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Author:Dr. Wes Bredenhof
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Congregation:Free Reformed Church of Launceston, Tasmania
 Tasmania, Australia
Title:Church of Christ: Live together in a way that matches your calling
Text:Ephesians 4:1-3 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic:Church Building

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Psalm 30:1,2,5

Psalm 130 (after the law)

Psalm 119:47

Psalm 133

Hymn 23

Scripture reading: Ephesians 4:1-16

Text: Ephesians 4:1-3

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Dr. Wes Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.

Beloved congregation of Christ,

In Acts 20, we read of Paul’s emotional farewell to the Ephesian elders.  Luke writes it in such a way that it’s almost like you’re there with them.  I think especially of Acts 20:36-38, “And when he had said these things, he knelt down and prayed with them all.  And there was much weeping on the part of all; they embraced Paul and kissed him, being sorrowful most of all because of the word he had spoken, that they would not see his face again.  And they accompanied him to the ship.”  They clearly had a close bond.  That was the last time they saw him, but it wasn’t the last time they heard from him.

Paul wrote his letter to the Ephesian church a couple of years after his farewell to them in Acts 20.  Some huge things had happened to him in the meantime.  The big one was his imprisonment.  Verse 1 says that Paul was a “prisoner for the Lord.”  How did that happen?  Paul had been in Jerusalem.  A Gentile from Ephesus was with him, a believer named Trophimus.  The Jewish religious leaders saw Paul in the temple and they assumed he had brought Trophimus there as well -- which he didn’t.  Still, it caused an uproar and resulted in Paul being imprisoned.  To make a long story short, as a Roman citizen, Paul appealed for his case to be heard by Caesar, the Roman emperor.  So Paul was transported to Rome.  That happened in about 62 AD.  As Paul writes to the Ephesian church, he’s in prison in Rome waiting for his case to be heard.

He’s writing to a church that was made up of both Jews and Gentiles.  They were quite different to one another.  But the amazing thing is how God brought them all together into his church.  Chapter 3 describes this as the “mystery of Christ.”  The mystery is that God has done something almost unthinkable, bringing together in Christ both Jews and Gentiles.  They’re all together in one church of Christ.  But with all their differences how are they going to live together?  That’s what our passage is about.  It can be summarized like this:

Church of Christ:  Live together in a way that matches your calling

We’ll consider:

  1. The calling
  2. The way to live together

Our passage begins with a “therefore” and, as often said, we need to think about what it’s there for.  There’s a background forming the reason or motivation for the instruction that’s given here.  We need to go back to chapter 3 again and notice how that begins.  Paul speaks of himself as a “prisoner for Christ Jesus on behalf of you Gentiles.”  It was because he was known as someone who worked among the Gentiles that he got arrested in Jerusalem.  It was because he was fostering unity between the Jews and Gentiles in Christ’s church that he’s now in prison in Rome.  He’s made huge sacrifices for the gospel in general, but also for the plan of God for the church of Christ.  God’s plan is that mystery mentioned in Ephesians 3:6, “…Gentiles are fellow heirs, members of the same body, and partakers of the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel.”  Paul has put his life on the line for this truth.  Therefore he has the personal credibility to urge them the way he does in our passage.

So on that basis, he appeals to them.  He urges them.  He’s urging them to walk a certain way.  When it says “walk,” we have to be clear that this is referring to your way of life, how you live.  As a Christian, the Bible says you’re called to live in a certain way.  There’s an appropriate way of life.  There’s a way of life that fits with who you are as a Christian.  But in order to understand how that works, you first need to understand the “calling with which you have been called.”  Once you’ve got a grasp on that, the appropriate way of life can be seen as a natural outcome.

Well, then what’s the “calling to which you have been called”?  If you’ve been called, that means someone else called you.  You don’t call yourself.  God is the one who calls.  He calls to the hope of the gospel, as it says in verse 4.  He calls to salvation.  Here you could also think of Romans 8:30, the famous golden chain of salvation.  Romans 8:30, “And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified.”  Calling is part of that golden chain of salvation.  In eternity, God has chosen some to eternal life, and then, in time, he calls them with his Word and Spirit.  Then they believe and are declared righteous, justified.  He does this completely out of his grace.  It’s not because of anything in us.  It’s entirely undeserved. 

