Ephesians | Chapter 4
Ephesians • Sermon • Submitted
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My heart feels full this morning…
Grateful for the process of working through this letter with you…
Let me pray for our time together…
To say that I am passionate about our topic of discussion for this morning would be an understatement. In fact, I freely admit to you that one of the main reasons why I chose this letter - of all 66 of them contained in the Bible - was for the content that Paul wrote about in chapter 4.
And that is, the nature and essence of the church.
Some of you may already know of my passion for the church because it flows out of me nearly every time I teach - whether it be with you or our students.
And not because I simply appreciate the idea of church or how it makes me feel on a Sunday.
In actuality I am passionate about what the local church means for a community because God radically altered the trajectory of my life through the power of the local church.
It is not just theory for me, but the power of the local church is real.
Truthfully, I believe with all of my heart - with every fiber of my being - with every conviction and passion that I can physically muster - I believe that God desires to change the hearts of every individual, redeem every community, and restore the world… through the here and now, daily workings of people like you and me who make up the local church!
Isn’t that cool? <<You can nod your head.>> You’re part of something powerful.
Yet, I want to acknowledge that some of you may not yet feel the same way I do… and that is perfectly ok. You are so welcome here, and I have been praying for you.
I fully recognize that all of us gather here this morning from a variety of backgrounds and experiences with the local church. Some good, some not so good.
When some of you think about the church, you feel the same way I do. You feel a deep welling of joy springing from within you. Some of you, however, at the very thought of church may feel a deep sense of pain or hurt or confusion.
My prayer for you is that you will come to see the local church - and in particular, Hillside Church - as a faithful representation of the character of God in our community. I hope that you come to see the church as a community who is for you, not against you.
My aim for all of you this morning is very simple: To recognize the local church - especially Hillside Church - as the true community of Jesus Christ in the world and the primary means by which people discover their redemption in Jesus Christ.
In order to unpack what exactly that means, allow me to briefly summarize the main points from the previous 3 weeks, then we will dig into chapter 4 together.
3 weeks ago, we learned that in the first chapter of his letter, Paul addresses the choice, the plan, and the inheritance of our Heavenly Father for every single person who ever lived… ever… ever… ever… through his son, Jesus Christ.
This is the core, foundational claim upon every person in the world. God chose you. God has a plan for you. God wants to give you an inheritance as his son or daughter that includes life with him in Heaven.
I want to go through once more what exactly the Father did for every single person who ever lived through his son, Jesus Christ. Paul outlines it in the first 12 verses of his letter:
verse 3 - The Father blessed us in Jesus
verse 4 - The Father chose us in Jesus
verse 5 - The Father predestined us in Jesus
verse 6 - The Father poured grace on us in Jesus, the one whom he loves
verse 7 - The Father gave us redemption through Jesus
verse 8 - The Father lavished grace on us through Jesus
verse 9 - The Father made known to us the mystery of his will as he purposed in Jesus
verse 10 - The Father intends to bring everything into unity under Jesus
verse 11 - The Father provided us with an inheritance through Jesus
verse 12 - The Father gave us hope in Jesus
verse 13 - The Father marked you in Jesus with the seal of salvation
verse 14 - The Father guarantees the redemption of all his people through Jesus
This is the clearest, most succinct description in all of Paul’s letters of what the Father did for us through his son. It is radically centered on Jesus and provides us with radical insight into just how much the Father radically loves every single one of us.
In chapter 2 of his letter, Paul answers the question of “Why the Father sent Jesus to us.” And the answer: you and I, along with every person who ever lived, broke our relationship with the Father because of our sin and transgression, which means we strayed from and offended God. All of us have ultimately succumbed to the selfish desire of being the god of our own life.
As a result, you and I deserve the wrath of God and the only consequence the could befit an offense of that magnitude is death. In fact, Paul’s opening statement in chapter 2 is:
“As for you, you were dead in your sins and transgressions.” Eph 2:1
Without the work of the Father for you, as outlined in chapter 1, then you would be dead - dead to hope, dead to emotional and spiritual health, and dead to the greatest of all things, a right and authentic relationship with your Heavenly Father.
Then, Paul states in verse 4, “But because of his great love for us, God who is rich in mercy, made us alive in Christ, even while we were still dead in our sins and transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved.”
