A Study from the book of Ephesians
Introduction: Maybe it’s just our politics, but everything is so divided today—our nation, our homes, our churches, our friendships. People are having a hard time getting along. Things would go better if we could grasp Ephesians 4:1 — As a prisoner for the Lord, then, I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received….
The apostle Paul was writing from prison to Christians in the city of Ephesus. His letter has six chapters, and the first three are about the calling we have received—the special, supernatural, heavenly-fueled, upward life of those who meet Jesus Christ. In chapters 1-3, Paul gives us the most stirring and sterling description of the deeper Christian life to be found in the Bible. People call the book of Ephesians the Switzerland of Bible because this letter soars to such beautiful high altitudes and attitudes. Then in chapter 4, Paul said, “Now because of all I have just been telling you, here is how you are to live toward others.” Chapters 4, 5, and 6 tells us how to live with others in the church, in the world, in the home, and in the workplace.
It’s biblically impossible to bypass chapters 1 – 3, and to start with chapter 4. It is not impossible, but it is biblically impossible. If we want to live out the conduct we find in the last part of Ephesians, we have to understand the calling we have received in the first part of Ephesians.
1. Our Calling (Ephesians 1 – 3)
After Paul’s normal introduction, he begins the essence of his letter in verse 3—Ephesians 1:3: Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ.
The phrase “in Christ” (or “in Him”) occurs 22 times in this epistle, and that’s the key to the book. The apostle Paul is writing to a mature church. He doesn’t have to deal with any problems or dysfunctions, and so he uses this opportunity to tell us what it means to be in Christ—that is, to be a genuine Christian. Though he is sitting in a primitive Romans prison, he’s so excited he begins by bursting out with this verse of praise: Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ.
When you are in Christ, you are the recipient of every blessing. Not just one or two of them. Not just one or two hundred of them. Not just one or two thousand of them. Every blessing God can think of—and He can think of all of them—belongs to the person who belongs to Jesus. Every blessing you need to today, tomorrow, and forever.
A. We Are Included in Jesus Christ
Verse 13 says: And you also were included in Christ when you heard the message of truth, the Gospel of your salvation.
When you hear and receive the message of salvation, you’re included in all God has for all His people for time and eternity. You’re included in every bit of it. Have you ever seen a child in the school or playground who wasn’t included in the other children? Or have ever felt excluded from a group of your friends? When you come to Christ, you’re included in every spiritual blessing. Most of those blessings are in the future, but many of them are for now. Look at that verse again:
B. We Are Secured by the Holy Spirit
And you also were included in Christ when you heard the message of truth, the Gospel of your salvation. When you believed, you were marked in Him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit, who is a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance until the redemption of those who are God’s possession—to the praise of His glory.
At the moment you give your life to Christ, the Holy Spirit comes flooding into you in a dramatic way. You may feel the exhilaration or you may not. The Holy Spirit begins working on your deepest interiors, and He begins giving you love, joy, and peace. He gives you the ability to understand the Bible. He helps you live by faith and obedience. He conveys the interior blessings of heaven into your life. The Holy Spirit is simply God’s way of giving you a deposit guaranteeing what is to come.
C. We Are Empowered by the Heavenly Father
We are also empowered by the Holy Spirit. Verse 18 says: I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which He has called you, the riches of His glorious inheritance in His holy people, and His incomparably great power for us who believe. That power is the same as the mighty strength He exerted when He raised Christ from the dead and seated Him at His right hand in the heavenly realms, far above all rule and authority, power and dominion, and every name that is invoked, not only in the present age but also in the one to come.
The writer, Paul, says that we ought to know about the incredible power and strength God provides for His people. It’s the same power He exerted when He reversed the process of death, returned Christ to life, glorified and eternalized His body, hailed Him heavenward at the moment of the Ascension, and reestablished Him on the highest throne in the universe.
That same sizzling high voltage power is available for us to live out the kind of life God wants us to live.
In my utility closet I have a heavy-duty extension cord. Suppose I took one end of it and swing it around and I threw the end of it upward toward the sky. Suppose an angel caught it and drew it upward, up through the skies, through the universe, all the way into the highest heaven and plugged it into an outlet in the very throne of God Himself. Suppose I plugged the other end into my chest, into my life. Suddenly I would be operating on this planet with supernatural power. I think that is what Paul is saying. We are included in Christ, sealed by Holy Spirit, and empowered by God the Father who raised Christ the dead and enthroned Him.
Now, let’s turn to Ephesians 2. The first ten verses are a little miniature book of Romans. You can take the entire book of Romans, and fit it into these ten verses. This is Paul’s condensation of his own book. We are saved by grace through faith.
D. We Are Planted in the Church
In the last half of chapter 2, Paul tells us that here on earth we have a community of people called the church. From the middle of chapter 2 to the middle of chapter 3, we have a remarkable description of what a church is that has ever been written or ever will be written.
Look at verse 14: For He Himself is our peace, who has made the two groups (Jew and Gentile) one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility.
