I got my hair cut on Monday and after I had started getting my hair cut a fellow came and sat in the chair next to me. When the hair dresser asked how he wanted his hair cut he said that he wanted a good hair cut, fairly short. Then he explained that he was starting a new job the next day. As far as I could understand he must have been a university student and the job was with a financial firm, probably as part of his education. As I heard this conversation, I thought it was interesting that he understood that there can't be a disconnect between his appearance and the professionalism required of the job he was taking.
Over the last few months, we have been talking about all that Christ has done for us, about the message we have which is worth proclaiming and about the call from God we have to proclaim that message. Ephesians 4:1,2 teaches us that there cannot be a disconnect between what we have received and what we have been called to and the way we live our lives. These verses are addressed to all of us as the church. The words in these verses are plural which means that they are not written so much to any one individual, but rather to each individual as they make up the body of Christ, the church.
As Paul addresses the Ephesian church in this regard there is a definite urgency to what he is saying.
The urgency comes out in his comment that he is a "prisoner in the Lord." This comment seems somewhat out of place and we wonder why he mentions that he is a prisoner at this point in his teaching.
From other things which Paul has written we know that he saw himself as a prisoner in several senses of the word. There were times when he had been arrested because he was proclaiming the gospel. At other times he writes about how he was compelled to proclaim the gospel and perhaps at times he felt like a prisoner of the gospel message itself. Either way, it is clear that his choice to follow Christ was something that consumed his life. As a person who was so committed to Christ that he was willing to be in prison or to be bound by the necessity to proclaim the gospel, his comment lends urgency to the appeal made here because it tells us that he spoke as one who did not follow Christ theoretically but with a full commitment. He knew what it meant to follow Christ and he knew the cost involved in following Christ. When he speaks in this way, he speaks with the authority of someone who did not give advice from an ivory tower, but as someone who lived what he was speaking about. In other words, there is credibility because of who was making the appeal. Barth points out that "The apostle is not pleading for compassion, but wants to point out the price he is paying – that is, perhaps, his specific right to be heard and heeded."
The urgency is also present in this appeal in the words which he uses to encourage them to follow what he is teaching here. We hear the urgency in the NRSV translation which says, "I…beg you." Other translations use different words. NIV says, "I urge you" and NASB says, "I implore you." Whichever translation is used, we get the idea that this is important stuff and we must listen to it.
The appeal itself is, "…lead a life worthy of the calling to which you have been called." It is an appeal to remove the disconnect between who we are and how we live.
The appeal is an appeal to "lead a life" or as it says in other translations, "live a life" or "walk in a manner."
One of the key implications of leading a life is that it must be done regularly. There is a difference between sowing a lawn and mowing a lawn. Sowing a lawn is a project. You begin by tilling the soil, leveling the soil, putting down the grass seed, packing the soil and harrowing in the seeds and then watering the seeds. You keep watering the seeds until they have grown to a certain height and become well established. At that point the project is over. Leading a life cannot be that way. The project is never over. Leading a life is more like mowing the lawn. Once the grass is established, it is necessary to mow it every week or so forever. It must be done regularly. It must be done consistently. That is what it means to "lead a life."
Some people choose to give something up for lent, like coffee or chocolate. It is a good practice to instruct us on what it means to do without, to make a sacrifice. Many people who do this, however, can hardly wait until the 40 days are over so that they can have their coffee or chocolate again. Giving up chocolate or coffee for lent is a project, not a lifestyle. A person who gives up sugar because they are diabetic is in a completely different situation. Their giving up something is not a project, but a lifestyle.
What Paul is calling us to is not a project, but a lifestyle.
You know that in mathematics, an equal sign indicates that whatever is on one side of the sign must be equivalent to whatever is on the other side of the sign.
The word "worthy" in this text functions like an equal sign. It tells us that there must be equivalence between our lifestyle and the calling we have received.
We have a balance beam scale at home and it works something like an equal sign. When the scale is level, which is the goal, then whatever is on one side of the scale must be exactly the same as what is on the other side of the scale. In a similar way, there must be a balance between our lifestyle and the calling we have received. Wood says, "Paul is insisting that there shall be a balance between profession and practice."
So the word "worthy" functions as an equal sign or a balance scale. On one side of the equal sign is our lifestyle – how we live every day. On the other side of the equal sign is, as Paul says, "the calling to which you have been called." What Paul is saying is that there is a calling upon our life and there cannot be a disconnect between our calling and our life.
