The Lord’s Day Morning
“Walking Worthy of Our Calling”
Dr. J. Ligon Duncan III
Amen. If you have your Bibles, I’d invite you to turn with me to Ephesians 4. You’ve been waiting a long time to hear those words! We’ve been in Ephesians 3 for a number of months now. We’ve camped on this glorious prayer in Ephesians 3:14-21, and we’ve just luxuriated in it. It’s ministered to my soul reading it over and over again, week after week, studying it, realizing that I have not touched the surface of it but trying to do some justice to it, to see how important it is in our Christian lives.
And we’ve really come to a transition point today. This is a turning point in the Book of Ephesians. From this point on, Paul is going to be bringing home in a variety of practical ways the truths which he has been setting forth, both by instruction and prayer, in Ephesians 1-3. This book is filled with instruction, prayer, and exhortation, and the second half of the book (from chapters 4-6) especially concentrates on exhortation. Paul very often moves from doctrine to duty, from truth to practice, from instruction to exhortation, and we see him do that here.
Now, it’s not that Paul’s doctrine is impractical or that his practice is undoctrinal. No, all of his doctrine in 1-3, chapters 1-3, was practical, and all of his practice in 4-6 is doctrinal, but we see here an emphasis, a shift, and that’s important for us to note. We’re seeing here a move from doctrine to duty, from theology to practice, from truth to applications, from things to be believed to things to be done, from exposition to exhortation, from a description of God’s new family and prayers for God’s new family to the standards of living that God expects from His new family.
Very often we think ‘That doctrine wasn’t applied closely enough in the message today,’ and very often, my friends, that’s my fault. When you feel that that’s happening, let me just ask you – just bow your head and say, “Lord God, help him to bring it home!”
But I also want to warn you: Many of you who have been looking for more specific application - my friends, it’s going to be there in Ephesians 4-6, and it may become painful. I just want to warn you ahead of time: If sometime over the course of the next few months you have the feeling that I’m having a personal conversation with you in front of a thousand other people, understand that it is never my policy to carry out a conversation that I ought to be having in private from the pulpit with you. And so if you begin to feel like I’m speaking to you about a personal issue between you and me, I trust that it will be the Holy Spirit speaking in your heart, applying His word personally and specifically and painfully, because Paul is all over application in the second half of this book, and that’s where we’re going to be.
But I want you to see over and over as we look at this specific application, it is directly rooted and intimately connected to, and in fact inextricable from, the glorious truths of God’s new family that He’s already set forth and prayed about in chapters 1-3. It is the absolutely logical and necessary outworking of this truth, and so as we look, for instance, in Ephesians 5 at marriage and family, it isn’t some added tack-on thing that Paul puts on top of personal salvation that is just thrown out there with no connection; it’s the outworking of what it means to be God’s new family. And so all of the application that Paul brings to bear so helpfully in chapters 4-6 flows out of what he’s already taught us in chapters 1-3.
Now if I were forced to summarize the glorious things that Paul has said in chapters 1-3 in two ideas, in two rubrics, they would simply be this: That God has first brought us from being an alienated humanity to being a reconciled humanity; that is, where once as fallen human beings in rebellion we lived as God’s enemies, we were alienated from Him, He has through His mercy and through the person and work of Jesus Christ reconciled a people to Himself who were once enemies, who were once not a people, who were once in rebellion - now friends, now family, now forgiven. From an alienated humanity to a reconciled humanity – that’s one of the great things that the Apostle Paul tells us about this new humanity, this new family, this new society that we’re a part of. From alienation to reconciliation – that’s the first great rubric, the first great pattern that we see him praising God for in Ephesians 1-3.
But the second one is this: We’ve come from a fractured humanity to a unified humanity. That is, whereas once there was great dissention and fracturing and animosity amongst ourselves as humanity in view of the fall, through Jesus Christ, through being united to one common Lord and Savior, we have been brought into a family which is now no longer in contention and in a state of fracture but has been unified, enjoying communion and shared life and fellowship together. And the Apostle Paul wants us to understand that as we are God’s new family those two things are to be a constant part of our witness to the world that God has done an amazing work of grace that only He could have done; that He reconciled sinners who did not love Him to Himself, and He reconciled sinners who did not love one another to themselves. And He stands back and He says to the world ‘See the proof of My grace. See the proof of My sovereignty. See the proof of My word. Look at these people. They once hated Me, and now through My grace they love Me. And they once hated one another, but now through My grace they love one another in Jesus Christ.’ And through this we are to be a foretaste of the glories of the age to come, an outpost of heaven right here in this world. We are reconciled and unified humanity that is a vanguard of the things to come in that age which will never pass away, which He will bring about at the coming of our Lord and Savior.