You did absolutely nothing to deserve this, but rather, the grace of God made available to you the reality of a full life and a place in the heavenly realms with Jesus Christ.
That is the reason for Jesus!
In chapter 3, Paul prays a prayer of power and strength for you to believe this:
He writes, “I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith.” Ephesians 3:16-17
You know what I love about this prayer? Paul actually believes it!
Keep in mind that Paul wrote this letter to a real, historical local church… in a real, historical city called Ephesus - on the threat of losing his own life… because he believed that a real, historical event containing an actual death and a literal, physical resurrection of a real human being named Jesus occurred that forever altered the trajectory of humanity!
Thus, behind the words of his prayer, Paul yearns for the real, tangible Spirit-filled power of God to infiltrate the innermost parts of your life so that the same Spirit that filled the Son of God may also dwell in you through faith!
Can you feel the weight of power behind these words?
Paul actually believes that the same power of God that raised a man from the dead is present for those who believe.
And why? So that you may be filled with strength to continue the mission of Jesus in the world.
It is in this knowledge that Paul instructs how believers ought to live life together as the Body of Christ, the local church, for the world:
Paul writes in chapter 4, verse 1 and following:
As a prisoner for the Lord, therefore [a word used to encompass everything that preceded this statement - therefore…], 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.
This passage and the ones to follow offer the most descriptive and profound instruction for the church in its entirety.
Verse 1 says,
“Therefore, I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received.”
The phrase ‘calling you have received’ ties the three previous chapters together into a bundle and brings them forth here as the central instruction for the local church to follow.
But what exactly does a calling mean?
Quite simply, a calling is a way of life. It is accepting the content you just heard and making the necessary adjustments to apply it to your identity.
A calling denotes a movement toward a particular way of living and being. It is dynamic. It is alive. For one to hear a call means that person turns from one way of living life and begins moving into the direction of that call. Hear how Paul uses vivid, energetic, spirited imagery to describe how one works out her or his calling. it requires a doing kind of action. It is alive, and beckons us to respond.
Furthermore, the notion of calling also evokes the idea of freedom and choice. Indeed, you have received a calling to believe and embrace the act of God for your life.
But you are under no obligation to do so.
You are entirely free… to live alive in Christ without fear or anxiety or hopelessness.
However, you are also entirely free… to live dead in your sin and transgression.
This is the ultimate form of freedom in that God does not robotically choose your way of life. You get to choose your own adventure. God longs for a relationship rooted in love - where both parties freely choose one another - and that requires choice.
God has already chosen you. Will you choose God?
Continuing in verse 1, Paul uses the word “Worthy” as a descriptor for how you should walk in your calling. Primarily, to live worthily of your call means that you decide to live your life with intentionality and purpose.
Let me illustrate what I mean.
Part of what you pay me to do at this local church is lead our middle school students on camps and retreats throughout the year. I love leading these kinds of events because I love leading lead kids to Jesus. I also love leading camps and retreats because I get experiences like this one:
During free time one afternoon, I started my observation walk around camp. I do at least one a day to ensure that all our leaders and kids are doing well. A few minutes into it, I noticed one of our boys walking around the snack area, so I stopped to watch him. After about a minute, I noticed something peculiar… he was walking laps around the snack shop.
I watched him for a few more minutes. I tried to discern why he would be doing such a thing, but I could not figure out what motivated him to seemingly walk laps around the camp snack area.
So, I approached him, and I asked, “Hey dude, how’s it going?”
He said, “Good!”
I said, “What are you up to?”
He said, “I’m just walking.”
I said, “Anywhere in particular?”
He said, “Nope.”
I said, “Are you walking laps around the snack shop?”
He said, “Yep.”
I asked, “Why?”
He said, “I don’t know.”
I asked, “Do you want to do something else?”
He said, “Nope.”
I asked, “May I walk with you?”
He said, “You don’t have to.”
I asked, “Is everything ok?”
He said, “Great!”
I said, “Do you want to do something later?”
He said, “Sure!”
And then he kept walking. I watched him for a few more minutes to make sure that he actually seemed ok, and he did.
