Worth the Effort
(Image by James Best, (C) 2019, https://www.behance.net/gallery/82544295/Sermon-Illustrations-2019.)
Please read Ephesians 4:1-6.
Enthralled with tales of the wonderful life in the country, a family from New York bought a ranch near Eagle Butte, intending to raise cattle. When their friends visited and inquired about the ranch’s name, the would-be rancher replied: “I wanted to name it the Bar-J. My wife favored Suzy-Q, one of our sons wanted the Flying-W, and the other liked the Lazy-Y. So we call it the Bar-J-Suzy-Q-Flying-W-Lazy-Y.”
“So where are all your cattle?” the friends asked.
“None of them survived the branding.”
This little joke proves that disagreements can be DEADLY. It’s better to avoid them and better still to exercise “preventative maintenance” by coming together in the UNITY Paul describes in this passage.
CONTEXT = Two observations of verse one:
THEN is a small word that marks a change in the direction of the letter. Paul spent the first three chapters describing our new identity in Christ. For the final three chapters he will concentrate on exhortations to live out that new identity.
Paul admonished the Ephesians to put some effort into their faith. He did so AS A PRISONER FOR THE LORD. Is this his way of saying, “Look at all I’ve sacrificed to serve the LORD, how can you gripe about what He expects of YOU?”
Unity in the church is worth maintaining.
1, Christian living requires us to put forth some effort. (1-3)
We must put effort into being worthy of our CALLING (not our salvation, as that is a gift of God’s grace). I URGE YOU = this word has a sense of comfort that is nonetheless challenging. Paul appealed to the Ephesians on the basis of the love of Jesus in them.
“Worthiness” here means “appropriateness.” Appropriateness is measured in degree of conformity to Jesus Christ. A truly saved person will exhibit a character that is changing into the character of Christ (i.e., showing Fruits of the Spirit; see Galatians 5:22-23). Paul mentions four virtues in v. 2, four examples, not an exhaustive list.
The first is humility. There are few vices that are harder on relationships than pride. Pride and selfishness are the launch pads of a great array of sins that distance us from God and people. That’s why God despises pride so thoroughly (see Proverbs 11:2; Isaiah 2:11; Luke 1:52). Prideful people make self an idol; they take glory that should be directed to God.
The second virtue is gentleness. In Matthew 11:29 Jesus described Himself as “GENTLE AND HUMBLE IN HEART,” touching both of these first 2 virtues. People following His example will develop these virtues. The King James Version of the Bible uses the word “meek” but in our time that word means “weak-willed,” describing someone who’s too easily persuaded. A GENTLE person does not lack courage, but does exercise self-control. GENTLE people do not lack conviction, they are simply careful how they show it. Their passions are tempered by love for others. People who are legalistic, self-centered, impatient, or otherwise ungracious will find gentleness a challenge. God is described as GENTLE as He leads and teaches His people (Psalm 25:9).
The third virtue is patience. While anger itself is not a sin, it often leads to sin; sins that are especially hard on our relationships. Patience is the preventative medicine to anger. Paul repeatedly called on church folk to be PATIENT with one another (Colossians 3:12; 1 Thessalonians 5:14; 2 Timothy 4:2). The Greek word translated as PATIENT is a combination of the words for “anger/rage” and “a long time.” (James 1:19 commands us to be SLOW TO ANGER.) This does not condone staying angry for a long time (that would be contrary to Ephesians 4:26-27); instead it means taking a long time to become angry. Patience is a Fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22), a defining feature of love (1 Corinthians 13:4), and a virtue God empowers us to practice (Colossians 1:11).
A fourth virtue is forbearance: BEARING WITH ONE ANOTHER IN LOVE. Jesus exhibited this virtue in relation to His disciples when their ignorance or unbelief tested His patience (Matthew 17:17). True tolerance requires loving God and others: this motivates us to overlook the small offenses people give us. Whether it is sin, immaturity, or a personality quirk, the more we let go without anger and without comment, the closer we are to experiencing the UNITY God wants us to have. Proverbs 19:11 makes this plain: “A person's wisdom yields patience; it is to one's glory to overlook an offense.”
The lives of church folk are to demonstrate good works, are truthful, are motivated by love, and bring glory to God. “Easy peasey,” right? Not always. It is sin that complicates matters and forces us to substitute political machinations and rules to achieve the same ends.
Paul based his appeal on worthiness to our CALLING. We are called to two things. First things first , God calls us to salvation. None of this is possible apart from a real relationship with God. We can’t be WORTHY until Jesus is our Savior and Lord. Second, God calls us to sanctification. Salvation is decided in a moment but we spend the remainder of our days working out its effects. In Philippians 2:12 Paul exhorted, “WORK OUT YOUR SALVATION WITH FEAR AND TREMBLING.” In v. 4 Paul stated we are called to share ONE HOPE. Part of the answer to this question of calling is to put all our HOPE in Jesus Christ and nothing else.
UNITY is so important it is worthy EVERY EFFORT to keep it (3). This UNITY comes from God; it is OF THE SPIRIT. Here’s a “bumper sticker” truth: “Unity: you didn’t make it so don’t you break it.”
The Holy Spirit creates unity in the Church by recreating the MIND OF CHRIST in every believer. In 1 Corinthians 2:16 Paul promised that we share THE MIND OF CHRIST. That means that we ought to think like Jesus. If we did that, it stands to reason that we would more often agree and more frequently behave agreeably.
