We are going to finish Ephesians, over the next three weeks, by following the natural flow of the letter versus the numbered chapters.
Once again, Paul didn’t put numbers in his letters, they were added to help us move around in the Bible…sometimes the numbering doesn’t fit well with the flow of thought.
5:21-end of the letter.
In the first three chapters of his letter Paul laid out his theological foundations for the practical application of life in community.
Paul’s way of forming his letters…is an important principle in and of itself…for thinking about how people actually change and grow.
He approaches change from a belief, value, behavior framework.
Beliefs…what we think is true
Values…what are hearts are learning to love
Behaviors…what we actually do in our lives
- Beliefs: First…he gives the why? The theological or ultimate, unchanging foundation.
- Values: Then, the focus on our hearts…
3:16 I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, 17 so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, 18 may have power, together with all the saints, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, 19 and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.
- Behavior: Then…then he goes to the what? Practical, or day to day applications.
Sometimes certain behaviors or even values are promoted or demanded…in families, organizations…without a fundamental “why?”
Like Air Force…Core values: integrity, excellence, service before self…but how to you develop “core values”…in a person?
Enormously difficult to do…and impossible, simply by teaching them or putting them on posters or t-shirts.
It’s like trying to build a house without a foundation…no matter how nice the home, it won’t last, it can’t…foundation isn’t there.
So, in chapters 1-3 he builds the foundation: God’s truth and power revealed in the gospel so that we can live for God’s glory in community.
And he emphasizes growth at the heart level in understanding God’s love for us.
Then in chapters 4 to 6 Paul gives applications of the truth and power of the gospel in the lives of God’s people, the church.
He has prayed that they may know the wonder of God’s plan, love, and power…in their heads and hearts
And now in these remaining chapters he is going to write about the kind of life that is demanded of them individually and in the fellowship of the church.
As we move forward…remember the foundation that he is building these chapters of proactive choices on is grace through faith.
Ephesians 2:8,9,10 For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast. For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.
We absolutely cannot earn or deserve God’s grace…we do not work for it.
We absolutely do live faithfully out of that grace…we do work from it.
Let’s read 4:1-16
1 As a prisoner for the Lord, then, I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received. 2 Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. 3 Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace.
4 There is one body and one Spirit— just as you were called to one hope when you were called— 5 one Lord, one faith, one baptism; 6 one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all. 7 But to each one of us grace has been given as Christ apportioned it. 8 This is why it says: “When he ascended on high, he led captives in his train and gave gifts to men.”9 (What does “he ascended” mean except that he also descended to the lower, earthly regions? 10 He who descended is the very one who ascended higher than all the heavens, in order to fill the whole universe.)
11 It was he who gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers, 12 to prepare God’s people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up 13 until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ. 14 Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of men in their deceitful scheming. 15 Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will in all things grow up into him who is the Head, that is, Christ. 16 From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work.
The first three verses form the outline of the rest of this letter.
If we get them…we will be able make sense out of the rest of his letter.
So, let’s pick up in verse four and overview the rest of this section…then come back and land in the verses 1-3.
In these verses, 4-13, Paul shows how in the church, God has accomplished…what heavy handed human compulsion never can…true unity in diversity.
You can’t force or compel people to actually accept others.
You can attempt to force them to act in certain ways…and punish them when they don’t.
But you don’t change hearts or minds that way.
Real unity among diverse people flows from the heart out.
And even when people think they have become accepting of others who are different…when the glass is “shook” what is inside comes out.
*So, people will say and do horrible things…then say,
“But that is not who I really am!”
It is not all of who you are, but certainly it is who you are in part…it came from you.
God alone, changes us inside out in ways that conform to the gospel…you shake a person who has been formed into the image of Christ…and Christ comes out…that’s the goal.
The church at Ephesus had an endless variety of temperaments…and racial and social backgrounds.
These differences would be obvious just by watching and listening to them…they were different…but now they were all in one single community of faith.
How was this going to work?
Wes Lewis just returned from working at an Air Base in NJ with Afghan refugees.
He said it was a rewarding and super difficult deployment.
They are all from Afghan but they look different (different color hair, eyes, skin), come from different circumstances (rural, urban), have different dialects, cultural norms…on and on.
You can stick people in the same tents, on a base, in America…but you cannot compel them to accept one another.
When people gather in churches…drawn together by something like…we like this music, or this location, or this program, or this preaching…the bond is not very secure.
It won’t take much for dissension and disagreement and the differences to float to the surface…like an oil slick on water.
The differences between us are not easily gotten over.
Paul has given the theological foundations for the spiritual realities that unit the church and transcend the differences.
He didn’t list styles of worship, church polity, programs(those are important)…he gave theological realities for the people of God.
*Once again…real theology (truth about God and other ultimate realities)…is always going to show up practically in our lives.
