The Lord's Day Morning
March 5, 2006
“Walking Worthy of Our Calling (2)”
Dr. J. Ligon Duncan III
Amen. If you have your Bibles, I'd invite you to turn with me to Ephesians, chapter four, as we continue our study in this book. It's been three weeks or so since we've been in this passage together. We've returned to the “scene of the crime” where last I finished one point and one word of the second verse, and today what I want to do is pick up where we left off, but perhaps I should remind you of what we've seen already.
Paul has stressed in Ephesians 1-3 that God has done an amazing work of salvation and of creating a unity where they had been an alienated humanity. We were all at enmity with God. We were estranged from Him because of our sin, and through the finished work of Jesus Christ and resting and trusting in him alone as our salvation, as our Mediator, God has brought about a reunion and a communion with His alienated humanity — this humanity that He has made for fellowship with Himself but which had lost the enjoyment of that fellowship because of rebellion and sin — brought back to God into union and communion with Him so that out of that alienated humanity He brought to Himself a reconciled humanity. And so unity is one of the results of God's work of redemption: unity between God and man, so that He is our God and we are His people; so that we fellowship with Him and we enjoy the fruits of His presence in our midst.
But that unity not only works at the vertical level of our relationship between God and His creation and His redeemed humanity, it also works at the horizontal level in our relationship with one another, because as you know, in the Old Testament one of the ways that God went about marking out His people and keeping them unstained from the world was to build up around them a ceremonial ritual law that would set them apart from the other nations, so that in His commandments and in their own minds there were Jews and then there was everyone else — and never the twain shall meet. And so there was an enmity between the Jewish follower of the God of Israel and all the pagans who could have no part with that without renouncing their pagan-ness and becoming a citizen of Israel.
And yet Paul has stressed in Ephesians 1-3 that God has now broken down that division between believing Jew and believing Gentile and He has brought them both into one family, one society, one community, one body, one temple. In fact, they are the new temple that Jesus said that He would build: “Tear down this temple, and I will rebuild it in three days.” His contemporaries thought that that was so audacious, but Paul is saying that is exactly what the Lord Jesus Christ is doing. He's bring believing Jews and believing Gentiles, people from every tribe and tongue and people and nation – very different people, and He's bringing them together in unity in this new humanity, this new society.
And so, not only does God heal our alienation from Him in bringing us back into unity with Himself through Jesus Christ, but He also heals the fracturing of our relationships with one another and He brings us together in this new unified humanity. And Paul's been telling us that story in Ephesians 1-3.
Now, from Ephesians 4:1 on, he's going to be working out the implications of that. He's been setting forth this grand reality of this new humanity, this new society, this new family that God has created in Jesus Christ, and now he's going to be working out the implications and applications of that. And, not surprisingly, the first application that he brings to bear in Ephesians 4 is about unity, especially in the Christian church, and that's what we're going to look at today. So before we read God's word, let's look to Him in prayer and ask His help and blessing.
Lord, this is Your word. It is Your truth. It is good, it is right, it is life-giving, it is true, it is authoritative, and it is profitable to build us up in grace. By the grace of Your Holy Spirit speak truth to our hearts for our everlasting good and Your glory. We ask it in Jesus' name. Amen.
Hear the word of God:
“I, therefore, the prisoner of the Lord, entreat you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling with which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, showing forbearance to one another in love. Be diligent to preserve the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.”
Amen. And thus ends this reading of God's holy, inspired, and inerrant word. May He add His blessing to it.
Unity does not just happen. It has to be cultivated, it has to be maintained. There has to be a deliberate endeavor for unity. You know this in your own families. Unity does not just happen, it has to be cultivated. Husbands and wives can drift apart. Children can become estranged from parents. Siblings can become estranged from one another. Unity does not just happen.
Unity does not just happen in the church, either. I well remember a conversation I had with a friend who is now an elder of another PCA church here in Jackson. I was serving at the church where he was a new member, and he was so amazed when the pastor left and a new pastor came at what didn't happen. And what didn't happen was there wasn't a church split. And he said to me, “Ligon, I've never been in a church in my life that didn't split when the pastor left and a new one came. This is a new experience for me.”
But that unity, you understand, didn't just happen. It was because the elders of that church were protecting the unity of that church in that crucial time, and the Pulpit Committee was working together with the elders to make sure that there was a preservation of that unity, and the congregation was praying together. And they had a history of having a peaceful succession of pastors in the course of the life of that church. That unity didn't just happen; it was cultivated.
