We are all Different

By Rev. Dr. Brent RussettAsbury Free Methodist

September 30th, 2022

Ephesians 4:1-16

            We have been talking about Christian spiritual formation for the last couple of weeks. We have been looking at how God transforms us after we choose to follow Jesus. Today I want to look at something that you probably haven’t heard too many sermons on. You heard the passage that was just read.

Ephesians 4:2–6 (NIV)

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.

            You would think that I was going to preach on oneness. But I am not. The reason why Paul has to write something like this is that we are all different. We are called to unity around our one Lord out of our differences.

            The reason why I want to talk about our differences is to help you become wise in the ways of the Lord. Oneness in the body of Christ is crucial. Unity is extremely important. But some people have misinterpreted this to mean that we are all the same. They seem to think that if we were all mature in Christ, then we would be cookie-cutter versions of each other. That kind of thinking is not only untrue, but it can be quite damaging.

            Let me lay another few verses on your mind.

1 Corinthians 12:4–7 (NIV)

There are different kinds of gifts, but the same Spirit distributes them. There are different kinds of service, but the same Lord. There are different kinds of working, but in all of them and in everyone it is the same God at work.

Now to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good.

            Paul is about to talk about the gifts of the spirit. He says you will see that in the body of Christ, there are different kinds of gifts. There are different kinds of service. There are different kinds of work or activities. But it is the same Spirit, the same Lord, the same God. We are different and do different things. Our unity is because we have one Spirit, one Lord, one God. But we are all different.

            Let me give you one other passage of scripture

1 Corinthians 12:12–23 (NIV)

12 Just as a body, though one, has many parts, but all its many parts form one body, so it is with Christ. 13 For we were all baptized by one Spirit so as to form one body—whether Jews or Gentiles, slave or free—and we were all given the one Spirit to drink. 14 Even so the body is not made up of one part but of many.

15 Now if the foot should say, “Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,” it would not for that reason stop being part of the body. 16 And if the ear should say, “Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,” it would not for that reason stop being part of the body. 17 If the whole body were an eye, where would the sense of hearing be? If the whole body were an ear, where would the sense of smell be? 18 But in fact God has placed the parts in the body, every one of them, just as he wanted them to be. 19 If they were all one part, where would the body be? 20 As it is, there are many parts, but one body.

21 The eye cannot say to the hand, “I don’t need you!” And the head cannot say to the feet, “I don’t need you!” 22 On the contrary, those parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, 23 and the parts that we think are less honorable we treat with special honor. And the parts that are unpresentable are treated with special modesty,

            The body of Christ is made up of many parts. We are not all the same. We are all different, and that difference is a good thing. We wouldn’t want everybody to be a hand or a foot. That would just be awkward. We need different kinds of people to make the body of Christ function as it should.

            More than that, I need you to be different than me. If you are the same as me, then one of us is redundant. If the body of Christ is going to function as it should, then you need to be you, and I need to be me, and in that difference, we become one in Christ.

            Hopefully, you are tracking with me. It is kind of obvious that we are all different. So, why am I talking about the obvious?

            When it comes to how we are spiritually formed, we need to account for our differences.

            Let me give you some examples. I am an introvert. I am not shy; I have good social skills. But I am an introvert. Being an introvert simply means that I am best recharged when I am by myself.

            So, what spiritual disciplines do you think I am going to be attracted to. I like silence and solitude. Going to a silent retreat center is my idea of a great spiritual retreat. Going for a walk in nature alone is a wonderful thing for my soul.

            Some of you are extroverts. You are outgoing, and you get recharged by being with people and by talking with people. Aaron, a friend of mine, is an extreme extrovert who lives in the country. Sometimes he just has to drive into town and walk the streets just to be around people.

            So, what would happen if I invited Aaron, my extravert friend, on a silent retreat with me. On day two, he would be climbing the walls. That would be his idea of purgatory.

            My idea of a good time is to sit with a good book and contemplate ideas of different kinds. My friend’s idea of a good time is doing something with other people. He is always on the go. He is always connecting with people.


            So, let’s do a thought experiment. What would happen if Aaron came to me and said, I really like how God is at work in your life, so I want to do what you do to grow my spiritual life.

            I would walk him through my routines of silence and prayer. I would talk him through ways of meditating on scripture and contemplating on what the scripture has to say. What do you think that would do for his spiritual life? Can you say, “frustration?”

