Love is hard work, and there is no shame in fighting for unity. We are called to be unified in seven areas: one body, one Spirit, one hope, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, and one Father of all. Learn how to consider unity and make it a priority.
Believed the Truth? Received the Life? Then Walk in the Way.
Getting a Grip on What it Means to Love God
Believe What He Has Done, Be Living Like He Has Done It
The Blueprint of the Church, part 2
The Blueprint of the Church, part 1
A Reasonable and Right Response to His Radical, Redemptive Love
The Divine Dimension of Love
The Breadth, Depth, Width and Height of Puppy Love
A Suffering Steward in a Cell: What was True of Paul Ought to be True of Us
Things into Which Angels Long to Look
What we're going to leave tonight is the first three chapters of Ephesians that are absolutely essential to the next three chapters. I will tell you this: if you ever went to a legalistic church or if you ever found somebody who was wrapped in the bonds of legalism… I would define that simply as a group of people who are more concerned with what you do with your hands than the condition of your heart.
If they could conform you to look a certain way, they'd be happy. They really don't care what's going on inside as long as you act and conduct yourself in a manner visibly that pleases them and conforms to their standard and rules. A legalist would not teach Ephesians 1-3. They would rush with great joy to chapter 4, verse 1. If you go back and look, you will see that in Ephesians 1-3 there's not a single command. It is just an outpouring of love.
It is him reminding you again and again and again the great work God has done for you through Christ on the cross, how he cares for you, how he takes you who were formerly enslaved in the graveyard of sin, and he has taken you who were formerly dead in your trespasses and sins, you who were sons of disobedience, children of wrath, and he has made you now sons of God, citizens, heirs with Jesus Christ. He goes on and on and on just embellishing and exalting and encouraging me, encouraging you, as members of this new mystery which is called the church.
We were talking about God's incredible love with this group of people I was with down at Southwestern Medical Center. We were talking about, specifically, sin and how it was a factor in our lives and how Christ dealt with that sin. In Mark, chapter 7, you'll see there is a place where there were some of Christ's disciples who were eating in a manner that was not pleasing to the legalists of the day, so they rebuked Christ for not rebuking his disciples.
He says, "Don't you know that it's not what goes into the man which defiles him? It's not what you take that's outside the body that you put in the body that makes you unholy before me. It's the condition of the inside, what you cannot see, that makes you unrighteous in my eyes." That is what makes the promise of Ephesians 1 so absolutely incredible to me.
When I read Ephesians 1… I've been so encouraged by this book as I've studied it. In Ephesians 1, one of the things he said about us and that should be true of us is that we should be holy and blameless before him. Now you hear that and you go, "Wait a minute, Todd. I thought you just said in Ephesians 1 that there is not a command. You said it says in Ephesians 1 we should be holy and blameless before him."
What that literally means (we've talked about it) is that when we are before him and when Christ… The Greek word literally means when his deep and penetrating gaze goes inside of you. That's what the word before literally means in the Greek. His deep, penetrating gaze before him. He looks at your inner man, your inner woman, your inner person, your soul. It says what he sees then is holy and blameless. You who were formerly unholy he now sees as holy. You who formerly were blamable he sees as blameless.
The depths of the love of Christ, that he would come from heaven to earth, from earth to the cross, from the cross to the grave, from the grave to the sky. "Lord, we lift your name on high," we sang last week. There's a gentleman whose name is Dr. Richard Selzer. He's a surgeon who has written a book called Mortal Lessons: Notes on the Art of Surgery. In it he writes about something he observed after an operation he went through.
It's a good springboard for us as we reflect back on the love of Christ for us. Also, you're about to see and be reminded of an incredible truth that you then also ought to look like this, not so he will love you but because he does love you. It says in Romans 5:8, "But God demonstrates his love for us, in that while we were yet unholy and blamable, while we were yet sinners, he died for us, that we might be holy and blameless." The length, the depths, the breadth, the height of his love.
The doctor writes, "I stand by the bed where a young woman lies, her face postoperative, her mouth twisted in palsy, clownish. A tiny twig of the facial nerve, the one to the muscles of her mouth, has been severed. She will be thus from now on. The surgeon," referring to himself, "had followed with religious fervor the curve of her flesh; I promise you that," he writes. "Nevertheless, to remove the tumor in her cheek, I had to cut the little nerve.
Her young husband is in the room. He stands on the opposite side of the bed, and together they seem to dwell in the evening lamplight, isolated from me, private. Who are they, I ask myself, he and this wry-mouth I have made, who gaze at and touch each other so generously, greedily? The young woman speaks. 'Will my mouth always be like this?' she asks. 'Yes,' I say, 'it will. It is because the nerve was cut.' She nods and is silent.
