For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is his steadfast love toward those who fear him, as far as the east is from the west, so far does he remove our transgressions from us. As a father shows compassion to his children, so the LORD shows compassion to those who fear him. For he knows our frame; he remembers that we are dust.
Questions for Further Thought:
- What does it mean to live “worthy of our calling”? What is our calling and in what ways do we not walk in a way worthy of it? Why does this seem difficult to do (Ephesians 4:1)?
- Considering Ephesians 2:14-22, what are the ways Paul describes how we are made one people?
- Why has God given us gifts (Ephesians 4:7-11)? How do we remain united in Christ and yet still exercise the diverse gifts he has given us?
- In what ways are you using your gifts to build up the body? In what ways are you thankful for people in your life who have blessed you with their gifts?
- How have you seen the diversity of the body work towards unity? How is God most glorified in our unity while giving diverse gifts and what are the implications of God designing the body with such diversity?
I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, 2 with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, 3 eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. 4 There is one body and one Spirit—just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call—5 one Lord, one faith, one baptism, 6 one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all. 7 But grace was given to each one of us according to the measure of Christ's gift. 8 Therefore it says, “When he ascended on high he led a host of captives, and he gave gifts to men.”
9 (In saying, “He ascended,” what does it mean but that he had also descended into the lower regions, the earth? 10 He who descended is the one who also ascended far above all the heavens, that he might fill all things.) 11 And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, 12 to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, 13 until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, 14 so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes. 15 Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, 16 from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love.
The Meaning of “TCT: Building One People”
A few weeks ago we announced an effort to advance the mission of Bethlehem through a capital campaign called “Treasuring Christ Together: Building One People.” In this, and every other all-church project we have done, we use the challenge of the campaign to remind ourselves of our purpose and values.
Treasuring Christ Together (TCT) is a strategy to accomplish our mission to spread a passion for the supremacy of God in all things for the joy of all peoples through Jesus Christ. The TCT strategy is really how we do church. TCT is a multiplying movement of campuses and new churches that embrace our mission, doctrine and values for church life, and in that effort we support the work of the Global Diaconate work around the world.
The “Building One People” subtitle is specific to this present capital campaign seeking to raise $18 million over the next 30 months to purchase a home for the South Campus, pay down all church debt and support church planting and the Global Diaconate.
I want to put some meaning on the “Building One People” subtitle. In my previous sermon I sought to say this:
The first and primary meaning of “Building One People” is this, “By his Spirit and the gospel, God is building us into one people from every nation, to treasure him, through Christ, now and forever.” The phrase is ambiguous as to who is doing the building. So, when you come across the phrase “Building One People,” I want us to remember that God is doing the building. He is building us into one family, one worshipping people, in Christ.
My aim this weekend is to add to the meaning of the phrase “Building One People” a secondary meaning, namely, that we have a part to play in preserving and building up the one people of God. Let’s take a look at it this secondary meaning. I get it from Ephesians 4.
Live Worthy of Your Calling
Verse 1, “I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called.” What is our calling? Ephesians is wonderfully divided in two parts. Chapters 1-3 describe God’s saving grace to us in Christ and how the mystery of the gospel is that in Christ, all people, Jew and Gentile, are united as one people in Christ to the praise of God’s grace.
Then right here in chapter 4, verse 1—in the middle of the letter—Paul shifts from this glorious praise to practical application. It’s just like Romans 12:1. From this point on in Ephesians 4-6, Paul describes the application of how to live accordingly as those who have been graced by God in the way described in the first three chapters.
What does it mean to “walk”? To refer to walking in a certain way is a Hebrew idiom for referring to “step-by-step, day-by-day living.” Therefore, in verse 1 Paul is urging us to live our lives in a manner worthy of our calling. There is a way to life that is fitting of those who have received the saving graces of God described in Ephesians 1, 2 and 3.
What does it mean to live worthy of our calling (4:1)? We know when people live in a way that is out of sync with their role, their office or situation. What if one of the thirty-three men rescued from sixty-nine days trapped in the Chilean mine came out and in his new lease on life, set out to commit rape or armed robbery. We might say his behavior is not worthy of one having been saved. You were as good as dead. You were hopeless. But then we found you, strategized to rescue you, drilled a 26-inch tube, consulted with NASA and other experts, worked for over two months to save you, and then this?
A governor, who offers to sell an open U.S. Senate seat to the highest bidder, is not behaving in a manner worthy of his calling as governor. A schoolteacher, who has inappropriate relationships with his or her students, is not behaving in a manner worthy of his or her calling as a teacher. A father, who passively and knowingly allows harm to come to his child, is not behaving in a manner worthy of his calling as a father. A pastor, who engages in extra-marital affairs, is not behaving in a manner worthy of his calling as minister of the gospel of Christ. A professional football player, who sends flirtatious messages to a masseuse, is not behaving in a manner worthy of his calling.