And the Apostle Paul, having celebrated this unity that we have been given — we have been brought into a family, we've been brought back into fellowship with God, we've been given a new expression of fellowship together in Jesus Christ so that people who are very, very different because they are united in Jesus Christ are brought together and become brothers and sisters, they become fellow citizens of Christ's kingdom, they are united to one another, they are brought up, they are caught up, in the bonds of fellowship.
And he says that has implications for the Christian life, and the very first implication is this: You have been given a God-wrought unity; now maintain it. That's what Ephesians 4:1-3 is all about. Paul is telling us here that living out our calling, being what God has called us to be — this new humanity, this new family that's been reconciled to Him and reconciled to one another and united in a loving fellowship — being that new humanity, living out that calling requires us to love the family and to keep the peace, and I want to look at those three things with you this morning.
I. Live like Christians — Live like you are God's new family.
First of all, look at verse 1 where Paul calls on us to live out our calling. Live like Christians, he's saying. Live like you are God's new family. I've been telling you that you are God's new family for the last three chapters; now live like you are what I say you are. Live like you are what God has made you to be. Be who you are. Listen to what he says:
“Therefore I, the prisoner of the Lord, implore you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling with which you have been called….”
The Apostle Paul is saying ‘You've been concerned about my sufferings in your behalf. You've been concerned about the fact that I've been imprisoned, that I've been in chains.’ And he says ‘I want you to understand that your unity, your gospel unity, as far as I'm concerned, is worth my suffering. My suffering is justified in light of this goal: your living out this grand truth of the gospel unity that we have in Jesus Christ.’ He's saying ‘It doesn't bother me at all to think of suffering for that. That's something worth suffering for, so I as a prisoner of the Lord implore you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling with which you have been called.’
In other words, Paul is just saying ‘Live up to who you are. God has given you a gospel unity. He's brought you into fellowship with Himself; He's brought you Jewish Christians and Gentile Christians in the church in Ephesus into fellowship with one another. Now live out the reality of that unity. God has indestructibly and inseparably united you to Jesus Christ savingly through faith, and thus united you to one another. Now live out that unity.’
Isn't it interesting? Paul is saying God has given this unity. It's a unity that comes about by being united to Jesus Christ through faith so that no power in the world can take away that union, and yet he turns right around and he says ‘Now you live out that unity. You maintain that unity. You cultivate that unity. You be diligent to make sure that you’re living out the reality that God has granted you.’
It's a beautiful picture, isn't it, of God's sovereignty and our responsibility. Paul doesn't see those things as contradictions; they go perfectly together. God has sovereignly given you a new family that expresses the unity of the gospel, and then he turns around and says ‘Now you live out that unity in the family in such a way that bears witness to the gospel.’ So Paul is saying ‘Be who you are. Be who God has made you to be in Jesus Christ. Live out this new unity that God has given in the gospel.’
II. Manifesting our reconciled and unified family through love.
And then in verse 2, he tells you how. He says ‘If you’re going to do this, if you’re going to walk worthy of your calling, if you’re going to live up to who you are, then you’re going to have to do this.’ Look at what he says:
“With all humility and gentleness, with patience, showing tolerance for one another in love, be diligent to preserve the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.”
In other words, the Apostle Paul is saying, ‘If you’re going to promote unity, you’re going to have to love the family, and you’re going to have to love God's family specifically. Specifically in these five ways: you’re going to have to love God's family with humility, with gentleness, with patience, with tolerance and love. Let's look at each of those things, because each of them is exceedingly important.
The first thing he says is this: If you are going to promote and experience and maintain unity in the family, there must be humility. And by humility he means that heart attitude which is modest in our estimation of ourselves but has high esteem for others. We’re modest in our estimation of ourselves and have high esteem for others. The Apostle Paul says there can be no unity without humility.
Now, of course, from Old Testament times pride has been seen as a deadly sin, but as far as the Apostle Paul is concerned, pride is the undoing of the possibility of unity in any fellowship, and it is only through humility that concord can be created. And as far as the Apostle Paul is concerned, humility is not just a problem for some people, it's an issue for all of us. Pride is a challenge not just for some of us, but for all of us. We may be prideful in different ways; we may be prideful to different degrees; but all of us have to deal with the issue of pride, and humility is absolutely essential for the cultivation of unity in the church.
Now, let me say quickly today that in our culture some people believe that in order to be humble you cannot have any conviction about the truth. They think that if you think something is right or wrong, that's not humble.