First Peter 2:9 is also worth noting.  It also speaks about the calling of believers.  First Peter 2:9, “But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvellous light.”  In 1 Peter 2:9, believers have together been called out of darkness and into God’s light.  That too is speaking about what God has done for our salvation.  He called us by his Word and Spirit and his call accomplished exactly what he intended. 

The “calling with which you have been called” in Ephesians 4:1 first of all speaks about God’s sovereign grace in our salvation.  That reminds us of the gospel.  It reminds us of the good news that God is the one who takes the initiative to save believers out of the darkness of sin.  He did that for the Ephesian Christians to whom Paul was writing, and he still does that today among us.  If you’re a Christian today, it’s because God has sovereignly called you as such.  It’s his awesome, amazing grace in your life.  What a great and gracious God!  And, as we’ll see in a few moments, there’s a way of life that corresponds to that gospel truth.

But right now we need to see that “the calling to which you have been called” includes another aspect.  Those who are called to salvation are also then called to holiness.  This is implied in Ephesians 4.  The first three chapters of the letter are entirely about what God has done in the lives of his people.  But the letter shifts at the beginning of chapter 4 to start addressing the holy, God-pleasing living that responds to God’s grace.  Christians have been called not just to salvation in the sense of we get to go to heaven when we die.  Christians have also been called to salvation in the sense of deliverance from a life of sin right now.  The Holy Spirit empowers us to begin pursuing a holy way of life which honours God.

That’s made more explicit in passages like 2 Timothy 1:9.  Second Timothy 1:9 says that God “saved us and called us to a holy calling.”  Having been called to eternal life, we’re also called to holiness.  Holiness means a life set apart from sin.  We aim to put sin as far away from us as we can.  God has called us to be his people, now we have to reflect who he is.  As it says elsewhere in Scripture, we're to be holy as he is holy.

So “the calling to which you have been called” is the hope of eternal life.  But it’s also a calling to live in God’s ways as his people.  And now we can move forward to see the way we live together, a way that matches this two-fold calling.

In verses 2 and 3, we find several virtues.  A virtue is a good thing.  So there are virtues connected with a life together that matches our calling.  Let’s take a closer look at each of these for a moment.  I’m going to define them first and then we’ll look at how they match our calling. 

Humility comes first.  This is about knowing ourselves for who we really are.  Accurate and realistic self-assessment.  It’s about knowing ourselves for who we are before God first and foremost.  God knows our hearts.  He knows us better than we know ourselves.  He has the most accurate knowledge of us.  God gives us that knowledge in the Bible.  He says that you need to know that you’re sinful and weak.  You’re a dependent child.  You depend on your heavenly Father for everything.  Everything you have is a gift.  That’s the first part of humility – being honest before God about who you really are.  Humility is having the wisdom to listen to God’s assessment of you.  It’s to acknowledge that what God says about you is the truth.  Do you do that?  Or do you think of yourself more highly than you ought to?

There’s a vertical aspect to humility – humility starts with being humble before God.  But there’s also a horizontal aspect to it.  Humility also works out in relationships with other people.  Here Paul is especially addressing the church.  We have to be humble with one another and in how we interact together.  Here you can think of what the Holy Spirit says in Philippians 2:3, “Do nothing from rivalry or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves.”  Humility in human relationships means we think of ourselves less, and others more.  For example, in the church it means that we’re more interested in others being acknowledged or praised than ourselves. 

Have you ever found yourself in a conversation where you so badly want to bring the attention back to yourself that you’re not even listening to what the other person is saying?  You’ve got something to say and what you have to say is so important that you’ve basically blocked out the other person.  Their lips are moving but you can’t hear what they’re saying.  I’ve done that.  What leads us to do that?  Do you ever think about that?  It’s our pride.  We want the attention on us.  Our experiences are more important.  Our thoughts are more valuable.  Our opinions are what really matters and we don’t even care about the other person standing in front of us.  They become just a means to an end – and the end is us and our glory.  When we strive for humility, we learn to put this to death because it doesn’t fit with our calling.