The honor of being saved, being governor, being a teacher, being a father, being a pastor or being a pro-football player should constrain and shape one’s life. And when it doesn’t, it’s easy to see that things are out of sync. It’s not right.
A Worthy Manner
What does he mean by “a worthy manner”? Does he mean that if we obey what follows, we thereby make ourselves worthy of God’s calling? No, just like in all these illustrations the point is not to live in a worthy manner in order to earn the salvation, become a governor, teacher, father, pastor or football player. Rather, the point is this: since you are rescued, and since you are the governor, teacher, father, and football player, you ought to live accordingly. So, Paul is urging us that, as those having received God’s grace and calling that we ought to live in accord with it, not in contradiction to it.
So let me give you a summary of the grace of God described in chapters 1, 2, and 3 of Ephesians so that you might feel the weight of the connection between the grace of God to us and the calling to live in accord with that grace. This is the connection communicated by the word “therefore” in verse 1 of chapter 4.
According to chapters 1-3, God has become your father (1:3), blessed you with every spiritual blessing in Christ (1:3), chosen you in Christ before the foundation of the world (1:4), predestined you in love to be adopted as his very own children (1:4-5), redeemed you by the blood of Christ (1:7), forgiven your sins according to the riches of his grace (1:7), revealed to you the gospel of Jesus (1:9), sealed you by the Holy Spirit guaranteeing that your future is glorious with the Lord and his people forever (1:13), loved you with his great love (2:4), made you alive together with Christ (2:5), raised you with Christ to sit in the heavenly places (2:6), granted you faith as a gift (2:8), and saved you by his grace (2:8-9)….
God has made us together—people from every nation, Jewish and non-Jewish—to be one new man, a new humanity (2:15), one citizenry (2:19), united as members of his family, the household of God (2:19), one dwelling place for his presence, his Spirit, like stones make up a temple or sanctuary (2:22)….
Since God has poured out that mercy on you, therefore, verse 1 says, live in a manner worthy of your calling. Our lives should accord with this calling of God on our lives.
How Do You Walk?
How do you go about walking in a manner worthy of your calling? First, by living lives characterized by love for one another. Second, by using our gifts for building up one another.
Lives Characterized By Love
Verses 1-2, “I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, 2 with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love.” There are five relational graces here that I am summing up in the word “love.”
- Humility. The word “humility” communicates living with a lowliness of attitude. It is reflective of the “mind of Christ” described in Philippians 2, whereby Christ emptied himself and became a servant, laying down his life for us. It is the attitude of a servant. Nothing is too low on the pecking order of life for me to do in the service of others. It is the opposite of a haughty, self-exalting bent.
- Gentleness. The word “gentleness” shouldn’t be thought of as wimpy. It is used of strong domesticated animals. Think of it as “strength under control” or “the gentleness of one who is strong.” It is the opposite of a bull in a china chop, the opposite of a person bent on self-assertion of his or her own wants, desires and rights despite the damage done to others. That Christ did not call upon a legion of angels to put an immediate end to those who mocked, abused, killed and sinned against him is evidence of his gentleness and his patience, which is the next word.
- Patience. The word translated “patience” means “long-suffering.” This is “a state of emotional calm in the face of provocation or misfortune and without complaint or irritation.” It is the ability to live with people who aggravate you, or attack you, or sin against you in various ways without grumbling or irritation. Look no further than Christ’s patience as he suffers for us.
- Bearing with one another. The word translated “bearing with” is similar to patience. It refers to enduring difficulty. It refers to having forbearance or tolerance for one another. It’s opposite would be not putting up with difficulty and lack of perseverance in relationships with others.
- Love. The word “love” means to seek the good of others, not merely its own good. Before he laid down his life for us, Jesus said, “Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:13).
It seems fitting to me to sum up all these in the word “love” because that basically is what Paul does in Colossians 3:12-14—and what the New Testament does elsewhere—“Put on then, as God's chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, 13 bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. 14 And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony.”
Maintain the Unity
There are two things to note about this call to live lives characterized by love. First, we love one another to preserve our unity, not to create it. Verse 3, “…eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.” A. W. Tozer gets it right when he says,
However ill taught God’s children may be on this subject and however widely separated by artificial barriers, they are nonetheless all members of Christ and as surely one as a man’s hands and feet and eyes and ears are one by being members of his body. Unity in Christ is not something to be achieved; it is something to be recognized [emphasis added].
You might think, as I hear Christians from time to time say, that we love one another in order to become united as Christians. We do things like worship together, have small group, go through Peacemakers classes, prayer meetings, and teach on racial harmony and disability ministry in order to work to create unity between believers. That is not what this text says. This text says the opposite. This text says, because we are already unified, we work very hard to preserve that unity we have in Christ.
In fact, Paul emphatically commands that we are to be eager—that we spare no effort—to preserve the unity we have already in Christ. We are not to be lazy or passive about this, but give strong energy to this preservation and do it with haste.