I guess he just wanted to walk around, which is totally fine, but what waved a flag in my mind was that he seemed to walk without any purpose or destination in mind.
And it made me think about how many people live life like that… just circling the snack shop… moving, but not traveling anywhere.
How many people do faith like that? Do church like that? And what breaks my heart is that few people seem to notice.
Paul tells us to let your walk and way of life be a worthy sign of the truth and meaning of the call that you received. As you live a life worthy of the call, your life ought to give others who wonder aimlessly reason to pause and start walking with intention and purpose!
If God’s love is so great… If God’s salvation is so true… If God’s power is so real, then every person who believes must feel so compelled to live her or his life according to that reality.
At times, will you feel like one without direction? Of course! Will your sin and transgression fog out the direction of where God wants to lead you? Certainly! But not forever. Grace removes the fog and provides a new day for you to walk where God wants to lead you.
Christ in you is stronger than your sin in you. Christ in you is stronger than your sin in you.
A worthy life constantly points to that truth!
To live worthily means to live a life that fully believes and abides by the work of the Father for you!
As you receive this calling and strive to live worthily of it, you not only begin to live a life that moves in the direction of the Father, but the best part… your life actually begins to resemble the calling itself.
As you live worthily into your call…
Peace - a value for which so many long - resides in you and provides real hope and tangible, emotional freedom from your disturbance. Self-control becomes an action that makes you glad, not one that you consider suffocating and joy-stealing.
These are 2 simple examples.
As you grow closer to the Father and live worthy of the calling you have received, in turn, you become a signpost… a witness… and a pointer to your call!
Then, as you gather with others who believe the same about God and become one, united community, the total sum of the local church becomes greater than its individual parts. You can do infinitely more together than you can apart. Thus, the local church becomes a movement with power and strength - just as Paul prayed for the church - and starts to transform its surrounding city.
The definition of the local church does not mean a building or an establishment, but it is the gathering of believers who desire to receive this call, to believe in the truth of what the Father did for us through his son, to pray the same power of the Spirit to dwell within our innermost being, and to strive to live worthy of it!
That’s it! That’s the church! And it’s the greatest thing on Earth!
I once heard a pastor say that as an unchurched person moves closer to the people of grace in the local church, that person in turn moves closer to the tangible, here and now presence of Jesus Christ!
You, church, are as close as it gets for someone who does not yet believe in Jesus to experience the grace and love of Jesus!
Thus why Paul behooves you to walk worthy of your call.
Please do not misunderstand this notion as you must work for your salvation. That could not be further from what I want to say! Remember, none of us deserve any of this. You cannot earn it, nor can you work toward it with good deeds.
Instead, you ought to live your life worthy of the call, for in doing so, you point to a worthy God.
This is great news for the people of Hillside Church and Marin County in that the people who live in our community - the twin cities, the towns of Southern Marin, San Rafael, even as far away as Novato and the East Bay - these people can know without any doubt that the real, here and now presence of Jesus Christ is alive, and nothing nor hell or high water can stop this movement or quench the active presence of the Body of Christ in our community, for the power of the living God who rose a man from the dead, who forgives sins and transgressions, and who made every person who believes alive through the resurrection of Jesus Christ is real and never going away because the the community of our local church bears witness to the truth of it in how we live out our lives together!
People may think the church is dead, but it will never die! And our lives together as one united community who serves one God and Father of all who is over all, in all, and through all, will bear witness to this truth for the rest of our lives!
Paul provides with further instruction on how to live a life worthy of the call in verse 2 and following:
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.
The church becomes the church when we seek to live a worthy life by first and foremost remaining completely humble and gentle…
keeping humility at the forefront of everything one does…
responding with gentleness to others…
maintaining unity amidst division and within a culture that values separation and individualism…
staying bonded to one another and the mission of the church…
and persevering toward peace at whatever the cost.
We stake our lives on the truth that there is only one body of Christ, the church, and one Spirit who gives it power…
There is only one hope - it comes through Jesus who called us…
There is only one Lord, one faith, one baptism…
There is only one God and one Father who acted for us undeservingly through his son, Jesus…
And this God is over all, through all, and in all.
God continuously provides everything the church needs to thrive under this truth. Paul goes onto write in verse 11 and following:
11 So Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, 12 to equip his 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 people in their deceitful scheming. 15 Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will grow to become in every respect the mature body of 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.