Now that’s the context of what we’re going to begin studying today, so let’s look to God in prayer before we read His word.
Our Lord, this is Your word, and it is pure; and it is pure and it is right, and it is good and it is profitable, and it is efficient, but our minds are dull. They are dulled by sin; they are dulled by going after the things of this world. We need the illumination of Your Spirit that we might behold wonderful things in Your word. So grant it, O God. Teach us Your truth from Your word for Your glory. In Jesus’ name. Amen.
“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 write its eternal truth upon our hearts.
Now, in these three verses, and they are rich verses indeed, the Apostle Paul tells us at least three things. He exhorts us to at least three things: to live out our callings as Christians; to love the family of God in Jesus Christ; and, to keep the peace in that family.
But let me make an admission before we begin. I’m not going to get to Point Three today! I hope I’ll get to Point Two! We’re just going to look at what Paul says especially in verses 1 and 2 where he calls on us to live our callings and to love the family of God, because Paul is telling us here that a churchly unity and holiness are required to walk worthy of our callings. You see, Paul’s challenge to us in verse 1 where 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 to us ‘Be who you are.’ He’s just spent two chapters telling you who you are through the work of God, through the work of Christ, through the work of the Holy Spirit. Father, Son, and Holy Spirit have made you to be a new family, a new humanity, God’s new society. They’ve reconciled you to God. They have reconciled you to one another. Now be who you are.
This is a pattern you find throughout Paul. He announces what we are in Christ, and then he calls you to be who God has made you to be. It’s actually an Old Testament pattern. Do you remember? In Joshua telling the children of Israel ‘The land is yours. Now take it. Canaan belongs to you. It’s your land. God has given it to you. Now take it.’ The indicative precedes the imperative. God tells us what we are, and He says be who you are. That that’s what the Apostle Paul is saying here:
“I beg you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling with which you have been called.”
You understand what Paul is doing here. Paul is asking you to practically live out the third vow of membership that you took when you became a member of this church. Do you remember what it says? That you will “...resolve and promise, in humble reliance upon the grace of the Holy Spirit, to endeavor to live as becomes a follower of the Lord Jesus Christ.” Every one of us who is a communing member of First Presbyterian Church has made that vow. And the Apostle Paul is saying to the Ephesian Christians ‘I beg you, I implore you, be who you are. Really be a follower of Jesus Christ. Really be a disciple of Jesus Christ. Don’t just say you’re a Christian; be a Christian. Don’t just say that you’re going to follow Christ; follow Christ. Live in a manner worthy of your calling.’ You can feel the force of Paul’s words to the Ephesians. He says ‘I, the prisoner of the Lord, implore you to live as Christians.’ He’s saying ‘Live like Christians. Live like you are God’s new family. And remember, I am the prisoner of the Lord. I am in prison so that you will live this way. This is important enough to me to die, that you live like Christians.’
Many of us were deeply moved when we heard the story from India from one of our missionaries, who had been captured by rebels some four or five months ago and had a gun held to his head and had been told, “Renounce Christ or die.” And his response was, “Pull the trigger.” In God’s mercy, the trigger jammed, and some other people came and interrupted the rebels, and he escaped. Can you imagine him standing before his congregation that next week and saying to them, “Friends, we must be faithful unto death”? I tell you, they heard him differently than they would have heard someone who had not had a pistol held to his head and had been told to renounce Christ. He said, “Look, this is important enough for me to die. Now you live like Christians; you be ready to live and die as Christians.”
And here’s the Apostle Paul. He’s already been talking with them in chapters 1-3. He knows they’re concerned about his imprisonment, they’re concerned about his persecution. He’s already had to encourage them, and now he says ‘Let me just remind you of something: I’m in prison for the gospel! I’m in prison for Christ! I’m in prison so that you will live like Christians. I beg you, live like Christians! Live like you are a member of God’s new family.’
What’s Paul saying? He’s saying if you claim the name, you live the same. Walk your talk. And I just want to say right now, my friends, that is the single biggest area to our evangelistic witness to our friends and neighbors here in Jackson. I’m not talking about the Western world, I’m not talking about the United States of America, I’m not even talking about the State of Mississippi. I’m talking about our friends and our neighbors right here in Jackson. Our biggest barrier to reaching them for the gospel is our own lives.
