Paul’s pattern in his letters is to move from glorious truth to practical application, and this is especially found in his letters to the Romans and to the Ephesians. Chapters 1-11 of Romans are filled with deep theology, then 12-16 start out with the words “Therefore. . .in view of God’s mercy. . .” X is true, and therefore in the light of this, this is how you should act. This is even more pronounced in Ephesians: Chapters 1-3 deal with glorious theology, some of the most beautiful prose ever penned by human hand, and how does chapter 4 start out? “As a prisoner for the Lord, then, I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received.”
In a sense, of course, Paul was a literal prisoner of the Roman government as he wrote this. But in a much more profound sense, he was the prisoner of the Lord. The Lord had captured his heart and soul, and he was a willing prisoner who adored his “Jailer,” the One who'd bled and died to redeem him. As he made clear in Romans 6, once we were prisoners of sin and slaves of the Evil One, but now we’re “slaves” of the Lord (for more on this, see here).
He was also a “prisoner for the Lord” in the sense that the sole reason he was in prison was because of his fidelity to the Good News. He wasn’t a murderer or a seditionist, nor even a thief. He was a “guest” of the Roman government because he'd preached the Message, and Satan used his pawns to try physically force Paul to shut up. Of course, as we’ll see in Philippians, this effort to shut Paul up not only failed but was used by the Lord to the exact opposite effect intended.
Because of his sufferings for Jesus, Paul had extra credibility in what he was about to urge his listeners. It’s easy for me as an armchair theologian to tell you something, but quite another for this man to tell it to you, which is probably why he calls himself this at the beginning of verse 1.
And what does he tell us? “To live a life worthy of the calling you have received.” If you’re a believer in Christ, you have quite a calling to live up to. He called you out of sin and the dominion of Satan into his family. You bear on your soul the ownership mark of the Lord Jesus. To all the spiritual realm, this seal proclaims to everyone who sees it that you belong to the Lord Jesus. Everything you do reflects to some degree on him.
He called you to be some things, and the “being” will lead to certain ways of thinking and speaking and doing. To paraphrase Descartes, I am [in Christ], therefore I do.”
That’s what the rest of Ephesians is about. God’s people are expected to think, speak, and act a certain way. And in chapters 4-6 the practical instructions are mainly regarding how we treat each other. Not that our relationship with the Lord isn’t important; on the contrary, the most important command is to love the Lord our God with all our heart, mind, soul, and strength. But I tend to forget sometimes that a huge portion—if not the majority—of how I demonstrate that love for him is by loving other people in his name.
So let’s get down to the nitty-gritty, shall we? Since he’s called us, how do we live up to that calling?
· Be completely humble, keeping a sober eye on who you are.
· Be completely gentle. Treat others the same way your Savior has treated you.
· Be patient, bearing with others’ failings and shortcomings (once again, the same way he’s treated you).
· Here’s where we come to something we need to think through carefully. We are to “make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace.” “Make every effort” insinuates of course that sometimes the peace cannot be kept. Like the virtues of love, gentleness, and kindness, the Church—under the influence of the world’s zeitgeist—sometimes overemphasizes peace where the Lord says there is no peace. There is no peace between those who proclaim the true Message of Christ and false teachers who’d pervert it. There is no peace between believers and those who teach antinomianism, whether the advocates of the latter call it by that name or not. There is no peace between the biblical view of Christ and the false ones presented by the Mormon Church or the Jehovah’s Witnesses, no matter how nice the followers of the latter are.
Having said that, just because the world-influenced church overemphasizes something, that doesn’t lessen the importance of what Paul says here. When he says “make every effort,” he means it. When we’re united in Christ, when we stick to what the Bible clearly says about him, when we’re united in the truth of the Good News, then we see something truly glorious.
United under the banner of Christ, there is 1) One Body, 2) One Spirit, 3) one hope, 4) one Lord, 5) one faith, 6) one baptism; 7) one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all. On everything on this list, there’s only one of its kind. There aren’t two bodies of Christ, at least not in the same sense. There’s not two Holy Spirits, one for Pentecostals and one for Baptists. There isn’t more than one faith that saves you.
The point to the above paragraph is that I need to foster a sense of unity with my brothers who agree with me on the essentials of the faith. Once again, I think a great yardstick is that we need to be dogmatic on a subject in exact proportion to how clear the Bible is on that particular topic. In my time, I’ve fellowshipped and worshiped and prayed together with siblings in Christ who disagree with me on such topics as tongues, the End Times, and a host of other side-issues. What we agree on are the essentials.
And when the Body is unified in that way, angels use us as a springboard for worship, and demons tremble in their strongholds. May we see more of it.
Father God, help me to be unified with my brothers on essentials, grant liberty on doubtful things, and love at all times. Please, may I strive closer and closer to the goal of treating others as you’ve treated me. By your grace.