is to you and to your children, and to all who are afar off, as many as the Lord our God will call.” It’s not a question of believing in Jesus or believing in baptism. Jesus joins himself to Holy Baptism, as St. Paul writes in Galatians 3:27, “For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ.”
Jesus refuses to be divided from the one faith or from the one baptism. Jesus won’t be divided. The faith cannot be divided. And neither Jesus nor the true faith can be torn away from baptism.
There is one God and Father of all, who is above all, and through all, and in you all. Who is this one God and Father of all? He is the God and Father from whom the Holy Spirit proceeds and who through the Holy Spirit calls us into one body to share the one hope of eternal life. Who is this one God and Father of all? He is the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ by whose authority we have been baptized and have obtained the one true faith. Who is this one God and Father of all? He is the One who rules over us. No other power or authority can displace His power or authority. We submit ourselves to Him, we devote ourselves to Him, and we love Him as our dear Father in heaven from whom all good gifts come. He is the One who lives in us, who, with the Spirit and the Son, has chosen to live in us and to remain faithful to us.
What does this mean? Live as you have been called to live. You received something when God baptized you and made you his child. You were joined to the Man, your God, who humbled Himself and was obedient all the way to the cross. So live as you are, joined to Christ, who in humility redeemed you with His blood. You have received Christ. Look at His gentleness, as He leads confused, erring, and sinful people to embrace His grace. You have received Christ. How patient He is with us when we fall again and again into the same old sins. Has he ever denied us forgiveness when our hearts condemned us and we came to Him for absolution? So we live as we are called to live, being patient, bearing with one another in love. There is one body. We are joined to one another. We hurt when our brothers and sisters hurt. We want something more than having our own way, defending our own pride, or vindicating ourselves. We want Him who by His humility has taken away our sin and given us a sure hope of eternal life. He exalts the humble by His grace alone. We bow before Him confessing our unworthiness and forgiving those who have done us wrong. As one body we partake together of His body and blood in the Sacrament of the Altar. There our God guarantees the one hope to which we are called and there we praise God in communion with the angels, archangels, and our Christian loved ones who have gone to their rest.