Membership - Ephesians 4:25-31

A sermon preached at St. Paul's Anglican Church, Kingston, Ontario, Canada, August 13, 2000

by Robert Brow   (

Our topic today is church membership. What does it mean for you to be a member of this church? Paul writes "Putting away falsehood, let us all speak the truth to our neighbors (the ones who are close to us), for we are members of one another" (Ephesians 4:25). Here the ones "close to us" are the other members of the church. But how can we be members of one another?

Paul explains this in a previous Epistle, where he writes about the church as a body. "Just as the body is one and has many members, and all members of the body, though many are one body, so it is with the Messiah (Christos is properly translated Messiah in the Gospels, Matthew 1:1, 17, 18). For in the Spirit we were all baptized into one body . . . The body does not consist of one member but of many. If the foot would say, "Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body," that would not make it less a part of the body. And if the ear would say, "Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body," that would not make it any less a part of the body . . . As it is, there are many members, yet one body . . . The eye cannot say to the hand, "I have no need of you," . . . On the contrary, the members of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, and those members of the body that we think less honorable we clothe with greater honor . . . If one member suffers, all suffer together with it; if one member is honored, all rejoice together with it" (1 Corinthians 12:12-26).

This comparison with a human body explains in what sense we are members of one another. Church membership consists of members in close relationship to one another. Like a human body each part has a function, and often the unseen, insignificant persons are more important for the life the church than those who are prominent. The unseen member may appear to do little, but performs the supremely important function of prayer for others.

Obviously membership is nothing to do with being on a church list. Paul would find it very strange to hear people say "I am a member of the Baptist Church," or the Presbyterian, or Anglican or Roman Catholic Church. There is no harm in denominations having lists of members, but we should make it clear that New Testament membership is an organic function in the Body of the Messiah.

As Paul explained earlier in our Epistle, "Speaking the truth in love, we must grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and knit together by every ligament (connecting part) with which it is equipped, as each part is working properly, promotes the body's growth in building itself up in love" (Ephesians 4:15-16).

4:25 - Now going back to our text we can see what Paul means by saying "Let all of us speak the truth to those who are close to us, for we are members of one another." Every part of our human body is in constant communication with other parts, listening to each other, and making their needs known. Just imagine what would happen if the different parts of our body began lying to one another. "I need more calcium" when the real need is a hormone, or iron to build up a muscle. We would soon be dead if any parts of our own body stopped speaking the truth to one another.

For that kind of communication to occur in the Body of the Messiah the members must know one another and listen to one another. You cannot be a member of his church as a loner who thinks the feelings and work of others is unimportant. Much more is going on around you than you imagine. So try to find out what other members of this congregation and other members of the Church in Kingston are doing. Honor them, and listen to them.

4:26-27 - "Be angry but do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger." We all get angry, often several times a day, with people at work or in our families. The art is to deal with that anger before we go to bed for the night. Anger that is not dealt with festers in us, and is very bad for our mental and physical health. It certainly makes a "room for the devil" in our life.

Church congregations have a way of making us particularly angry. I saw a sign outside a church building. "Don't let worry kill you, let the church help." It would be equally helpful to say "Don't let anger kill you." It helps to remember that the church is the Lord's body, and he knows how to deal with the things that we find so upsetting. The wonderful thing in our human body is that the various parts do their job without apparently getting angry. We may not manage to live totally without ever getting angry with other church members. But Paul tells us to make sure we defuse it before the sun goes down. Here is a prayer before going to sleep :"O Holy Spirit, I find Mr. (Mrs. Ms.) such a pain that I feel like never coming to this church again. Give me a prayer for that person (Romans 8:26), and fill me with love, and wisdom to know how to cope in the future."

4:28 - "Have something to share with those who need it." In our human body every part is giving to every other part. Red and white blood cells are created for the blood, the heart pumps that blood through the arteries and capillaries, the oxygen and nutrients feed every area of the body, the nervous system passes the information that is needed, and a hundred other activities go on.

Similarly in a church we all contribute to the spiritual and mental and physical needs of each other. Paul pictures a pickpocket who makes a living stealing from people coming off the ships in the harbor of Ephesus. Although he is already a member of the church there, in the sense of having a function in the body, one day he hears "Thieves must give up stealing; rather let them labor and work honestly with their own hands, so as to have something to share with the needy." Imagine all that would be involved. "God, this is the only training I have, and I am very good at it. I would love to be able to give to others rather than steal. How on earth do you expect me to change? I can't imagine God saying "Too bad, buddy. That is your problem." I am sure the Holy Spirit would empower the person step by step to make the changes which would be needed. The early churches were filled with such people who became disciples, and then found themselves being transformed in ways they could never have expected. Perhaps you could ask the Holy Spirit to enable you to make the moves that could make you contribute to the needs of the church in Kingston and throughout the world? Having prayed that prayer many have found that they can easily tithe their take home pay, and still have plenty for their own needs as they enjoy giving to others.

4:29 - As we have seen, we live and grow by the communications of every part of the body with other parts. In a church it is easy to use words which hurt and discourage and divide others. So Paul says, "Let no evil talk come out of your mouths, but only what is useful for building up, as there is need, so that your words may give grace to those who hear."

4:30-32 - Your human body is animated by a life force. And that life is easily damaged or weakened by traumas and things that pollute it. The moment we die, our body begins to disintegrate back into dust. Similarly the Holy Spirit is the life force of the church as a body. I have been in church congregations which seem totally devoid of the Holy Spirit, and it is a wonderful thing to see them suddenly begin to come alive. But even in a live church Paul gives a list of things that damage or weaken its life force. "Do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God" which includes:

Bitterness, Anger - Some people are constantly bitter about how the world, or their family, or the church has treated them. Every person who is constantly bitter or angry damages and weakens the church.

Wrath, Malice - It is easy to adopt an attitude of revenge. "I will get you for the way you have treated me." Other people can sense our malice, and it certainly grieves the Holy Spirit.

Wrangling, Slander - Such people don't know it, but others can constantly hear them shouting and bickering with any one who disagrees with them. It upsets us, and grieves the life of the body. Some gossip about other church members, and gossip never shares the good qualities of the person. By omitting the whole picture, and twisting it slightly, a person is slandered.

Be kind to one another - What a wonderful ending to this list of things that build up or weaken the body of the Messiah. And kindness includes "forgiving one another, as God in the Messiah has forgiven you."

Being a church member is not being on a list. It is having a function in the body. And instead of grieving the Holy Spirit, who is the life force, we listen to, encourage, and build up the other members. Look at it that way, and you will find church life wonderfully rewarding. .

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