I had a few seconds to jump on Facebook the other day and saw something that gave me pure joy. It was a video from a friend of his daughter and some of her first steps, and what a shot of unadulterated joy! The look on mom’s face and on older sister’s face. The joy in the typing as proud dad fills in the story. It reminded me of when our kids were that age. How many of us remember those early days. Crawling. Cruising on the furniture. Walking. Running. “Wait, where’d they go?”
One of my favorite classes in college was a class on Developmental Psychology. I loved learning about all of the physical and social and psychological development that children go through on the way to maturity. Of course, taking those baby steps is one. But think about all the areas in which children grow in those early years.
Language: the way that we develop and learn our language. How fun is it to guess what a child’s first word or two will be! And that time when they are learning language so fast…they have another 10 words a day sometimes. Learning how to talk and how to understand language is fascinating.
Identity: How cool is it when toddlers start to learn that they are distinct, unique. Early on, it is rather indistinct. It is me…and all y’all. But they start to look at themselves in the mirror and realize who they are looking at. That identity takes a while to form, but it grows over time.
Relationships: not only do we understand that we are distinct individuals, but we also learn that all those people out there are distinct. Mom and Dad and siblings. To watch the attachment process, the relationship-building process. The holding on and letting go. How about when toddlers learn that they can tell their parents “no” and it has an effect on them. Not always a good effect, but an effect nonetheless.
This morning, I want to use this as a metaphor for the Church, and I am back to Ephesians. By the way, I didn’t mean to do a sermon series on Ephesians. I just keep seeing the next passage and saying, “Ooo…I want to do that one next.” I told you last week how Ephesians has always been a favorite of mine, and I guess without meaning to, here we are in a four-week sermon series. Sorry to not give you a heads up!
Also, last week I told you that most scholars suggest that Ephesians was not written by Paul. The language isn’t quite like Paul’s. The context isn’t quite like Paul’s. The format of the letter isn’t quite like Paul’s. Paul wrote to the baby church. His words are some of the earliest written in the New Testament. But Ephesians was probably written to a “toddler church.” Just a little older. Just a little more put together. Scholars think that Ephesians was written about the same time as John’s Gospel. And like John’s Gospel, the theology is a little more developed, a little more intentional. But they are still trying to figure out a bunch of stuff. So, like our discussion about toddler development, I think we can apply these same developmental principles to the “toddler church” of Ephesians:
Language. They were trying to figure out how to talk. How to talk about God, and Jesus, and the Spirit. How will they talk to each other? What is the language of the Church? The language of worship? How are we going to speak?
Identity. This is a big one for Ephesians. They were trying to figure out who they were. What do we do when we start to have disagreements? We understand that we are supposed to be Christ-followers, but what does that look like? Who are we going to be?
Relationships. Here is another big question. How are we going to structure this thing we call church? Who is going to be in charge? Who is going to do what? What will leadership look like? What is the place of women in the church? How are we going to relate to one another?
This is what the toddler church looked like. These were the questions that they were trying to figure out.
When we talk about church, and our individual growth as disciples, these questions still remain pertinent. Now, of course, we are no longer a “toddler church” like Ephesians wrote to. Heck, our congregation has been in Lawrence longer than the Church had been around by the time these words were written. But, we can get stuck, too, can’t we? We can revert sometimes. I would suggest that we have not completely figured out the answers to these questions 2,000 years later.
How are we going to speak? What language will we use for God? For the world?
Who are we going to be? What will our identity be? What happens when we start to disagree?
How are we going to relate to one another? Who’s in charge…and the Church has answered that in a thousand different ways in the last 2,000 years. What is the role of women? Our conversation about same-sex marriage fits into this category.
The good news is that Ephesians gives us answers to each of these questions. They need to be navigated and worked through each generation, but the answers we find in Scripture are relevant still today, at least in my mind. So, let’s see what we read in Scripture as we look at each of these questions:
How are we going to speak?
Ephesians doesn’t mince words. Speak the truth in love. Sounds simple. But not easy.