You have a role in the community. You have an ability to contribute. You have a mission to live out!
This is the local church, and it is the hands and feet of Jesus in our world.
As one prominent Pastor said, “The local church is the hope for the world.”
I pray for us to believe this and become it!
I want to close this morning by making this as concrete and personal for us as possible:
25 years ago this month, my dad decided for reasons unknown to me that he no longer wanted to be a husband or a father anymore. As a result, he divorced his family and never turned back. I can recall the day that he walked out of our duplex home for the last time and into his F150. I stood in the doorway of our home, shedding tears, hoping for my dad to turn around.
I can see it just as clearly in my mind now as if it happened yesterday.
That day, he left two toddler boys and a single mom under the age of 30 to pick up the pieces of his tragic decision.
To this day, I have only seen my dad one other time, and it was 16 years ago.
We lived in Sacramento then, and I believe partly out of desperation - partly out of despair, my mom packed up our few belongings and moved her two boys to a small town in West Virginia, where she grew up, hoping to find there some kind of support system for her family.
<<My life kinda sounds like a country song>>
She obviously found support in her immediate family, but she also discovered support in a rather unlikely place: a small, traditional, conservative, Baptist church in our new hometown.
In hindsight, I am sure some who knew my mom wondered how in the world a church comprised almost entirely of elderly people could possibly care for a young single mom with two young boys - both of whom contained more energy than the collective attendees of the church!?
In fact, our student ministry at Hillside boasts more kids than that church had people!
Every Wednesday night throughout elementary and middle school, a rickety old church van, more rickety than our Hillside Church Club Wagon - believe it or not - would pick my brother and me up at home, and take us to the fellowship hall of our church so that we could eat dinner that night. My brother and I either ate there or not at all.
As you can imagine, every time 4:30pm rolled around on Wednesday, my brother and I were dressed and ready to go to church. My brother and I would look at each other and say, let’s get some church ‘cause we’re hungry! Here we come, church!
Thus, during my years as an elementary and middle school student, I ate dinner there every Wednesday night with men in their 70s and 80s, chowing down to old war stories, hearing crazy happenings from growing up on a farm back in the 20’s and 30s, and gleaning life lessons at the table.
I can recall a story from one of these men who shared with me vivid memories of living during the Depression Era. One of these men told me about his grandfather who fought in the Civil War!
Amazing stories. My friends would look at me with blank stares when I shared these stories them…
But I did not care… my brother and I loved it! And we would not miss Wednesday night dinners at this old Fellowship Hall for the world!
These men sought my brother and me out every Wednesday and captivated our imaginations with stories, life lessons, and what it meant to truly live a life of faith…
because little did I know then that these men took upon themselves to embrace the mission of Christ through the local church and be a father figure for two boys who literally did not stand a chance without one.
I missed my real dad everyday as a kid. But through the power of the local church and the witness of Christ in the lives of these men, the grace of God provided me with a half a dozen older father figures who watched me grow up and cheered me on every step of the way!
Ephesians 4 is personal for me. The local church is personal for me. I hope and pray that it becomes just as personal for you. These men lived a life worthy of the call, and it forever altered the trajectory of my life, as well as my brother’s.
I later attended seminary at Princeton and studied under highly revered professors who traveled all over the world to share their latest research on the Bible and so forth. In class, I would listen to their lofty, profound arguments…
But often I would catch myself thinking about men like Floyd Milhoan and Harvey Calihan and my great grandfather Ash Broadwater and Grandpa whom we called chief after serving more than 30 years in the Navy - 10 at Mare Island. These guys were simple, hard working men - all in their 70s and 80s - and all who understood more about being the church - about living as the body of Christ - than men with 10 doctorates could ever know.
I cannot imagine anything more worthy, more true, and more life-giving than living out the call upon your life by the Father in the context of the local church.
I long for the day when every seat in this room is full because - just like Floyd and Harvey and Ash and the Chief - you could not stop yourself from including other people into this community because of the transformation that awaits them.
May you live your life worthy of the call that you received. May you come to see the church as the very hope of the world, as the very community that Jesus saw in his heart as he offered up his life on the cross. Let’s pray…