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Faith Bible Church, NY
September 8, 1996
The Basis of Unity: Walking Worthy of Our Calling
We live in a time when there is a big push for churches to cooperate with one another and strive for unity. This is seen in everything from the pretty innocuous “March for Jesus” that occurs every year, to political movements such as “Christian Coalition,” to mass evangelism efforts such as the Ralph Bell Crusade that will be in Poughkeepsie this Fall, to efforts with great theological ramifications such as the joint communion services held between The Church of England and the Roman Catholic Church as well as the “Evangelicals and Catholics Together” document we have discussed in the adult Sunday School class for a couple of weeks.
Generally those who push these efforts cite Jesus’ prayer in John 17 that His followers would “all be one” and be “perfected in unity.” While that sounds nice and attractive, the truth is that the unity Jesus is praying for is not the unity the various ecumenical movements are pushing for. We will see that this week and next week as we examine Ephesians 4 and Paul’s statements that give the Biblical basis of unity.,
Turn with me to Ephesians 4 and let’s begin our study.
Ephesians Outline for Review
Called by God: (1)
Walk worthy of your calling (3:1-16)
Raised from being dead in trespasses and sin (2:1-10)
Put off the grave clothes walk in newness of life (4:17-32). Walk in purity (5:1-17).
Reconciled with God and man (2:11-22)
Walk in (wisdom) harmony (5:15-6:9)
The mystery revealed, strengthened in the inner man (3)
Be strong in the Lord – Walk in victory over Satan (6:10-20)
This morning we are only going to look at the first few verses in this section in which Paul pleads for believers to walk in a manner worthy of their calling. Look at verse 1.
I. “therefore, the prisoner of the Lord, entreat you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling with which you have been called.”
The “therefore” takes you back to all that Paul said in the previous chapters. “In view of all that I have told you about what God has done for you then you need to respond and live in an appropriate manner.” The “therefore” is the connective joining the doctrinal with its application. Paul is not interested in giving out theological truth for the sake of increasing head knowledge, because that is worthless to the individual unless it is applied in the person’s life. The Christian life is not to be spent in the Ivory Tower, but on the streets of daily living.
Paul reminds them again that he is the “prisoner of the Lord.” This is not to shame them into living for Christ, but rather to demonstrate by his example that it is entirely possible and reasonable to live for Jesus Christ in all circumstances. Paul made as similar plea to the Philippians to practice what they had “learned, received, heard and seen in him” (Phil 4:9). Paul wanted the Thessalonians to follow his example (2 Thess 3:9).
Paul was in prison and being guarded by Roman soldiers, yet his own perspective was that he was a prisoner of Christ, because no jail could hold him unless Christ wanted him there. Paul was not upset about it for he saw the hand of God at work in the situation and that the gospel of Jesus Christ was going forward because of it. Paul is just making a quick reminder to them that walking worthy of God’s calling is worth it regardless of the circumstances encountered.
Paul “entreats” them. The word here (παρακαλέω) has much more intensity and feeling than a simple request. He is pleading with them, imploring them to live daily by God’s standards. That is what Paul means by “walk in a worthy manner.” “Walking” refers to daily living while “worthy manner” comes from a word that means “to balance the scales.” The root idea of the word (ἀξίως) was extended to the more abstract being applied to anything that was expected to correspond to something else. For example, the value of a worker’s labor corresponded to the day’s wages paid to him. Here it refers to the life lived by the professing believer corresponding to the great and high privilege given to him in being called by God. The daily manner of living should correspond to the position given to him as a child of God and fellow heir of Jesus Christ.
Remember back in chapter 1 Paul pointed out those who are true Christians have become so because of God grace extended to the individual. No one deserved salvation, but because of God’s great love He called people to Himself and then redeemed them from their sins through the sacrifice of Jesus Christ on the cross. Our calling includes adoption as God’s children, being forgiven our trespasses and sin, being given an eternal inheritance with Christ and being given the Holy Spirit as the pledge of God’s faithful promises.
In general, that is how we are to live as Christians. That is what Paul is pleading for, and in verses 2 and 3 Paul makes it more specific. To live in a manner worthy of the calling of God will require certain characteristics in our lives. To the degree these elements mark our daily living we are living in a manner corresponding to what God has done for us.
