"DECLARATION OF INTERDEPENDENCE"
TEXT: Eph. 4:1-32
INTRO:The 4th of July always reminds us of our freedom as a people. It is a great celebration of independence. Unfortunately, this word "independence" has come to mean something that our forefathers never meant it to mean. Today it means "no one tells me what to do, I can do whatever I want, I'm INDEPENDENT." To our forefathers however, the idea of INDEPENDENCE was more like INTERDEPENDENCE than our modern idea of it.
This is also true spiritually. One of the reasons American Christianity is in trouble today is because we have a false idea of what it means to be a Christian. We think being a Christian is like being an American ... we are independent, we don't answer to anyone but God (although actually if this were true we would not be independent, we would be interdependent), and no one can tell us what to do.
The Bible NEVER supports the idea that we are suppose to be independent! Actually, this is the concept of EVIL! Satan got Eve to think and act INDEPENDENTLY from God or her husband, sin resulted! Satan himself acted INDEPENDENTLY from God and it was his downfall ... the drive for independence is built on a foundation of sin and evil!
The Bible teaches INTERDEPENDENCE ... we are not alone, and we don't grow alone ... we are built together as a Holy Temple, upon the foundation of the Apostles and prophets. Nothing good happens spiritually with independent Christians ... it is a contradiction in terms! There is no power in being independent.
ILLUS:A man went to an asylum for the criminally insane. He was a bit surprised to find that there were three guards to take care of a hundred inmates. He said to one of the guards, "Aren't you afraid that the inmates will unite, overcome you, and escape?" The guard said "Lunatics never unite." Locusts do. Christians should. If we don't, we don't know where our power is. -- Haddon Robinson, "The Wisdom of Small Creatures," Preaching Today, Tape No. 93.
PROP. SENT: The bible clearly teaches that Christians are interdependent, never independent. We must not only be in a right relationship with God, but with one another as well. There is no power to the Christian life lived alone.
I. UNION 4:1-6
A. Compassion 4:1-3
1. When Paul talks about the Church or about Christians it is ALWAYS in the context of TOGETHERNESS.
a. Unity is a big theme in the bible.
b. Paul stressed it, Jesus talked about it, indeed it is found everywhere in the bible.
c. We were never meant to be INDEPENDENT!
2. Paul's comments in these first 3 verses are all about "bearing with ONE ANOTHER in love." (emphasis mine)
a. Even Jesus did not act alone ... He always did the will of His father, and always acted in concert with His father and the Spirit, he never acted independently.
b. There is NO independence in the Godhead ... so why would there be in the Body of Christ!?
3. One of the greatest perils of modern Christianity in America is the obsession we have with INDEPENDENCE.
a. Independence focuses on "ME" ... the focus of Christianity however is "US."
b. Jesus never sent out His disciples even alone ... never less than two at a minimum.
4. When we see through our own eyes only we tend to set ourselves up above others ... the beauty of INTERDEPENDENCE is that we are kept to healthy balances because we are NOT the only thing!
a. It is not healthy to act ALONE, we can never do as much alone as we can with the help of others.
b. It is not healthy to see things ALONE, the picture is usually distorted.
ILLUS:A minister took a guilt trip in a sermon: "I let the congregation really have it. Their stewardship was dismal, their participation was weak; and they were wallowing around in their own shortsighted pursuits. After my sermon, in which I really let it all hang out, a little old lady said to me with a smile, 'Pastor, I hope you'll feel better soon.' " -- Oscar Handlin, quoted by Martin E. Marty in Context (Oct. 15, 1985). Christianity Today, Vol. 34, no. 16.
5. It is easy to lose focus ALONE ... but by being united with others we are checked, challenged, cared for, and commissioned.
a. What makes America so strong? It is not our independence, it is our INTERDEPENDENCE ... how we work and set goals together. Remember we are the UNITED States of America!
b. Our forefathers did not proclaim INDEPENDENCE in terms of being alone, they declared INDEPENDENCE from corrupt control and created a UNION, which by definition is INTERDEPENDENCE!
c. Interdependence is the grid for compassion, it breeds compassion and selflessness because we are NOT alone, dependence on the other hand breeds arrogance and selfishness ... doesn't need others.
B. Connection 4:4-6
1. Notice Paul's emphasis here:
a. "one body ... one Spirit ... one hope ... one Lord ... one faith ... one baptism ... one God"
b. INTERDEPENDENCE is God's design!
c. By the way, that is why our Country is as strong as it is, it was built as "ONE NATION under ONE GOD, INDIVISIBLE, with liberty and justice for ALL." It was all about INTERDEPENDENCE!