Here…Paul is outlining the way diverse people are able to come together in unity…not lock step conformity…because of the gospel.
*About a year after I started walking with Christ, while I was as a student at WSU…I encountered (I could say “met” but it was more of a hostile encounter)…another student named Robert.
-Robert was from the West Coast, he was a large black man, and his personality was very different than mine as was his background.
-He was also an offensive lineman, I was a defensive back…so what?
Offensive and defense even had their own different ends of the locker room…it was a cultural distinction within a single team.
We had our own separate team meetings
Lots of barriers between us.
Fast forward…we had become friends through God’s kind circumstances…and Robert eventually became a follower of Christ.
We remained different in so many ways…but we became part of one body…because of One spirit, one hope, one faith.
We remain friends to this day.
No lectures, no laws on racial reconciliation did that…the gospel did that.
Early in this letter Paul spoke of how the gospel broke down the barriers between Jew and Gentile…here he gives what may have been part of an early Christian hymn.
“There is one body and one Spirit…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.”
That is unity on steroids.
Seven “ones”…and three “alls”
But, just as Robert and I remained uniquely different as we found unity in Christ…Paul next, gives the important reality of diversity in unity.
God hasn’t ordained uniformity in his church but an endless variety of gifts and personalities.
In the last book of the Bible…a look forward at human destiny we read this
…I looked and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and in front of the Lamb. Rev. 7
There is unity in diversity in eternity…and it begins in time, in the church.
*Why aren’t we more diverse? This is an oft repeated complaint
Diversity is much more than skin color…the church is very diverse.
This diversity in unity that is specified here shows up in the fact that God has given his people individual gifts…to be used for the benefit of others.
MY(your) gift is for OUR good.
1 Peter 4:10 Each one should use whatever gift they have received to serve others, faithfully administering God’s grace in its various forms.
In verse 8 Paul quotes Ps 68, one of the many Palms, that found its ultimate application in the Lord Jesus.
The Lord, a conquering king…has defeated death and hell itself and bestows the spoils of victory on his people.
He gives, generously, spiritual gifts to his kids.
Then Paul elaborates on the application of this Psalm to Jesus.
To paraphrase Paul writes:
The Lord almighty descended to earth and after his victory over death…ascended to “higher than all the heavens….he showers gifts on his people.”
This is not about a spatial concept…but a statement of majesty…Christ has been exalted to the highest honor and glory possible.
His glory, does fill the actual cosmos…not like some pantheistic religion which ties God to the universe…or makes them one and the same.
Our God transcends the universe he has made…but in Christ we see that he is also, imminent…God with us.
What an amazing, mind-boggling reality…he is the utterly transcendent one (above all) and the intimately imminent one (here with us).
We worship him as the Lord most high, and yet he understands our sorrows, trials, and temptations…as our very near Savior.
In verse 11 Paul speaks of the specific gifts God has given his church.
The gifts he mentions here are not exhaustive(there are more) and they focus on gifts given to the church that specifically help the church become spiritually mature.
Apostles: Refer to those who experienced the risen Lord firsthand and were used by God as the foundational builders of the church.
Prophets: Could have wider application but likely here refers to those who spoke direct words from God prior to the finalization and distribution of the New Testament.
-There are still those with the gift of prophecy…but they will never add or subtract from what God has said in his word, the Bible.
Evangelists: Here probably is more like what we would call missionaries…taking the gospel to other places and cultures.
-But, again, has wider application.
Pastors/Teachers: This category refers to those who stayed put (as opposed to the others previously listed, who moved around working with multiple churches).
-Pastors/Teachers: were/are gifted for the day to day building up the church…there is no hard and fast line to be drawn between the pastor/teacher
The duties of pastor (literally: “shepherd”, include teaching)
Now, as to why Paul focused on these specific gifts for the church (as opposed to others like service, giving, wisdom, etc.)
Look at Verse 12… “These gifts are given to…”
- Equip the saints
- For the work of the ministry
- For building up the body of Christ.
He chooses to highlight these gifts…to make his point of unity in diversity.
These diverse gifts…build unity.
- Equip the saints
-Saints, of course, means everyone in the church (the holy, set apart by God)
-The word Paul uses (equip)…we can think of it like a trainer helping prepare an athlete to compete.
-Training for competition includes: physical, mental, and relational components.
-Of course…it also would include spiritual here as well.
Equipping is not just “Bible study” or “methodology”…but training wholistically
- For the work of the ministry
-The word used here is linked to “service” (the word might be used of a table waiter)
-Each member of the body of Christ…is gifted and called to serve others.
*The work of pastors is to train the church for ministry (not to do it for them)
*So, pastors serve the church by training them to serve others.
The joy, of ministry is in the service to others.
There is no joy in sitting and watching others serve.
The joy, the power…the presence of God…is in life on life service to one another.
