Ephesians 4:1-13 Living our calling
Sunday, August 10, 2008
Living our calling
Pastor Dan Folden, New Heights Christian Church, Kent, WA
1 As a prisoner for the Lord, then, I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received.
Ephesians 4:1 NIV
This morning begins a 5 week study of the 4th chapter of Ephesians. My intention of parking on this chapter at this time is to allow it to prepare us as a congregation for effective ministry this fall. September is really the start of new beginnings in a church, far more than January. On September 7th, a new quarter begins for our Sunday School classes. Sunday evening children and youth programs begin. Early in September our Women’s Bible Study gets a fresh start on Thursday mornings. On Wednesday nights our home fellowship groups return after a summer break. And, the common factor in all of this is commitment.
I just listed several programs of the church. But, programs are really just excuses, if you would, for bringing people together so they grow together in their love for Christ, in their love for each other and in their effectiveness in communicating Christ’s love for the world. When we know what our objectives are, we have a great deal of freedom in how we choose to reach those objectives.
Our Vision as a church is to: Influence individuals and communities to begin, sustain and grow a personal and corporate relationship with Christ by developing a worshipping, supportive and evangelistic fellowship. The methods we use to influence, begin, sustain and grow relationships with Christ can be quite varied. Sometimes it will involve the entire congregation being gathered in one place. Other times it will involve intentional and smaller groupings of the congregation for more face to face and heart to heart interactions.
But whatever the strategy we choose to employ as a congregation, our effectiveness in doing ministry depends on a few very important factors like being faithful, being available and being teachable. But the glue that binds those factors together is commitment.
And so this morning, I want you to know my purpose in preaching 5 sermons from Ephesians 4. It is to call us as a congregation to commitment to Christ, commitment to His church and commitment to the work of Christ in this world.
I am convinced that Jesus Christ is the Way, the Truth and the Life; . . . that no one comes to the Father except through faith in His Son, Jesus Christ. Christ’s demonstrated love for us is adequate motivation for us to respond to Him as servants. In the next 4 weeks, I will be urging you to recommit yourself to Christ as your highest and most valued priority. I will be challenging you to take control of your calendar so that your days and your weeks reflect that Jesus Christ truly is your Lord.
I am also convinced that when Christ brought each of us into His family He made us to be brothers and sisters together who are called to humbly serve side by side in worship and evangelism. Over the next 4 weeks I will be challenging you to an even higher view of the local church and discover more of the gift that church is for the believer who desires to fulfill his God-given calling.
I remain convinced that faithful, obedient, loving Christians, individually, but even more so, collectively, have the greatest potential for impacting the unbelieving world that surrounds them. So, with this sermon and the next 4, I hope to persuade you through the truth of Ephesians 4 and through the work of the Holy Spirit applying the truth to your life, that there is not one thing that you would want to commit yourself to more than to Christ, to His Church and to His work in the world.
Let’s read together the first 6 verses of Ephesians 4. Then, I’ll read the remaining 7 to finish the selection for today. I would like you to stand with me as we read from the Bible and pause for a moment to remember that many Christians have given their lives so we could have the luxury of having this Book so we can read it in our own language.
Further, we have been asked specifically to pray for the persecuted church in China during the Olympics. So, before we exercise this great privilege of reading the Scriptures aloud in public worship, let us pause to say “thanks,” and to ask God to continue His supply of strength and hope for the Christians in China.
Now, please join me in reading the first 6 verses.
Ephesians 4:1-13 (NIV) 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.
This letter of Paul’s, written to the congregation of believers in Ephesus, was likely written while he was in Rome and during the early stages of his imprisonment there. He had been to Ephesus twice. On his third missionary journey, he spent the majority of his time in Ephesus, staying there and serving as the pastor-teacher of the church for over three years.
So, when he opens the very practical section of his letter in chapter 4, it is a very true statement that he is a prisoner for the Lord. O, he was a prisoner of Rome, but it was because of his allegiance to Jesus Christ, his Lord, that got him arrested and imprisoned. So he writes:
Ephesians 4:1 (NIV) 1 As a prisoner for the Lord, then, I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received.
