Walk Worthy of the Calling

Ephesians 4:1-3

Audio Version

Telemachus was a monk who lived in the 5th century. He felt God calling to him, “Go to Rome.” He put his possessions in a sack and set out for Rome. When he arrived in the city, people were thronging in the streets. He asked why all the excitement and was told that this was the day that the gladiators would be fighting and killing each other in the coliseum, the day of the games, the circus. He thought to himself, “Four centuries after Christ and they are still killing each other for enjoyment?” He ran to the coliseum and heard the gladiators saying, “Hail to Caesar, we die for Caesar!” and he thought, “this isn’t right.” He jumped over the railing and went out into the middle of the field, got between two gladiators, held up his hands and said “In the name of Christ, forbear!” The crowd protested and began to shout, “Stone him! Stone him!” A gladiator came over and hit him in the stomach with the back of his sword. It sent him sprawling in the sand. He got up and ran back and again said, “In the name of Christ, forbear!” The crowd continued to chant, “Stone him!” Then the crowd itself started to stone him. One last time, he cried out, “In the name of Christ forbear!” The emperor Honorius was so disturbed by the death of the monk, and the brutality of the people, who wanted only their own entertainment, no matter what the cost, that he ordered the coliseum emptied. It was the last known gladiatorial contest in the history of Rome. There was peace between gladiators after the noble deed of Telemachus. Sometimes I wonder whether church members feel themselves to be gladiators for their own point of view. They will cut down anyone who disagrees with them. They will cast stones at those poor unfortunate Christians who are on the other side of the fence. Is this living a walk worthy of the calling which we have received? Is it keeping the unity of the Holy Spirit in the bond of peace? I think not. We should rather be more like Telemachus, willing to sacrifice his own interests, and even his own life, for the sake of the peace of Christ.

As we saw last week, Paul has finished the more doctrinal part of his letter, and is now proceeding to apply that doctrine to the Christian life. We saw that the accomplishment of salvation in history is the basis not only for its application in history to our lives, but also to the Christian life as a whole. The motivation for the Christian life is gratitude for what God has done for us. God has saved you: therefore live for Him. We saw that to avoid legalism and antinomianism, we have to remember that what God has done is always the foundation for what we do. The indicative, or the statement of what God has done, is the foundation for the imperative, what God commands us to do. That is why Paul starts our verse 1 of this chapter with the word “Therefore.” We saw that the word “therefore” means that all of the doctrine in the first three chapters has this practical implication: that we should walk worthy of the calling which we have received. Notice here that Paul adds an additional motivation. He says that he is a prisoner in the Lord. In other words, for Paul this is a big deal. He was willing to go to prison for what he has just been writing to the Ephesians in chapters 1-3. It raises the stakes.

The doctrine which Paul has been teaching is that the church consists of those redeemed by the blood of the Lamb. Again, the entire letter is really about the church. So we can expect that the first applications that come to us in chapter 4 will be about church life as a whole. How are we to treat one another? First of all our treatment of one another must always have reference to God first. After all, the calling which we have received is a calling we have received from God. In other words, how we treat one another is always something that concerns God greatly. That is, God is deeply concerned about how we treat one another. We need to remember that, since we are often tempted to think that what we say about someone else in the church really only stays on the horizontal level, and that God is not really listening, or that He doesn’t really care. No, we are to walk worthy of the calling we have received. We are called to be one body in Christ Jesus. That is the specific calling that Paul is talking about here, since that is what he has been talking about in chapters 1-3.

Well, if verse 1 is a summary of what we are to do, verses 2-3 start to spell out exactly what Paul means. Important words like humility, meekness, long-suffering (or patience), bearing with one another, and guarding are the words Paul uses. They are words which have all been used at some point to describe Jesus Christ Himself. He was humble. We can see that in the very fact of the Incarnation. As Philippians 2 tells us, Jesus cloaked His glory in human form, taking upon Himself the form of a servant. The Lord of Glory a servant??! It is impossible to conceive of just how much humiliation that was for Him. And meekness! Jesus was like a lamb that before its shearers is silent. Jesus was patient, especially with His disciples, who had a hard time grasping what Jesus was really doing. And, in the High Priestly prayer in John 17, Jesus prays for the same kind of unity to exist among His followers as what exists between the Father and the Son: “May they be one even as you and I are one,” He says.

So Paul is telling us to be like Jesus. Well, that is all very well and good. But how are we to be like this? And what does it mean practically speaking? Well, to answer the first question, we should always remember that we become more holy because God lives in us. This is not the same thing as “Let go and let God.” Not the same thing one bit. Rather, it is the balance of which Philippians speaks: “Work out your salvation in fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you both to will and to do.” The power to do good comes from God. We must rely on His strength. And so we become more holy by making use of the means of grace. Prayer, Bible reading, fellowship with other believers, the Sacraments. These are all things that God uses to impart more of His Holy Spirit to us. That is how we are to live this way.

But what does it look like? Well, first of all you have to walk. Walking is a metaphor for all of life in the Scriptures. A walk can be in accordance with Scripture, or it can be rebellious. But none of us are standing still. We are all walking to some destination… or other. So what path are you taking? Are you taking the path worthy of the calling? Or is your life in accordance with the rebellion that the world so desperately tries to teach anyone it can? There are only two ways to walk, ultimately, and you cannot mix them. You cannot serve both God and money, as Jesus says. So, a walk worthy of the calling is exclusive. It doesn’t allow a parallel track to go alongside the real track.

