My series on Ephesians continues. For those who want to read more, one of my friends preached a sermon on the same passage recently, also John Chrysostom preaches three sermons on this passage, on 4:1-3, 4:4, and 4:4-7.
1 I therefore, the prisoner in the Lord, beg you to walk worthily of the calling with which you were called, 2 with all lowliness and humility, with patience, bearing with one another in love; 3 being eager to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. 4 There is one body, and one Spirit, even as you also were called in one hope of your calling; 5 one Lord, one faith, one baptism, 6 one God and Father of all, who is over all, and through all, and in us all. 7 But to each one of us was the grace given according to the measure of the gift of Christ. 8 Therefore he says, “When he ascended on high, he led captivity captive, and gave gifts to men.” 9 Now this, “He ascended,” what is it but that he also first descended into the lower parts of the earth? 10 He who descended is the one who also ascended far above all the heavens, that he might fill all things.
When we see this little plea, we see a shift in the tone of the letter. Throughout the first half of the letter, Paul spoke of attitudes. Here, Paul moves from thought to action — from the interior to the exterior. Just as the greetings are an introduction to the whole book, these few words are an introduction to the more practical end of the book, and as this connects practical application to theory, it is also a summary of the beginning of the book.
It is no mistake that Paul started with attitudes, for Proverbs 23 warns us that a man is as the thoughts of his heart, not necessarily the words coming out of his lips. A person can follow rules without a change of the heart. It is also no mistake that Paul attached theory with practice, for it is easy to see theory as a mental exercise and to overlook that it might have any practical bearing on day to day life.
Walk worthy of the calling
When I read this passage, a question enters the mind: “Which calling does Paul speak of?” We know that all who are Christians came to the faith by God’s divine calling on their spirit. We also know that Paul exhorts those he wrote to in this book. Is the calling Christ mentioned in John, or the calling that we just read. Either way, this is a call to action. If the call is that of Jesus, we must study the gospels to intuit the meaning of this exhortation. If the call is that of Paul, we must recall what his call was.
I can guess that Paul is referring to his own exhortations within the letter to this time. Paul’s exhortation is the verb in the sentence — the Calling is both a noun form (a concept), and a verb [something that acted upon the hearers].
Still, even if I guess that the calling is found within the letter, if I look for talk of “calling” I see instead of Paul’s calling, a “his calling” in Chapter 1… and He appears to me to be the Father. How can we walk worthy of God’s calling to salvation? A good summary would be to have a redeemed heart, mind, and life.
Walk in humility
Paul, at this point has the gift of giving obvious advice, even though not too long ago it might have seemed counterintuitive. If you recall, when Paul painted a picture of the Christian identity — his picture was both quite high and quite low… Nothing of ourselves, and everything by the grace of God. We have nothing to boast about. We are completely dependent upon God’s help for everything. Knowing this, we walk in humility.
Bear one another in love
Love for one another comes as a theme page after page in the New Testament. From Jesus telling the disciples to love one another, to the epistles repeating and expounding on live again and again. Love appears to be the defining external quality of Christianity — we love one another for the reason that we love God. As people are made in God’s image, and Christians are further conformed to Christ’s spirit, we cannot love God and hate men… as we learn from James. Even when we rub one another the wrong way — even when we only bear one another with great strain on our patience… we are called to love.
Be eager to keep unity and peace
Most of you know that Christian unity seems quite difficult now. It seems there are Christians everywhere, and sometimes it seems that we would sooner curse one another than greet one another civilly.
Of course, there is a difference between unity and mindlessness. Christian unity has always been toleration instead of agreement. G.K. Chesterton perhaps says it better than I could when he writes:
The condemnation of the early heretics is itself condemned as something crabbed and narrow; but it was in truth the very proof that the Church meant to be brotherly and broad. It proved that the primitive Catholics were specially eager to explain that they did not think man utterly vile; that they did not think life incurably miserable; that they did not think marriage a sin or procreation a tragedy.
(From Everlasting Man, chapter 4)
We need enough diversity to stimulate each other… and enough humility and love to recognize that there is room for debate — our salvation is by God’s grace, not our knowledge. Our unity is not sharing a common mind, but instead a common hope and a common savior. We have one Lord, Jesus Christ. We share one Faith, all being able to say together “We believe in one God…” There is one Baptism, common to us all where we are filled with the Holy Spirit, and no longer left empty.
The gift of Christ
The incarnation is a great gift to the world, he is the Light that gives light to every man. He is the Divine Word that allows us to cognate and emote our relationship with the Father. Christ is our example and our hero who conquers for us. We take Christ’s name, and Christ gives us his power and reputation.
The gift of Christ is the killing of conflict in His flesh. It is hope to the hopeless. It is our salvation not only for the afterlife, but from the bit of hell that makes its way to our lives on Earth. The gift of Christ is indeed everything that Paul has been talking about throughout this book. Christ’s life on earth is His gift, as is our connection with God.
The example of Christ
In my youth, WWJD had become very popular, those letters which say: “what would Jesus do”. I was not completely comfortable with this movement, and reading Sheldon’s In His Steps did not cure my discomfort. I wondered if the question was relevant — as Christ is something greater than us… the King, the savior, et c. is it right for us to behave as if we were the same? Would Jesus behave differently, in some cases, than the best behavior for a common man such as me?
Over time, I see Christ shown as an example to us again and again. In this case — Christ is shown not only as a gift, but as an example. Paul shows us that Christ, who is rightfully in the highest place. He humbled himself without cause, showing us who have no cause for pride what humility looks like. He came in the form of a slave, and left as victor, sharing the victory with all of us.
Ephesians is starting to shift from theory to practice. Currently the instructions are rather vague, and not very detailed — love one another, tolerate one another, seek peace and unity, be humble, et c. We all know what humility and love look like. We all know the difference between love, and petty infighting. We all really have a lot to work on in this regard.
We must look at ourselves, and our own bias. We say: “One Lord, One Faith, One Baptism”, we call for unity and to tolerate one another, yet many of us have the habit of cursing one another over a difference in a theory. Worship groups split time and time again under the idea that people must agree on every little interpretation, and in every speculation. We forget that Christ’s grace, and not our knowledge brings salvation. We also forget that We do not come to Christ — but instead, God calls us. We cannot go where God dwells, so God must go and meet us where we are. We are a community of the desperate — who were given more than enough.
Another thing to consider is that Christ humbled himself to live in this World, so that we could live by Christ — and so that we could become citizens of His world. We are fellow citizens with every one who bears the name “Christian”, and are also in literally the same boat. Each bears Christ’s image, and each is to be treated according to his new identity. In the end, this is the clearest application — to behave according to our identity in Christ, and our fellow-Christian’s identity.