Sermon Outline (Youth)
United in peace, for the world, we are called to strengthen the church.
“As a prisoner for the Lord, then, I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received. Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. 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” (Ephesians 4:1-6, NIV).
The focus of this week’s teaching is about our calling to be the church. We are called to be witnesses to the world of Christ’s great love for us through how we live our lives individually and as a group of people (the church). This means that each of us has the potential to impact the people around us with Christ’s love—from the little things, like how you treat your family members, teachers, and coaches, to how you care for your friends or stand up for peers who get bullied or treated unfairly. These interactions can turn into significant moments that open the door for others to know and experience Christ’s love.
We are also witnesses of Christ’s love to the world as a group of people—as the church. One of the essential ways we witness Christ’s love to the world is by being a church that is unified as one people, no matter what our differences are or what things divide us, for the sake of the mission to which Jesus calls us.
This can be extremely difficult. But finding common ground as Christians through our faith in Jesus and love for one another is our greatest witness to our friends, peers, and neighbors. By loving one another, accepting one another, and living with one another despite all that divides us, we model something incredibly rare and precious found only through Jesus Christ.
So let’s explore how all this might impact us personally as Christ-followers, and then we’ll examine the challenges we have together as the church.
PART 1: PERSONALLY
Engage with Story: Make it personal right away with your own story of a small interaction you had with another Christian in your life, where you experienced Christ’s love through their actions. This could be anything from someone listening to you during a really hard day, or you could go deeper to share how people came alongside you during a loss or hardship. Or it could be something simple that lifted your spirit and reminded you of God’s love. Think about what keeps your students’ attention. What are they interested in and how might you connect with that?
Teaching: In this week’s passage Paul offers some guidelines and encouragement on how to live out being a Christ-follower: “be completely humble and gentle; be patient; bearing with one another in love” (v. 2). This relates closely to another list Paul offers us of how to live out our faith in simple ways in Colossians 3:12-17. The image of clothing yourself with these things can be a helpful way to visualize our decision of what to wear each day. I have the choice to be gentle with my words, the choice to be kind, the choice to forgive, the choice to be patient with people who annoy me, and the choice to choose love and kindness.
Read Colossians 3:12-17 aloud. (Either prepare one of your students to do so, or as a group take turns reading verses, depending on the size of your group.)
- Ask the students to point out the similarities and differences between Ephesians 4:2-3 and Colossians 3:12-17.
- Focus on the addition of forgiveness in the Colossians passage. One of the hardest aspects of showing Christ’s love to one another is through the practice of forgiveness—asking for forgiveness, forgiving another person, and moving forward toward reconciliation. Yet this has everything to do with being unified as a church. We choose humility to learn and understand where others are coming from.
- Consider sharing another personal story here and/or inviting students to engage together in these ways:
Application/Interaction (Option 1): Give students an opportunity to engage in forgiveness on a personal level. As the youth leader, you decide what is most appropriate for your group. Some ideas: 1) Provide a note card and pen for each student and invite them to think of someone they are trying to forgive in their life right now. 2) Provide them time to pray about who they are trying to forgive, either with leaders or in a time of silence or with worship music in the background. 3) Break up into small groups of two to three students, and discuss why forgiveness is so hard. 4) Invite students to reflect (as a group or individually on paper) on a time when someone forgave them, and what that was like.
Application/Interaction (Option 2): Give students an opportunity to discuss or engage with the reality of what Christians are “known for” or perceived as being known for from the perspective of their non-Christian peers/friends/family, and/or perceptions of society through the media.
Conclusion to Part 1: Let’s be honest, it is not easy to put aside our selfish ways, and it’s all too easy to get caught up in living a life that leaves God out of our daily decisions. But thankfully we have help! We have help from one another, but most important, we have Jesus’s help through the power of the Holy Spirit. Remember, the Spirit is your advocate who will come alongside you in every moment of every day as you invite God to do so. The Spirit is your counselor and your guide, and the Spirit will remind you of God’s love for you and God’s plan for you to be a witness of Jesus’s love for all people (John 14:15-27; Romans 8:14-17; Ephesians 6:18).
- Going Deeper Option: Spend some extra time with the passages above to talk about how the Spirit guides us.
PART 2: TOGETHER AS THE CHURCH
Teaching: Now let’s talk about bearing witness to the love of Christ as the church. That purpose alone is a powerful uniting force. It gives us a common goal and value that is centered in who Jesus is and why he lived the way he did in loving and restoring people. The Apostle Paul is intentional to show us the depth of this unity. Instead of many different ways of living our own paths directed by our self-interest, Paul uses the language of “one” in verses 4-5 to remind us that we have one way of being focused on Jesus, despite our differences in age, culture, status, race, gender, etc.:
- We are part of one body now.
- We are brought together by the one and only Spirit of God.
- We have one hope that drives our purpose and gives meaning to our lives.
- We have one Lord and Savior, and our one faith is in him.
- We have one baptism, a sacrament that demonstrates our acceptance into God’s family.
- We have one God who is over all and works in and through each one of us.
(Consider going into more depth on any or all of these aspects of “one-ness.” This could be a good time to highlight baptism, for instance, after returning from CHIC or other summer events in which students grew in their faith and want to make a deeper commitment to Christ.)
Engage with Story: Connect with students by sharing a personal story of how finding common ground in Christ with someone in your life or church (or community) was difficult but possible because of your mutual faith and personal relationship with Christ. Talk about the difference, the challenge to overcoming it, and what allowed you to develop mutuality together.
