Trinity Sunday Sermon Outline: The Glory of Real Diversity: Eph. 4:1-16
We have just celebrated Pentecost, the high feast of the Holy Spirit, where we remember and glory in the pouring out of the Spirit on God’s people in the world. The Holy Spirit, we considered last week, is the creative, warrior storm of God that overflows the Triune fellowship as the New Wine, the joy of God. Another way saying a very similar thing is to describe the Spirit as the person in God who creates unity or harmony by destroying distance between persons. And now we come to Trinity Sunday where among other things we celebrate who our God is: unity and diversity, and seek to better live out the loveliness and essential goodness of this unity and diversity in our lives.
The God of Difference and Particularity
If there is unevenness in the ‘seesaw’ of our tradition, it is most assuredly on the side of ‘oneness’ that we tend to lean. But we serve the God who holds difference and particularity in unity as His very essence or ‘oneness’. The Trinity is sometimes misunderstood to be three persons that share some sort of ‘oneness’ behind or above their ‘threeness’, a plurality that is held together by some prior unity (which may be what is sometimes meant by “God is three in one”). But this is really just a subtle form of modalism, where a solitary god merely masquerades as different persons. But the true doctrine of the Trinity is that the oneness of God is the relatedness of the three distinct persons. This is the case because unity or relatedness is not possible where particulars do not exist, and particulars are not possible where relatedness does not exist.
Keeping the Unity: 4:1-6
Our text is very much concerned with unity and diversity, oneness and particularity. Paul begins with who Christians are (v. 1) exhorting them to be what they are (v. 2) and to preserve what they already have (v. 3). Christians are exhorted to humility, gentleness, patience, and bearing with one another in love (remember the Holy Spirit) (v. 2) which is how we endeavor to keep the unity of the Spirit (v. 3). Notice that we are not commanded to create the unity, to manufacture unity or figure out some kind of common, middle ground between ourselves and the other baptized guy over there. The unity already exists and we are required to preserve it through humility, gentleness and love. If the unity already exists, that means that Paul is assuming that difference already exists. This is because God the Spirit Himself is that unity and bond of peace (v. 4-6).
Different Gifts: 4:7-12
But Paul knows that there cannot be unity without difference. We cannot compliment one another unless we have been given different gifts (v. 7). The center of this passage is the quotation from Psalm 68 where the Messiah is Yahweh God ascending to the highest of all mountains after having destroyed the enemies of His people (Ps. 68:12, 14, 21-23). Our triumphant King is the reason for our unity: having spoiled His and our enemies, He gives gifts to men (v. 8). If Jesus has given the Spirit and His gifts to men then we have been brought into the life of the Trinity. But the only way mortals can be brought into fellowship with the Immortal is if Hades has been ransacked. And it has (v. 9-10) and not only at Pentecost, but He “daily loads us.” (Ps. 68:19) This is the life of the Trinity overflowing in and through history: the terrible, joyful dance of the Father, Son and Spirit spilling gifts on His people. The ascension of Jesus Christ means that we have been joined to the Trinity in the body of our Lord. We, in the power of the Spirit are united to the Son and are now members of the eternal, most holy, most glorious gift-giving frenzy.
To a Perfect Man: 4:13-16
Lest any should doubt whether Paul believes in Truth or whether diversity has any limits, he concludes describing what true humility, gentleness, patience and love results in (v. 13,14). The result is NOT that they don’t believe anything or relativism, consigning most doctrines to the “who’s to say?” category, but the result is that they are “no longer children, tossed to and fro and carried about with every wind of doctrine…” (v. 14). Humility is not uncertainty or sheepishness any more than a son doubting his father’s love is being humble. True humility is confident and mature in doctrine. Because faith, the knowledge of the Son and true doctrine are gifts, humility does not doubt but recognizes the Giver, and refuses to despise the gift. And when thanks are given, when honor and glory for the undeserved are rendered, we are living out the Trinitarian life.
The spirit of our age is one of false diversity and superficial multiculturalism. The most potent weapon against this is deep, profound thankfulness. We began by talking about the goodness of difference and particularity. Because this is what the Trinity is: three different persons united in the pursuit of the others’ glory. And without difference there could be no gratitude, and this is because there could be no gift, there could be no grace. This means that our gratitude cannot be generic, open-ended thankfulness, a counterfeit gratitude. Thankfulness always has specifics, objects, particulars, and this teaches us loyalty to our own gifts and openness to others’.
Live this gratitude in your homes. Give thanks for your food with exuberance; sing psalms and hymns with thanksgiving in your hearts. Speak to one another with grace, and guard your words: take care that your words don’t even sound ungrateful. As we seek to recover and rebuild a faithful Christian culture, our aim is to be built up into that perfect man, conforming to the image of Jesus Christ. But as grace has its way in our lives and we respond with thanksgiving, the glorious thing is that it will often look and sound very different in different people and places. The same God who made Hermit crabs also made asteroids, sea weed and icicles. And it’s the same God who’s remaking us now. In the Name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, Amen!
Collect for the Day
Almighty and everlasting God, since you have given us, Your servants, grace to acknowledge the glory of the eternal Trinity by the confession of a true faith, and to worship the true Unity in the power of Your divine majesty, keep us also steadfast in this true faith and worship, and defend us ever from all our adversaries; for You, O Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, live and reign, one God, now and forever. Amen.
All: Amen! The Lord is enthroned as King forever. The Lord gives strength to His people; the Lord blesses His people with peace.