But the young man smiles. 'I like it,' he says. 'It is kind of cute.' All at once I know who he is. I understand, and I lower my gaze. One is not bold in an encounter with a god. Unmindful, he bends to kiss her crooked mouth, and I am so close I can see how he twists his own lips to accommodate to hers, to show her that their kiss still works. I remember that the gods appeared in ancient Greece as mortals, and I hold my breath and let the wonder in."
As I reflect on that story about this man who looks at his wife who's now in a condition that is probably not as pleasing to the eye as it was, but he is so in love with her that he will contort his own mouth to meet the contortion in hers, that she might feel the fullness of his embrace one more time… We have a God who goes to incredible depths to contort himself, to suffer greatly, to twist his holy being, that he might experience sin on our behalf, that we might know his embrace again. The depths of the love of Christ.
There is no better way for us to move into the command section of Ephesians than to reflect, as we just did, upon his incredible love for us. It is what Paul prays. He says, "I pray that you might be rooted and grounded in love, that you may be able to comprehend, that you may be able to grasp," is the literal word, "with all the saints," those who have known him for 50 years and those who have truly known him for five minutes, all of those adjectives of love we've talked about.
"That you might know the love of Christ which surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled up to all the fullness of God." Let me just deal with this for a second. You have to know that the reason Paul prays this is he says, "If you understood this, you yourself…" This is an amazing thought: You would be filled with all the fullness of God. In fact, the truth is, he says earlier, you are filled with all the fullness of God.
That word that's used there also appears in Colossians, chapter 2, in reference to another man, Jesus Christ, who is fully God and fully man. It says, "For in Him all the fulness of Deity dwells in bodily form…" Do you understand what Paul just prayed right there for you, for me? That all the fullness of the Godhead might dwell in us.
As a reminder of last week (again, we must lay the foundation), we see that that is an impossible thing. When somebody goes, "I don't understand what God looks like. I don't know who he is. I don't know how he embraces. I don't know how he touches. I don't know how he deals with sin. I don't know how he deals with sorrow. I don't know how he deals with stress," I should be able to say, "Look here. Look at this individual, because they are full of all the fullness of God. In him all the fullness of deity dwells in bodily form."
That's what Paul is praying. That's an impossible thing: for you to become a poster boy for the Godhead. So, he comes out of that, and he says, "That is an impossible request, but we have an impossible God." As a reminder, look at verse 20. "Now to Him who is able to do exceeding abundantly beyond all that we ask or think…"
To give you an idea of what Paul is talking about there, he's saying if a person needed an ability to do a task, God has an exceeding amount of ability that is required to do what Paul just prayed, that he has an unlimited amount of that exceeding ability he needs to do all that Paul just prayed, and that he has some more after that. To do all that you ask, request, or think, even consider to ask but wouldn't because you realize how crazy it is.
You have an impossible task, Christian, to look like God, to walk like him, to talk like him, to be patient like him, to hate sin like him, to love truth like him, but we have an impossible God. With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible. If you preach Ephesians, chapter 4, without spending three months in Ephesians 1-3, you're going to have one screwed-up people.
The thing that separates Christianity from every other religion in the world is simply this: Religions of the world go right to chapter 4. They say, "You want to be somebody? Then do something." Christianity doesn't say that. It says, "You are somebody so you can go do something." There's a big difference. "If you want to do something, you have to be somebody," is what Jesus just got through pouring into you in Ephesians 1-3.
"You cannot do something unless you are somebody, and I am the only one who can make you somebody. It is absolutely futile for you in your own efforts to try, to just jump to Ephesians 4:1-3." Ephesians 1-3 talks about our wealth; Ephesians 4-6 talks about our works. If you will, chapters 1-3 is the position we have in Christ; chapters 4-6 is the practice. Chapters 1-3 is doctrine; chapters 4-6 is duty, a right response to all he has just got through pouring out on us.
If you're here tonight and you are not a believer, then I want you to continue to listen, but you need to know this is not being addressed to you. This is addressed to children. Only children are expected to be able to look and to obey and to conform to the image of their Father. Now we invite you to stay tonight for two reasons. First, we want you to know fully what God expects of those who respond to his calling on your life to come to him that you might be his children so you would know what he requests of you.
Secondly, so that you would know what he has already requested of us who are his children and that you might tell us, "You don't look a lot like your Dad. The Scriptures tell me you ought to look like your Dad, so you really ought to work out, consider, begin to grasp again the truth, because I need to see it in your life to know that it is true."
It is a scary Scripture that you find in John 17, the prayer Christ did in the garden of Gethsemane. He said, "Father, I pray that they might be one, that there would be a unity about them. Even as you are in me and I am in you, that they would be one in us, that the world might know you did send me."