Teaching Continued: Even as we recognize all that unifies us, there is still much in our society—and even in our churches—that divides us. Sometimes in order to talk about unity in the church we have to acknowledge the disunity in the church. Sometimes divisions drive people away from the church instead of inviting them to run to Jesus. Sometimes differences seem too hard to overcome, and the Spirit of unity through Jesus given as the “bond of peace” seems unreachable.
But as Paul says, Jesus himself is our peace (Ephesians 2:14). This means that not only has God reconciled people himself through the death and resurrection of Jesus, but Jesus has also reconciled us all to each other. This gives meaning and definition to our lesson when Paul says, “Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace” (Ephesians 4:3, NIV).
One example that gives us a way to think about this is viewing the church as the body of Christ (Ephesians 4:4). Paul loves to use the body as a metaphor of being the church in the world (see 1 Corinthians 12:12-28 for more detail here if desired). This metaphor is really important because if Jesus is our peace, that means we are all one body, and no part of the body is more important or better than another. We have a new purpose as the body of Christ, as the church, to the world. That purpose takes priority over old ways of doing things, or over what society says is more important (i.e., power, privilege, do whatever makes you happy even at the expense of others, frivolous ways of spending time like Netflix-binging, or porn, or gaming for ten hours straight, managing surface-level friendships on social media versus developing deep personal relationships, or [Youth Leader, use your own examples that your students will “get” here]).
Application/Interaction: Provide an opportunity to get real with your students about the challenges of differences and overcoming division/disunity. Either share your own personal story or experience or:
- Ask them (either as one group or in small groups, or write it down anonymously), what divisions do they see and experience as Christians in the church, and what concerns do they have for overcoming them?
- Then ask how they have seen Christians come together in unity. What draws people together? Invite them to think about how this works in serving together, singing together, doing ministry together, etc. In what ways have they participated in being the church together, united in the common purpose of living out faith together? [For students who went to CHIC, this could be a great opportunity to talk about what they saw and experienced as unity there. With so many different students coming together to one place—did the experience offer examples of unity?]
Teaching Continued: The Apostle Paul was a leader who understood the power of differences and division, and he often reminded the early Christians to find common ground and purpose through their faith and freedom in Christ Jesus. When Paul was writing, there was a very distinct racial divide between Jews and Gentiles. Paul spends much of his letter to the Ephesians reminding all these new Christians (both those who came from Jewish backgrounds like he did and those who came from Gentile backgrounds) to consider themselves a new people group. As “Christians” they will follow Jesus’s teachings, not their old Jewish practices (like circumcision or abstaining from certain foods) or the pagan religions of the Gentiles that often included immoral living.
Paul also knew firsthand the consequences of living out his faith for the purpose of unity. What he does as an individual reflects upon the whole community, the whole church, because we are part of the whole. He begins Ephesians 4 saying, “As a prisoner for the Lord, I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received.” He is reminding these new Christians to actually stand up and make sure that what they say they believe in their hearts is revealed in their actions. For Paul, that often landed him in prison—and he was not ashamed about that.
(Optional addition to this lesson for more in-depth content): Paul was constantly trying to work out how to live out his faith and that was often really challenging. Let’s take a look at one of Paul’s experiences. Read the story in Acts 21:27-36 (depending on the attention span of your group, consider the full story of 21:17–23:11).
- Teaching highlights: Paul knew his calling was to reach the Gentiles and share the good news of Jesus. He writes about the need for unity in our text in Ephesians, which is set within a letter in which he is constantly calling Jews and Gentiles to unite together through their faith in Jesus. In this passage in Acts various groups of Jews from Asia accuse Paul of bringing a Gentile into the temple. It causes such an uproar that he is arrested. This is the beginning of his journey of being imprisoned and finally sent to trial. There was a distinct place in the temple where Gentiles were allowed to enter, but Paul invited Gentile believers into a full worship experience of God through Jesus. Many Jews were furious that he crossed those boundaries (see Acts 22:21-22).
- Application / Interaction Ideas: In what ways are Christians persecuted in your context or in other parts of the world for living out their calling? What are the costs of standing up for someone or for specific people groups in your context as you live out what it means to be a Christ-follower?
Conclusion: When Paul identifies himself “as a prisoner for the Lord,” we get a sense of where he is coming from in his world. What about you? If you were to rewrite the first sentence of Ephesians 4:1 to reflect where you are coming from, what would you say? Who are you in your world right now that you can focus on “living a life worthy of the calling you have received”?
- [Youth Leader: use some examples you think students will relate to, i.e., “as an athlete for the Lord,” “as an employee of ____” for the Lord, “as a member of my family” for the Lord.] What aspects of who you are in your daily life open up doors for you to live as a witness to Christ’s love for all? Each one of you has an opportunity every day to live as Christ-witnesses to the world, and we do so both as individuals and as representatives of the whole body of believers with one purpose: to love God and to love our neighbors. Let the Spirit guide you in this, and let us have hope that we are in this together.
Application/Interaction: Give students an opportunity to pray for one another in seeking ways to unify as the body of Christ. This is a great way to embody being the church to one another (Acts 2:42-47). Praying for one another is an essential way we can strengthen one another and the church. Through our words and care, the Spirit strengthens each person individually and together as a whole. Encourage students to focus in their prayer time on the different aspects of this lesson: living out in one’s daily life being humble and gentle, patient, and practicing forgiveness; and in working through the differences that divide us as Christians and focusing on the “oneness” we have in Jesus.