Second, the foundation of our unity is the triune God. Count the number of times Paul uses the word “one” in verses 4-6. “There is one body and one Spirit—just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call—5 one Lord, one faith, one baptism, 6 one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.” How many? Seven times Paul uses the word “one.”
One Body. We share one body—the church, the body of Christ, made up of all believers of all time, Jew and Gentile, from every tribe and tongue. “For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and all were made to drink of one Spirit” (1 Corinthians 12:13).
One Spirit. We share one Spirit, God’s spirit. The Holy Spirit indwells each one of us who are in Christ.
One Hope. We share one hope.
One Lord. We share one Lord, our savior Jesus Christ.
One Faith. We share one faith, in Jesus, our one Lord.
One Baptism. We share one baptism into Christ Jesus.
One God and Father. And we share one God and Father of all who believe in Christ, his children.
We enjoy a unity built not on relational unity but on God and his grace to us in Christ. The reality of our spiritual unity is the ground of our working for unity in community. Because we are one new people, live accordingly. The reality of our spiritual unity enables our relational unity, our love. Our relational unity preserves our spiritual unity.
Gifts For Building Up
The second way our lives are to accord with our calling is by using our gifts for building up one another. Let no one think that because we are united in Christ and that we labor to preserve that unity in love that we are called to be mere copies or clones of one another. Far from it. In fact, the text makes clear that our differences in graces, gifts and roles are the design of Christ, the head of the church.
Christ is the giver and has given each of us grace. Verse 7, “But grace was given to each one of us according to the measure of Christ’s gift.” The quote that follows in verse 8 is from Psalm 68, describing the act of a victorious king in dividing the spoils of victory with his people. Christ gives grace to each and every one of us.
Each one of us, having received grace, are then given to one another as gifts to the church. Further down, in verse 11, we discover that gifts given to the whole church are described as people, leaders in this text: “And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers….”
Turn to Romans 12. There is another list that extends beyond leaders.
Having gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let us use them: if prophecy, in proportion to our faith; 7 if service, in our serving; the one who teaches, in his teaching; 8 the one who exhorts, in his exhortation; the one who contributes, in generosity; the one who leads, with zeal; the one who does acts of mercy, with cheerfulness (Romans 12:6-8).
Paul, in 1 Corinthians 12:4-7, explains, “Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; 5 and there are varieties of service, but the same Lord; 6 and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who empowers them all in everyone. 7 To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good.”
The purpose for which these diverse gifts have been given is the building up of the body of Christ. Verse 12, “…to equip the saints for the work of ministry….” What is the work of the ministry? “…For building up the body of Christ.”
Verse 13 goes on to describe this purpose of building up the church in three ways, “…until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ.” Gifts are given to build up the church to attain the unity of the faith and knowledge of Christ, to mature manhood and to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ. By Christ’s gifting, we are building one another up toward maturity in Christ.
Bethlehem and This Text
Let me just mention a couple of implications and applications that flow from this passage.
May we be a people who value both love and truth. Both are here in this passage. Some want to throw out truth and just want to love each other and get along. Others won’t even talk with someone unless they are perfectly agreed regarding the truth. I’m very encouraged by the way this passage talks about unity, both horizontally and in terms of truth. Verse 3, “…Eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.” This is clearly relational. Verse 13, “…Until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ.” There is the truth piece.
So which is it? Are we for love or truth? Both and neither. We are about love and we are about laboring to grow in truth. Love rejoices with the truth, and we want to speak the truth in love.
May we rejoice in the diversity of gifts and graces Christ has given us. May we rejoice at the differences among us. We should see each other as gifts from God to each other. This should impact how we relate to one another.
May we link arms to see that we grow in faith and knowledge of Christ together, corporately, and not merely individually. Our culture is very individualistic. We need to check ourselves to see if we have an attitude of beating others in the race of faith. We need to see that we don’t have that mindset. We need to run together and pull each other along. We run together and win together.
One observation of this corporate care for each other is a building illustration from our history. When we were in the middle of a major campaign in raising funds to build on to the Downtown Campus, we called for a group of people to go North. One thousand people went North and they continued to donate to the TCT, debt-free, six-and-a-half million dollar effort for a building that they would never have as their own. Their campus and congregation became North and continued to pay for the Downtown Campus. But because of their sense of oneness, they continued to donate. That is an odd thing. That was a grace. It is the same kind of thing for people at the South Campus giving to build out the North Campus. We pray that God would give us a one-another mindset for this campaign.
“TCT: Building One People” means that God is building us into his one people and, by his grace, we are building up his people as we preserve the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. God is building and we are building.
Louw, J. P., & Nida, E. A. (1996). Greek-English lexicon of the New Testament : Based on semantic domains (electronic ed. of the 2nd edition.). New York: United Bible societies.
Tozer, A. W., & Eggert, R. (1998). Vol. 1: The Tozer Topical Reader (27–28). Camp Hill, PA.: WingSpread.