If find it intriguing that Paul incorporates his identity as a prisoner for the Lord in his argument for why the Ephesian believers should live lives worthy of their calling. It makes me a bit curious if Paul was seeing his circumstance as his present calling and was doing his best to live a life worthy of being His Lord’s representative in a Roman prison. So surely, if Paul could trust in God’s sovereignty in such a difficult circumstance, then the Ephesian believers could also trust God as well.
I believe there could also be the added weight of the real possibility that this could be the end of the road for Paul. It’s conceivable that Paul could die in this prison and his dear friends reading his letter would listen even more closely to every word.
And so he urges his brothers and sisters in Christ to walk in a manner worthy of their calling. No doubt they understood from both his teachings while he was with them as well as his instructions in the first three chapters of this letter, that they had been called by God into a relationship with Jesus Christ. And it was to this relationship that Paul was urging them to live a life worthy of being attached to Christ. So the recipients of this letter would feel the weight of their allegiance to Paul and their indebtedness to Jesus Christ.
I take calling here to mean both a common, over-arching objective for all believers and a specific, tailor-made assignment for particular believers. Paul has all believers in mind and is saying that as redeemed followers of Christ, we have been called out of darkness and brought into the marvelous light of Christ. We have been forgiven of our sins and the Holy Spirit lives within us. We are new creatures in Christ. We have a whole new life to live. No longer do we live to satisfy the lusts of our flesh, but now we live to honor the Lord Jesus Christ. He has become our goal, our objective, our life.
As we will see later on, our calling also has a very personalized and specific aspect to it. We will deal with that more next week.
It seems obvious enough that Paul’s next words are really an explanation of what he means by our calling. He says, if you live this way we will be honoring our Lord.
2 Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love.
The aspect of our calling that Paul first focuses on is relational. Verse 2 can be summarized with the words humility and patience. That’s how we should relate with people. Treat people with respect and gentleness. Endure people. Church is where we should be getting our best practice at this. Certainly there’s enough grace present in this place that practicing humility and gentleness and patience would be a most logical thing to do, especially since Paul urges us to do it.
So, tell me, what will it look like if we practice verse 2 in our relationships here at New Heights? When do we need complete humility? How about when we experience a little bit of envy? Somebody’s getting more attention than we are and now we have to consider him or her as better than ourselves. We could use a little humility then.
How about complete gentleness? When do we need that? How about when someone has a need and we could do something about it? We put aside our agenda and give attention to meeting the need of another. That’s basic to gentleness; a sincere consideration of the needs of others.
O, and then there’s patience. We are tested on this often, aren’t we. Why do there have to be so many people who just don’t do things the way they’re supposed to? And, why are there so many of them in the church? The Holy Spirit is working to grow patience within us and the ability to bear with others, to suffer them for a long time.
I wish I could say it gets easier from here on. But that’s not the case.
3 Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace.
You see, when we were brought into God’s family, we joined a unit, a body, as Paul calls it. God’s family is one body and it has one Spirit. It has one hope, one Lord, one faith, one baptism and one God and Father of all. God’s family is a unit and the Spirit of God ties the parts of the body together.
Paul says that once we come into this unified family, our responsibility is to maintain the unity that exists within it. Implied in Paul’s exhortation is the real possibility that we can do injury to the unity of the Spirit within Christ’s church. We can stir up dissention. We can create strife among the membership. We can spread rumors that hurt the reputations of different ones within the family.
I’m sure none of us do that. But, since Paul is urging us to make every effort to keep or maintain the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace, we have to know that it is in the realm of possibilities that we could do harm to this unity.
So, what is involved in making every effort to keep the unity? Just how much of an effort should we make to keep the unity of the Spirit?
I guess the answer to that question comes when we answer this question, how much do we value our relationships within God’s family, particularly the part of that family that is called New Heights?
Tuesday afternoon at 3:30, a lady drove into our parking lot looking for a pastor to talk with. Admittedly, I was fairly cautious as I was sizing up the genuiness of her request. Finally, I dared to ask her how I could help her.
She proceeded to tell me that her dad had recently died and that her sister was in control of the inheritance money and wasn’t planning on sharing any of it with her. She wanted to know what she should do?
