Text: Ephesians 4.1-7,11-16
Occasion: Pentecost 10
Ephesians 4:1-7, 11-16:
As a prisoner for the Lord, then, I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received. 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. 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. But to each one of us grace has been given as Christ apportioned it.
It was he who gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers, 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.
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. Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will in all things grow up into him who is the Head, that is, Christ. 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.
In the visible Christian Church today you can see many false ideas floating around. Some of these are easy to spot, like the idea that you yourself can decide to believe in Jesus and therefore to be saved. Other false ideas aren't so easy to spot. One of my favorites is the claim many make that the original Greek word for "Christian" means "Christlike". Think about it. They say that you are a Christian because you act like Christ. This may be appealing to some, because they can say that if you want to call yourself a Christian, you had better start acting like one! However, to say that "Christian" originally meant "Christlike" is simply false. It makes the word "Christian" so general that Mormons, Jehovah's Witnesses and even those who don't believe in God at all can claim to be "Christian" because they try to follow Jesus and his example in living their daily lives.
I'm not saying that we shouldn't follow Christ as our example. I'm not trying to say that a Christian won't act like Christ. However, the word "Christian" means much more than simply "Christlike." A Greek dictionary shows that the word "Christian" originally meant "a follower of Christ." It was used as similar words were used to talk about following a political figure. Those who are followers of political figures or parties place some hope in those they follow, hope for their own welfare. Christians, followers of Christ, place their hope in Christ not just for earthly welfare, but for eternal salvation. God has called us to follow Christ, to be saved. In today's text, Paul urges us to Live a Life Worthy of God's Calling, by being united in Christ and by growing in faith.
In the first verse of Ephesians 4, Paul urges us to "live a life worthy of the calling you have received." We all have been called. What is that calling? Paul himself answers that question when he writes, "from the beginning God chose you to be saved through the sanctifying work of the Spirit and through belief in the truth. He called you to this through our gospel." Our calling is clear: God calls us to be saved.
God's call is important to us, because without it we could never be saved. God calls all people to be holy, to be completely sinless in every way just as he is. However, no human being can live up to that call to be perfect. Instead, all people are sinful. All people disobey God. Earlier in Ephesians, Paul describes what we were like before God called us to be saved: "You were dead in your transgressions and sins," and describes what that means: "gratifying the cravings of our sinful nature and following its desires and thoughts." Instead of following God and being holy, we followed our sinful nature and its wicked desires. That sinful nature poisoned us spiritually. Our bodies were alive, but our souls were spiritually dead, as Paul just told us. We were spiritually dead, separated from God. Spiritual death leads to eternal death, separation from God not just for this life, but forever.
God calls us to be saved. As sinful creatures, dead in transgressions, we were condemned to separation from God in this life and eternal punishment after it. Yet, Paul writes, God "made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions."
Through Jesus Christ God calls us out of spiritual and eternal death into spiritual and eternal life. Because of our sins we deserve punishment. In today's first lesson we heard the Israelites say, "Everything the LORD has said we will do." They had big intentions. However, as sinful creatures they could not live up to God's commands. They often sinned and rebelled against God. To show them the seriousness of their sins, God required them to make animal sacrifices and to sprinkle the blood of those animals on his altar. These sacrifices not only showed them that sin requires punishment, even death, but also pointed them toward the one who would make the payment for all their sins--Jesus, the promised savior. Jesus was the sacrifice not only for the sins of those Israelites, but for the sins of all people. He was the one who suffered the punishment for all sins. Sin requires death, and Jesus paid that price with his own life. Jesus died on the cross to pay for your sins. The result is that you no longer have to pay for them yourself. Paul writes, "In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins."
Paul writes in today's text that "you were called to one hope." That hope is salvation and eternal life through Christ. Because of Jesus, the result of our sins is taken away. Although we deserved eternal death for our sins, Jesus has paid for those sins. We instead have the promise of eternal life. We were spiritually dead, separated from God, because of our sins. Jesus has paid for those sins. God calls us to faith in Christ through his Word. Through the gospel, the good news about Jesus, God the Holy Spirit comes to us and gives us faith in Jesus, faith which receives the forgiveness Jesus earned, which answers God's call. God calls us to be saved, and he himself saves us.
Now that we have been saved, Paul urges us to "live a life worthy of the calling you have received." Paul isn't telling us to try to deserve or earn our salvation. God has already given it to us. Instead, Paul is urging us to show our Christian faith and calling in our everyday lives, in the way we act toward others. Now that we are followers of Christ, trusting him alone for salvation, we want to be like him. We want to follow the example he set for us. Paul gives us some examples of this: "Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with each other in love." We saw Jesus do these in today's second lesson, the feeding of the five thousand. Jesus was gentle. He miraculously provided food for those who wanted to hear his teaching; he fed their bodies as well as their souls, rather than telling them to get away and fend for themselves. He was humble. After Jesus fed those five thousand, they wanted to make Jesus their earthly king. Jesus did not want earthly glory and power, so he went away by himself. Jesus bore with his people in love. Even though he knew that many who praised him and followed him would soon want to see him killed, he kept teaching them, urging them to be reconciled to God, calling them to be saved through himself.