What is the calling to which we have been called? We have already looked at that calling in considerable detail in the previous chapters of Ephesians. There we learned, in 1:4, that God has chosen us "to be holy and blameless before him in love." In 1:5 we learned that we have been called to be "God's children through Jesus Christ." In the rest of chapter 1 we learned that we have been forgiven and called to know the mystery of His will. We have been destined to an inheritance. Chapter 2 indicates that we have been called to do good works. In chapter 3 we read that we have been called to make known the news of the boundless riches of Christ and to make everyone see.
From all these verses we understand that we have a very high calling. It is a calling that puts us in the position of being children of God. It is a calling that tells us of the blessing of having our sins forgiven. It is a calling to become like God. It is a calling to make the message of the gospel known to everyone.
This is a high calling, but there is a sense in which it puzzles us. The puzzle is, "why is it necessary to be reminded to live according to what we are? If we are forgiven children of God who have been blessed with the greatest news in the world why do we need to be reminded to live according to it? If we have been seated with Christ in the heavenly realms, why do we so often fail to live like kings and instead live like Christ's enemies? In this verse, Paul calls us to be what we are, but if this is what we are, why does he have to call us to it?
A week ago Friday, I attended a seminar about how to help people who live with sexual addictions. The speaker, Sy Rogers, talked about why it is necessary to be told to live worthy of our calling. He pointed out that God has already taken care of our guilt. He has declared that we belong to Him and He has taken care of our future. These are all the things which talk about what we are, our calling. He further pointed out that what God has not yet done is to change our humanity. Temptation, weakness and desire are still a part of our humanity and God has left it up to us to manage our humanity. That is what makes it necessary for Paul to remind us that we must live in a manner worthy of our calling. God has changed many important things, but He has left us with the responsibility within the grace of having been changed, to continue to make changes in our life. The encouraging thing is that he has not left us alone even in the task of managing our humanity. He has given us the grace of forgiveness when we repent after failure and He has given us the power of the Spirit to help us manage our humanity.
Therefore, as Paul says here, we are responsible to remove the disconnect between what we are and how we live.
Paul does not tell us how to manage our humanity at this point in the text, but we will get to that later. At this point, he tells us some of the areas in which we must manage our humanity.
The details of the appropriate lifestyle which Paul speaks about are not legalistic nor are they lists of rules. He does not focus on external items. Sometimes in the church we have focused on such things as dress, hair or certain activities which are considered worldly. Paul does not begin with such things and that should tell us something. Not that it is wrong to make ethical decisions about how we dress and whether or not we drink or go to movies. The problem is that sometimes we focus on external things and ignore or even permit some of the more important matters like how we treat each other. I have seen churches in which there are strict guidelines about externals and I have heard about people excommunicated for violating these externals. Yet in those same churches I have observed church leaders gossiping, hating and manifesting power and pride. I am glad that Paul begins with some very fundamental matters of what it means to remove the disconnect between who we are and how we live.
One of the first ways in which our calling must match our lifestyle is in the matter of humility.
Humility is often thought of as a weakness. The word used for humility in this passage was a word that was negative in the Greek language of the day. It suggested a weak spirit or, as Wood says, a "groveling servility." Even today, humility is not always honored. We are told to be strong, to stand up for our own rights and to make sure we get what is coming to us. Yet the call to be worthy is a call to be like Jesus. One of the most powerful passages in the New Testament describing what Jesus did is Philippians 2:6-11. This passage describes one of the fundamental attitudes of Jesus by which He accomplished what He did. It describes how he did not grasp on to being equal with God, but chose to empty himself. He who was God chose being a servant! He who created all things chose being human. He who was the source of life chose to become obedient to death on a cross. So if our lifestyle is to be equivalent to our calling, we must choose to be humble.
How is it possible to choose humility?
Choosing humility begins with our understanding of who we are in relationship to God. If we know that God is the sovereign creator of the universe who has made us and who has redeemed us and is over us in all things, then we will know that we have no basis for pride.
Choosing humility is possible when we know that God has already taken care of our belonging. If we try to grasp for position and for recognition, we will always struggle with pride. If we know that we are loved by God and that we belong because of Him, then we can let go of pride and know that we have dignity and that we matter.
Our calling involves making the gospel known. Humility is an important part of that calling. It is only as we choose to be servants to those who are lost and need Jesus that we will be effective witnesses to the goodness of God's grace. Humility is important in our calling because it allows us to live by trust rather than by power and manipulation.