You see, when a hypocrite who doesn’t want to stop being a hypocrite wants some self-defense, the first thing he can do is say, “Well, you guys talk a great game over there at First Pres, but I know how you live during the week. And y’all are a bunch of hypocrites, and so I’m just happy to go on being a hypocrite myself.” Our words are debased by our lives. The power of the truth, the true truth that we proclaim day by day in Sunday School and in pulpit, in small group and in one to one conversation and discipleship, those things are debunked by our lives if we do not walk worthy of our callings.
It is the issue of the hour. A nominal Christianity, an in-name-only Christianity is not prepared to face the forces of the powers and the principalities and the encroaching pagan culture around us. It must be a Christianity professed with the mouth, believed in the heart, and lived in our daily lives. And that’s what the Apostle Paul is saying here. But interestingly, he is especially focusing on the manifestation of the reality of our trust in God, the manifestation of true religion that has been wrought in our hearts by the work of the Holy Spirit, especially in how we live with one another.
Isn’t it striking? Look at verse 2, and this is the second thing I want you to see here. The Apostle Paul is especially concerned for our living as Christians to be manifested in this reconciled and unified family through love. Jesus had said, “They will know you are My disciples by the way you love one another.” We sing, “They will know we are Christians by our love,” but it’s especially love within the body for the body that the Apostle Paul is drawing our attention to, the manifesting of our reconciled and unified family through love. Living our callings means loving the Christian family, and he’s very specific about it, isn’t he? “With all humility and gentleness, with patience, showing tolerance for one another in love....” And the Apostle Paul is saying ‘Friends, your witness to the world is dependent upon the manifestation of My grace in your families and in your church family as to how you love one another.’ And I want to say, my friends, that this is something we so desperately need to hear.
Turn back in your Bibles to Genesis 37. You know that passage. It’s the beginning of the story of Joseph. And look at verse 4. Look at the second half of verse 4. This is one of the saddest verses in the whole of the Bible. It is the description of the family of Israel, I want to remind you. This is Jacob’s family, the archetypal family of the people of God in the Old Testament, and it is a description of the relationship that existed between Joseph and his brothers. And in Genesis 37:4 we read, “They hated him, and could not speak to him on friendly terms.” Now, that’s a description of this archetypal family of the family of God in the old covenant.
And I want you to think with me for a few minutes as we walk through Paul’s description of what is absolutely necessary if we’re really going to manifest Christian love to one another in the Christian church in order to be a witness to the world. The first thing, he says, is humility.
Now, I know there are many things that fractured this family. I know that, for instance, Jacob’s parenting was lousy! The way he played favorite with Joseph and then later with Benjamin, it deeply wounded his other sons. But you know, there was another factor in fracturing his family, and you know what it was. It was the pride of Joseph. This guy had all the tact of a rhinoceros in a china shop! ‘Let me tell you about the dream I had! You guys were all bowing down to me!’ Pride helped fracture that family.
What is the first thing that Paul says has to happen if we’re really going to manifest love in the Christian church? He says, “...with all humility....” Not standing on our own personal merits – “I’m smarter than that other person. I’m more righteous than that other person. I know what we ought to be doing in this situation. I know better than they know what we ought to be doing in this situation.” Humility. And if we’re going to manifest a world-changing love in this local church, it’s going to start with the effacement of self and the attack on pride, and the mortification of the flesh, and the cultivation of gospel humility.
A dear friend of mine, Mark Dever, who’s the pastor of the Capitol Hill Baptist Church in Washington, D.C., had visited a friend of ours who’s a Reformed Charismatic. [I won’t explain those two words together for you right now. That’s for later.] It was the first time he had been in his congregation. This was many years ago, and he called me up on the phone that Monday and he said, “Lig, I have never been in the midst of a fellowship of more genuinely humble Christians than that church. I didn’t know the pastor of that church then; I do now, but I knew immediately that those were my brothers and sisters in Christ, and I just wanted to be like them.” And understand that these are powerful people. In that congregation is Claude Allen, who was the Domestic Advisor to the President of the United States until last week. These are accomplished people. But Mark said humility oozes from their pores. Wouldn’t it be great if that’s how people spoke about First Presbyterian Church? If they said, “You know, those Presbyterians over there, they’re humble.” Not so that we would be glorified, but so that God would be glorified! Wouldn’t it be glorious if that was the impression that people had when they’re in our midst that they say, “You know, there is a palpable humility when you’re with those people. You can touch it.”
Paul says there can be no real Christian love manifested in a congregation until there’s humility, until people aren’t standing on their own personal merits.
And then he says, “...and gentleness....” We used to translate that word meekness. But it means not demanding our personal rights. And what had happened in Jacob’s family? Those brothers felt wronged! ‘You gave him the varicolored coat! We’re older! Our rights have been stepped on! We demand that our rights be served!’ And it fractured that family. And we can’t love as the Christian family until we’re prepared to stand down on the demands for our rights. Humility. Gentleness.
