Ephesians is one of my favorite books of the Bible (I have 65 other favorites too) as it is equal parts theology and practice, giving the theological foundation and the principles for living that are built on that foundation. While there are practical applications in the first half and theological truths in the second half, the overall emphasis in both halves seems to fall on the line between chapters 3 and 4. In summary form, chapters 1-3 give us:
- We are chosen before the foundation of the world: election.
- This election is by grace, through faith and transforms us from being dead in our sins to being alive in Christ, ready to do good works as citizens of heaven being built together as the holy and spiritual temple of God.
- Paul’s prayer for us, then, is that we will be filled with the knowledge of God’s love in such a way that it naturally pours out of us and that we might be filled with the fullness of God.
Chapters 4-6, then, give us some practical ways in which this is lived out in the daily lives of believers. This includes the progressive sanctification of believers, the familial relationships as well as business relationships, and concluding with the reality of the spiritual battle in which we are engaged.
The first six verses of Ephesians 4 introduce the second half of Paul’s letter and in these verses we see what I believe is a summary statement for the second half of the letter. Paul urges his readers to “walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called.” As we consider this, let’s look at some of the elements of Paul’s statement:
The first word we look at is: “walk”. The main emphasis of this passage refers to the behavior of the believer, how one lives his life. This statement does not minimize grace, but it does tell us that by grace we are saved from sin, and on the basis of that there is an expectation, a command to live out that faith in actions that are fitting with the gospel.
The second word/phrase we will consider is “manner worthy”. Implicit in this statement is that there is a right way to walk/live/behave and there is a wrong way. The idea of a worthy walk indicates certain aspects of the behavior that qualify as worthy behavior. By extension, there are certain aspects of behavior that disqualify themselves as being unworthy. Most of life, then, is living out the decision between the acts that are worthy and those that are unworthy. To put it another way, most of life consists of a series of decisions between two options: God’s way or man’s way
The third phrase we will consider is “the calling to which you have been called”. If we are called to walk in a manner worthy, we must then follow up that with knowing what is the standard that determines the worthiness of the conduct.
Paul makes it clear that the standard is based on this concept of being called, chosen, elected. What is it that makes this calling significant? First, it is God who is doing the calling. I have caller ID in my office which means that I have a choice each time the phone rings about whether I want to answer it based on the information provided on the little screen. If the caller ID ever were to say “White House”, I guarantee you, I would answer the phone in a very respectful (and scared) voice.
Second, it is me that God has called. I do not deserve a call from the President, and even less do I deserve a call from God. I am a broken sinner who should not have any right of access to God, and yet here I am a recipient of the grace of God, an undeserving citizen of the kingdom of God.
Third, it has already happened. While we await our eternal destination, our eternal destiny has already been sealed by the Holy Spirit (Eph. 1:13). We have been called already and so the life we live now is already being transformed through the inner work of the Holy Spirit. We don’t have to wait to enjoy sweet fellowship with God. We have already been called into fellowship.
The final phrase we will consider is “eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace”. When we read the epistles, we must remember there was an occasion that prompted the letter. We write letters (emails, texts, etc.) all the time with a purpose to communicate information, answer questions, correct mistakes or for some other purpose.
Paul writes this letter with a similar purpose, which is only gleaned through a careful look at the text and the historical context. This statement from Paul seems to indicate that the greatest challenge to living a worthy life is going to come from within, whether it is our lack of humility or the challenging people God places all around us (of which we are one whether we realize it or not: see humility).
The church at Ephesus was born in ann explosive way which then quickly led to rioting and Paul having to flee. So we can understand from this that the church had an exciting beginning and a rough stretch that led to them losing their first love (Rev. 2). From the text here, with its emphasis on “one”, we can reasonably assume that unity of the faith was an issue, perhaps not as significant an issue as the church in Corinth, but yet enough of a need that Paul speaks to it rather forcefully. In this text, he gives several descriptive terms, that one can assume were things they needed to be reminded of:
- Humility: I don’t have all the answers.
- Gentleness: I don’t have to win all the time.
- Patience suggests that not everything will be done our way.
- Bearing with one another in love: suggests that there will be people around us who will be difficult to deal with.
- Eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace: love that word eager; it shows initiative towards something. When my little boys come running down the stairs in the morning, they are eager to get to breakfast. Not that we serve an exotic breakfast at all, they are just excited to be able to leave those beds and find the freedom that the downstairs offers. When Paul uses this phrase about eager to maintain, he wants us to be enthusiastic about our unity enough that we will do the maintenance work to preserve it.
Before we leave this text, though, there is one other important consideration in Paul’s charge to the Ephesians: The centrality of the gospel. We have to remember the centrality of the gospel in living out a worthy walk. We can tend to look at the urging of Paul and leave it as the moralistic call to be nice, to try our best to get along with other people. However, there is a vital connection to vs. 4-6, that this unity of the faith we are to maintain is something that only God can initiate and uphold. The “ones” of vs. 4-6 are a great reminder of the work of God in the life of a believer:
- One body: we did not create that body, God did.
- One Spirit: that is not us either.
- One hope: a joyful expectation that is only possible through the call of God on our lives.
- One Lord: that is not us either.
- One faith: the gift of truth of the gospel rightly understood and believed unto salvation.
- One baptism: Holy Spirit was given at salvation.
- One God and Father of all: nope, that is not us either.
All of these “one’s” remind us that it is only God that can create and maintain such unity as Paul is urging us to seek and maintain. So, are we to just let go and let God? We cannot simply sit back and expect God to do it all as if we are free from responsibility.
The passage is a perfect mix of the truth that we are to work out our salvation while it is God working in us (Philippians 2:12-13). Walk in a manner worthy of our calling. Remember God has called you to a unified faith, God has commanded you to eagerly maintain that unity, by God’s grace. Remember what this means: in humility, exercise patient love with those who will test your love for them.