            What if he were to formulate a spiritual formation plan for me based on how he best relates to God. I am sure he would invite me to a retreat where I would be with people, talking to a lot of people, all day. By about day two, I would be looking for a closet to hide in.


            We are different, and our practices of spiritual formation will need to be different. Let me give you some other examples.

            Some of you have a personality where you just go with the flow. You love spontaneity. Some of you need everything planned out. You need to know what is coming next. There is a great comfort for you in structure.

            Do you think that will have an impact on how you practice your spiritual life? Of course.

            Some of you are very action-oriented. To you, your spiritual life is best understood in what you do. To you, what we need is not another Bible Study; what we need to do is get out there and help people. Some of you are very thought oriented. One of your highest values is that we think right -or think correctly. So, you want to be in a Bible Study.

            There are some of you who are very comfortable with the idea of mystery. There is a lot that we don’t understand about God. There is a lot that we don’t understand about why things happen the way they do. You live in the mystery of that, knowing that God is faithful and God is good, even when we can’t see it.

            There are others of you who want all your “I’s” dotted and all your “t’s” crossed. The idea of mystery drives you a little crazy. So, you will come up with an answer and an explanation for everything.

            Some of you are very feeling-oriented. You judge your life by how you feel. You will judge this worship service by how you feel leaving it. Others of you are thinking-oriented. A good worship service is one where you learn something.

            I could go on and on. But you get the idea. We are all different. We have preferred ways to approach God. Let me say this because I don’t think the church has said it enough. It is ok to be you. It is more than ok.

Ephesians 2:10 (NLT)

10 For we are God’s masterpiece. He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so we can do the good things he planned for us long ago.

            You are God’s masterpiece. He made the way you are for a reason. God has a work for you to do that comes out of who you are and who he is making you to be.

            When I say “it is ok to be you,” I am not talking about using who you are as an excuse for your sin. I am sure you know that. I hear people excuse their grumpiness, or their unkindness, or their need for drama as “this is just who I am.” No, that is just unhealed hurts that need to be changed by Jesus.

            You are uniquely you. If you become spiritually mature, and I become spiritually mature – we will be different. We will not look the same. You and I will become spiritually mature in different ways because God meets you as you and meets me as me.

            A very wise person said, if you are going to know God, you must know yourself. You come to God with all of who you are. The way you come to God may be a little different than mine, or your spouse’s or your friend’s way of coming to God. You must come to God. But you come out of who you are.


            Let me run down a rabbit trail for a moment. People sometimes wonder why there are so many kinds of churches. I am convinced that, although most people will explain it by a difference in theology, it probably has more to do with our personalities. Some churches are much more extroverted, others are more contemplative. Others are very regimented, and others go with the flow. Some are very thinking-oriented, and others are more feeling-oriented. I don’t think that this is either bad or good. It just is. Ok, enough of the rabbit trail.


              I need to give you the counterbalance to what I have been talking about. You have a preferred way of coming to God. You will naturally gravitate towards those ways of growing. I will talk a little more about that in a moment.

            But the other side of the coin is that if you do not nurture your less preferred side of spiritual formation, it will cause a significant problem with your whole spiritual journey.

            As I said at the beginning of this sermon, I am an introvert. Imagine me saying, I am just going to meet God on my own, and I am going to stay away from other people. Other than the fact that the board might have something to say about me, as a pastor, staying away from people would be bad for me.

            While my preferred way of meeting God is alone, I know I need the people of God to speak into my life, or I will be in trouble. That became very clear to me during the pandemic. I am an introvert, so I was built for isolation. But not that much isolation – it was bad for my soul.

            While my preference is to meet God on my own, I need to make the effort to meet God with his people, or my spiritual life becomes impoverished. For those of you who are extroverts, who gravitate towards meeting God with people, you do need time alone before God, or your spiritual life will be impoverished.

            If you do not nurture your less preferred side of spiritual formation, it will cause a significant problem with your whole spiritual journey.

            Your call is to find how you naturally relate to God and lean into that while challenging yourself to go outside your preferences.

            Almost two decades ago, Gary Thomas wrote a book titled “Sacred Pathways.” In it, he outlines nine different preferences for approaching God. It is a whole book, so I don’t have time to unpack them, but I do want to list them. This sermon will be up on the website tomorrow. So, if you want to consider these nine categories further you can find them there as well as a reminder of the name of the book.