The non-Christian world has a right to come in here and see the slander, the malice, the envy, the jealousy, the gossip, the rancor which still exists among us as a people, and they have a right to then say, "I don't know who Jesus is, but I can tell you who he's not. He is not the Anointed One of God who can change the hearts of men, who can deal with the internal problem all men have. Now, he may make some people join a club where they begin to, at times, act outwardly with their hands, but he is not somebody who can change their hearts."
That's exactly what Jesus gave them the authority to do in John 17:21. What he is wanting us to do is, in response, to know all the fullness of this love. As we do let the fullness of Christ fill us up, and as we rely on that power which is exceedingly abundantly beyond all that we ask or think, that we would then begin to walk according to the power that works within us.
Do not miss this. The way you're able to live the way chapters 4-6 says you should is that you would let that power which works within you operate. In fact, that word for works… A better translation, a more literal translation is it's the power that is operative within you. What Paul is praying is that you would not quench the Spirit. We're going to get back to it in Ephesians 5 where he says, "And do not get drunk with wine, for that is dissipation, but be filled with the Spirit…" It is a continual act. We'll get to it more later.
When he's talking in Ephesians 5, it's about what is going to be that which controls you. He's saying, "Don't be drunk with wine. Don't let alcohol intoxicate you and control you." He uses that as an example of the flesh leading you. He says, "Let the Spirit of God which is in you, the fullness of God… Let that control you, even as Christ, who is fully God and fully man, who, although he existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, but he humbled himself," it says in Philippians, chapter 2, "taking on the form of man."
In being in the form of man, you all know he walked even as you and I walk. He had the fullness of God in him, even as you as a Christian do, and he fully yielded himself to it to show us what a perfect man would look like. We have that same opportunity to live even as Christ lived, as he humbled himself to be in a condition that you and I are in today.
It's an amazing thing. We look at Jesus and we go, "No wonder he was sinless. No wonder he could do the things he did, because he knew God existed. He had the full Spirit of God inside of him." So do you. That is exactly Paul's argument. "This is the mystery," Colossians 1 says. "Christ in you, the hope of glory."
Look at Ephesians 4 with me. Only with doctrine, only with a sound rooting in chapters 1-3 can you really give in to what is the sweet reasonableness of his request. If you don't lay that foundation, it is legalism to the core. This is a pretty consistent model for Paul. In Romans, his great book of doctrine, he takes 11 chapters to do what he did in three chapters in Ephesians. He goes through and says, "This is who you formerly were, and this is what he has done for you."
Then this very familiar passage in Romans 12:1-2 says, "I urge you therefore…" I urge you because of all we just got through pouring into you, the truth in chapters 1-11 of Romans. "I urge you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present [yourself as] a living…" That's easy. "…and holy…" That's not so easy. One person said the problem with living sacrifices is they all have a tendency to keep crawling back off the altar. That is you and me.
"I urge you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present [yourself as] a living and holy sacrifice…" This is what it says: "…acceptable to God…" Which is a holy sacrifice. "…which is your…" The NAS says, "…spiritual service of worship." A better way to understand that, and an easier way for us, is as a rational response to chapters 1-11. What is a reasonable response to what he has done for you?
He's not going to go into the duty section of Romans in chapters 12-16 until he spends 11 chapters saying, "This is who you are. This is who you were and how he changed your life and how he loved you…the height, the width, the depth, the length of his love for you. Now, therefore, brethren, this is the reasonable response to that love." It is not a ball and chain, you who once thought of love as a prison, a place you didn't want to be, Alabama so eloquently writes in their hymn. It is a gift. "Go ahead and book me. Love in the first degree." It is a reasonable response to this awesome love.
That is exactly what our Christian marriages ought to be. It's a humbling thing. I got married three feet in front of where I'm standing, and every time I sit and hear myself say this, I think, "Is it a reasonable response to my love for my wife to love me the way she does?" The answer is "Not often." That's why I need a woman who is full of the Spirit and is responding in her love toward me to the reasonable love God has offered her. He has called her to love me, so she does, even when my love for her is lacking. By the way, that happens vice versa. When she is not loving toward me, I respond not to her love for me but to God's love which is inside of me.
Inside of my wedding ring is our anniversary date, so every April I can get nervous and start to check and make sure I don't miss it. There's also the reference "1 John 4:19." First John 4:19 says, "We love, because He first loved us." Period. It does not say, "We love because she has long, beautiful brown hair." And my wife does. She cut it off. It's down to her shoulders now. It's not as long as it was. I can't go, "Wait a minute. Well, I've still got to love you."
When she doesn't do a good job making the meal I desired, or whatever stupid illustrations you want to throw out, I can't go, "Wait a minute. Well, that wasn't it." I love you because he first loved us, and it is a reasonable response. There is no ball and chain. There is no leash on my neck. It is a right response. He writes in chapter 4, verse 1:
"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, being diligent to preserve the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit, just as also you were called in one hope of your calling; one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all who is over all and through all and in all."