Paul tells us why we want to do this. He writes, "Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace." When you read that in your pew Bibles, you notice that Spirit is has a capital 'S'. Paul means the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit has already given us unity with all believers in Jesus. We are all saved. We are all bound for heaven. Even though we may be far different from each other in our earthly lives, we are all united in Christ. That's one thing I've always appreciated about our Wisconsin Synod Lutheran Church. Those sitting around you may be different from you, yet in faith they are the same. You are one with them in Christ. One may be a farmer. One may be a doctor. One may have a job you don't even understand. You may have completely different interests. Outside this church, you might never meet in everyday life. Yet that person who is otherwise so different from you is really exactly the same you in one important respect: that person shares the same faith. You have a common bond--you are both saved through Jesus. You are united in Christ. Paul describes that unity in verses 4 and 5: "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."
Paul tells us that there is one body, Christ's body, in which we are united. In that body, for the sake of that body, he urges us to keep our unity through peace which the Holy Spirit has given us. We all share the same salvation. That salvation brings peace to each of us. By being humble and gentle and patient with each other, we share that peace.
Because God has saved us through Christ, we are united in salvation. Because God has saved us through faith in Christ, our worthy living means growing in that saving faith.
We just saw how even though each one of us is different, we are united in Christ. However, just as each part of your body plays a different role, so does each part of Christ's body. Paul writes, "But to each one of us grace has been given as Christ apportioned it." In other words, God has given each one of us different gifts and abilities, different talents to be used in serving Christ and living for him. One might be able to speak the gospel to strangers. One might be able to build up fellow Christians through words and teaching, another by a simple humble life. Christ has given each of us gifts to be used in his service.
Not only did Christ give us gifts to use, but he also gives us teachers who show us how to use them. Paul tells us that Christ "gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers, to prepare God's people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up." Paul has been urging us to live lives worthy of our calling. He shows us that we are not on our own in doing this. Christ has given us gifts to use in living that life worthy of God's calling, gifts to use for building each other up. Since we are united with each other in Christ, we want to help each other grow in faith. We want to grow ourselves and also build each other up.
How can we build each other up? We build each other up by using our gifts to help each other grow. Paul gave some examples earlier: be humble and gentle toward each other, be patient with each other. We also build each other up and grow ourselves through other works of service. We grow in faith and build each other up simply by coming to church and worshiping. By expressing your faith here, you may encourage another who might not feel so faithful. We often speak about the benefits of receiving the Lord's Supper. One we don't mention so often is the fact that by receiving communion regularly you are encouraging your fellow Christians in their faith. You encourage and build each other up by attending Bible class or Sunday school, along with growing in your own faith. You can build each other up simply by taking a few minutes after church to say hello to someone you haven't seen here before. You can think of many ways in which others build up your faith, and you build up theirs.
The point is this: God has not called you to be a useless part of Christ's body. Instead, he has called you to be a useful part of the body. God makes every part of your body useful. Each part serves the body in a unique way. The eyes let us know what is around us. The hands make things happen. You, as a part of Christ's body, can serve that body in unique ways too. As you live your life worthy of God's calling, you grow personally in your faith and in unity with your fellow Christians. Paul tells us that we keep growing "until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the full measure of the fullness of Christ." As we grow as Christians, as we help each other grow in faith, we become mature. We "attain to the full measure of the fullness of Christ." In other words, we become more and more like Christ. And yet, in this life we never attain that fullness. Our sinful nature keeps fighting us. It keeps us from becoming perfectly like Christ. We will only know that fullness in the life to come. John writes, "Dear friends, now we are children of God, and what we will be has not yet been made known. But we know that when he appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is." Our bodies are always growing in some way or other. When our bodies no longer grow, we are dead. As Christ's body, we want to keep growing in faith and unity until our last day, when he comes for us.
As I mentioned earlier, as followers of Christ we want to be like Christ. Remember the Israelites in that first lesson? They said, "Everything the LORD has said we will do." Now that God has saved us and united us in one body, we can say the same thing: "Everything the LORD has said we will do," and we can actually live those words. We want to live a life worthy of God's calling. Living such a life means listening to God speak to us through his Word. In his Word God shows us his will and his Law. Now that God has broken sin's hold on us and given us unity through the Holy Spirit, we can hear and obey his Word. God the Holy Spirit gives us the ability and the strength to do what the Lord has said. This too is an important part of growing in faith. As we do works of service toward God and toward our fellow believers, we will grow in our faith.
Paul tells us that by living our lives worthy of God's calling and by "speaking the truth in love, we will in all things grow up into him who is the Head, that is, Christ." As Christians, as followers of Christ, our goal is always to be more and more like Christ. Recognize, appreciate and grow in your unity in Christ. Grow in your own faith and build up others in theirs. In all things, live a life worthy of God's calling.