Have you ever wondered why there is so much warfare in the world? We are all here on one tiny planet, along in the universe, one human family—and yet wars are raging everywhere. Why is that? It’s because there is in deep-seated hostility within us toward God and toward other people. We are essentially proud and selfish and rebellious. When Jesus died on the cross, He not only provided the means of reconciliation between us and God, but between us and each other.
Look down at verse 19: Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and strangers, but fellow citizens with God’s people and also members of His household, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus Himself as the chief cornerstone. In Him the whole building is joined together and rises to became a holy temple to the Lord. And in Him you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by His Spirit.
If you don’t understand this, chapters 4, 5, and 6 about human relationships is all for naught. Jesus Christ did something on the cross that allows us to overcome all that divides us and become members of His family—His church.
Last Sunday I flew home from Tampa, and my Uber driver was a young man from Jamaica. I asked him if he was a Christian, and he said he grew up in a Christian home and still read the Bible, but he didn’t go to church. He said, “I think I’m one of those people who should be out in the world doing things for people instead of sitting in church and listening to sermons.”
“Well, I can understand that,” I said. “A lot of it has to do with the church you attend, but do you realize that when Jesus died and rose again and returned to heaven, He only left behind one group of people—His church. The entire New Testament is about these little groups all over the world that come together to sing His praises, pray, and study His Word. that’s what gives you the morale to go out into the world each week to do good.”
Look at verse 20—Ephesians 3:20: Now to Him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we can ask or imagine, according to His power that is at work within us, to Him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever! Amen.
And that’s Paul’s powerful stirring doxology or song of praise as He ends the first half of his book.
2. Our Conduct (Ephesians 4)
With that brief recapitulation of Ephesians 1 – 3, we come back to our text in chapter 4: As a prisoner for the Lord, then, I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received.
How do we do that? Paul gives us five essential attitudes at the foundation of all our human relationships: As a prisoner of the Lord, then, I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received. Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.
Notice the Lord’s five essential attitudes.
When you realize how high is your calling, it’s easier to be humble. Humility is the key to all our relationships because it means we aren’t putting ourselves first. We’re willing to serve the other person. Over the years I’ve seen so many husbands who had a proud spirit and they weren’t willing to serve their wives or seek counsel or admit when they were wrong. And I’ve seen many wives the same way. We have to be willing to give up that stubbornness.
Joshua Rogers writes about marriage for Fox News, and he said in a recent article that he used to pick a lot of fights with his wife. They quarreled a lot. But over time, he said, he came to see three things very clearly. First, that he was often wrong and he had to learn to say, “I’m sorry.” Second, he began to realize that his wife was actually right most of the time. And third, he said, he learned that most things were worth arguing about to begin with.
When you grasp your high calling, you can be gentle. Have you ever gone shopping for avocados? I love avocados, and you’ll frequently see me in the grocery story squeezing the avocados. But remember this. Wherever you press, it bruises the fruit. That’s true for life too. Everywhere you press, it leaves a bruise. How many things we say or do sharply, and it always leaves a bruise. When we realize our high calling, we can be gentle.
The third quality is patience. Patience is not slowness. It is being slow in getting irritated. A patient person may sooner or later get irritated, but they do so slowly. An irritable spirit has done more to damage relationships than anything else. I’ve battle irritability over the years, and now every time I realize I’ve gotten irritable with someone I ask myself, “How could I have handled that better?”
D. Bearing with One Another in Love
I was trying to think how to describe this, and I remembered a rather private and personal moment that happened sometime after my wife, Katrina, passed away. I wouldn’t tell you this if it didn’t illustrate the point so well. One night I just had a breakdown over it, and I was having a very hard time. I was a mess. My two older grandchildren came downstairs and our friend Ben Almassi who lives in the apartment beneath us came up. Ben took it all in and he saw how pitiful he was. He looked at the grandkids and he said, “Go on upstairs. I’ve got this.” And that man helped me up and talked with me and gently pulled out of my downward spiral.
What does it mean to bear with one another in love? I think it means we see someone who is having a hard time and we say, “I’ve got this.” And we get down there and help them.
E. Make Every Effort to Keep the Unity of the Peace
The last of the five foundational attitudes is making every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace.
Look at verse 1 again and see how these unfold: As a prisoner for the Lord, then, I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received. Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to one hope when you were called; one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all and in all.
God has already created the unity for us. We have to make every effort to preserve and protect it. How do we do that? Well, let’s skip down to the end of the chapter. Look at verses 29-32: Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen. And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. Be kind and compassionate to each other, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.
As we review the book of Ephesians—remember, we are blessed with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus: We are included in Christ, secured by the Holy Spirit, empowered by the Father, and planted in His church – what a high calling!
We’ve got to live worthy of that calling by being completely humble and gentile; patient, bearing with one another in love; endeavoring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. And we do that in the practical ways God tells us here, being kind and compassionate to each other, forgiving each other, just as in Christ Jesus God forgave you…
As we contemplate all of that, does someone come to mind? Is there someone to whom you can be kinder? Someone who needs more patience? Someone who needs an extra dose of love and help.
For the glory of God, why don’t you say, “Go on upstairs. I’ve got this. I’ve got this.”