How often do we either speak the truth…without love? Our world today is filled with those who think that they have the corner on truth, and it is their God-given right to tell everyone else what that truth is. But the reality is that there so often comes a point in their lives when they look back on the bridges that they have burned, of the relationships that they have torched by telling everyone else they are wrong, and they wonder if it was all worth it. Ephesians tells us there is a better way. When we speak the truth, do it in love. Not to perfect. Not to correct. But to listen to the other and show love with the words that we speak.
Of course, if there are those who speak truth without love, there are also those who speak love, but never speak the hard and honest truth that comes with it. These folks are the peacemakers. They just want everyone to get along and although they often see the truth, they don’t always say the truth. So they are left smiling to your face, but then stewing at home, wishing they had said something. Ephesians has a word for them, as well. Speak the truth. It might cause a momentary lapse of peace, but it might be just what you need for that person to grow. Or that relationship to grow. Or you might be dead wrong, but in the saying something, and the conversation that follows, you are the one who grows. Speak the truth in love.
Second, who are we going to be as a church?
Again, Ephesians makes the point pretty bluntly. We are called to unity. Look there at the beginning verses. The author writes of the “calling to which you have been called.” He is not talking about professional ministry, or a specific task in the church. He is talking about each and every Christian, called to live what he calls a “worthy” life. Humility. Gentleness. Patience. Love. Unity. And it’s this last point that he drives home pretty hard. Who are we to be? One body. One spirit. One hope. One Lord. One faith. One baptism. One God. Seven times he uses the word. You would think we would get the point. Unity. Unity. Unity. Unity. Unity. Unity. Unity. Ephesians calls us to a radical unity.
He tells the “toddler church” this is who we are going to be. The world around us loves to divide. They love to compete. They love to outdo each other. They love to create hierarchies. They love to separate. True in the first century and true today. Ephesians says, “we will live a different way.” In fact, at the end, there is this reminder: “don’t be blown around by every wind of doctrine or by trickery or craftiness or scheming.” Just because people say they are Christian doesn’t mean they don’t have a deeper agenda to divide or defeat. Benjamin Corey wrote an article a few years ago and I love the title: “The Ultimate Signs You Got Your Biblical Worldview from Fox News.” And we can say the same thing from the liberal perspective. Insert MSNBC. Or Sojourners Magazine? How often do we let political persuaders define for us what the Bible says? What the church is supposed to be. How many of these persuaders are encouraging humility, gentleness, patience, love, unity? When we watch or read them, are we more likely to be humble and gentle and patient and loving? Or more likely to be angry and spiteful and vengeful to those in the enemy political camp? In our humility, our gentleness, our patience, our love, we will strive for unity.
And finally, how will we relate to one another? Again, Ephesians makes his point clear. We will trust the body of Christ. The toddler church is starting to figure out that there have to be different roles for different folks within the congregation, and within the larger church. The author takes Paul’s metaphor and follows it to the next conclusion. Whereas Paul talked mostly about the local congregation, Ephesians a generation later is talking about roles for folks who link congregation to congregation. So within the church, and within the “Big C” Church, we are to behave as a body. Christ is the head, and each of us has a role to play. So how do we relate to each other? Not with contempt or arrogance, but trust for each other. Our relationships are meant to equip each other, says Ephesians. Meant to build each other up. We are to be thankful for the diversity around us. Thankful that we each have a part to play in the body of Christ. We have to grow up past “me and all y’all” and understand that the Church is about more than “My way or the highway.” The author of Ephesians pleads with us that there is a better way. The Body of Christ is a healthier, stronger, more mature way to live!
That’s what Ephesians has in mind for us. From our first steps, to our toddler tasks, to full and strong maturing. “Grow up” says Ephesians. Mature in Christ. Mature in wisdom. Mature in spiritual health. Because when we do, we become who God calls us to be, who God wants us to be. It really is a better way. A healthier way to live.
Which is our goal in the end, isn’t it?
Right next to the Facebook post of this child taking her first steps was another post, from another friend, bragging on her child. But he is a bit older. And in her video, he is on the track, competing in the National Junior Olympics in Iowa. An amazing comparison. From first steps to an example of one of the fastest youth in the country.
May we use this image as a reminder, as we grow up and develop in Christ, that our spiritual maturity is the way of speaking the truth in love, of growing in unity, and of building up the body of Christ!