The First Order of Business
Scripture: Ephesians 4:1–6
The First Order of BusinessEphesians 4:1-6
Sunday, January 8, 2017
Pastor Randy Smith
Well it's the New Year! I've always felt New Year's Resolutions are kind of ridiculous because we should be setting goals throughout the year. We don't need to wait until a magical date shows up on the calendar. With God, each day is a new opportunity to be forgiven, a new opportunity to evaluate our lives and examine our priorities, a new opportunity for a fresh start.
Yet things are different for our new President-elect. He is given a fresh start to begin as the 45th President of the United States. If you watch the news, you hear about his immediate plans, the first steps he's choosing to take as he assumes the highest office in the free world. What's on his radar? What is most pressing on his mind? What is his first order of business?
I've chosen that as the title of this sermon because we will study God's first order of business.
Paul has already given his Ephesian readers> rich theology in chapters 1-3. We've spent several months covering those chapters outlining the greatness of our salvation in Christ - electing love, forgiveness, grace, resurrection power, God as Father, access in prayer, Christ in our hearts, mercy, Holy Spirit sealing, redemption, every spiritual blessing and the list continues. That was chapters 1-3.
Now we turn the page to chapters 4-6. The theology lesson is over and Paul begins his practical expectations for the Christian. He's covered the doctrine, now what's the duty? He given us the creed, now what's the conduct? We've heard the exposition, now what's the exhortation? We've learned the indicatives, now what are the imperatives? What is our response to what God has done for us in Christ?
You see, the doing of our Christian life is always based on theology. Christianity is not rules divorced from substance. So based on all we learned in chapters 1-3, we now turn to how we should live as a result of those truths in chapters 4-6.
And as we begin these great chapters, what do you think is most pressing on Paul's mind? Of all the commands the church needs to hear, which one does he start off with? What is Paul's first order of business?
We were given a hint? What did Paul cover the most in the preceding chapters 2 and 3? That in Christ all are one - no divisions, unity in the church. The theology behind that? Didn't Christ give us undeserved love at His expense? Isn't that the whole nature of the Gospel? Shouldn't we be people that know a thing about forgiveness, unconditional acceptance, forbearance, humility and mercy? Shouldn't we see as God sees, looking beyond the superficial externals that divide and loving the heart of another - a person also made in the image of God? Doesn't unity in the home and unity in the church show the world something special about the cross? This is our subject for today.
1. The Command (verse 1)
Let's go right to the command (our first point) in verse 1. "Therefore I, the prisoner of the Lord, implore you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling with which you have been called."
Consider this the topic sentence for chapters 4-6. Paul reminds his readers of all that he has suffered for Christ. In 3:1 he already said he was "the prisoner of Christ Jesus for the sake of you Gentiles." Here he just says he is "the prisoner of the Lord." We know he wrote this letter while being incarcerated in Rome.
A couple little words in verse 1 must not be overlooked as they really help us to understand Paul's heart in chapters 4-6.
The first word is the first word of the verse, "therefore." As we say in Bible Study, whenever you see a "therefore" see what it is "there-fore." It's a connecting word that refers back to a point that was previously made. So, Paul gives us great theology in chapters 1-3 and then hits us with a "therefore." In other words, application of the Christian life is based on good theology and proof that we understand good theology is seen in the direct and practical application of it.
Also worth special attention are the two words in verse 1, "implore you." Some translations use "urge you" or the old KJV language, "beseech you." It's not that following God's commands is optional. It's rather Paul's pastoral heart showing loving concern, appealing to the congregation that they comply. It's like, "Based on all that Christ has done for you through His amazing love and grace, don't just formally obey out of duty, but obey Him from a heart of love that delights in knowing and doing His will."
And what is the first command? "Walk in a manner worthy of the calling with which you have been called."
Imagine it like this. You were just elected to be the town mayor. You have a high office and to be effective you need the respect of the people. Yet you continually use foul language, are pulled over by your own officers for traffic violations, exempt yourself from paying taxes and are inconsistent in attending town hall meetings. In other words, you act as most politicians do today! You see, based upon what you have been given, your standards need to change. You need to walk in a manner worthy of your calling.
