God's New Family: An Exposition of Ephesians: Walking Worthy of Our Calling

Sermon by J. Ligon Duncan on February 12, 2006

Ephesians 4:1-3

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The Lord’s Day
Morning

February 12, 2006

Ephesians 4:1-3

“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.

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