Sunday, September 28, 2014
Imagine you are in the city of Ephesus on the west coast of what today is the nation of Turkey and you are looking out over the Aegean Sea. It is 60AD. You feel good because it is Sunday. There will be a guest speaker, one familiar and beloved in your church. His name is Tychicus. He has traveled with the great apostle Paul. Today, he will share something Paul wrote, a message about life in Christ.
You smell the bread that has been baked for the Lord’s supper. Everyone in the church is a dear friend of yours and you all sit close together in the courtyard of the house. People have mocked you for your faith in Jesus. Some say he is a weak god or no god at all. Some dismiss you for taking this time on Sunday to worship. Some accuse you of distorting Judaism and preaching bizarre doctrines. It is not always easy to live in this town as a Christ-follower, but you and your friends in the church have leaned on one another.
The church is not perfect. Sometimes a new member wants to be both Christian and pagan and it is uncomfortable when he has to be confronted. Sometimes traveling evangelists accuse you of being too Jewish; other say your Ephesian church is not Jewish enough. Much of the time, you aren’t sure. There have been arguments among the members. But you love each other. Through the turmoil, you all huddle together, build each other up, and now are her together again on a Sunday.
Tychicus has promised that this word from Paul will bring clarity to the divisive issues. What he will share, will show the church how to live as the people of God, to be human the way God always intended humans to live. Everyone is here for this. Friends have greeted each other. Songs have been sung, prayers prayed. Now as Tychicus stands to speaks everyone leans in.
(And we pick it up in Ephesians 4).
Ephesians 4-5:2 (NRSV)
4 I therefore, the prisoner in the Lord, beg you to lead a life worthy of the calling to which you have been called, 2 with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, 3 making every effort to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. 4 There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to the one hope of your calling, 5 one Lord, one faith, one baptism, 6 one God and Father of all, who is above all and through all and in all.
7 But each of us was given grace according to the measure of Christ’s gift. 8 Therefore it is said,
“When he ascended on high he made captivity itself a captive;
he gave gifts to his people.”
he gave gifts to his people.”
9 (When it says, “He ascended,” what does it mean but that he had also descended[a] into the lower parts of the earth? 10 He who descended is the same one who ascended far above all the heavens, so that he might fill all things.) 11 The gifts he gave were that some would be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers,12 to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, 13 until all of us come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to maturity, to the measure of the full stature of Christ. 14 We must no longer be children, tossed to and fro and blown about by every wind of doctrine, by people’s trickery, by their craftiness in deceitful scheming. 15 But speaking the truth in love, we must grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, 16 from whom the whole body, joined and knit together by every ligament with which it is equipped, as each part is working properly, promotes the body’s growth in building itself up in love.
17 Now this I affirm and insist on in the Lord: you must no longer live as the Gentiles live, in the futility of their minds. 18 They are darkened in their understanding, alienated from the life of God because of their ignorance and hardness of heart. 19 They have lost all sensitivity and have abandoned themselves to licentiousness, greedy to practice every kind of impurity. 20 That is not the way you learned Christ! 21 For surely you have heard about him and were taught in him, as truth is in Jesus. 22 You were taught to put away your former way of life, your old self, corrupt and deluded by its lusts, 23 and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, 24 and to clothe yourselves with the new self, created according to the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness.
25 So then, putting away falsehood, let all of us speak the truth to our neighbors, for we are members of one another. 26 Be angry but do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, 27 and do not make room for the devil. 28 Thieves must give up stealing; rather let them labor and work honestly with their own hands, so as to have something to share with the needy. 29 Let no evil talk come out of your mouths, but only what is useful for building up,[b] as there is need, so that your words may give grace to those who hear.30 And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with which you were marked with a seal for the day of redemption. 31 Put away from you all bitterness and wrath and anger and wrangling and slander, together with all malice, 32 and be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ has forgiven you.[c] 5 1 Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children, 2 and live in love, as Christ loved us[d] and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.
What jumps out at you? Upon hearing this, what do I carry that empowers me to obedience and effectiveness in my own witness? What sticks with you? What will you remember?
Fortunately, we live in the 21st century. There weren’t pens available in 60AD. There was not a lot of paper. You could not sit and take notes. Tychicus did not have copies of the letter from Paul to pass out to all in attendance at the Ephesian church. Today, we have enough Bibles for everyone to have multiple copies. You can, on your own, go back and read and reread Ephesians 4 and I think doing so would benefit you greatly.
One thing note is where Paul discusses the reason we are given spiritual gifts. In Verse 11, he says some are gifted as prophets, some apostles, and evangelists, and pastors. Most people are not any of those. This is an incomplete list as are the lists of spiritual gifts in 1st Corinthians, Romans, and 1st Peter. The point is everyone who is in Christ is gifted by the Spirit – but why?
In verses 12 and 13 it says our gifts are meant to build up the body of Christ. When the members of the church are using their gifts in harmony with others also using the gifts, the church comes to fully know Jesus. When we live in our gifting and those around us live in theirs, all of us help each other become mature in Christ.