When we were moving, some of the boxes we moved had signs on them that said, "Fragile, Handle with Care!" When I saw that sign on a box, my attitude about that box changed. When I was packing it into the truck I put it in a place where larger heavier boxes were not on top of it and I was careful that it was not in a place where it might fall. The attitude I had towards fragility was the attitude of gentleness.
If our lifestyle is equivalent with our calling then gentleness must be a part of our lifestyle. The gentleness of Jesus is described in Matthew 12:20, when it says, "He will not break a bruised reed or quench a smoldering wick until he brings justice to victory." The gentleness of Jesus is seen in his statement to the woman caught in adultery, "Neither do I condemn you, go and sin no more." It is seen in his acceptance of Zacchaeus and his welcome of tax collectors and sinners.
If gentleness is a part of our lifestyle, we will treat those who are interested in Jesus with gentleness, allowing them time to understand. We will treat our brothers and sisters in the church with gentleness, seeking to understand their struggles, rather than condemning them. We will treat our work in the church with patient direction instead of power and manipulation.
The importance of patience in being worthy of our calling is pretty obvious because we know that God is patient. Exodus 34:6 speaks of God as, , "…slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness." God demonstrated that patience in the many times He waited for Israel to follow Him and also in the restoration He gave them when they repeatedly walked away from Him.
We need to have patience with God and we can when we understand that He is in Lord and loves us. We must have patience with ourselves and we can when we understand that God is at work changing us. We need to have patience with others and we can when we understand that God is at work in them.
Patience is an important Christian virtue I think I am learning quite a bit about it. Waiting for the sale of our house has been a good opportunity to learn patience. But I still have much to learn, especially when I get behind the wheel of a car. Chrysostom described patience as "…to have a wide and big soul."
One of the most practical statements in the Bible about living our calling is the last one that we will look at today. "Bearing with one another in love" is so practical because it addresses reality directly. We are called to bear with one another because God knows that there will be something to bear. Barth writes, "The fellow man to be loved is potentially or actually a burden – or else Paul would not speak of 'bearing with' him 'in love.'" This phrase recognizes that perfection will not be achieved this side of eternity – in us or in others.
Bearing with one another is necessary because that is what God does with us. Only twice in the Bible did people die immediately because they sinned and that was when Ananias and Sapphira lied. All of us have lied, been impatient, hated, gossiped and failed to live for God, but Jesus continues to be patient with us and to give us time to change.
Bearing with one another is necessary because we are utterly hypocritical if we do not do so. Jesus calls us not to judge one another in Matthew 7:1ff, pointing out that to do so is equivalent to seeking to take a piece of sawdust out of someone's eye when there is a log in our own.
Bearing with one another is intensely practical because it shows that love can never be an emotion or a theory. You have probably heard the saying, "To love the saints above, oh that will be glory. To love the saints below, well that's another story." Yet that is exactly where we are called to love. If we don't learn to love the saints below, we will never know how to love the saints above. Love for God, in Scripture is always put in the most practical and real terms of loving the people around us. Love is never chosen in a vacuum, but always in the practical situations of life and often in the most difficult relationships. It is exactly in relationship to the person who is most difficult to love that we must learn to love and must follow this teaching. Barth says, Love is "…always specific, always costly, always a miraculous event."
The message of this text is very simple. It invites us to imagine our life as a balance beam. On one side of the beam is the amazing and powerful blessing of all that God has done for us in Christ. On the other side of the beam is humility, gentleness, patience and bearing with one another in love. If the beam is not level, we have work to do.
The importance of doing that work is not to be taken lightly. Jesus has left us on earth because the world sees Jesus in us, our behavior and our attitudes. As people look at us the question is, "what are they learning about Jesus?"
This is a great challenge and sometimes overwhelms us. We fell yesterday and we suspect that we may fall again tomorrow. We should not let that discourage us. Sy Rogers, the speaker I mentioned earlier, provided a great illustration about how to think about failure. He said, when you are in a bicycle race and somewhere during the race you crash, you don't have to move your bike to the beginning of the race and start all over again. You pick up your bike, admit that you have fallen and keep going. Although crashes are hard, the progress made is not erased. As Christians trying to maintain an equivalency between our calling and our lifestyle, we know that we will fall. But if we fall, we don't have to start all over again. We just need to pick ourselves up, examine why we failed and continue on from where we fell, recognizing that we have already made much progress.
So let us be encouraged even if we are not perfect yet. Let us keep on managing our humanity because the call of God in our life has made us saints. May God by His grace and in the power of His Spirit guide us to live in a way that is worthy of the calling to which we have been called.