Sacred Pathways

1. The naturalist – Loving God in nature. These people most easily and profoundly connect to God outdoors, in nature.

2. The sensate. – Loving God with our senses.

            These people connect with God through their five senses: taste, touch, smell, sound and sight. They will see a painting, and it will deeply move them. They will hear a song, and their hearts will break out in worship. I think God gave us communion, so we could worship with all our senses.

3. The traditionalist – Loving God through ritual and symbol

            These people connect with God through ritual. There is something about the sameness of a ritual in a church that brings them comfort. They connect with God through symbols. They will reflect on the nature of the cross or the power of communion. I know of people who find the book of common prayer life-giving and spiritually enriching always.

4. The Ascetics – Loving God in solitude and simplicity.

            These are the John the Baptists of spirituality. In some ways, they are the opposite of the sensate. While the sensate senses God when their senses are full, the ascetic finds those things a distraction. These are minimalists. Many of the early fathers and mothers of the faith were Ascetics. They would live out in the middle of the desert where nothing would distract them. Much of their spiritual life revolves around fasting and simplicity and working and living simply.

5. The Activist – Loving God through confrontation

            These are the people like Moses confronting Pharoah. They are the people like Elijah who confront the kings of Israel. These are people like the prophet who must preach truth into a world that doesn’t want to hear. These are the open-air preachers. These are the ones who demonstrate for change. They don’t do these things just because they think they should. It is an extension of who they are. It is their way of loving God.

6. Caregivers – Loving God by loving others

            For caregivers, giving care to others is not a chore; it is an act of worship. These are the Mother Teresas who looked behind the sick and needy in Calcutta and saw the face of Jesus. These are the people who serve behind the scenes, sometimes with little recognition. But their care not only makes a difference in the lives of the people they are serving, but it is where they connect to God.

7. The Enthusiasts – Loving God with mystery and celebration. These people love to meet God in high-energy worship. They love supernatural experiences where they can jump and clap and shout.

8. The Contemplative – Loving God through adoration.

            These are the people who rest in who God is quietly. If you run into these people, there is something deep and moving about how they know God. They know what it is like to just sit in the presence of God.

9. The Intellectuals – Loving God with the mind.

            These people are drawn closer to God as they understand something new about God. They pursue understanding, and it feeds their souls.

            I hope you saw yourself in one or a few of these ways of loving God. I will say that each of these ways of loving God has its downside. If we exclusively pursue God through only one of these ways, our journeys will be warped. That is a much longer discussion.

            Let me remind you again of Ephesians 2:10 (NLT)

10 For we are God’s masterpiece. He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so we can do the good things he planned for us long ago.

            God made you uniquely you. He also made the person you are sitting beside uniquely them.

            Why is this important? God transforms us as we lean into who God has made us without ignoring those things we prefer less. That is the first lesson.


            The second lesson is this, don’t judge others on the basis of how God has made you. If you are an enthusiast who loves God in high-energy worship, don’t judge the contemplative who worships God quietly and deeply. – Or vice versa. Stop judging other people’s forms of spirituality. I guarantee you this. The personality you have has an upside and a dark side. The way you approach God has some wonderful benefits and real deficiencies. What is best for your spiritual life may not be what is best for their spiritual life.

            So, we encourage others toward Jesus. We encourage others to be transformed – but their journey may look a little different than ours. That is ok. More than that, it is good. We are all different.

            We celebrate the differences. It is into the middle of those differences that Paul writes

Ephesians 4:2–7 (NIV)

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.

But to each one of us grace has been given as Christ apportioned it.

            We are different, but in Christ, we are one. Don’t try to make others like you. Don’t judge others for not being like you. But join others in the Spirit. Join others in the hope to which we were called. Join others in the presence of God. In your differences become one in him. How do you do that?

Ephesians 4:2–3 (NIV)

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.

            What about you? Do you know who God has made you? Do you know your natural ways of leaning into Go? Are you leaning into God? Are you leaning into God in less preferred ways to round yourself out? Get to know how God has made you and lean into God without throwing other stuff out.

            Don’t judge other people who are different than you? We are all different. If we are all going to pray. Some of us will pray best in nature, or best in a group, or best in quiet, or best out loud, or best on our own. Make sure you pray but don’t judge others for how they pray.

            We are all different. Part of being spiritually formed is learning about who you are and what works best for you as you approach God. We hold to that, while at the same time, we hold to the unity of Spirit. We hold to our oneness in Christ. That is what a great church looks like. You approach God with your personality, talent and gifts. That approach looks different than mine. But we all meet at the foot of the cross where we find oneness in him.