One (Week 7)
God and Father (Ephesians 4:4-6)
When it comes to movies, I’m a sucker for a twist or surprise ending. I love when everything about a movie seems to be heading in one direction and suddenly at the end, the curtain is pulled back to reveal something else entirely. You discover that Bruce Willis has been dead the whole time or the Planet of the Apes was Earth just in the future or Darth Vader is actually Luke’s father. Did I just accidentally spoil any movies for anyone?
What I find, a lot of the time, after knowing the twist ending, is that if I go back and rewatch the film, there were clues the whole time. The whole movie has actually been hinting at the real ending and I simply missed it. The best writers and directors are able to do that intentionally.
Today we’re coming to the end of our series One talking about the unity of the church. We’ve been talking about all the reason why the church should be united despite all the things we have for diversity.
Paul encourages the Ephesians to “keep the unity of the Spirit through the bonds of peace, because there is one body and one spirit, just as you were called to one hope when you were called; one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.”
We’ve talked about what it means that all Christians are part of the same body of Christ, that we all have the same Spirit of God within us, that we’re all called to participate with God in reconciling all things to himself. We talked about how Jesus, not Caesar, is the one true Lord of the world; how all Christians can agree on the essentials of the faith and how all of us are baptized into Jesus death and resurrection.
Today we wrap up the series with that final clause: “One God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.” And as we’re going to discover, this is Paul’s twist ending on this passage. When he started, it appeared that he was just talking about unity in the church, but as he ends this passage, what we’re going to discover is that the unity he’s talking about is bigger and more expansive than just the church. But before we jump in this morning, let’s go to God in prayer.
Paul concludes by saying there is one God and Father of all. This is a reference first and foremost to Deuteronomy chapter 6 verse 4, what’s known as the Shema.
You know how as Christians there are some passages of the Bible that are more famous than other ones? There are some verses that we see as more central to our understanding of faith than others. For example, John 3:16, “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” Or Matthew 28:19-20, the Great Commission, “Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, even to the very end of the age.” There are certain verses or passages of Scripture that are central or foundational to our faith.
For Jews, the Shema is one of those passages. It’s called the Shema because “shema” is the Hebrew word for “hear” or “listen”. Deuteronomy 6:4-5 says, “Hear O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength.” Many Jews would recite the Shema multiple times a day. When they went to bed at night, when they woke up in the morning, as they walked along the road, as they entered their house. The Shema was critical for establishing the Jews as strict monotheists in a world of polytheism.
Monotheism is the term for worshipping a single God. Mono meaning one, while polytheism means that you worship multiple gods.
What was central to Jewish theology from the very beginning, and what set Jews apart from Gentiles, was the belief that there is only one God. And Paul agrees with this. There is only one God and he is over all. The term for this is God’s transcendence, meaning he is above and beyond, different in his nature and his holiness.
Isaiah had a vision of God he described in chapter 6 of his book where he writes, “In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord, high and exalted, seated on a throne; and the train of his robe filled the temple. Above him were seraphim, each with six wings: With two wings they covered their faces, with two they covered their feet, and with two there were flying. And they were calling to one another: ‘Holy, holy, holy is the Lord Almighty; the whole earth is filled with his glory.’ At the sound of their voices the doorposts and thresholds shook and the temple was filled with smoke.”
Isaiah saw a vision of this transcendent, holy God and it brought him to ruin. And yet this God isn’t just holy or different or beyond us. He is also powerful and authoritative. Genesis 1, the first book of the Bible, starts out by saying “In the beginning the heavens and the earth. Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters.”
In Jewish mythology, water is quite often viewed as chaos and disorder. And at the beginning of the Jewish creation narrative we see the earth as exactly that, formless and empty, there was chaos and disorder. And yet this God was there, hovering over the waters. And throughout the first chapter this God is shown to have the power and authority to create order out of the chaos.
Regularly in the Old Testament, God is insisting that there is no god other than Him. That he has power over everything and everyone. There is one God who is over all. He is transcendent. Beyond us, above us, holy, powerful. The uncreated One.
And yet Paul also insists that he is Father. To say that he is God and over all are terms that most people would already accept. The gods have always been distant. They have always ruled over us and had power and authority. But to say this God is also Father was revolutionary. And yet Paul wasn’t the first one to insist on this.
Jesus constantly referred to God as Father. Sometimes Jesus even referred to God as “Abba” which aside from being a great Swedish band, was also an Aramaic term for “father". But “Abba” is more of a simplistic form of father, similar in nature to “dada”. It’s the sound a child makes when they’re first learning to talk.
Jesus and Paul and the rest of the New Testament writers insists that God isn’t just this transcendent, distance God who is beyond us and above us. They also believed that he was imminent or close to us. That he loved us like a Father.
Luke, in chapter 3 of his gospel, traces the genealogy of Jesus and he starts in verse 23 by saying, “Now Jesus himself was about thirty years old when he began his ministry. He was the son, so it was thought, of Joseph, the son of Heli, the son of Matthat…” and it goes on like that all the way back through history until in verse 38 we read, “the son of Enosh, the son of Seth, the son of Adam, the son of God.”