ILLUS:The emblem of the state of Kentucky shows two men facing each other shaking hands. The motto beneath reads: "United we stand, divided we fall." That could well be the motto of a nation, a congregation, or a family. -- Robert C. Shannon, 1000 Windows, (Cincinnati, Ohio: Standard Publishing Company, 1997).
d. Is it any wonder then that our nation is so strong ... with our forefather's strong biblical roots they built a nation with biblical structure, thus making it strong!
2. The Church is strong too when it understands and functions as an INTERDEPENDENT group.
a. No Church is strong when it fails to have unity, God cannot bless a congregation of independent believers, He blesses a Church of INTERDEPENDENT believers ... this was the meaning of David's words in Psalm 133, "How good and pleasant it is when brothers live together in unity! ... For there the LORD bestows his blessing, even life forevermore."
b. The New Testament gives the same picture ... while we as individuals might all have different gifts they are intended to bless ALL ... we are a team.
c. When Churches have "independent" members all doing their own thing that Church lacks power and purpose, and often lacks praise!
3. Great leaders understand the importance of INTERDEPENDENCE.
ILLUS:After D-Day in World War II, someone said to General Eisenhower, "It's great how you were able to coordinate all the teams in that great enterprise." The General quickly corrected him: "Not teams," he said, "but team." -- Robert C. Shannon, 1000 Windows, (Cincinnati, Ohio: Standard Publishing Company, 1997).
4. All ministries and ministers in a Church need to see the INTERDEPENDENCE of one another ... failure to do so results in superiority by some, division results, and the Church lacks power and witness.
a. Even on the day of Pentecost the Spirit fell only after "they were in one accord."
b. No wonder the Spirit can't fall on some Churches today!!!
II. USEFUL 4:7-16
A. Capabilities 4:7-13
1. Ironically, the lack of being independent doesn't weaken the individual's importance, it heightens it!
a. It doesn't demote the individual it promotes them to even greater importance!
b. It makes each person a critical part of a whole!
c. INTERDEPENDENCE demonstrates the importance of the various capabilities individuals have and how that benefits the whole.
2. Paul likens this principle here to the various gifts given to the WHOLE Church ... there are various gifts, but none are to be thought of as greater than the others but as necessary to the whole!
a. One part of the Church cannot function well without the other parts ....
b. Think of this in terms of the human body ... could you function as well without your foot, without your hand, which part if lost would not impact your function in some way?
3. Paul's point here is simple, though each is gifted in different ways we are all INTERDEPENDENT for the purpose of making the Church whole and each believer mature.
a. One part needs the others in order to DO THE WORK of ministry!
b. This is what built this country too ... diversity IN unity!
ILLUS:When gold was first discovered in California, people prefabricated whole villages in New England and sent them by ship to California. Imagine telling a man, "There's a whole village in the hold of this ship." He goes down into the hold and sees nothing that looks like a village. He sees what is, not what will be. So "what we will be has not yet been made known" (1 John 3:2). So we "become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ" (Ephesians 4:13). -- Robert C. Shannon, 1000 Windows, (Cincinnati, Ohio: Standard Publishing Company, 1997).
4. The whole emphasis in these verses are "unity" and the resulting maturity that comes when we act INTERDEPENDENTLY.
B. Complete 4:14-16
1. The goal of interdependence is to benefit ALL, not just some.
a. Interdependence enhances the individual, makes the individual stronger, not weaker, makes them more important, not less.
b. Paul's point here is to show that such interdependence will produce MATURE believers, those who will "not be tossed back and forth" by "every wind of doctrine" or "deceitful scheming" of wicked men.
c. The result then is that the "whole body ... grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work."
2. Independent spirituality DOES NOT do this!
a. It is ridiculous for someone who would claim to be a Christian and not be part of a body of believers ... this is contrary to everything the Bible teaches!
b. There are no "lone rangers" in God's kingdom!
3. An INTERDEPENDENT Church is a wonder to behold, it is strong, powerful in witness, accomplishes great things, reflects the very nature of the Godhead.
a. No individual can do what the Church together can do!
ILLUS:Herman Ostry's barn floor was under 29 inches of water because of a rising creek. The Bruno, Nebraska, farmer invited a few friends to a barn raising. He needed to move his entire 17,000-pound barn to a new foundation more than 143 feet away. His son Mike devised a lattice work of steel tubing, and nailed, bolted, and welded it on the inside and the outside of the barn. Hundreds of handles were attached. After one practice lift, 344 volunteers slowly walked the barn up a slight incline, each supporting less than fifty pounds. In just three minutes, the barn was on its new foundation. The body of Christ can accomplish great things when we work together. -- Joseph F. Mlaker in Fresh Illustrations for Preaching & Teaching (Baker), from the editors of Leadership.
b. God grant us this kind of Church always!
