Today, I want to talk about Christian maturity. Individual maturity is important, but equally important is the maturity of our church. We have some mature or maturing members of this church, but in my opinion, as a church, we are still immature. How do we become mature corporately as members of Hill Community Church? That’s what I want to talk about this afternoon.
1 Therefore I, the prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk worthy of the calling you have received…
I mentioned this before and it’s worth mentioning again. To put this letter into context, Paul is writing this letter from prison so when he says, I, the prisoner for the Lord, he is literally a prisoner for the Lord. I think the setting makes a difference. If Paul wrote this from the comforts of his study, or while on the beach, or like me from Starbucks, somehow it would have a different feel than if he wrote the exact same thing while chained to a Roman guard. These are not nice, abstract theological principles that he is waxing eloquent about from an ivory tower. How could he write about living for God passionately while he himself is under house arrest? It’s totally illogical, it’s irrational. This makes no sense. A seminary student who took a course on Systematics Theology could not live like this. How could Paul live like this? The only explanation is that Paul must have had a personal experience of God that was so real and so tangible that it drove him, compelled him to speak boldly in the midst of immense persecution and difficulty.
After mentioning that he was a prisoner for the Lord, Paul urges the Ephesians to walk in a manner worthy of the calling they have received. What kind of calling is this? I think there is a lot of confusion in our day about this word “calling.” We are so task-oriented that even in Christian circles, we talk about calling in terms of what we are called to do. We want to be productive. We want to check things off our To Do list. For me, there is a deep satisfaction when clicking the little box on my task manager from a computer or smartphone and you hear that sound effect and like magic, the task disappears. That’s music to my ears! Or you see the task crossed off with a line through the middle. That’s so beautiful to me. Am I the only one who gets satisfaction from getting things done?
In the world, we value people who get things done. For the Christian, don’t we also like to get things done for God? Like running programs, or seeing our membership increase, or making a tangible difference in the world for Christ? These are not bad things, but when we define calling in terms of what we do–i.e. I am called to be a pastor, or I am called to be a missionary or I am called to be a professor on a campus–we will run into one of two dangers.
Either we run the risk of reducing the Christian life into good works that we must accomplish in order to feel good about ourselves. Whereby faith is reduced to performance. Even without a vibrant relationship with Jesus, hey, I’m faithful. Look at the things I have accomplished for the Lord. As long as I am fulfilling a specific task or vocation that God has given to me, then I can feel good. That’s one pitfall Christians fall into. The other pitfall occurs when your “calling” is not clear. And because there is a lack of clarity, there of many Christians are just waiting on the sidelines for God to speak to them and they have a convenient excuse, I’m waiting for my calling.
I haven’t done an extensive study on the word “calling,” but in this instance for sure and in most cases that at least I have encountered thus far, Paul uses the word “calling” to refer to our calling unto salvation. As true, born again believers, we have been called by God to be children of God, chosen and predestined before the foundation of the world to be adopted into His family. Now because of our salvation, Paul urges the Ephesians to walk in a way that is worthy of this calling, or worthy of being saved.
How are we to walk in a worthy manner?
2 …with all humility and gentleness, with patience, accepting one another in love, 3 diligently keeping the unity of the Spirit with the peace that binds us.
Why does it say “keeping the unity of the Spirit?” It implies that we already had unity prior and since you had unity, now keep it, hold on to it, maintain it. To understand this better, we have to back up a couple of chapters and read Eph 2:11-15. [READ]
Before God saved us in Christ, we were enemies of God. We were slaves to sin and we lived in obedience to Satan and disobedience to God. We were objects of wrath. The wrath of God was upon us, but God had mercy. He loved us by sending His Son to die on a cross so that we could be forgiven and escape the penalty of sin. The wrath of God that we deserved was poured out on Jesus down to the last drop as he hung on the cross. And God raised him from the dead and he became our peace. The dividing wall of hostility that separated sinful humanity and a Holy God was torn down. Not only that, the dividing wall of hostility that separated sinful man from his fellow man was also torn down.
In Christ, there is no longer separation between Jew and Gentile, male and female, slave and free, black and white, all walls of racism and sexism and socio-economic stratification, these walls have been torn down as Christ’s flesh was torn on the cross. Jesus’ death and resurrection, the gospel, creates unity.
Yet why does Paul urge the Ephesians in Eph 4:3 to diligently keep the unity of the Spirit? Because unity in the body of Christ is a fragile thing. You can have unity today and by tomorrow, the whole thing can come crashing down. You got to be diligent. You have to be vigilant. Life is a spiritual battle. You have to fight to keep the unity.
With what attitude should you and I walk in a way that is worthy of our salvation and how do you diligently keep the unity of God’s church?
2 …with all humility and gentleness, with patience, accepting one another in love…
You can think of humility and gentleness as a pair and patience and accepting one another as a pair. Humility is an inner character and from this inner disposition, what gets expressed externally in relationships is gentleness. Humility is like the root and gentleness is like the fruit. Humble people are gentle in their dealings with others. Show me a gentle person and humility will not be far behind.
Likewise, if a person has the inner character of patience, it will get expressed externally as he relates with others in an accepting way. Why does it require patience in order to accept one another? Mother Teresa was accepted by Catholics, Protestants, Christian leaders. Even secular leaders, dictators and communists accepted her. Despite many differences that people might have had with Mother Teresa, accepting her came so naturally.
Why then does it takes such patience to accept one another? Simple. Because you and I are not Mother Teresa. All of us are works in progress. We have rough edges. Egos, pride, selfishness. We have tempers and we get easily annoyed by people. We may be really good to a few close family members and friends, but there are many in a church you just don’t click with. Another way to put “accept one another in love” is to endure one another. Have you met certain people whose personality really tests your patience and it takes an incredible amount of patience to endure being in the same room with that person? Show of hands? Yes? Well, look in the mirror because there’s probably someone in your life who needs incredible patience to deal with you.
I know I am not always the easiest person to be around. My family knows that. I am far from perfect and when I am moody, they have to endure me. When I snap at them and I am not accepting them nor enduring of their quirks and faults, then I am getting a window into my soul before God. Not being to accept people and not being gentle are not minor flaws. These are serious sins that point to root problems. A Christian’s life is built on the foundation of humility and patience because God has been so gentle and accepting toward us. A lack of humility and a lack of patience are serious, serious root-level or foundational issues.
This underscores the point that how we treat others is very important because it often reflects our heart before God. Examine how you treat people. Are you harsh with others? Are you judgmental? Are you quick to be angry and blow your top? These point to root problems because one who has been called unto salvation, a Christian has been changed, and is continuing to be changed at the root level by the continuous filling of the Holy Spirit so that we can be humble and patient before God and gentle and accepting before men.