And then look: “...patience....” And that word especially means forbearance towards personal offenses from others. Somebody else has offended you, and you have every right to be angry. But Paul says forbear. And we see that at play in Jacob’s family, too, didn’t we? Those brothers had just...the straw had broken the camel’s back, and they had had it with Joseph, and away you go into slavery! They weren’t forbearing of personal offenses. Yes, they had been offended. Yes, if they had had good elders in their local church, those elders would have sat them down, and their Dad down, and Joseph down, and had a good talking with them. They were going to take care of it themselves. They were going to make sure that they got justice. A terrible, terrible act of injustice and vengeance and meanness was perpetrated because they could not forbear the offenses that they had been the recipients of. And my friends, until we are ready to forbear in our families and to forbear in our congregation, we will not show gospel love.
And then, tolerance, mutual deference. You can’t live together without some sort of mutual deference that makes space for one another, that’s not always ready to criticize this or that or the other. There’s got to be some mutual deference, and the Apostle Paul is saying here ‘Brothers, I want you to walk worthy of the calling. Be humble, be gentle, be patient, be tolerant. Live Christian love.’ And of course, when he says Christian love, he’s speaking about seeking the best interest of others despite the cost to ourselves. And he says, my friends, that is determinative in our witness of what it means to be the family of God, God’s new family, God’s new humanity, God’s new society in this world. They will see that, he says.
I want to ask you to turn forward to Genesis 45. And I want you to see what happened when grace broke in and surprised this family. You remember the story. The brothers of Joseph had come down to Egypt during the famine. Joseph himself was working out some vengeance on them in their initial contacts with one another. He was going to get even. But then God’s grace came to bear, and there was family resolution. And we read in Genesis 45:15 that he (meaning Joseph) “kissed all his brothers, and wept on them.”
But it’s that last sentence that I want you to see especially: “And afterward his brothers talked to him.” Is that glorious? You see, we were told in Genesis 37:4 that things had gotten so bad in that family that they wouldn’t speak to them, that they could not bring it to themselves to say a kind word to him, because they hated him! And when grace broke in, for the first time in the span of a generation these estranged, fractured brothers were able to talk. And, you see, that’s what it’s supposed to be like in God’s new family. And the world is to sit back and say ‘I know that’s real. Only God could have done that.’
It was interesting. After the first service, Wayne Husband, one of our elders, stopped me and he said, “I need to tell you a story. When I was working with a commission through this congregation many years ago, we went to the Ukraine to work with their educational leaders, and all week long they were suspicious of us, and they told us they were suspicious of us. They didn’t believe our words, they were suspect with regard to our agenda. At the end of the week the leader said to them, ‘We’ve been suspicious of you all week long and we haven’t trusted your words, and we haven’t known your motives. But we have watched how you love one another, and we have decided that we are going to listen to you because we can see how you love one another, and therefore we know that your words are genuine and not false, and you really do care about us.’”
That is exactly how it is supposed to work. The world may call into doubt whatever it may, but they cannot deny the power of God’s grace operating in a new humanity so that people who otherwise would have been fractured are brought together in mutual love. My friends – and we’ll have to apply this later...we’ll have to come back to this some other time – my friends, that is such an important prayer for us to pray, that that kind of humble, gentle, patient, forbearing love would be manifest in our congregation.
I want to quickly say, that is not an excuse for some of us who have been offenders to justify ourselves. But if you have been offended, I want you to see God has just given you your opportunity to manifest this kind of love. If you’ve received offense, now is your chance, now is your opportunity to begin to manifest this kind of humble, gentle, self-abasing, other-focused love. And I want to tell you, my friends, Jackson could not resist the force of that witness; could not, because only the work of God’s Spirit could do that.
May God bless His word. Let’s pray.
Our Lord and our God, we want to be Christians in our hearts and our lives, and not with just a profession and assent. And we want to show that we’re Your disciples by the way we love one another, but Lord, the wounds are deep. Some of us have deeply wounded one another - humanly, almost irreparably. Families that are on the brink - the fracture, the dissention has become so deep and so wide that it’s hard to hide even with smiles. Only You by grace can come into this situation and make us to be the new family, the new humanity that, Lord God, if You so send down Your Spirit, nothing can stop it – not even our pettiness and sin. So break our pride. Mold us and shape us, and get the glory for it. For we ask it in Jesus’ name. Amen.
[Congregational hymn: Love Divine, All Loves Excelling]
Peace be to the brethren, and love with faith, from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.