III. UNDERSTANDING 4:17-32
A. Clear-minded 4:17-24
1. Because Paul has made this principle of INTERDEPENDENCE so clear, because this IS God's design, he states here, "So I tell you this, AND INSIST on it in the Lord, that you MUST NO LONGER live as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their thinking." (emphasis mine)
a. Paul INSISTS that they think this way from now on!
b. Why is this important?
(1. To prevent arrogance
(2. To develop accountability
(3. To help them mature
(4. To have purpose
(5. To experience God's power
(6. To challenge those who live in sin
c. The Gentiles are given over to fulfilling every kind of impurity, to satisfy SELF.
d. The sinner by nature lives an INDEPENDENT life, and it results in damnation, just like Satan!
2. The believer must stay clear minded about spiritual truths ... we are connected interdependently.
a. So Paul tells us to "put off the old self" ... the one that acts selfishly to fulfill its own desires, AND
b. To put on the "new self, created to be like God..." to act in connection to both God and our brethren.
3. Think about it, most of us sin when we get alone, or act alone ... or when we break our connection with the body of Christ and join ourselves with the wicked.
4. When we are INTERDEPENDENT we have greater resources to draw upon than when we are independent, this INTERDEPENDENCE means help from many sources, when we are dependent on only self we will be very weak and experience loss!
ILLUS: One spring our family was driving from Fort Lauderdale to Tampa, Florida. As far as the eye could see, orange trees were loaded with fruit. When we stopped for breakfast, I ordered orange juice with my eggs. "I'm sorry," the waitress said. "I can't bring you orange juice. Our machine is broken." At first I was dumbfounded. We were surrounded by millions of oranges, and I knew they had oranges in the kitchen--orange slices garnished our plates. What was the problem? No juice? Hardly. We were surrounded by thousands of gallons of juice. The problem was they had become dependent on a machine to get it. Christians are sometimes like that. They may be surrounded by Bibles in their homes, but if something should happen to the Sunday morning preaching service, they would have no nourishment for their souls. The problem is not a lack of spiritual food--but that many Christians haven't grown enough to know how to get it for themselves. -- Adapted from Leroy Eims in The Lost Art of Disciple Making. Leadership, Vol. 5, no. 3.
B. Conditioning 4:25-32
1. Paul finishes this chapter off by emphasizing the interdependency of our lives as Christians:
a. "THEREFORE EACH of you must put off falsehood and speak truthfully to his neighbor, for WE are ALL members of ONE BODY." (emphasis mine)
b. This is followed with instructions on dealing with anger in the body, resolving issues of brokenness between one another, with the purpose of "building others up according to THEIR needs..."
c. We cannot afford the luxury of acting alone, everything we do is for others and not just self.
2. The natural tendency is for us to all demand our own way, that others leave us alone, that no one tells me what to do ... and these are ALL sinful expressions of a fallen nature!
a. Such independent attitudes and actions are NOT consistent with being part of the body of Christ.
b. Paul says to not "grieve the Holy Spirit" ... how do we do this? By only caring about what we think and feel, by ignoring what God wants and what others need! By acting independently we grieve God's Spirit because we make ourselves into gods.
3. We must not live in a small environment -- which is what happens when we live independently, for this will stunt our growth!
ILLUS:I met a young man not long ago who dives for exotic fish for aquariums. He said one of the most popular aquarium fish is the shark. He explained that if you catch a small shark and confine it, it will stay a size proportionate to the aquarium. Sharks can be six inches long yet fully matured. But if you turn them loose in the ocean, they grow to their normal length of eight feet. That also happens to some Christians. I've seen the cutest little six-inch Christians who swim around in a little puddle. But if you put them into a larger arena--into the whole creation--only then can they become great. -- Charles Simpson, Mobile, Alabama in Pastoral Renewal. Leadership, Vol. 7, no. 1.
4. How independent are you? How interdependent are you?
5. Being independent is like being in a prison cell, you are wrapped up in yourself, not a very large area! Being interdependent however is like being part of a very large picture ... it lets us be part of something greater than ourselves.
6. Make a "DECLARATION OF INTERDEPENDENCE" for your life in Christ!
CONCLUSION: True "freedom" is not an escape from responsibilities to do whatever I want, true freedom comes when we understand that we are NOT independent but interdependent. I'm never free alone, only as I am connected to Christ and His body am I free!