- All of this for building up the body of Christ.
-As each member uses his or her gifts to serve…the entire body is “built up”
What does that mean… “building up”
Look at verse 13:
“Until we all reach”…he uses a word that was used frequently in Acts to describe travelers arriving at their destination.
So, we use our gifts to serve another so that we will “arrive”…arrive where…what is our destination?
- Unity in the faith
- Knowledge of the Son of God
There is a sense in which we are always “arriving”…but the point is…there is a goal, and purpose that drives what we do.
We are after a destination…we are not just putting in time.
We want to move towards (arrive at)… Maturity.
We can have different ideas about less than ultimate issues:
-social and public health issues
-minor doctrinal issues
But our unity is in our common confidence in the Lord Jesus…our FAITH
Allister Begg has a sermon entitled “The man on the Middle Cross.”
He talks about the criminal dying on a cross…who cried out in his last moments to Jesus and was told by the Lord “today, you will be with me in paradise.”
He said the man had never been in a Bible study, was not baptized, didn’t know any doctrine…and yet “he made it!”
He joking describes a scene where the thief on the cross arrives at heaven’s gate and the angel asks him “What are you doing here?”
“I don’t know.”
“What do you mean you don’t know?”
“Are you clear on the doctrine of justification by faith?”
“Never heard of it in my life.”
“On what basis are you here?”
“The man on the middle cross said I can come.”
*It’s not that doctrine doesn’t matter…that statement alone, is doctrine.
It is the doctrine of faith that the dying thief placed in Christ.
Begg’s point is tied to Eph. 2:8,9…we do not earn salvation…in any way/
-This is no more evidence of this fact than in that dying man on the cross next to Jesus.
But if we stray from the truth of Scripture then soon there is no Savior on the cross at all…because theology matters.
Real and lasting unity is found, ultimately in our common acknowledgement of Jesus as Lord…our faith is in him alone.
But we don’t stop there…that thief on the cross…if he had been given a last minute pardon by the Governor of Judea…then he would have been expected to grow to maturity in his faith.
So…the whole intent of focusing on the teaching, training, equipping, gifts is to point out to this church…the vital importance of growing to becoming more mature.
So, saving faith in Christ is all that is needed for salvation…but we want to mature in that faith for the glory of God and the good of others.
The mature can take care of themselves and they can take care of others…infants can do neither.
If the thief on the cross…were to have lived and only had that faith on the cross…he would stayed immature and unable to feed himself and others.
Verse 14…Then (when all this is happening…all this maturing process, and maturing gifts are operational) we will no longer be infants…tossed back and forth by every wind of teaching.
Maturity means we are not constantly having our heads turned by “bright and shiny objects” like a child.
We are not chasing the new, the flashy, the cool…the next online pastor or blogger who has discovered the “missing truth” or who tells you why the church is so messed up.
Evidently the church at Ephesus took hold of this…because in in Revelation 2, John writes about that church and speaking for the Lord congratulates them on holding true doctrine not allowing themselves to be swayed by false teachers.
This holding to the truth, he wrote…allowed them to endure hardships and not grow weary
So now…lets head back to verses 1-3…which forms a summary of the rest of Paul’s letter.
1 As a prisoner for the Lord, then, I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received. 2 Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love.
This is the second time Paul called himself a prisoner for the Lord.
Paul saw all that happened to him as part of his calling to follow Christ…so he is a prisoner of Rome, for the Lord.
He is urging the church from his status as a prisoner…to live a life worthy of the Lord.
So, from outward appearances he is a prisoner of Rome…but in reality…his heart is captive to the Lord.
He is not looking for sympathy by saying this…he is communicating urgency and priority.
He urges us…us to “live a life worthy of our calling.”
The word translated “live” is literally “walk”…walk worthy of our calling
We are to live our lives…walk through our lives…step by step, in a way worthy of the calling we have received.
We are to walk in our daily lives…work, play, family, distress, disease, facing death…all of this we are walk in way that corresponds to our call.
The call to know the grace of God in Christ.
The truth and power of the gospel should transform every aspect of our lives…this is the point of “walk worthy”
This is, the starting point, for every instruction that will follow in this letter.
“Why should I stop lying and speak truth?”
“Why should I deal decisively with my anger?”
“Why should I not let unwholesome talk come from my mouth?”
“Why should I be morally pure”
“Why should I submit to my husband or sacrificially love my wife, or obey my parents, or respect my master?”
“Because you want to walk worthy of the calling you have received.”
Not to earn it…but because of deep gratitude and because he has changed your heart so that you now find that you want to walk this way.
Look at how this life of gratitude to God is manifest…it will always show up how we act towards one another.
This again, demonstrates that real spirituality is always and by necessity…a life lived in community.
To walk worthy of Christ…is revealed in our relationship with others.
