Walk As Called
I, the prisoner of the Lord, implore you to walk in a manner worthy of the
calling with which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with
patience, showing tolerance for one another in love, being diligent to preserve
the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.
(Ephesians 4:1-3 NASB)
Prisoner of the Lord
His name was Curly. If you could is seen his body, you would
certainly have wondered how he got up in the morning and went to do what he had
to do. He had cerebral palsy; his entire skin was covered with boils; he spoke
with a thick slurred speech. He also held up high the standard of Christ on
campus where Christianity was officially forbidden.
ask why the campus police never removed him from his position, even though he
cried out to all who would listen, "Jesus loves you." But look at it
from their point of view: do you want to be the macho police officer who
arrests an 80 pound man, a victim of cerebral palsy, for saying "Jesus
loves you?" It was his frailty that kept him in place. It is a curious
point: God very often uses the weakest of human beings for his purposes. The
psalmist put it this way:
the mouth of infants and nursing babes You have established strength Because of
Your adversaries, To make the enemy and the revengeful cease.
(Psalms 8:2 NASB)
Paul shares this position during the writing of the letter
to the Ephesians. He is in Rome, chained to a wall. By the standards of this
world Paul was helpless. But Paul was not using the standards of this world,
but the power of God. There is no doubt that this method produces a great deal
of suffering for the servants of God. You might think God would be a bit more
careful about how he treats his children, especially when they are to be great
in the kingdom of God. In fact, he is quite careful of this. He makes it clear
that those who suffer for him will reign with him. There is no greater honor
available on Earth than suffering for Christ.
This is based on the fact that Christ himself suffered
greatly. We have to look at that and ask the question: why should I deserve
anything less? Christ, after all, suffered so that I might live eternally. If
the King of Kings and Lord of lords did this, just what is it that is beyond my
suffering? Indeed, were it not for the fact that the gracious Lord restricts my
suffering to what I can stand, I would indeed break down under the suffering.
But he is gracious and kind, knows my limits, and those limits determine the
honor I will receive.
So then, how are we to conduct ourselves? Paul's preaching
the unity of the church, and for this he will prescribe the behavior of the
First we must act in all humility and gentleness. The word for
humility carries with it a meaning of being humble minded. It is a mental
decision, whose obvious outcome is in the gentleness of our dealings. It is
most necessary to consider the possibility that one might be wrong.
Next he prescribes patience. The word itself was translated in
many older versions as, "long-suffering." Associated with this is the
concept of tolerance — but this is not the tolerance we hear of today. There is
a difference between being so open-minded that you don't care about anything,
and being willing to endure any human being cheerfully.
The secret to this is love. Any mother with a toddler can tell
you this. A toddler's behavior is constantly annoying, irritating and downright
grating. Despite the temptation the throttle the little monster, somehow or
other the human race continues. The love that explains that, explains the
tolerance and forbearance of a Christian.
Unity of the Spirit
It is a consistent theme of St. Paul: he utterly desires the
unity of the church. The principle behind this is relatively easy to see: it is
the unity of God himself. Perhaps this is best considered as an artistic point.
God is one; therefore, everything he creates will have that same fundamental
integrity. The church is his creation. Thus, it must have the same unity that
God the father, God the son and the Holy Spirit have. But how do we do this?
First, we are told to be diligent about this. The word in the
Greek actually means something like, "speedy." We are in a sense to
hustle towards the unity of the church. Firefighters will tell you the reason
for this: the first two minutes at a fire are worth the next two hours. The
first two minutes in an argument in the church are likewise most important.
If you need any motivation to understand this, picture the church
as the body of Christ. In a sly way here, Paul invokes that picture. He talks
about the bond of peace. The word used for bond is also used for the word,
"ligament." So the bond of peace is not a chain shackled to us, but
rather as a ligament tying us together as a body should be tied together. If
you have ever strained a ligament, the pain is an excellent teacher.
Triad of Trinities
There is one
body and one Spirit, just as also you were called in one hope of your calling;
one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all who is over all and
through all and in all.
(Ephesians 4:4-6 NASB)
It is not entirely clear in the English, but this is high
poetry. The thought echoes are profound. Everything revolves around the
rhythmic element of three, which of course is taken from the holy Trinity. We
may observe them thusly.
Concerning the Church
We seldom hear today any discussion of the doctrine of the
church itself. By this I do not mean the doctrine the church proclaims, but
rather the doctrine which concerns the nature and character of the church. We
have an excellent summary here:
First, the church is one body. That means there is only one true
church, composed of all those who believe on the name of Jesus Christ and have
committed their actions to him. It does not mean that only one particular
denomination will ever get to heaven (and you get to guess what that
denomination is). It also means that those who are in the church have
differing functions, just as the members of your body have differing functions.
And might we point out: you don't get to pick particularly which function you
get, anymore than your toes had any such choice.
We have one spirit: the Holy Spirit. The church as a whole is
moved by the Holy Spirit, just as we are moved by the spirit inside us. That
means that if we are to be solid and sound members of the church, we had best
know which direction the Holy Spirit is going. This is one of the primary
reasons that you meditate, pray, and study the Scriptures. A congregation which
neglects the inner study of the self as revealed in the Scriptures is headed
We also have one hope. Let me be specific and clear with this:
the hope is in the resurrection of the dead. If there is no resurrection of the
dead, then you and I are idiots. So what makes me think that there is the
resurrection of the dead? First, Christ rose; second, he promised we would too.