Now, my friends, if you had gone up to the Apostle Paul and said ‘Paul, you know, you’re so dogmatic about Jesus being the only way of salvation. That's not humble.’ The Apostle Paul — his head would have spun around four times! Because having conviction of the truth of Scripture is not prideful; but it is possible to hold conviction about the truth of Scripture in a prideful way. So what I am encouraging you is not to lose the strength of your convictions. What I am encouraging you to do is to hold tenaciously and valiantly and ferociously to the truth of God's word, but to express that in all of your life in humility towards one another so that in the way we relate to Christians who disagree with us they see an evident gospel humility even though they also see a tenacious conviction about the truth.
I've shared with you before about my friend C.J. Mahaney in the Covenant Life Church in Gaithersburg, Maryland, and the beautiful combination of…they glory in the doctrines of grace! They love God's sovereign grace in salvation, His electing love, His predestining love. They love it just as much as you and I do, and yet they are evident in their humility. They are always looking to serve one another. It almost embarrasses me: every e-mail, every phone call that I get from C.J. Mahaney, he starts off by saying, “My brother, how can I serve you?” It's just embarrassing! And it's not because C.J. is just naturally a humble man. He's worked to cultivate humility. He's always looking to serve.
Wouldn't that be wonderful in our congregation, if we just almost got embarrassed by the fact that everybody else in the congregation is always asking how they can serve us? ‘How can I serve you? How can I encourage you?’ It's a heart attitude that ‘I'm not more important than you. I want to concentrate on you. I want to build you up. I want to encourage you. I want to think of you more highly than myself. I want to hear what you have to say. I want to care about your concerns.’ And the Apostle Paul says you can't have unity in the family or in the church without that kind of humility, that kind of deference and concern for others.
And then he speaks of gentleness. And some of you probably still have your King James Bibles open, and you know that this word is meekness. And you've probably heard fifty ministers over the course of your life saying, “Meekness is not weakness.” That's right, but what is it?
Well, the word is gentleness or meekness here, and it speaks of a heart attitude that does not assert personal rights. But it doesn't mean weakness. In fact, it means strength under control. If I could give you a picture in contrasts, it would be this way: Think of a bully, a bully who is stronger than a weakling. And that bully asserts his personal power and strength in order to demean or harm someone weaker than he. That is the exact opposite of gentleness and meekness. That's self-assertiveness; it's the use of your own power and strength to denigrate and harm someone else.
Gentleness, on the other hand…I'm not sure I can picture it more strongly. Do you remember that photograph? Perhaps it's emblazoned on your memory like it is on mine, of that fireman, after the bombing of the Federal Building in Oklahoma City, holding that tiny child…this strong, brave man using his strength and power to minister to a child in desperate need. Or think of those firemen and policemen rushing up the stairs of the World Trade Center as it prepared to come crashing down on them. It is strength under control, used for the benefit of others. And that is what Paul is calling to us: Use all the forces, the resources that God has given to you personally to the benefit of others.
Humility and gentleness…and then he speaks of patience, and you know what that is. It is forbearance towards personal offences from others. It's, very frankly, patience with aggravating people. And friends, you can't have unity in a family or in a church without patience towards aggravating people! I aggravate some of you! I know that. You’re too nice to say it to me most of the time, but I hear about it! It gets back to me! And look, I deserve it a lot of the time! (Not all of the time, but a lot of the time!) But in order to experience unity in the family, we have to forbear sometimes with one another's aggravations. It's absolutely essential for unity to be displayed and expressed in a family and a body of people. There must be patience, forbearance, with regard to offences and aggravations.
It's the exact opposite, isn't it, from impatience — where when someone gets it wrong, we are there ready with the judge, jury, and executioner.
And then, there's tolerance. This isn't politically correct tolerance he's talking about, this is talking about making space for one another — giving one another a little leeway, cutting one another a little slack, giving patient allowance for us in the context of our relationships. We have to have that if there's going to be unity in the body.
And of course he crowns it with this statement: “…Showing tolerance for one another in love.” Love is that heart disposition and that outward expression of the heart disposition which seeks the best interests of other people even at our personal cost. Love constructively seeks the welfare of the whole community, and the Apostle Paul says that if we're going to have unity, gospel unity, then it's going to have to be cultivated with these things: with humility and gentleness, and patience and tolerance, and love.
Be who you are, he's saying, by humble gentleness and patient tolerance and love. That's how gospel unity is displayed in the church.