The next virtue mentioned in verse 2 is gentleness.  Unlike humility, this virtue refers to our relationships with people only.  Purely horizontal.  This word describes how true friends treat one another.  Gentleness is being considerate, friendly, kind.  An enemy would treat you without consideration, harshly.  But a friend treats you with gentleness because they love you.  A friend treats you gently even when you do them wrong, when you’ve had a bad day, or when you’re in a bad mood.  A friend is gentle and friendly at all times, even when you need to be admonished.  Gentleness knows how to get the message across even when it’s something difficult.  That’s because gentleness is so tied up with love.  Are you gentle?  In particular, are you gentle with others in the body of Christ?  Do you treat them, as you would want to be treated, in a friendly way?

Next up is patience.  This one we don’t need to spend much time on.  Patience is patience.  It’s long-suffering, tolerance.  It’s being able to love someone enough to endure not only anything annoying about them, but also their sins.  Not that you allow someone to live in sin, just look the other way, but that you don’t let their sin stand as obstacle to your love for them.  You deal with sin, you don’t ignore sin, but also you don’t let it stop you from loving your brother or sister. 

So, we have these three virtues:  humility, gentleness, and patience.  Living according to our calling means embracing these virtues and trying to put them into practice in how we live with one another in the church.  As we aim for that, we need to remember our Saviour Jesus. 

Remember that our Lord Jesus put these virtues into practice perfectly.  So if you want to know what humility really looks like, look to Jesus.  Look to Jesus as he’s revealed in the Bible.  Here’s the Son of God.  He’s the King of the universe.  The King became a servant to us.  We should have been serving him.  But we rebelled.  Instead, to save us, the King becomes a servant to us.  The King had given laws for his subjects to obey.  We didn’t.  So, instead, as he became a man, he made himself subject to those same laws.  Think about that:  he obeyed the laws he made for his creatures.  He did it for our salvation.  He practiced humility more perfectly than anyone else ever has.  If you want to understand humility, study Jesus. 

We noted that gentleness is friendly kindness.  Who has treated us more as a friend than our Lord Jesus?  He’s the one who laid down his life for his friends.  Who is more gentle and lowly in heart than he is?  Again, these virtues are for our salvation, but also for our instruction.  When we haven’t been so friendly and kind, we can look to Christ and know that his obedience is ours.  We can know that his sacrifice on the cross has covered our failures.  But we also ought to pursue gentleness and learn what it is by carefully considering how the Bible portrays Jesus to us.           

The same is true for patience.  How patient and loving our Lord was with his disciples in his earthly ministry.  How patient and loving our Lord Jesus is with us!  When we’re weak in our faith and our grip on him feels faint, he doesn’t let go of us.  Reflect on that.  Let it lead you to worship and adore your Saviour.  But then also let it shape your life.  Let it mould you into his perfect patient image.    

You see, living in a way that matches our calling means living in Christ.  Our calling has brought us into a saving relationship with him.  Our calling has also brought us into a sanctifying relationship with him.  Our relationship with him (saving and sanctifying, two sides of the same coin) is meant to transform our lives.  We look to him for our salvation, but also for how our lives are to become like his.  We’re disciples who want to follow our Master.  We’re branches grafted into the vine, and we want to bear his fruit.  He’s the head of the body, and we’re his members and we want to follow the lead of the head.

That gets worked out further in the last couple of pieces of our passage.   Living together in a way that matches our calling means “bearing with one another in love.”  Now remember that this was first of all addressed to the church of Christ in Ephesus.  It was a congregation with ethnic diversity.  There were Jews and Gentiles.  They were quite different to one another.  Undoubtedly, if you were an Ephesian Christian with a Jewish background, there would be things about the Gentile Christians you might find irritating.  And the other way around too.  So God tells them, you live together in a way that fits your calling when you bear with one another in love.   Despite differences, you accept one another in love.  As our Lord Jesus has accepted each one of us in love, despite ourselves, we also ought to do the same. 

In this congregation, we have differences.  There are personality differences.  There are even some ethnic or cultural differences.  If you’re not careful, you could let those get to you and stand in the way of unity in the body of Christ.  But as we look to Christ our head, we see that there has to be acceptance, “bearing with one another in love.”  We look past our differences to see Christ in one another.  That fits our calling.

Verse 3 also matches our calling:  “eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.”  Notice how it doesn’t speak of creating unity.  If we’re believers in the body of Christ, we’re already one.  The Holy Spirit has come and made us one.  He has come to live in our hearts.  The same Spirit who lives in Christ, lives in each believer and joins them all together.  The question is whether we recognize and zealously work to maintain this unity.  Do we passionately strive to foster unity with one another?  It says, “in the bond of peace.”  That’s describing our relationship together.  It’s to be characterized as peaceful.  That we live together in harmony, displaying our unity together in Christ.  Peace is what glues us together.