Christian character is to be marked by humility, gentleness, patience, forbearance and diligence.
with all humility and gentleness, with patience, showing forbearance to one another in love, 3 being diligent to preserve the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.
It is no surprise that each of these characteristics are also mentioned or alluded to in the Beatitudes and as the fruit of the Spirit. These are marks of true Christians.
HUMILITY: (ταπεινοφροσύνη) is the first characteristic that demonstrates a worthy walk. It corresponds well with what Jesus meant by being poor in spirit in Matt. 5. The word is a compound word which means to “think or “judge with lowliness, hence, “lowliness of mind.” This does not mean to have low self-esteem in the sense of having no confidence, but it does mean not having pride. Paul may have coined this word, for neither the Greeks nor the Romans had a word for humility. Like the ancient Greeks and Romans our society gives honor and respect to the proud as instead of the humble. The Greeks and Romans looked down on anyone that did not display pride and self-satisfaction. They considered humility an unnatural and pitiful weakness.
To be humble does not mean that you look down on yourself. Henry Amiel put it well when he said, “There are two sorts of pride: one in which we approve ourselves, the other in which we cannot accept ourselves.” Humility requires a proper self-awareness. As Paul put it in Romans 12:3, “… I say to every man among you not to think more highly of himself than he out to think; but to think so as to have sound judgement, as God has allotted to each a measure of faith.” Humility comes from seeing yourself properly in right perspective.
It can be stated without question that pride is the greatest problem in the universe. It was the cause of Satan’s fall from Lucifer, the “anointed cherub that covereth” into the dragon, the devil, our adversary (Ezek. 28). His heart was lifted up and he desired to gain the glory and praise that only belongs to God and consequently he took a great and eternal fall. The same is true for Adam and Eve. The snake said it would make them like God knowing good and evil. They thought they knew better than God, and so they disobeyed His command and fell into sin.
Man is proud because he compares himself to the wrong standard: to other people. We can always find someone that we are better at in something. In addition, we exaggerate our good qualities and minimize our negatives while doing the opposite to those whom we compare ourselves. The standard for comparison is God, especially as He has revealed Himself in the person of Jesus Christ. Next to Him it does not take long to realize that we fall very short. Holiness is the standard, and we are anything but that. Our relationship with God and our standing before Him is dependent upon having the holiness of Christ imputed to us otherwise we could never enter into God’s presence.
What happens to people who get a good glimpse of the holiness of God or one of His angels? Daniel fell before the angel of the Lord (Dan. 9) as did Ezekiel (2:2). Isaiah proclaimed himself to be a man of “unclean lips living among a people of unclean lips” (Isa. 6). Peter tried to send Christ away crying out to Jesus, “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord.” Paul called himself the “chief of sinners,” and Job repented in “dust and ashes” after God revealed Himself to Him.
Even in those that are self-depreciating they, are really full of pride. The real issues is that they refuse to try because their pride cannot stand the prospect of failure.
Humility is essential to being a Christian. It is the first step in salvation because to be able to place your faith in Jesus Christ and His sacrifice alone as payment for your sins demands that you are no longer looking to yourself as your own savior, and that somehow you can yet earn it. This is what Jesus was talking when in Matthew 5:3 he said, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of God.”
“Poor” here means “destitute”, or without resources or recourse. A person with no option but to beg because there is nothing they can offer to get what they need. They must rely totally on another’s mercy and grace. Yet, that is exactly what God gives to the repentant sinner crying out for forgiveness based on Christ’s sacrifice. God resists the proud, but gives grace to the humble (Jm 4:6; 1 Pet 5:5).
The example of humility is seen in Christ (Phil. 4) who left the glories of earth to become a man, a poor man, and then die in our place on the cross. It is seen in the gospel writers who hide themselves and focus attention on Jesus. John never even mentions his own name but simply referred to himself in terms of the relationship that astounded him: “the disciple whom Jesus loved.”
Humility comes from seeing yourself and God they way you really are. You have nothing to brag about when you are compared to infinite perfection. Yet it is in recognition of our unimportance that we gain hope. As John Calvin said, “the confession of our insignificance has its remedy in His mercy.” I like what Martin Luther said too, “God created the world out of nothing, and so long as we are nothing, God can make something out of us.”
The next characteristic is gentleness, or meekness, which is also one of the fruits of the spirit and is in the Beatitudes. “Blessed are the meek for they shall inherit the earth.”