God is in a sense making that point with us. Why do we claim Christ and still live as an unbeliever? As we read in verse 1, our "walk" (lifestyle) should be different. Remember our old walk spoken of in 2:1-3? Dead in sins according the sway of the world. Under the direction of the devil.> Indulging in the desires of the flesh. But then read that God transformed us. That He raised us up with Christ. Why? To stay the same way? Of course not! Rather to glorify Him by putting His grace in our lives on display for the whole world to see.
Let's remember the new walk that God expects of us. 2:10, "For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them."
In other words, you are a child of the living God - prove it to yourself and show it to the world! Do you understand what Christ has done for you? Then live in light of it! Do you have a Bible? Do you have the Holy Spirit's empowerment? Is Jesus Christ your Lord? Then act like it! Remember all that we read in chapters 1-3. God did His marvelous work in your life that He might bring Himself glory! Is He receiving glory through you based on your zeal for His name, delight in His calling and ability to obey His commands?
2. The Character (verse 2)
We need to move to the second point. Understand the Gospel message and receiving the Gospel message always shows itself in manifesting Gospel traits. From Christ, Christians have experienced and been blessed because of His humility, His gentleness, His patience, His tolerance and His love. Therefore it is no wonder that Paul says in verse 2 of us, "With all humility and gentleness, with patience, showing tolerance for one another in love." Evidence we've received these graces is the desire and ability to extend these graces. Like an apple tree that bears apples, these will be the natural fruits that the Holy Spirit bears in the life of every true believer.
Now I can spend a whole sermon explaining each of these graces from verse 2. But I think you know what humility is - lowliness, considering others better, opposite of pride. You know what gentleness is, right? Meekness, strength under control, self-control, peacemaker. Do you need a sermon on patience? Long-suffering, long fuse, trusting God's sovereignty, no complaining. And how about tolerance for one another in love? Do we really need instruction on that? Forbearing with one another, waiving your rights, sacrifice, serving, unselfishness.
In a sense, even the world understands these things. Yet they don't apply them. Why? Because they don't have transformational grace. Because they do not embrace the Gospel work of Jesus Christ. Because they have an inward rebellion to the things of God. They don't apply them and as a result they suffer disunity in their relationships. But we in the church have them and our relationships in the church and in the home are excellent, right?
"J. Dwight Pentecost tells of a church split that was so serious each side filed a lawsuit to dispossess the others from the church, completely disregarding the Biblical injunction not to go to court against fellow believers. The civil courts threw it out, but eventually it came to a church court, where it belonged. The higher judiciary of the church made its decision and awarded the church property to one of the two factions. The losers withdrew and formed another church in the area. In the course of the proceedings the church courts found that the conflict had begun at a church dinner when an elder received a smaller slice of ham than a child seated next to him. The root of the impasse was an absence of patience and forbearing love - not to mention humility and gentleness!" (Hughes, Ephesians, p. 123).
Now I share that story as an extreme case. The goal is to have you think in your heart, as probably most of you are thinking right now, that you would never do something like that and something like that would never happen in our church.
You sure about that?
What is Paul getting at? Why does the Holy Spirit produce humility, gentleness, patience, tolerance and love in us? To show the Gospel and exalt Christ who is the epitome of humility, gentleness, patience, tolerance and love who has given us humility, gentleness, patience, tolerance and love. And practically speaking when we show humility, gentleness, patience, tolerance and love what gets produced in our relationships?
Let's go to the third point - "the conduct."
3. The Conduct (verse 3)
Verse 3, "Being diligent [being diligent!] to preserve the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace."
Can I put it as simple as I can? God's first order of business for us is that we get along! When we do not, it shows we know knowing of Him, we care not to give what we have received and it make a totally mockery of His character to a watching world.
