READ : Ephesians 4:1-16
The apostle Paul urged Christians to lead a life worthy of their calling as followers of Jesus. Let’s think today about what such a life would look like.
Listen to Paul writing from jail:
I therefore, the prisoner in the Lord, beg you to lead a life worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, making every effort to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to the one hope of your calling, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is above all and though all and in all.
Ephesians 4:1-6, nrsv
The gospel calls you to belong to Christ, to be God’s own people, for his purpose and his glory. And the Apostle wants you to lead a life “worthy” of that high calling. “Worthy” doesn’t mean, of course, that you deserve it, that you’ve earned it. This calling is all grace, all gift.
Maybe we’d understand better if we use the word “fitting.” Lead a life, says Paul, that fits your calling, matches it, is appropriate for it. And Paul doesn’t command this like an army officer. He beseeches them, pleads with them tenderly, as one who is himself the Lord’s prisoner -amoving appeal.
That teaches us something. When we want to urge people on in their Christian lives, pompous commands don’t work nearly as well as loving appeals. As we say in our culture, “you get more with honey than with vinegar!”
As I ponder these words, I hear this battle-scarred apostle Paul urging on us three great concerns in our life: maintain unity; promote ministry and seek maturity in Christ. If we do these things, we’ll lead a life worthy of our calling. Let’s look at each one.
Did you know that there is only one church of Jesus Christ in this world? By that I don’t mean it’s my church or my denomination. Lots of people talk that way. When I was a radio preacher years ago, I used to get lots of letters telling me that my denomination was not really a true church. In their mind, there was only one true church, one faithful denomination – theirs.
I heard of a town that had a church called “the Church of God.” The congregation had problems, and the church split. Soon the breakaway group started a new church down the block. They called theirs “The True Church of God.” Would you believe it, that second church later had a split, and a third body was formed. Do you know what they called that? “The Only True Church of God.”
But, from God’s perspective, there can only be one church of Jesus Christ. Because, as Paul points out, there’s one body. All believers in Christ are united to him in the same body, as members together. And there’s one Holy Spirit dwelling in each one of the members, and in the whole fellowship. If the church is like a body, the Holy Spirit is like the bloodstream, flowing in every part.
Further, there’s only one hope. All Christians have the same future. They may disagree on how and when everything will turn out, but they’re all expecting Jesus to come back, all looking for a new heaven and a new earth, all expecting to be with the Lord, around the same throne.
And this is true because there is just one Lord. As Paul teaches, Christ isn’t divided -a piece of him here and there. He’s the Lord of heaven and earth and of every believer. And since there’s only oneLord, all real faith is directed toward him – there’s nowhere else for it to go! He’s the only Lord to believe in. And however and whenever we’ve been baptized, it all points to our salvation in him, all marks us as his own. One Lord, one faith, onebaptism.
And you know, all this makes a lot of sense because finally, there’s only one God who is the Father of every believer – above all, through all, in all.
So the unity of the church of Jesus Christ is not simply a theory or a doctrine – it’s a fact. The one church exists, and we’re in it. Our calling is to maintain that, to live in the light of it, to act like there’s one church and to treat our fellow Christians accordingly.
Here’s how to act out unity, to hold together what God has joined and made one. With humility or lowliness of mind. That must have sounded strange in Jesus’ time because humility and lowliness were not considered traits that any man would want to exhibit. Then Jesus came and embodied real manliness.
Then there’s gentleness, patience, and bearing with one another.
You know, in a good family, that’s the way we do it. We’re in it together, for better or for worse. Nobody is planning to get out of the family! So we have to learn how to get along, how to treat each other well.
We talked last time about God’s mystery story and how the church is a demonstration of God’s loving purpose. If we’re going to be a revelation to the world and a lesson for angels, we’ve got to keep the peace, maintain the unity. That’s our calling.
Here’s another concern: Promote Ministry. The one body of Christ has a work to do. Ministry means, literally, service. As those who follow the compassionate Jesus, we are called to serve people in all their varied needs and sufferings. We help, we heal, we teach, we give. We are called to witness also, to share the good news with the whole world. We work in our society for justice and for peace. How do we encourage and promote this ministry of the church?
Paul speaks of how the risen Lord gives gifts to his people. When he rose from the dead and ascended, he led captivity captive and sent his Holy Spirit to all who believe in him. And one of the things the Holy Spirit brings to us is a gifting for ministry, some ability to serve. Some believers are given a number of gifts, all receive at least one. There is no member of the body of Christ who does not have some work to do, and some God-given ability to do it.