What Paul is saying is, "I urge you, therefore, to respond rightly to this incredible truth." There was an old prisoner who wrote on the ceiling of his cell a little poem I want to read you. He said…
Could we with ink the ocean fill
And were the skies of parchment made
Were every stalk on earth a quill
And every man a scribe by trade
To write the love of God above
Would drain the ocean dry
Nor could the scroll contain the whole
Though stretched from sky to sky
The love of God is exceedingly abundantly beyond all that we ask or think. It is beyond anything you and I will ever be able to experience. A reasonable response to that begins right here. You're going to see that you who were formerly dead… I told you, non-Christians, this is not for you, because you cannot command a dead man to walk. I don't care how loudly you yell. A dead man cannot walk.
You can go to a grave. You can be Norman Schwarzkopf, and you can go, "Everybody, let's go! Rise and shine! Get up! Spit on your shoes! Get them shined up! About face! Let's go!" He can yell until he's blue in the face, and nobody is going to get up, and nobody is going to march, and nobody is going to walk, because dead men cannot march.
So I'm not going to command you or exhort you, and Paul is not, and the Holy Spirit is not going to command you to walk in a certain manner, because until you deal with the heart, until you deal with the fact that you need to be made anew, until you become a child of God again, you can't walk the way he's about to command you to walk.
So, welcome. We're glad you're here, but we're not going to tell you if you want to be somebody you need to do something. We're going to tell you that you need to be somebody so you can do something, and we would go back with you to Ephesians, chapter 1, and share with you all the love God has poured out on you. All you need to do is respond to it so you can begin to look like he looks. Paul begins that in chapter 4.
"I, therefore, the prisoner of the Lord…" Now let's look at it. He, again, starts off by identifying himself not as one who has apostolic authority. Paul could have done that. "I, as an apostle of the Lord Jesus Christ…" Apostle means sent forth from. Jesus himself commissioned Paul. Do you remember the date? He was on the Damascus Road, and Jesus said, "Paul, I'm going to take you and make you my messenger to the Gentiles."
Somebody shared Christ with Paul. It was Christ himself. Somebody commissioned him. It was Christ himself. Therefore, he is an apostle. That's what it literally means. An apostle had seen the risen Lord. Paul had done that. Paul was sent forth by Jesus. But he doesn't identify himself with that, and he doesn't give that as his great authority. He gives as his authority simply that he is one who is doing what he's about to ask you to do.
Do you remember what he said in 2 Corinthians 5 we looked at earlier? He says, "The love of Christ constrains me. I am a prisoner of love in the first degree." So he reminds them again that his suffering is not a source of shame to him; it is a reminder to them that what he is living for is incredibly worth it. Again, getting back to this idea of your reasonable response to God…
We think it's completely reasonable that a man would lose his home, lose the affection of his children in order to build a business and make it successful so his family can go to whatever school they want, join whatever country club in Dallas they want, and drive whatever kind of car they want. It's reasonable for a man to sacrifice those things to establish himself as great in the business community. Right? No, but our society sure indicates that it is.
What Paul is saying here is, "I'll tell you what's reasonable: that you, an innocent man, would spend time in jail, that you would be accused of nothing other than being faithful to Jesus Christ. This is so valuable that there is no suffering, no amount of shame, no amount of hardship which would be unreasonable." Paul says, "Follow my example. Imitate me as I pursue Christ. I am a prisoner of the Lord, and that's not something I'm ashamed of. It should be an encouragement to you, that that which I am involved in is worth any cost and sacrifice."
As he said earlier in chapter 3, "My suffering is not a source of discouragement to you; it is your glory. It shows you how much God loves you that I, a child of his, would incur this, that you might be reconciled to him." He says, "I…entreat you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling with which you have been called…" We used to laugh a lot when I was playing ball with my buddies. We'd be in the driveway talking trash, and we'd be making fun of each other and mocking the other's ability in different sports.
In fact, in the NBA there was a thing going around during the season a couple of years ago where the players, after they'd make a great move on the other individual, would say, "You got cable?" The reason they'd say that was because… "That move I just put on you was so good you didn't have a clue you missed it. I left your jock there. You'd better go home and watch it on ESPN tonight so you can see what just happened to you." "You got cable?"
We used to say to each other when we'd get there and we'd be talking a lot of talk before the game was started… Everybody would be popping off and making fun of the other guy, and somebody would inevitably come to this line and say, "Buddy, you'd better be careful, because your mouth is writing a check that your body can't cash."
What Paul is saying here is "I don't want you, Christians, writing a check with your mouth that your body can't cash." He says, "I want you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling with which you have been called." He says simply, "I want you to practice what you preach." That word Paul uses, the idea of "I want you to walk in a manner worthy…" That's an adverb. As you remember, adverbs modify verbs. Adjectives modify nouns.