God-given UNITY is kept through THE BOND OF PEACE. The Greek word literally means “bind with chains.” This is ironic because during his imprisonment, Paul was often chained to a Roman soldier who guarded him. Similarly, PEACE should exist between all believers in Christ. PEACE should keep them together and in relationship.
2. God has given us a lot in common. (4-6)
An important piece of our unity is all that we share as God’s called-out ones. Paul lists seven gifts of grace that define our shared identity. Any one of these is more important than any of the trivia that usually divides churches.
The first gift is the Church; the ONE BODY of which we are all members. The human body is a collection of diverse cells, organs, and systems all functioning together. This is a symbol of the Church Paul used frequently (1: 22-23; 2:16; 4:15-16; Romans 12:4-5; 1 Corinthians 10:17; 12:12-13, 20; Colossians 3:15). True unity occurs in situations of diversity; the most valuable UNITY in churches built on the greatest diversity.
The second gift is the Holy Spirit; the ONE SPIRIT. The Holy Spirit is the means by which all the diverse personalities of a church become ONE. This was an especially important point to the believers in Ephesus. Because the culture of that city was so superstitious and tended toward the occult, people would have come into the church believing there were many “spirits” in the world. What Paul wrote here is exactly contrary to that belief. There is only ONE SPIRIT.
The third gift is a future; we share ONE HOPE. Paul taught in 1:13-14 that the Holy Spirit functioned as a SEAL and DEPOSIT, guaranteeing our hope in God. He saw these second and third points as being interrelated. A reason we have HOPE is that God called us out of this world into the world to come. So Paul’s mention of our CALLING in v. 1 is directly linked to this reference to HOPE. The hopeful status of the Ephesian believers is directly opposite their hopeless status in 2:12. Apart from Jesus, we have no reason to have hope.
The fourth gift is Jesus Christ, our ONE LORD. The Lordship of Jesus Christ is an important theme of this letter (1:2-3, 15, 17; 3:11; 5:20; 6:23-24) and of the New Testament in general. Jewish believers needed to be assured that Jesus was not a new god, but a fuller understanding of who God is. The central belief of the Jewish faith is expressed in Deuteronomy 6:4, affirming there is only ONE God. The Gentiles recognized several gods and people back then tended to think and act like all religions were equally real. (Sound familiar?) They needed to unlearn that belief and recognize only ONE LORD, affirming there is only one true God. Accepting the belief there is only one God in three persons is central to our faith. It was a distinguishing mark in Paul’s time and it must be in ours as well. If we count the notion that all religions are equally true (or equally untrue) then we do not have a saving faith.
The fifth gift is definition to what we believe and how we act upon our belief; ONE FAITH. Faith is a set of things we hold to be true, which determine our actions. ONE FAITH means that most of these particulars are non-negotiable and are held in common among all true believers. A big difference between the Church in Paul’s time and the Church in ours is the depth of agreement they had on matters of theology. With the exception of false teachers (4:4) and splinter sects, the Church in the first three centuries shared a common faith.
The sixth gift is membership in a local church by means of ONE BAPTISM. Believer’s baptism by immersion following a confession of faith was the normal practice of the early church (Acts 2:38, 41; 8:12, 36, 38; 10:47-48; 16:15, 33; 18:8, 19:5). Believer’s baptism was the standard practice and one believer’s baptism was all a person needed. Baptism is a public identifying with Jesus Christ and by Him having received salvation. It is a ritual of initiation that provides for membership in a local church. One’s baptism is a joyous occasion that unites a believer to a congregation of believers. In the history of the Church baptism is a practice that has been a reason for many schisms. There have probably been more new denominations formed over the practice of baptism than any other aspect of Christian faith. It’s fair to say that between our denominations BAPTISM is not a gift we all use the same way.
The seventh gift is God Himself: ONE GOD AND FATHER. Our earlier comments on monotheism apply here. In perfect continuity, the Bible asserts from beginning to end that there is only one true God. However, as history wore on and God revealed more about Himself, we came to understand that our one God has three persons, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. We created a name for this truth; the “Trinity.” The sub-points Paul affirmed here - FATHER OF ALL, OVER ALL, THROUGH ALL AND IN ALL - are reminders that God made everything and that He sustains everything. All that exists continues to exist because of Him. Therefore we owe Him constant praise and worship. (Romans 11:6) In contrast to pagan religions of Paul’s day that believed in many gods, Jews and Christians held to ONE GOD.
Though we hold these most important things together, we are still individuals. That’s where our next message comes in, as we look at the affirmations of individuality in verse 7-16. To put it another way, 4:1-6 reveal the truth about UNITY, 4:7-16 reveal the complimentary truth about diversity.
Unity in the church is worth maintaining.
God gives His Church unity. We don’t have to create it, but we are responsible to maintain it. This is not as hard as it may sound, because we have all these things common. They are far greater than the trivia that threatens to divide us. Also, love is supposed to characterize our relationships and we have God as our example.
What we need to do is work on our social skills, keep our priorities in order, be patient with one another, communicate in godly ways, be selfless. Take a moment soon to read John 17:11-23. This is Jesus’ final recorded prayer. Count the number of times Jesus prayed we should be ONE. Understand the depth of oneness He described. That will give you good perspective on how important the maintenance of UNITY really is.
Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament - Ephesians, Clinton E. Arnold