Adam was the son of God. The original son of God. This God isn’t just a distant deity with no understanding of humanity or how we work. This deity is the ultimate patriarch. The father of the entire human race. This is something even the Psalmists hinted at, like in Psalm 82, when the Psalmist wrote, “I said, You are all ‘gods’; you are all sons of the Most High”. Later in the Gospels, Jesus quoted this Psalm as justification for why he referred to himself as the Son of God.
Paul says this one God is over all, he has authority and power, he’s different than we are, he's holy and majestic and worthy of praise. And yet, at the same time he’s imminent. He’s our father and he’s through all. Which is kind of a weird phrasing? God is through all things. What does that mean exactly?
John starts his gospel in chapter 1 by saying, “In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made.”
The “Word” here is a euphemism for Jesus. That, in the beginning, was Jesus, that he was with God and he was God. Through Jesus everything was made. In this sense, Jesus isn’t just the one who makes things happen, he’s the way through which things happen. Jesus is the process. That’s essentially what Paul is saying here as well. There is one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all. God is the process, the means by which we accomplish anything substantial at all. Which is not to say that God is simply some impersonal energy, but rather without God sustaining all things, nothing would continue to exist.
Last week we talked a little bit about a philosophy called deism. It’s the belief that God simply created the world and has since more or less stopped interfering with the world. This philosophy grew in popularity in the 17th and 18th century during the scientific revolution as science was more and more able to explain how the world worked. As we discovered gravitation and chemistry and electricity, we—as a society—more and more relegated God to the role of the creator instead of any kind of sustainer. But what Paul is saying is that not only does this God have power over all things, he is through all things. He sustains or holds together all things.
And finally, this one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all is also in all. Going back to Genesis, this time in chapter 2, verse 7 describes how God created Adam, the first man. It says, “Then the Lord God formed a man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being.” God breathed into him the breath of life. In Hebrew, the words “wind”, “breath”, and “spirit” are all the same word, ruach. The Greek language works the same way with the word “pneuma”. And so God took the dust of the ground and he breathed his own spirit into the man and he became a living being.
In the same way that God and His Spirit was in Adam, God’s breath of life, his animating energy is in all of us. Paul isn’t just talking about the church in this passage, he’s talking about everyone. As Thomas Slater says in his commentary on Ephesians, “In Paul’s letters expressions about God that employ ‘all’ have cosmic dimensions.” Wherever Paul uses “all” language to talk about what God is doing, he’s talking about all things, everything in the cosmos.
There is one God and Father of all (everyone, everything), and this God is over all he’s transcendent, powerful, authoritative. This God is through all, he sustains all things and holds all things together. And this God is in all things. You and me and your children and your coworker and that woman who took your order at Tim Horton’s and that guy you sat next to on the plane.
Paul started out giving us reasons for unity talking about the church, but he ended giving us a whole host of reasons for why there should be unity with all people everywhere. Because there is one God who is father to us all. He has power and authority over all of us, he sustains and holds together everything and his spirit is in each and every one of us.
Now, this has a couple implications. First of all, just because there is one God does not mean that everyone who is monotheistic worships this one God. Some people like to make the claim that because Judaism, Christianity and Islam are all monotheistic faiths, and all claim to worship the God of Abraham, that they are essentially the same faith. This isn’t true.
When we worship God, it’s important that we know Him and worship him as he really is. In this sense, we need to worship God “in truth”. In this sense, worship God is kind of like knowing anyone else.
For example, I’m married to the best woman in the world (that’s Karly). While I’m still learning more about her, I know her well. I know her likes and dislikes, her hopes and fears, what she finds funny and what she finds scary. Now imagine if someone who went to university with Karly were to come and suggest that they had an equal relationship with her and knew her just as well as I did. Obviously, we would all disagree that that person's knowledge and understanding of Karly is on the same level as mine. In the same way, it’s important that we know and worship God as he is.
The point of knowing and worshipping God in truth isn’t to brag to others that we’re more right or better or more loved by God. But as the Westminster Catechism reminds us, the chief end of man is to glorify God and enjoy him forever. We enjoy God more and glorify him more as we get to know and understand him more accurately. So while there is one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all, we don’t all worship him equally. Not all expressions of monotheistic worship are equally valid.
Secondly, since this God has revealed himself to us as Father, we can trust him to provide for us as a parent should. In the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 7, Jesus rhetorically asks the question, “Which of you, if your son asks for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake? If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him!”
You father in heaven loves you more than you could possibly know or imagine. He longs to bless you with every spiritual blessing. He will provide for you and take care of you. This is a God you can trust because he’s a good, good father. You can trust him with your finances, you can trust him with your kids, you can trust him with your health. You can trust him with your past, present and future.
Finally, because this God is Father of all, because he is in all, then every single person you meet is a son or daughter of the Most High. You can and should treat them accordingly. Treat them with respect and honour and love. Treat them with value. Treat them as equal and important.
This is the ultimate foundation of our unity. We shouldn’t treat people with respect because they are fellow Christians. We should treat them with respect because they are sustained by God our Father. That makes everyone you meet a brother or a sister. That means there is no us versus them. There’s only us. All of us as members of one family. All of us loved and valued by God.
We might disagree with our brothers and sisters at times, but we should never stop loving them. We should never stop being loyal to them. We should never stop fighting for them and serving them and seeking what’s best for them.
Rather we should make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bonds of peace because there is one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.