This word for worthy is an adverb here, but when that word is used as an adjective in the Greek language, it means simply that you would have a similar weight, that you would give a similar weight to this other thing. Paul says, "In the manner with which you have been called, in the manner with which you talk about a relationship with Christ, that you would then also walk in that way, that you would practice equally what you preach."
It's not enough for us just to study sound doctrine. By the way, you need to know this. Paul, before he starts talking about unity, spends three chapters talking about what must unify us. This is not some easy love where he says, "Let's just all get together, ignore doctrine, and love one another." Paul says, as James did in chapter 3, verse 17, of that book, "The word of God is first pure and then peaceable."
Before he says, "You all be at peace with one another," he talks about the truth that makes it possible for us to have peace. Do not miss that. Way too often people will say, "Why can't you just love and accept everybody no matter what they believe?" Paul makes it extremely clear that we cannot be unified unless we first establish that which unifies us.
The truth is our hearts are incredibly wicked and we are selfish beyond our wildest imaginations and we will not ever have unity apart from our hearts being made new. There's an old story of a church that was notorious for having a clock that was always off time. It was in England, and this clock was either 15 to 20 minutes early or 15 to 20 minutes late. People would come and make fun of this church because of the clock. It was never reliable.
Finally, one day the pastor went back and put a little plaque over that time piece. The plaque said simply, "Do not blame the hands, for the problem lies much deeper." That's why if you're out there tonight and you're not a believer, not a child, I'm not going to blame your hands, because I know the problem lies much deeper.
When the world tries to call us to visualize world peace and the world can't accomplish it, I'm not going to argue with the world because they can't get world peace, because I know the problem lies much deeper than the inability of them to get to a table and negotiate it. We have hearts that are desperately sick, the Scripture says, and deceitful above all else. Do not let somebody tell you that if you are of God at all you will accept everybody based on what they believe and based on what they want to be as a standard of truth.
God never, ever changes truth. He says this is what will unify you. Ecumenicalism, world religion, the idea of us all coming together under a one-world church… We cannot do it. Christians can never be a part of that. Now, do we love those individuals? Absolutely. We would do anything. We'd go to incredible depths to love them, to contort what is a non-essential in order to love them, to embrace them, for them to feel from us a tangible care.
We would make personal sacrifices that they might know how valuable they are, but that doesn't mean we can all get together in a room and some folks over here can do certain chants and some folks over here can do certain dances and some people in here can preach orthodox doctrine and we can act like we're all following different paths up the same mountain to get to the same top. We are not. There is one way, there is one truth, and there is one man upon which you can call and be saved, and that is Jesus Christ.
What Paul is making extremely clear here is "Because of that truth I've laid out now for three chapters, therefore, you can be unified, so I beg those of you who know it to walk in that manner, worthy of the calling with which you have been called, that you might be one in Christ, that the world might know he is the key to fixing the problem which lies deeper than the hands."
Look at what he says. "I ask that you would do this with all humility and gentleness." Let's talk about that for a second. The idea of all humility… The best way to define humility is simply to think of what it is not. It is the opposite of pride. Pride, if you will, has I in the center. P-R-I-D-E. I is in the middle of pride. When you have pride, you have somebody who is always considering themselves as more significant or more important than another.
Humility is just the opposite. It is not a self-deprecating worldview where you make yourself out less than what you know yourself to be, but it means you understand what Paul understood, what Christ understood, that you would begin to have this attitude in yourself which was also in Christ Jesus, who, it says in Philippians 2 (we've already quoted it), even though he could be this did not stay there, but he came down to be this, that you might be brought to where he is.
It says simply in Philippians, "Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind let each of you regard one another as more important than himself…" That is humility. We really struggle with this. We meaning me included. I struggle with this idea. It is so hard for me to really believe that somebody else is as important as me sometimes.
I cannot believe sometimes when a person is driving down the road, the speed limit of all things, that they have as much right to that road in front of me as I do, and I sometimes think, "What are they doing? Don't they know I'm in a hurry?" My world sometimes gets so easily Todd-centered. I'm not regarding them as more important than myself, a lot of times, with the looks I shoot and with the things I feel if they never see the looks I shoot.
The idea of humility is simply that you would regard one another as more important than yourself. Why would you do that? Because that is what your Master did. That is what God did for you. So, in right response to that, shouldn't you do that for others? Have the fullness of deity in you, and then fully let it work within you. Fully make it operative within you. Yield to it.
There's an old story about a church in Edinburgh, Scotland, that was looking for a pulpit supply, so they went to a local seminary, and this local seminary provided for them a brilliant student, a brilliant scholar. This scholar came all full of book knowledge and ready to present this sermon that he knew would change lives. He walked up to the pulpit all proud, ready to deliver this great message that he knew would change that church.