So…he gives us some indicators of what this life looks like…
“Be completely” (the goal is not to dabble in this)
Not just make these things on our “to do” list…but to make this our “to become” list.
He gives four aspects of this “walk worthy in community” life:
- Humble: For the Greeks, humility was not a virtue…in fact to most people today it’s still not.
On the one hand people don’t like a braggard, one who talks a lot about themselves…or someone who puts themselves first.
On the other hand, many people engage in it…they don’t like it in others, but tend to think others enjoy it in them.
But culturally then and now…pride, the opposite of this humility was and is seen to be a character quality not a flaw.
It was only as the unique Christian worldview rose up that humility, as a quality, spread in the Roman Empire
Christ the King was born in humble circumstances, lived a humble life, died a humiliating death…his humility was revealed in putting others first
Clearly, he had strength…but he practiced humility and that humility showed up in his sacrifice for others.
Clint Eastwood perfected the macho genre of movies.
Gritty westerns in the 60’s, Dirty Harry films in the 70’s
Macho means “masculine” but as an idiom it means someone trying to be something…trying to be overly forceful, aggressive, manly.
His most recent movie…in which he, at 91, directs and stars is called “Cry Macho”
In the movie(I am not recommending it by the way)…Eastwood’s broken down rodeo character evaluates his life and says this…
“This macho thing is overrated. Just people trying to be macho to show that they’ve got grit…It’s like anything else in life. You think you got all the answers, then you realize as you get old, that you don’t have any of them. By the time you figure it out, it’s too late.”
His character…has become wiser…and to a degree he is portrayed as having learned “gentleness” or “meekness”
But the meekness or gentleness Paul is speaking of here is portrayed in a Greek word picture as a stallion with a bit in its mouth.
It is not a horse that has broken down and has lost its strength…but strength with restraint.
It’s not a person who has realized they can’t know truth…it is not meekness as passivity, given up.
Gentleness/meekness is controlled strength.
Our passions under the control of the Holy Spirit for the good of others.
The word means in this context to be slow to avenge wrong or retaliate when hurt.
It’s not just feeling a certain way, and it is more than just putting up with minor annoyances or irritations.
It is the kind of patience that Christ showed on the cross.
It came out in his words, “Father forgive them, they don’t know what they are doing.”
Patience in the face of people being unkind, or unjust, or unloving, or hurtful.
- Bearing with one another in love
This is the practical application of patience.
It means bear one another’s weakness…to not stop loving them because of their offensive faults.
It is, writes John Stott, “That mutual tolerance without which no group of human beings can live together in peace”
Bearing with one another in love…is the basic attitude of seeking the highest good of others.
This means I must “forebear” and allow people to be people and not perfect.
All that follows in this letter expounds on these two verses…but first, verse three gives the immediate application in the church.
3 Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace.
This verse, is once again, Paul doing his masterful work of balancing two important realities.
Is this life of unity in diversity in community the work of God or the result of our efforts?
The answer is, of course…yes.
Those twin tensions…divine power and human effort…are friends in the gospel.
Make every effort…give full effort.
To keep (maintain) the unity of the Spirit.
And this unity is a gift of God
It is the grace of God working through his Spirit that makes this unity possible.
And it is the grace of God working through his people that makes this unity actionable.
FROM MY PERSPECTIVE…
As a church, you(we) have done so well at this unity during a very divisive and stressful almost two years in our culture and world at large.
I have seen, what I just described, in action in your lives…I am so very grateful to God.
I’ll pass on to you what Jesus said to the church at Ephesus in Rev. 2
“You have persevered and have endured hardships for my name, and have not grown weary.”
I believe that is true of what God has done, and the choices you have made.
*We have had different perspectives on a variety of important issue.
-we are very people personality, culturally…
But our one faith, one Lord, one hope…has empowered us to defer, to forebear, in our differences.
But then, back to his word to the Church at Ephesus, after congratulating them on their faithfulness…the Lord warned them about the ultimate danger for the church… the danger “losing its first love.”
So, I am grateful for our unity in Christ…through a very divisive time.
But we must be vigilant to watch our hearts…they must not be allowed to wrap around anything other than the Lord Jesus.
The key evidence of love for Christ…is that we are fore bearing in our love for one another
If we become petty, selfish, demanding, unloving with others…then we have most surely lost our first love for Christ.
When that happens…and it very often will…we must continually plug back in…unwrap our hearts from self, and return to our first love for Christ.
This way of life, a sweet way of life …is available to us…because God has given us truth and power to do so.
We can know the way, and we can…if we will…walk in the way.
Paul used a strong word, “Urge” as he pushed us to “walk worthy of our calling.”
He used this word because it is as difficult as it is important.
Do not worry about walking worthy…worry is sideways energy…it is sitting or spinning not walking.
Relax in his love for you…then push yourself to walk worthy of him…keep that important tension.