Welcome to worship today at Christ Lutheran. And welcome if you’re joining us by way of the radio!
We’re continuing our sermon series on the book of Ephesians. And also on this day we’re remembering, 502 years ago, the beginning of the Protestant Reformation and the way Martin Luther was led by the Holy Spirit to rediscover God’s grace. We should also remember that the book of Ephesians was one of the places that Luther found that grace---
Ephesians 2:8-10 “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast. For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.”
The letter went to the Christians in the city of Ephesus---a center for trade in the region of present day Turkey. It was famous for its temple to the Greek goddess Artemis.
Paul spent nearly three years with the Ephesian Christians. And in this letter he sent to them later, the main problem Paul addresses is division between the congregation’s members of Jewish and Gentile background. As we see in the first verse of today’s section, at the time he sent this letter to the Ephesians, Paul was a prisoner for his faith.
The first three chapters of the letter focus on the new life and the new relationship that God has created in Jesus Christ. And the last 3 chapters, where we begin today, focus on how Christians are to live in this new relationship with the Lord and with each other.
Ephesians 4:1 “As a prisoner for the Lord, then, I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received.”
Live a life worthy. Why? We can’t say it often enough that it is NOT so that God will love us, so that we can get on God’s good side. As humans we operate on a system of merits in school and work and business, so that we too often think of our relationship with God in the same way. Live a life worthy so that I will save up reward points with God? NO! Paul is urging the Ephesians and us to live a worthy life, not to get on God’s good side, but because they and we are already on God’s good side! And because of that amazing blessing, we should want the world to know what that looks like. That’s the calling, the purpose, that Paul mentions, to be Christ’s representatives in the world.
What exactly does that look like?
Ephesians 4:2-3 “Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace.”
Not so easy---Humble, gentle, patient, putting up with each other lovingly. That doesn’t always sound like you and me does it? But it does sound like Jesus.
And remember that the Ephesians were not so good at getting along with each other. So Paul writes, “Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace.”
Unity----If you heard Pastor John’s radio ad this week he mentioned that the church at Ephesus was made up of Jews and Gentiles, slaves and free, rich and poor, young and old. Unity would be near impossible for a group like that.
And how about unity in our families, our churches, our nation, our world? Unity in any group of people is a struggle at best---we might think impossible---but not when God’s involved.
That’s why Jesus prayed for his people---
John 17:20-23 “My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. ….. May they be brought to complete unity to let the world know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.”
Jesus prays for us. It’s tremendously reassuring that Jesus knows that we can’t do humble, gentle, patient, or loving, on our own. Not the Ephesians---not their love or our love, but God’s love in Christ, is the only source. And so unity comes not from human sources but from the Holy Spirit. Now that’s possible!
Stephanie and I saw a beautiful example of unity this past week. We drove down to West Valley Road where there is a new wildlife area. It’s been preserved, mainly because it is a migration stopover for sandhill cranes.
They stand about 5 feet tall with a 6 foot wingspan. Very impressive. We saw several hundred of them gathered as they came together to migrate south. From what I’ve read, for much of the year they are in small groups to nest and raise their young, but when it comes time to head south they unite in groups of hundreds or thousands.
We watched several hundred off West Valley Road. Some were on the ground feeding and some were flying. We heard one group overhead before we could see them.
It was amazing to see these huge birds be so coordinated in synchronized flight, circling in unity and then coming in to land gracefully. It was a great example of the beauty of God’s creation, but also an example of unity in purpose.
And our unity of purpose as Christians is all possible because of the seven pillars that the Lord has built everything on.
“Ephesians 4:4-6 “There is one body and one Spirit— just as you were called to one hope when you were called— one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.”
These are the things we have in common as Christ’s people.
Notice it doesn’t say “do-it-yourself” or “pick and choose” the body or Spirit or hope or faith that you want. But we have been gifted with one Lord, one faith, one baptism that holds us all together in Christ.
And if those are the things that create unity, then we need to study and understand them so we can put them to use in living a life worthy of our calling.
When the Bible talks about unity though, it doesn’t mean uniformity. God has created us as individuals with our own unique gifts. We aren’t the same. But we are created to have the same all-encompassing purpose. And that’s where our potential for unity comes in.
Paul describes that diversity of gifts---with a shortened list of the many possibilities---
Ephesians 4:11 “It was he who gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers…”
Ephesians 4:12 ‘….to prepare God’s people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up 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.”
The gifts of God are given not for personal gain or glory, but to prepare God’s people, that we may grow in unity, to fulfill our calling, our purpose in life.
We have different gifts but unity of purpose so that the “body of Christ may be built up” and that we may mature “attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.”
Pretty lofty goals. The whole measure of the fullness of Christ? Not yet. It’s a life-long process. But we have been blessed with what we need to get going on the journey.
But we have to be ready to deal with the evil one’s schemes.
Ephesians 4:14 “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 men in their deceitful scheming.”
Infants are easily misled, manipulated by emotions, theirs and others. But adults are also susceptible to the “craftiness of men in their deceitful scheming”. And not only the ones we would call naïve or uneducated.
Neven Sesardic is a secular philosophy professor who has written a book called ”When Reason Goes on Holiday: Philosophers in Politics”.
Sesardic shows how brilliant philosophers “admired for their scholarly contributions actually abandoned reason altogether once they turned to politics.”
He notes well known philosophers who at one point or another in their careers supported communism or Nazism. Even Albert Einstein defended the murderous Josef Stalin at times.
Sesardic asks how highly intelligent people could be so wrong and why (quote) “it is precisely such very smart individuals who are especially prone to exhibit certain types of irrationality? What if there are follies that often spare ordinary people while more easily afflicting exactly those who are exceptionally bright, highly educated, and presumed to be extraordinarily sophisticated?”
Marvin Olasky notes that this “is one of those thoroughly secular books that supports a crucial Biblical understanding: Not only our bodies but our brains are fallen and naturally sinful.”
Brilliant philosophers and the rest of us are all apt to be “tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of men in their deceitful scheming.”
Paul is warning the Ephesians of that danger and he is warning you and me. We can never avoid it completely. But when we are striving for unity in the faith, as Paul writes, and in the knowledge of the Son of God and starting to become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ, we will be far less likely to be tossed about and not tossed as far off course.
And Paul goes on to write that we need to speak the truth to the world, but in a particular way.
Ephesians 4:15 “Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will in all things grow up into him who is the Head, that is, Christ.”
If we want the truth to be heard, we need to say it in a way that is filled with love. When truth comes wrapped in love, it is much more likely to be heard.
And lastly in this section, Paul sums it all up by saying that living a worthy life is also a matter of growing up and growing strong in Christ.
Ephesians 4:16 “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.”
---Live a life worthy of your calling. “Worthy” can be defined as good and deserving respect, praise, or attention. But Paul’s concern is not first to be worthy of the world’s attention, but of the Lord’s. If we live a worthy life, it will make an impact on the world. But we do it first and foremost because of what God has done for us in Christ’s life, death and resurrection.
A worthy life originates not from our own efforts, but grows out of our gratitude for what God has done first. And with grateful hearts we can respond to the calling he has given us all---to be united, together---unified as Christ’s body in the world--- to be a blessing to the world.