He got up there and saw all of the people, and he just went stone blank, forgot what he was going to say. He kind of stuttered his way through and at the end of the sermon shamefully walked down and sat. This old woman came up to him afterward and said, "My son, if you would have walked up to the pulpit the way you walked down, you would have walked down the way you walked up."
That's exactly what Christ is saying to us. "If you will live in this life the way I did, you will go up the way I went up, but if any man seeks to keep his life, he will lose it." Jim Elliot said no man is a fool to give up that which he cannot keep to gain that which he cannot lose. With humility, let each of you regard one another as more important than yourself, with gentleness.
By the way, there are four different ways you can be prideful or not humble. People are prideful about place, race, face, and grace. It's interesting. We're going to look in just a little bit at 1 Corinthians 12:13 where it says we are part of one Spirit, whether Jew or Greek (race), whether slave or free (place), that we have all been baptized into one Spirit, that there is a grace which has happened to us.
The one he leaves out of there is the idea of face. People get prideful about the way they look. We think that makes us great and sets us apart from one another. That is not of God. What do you have that you have not been given? Which one of you hasn't been given what you have? There should be no pride about our appearance, yet again and again we find ourselves thinking ourselves better than others because of the way we look.
If you happen to be 6'4" and someone else is 5'4" do you look at them differently? Do you lord it over them as the pagans do or do you take that as an opportunity to help them if you're stronger in the flesh than they are? Some of you girls and some of you guys are extremely beautiful. Does that make you better than somebody else? That's not humility. Christ didn't think himself more beautiful than another. He let that precious face be beaten that you might know his love.
What about race? Do we have anybody here who still struggles with that? I imagine we do. There are individuals in this room who think because they are a certain race they are superior. The Scriptures give you no room for that. As we said last week, Jesus is not from Fort Worth; he is a Jew. He is not a white, Protestant, Anglo-Saxon American; he is a Jew, and there is no superiority even in that race. It's just the one Jesus took to fulfill all of the promises he said he would through Abraham.
What about your place in society? He says don't let that be something that goes to your head. Use the blessings you have as an opportunity to serve others, not to panel your own houses with ivory. Then, finally, the one that's the most amazing is you find individuals who, as they mature in Christ, as they begin to order themselves the way Scripture does, become prideful even in their own spirituality. It's an amazing thing that we can be prideful for receiving grace.
Are you prideful in place, your position? Are you prideful in race? Do you love others and think of them as significant as yourself, whether they be yellow, black, red, or white? How about your face? Some of you guys have an easier time not being prideful about that than others. One less area to struggle in. And then how about grace?
He says, "With all humility and gentleness." Just being kind toward one another as you work this thing out called our salvation, as you begin to become more and more like him, as you in season and out of season preach the Word. As somebody asks you to give an account for the hope that is within you, 1 Peter 3:15 says, do it with gentleness and respect. Are you gentle toward one another as they struggle with sin as individuals in the pew next to you? Are you spurring them on lovingly to love and good deeds or are you jumping their case every time their hands look differently than you think they should?
The idea next… It says that you, in right response to chapters 1-3, ought to, with great patience, show forbearance to one another in love. You could go on and on and on about that all day long. In fact, when you define love in 1 Corinthians 13, the very first thing it says about love is "Love is patient." I could stop right there and struggle all day long with trying to love my wife just by being patient, trying to love my daughter just by being patient, trying to love my friends just by being patient.
It's so easy to be patient to those who don't know you yet because you're trying to win their affection, but having won somebody's love, having won somebody's trust…that's the real challenge of how you can be patient. To show patience to those you know well in forbearance. There was a couple that was approached by a pastor one time. They'd seen that couple around the church for a while, and they noticed they were there fairly regularly but they weren't members. They weren't really plugged in to the body, if you will.
He walked up and said, "Let me ask you a question. Are you members? Are you really committed to this body?" He said they looked up with their eyes to the ceiling and kind of went, "Oh, no. We're a member of the universal church, the invisible church of which all believers are a part." This pastor went on. He said, "You know what? That makes sense, because you're invisible in terms of your contribution to other people here, so you ought to be a member of an invisible church."
It's funny that people who are afraid to commit, to really get in there and gently and humbly work with others, to be patient with other people who still have some junk in their life and who still regress, like I do, to really stay in there and show forbearance in love… We sometimes hide by bouncing from church to church. In Dallas we are the worst. I'm not trying to recruit you to be a part of this body. I am trying to exhort you to be a part of a body.
It says, "Let us not forsake our own assembling together, as is the habit of some." Is there someplace, one place where you are showing forbearance in love to other people or are you just popping in, smiling, getting what you want, and popping out, not having to be humble before other people in dealing with your own struggles, not having to be gentle with those you're struggling around, and not being patient with those who are slowly in that process who are children who are slobbering on themselves a bit during this time? Or are you a member of the invisible church?
