I’ve been leading a bible study through Ephesians every Sunday night since August. It’s been a rich time of interacting with the text in a community of people eager to mature in Christ and a blessing to me every time. This past Sunday we were in Ephesians 4:1-3 for the second week in a row (we aren’t in a hurry). This is the text:
I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner 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 eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.
Paul wants the church to know that there is a way of walking (living) that is worthy of our calling. This calling comes from Jesus Christ, who sacrificed everything for our sake, and therefore has a right to make claims upon the way we live and use our bodies. This reminds me of a scene in Saving Private Ryan. Captain Miller, played by Tom Hanks, and his team have been searching for Private Ryan (Matt Damon) after the invasion of Normandy in WWII. Several of CPT Miller’s men have died in the pursuit of Ryan, and once they find him CPT Miller is fatally wounded. His last words to Ryan, the man he gave his life to save, are, “Earn this.”
You and I have been bought with a price, St. Paul writes elsewhere, therefore, glorify God in your bodies (1 Cor. 6:20). Earn this.
But how? Paul tells us what a life lived worthy of such a high calling looks like. He lists four virtues which ought to be evident in the Christian and maturing over time. In our Sunday night sessions we have been dissecting each one of them, but here they are with a brief description:
- Humility. Lowliness is another way to describe this chief virtue. It is the opposite of PRIDE, that devil which rises up inside us all, insisting we have a right to this or that, demanding we be heard and accepted, becoming offended when we are not properly thanked or noticed, rebelling against authority, and thinking we are doing quite well, thank you very much. The great preacher Charles Spurgeon said of pride: None have more of it than they who think they have none of it. Humility is a lowliness of mind and heart. It is to always “consider Jesus” (Heb. 12:1-3) who suffered at the hands of sinners for our sake with the lowliness of a lamb being led to the slaughter.
- Meekness. Meekness is a divinely balanced virtue of gentle strength. This is a person who is so controlled by God’s Spirit that he or she is always angry at the right time and never angry at the wrong time. A meek person is not controlled by their emotions or passions but rather submits every impulse to God and desires His will over their own.
- Patience. Long-suffering is perhaps a better way to describe this virtue. This same word is used repeatedly in Scripture to describe God’s attitude towards us. He is long-suffering towards us, patiently waiting for us to repent of our self-sufficiency (pride) and worship Him. In the same way that God has long-suffered our sins against Him, we are called to long-suffer the sins of others against us. When we are impatient with others we are not walking in a manner worthy of our calling.
- Forbearing in Love. Finally, we are called to endure, sustain, hold up – to forbear- one another in love. The word “love” used here is one of four words for love which the Greeks had. This one is agape, which means “unconquerable benevolence.” It is to do good to another in spite of how they treat us or regardless of whether or not they return the favor. In the same way that Christ agaped us while we were sinners, even dying for us (Rom. 5:8), we are called to endure one another with unconquerable benevolence, even when they don’t deserve it.
An arresting observation about this list is how heart-focused it is. To live a life worthy of our calling is to have our inner world – our desires, passions, thoughts – recreated. This way of walking – in humility, meekness, patience, and love – is contrasted with the way we “once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience – among whom we once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath” (Eph. 2:2-3).
Notice how inward focused this re-creation is. Paul does not tell us to “earn this” by getting involved in causes, by doing good works, etc. While that is certainly part of being a Christ-follower, it is not the beginning nor the most important. Jesus said, “First make the inside of the cup clean, then the outside will be clean, also” (Matt. 23:26). He also told us that it’s what comes out of the heart that defiles us (Matt. 15:18).
This reordering of our inside world under the authority of God is what walking in holiness is about. When we begin to submit our passions, desires, and thoughts to God we are beginning to walk properly, in a manner worthy of our calling. This is where we must begin. Bowing our hearts to God.
How well are you walking in a manner worthy of your calling? Left to ourselves we cannot do this. It is a supernatural work of God which can take a selfish heart and make it selfless – a new creation (2 Cor. 5:17). Ask God to do in you what He is able and eager to do. Lord, make me holy, as you are holy. Amen.