Worthy of Your Calling
Sermon: Ephesians: Removing the Barriers to God’s Family
By: Donnell Wyche – February 10, 2019
We’re so glad you are here with us this morning. We’re grateful for you and the gifts of God that you bring with you into this space. Together we’ve been welcomed into God’s family through Jesus. As we become the people of God and learn how to neighbor, we choose to reflect God’s love in our gratitude, in our joy, and in our generosity as we navigate the complexity of our daily lives. We pray that whether this is your first time with us this morning, or you’ve been a part of our community for a while, that you will feel the invitation of the Holy Spirit to join in with our vision. If you are looking for a church home, we would love to be your church home, and I, in particular would love to become your pastor.
We are in part five of our sermon series “Ephesians: Removing the Barriers to God’s Family.” We are making way together through Ephesians, learning about Paul’s view of the family of God and the work that Christ performed on the cross to remove the barriers to God’s family so that we can be given over to good works.
Walk in a Manner Worthy of Your Calling
Paul has spent the first three chapters of Ephesians explaining who we were, dead in our sins because of our participation in the rebellion against God. This was a hopeless situation, but then the grace of God intervened in the cross of Christ destroying the hostility that alienated us from God and each other. But only the guilty will admit that they need this grace and this gift.
It reminded me of something that Malcolm X said,
I have since learned—helping me to understand what then began to happen within me—that the truth can be quickly received, or received at all, only by the sinner who knows and admits that he is guilty of having sinned much. Stated another way: only guilt admitted accepts truth.
“This is a gift,” Paul says, “a gift of grace for salvation.” God’s intention from the beginning was to bless creation, to create a new multi-ethnic family.
Therefore, Paul says, live in a manner worthy of your calling in Christ.
As a prisoner for the Lord, then, I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received. 2Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. 3Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. 4There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to one hope when you were called; 5one Lord, one faith, one baptism; 6one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all. (Ephesians 4:1-6)
Paul is borrowing from the ancient moralists of his day, “Act according to what you already know.” The moralists believed that the best way to impact behavior was to remind people of what they already knew in order to shape and impact their behavior. Paul, having already given it to us plainly, “you were dead in your sins,” encourages us here to consider who we are now that we have activated our faith and accepted God’s grace. We are saints, “God’s holy ones.” You belong to God. And if you understood just what that meant, you would act accordingly.
QUICK STORY: As a parent still learning how to parent, this is a lesson I’ve been trying to give to my kids. If you want something, just ask for it. You don’t have to steal it. You don’t have to hide it. You can just have it, but just ask. I try to explain that it’s my pleasure to give them good gifts, but often, it’s easier for them to just abscond with what they want. Then they go about hiding their stolen treasure from us as if we won’t eventually find or discover their hiding places. When I discover these hidden treats, all over the house, I’m mostly annoyed. We wouldn’t have to play these hide and seek games if they understood just who they were and what’s available to them. Each time, I rehearse the same refrain, “You know, you can just ask and get what you want.” Then I try to remind them of the last cycle we completed in this game. Remember the last time you asked for this, what did I say? “Oh, right, you said yes.”
Paul is offering us the same opportunity, you belong to God. You are now apart of God’s new creation, a worldwide, multi-ethnic family. Act like it! Live a life that is worthy of your calling. You are co-heirs with Christ. You are being seated in heavenly places.
Be completely humble and gentle,
2Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. 3Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. 4There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to one hope when you were called; 5one Lord, one faith, one baptism; 6one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all. 7But to each one of us grace has been given as Christ apportioned it. (Ephesians 4:2-7)
Paul loves his lists. If you look through the New Testament, you find all kinds of lists from Paul, like the list of the attributes of love, the gifts of the spirit, the armor of God, a list of trials and sufferings, and a list of vices that will prevent you from inheriting the kingdom of God. But here in Ephesians, we have this short list of how we should behave, “be completely humble, and gentle, patient, bearing with one another in love.”
These are the four graces that if cultivated will produce a life that is worthy of the calling we have received in Christ. And when you look at the list, you may think, “Okay, not an entirely easy list, but everything on list makes sense.” It could be worse, and who doesn’t want to be gentle, patient, and loving?
Be Completely Humble
But did you catch the first grace in the list?
Ephesians is written in Paul’s writing in antiquity in the shadow of the great Greek/Roman philosophers (Plato, Aristotle, Seneca, Epictetus). Each of these great philosophers had their devotees and disciples. Each of these philosophers also had a view of humanity and the spiritual world. Take for instance Stoicism which posited that the goal of humanity was to reach perfection. How could you do that? Through reason. You were made whole by transformation of your mind, change what you believe, and it will help you live a better a life, a perfect life.