You are if you're a Christian, but he tells you you must be a part of the visible church, the local church. It's interesting. Colossians 1 says Jesus is the visible image of the invisible God. Guess what you are. You are the visible image of the invisible body of Christ. So quit being invisible. You have to plug in somewhere. He has demanded, commanded… Chapters 1-3. The right response now the command comes, that you would plug in and show forbearance to one another in love.
He needs you to be the iron which will sharpen some other iron, and if all you do is come in and bounce off somebody else and run to another church because the speaker there is better, the worship there is better, the time fits your schedule better, you are not showing patience with others. That's one that hits right at home with this little body right here. One of the reasons we're desperately seeking to get these home churches going is so we can take away the excuse, where we can say, "We have it all for you right here. You just have to plug in."
Is there a home for you? Find it. Make sure it's a church that teaches the Word of God in a way that is sure and certain, that worships him unashamedly in a way that is free, but plug in. Look at what it says next. After all that, he says, "I want you to be diligent to preserve the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace." That idea of diligence… It says, basically, you make a determined effort to keep, where it says preserve. You sweat, do whatever you need to do to reserve this miracle which God, by the shedding of his own blood, has accomplished in you.
You go to your grave ensuring that this continues. It should be the consuming passion of your life. Not only is it the reasonable response; it is the right response. You must do this, he says. As you sweat day in and day out to provide for your family, as you sweat day in and day out to make your body look acceptable to others, he says you should be diligent, that you should sweat it out to make sure you keep that which was given to you, which is unity amongst you.
I will tell you, it is hard work. Married people who are out there, I pray that you don't get confused. Marriage isn't some easy road, that you get married and your emotions will carry you through and there's never going to be struggle in it or your marriage is warped and you got hooked into the wrong person. That is not true. It takes hard work, and you should be diligent to preserve the love which is a picture of God's love for you, the unity, that two which became one. What God has joined together, let no man take apart.
One of the things my wife and I are very committed to doing is being straightforward with you and letting you know that we are committed to each other, but we work hard at serving each other, and we do work. I'll tell you, I have a good-looking, fun, kind, serving wife, and it's still hard. There's no shame in that. It doesn't mean I have a bad marriage. That means I have a marriage that I get to live out the love Christ has called me to.
Our world defines love as something that feels good and is fleeting, and the Bible defines love in one way: "In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins." Big word. To die on the cross for our sins, 1 John 4 says. Love is defined scripturally with a cross, that you would die for another.
There are times that I have to die to myself, continually, to love my wife the way she deserves, the way I made a covenant that I would love her right here a number of years ago. There is no shame in working at unity. It is a right response to the love you have professed for each other. It is a reasonable request and a reasonable response to the love God has modeled for you.
Somebody should be able to look at me and the way I love Alex, the way I love Kurt, and they should say, "That's a picture of God's love for the world. It is unconditional. It is self-sacrificing. It is self-harming. It is never-ending the way that man loves that other man, the way that woman loves that woman, the way that man loves that woman." Can that be said of you? Can it be said of me?
Then he closes with this. In verses 4-6, he goes through and gives you seven things we are unified in. There is perfect unity in the body of Christ. If you remember, this is what the angels longed to look at. How could he take this selfish group of individuals and bring them together and make them serve one another? How can he go back to the way it was in the garden where people weren't self-centered but were others-centered?
He's going to say, "This people, the body of Christ, is a perfect picture of the unity which God will one day complete in his work." We become an illustration of what will be, even as we are now an illustration of his body, even as we are now an illustration of who he is. He uses the number seven, which in the Bible is a picture of perfection. He gives you seven different things which unify us, and we'll just hit them very quickly.
It says there is one body, and that is the universal church. That is what happened at Pentecost, the church, and everybody who's a true believer since Pentecost in Acts, chapter 2, all the way through the rapture, which will happen when Christ comes back to get his bride and takes her home, that we are one body, the church.
The next thing he says is there is one Spirit, the indwelling Spirit. Write down 1 Corinthians 12:13. I'll quote it for you. "For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body, whether Jews or Greeks, whether slaves or free, and we were all made to drink of one Spirit." So we have a common denominator in all of us.
After that, the third thing is "Just as you were also called in one hope of your calling." That is that Christ would come and take us back to heaven. We have one hope. We are one body. We have one Spirit at work within us. Here is the fourth: we have one Lord, who is Jesus. We have one faith. It's true that we have one faith in the sense of doctrine, but that's not what's in mind here. It's the idea that we have one faith in one man, that we have saving faith.
That one faith is what unifies us together. There is one body. There is one Spirit. There is one hope. There is one Lord. There is one faith. Sixth is there is one baptism, again of the Spirit. By the way, this is one of the problems I have with the idea of the need for a second blessing or what you find in the charismatic church movement. It becomes divisive.