III. Maintaining the God-wrought peace among God's new family.
And then, finally, he says this. This humility and this gentleness and this patience and this tolerance and this love — it's all to be deployed — why? “…Being diligent to preserve the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.”
In other words, these things are to be done with the deliberate goal and purpose of fostering unity in the family of God. Paul is saying you are to preserve the peace that God has created in your fellowship by His Spirit. You are to maintain the unity of the body which the Holy Spirit Himself has created when He united believing Jews and believing Gentiles from every tribe and tongue and people and nation into the church. And when He brought this local church together, and when He brought your families together, you’re to preserve that peace. That unity did not just happen. That unity happened at the horrific cost of the blood of the Son of God. That unity happened under the irresistible influences of the Holy Spirit bringing together men and women and boys and girls in the gospel.
It is an indestructible unity, but it must be maintained. And so the Apostle Paul says be diligent to maintain it. He means that we are to spare no effort and that we are to engage in continuous activity to cultivate this unity.
I want to say this morning that if you’re a Christian husband in this congregation and your relationship with your wife is drifting apart, then it is not only a gospel responsibility that you have to cultivate unity in that relationship: it is something that has ramifications for this whole congregation. You are ministering to this whole congregation when you seek to cultivate unity in your marriage.
The same goes for you, Christian wives. When you are seeking to cultivate unity in your marriage you are blessing this whole congregation; and when we do not we are hurting one another, because we are to be the living, breathing, expression of what it means to be the reconciled and unified family of God. And when things are going awry in our family life that is being fractured.
If you are at odds with another member of this congregation this morning, your pursuing peace and unity in the gospel in accordance with the truth with that brother or sister is a blessing to this whole congregation. It is a personal ministry on your behalf to all of us, because as far as the Apostle Paul is concerned, as far as Jesus is concerned — and He made this point in John 13, didn't He? — the great witness that we bear to this world that God is real, that the gospel is true, is powerful, is saving, is efficacious, that we are in fact the recipients of God's costly grace, is that despite our differences we are united to Jesus Christ and united to one another, so that our visible expression of that unity, especially in the local congregation, is the irrefutable proof to a watching world filled with pagans on their way to a destiny of alienation from God that there is such a thing as true gospel unity between reconciled and redeemed sinners and between those sinners and God. And so, when we cultivate and maintain that unity despite our differences, despite the way we aggravate one another, we glorify God. We bear witness to Christ. We give a testimony to the world of the reality of the gospel. And, of course, we do good for our souls. We are called upon to deliberately purpose and diligently endeavor to maintain unity and peace in the congregation.
You know, friends, there are four or five subjects that I could throw out right now in the congregation and we would have a robust discussion about them! And appropriately so, I might add…appropriately so. We’re not the perfect church, and we're not under any illusions that we're a perfect church, and there are lots of things that we could do differently and we could do better. But even if those things are appropriate things for us to discuss, we must not neglect the work of endeavoring and diligently purposing to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. That is a gospel gift of God to us, and it is a vital part of our witness.
You remember what we said the Great Commission calls us to do? To “show and tell”. We cannot “show” if we do not manifest this unity. It doesn't mean that nobody's ever wrong or that changes don't have to be made. It doesn't mean that everybody gets to paper over their sins with a call to just be unified. No, we've got to deal with hard things and we have to make changes, and we have to improve things and all sorts of other things.
But it means that we are so deeply concerned to express a gospel unity to one another and to the world that we will work at it. We’ll work at it by guarding the way we talk. We’ll work at it in even guarding our heart attitudes that we don't speak out loud. We will have a humble concern for other people and always be thinking, “How can I serve that brother? How can I serve that sister? How can I cultivate their relationship with God, the health of their family life?”
It means that we’ll be gentle with one another. We’ll use our power, we’ll use our strength, our resources, to bless people.
It means that we’ll be patient with one another. And we’ll give one another a little space sometimes. We’ll cut one another a little slack. And that always we’ll be endeavoring to love.
My friends, that witness exists in very, very few churches, to our shame. Oh, yes, there are plenty of churches where there is social niceness. But I'm not talking about social niceness: I'm talking about gospel unity, and that is a gift of God, and at the same time it's our responsibility to cultivate it. May God make that a reality — an ever-increasing reality — in this congregation, to His glory and our good. Let's pray.
O God, we desperately need to experience and express the unity of Your Spirit in the bond of peace. Grow us in this way. In Jesus' name. Amen.
[Congregational Hymn: Lord, Speak to Me That I May Speak]
Grace, mercy, and peace to you, from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.