The Puritan John Owen gave a great illustration of this.  Picture a man collecting sticks for firewood.  He finds a bunch and piles them on the ground.  But now he has to get them home.  It’s not easy because they’re all different sizes and shapes.  To tackle that problem, he ties all the sticks together with a rope.  Now they’re in one bundle and he can carry them home, despite all their differences.  This is the way it is in the church.  We’re all different.  But Christ carries us home by binding us together with the bond of peace.  If you cut that bond, you destroy the way in which we’ll be brought home by Christ. 

Our Lord Jesus said, “Blessed are the peacemakers…” and this is true in the church too.  We want to keep the peace in the body of Christ.  That matches our calling because Christ himself is our peace.  If he is our peace, and we’re his body, then the body should be characterized by peace as well.   

Loved ones, what can we do to eagerly “maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace”?  Conflict is inevitable in any group of human beings.  Because of sin, there are going to be times when we’re at odds with other people.  It can happen in the church with a brother or sister, or maybe even brothers and sisters.  The real question is how we deal with that.  The temptation is often to ignore the issue.  Don’t deal with it directly and properly.  Instead, just go and tell everyone who will listen how upset you are with so-and-so.  Go behind their back, trash their name, destroy their reputation.  In the process, play up yourself, make sure you come out looking squeaky-clean, the saint or the victim in all of this.  Meanwhile, to the face of that person you just keep pretending that nothing is wrong.  That’s the sinful, human way to deal with conflict.  It’s a temptation for us in the church here too, both young and old alike.  That’s not living in a way that matches our calling. 

It affects our gospel witness too.  Imagine visitors coming to our congregation, hanging around for a while, getting to know us, and then discovering that we’re really good at one thing:  biting and devouring one another.  There could be all the gospel preaching in the world from the pulpit, but if members of the congregation are biting and devouring one another, it can suck a lot of the power out of the gospel that’s preached.  The gospel loses its credibility.  We would be undermining the gospel with lives that don’t match our calling.   

So, how do you deal with things properly?  When you have a conflict or difficulty with someone in the congregation, you need to deal with it directly.  “Directly” still means dealing with others humbly, gently, and patiently.  But “directly” also means that you talk to the brother or sister you have a problem with instead of going behind their back and attacking them.  We want to live in peace and sometimes to achieve real peace, you have to confront and deal with things directly.  Short-term direct confrontation for the sake of long-term peace.  Loved ones, that’s God’s way of dealing with problems and if you follow his way, in the long run you’ll find that things go better for you personally and for us all as a congregation.  We’ll enjoy the unity we have with one another in the body of Christ.

Brothers and sisters, the church is unlike any other human gathering or organization.  The church is a unique creation of God.  Though we’re all different, we’ve all been gathered together by God into this one body of Christ.  Preserving the unity of this body should be something we’re all passionate about.  It happens by living together in a way that matches our calling.  It happens with humility, gentleness, and patience.  Our unity is preserved when we bear with one another in love and pursue peace with one another.  Our constant prayer should be that God would help us to do these things through the power of his Holy Spirit.  AMEN. 


Our gracious Father,

Thank you for the calling with which we have been called.  You called us out of darkness and into your wonderful light.  You’ve called us to eternal life in our Lord Jesus Christ.  We’re grateful for that.  We worship you for that.  You’ve also called us to holiness in union with Christ.  For that, we need your help, both as individuals and as a congregation.  Father, help us to live together in a way that matches our calling.  Let your Spirit work in our hearts so that we’re humble and gentle, like our Lord Jesus.  Please make us to be more patient with one another, as you have been patient with us.  Father, give us the gift of forbearance, being able to bear with one another because we love one another.  And we pray for the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace, that this would be maintained among us.  Father, if there is any conflict right now between any of our members, we pray that you would help those members to deal with it properly.  Help them to speak directly to one another with humility and gentleness and patience.  O God, we pray that you would help us to live at peace with one another, for your glory and for the good of the gospel message we’re called to represent.


* As a matter of courtesy please advise Dr. Wes Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.

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