After listening a bit longer, I said, it really boils down to one question: Which do you value more? Your relationship with your sister or the inheritance money? Sounds like if you want the money it will cost you your relationship with your sister. Which do you value more?
I then spoke with her about the man in Luke 7 who owed his master a large sum of money while another owed just a small amount. In mercy, both men were forgiven of their debt. Then Jesus asked, which of the two servants will love his master more?
Jesus makes a big point to say that the man who was forgiven much will also forgive much.
How much of an effort should we make to keep the unity of the Spirit? Well, what do we value more in the church? That we get our own way or that we grow strong relationships? That we maintain our right not to be offended or that we bend over backwards to keep our relationships strong?
Just as this woman who came here on Tuesday had a decision to make about what she valued more, so we, too, have a decision to make. Are we going to make every effort to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace or are we going to exalt our rightness and exact revenge on those who do us harm?
Why is it so important? Because every priority relationship will be injured if we fail to forgive, but every priority relationship will be strengthen if we forgive. Being a forgiver will strengthen our relationship with Christ. Being a forgiver will strengthen our relationships with people within the church. Being a forgiver will opens doors for sharing the gospel with people not yet committed to Christ.
In contrast, all of these relationships, including our relationship with ourselves, will suffer greatly if we chose to not forgive.
What is vitally important to understand is that part of our sinful nature has a tendency towards an independent spirit. We quite naturally resist authority. We want to do things our way. Independence can be a good thing. But, rarely is an independent spirit a good thing. The latter resists cooperation if it doesn’t look like it will benefit them. An independent spirit uses self interest as the guiding principle of his life rather than a cooperative spirit and what’s best for others.
Here is what’s most dangerous about an independent spirit. Now mind you, everyone of us has this capacity. Watch out when personal injury or offense connects with an independent spirit. Because it won’t take long for that independent spirit to turn into a critical spirit. And if it isn’t stopped with a good dose of repentance and forgiveness, the critical spirit will turn into a rebellious spirit and spread its venom to everyone around them.
Paul experienced the fruit of this independent, critical and rebellious spirit while he was pastoring the church in Ephesus. So, it shouldn’t surprise us that he exhorts Christians, first in Ephesus and then everywhere, to:
3 Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace.
If you find yourself moving along this progression, I urge you to put a stop to it today. If you are spreading hurtful words to others, trying to gain support for your just cause, I beg you, get on your knees and let the Lord remind you of how much you have been forgiven.
Our Lord Jesus told us in Luke 6 to not develop a judgmental spirit, not to have a condemning attitude, but rather to forgive and give.
Alistair Begg, preacher on Truth for Life, coincidently speaking this past week on the importance of forgiveness within the Body of Christ explained. Allow me to share some excerpts from his sermon from Luke 6. Describing the harmful spirit of unforgiveness, Pastor Begg says:
“It is a spirit of self-righteous, self-exalting, hypocritical, harsh judgmentalism. It’s the kind of approach to people that seeks to avoid self-examination by highlighting and condemning the faults of others. The person who has this always brings with them the flavor of bitterness. It is negative. It is destructive.”
“John Stott defines it this way: An individual who is on the wrong side of this exhortation from Jesus in Luke 6, does this: 1. puts the worst possible construction on other people’s motives. 2. pours cold water on their schemes and dreams. 3. is ungenerous towards them when they make mistakes.”
We are still trying to answer the question: How much of an effort should we make to keep the unity of the Spirit? Alistair suggest this:
“If I am prepared to put myself in the other person’s shoes and if I’m prepared to honestly wish for them what I wish for myself, then I am prepared to replace meanness with generosity, harshness with understanding and cruelty with kindness.” (Alistair Begg, Truth for Living radio broadcast Aug. 7, 2008)
He says, “We need to be exceptionally wary in pronouncing judgment. We sin so easily with our tongues in this respect, in saying things that are injurious to the good name of others. We’ve got a cleaver way of saying it in Christian circles, we can make it sound like a prayer request or concern for God’s glory, but half the time we can’t wait to get it out of our tongues. ‘Did you hear about her? Do you know about him? Do you know what I think about this? Do you know why they did that? Do you know why he bought that? Do know why he lives there? Did you know she said that?’