Some were apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers, says Paul. In Romans 12, the Apostle adds other gifts – leading, exhorting, giving, showing compassion. In 1 Corinthians 12 there’s an even longer list . . . . And none of these lists include everything – they are simply samples.
Paul says that the gifts are given “to build up the church.” That’s important to see. Sometimes we look on particular gifts as though they made us superior. We think we are more important and valuable than others because we use them. But then we miss the point! The hand isn’t placed on the body to boast about what it can do. “Watch me,” it might say. “I can do many things these ugly feet can’t do.” Ridiculous! The hand is there to serve the body, carry out the wishes of the brain, the head. And so with all the members.
We are gifted so that we can serve, and so that we can help others to serve. People in leadership roles like pastors and teachers are not to try to do everything themselves, but to equip others so that they also can serve. As every member uses his or her gift, the body is built up, and the ministry goes on.
So what are you to do? Discover what your gift is. Let your brothers and sisters help you in that. And wherever there is a work to do in the church or the community, you try it. You may find out that you have a gift you didn’t know about. And never think that any gift is insignificant. I remember a lady in a church I served who felt herself to be almost without gifts. But she could bake delicious pies and she would take them to people in the community who had just moved in or those who had a sorrow or a celebration. You know, there were whole families who came into our little church because of Florence Tallman and the pies she brought to their house! There were people who actually became Christians through that simple service. Whatever gift you have, given over to the Lord and used for him, has wonderful effects. And be sure to help others recognize and use their gifts, too. In doing that, you will significantly help the church to fulfill its ministry. All right, we seek to do that, to promote ministry, and also we seek maturity.
A goal for the whole body and every member is growth. We are already one church of Jesus Christ, but there are ways in which we need to grow in unity. Paul speaks about the “unity of the faith.” We’re still a ways from that – coming to a clear, informed faith in Jesus, a stronger shared confidence in the Lord. There the ministry of the Word, the preaching and teaching of the Scripture is central, and every Christian getting into the personal reading and study of God’s Word. That’s something each of us can do.
We want to grow toward unity “in the knowledge of the Son of God,” a deepening personal relationship with Christ in which we are more and more becoming like him. All of us as believers bear some family likeness to Jesus but we all have a long way to go, much room for growth. Like a little boy wants to grow up to be like his daddy, it’s our calling, our destiny to grow toward the full stature of Jesus, toward maturity in him.
One of the marks of maturity is that we are no longer like children “tossed to and fro and blown about by every wind of doctrine,” every new fad in theology, every far-out cult. We gain stability. We aren’t easily shaken. We know what we believe, and in whom we believe, and we stand fast.
Another mark is that we can recognize the “wolves in sheep’s clothing,” the false teachers, the cultists who prey on church members. We become alert and on guard against such deceivers.
Here’s another beautiful evidence of maturity: “speaking the truth in love.” That’s a great combination. Some of us are stronger in one than in the other. Maybe we are forthright and blunt in telling others the truth, but we do it sometimes in hurtful ways that don’t show love. Or maybe we concentrate so on showing love that we waver on basic matters of Christian doctrine. The church can’t live and grow without either, without truth and love. Without the backbone of truth we’re flabby. Without the loving heart we’re in even worse shape.
But where all are in Christ, maintaining unity, promoting ministry, with every person using gifts and on the grow, each making his or her contribution, the body builds itself up for its most vital ministry and witness, which is love.
If we’re going to lead others into “the unsearchable riches of Christ,” we need to proclaim the gospel to them clearly and lovingly and we need to embody the gospel before them. At the heart of both of those is love. Preaching and evangelism without love are distorted. Charles Spurgeon once said that from some preachers the gospel seems “more like a missile shot from a catapult than like bread from a father’s hand.” On the other hand Samuel Rutherford would say to his people. “Your heaven would be two heavens to me.” People listen to the gospel from those whose love they trust.
And how does the church bear witness by its life? What won the Roman world in the first century and following was a church of which it was said, “Behold, how they love one another.” Who wouldn’t want to join a body like that? Who wouldn’t want to warm his hands at such a fireside of carrying hearts?
You and I have a high calling – to show the mystery, the unveiled secret, of the church that brings all of us together in genuine love. Do all you can, friends, trusting in Christ yourself, to maintain unity, to promote ministry and to seek maturity. And as you do that, the Lord be with you!