Our tendency is to associate this with weakness, but to be gentle, or meek, is not to be weak. A gentle horse still has great power, and a good horse still has its spirit, but that power is now directed by rider. Meekness is to have great power under control.
The Bible describes several individuals as meek with Jesus and Moses being prime examples. Neither were weak. Moses was described as the “meekest man in all the earth,” yet Moses withstood Pharaoh face to face, and through him God devastated Egypt with the plagues and then he lead all the people Israel through the wilderness for 40 years. A weak man could not do that. Moses had been trained to be an Egyptian king and had lived many years in the wilderness as a shepherd. Moses was a man’s man both physically and intellectually.
Jesus had all the power of heaven at His disposal and at times displayed small amounts of the power available to Him when He performed His various miracles, such as healing, casting out demons, turning water into wine, walking on water, instantaneously calming the sea, or rasing the dead. Jesus was also a physically strong individual. We know this because He had worked as a carpenter until He was 30. I am the son of a carpenter and have met many, many men in that trade and have yet to meet one that was physically weak. He displayed some of that strength when He overturned the tables of the money changers and chased the merchants out of the temple, and no one lifted a finger to stop Him. I believe it was because they were afraid of Him. Jesus had power at His command too. When He was arrested He told Peter that He could call 12 legions of angels to His defense if He wanted them, and if it only took two angels to destroy Sodom and Gomorrah, what could 12,000 do? I would say that is a lot of power!
Yet, both Jesus and Moses submitted themselves to God the Father. They subjected their will to His will and that is what meekness is all about. The meek person trusts God without resistance, submitting and doing what He says regardless of circumstance or outcome. They rely on God’s goodness and sovereignty to do what is right and best, not their own abilities. Gentleness is the opposite to self-assertiveness and self-interest. God is in control, so we are not occupied with ourselves or our own strength at all.
The next characteristic is patience. I think you can already see how this flows out of humility and gentleness. The word here means “long tempered” and is sometimes translated as “longsuffering.” It is also a fruit of the Spirit and shows up in the Beatitudes as the godly reaction to persecution because the idea here is not calmly waiting for something good (for example, waiting in line for an ice cream cone), but rather calmly enduring negative circumstances and never giving into them.
We see this patience in many of the godly men and women of Scriptures. Noah building the ark in preparation for God’s judgement on the earth while his neighbors mocked him; Moses enduring the hardships of Egyptian bigotry against the Jews and the years in exile; David as he had to keep running from Saul while awaiting the time he would be king. James pointed out in 5:10, “As an example, brethren, of suffering and patience, take the prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord.” Paul was an example they were familiar with for he endured hardships, affliction, ridicule, and persecutions of all type in serving Christ.
The Greeks did not value this character trait, but rather the opposite. Aristotle is reported to have said that the greatest Greek virtue was the refusal to tolerate any insult and the readiness to take revenge. God’s people are to be different from the world. We are to be “patient with all men” (1 Thess. 5:14). We leave revenge in God’s hands and do not seek it ourselves (Rom. 12:19). We accept and endure whatever comes without complaint or question for we remember what the Lord endured for us and we follow His example. As one writer put it, our perseverance and patience is equal “to the pressure of the passing moment , because it is rooted in that eternal order over which the passing moment has no power.” As we live with eternity in view we understand more clearly that anything we must endure here is only for a short time.
The next character trait is forbearance, and as our said in our text, we are to show forbearance to one another in love. Forbearing love is merciful, kind and forgiving. It puts up with the idiosyncracies and irritants of other people. Forbearing love “covers a multitude of sins” (1 Peter 4:8) and keeps any of them from becoming any more known than necessary. Prov. 10:12 states it, “Hatred stirs up strife, but love covers all transgressions.” It continues to love when others would have given up. It is a reflection of the love that God has for us. Natural human love is intrinsically self-centered striving to gain for itself while God’s love is other centered and sacrificing itself for the good of others. True Christians learn to put up with one another. In seeking holiness they strive to help one another overcome sin but do not approach each other with judgement and condemnation, but rather they seek to bear one another’s burdens (Gal 6:1).