I also like verse 24 which says for us to clothe ourselves with the new self. This is similar to Romans 13:14 where we are told to clothe ourselves with the Lord Jesus Christ and Colossians 3:14 which says “above all, clothe yourselves with love.” How do put on the new self and put on Jesus and love as if we were putting on a shirt? This is hard. We still get tempted in sin. Keeping our focus on two realities is essential.
First, we look to Jesus, not the cultural values of the world around us. Ephesians 4:17 mentions Gentiles. Here ‘Gentiles’, means people without God in their lives. In v.19 it says of them that they “have lost all sensitivity.” In other words, they have completely lost the ability to feel sin.
Whenever we want to be acceptable to our peers outside the Kingdom of God, and whenever we long for pleasures that are not Godly, we begin to rationalize. It’s OK to have sex without marriage. It’s alright to watch videos that are dehumanizing, lewd, and violent. It’s OK to smoke things and drink things that blur our vision and kill our brain cells. It’s OK to hoard goods for our pleasure. We stretch the categories so that what was a sin yesterday is seen as acceptable behavior today.
Jesus did not fall for this because he was always focused on the Heavenly Father. He was always driven to show people what Kingdom life is like. One example is in how Jesus used power – the power of God. Andy Crouch describes Jesus as being incredibly disciplined. He went away for silence and solitude. He fasted for 40 days. He always observed Sabbath. He is a role model when it comes to living a spiritually disciplined life.
Yet, Crouch also points out where Jesus allowed himself to be interrupted.[i] One telling example from Mark chapter 5 is when Jesus went to heal the daughter of Jairus. Jairus was the synagogue leader. Healing his daughter would be a high profile miracle, sure to garner much credibility for Jesus.
Along the way to his house, a woman with uncontrollable bleeding, stole behind him in the crowd. She believed if she just touched him anonymously, she’d be healed. She was right, but she did not count on Jesus knowing. He immediately felt the power go out of him. He summoned her in front of the crowd. He was on a very important mission of healing for a very important man and he just stopped so he could heal an unclean woman, a nobody. He gave attention. He called her “daughter” so everyone could hear.
In the delay, the daughter of Jairus died. Still he went and he raised her, but behind closed doors. Only Peter, James, and John and her parents witnessed Jesus bring the girl back to life from death. He ordered them not to talk about it (Mark 5:43). Jesus performed an act that would do very little for his reputation, the healing of the bleeding woman. He did this in full view of the public, showing them that this cast-off person was an image bearer, a child of God made in the image of God. The healing of the powerful man’s daughter was done in private because Jesus does not seek public acclaim. He did not court influence.
We read Ephesians 4:20 where are chastised to not succumb to the gradual degradation that comes from continually minimizing sin and justifying sin. Rather we are to walk in the way of Christ. Ephesians 5:1-2, “be imitators of God [and] live in love as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us.” To be mature in Christ is to realize that the power and the influence and the fame and the wealth valued by the world is nothing to God. But worship and building up the church and restoring the image of God in broken people is everything.
First we look to Christ. This includes staying constantly connected to Christ through prayer and worship.
Second, we realize our weakness. We cannot be faithful; we don’t have the will power. But the Spirit at work in us can do all things. To stay in step with the Spirit, we have to make Spiritual disciplines a way of life.
This is hard. I fall into stretches where I lead a spiritually undisciplined life. In those seasons, I don’t think God is far from me. I believe the Spirit is always close and also whispering God’s love to me. But most of the time, the Holy Spirit will not compete for my attention. In a relationship, we give the other – a friend, a parent, a spouse, the Holy Spirit of God – our attention. We don’t squeeze in a few minutes here and there for those we love. Too often in my life, I have crowded God out, only squeezing in a few moments. God is speaking, but I miss the message because I am only half listening.
Spiritual disciplines open us up for what God is preparing to do in us. God empowers us to walk in the way of Christ. Spiritual disciplines tenderize us and make us receptive to God. The disciplines remind us how much we need God. And though disciplines may seem challenging, when we step to the challenges we step toward blessing – the ultimate blessing of seeing, hearing, and feeling the very real presence and love of God in our lives.
I am starting again. If you have tried disciplines before and it did not seem to work, try again. If you want ideas or someone to just pray with you and for you, come see me. I mean it. This time, I have started small. I am giving something up, completely, something that has sucked up way too much of my time and emotions. And I am doing some modified fasting. It kind of feels like Lent in September, but not really. It is my awakening that to live “in Christ” and to grow to maturity in Christ, I have to give him more of myself. I simply must.
Look to Christ. Practice spiritual disciplines. Living in your spiritual gifting. There is a lot more in Ephesians 4. Read it throughout the week. As you pray read it, waiting to see God will do in your life.
We are now at the end of a journey that really does not end. Since June, we’ve focused on the idea of life in Christ. Go back and again read Colossians, 1st John, and Ephesians. Maybe reading those letters and praying in those letters is your first step in the disciplines. Read imaginatively, placing yourself in Colossae and in Ephesus. Imagine you are a first century Christian hearing these messages for the first time. Listen closely and allow God to speak through word, as He draws you to himself, and shapes your life.
We are in Christ. We close with a word from Ephesians, chapter four, verse 4-5.
4 There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to the one hope of your calling, 5 one Lord, one faith, one baptism, 6 one God and Father of all, who is above all and through all and in all.