They will tell you that if you're a Christian who has not yet been baptized with the Spirit, you are a JV Christian, that you don't have what they have and you need what they have to be like they are so you can experience the fullness of God like they have. That is inconsistent with Scripture. So, while I love those individuals, I will not bend on that, because we have all been made part of one baptism of one Spirit, and that's what's in mind here.
I have very little tolerance for an individual who will say, "You don't have the one Spirit I have, and you need to get that. It's the second blessing that'll come as you earnestly seek it and that is manifested by the gift of speaking in tongues." We say to that, "No, my friend. That is not what the Scriptures hold to."
There is one baptism, and you are filled at that point with every spiritual blessing, and you at that point have everything pertaining to godliness, and you at that point are a part of the one baptism which makes you part of the one community, which is the church. There are no second-class sons. We are all citizens, all sons, all fellow heirs with Jesus Christ.
So he ends. He says there is one God, and that one God is Father of all, and that God is over all, through all, and in all, and that simply means God is above us, he is in us, and he is near us. As we, as children, share in that Father, there ought to be a family reunion every time we're together. There ought to be a sense that when I see you it's like these last two days when I saw my brother.
As I mature in my love for my brother, it should be an excitement when I see him that's different than the excitement when I see some of you, because we share a common blood. We have a common womb. We have a common history. That is the same with you and I, as brothers and sisters in Christ. We have a common hope. We have a common Father. We have a common womb: the Spirit of God through which we were born.
It says in Galatians, "Let us not grow weary in doing good, but while we have the opportunity, let us do good to all men, especially to those who are of the household of faith," because that becomes a picture of a God they can't see. So there is perfect unity amongst us. Is that true? Can the world look at us and go, "That is a people that loves in a way that I am drawn to that love, and I want to know their secret to doing it," and we say, "Well, before you try to get the hands right, you have to know the problem used to lie much deeper, and God has done a work." There should be no pride amongst us.
I'll close with this story. It's a favorite of mine because of who is involved in it. It's a good way for us to be reminded about why we act the way we do. Michael Jordan, when he was growing up… A lot of you know he got cut from a basketball team very early in his basketball career. He had an older brother Larry who used to beat him up, dunk on him, take advantage of him in the driveway until he got so mad he outgrew him by a foot.
One day, Michael and Larry were back home, and like brothers do, they still were fighting and competing with one another in their driveway. Larry said, "I'm going to take you to the hoop. I'm going to dunk on you like I used to." Michael looked at him and said, "Well, I'll tell you what. You're writing a check with your mouth that your body can't cash." To back it up, he said, "Remember something. Remember whose name is on your shoes." Then off they went.
Gang, we need to remember whose name is on our souls. That will change the way we play the game. That is Paul's entire argument. Remember whose name you have, and walk in a manner worthy of that calling. You've been bought with a price, and that love should constrain you. You should begin to look like this, I should begin to look like this, and we cannot do it alone. We need to bear with one another with great patience and gentleness and humility. Let's pray.
Father, we thank you for a chance to come and reflect again on what you've done for us. We thank you for the great privilege we have to be in your family, to be given a calling, a heavenly calling, that we have been made partakers of the heavenly calling. Its origin, its goal, that we would begin to look like Jesus and we would become instruments you would use to draw others to you, the great freeing love that can only be found in the Spirit of Christ.
We thank you for the model of the breadth of your love, for the depth of your love, for the length of it, for the height of it, that there is no end to it, that we could begin to experience it today and all through eternity we would never grow tired and will never begin to see the end of all of the nuances of your incredible care for us. We do thank you for your incredible gift of love. We do not want to forget whose name is on our souls and in whose name we walk. May we then go forward step-by-step to be faithful for you. In Christ's name, amen.
Most people are desperately looking for answers to such age-old human dilemmas as violence, greed and racism; not to mention personal pain and disappointment with our own duplicity and lack of fulfillment. In this series on the book of Ephesians, Todd Wagner challenges us to open our eyes to the truth that Christ has called us to be part of a completely new society called the Church. Our highest calling then is to be men and women whose lives have been regenerated and empowered through faith in Christ. Our 21st century challenges are not unlike those faced by followers of Christ in first century Ephesus. The Apostle Paul, author of this letter to the Ephesians, emphasizes that the problem with the Church then and today is not that God hasn't given it everything necessary to be successful in its mission. Rather, our problem is like that of a wealthy miser who dies of starvation rather than dip into the abundance of resources at his disposal. Allow yourself to be challenged and encouraged by this ancient letter that adroitly analyzes the plight of Christ's bride, the Church, and then paints a vivid portrait of what we can - and indeed do - look like as His redeemed people. This volume covers Ephesians 3:1 through Ephesians 4:32.