Remember our Lord's prayer just before the crucifixion? "I am no longer in the world; and yet they themselves are in the world, and I come to You. Holy Father, keep them in Your name, the name which You have given Me, that they may be one even as We are" (Jn. 17:11). He goes on, "I do not ask on behalf of these alone, but for those also who believe in Me through their word; that they may all be one; even as You, Father, are in Me and I in You, that they also may be in Us, so that the world may believe that You sent Me. The glory which You have given Me I have given to them, that they may be one, just as We are one; I in them and You in Me, that they may be perfected in unity, so that the world may know that You sent Me, and loved them, even as You have loved Me" (Jn. 17:20-23).
Verse 3, can each of us say we are "diligent to preserve the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace." In the church? In our homes?
I meet with all the church leaders one evening each month. And I try to add to the agenda one specific thing that is on my heart. This week it was unity in our marriages. Perhaps nothing is more tragic and heartbreaking than the divorce of a so-called Christian marriage. Literally, there is no excuse.
Don't both partners have the Holy Spirit that produces fruit like love and peace and gentleness and kindness and self-control? Don't both partners want to submit to Jesus Christ as Lord of their lives? Don't both partners have the Bible, their marriage manual, that specifically outlines what God expects and how they can have a fulfilling, joyful and God-honoring marriage? Don't both partners have the church which can offer accountability and encouragement and counseling? Don't both partners remember the promise, the covenant they made before God in good times and bad times to love each other to the end? Don't both partners what to do all things for the glory of God?
Then why do we deal with divorce in the church? And why are there possibly many marriages in this church that have not ended in divorce but are toxic, painful, without affection, filled with regret, bitterness, manipulation and constant finger-pointing?
Listen, Perhaps your marriage is not going too well. Maybe there are a lot of issues that need to be resolved that will require a third party. There is nothing wrong with counseling if you are intent on changing, not changing your partner but changing yourself.
Yet maybe I can save you a lot of time. Maybe if both of you apply these simple verses in Ephesians 4, everything can turn around. I am totally confident that if both marriage partners display Holy Spirit, Gospel driven, humility, gentleness, patience, tolerance and love, you will never have another issue in your marriage that will seem insurmountable. As a matter of fact, I can guarantee that most of your issues will simply fade away.
4. The Confirmation (verses 4-6)
If the point was not clearly made, the Apostle Paul goes back to theology to confirm the application he just shared (our fourth point). Why should Christians be unified in our homes and churches? Why can Christians be unified in our homes and churches? Why must Christians be unified in our homes and churches?
Because, verse 4, there is not many bodies of Christ that are divided from each other, but "one body" that in the eyes of God is always unified under the blood of Christ.
Because, verse 4, there are not many spirits leading all of you in different directions, but "one Spirit," the Holy Spirit, that guides us and empowers us to, verse 3, "preserve the unity."
Because there are not many different hopes that we individually share, but verse 4, "one hope of [our] calling" that we would all be, 1:4 "holy and blameless before Him." Our shared hope is conformity to Christ. And of that calling, 4:1, we must "walk in a worthy manner."
Why must we have unity? Because there are not several lords that we pick-and-chose whom we wish to follow, but verse 5, "one Lord," Jesus Christ from whom we all get our marching orders from as we surrender in joyful submission to His will.
Because, there are not many faiths within the church, but all Christians agree on the, verse 5, "one faith" that was Jude 3 the "faith which was once for all handed down to the saints."
Why must we have unity in our church and in our homes? Because there are not many baptisms, but verse 5, "one baptism" when Christ saved each of us in Him and immersed us into His universal church of which our physical baptism is a symbol.
And because contrary to what the world teaches, there is, verse 6, "one God and Father of all who is over all and through all and in all.
A chain is only as strong as its weakest link. Churches and homes are only as strong as the members that compose them. Without slamming the other guy (after all, Satan is the accuser), ask yourself if you are demonstrating humility, gentleness, patience, tolerance and love. If the answer is "no," then bring about Christ-honoring change. If the answer is "yes," then ask someone else (particularly a spouse or family member) if they see these traits in you. Better yet, I encourage all spouses to ask each other. Who will ask first? If you can't ask, it is evidence you do not have them. Is it any wonder Paul listed "humility" first in his list?