“You don’t know any of that and neither do I. And the spirit of that when it becomes endemic in a congregation may take years and years to root out. That’s why our parents told us, “ask yourself before you say anything, Is it kind, Is it true, and Is it necessary?’ Because the Bible says we shouldn’t say anything that isn’t true (that’s in the Ten Commandments), we shouldn’t saying anything that is unnecessary (that’s in Proverbs 11:13), and we shouldn’t say anything that’s unkind (that’s in Proverbs 18:18) So, what in the world are we going to say? What are we going to talk about then? It would be a kind of silent place for a while, wouldn’t it? If everyone was taking the 30 second gut check, is it kind, is it true, it is necessary. Suddenly, nobody’s talking. Not just for the 30 seconds, but for the 2 or 3 minutes that follows because we don’t know what we’re going to say because everything I was going to say was either unnecessary or unkind and I’m going to stop and think about something else to say. And maybe I can’t think of anything else to say so we’ll all just sit in silence.”
If all that we say in a single day with never a word left out
Were printed each night in clear black and white
It would make strange reading, no doubt.
And then, just suppose, ‘ere our eyes should close
We must read the whole record through,
Then wouldn’t we sigh and wouldn’t we try
A great deal less talking to do.
And I more than think that many a kink would be smoother in life’s tangled thread
If half that I say in a single day were to be left forever unsaid. (Author unknown)
“Forgive. Think about the kind of transformation that would be brought about in our relationships if we were to take seriously this one dramatic directive. Forgive. It means “release.” It’s not excuse. It’s not deny. It’s not just forget about it for a while and it will all pass over and be gone. It is actually an act of the will driven by the will of God enabled by the Spirit of God to recognize that although this person is habitually this way, is a total pain in the neck, the person is this way and still I am to forgive him.”
Chinese proverb: “The man who opts for revenge should dig two graves, for he will go in one of them.”
“Every time that you or I refuse to forgive from the very bottom of our hearts it is a cold and deliberate choice. And every time that you and I make that deliberate choice we entomb ourselves, we live within a dungeon of our own construction, we are trapped in the bondage of our own unforgiving hearts.” (Alistair Begg, Truth for Living radio broadcast Aug. 8, 2008)
Alan Paton said, “When a deep injury is done to us, we never recover until we forgive.” (South African author, Alan Paton, 1903-1988)
There is only one place where bitterness (unforgiveness) can be dealt with. There is only one person who can deal with it. At the cross of Jesus.
“Do you want to know how to stay in your marriage? Forgive. That’s it. That’s all of it. Forgive. That’s it. All the other bells and whistles you can add at different times. But, if I refuse to forgive my wife, I will never make it. And, if she refuses to forgive me, she will never make it. For God knows how much offense I cause her.
“How do you stay in a church when somebody ticks you off? Pretend they don’t tick you off? No! Admit they tick you off and forgive them.
“How do you stay as the pastor of a church? Forgive. It’s the whole business in one word.
“An unforgiving spirit is hypocritical, absolutely. When I refuse to forgive somebody else, it says this: that I have minimized the enormity of my offense and I chose to maximize the enormity of their offense. That I have not understood my need of forgiveness from God, for if I had, I would be quick to forgive others who need forgiveness from me.” (Alistair Begg, Truth for Living radio broadcast Aug. 8, 2008)
C.S. Lewis, “To be a Christian is to forgive the inexcusable, because God has forgiven the inexcusable in you.” (C.S. Lewis)
“By refusing to forgive says we have not really understood forgiveness nor truly received forgiveness ourselves.
“Unless we learn to be kind and compassionate with one another, just as in Christ, God forgave you, then we should never put our heads on the pillow at night with any sense of assurance at all that if we die in our sleep we will awaken in the presence of Christ.” (Alistair Begg, Truth for Living radio broadcast Aug. 8, 2008)
“We must understand the immenseness of the indebtedness for which God has forgiven us for that is the basis on which we extend forgiveness to others.”
How much of an effort should we make to keep the unity of the Spirit?
(3 Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace.)
Every effort. To do any less is to stand in opposition to the very gospel we preach.