Our doctrine concerning Christ is also of great importance.
We have one Lord. Over and over again, brilliant men and
charismatic leaders have attempted the church to follow them into ruin. Over
and over again, this challenge is beaten back by the Lord revealed in the
Scriptures. It is to him we owe our loyalty, not to a pastor, preacher, prophet,
teacher or whatever else. This is most important.
We have one faith. It is a fact: apologetics, the defense of the
faith by reason, is identical for the Protestant, the Catholic and the
Eastern Orthodox. That core faith is what unites the church. It is this faith
for which you should have a ready defense; it is this faith you should share
willingly. One might also submit that therefore it should be preached, taught
We have one baptism. I regret to inform those of you who were
sprinkled or baptized as an infant in any fashion that the New Testament does
not know of such things. The baptism used in the New Testament and threw out
clearly days of the church was baptism by immersion. If you want to do it
right, that's how you do it. But please, at least do it.
Concerning God the Father
Paul now takes us through a trio of prepositions: over,
through and in. To be specific:
God the Father is over all. This includes Christ, who will
eventually reign over the entire universe. It is a humbling lesson to think
that the Lord of Lords and the King of Kings is himself under the authority of
his Father. God is not a benign, elderly gentleman hoping that you have fun
God the Father is through all. I submit this means that no matter
how deep you dig, God is still in the hole with you. He is the maintainer and
sustainer of the universe.
He is also in all; we might consider that we are made in his
image and in that sense he is in each and every one of us.
Paul's point in this Triad is simply this: no matter what you
do, where you go — even in hell — you cannot escape God. So you might as well
deal with him.
The Preeminence of Christ
Paul now moves to a new point. It will bring us into one of
the strangest notions of the New Testament.
each one of us grace was given according to the measure of Christ's gift.
Therefore it says, "WHEN HE ASCENDED ON HIGH, HE LED CAPTIVE A HOST OF
CAPTIVES, AND HE GAVE GIFTS TO MEN." (Now this expression,
"He ascended," what does it mean except that He also had descended
into the lower parts of the earth? He who descended is Himself also He who
ascended far above all the heavens, so that He might fill all things.)
(Ephesians 4:7-10 NASB)
The Gift of Christ
Most of us think that our abilities, experience and
education are our own. But within the church we find a different rule: these
things are gifts from Christ. This has some unusual consequences:
If you think yourself so smart as to be superior to others,
please ask: just what did I get this ability? You were born where you were,
your parents were who they were, your upbringing is what it is simply because
Christ selected that way. You can be grateful, but you can't brag.
It is likewise true that he selects where you will serve. Apostles,
prophets, pastors, teachers, and pretty much everyone else get no choice about
this. God calls you; you can rebel or obey. There are no other options in the
This obviously means you have no place to exercise your ego in
the church. But did you also recognize it means you have no cause for
complaint? The wisdom of God has you placed where you are; kindly assume he
knows what he's doing.
Concept: a Roman Triumph
Paul invokes a spectacle that most of his readers in the
Roman Empire would have been familiar with: the Roman Triumph. It was a parade
to celebrate a great victory. The Roman Empire placed strict rules on who could
have such a Triumph; you had to take so many prisoners, so many slaves, so much
gold, etc. In short, you had to be worthy.
It also helps if you were generous. The crowds would line
the route, and they would certainly be expecting you to distribute from your
largess. In short, it wasn't like a New Orleans Mardi Gras parade where people
throw beads. You threw coins. These would preferably be made of gold, so that
the crowd could see what a wonderful person you were and why they'd like to
have you for the next Emperor. At least, that's the theory. Paul turns this on
its head. Instead of taking gold that you confiscated from your enemies, Christ
gives out his gifts as if he were in a triumphal procession from hell to
heaven. We sometimes miss the sense of joy that the early church had; they
could see a parade like this in their minds.
Descended into Hell
We now encounter a strange concept: Christ's descent into
hell. Paul states it here; Peter hints at it in the following verse:
they will give account to Him who is ready to judge the living and the dead.
For the gospel has for this purpose been preached even to those who are dead,
that though they are judged in the flesh as men, they may live in the spirit
according to the will of God.
(1 Peter 4:5-6 NASB)
Peter's point is relatively clear: those who have died
before the time of Christ heard the gospel when Christ preached it to them in
hell. Does this mean that he led them out of hell and into heaven? If so, by
what criteria did he decide who was going, who was staying? The best guess of
most of the early scholars was that he indeed led them from hell, just as
prisoners would be marched at the end of a Roman Triumph as a symbol of just
how great the victory was. The parallel I hope is obvious. What this means for
those who have never heard the gospel of Jesus Christ, I do not know. But at
least it's a bit of a hopeful sign.
More than that, it means that our Lord did not just escape
death, he is Lord over death. As he says in Revelation, he holds the keys to
heaven and hell. This is the awesome Lord we serve. His power indeed is beyond
our comprehension, but his commands are not. He has chosen to display his
strength in weakness, and we are that weakness. If we suffer with him, we shall
reign with him.