Paul, educated in the Jewish tradition, having grown up in a port city, was also the recipient of a classical education that included rhetoric and philosophy, in addition to was well aware of the longings of Roman and Greek desire, expressed in a number of mystery cults on the meaning of life. Many held that life was worthless and pointless, but Paul held a different view because of his encounter with the Messiah, Jesus. Paul took the view that the individual was unconditionally precious to God.
This view was in many ways unique in the ancient world.
So, when Paul opens his four graces with humility, this is a condemnation of the world he inherited. Humility in the ancient world was a vice. You heard me right, it was a sin–only the wicked were humble. If you had the potential for power in the ancient world and you didn’t take it, you were considered a coward. It’s the person who has the ability to cheat others and instead of taking money from the foolish, you were honest, you would be consider a chump.
In the Greco-Roman world things moved quickly from “strong emotion to violence.” Because hatred and revenge weren’t things to avoid, they were the strong emotions that you had to cultivate if you wanted to survive. Only cowards and the feeble were willing to be gentle, humble, patient, and forgiving. How could you protect yourself or your family if you were humble, gentle, patient, or loving. All of these graces from Paul would get you killed in the ancient world.
The gods that were worshipped, they were ruthless, and they expected their devotees to emulate them. Can you imagine how exhausting it would be to live in a dog-eat-dog world, where you have to be on your guard all of the time, where there was no rest or peace only strife, hostility, and violence? Into this world, Paul preaches good news, the Creator God has acted in history on your behalf. Instead of you having to give your life (or everything you have) in order to come alive, God has already acted on your behalf, destroying the hostility, the alienation from God and the strife you have with each other. Activate your faith, accept God’s grace, and be transformed. Give up your hatred, your revenge, your predilection for violence, and live a new life, one that is worthy of the work Christ performed on the cross. Live life the way that Messiah Jesus did, in full and complete dependence on God. Live a life worthy of your calling.
One body, One Spirit, On Faith
But the only way to do what Paul suggests, to resist the prevailing view of the world, you have to believe or at least hope there’s a way that you and those you love will cared for. Just because you give you life to Jesus doesn’t mean the world around you changes. In fact, the world is the same, so what now? If you aren’t allowed to exploit every opportunity for your own good, then you need to know that someone has you back.
This is why it’s important for Paul that you know that you belong to the family of God.
4There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to one hope when you were called; 5one Lord, one faith, one baptism; 6one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all. (Ephesians 4:1-6)
This membership in this family means that you aren’t alone. Paul’s view of the entirely new family, again is a challenge to the prevailing Greco-Roman world. The meaning of life was the primary pursuit of the Greek ideal and perfection, this pursuit was worked on in the mystery cults, and through violence, taking, destroying, subjugating, but Paul paints a clear picture of just what this new family and community will look like. The family of God will take care you and those who are at the margins. This new community offers all of its member an equal share of the community, something that those in the ancient world could only dream or journal about. What could the lowly expect in the family of God, unity. Something that had to be guarded and maintained because they form one body, from one Spirit. They share the one hope because their faith, baptism, and trust is in one Lord. They belong to one God, the father of all, who is over all and in and through all. This view of community mirrors God, who is in Godself a community (Father, Son, Holy Spirit). Those who give themselves to Christ will discover the meaning life.
He Ascended on High
From here Paul quotes Psalm 68,
18When you ascended on high,
you took many captives;
you received gifts from people,
even from the rebellious—
that you, Lord God, might dwell there. (Psalm 68:18)
Paul is giving us an understanding of how the risen and ascended Jesus gives gifts to the different members of the body.
8This is why it says: “When he ascended on high, he took many captives and gave gifts to his people.” 9(What does “he ascended” mean except that he also descended to the lower, earthly regions? 10He who descended is the very one who ascended higher than all the heavens, in order to fill the whole universe.) (Ephesians 4:8-11)
Paul’s about to give us another list, a list of how God is going to support, encourage, and grow the community of believers (the five-fold ministry). In quoting Psalm 68:18 Paul is creating a biblical setting for what’s coming. A first-century Jew might have understood this verse from the Psalm to be referencing Moses. Who, after the Exodus, Moses went up Mount Sinai and came down with the stone tablets of the law. The Torah–the ordering of the daily lives of the people of God. Paul sees Jesus ascending just like Moses, but instead of returning with new laws to govern the people of God, Jesus is releasing the gift of the Holy Spirit to his people.
The Holy Spirit will empower the people of God. This fits in with Paul’s view of the church, that we join with Jesus who is the chief cornerstone to form the temple where God’s spirit lives within us, helping to transform us into the people of God.
The Lord wants to heal someone who experiences pain and fear that grips them in the chest and makes it hard to breath… may be a panic attack or from an asthma attack.
God wants to grant someone freedom from worry that makes you feel sick to your stomach.
There is healing for someone with pain in the left shoulder blade area; blockage in left ear; headache that starts off as pain in the forehead area and radiates around to the back of the neck.