The final character trait is diligence. It takes hard work and vigilance to live the Christian life for everything about it is contrary to our human nature. We are in a battle against sin that would desire to control us Read Romans 7. This is Paul’s description of this battle. Christianity is not for the indolent, the lethargic, or the lazy. God did not save us so that we can sit back and relax. By His grace He saved us for the purpose of good works as pointed out in Eph. 2:10. One of those good works is being diligent to preserve the unity of the Spirit in the bonds of peace.
It will take hard work to be unified. It will take all the characteristics pointed out already to be unified. But before we go on, notice something very important about the unity of the Spirit. What is we are to do with it? Obtain it? Strive to get it? No. We are to “preserve” it. This is precisely one of the reasons that all the efforts in the various ecumenical movements are futile. They are trying to produce something they cannot be produced, but only preserved.
There can be no unity of the Spirit unless the Holy Spirit has already brought it about. When Jesus prayed in John 17 for His followers to be one and be perfected in unity, He was praying prior to the cross. That prayer was answered in the birth of the Church and the coming of the Holy Spirit. Every person who is saved has been baptized by one Spirit into one body (1 Cor. 12:13). Anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ is does not belong to Him (Rom. 8:9). And just in case there is anyone here from a Charismatic background that might be confused about this, let me state it unequivocally that “speaking in tongues” is not the “baptism of the Holy Spirit” nor is it even evidence of the Holy Spirit. The fruit of the Spirit is the evidence! But are not the character traits mentioned here that are needed for preserving the unity of the spirit also included in the fruits of the Spirit?
Unity within a church and among other churches already exists because of the work of the Holy Spirit in bringing individuals in each church into a personal relationship with the living God. The unity already exists. It does not need to be manufactured. The question is how to preserve that unity and that is what Paul has addressed in these three verses.
When we live as believers out to live and manifest the fruits of the Spirit, then we will have unity with one another and we will be at peace with one another. And by peace I do not mean the absence of conflict, but the peace of reconciled relationships that are warm, deep, and caring.
Humility is the grease by that all these other traits slide around on. Who am I or who are you that we should be in competition with each other. If you do better than me in something, then praise the Lord! If I am better than you, then the same thing. The goal is that we all together seek out the glorification of God and not praise for ourselves. In gentleness and meekness each of us submits our wills to the Father’s will so that we are all striving for the same thing. We walk with patience as we forbear with one another in love we keep our focus on the primary issues and do not get side tracked by minor issues. We seek to encourage one another in the faith speaking words that edify and build us up in Christ, rather than disparage and tear each other down. We work at all these things diligently understanding the importance of keeping our relationships pure.
The basis of unity in the church is the Holy Spirit and as we walk worthy of the calling God has made in bringing us to salvation we have that unity. Within the blessed fellowship of saints who are living in submission to the Holy Spirit and where the fruit of the Spirit is abundant, there is no room for fractures and splits over personal differences and personality clashes, and any crack that does develop is quickly mended.
That is the goal Jesus Christ has for His body, the church. That is what He prayed for in asking that we would be “perfected in unity.” That is my goal for this church and I praise the Lord that the foundation for that is already laid here. I hope and trust this is your goal as well. If it is I would ask you to join me in the following prayer of commitment to this:
Heavenly Father, thank you for your wonderful grace to me in saving me from my sins through the sacrifice of Jesus Christ. Thank you that when I responded to the Holy Spirit convicting of my sin and asked for your forgiveness you granted it because of Jesus Christ and that you then baptized me in the Holy Spirit and made me part of Christ’s body, the church. Father, your word states clearly that those who are your children are to be in unity and at peace with one another. Father, I acknowledge before you that maintaining this unity and peace requires that I live in submission to the Holy Spirit and that I must yield my will to yours. That is my desire Father. I ask that you will strengthen me and all those here who desire the same in the inner man to live in a manner worthy of your calling us to yourself as your children, that we may bring glory and honor to your name, that the world may know we are yours, and that the world may believe that you sent Jesus Christ to save sinners. Father, forgive me of my many failing, my sin against you in not yielding to the Spirit and being obedient to your commands, and for my pride. Forgive me for not always being humble, gentle, patient and forbearing with by spiritual brothers and sisters. Please continue to have the Holy Spirit do his work of conviction in my life that I might continue to grow in You. Glorify yourself in me and in this church which is a manifestation of the body of Christ. Do whatever is necessary in me and in this church that this community will be affected for your kingdom. AMEN
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