Secondly, a worthy walk is humble. Humility means that you don’t think more highly of yourself than you ought to think. It means that you will not approach another Christian and say (or imply!) that your walk with the Lord is all finished, or nearly all finished. I like to think of every Christian being a beggar trying to tell other beggars where to find food. Maybe, by God’s grace, you have found more solid meat somewhere. In telling someone else, you need to make it plain that you do not view yourself as being a better Christian than someone else. Humility also means being able to admit your own mistakes, and not just the small ones. Maybe you haven’t been as good a spouse, parent or child as you thought you were. If you are humble, then you will be willing not only to admit it, but also be willing to listen to other people’s wisdom. We don’t stop from being discerning when we listen. We always have to be discerning. But that is quite different from taking a stance of superiority.

Thirdly, a worthy walk is meek. Meekness, of course, is not weakness. Jesus was meek, and yet drove out the money-changers from the temple. Meekness means that I don’t stand up for my rights. Rather, I stand up for other people’s rights. Out culture today is very concerned with protecting people’s rights. The problem is that someone else’s rights are usually left out. In the interests of protecting a mother’s rights, for instance, the baby’s rights might be ignored. Meekness means that you don’t view your own rights as rights at all. Instead, you realize that what you have is actually privileges. And privileges can be taken away. But meekness will fight to the death for the rights of others. In your mind then, a truly meek person will not stand up for himself with regard to “rights.” However, he will most definitely stand up for the poor and oppressed. It is important here to distinguish between right and duty. For instance, it is our duty to worship God. So if someone is forbidding us to worship our God, we must resist, even using force if necessary. We must obey God rather than men. However, your own privacy, for example, is not a right. It is a privilege given to you from God.

Fourthly, a worthy walk is patient. Patience means that we don’t flare up when things are not going our way. We keep calm. The biggest secret to patience (aside from relying on God) is to recognize that God always has a reason for what happens to us. No matter what trial comes our way, all things work together for good for those who love Christ Jesus. You really need to cling to that when the trials come thick and fast, like tidal waves. Always cling to Christ in those times, and seek earnestly for what God wants to show you in that trial. If you’ve had six years of almost no harvest, seek the Lord for what He would teach you. Don’t reproach God for sending you this trial. Shall you accept the good things from God, but not the difficult things? As Job would say, “God forbid.” Patience, of course, is most necessary when dealing with other people. If it is merely a circumstance of God’s providence, those are usually easier to accept and be patient with than other people. That is, of course, the reason why Paul includes that word here. Other people do not always have your best interests at heart, do they? How unfair of them! How dare they not consider my best interests first! But don’t you realize that they are thinking the same thing? The way to break a cycle of one-up-manship is to be patient to serve that other person. Did he just gossip about you? Go serve him. Did he just insult you to your face? Go and serve him. And do not attach any grumbling or complaining, even in your body language. You are, after all, trying to show them the love of Christ.

Fifthly, a worthy walk bears with one another in love. Love overlooks offenses. It does not store offenses up in a rich treasure house of bitterness. When someone offends you, try to forget that it happened. If you cannot forget, that is a signal that you need to talk to that person about it. When you do, make sure that you talk only about that particular offense. Do not generalize about patterns of behavior. That will only put the other person on the defensive. Speak only of that one issue, that one offense. That allows the other person to apologize without feeling like they are being attacked. That is so crucial to reconciliation. But as much as you can, bear those offenses and let them go. Don’t hang on to them. If you cannot forget and forgive, then you need to ask whether you are walking worthy of the calling you have received.

Sixthly, and lastly, a worthy walk hurries to keep unity, especially the unity of peace. Paul has some very wonderful language here. The NIV says “make every effort.” This is not a bad translation. However, there is also a sense of urgency that this word has. “Hurry,” “strive,” “run” are other good translations. The idea is that unity in the body is worth protecting. Matthew Henry says that unity is such a precious thing that he would be willing to sacrifice anything for it, except truth. Hurry to protect unity. Stop the gossip chain. Don’t let other people’s reputations become a source of speculation. Don’t let one mistake that a person makes change forever your opinion of that person.

We have really only scratched the surface of all the applications that could be made from these verses. We will fortunately have more time in coming weeks to see what this looks like, as Paul continues to spell out the practical implications of the doctrine that he has given us in the first three chapters. To conclude, I want us to see what doctrine lies underneath these applications that Paul gives us. It is quite simple really. God has reconciled us to Himself by the blood of Jesus Christ, although that is only if you trust in Him. That reconciliation implies reconciliation with one another. God has formed a new body, the church. That new body is supposed to work together. Think of your own body. Your arm and hand don’t usually try to hit each other, do they? Your arm doesn’t just go berserk, trying to kill off all the other limbs of your body. So also, members of the church of Jesus Christ work together. That is the definition of the church: Christ’s body. Be what you are. The unity of the body is worth every sacrifice, even your very life, as Telemachus showed us. After all, Christ Himself died for our peace with God.