Bible Study from Calvary Chapel Newberg
with Tom Fuller
Living the New Life
There?s a saying that I?ve heard lately that I really love: ?distinction without a difference.? It?s when you say there are differences between two things but there really aren?t. Like when they refer to the weather as partly cloudy or partly sunny. If there is some sun and there are some clouds, then isn?t that basically saying the same thing?
You can say you are a follower of Jesus, but without there being something tangibly and visibly different about you, calling ourselves Christians is a distinction without a difference from those that do not follow Him. Chapter 4 begins the second major section of the Ephesian letter. We turn from an understanding of what the new life in Jesus is all about to how this new life should change the way we think, act, and speak. As we?ve seen in Chapter 3, this difference is that the character of God, which is different than the character mold of this age, begins to permeate our lives. And that character is agape love.
Paul begins ?therefore? referring back to what he was saying at the end of Chapter 3. Because Jesus has given us new life without us earning it, because He has made available to us His incalculable riches, because He has joined together Jew and Gentile into a new thing called the body of Christ, and because everything should revolve around Him and not us?because of all this: there ought to be changes in the way we lead our lives.
He emphasizes again that he is a ?prisoner for the Lord.? The suggestion here is that even as Paul obeyed God when He called him to the prison ministry, so too we believers need to obey God when He calls us to be unified in this new character God is building in us.
He ?urges? us?but really the word is to ?exhort strongly?. Paul really really wants his Ephesian friends, and us, to make a change?to break from the old. What is that break? As we?ll see, it is to:
- Reflect the unity of the Trinity in the unity of believers, and to
- Reflect a character set that is counter to what we were taught in this age.
So what does Paul want? For us to ?walk worthy of the calling you have received.? ?Walk? as it?s used in the New Testament, means ?the way you live your life.? The Greek tense of the word ?walk? (aorist ingressive for you Greek scholars) suggests changing something from the way it was before.
This is further supported by the word ?worthy? which literally means: ?bringing up the other beam of the scales.? To be honest, we humans stink when it comes to acting like God. When the worst of us comes out, we act in complete self-interest?rolling over anyone or anything in our path to get what we want.
Even the best of us act in what?s called ?enlightened self interest.? It is defined this way: ?Enlightened self-interest is a philosophy in ethics which states that persons who act to further the interests of others (or the interests of the group or groups to which they belong), ultimately serve their own self-interest.? So even those who think they are good because they look to the interests of others, are ultimately only in it for themselves, even if that?s just to feel good about how good they are and thus give into pride. Now, don?t get me wrong, the character of God is all about acting in the interests of others, but the difference is the motivation and the expectation. God?s love is motivated by what our actions accomplish for the other, not ourselves ultimately. And God?s agape love does not expect anything in return and doesn?t change our actions based on how the other person responds.
We have been called to something better, to Someone better, who wants to change us into people that mirror a love and unity that blows even enlightened self interest out of the water.
So what is that character? We?ll get to that in detail as we move through the rest of this chapter and the rest of the book. But Paul gives us the broad outlines here:
Here are the characteristics of someone who is being transformed into the character of God: Humble, gentle, patient, and accepting of the weaknesses of others.
Let?s look at these in detail:
Humble ? Paul used this word in Philippians 2:3 and gives us an idea of what it means by contrast.
Phil 2:3 ?Do nothing out of rivalry or conceit, but in humility consider others as more important than yourselves. 4 Everyone should look out not only for his own interests, but also for the interests of others.?
Humility is the absence of rivalry (?I?m going to get what I want no matter what?) and conceit (?I?m just better than you?).
Here is another idea from Paul: Rom. 12:3 ?For by the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned.?
So humility is simply living in a way that you know where you fit in God?s program. We are all sinners saved by grace. God has called us to a place and to a job and we should just do it, not thinking that it affords us anything special. The famous and powerful in the church have no advantages over anyone else. Thinking with ?sober judgment? means you are accurately self-reflective. Some of us think too highly of ourselves, others think too lowly. Neither are correct. A ?sober? judgment means you are thinking clearly and your past, your emotions, the values of others, and a whole host of influences, are not coloring your perceptions. This is VERY hard to do, by the way.
Gentle ? this is not a great word as we use it in English. Contrary to how we usually think of this word, it does NOT mean weakness. It simply means the ?conscious exercise of self-control?as opposed to the use of power for the purpose of retaliation.? (Harold Hoehner, Ephesians, page 507). Jesus could have called legions of angels to rescue Him from the cross but He chose to be gentle instead and allow mistreatment for God?s purposes. Yet when it came to people standing in the way of a relationship to God, Jesus was willing to overturn the tables of the moneychangers (Matthew 21:12). Gentleness is acting appropriately in every situation. Only a person controlled by the Spirit of God can do this.
Patience ? Patience is ?cautious endurance that does not abandon hope? (Hoehner, page 508). The idea is like a farmer who plants his crops and waits patiently for them to mature. The word is used especially in the idea of not paying back until the right time. Paul uses it in Romans 2:4 to talk about God?s patience with us, waiting until the gospel has reached everyone, before He judges the world. Patience is a virtue, but one none of us wants to wait for.
Accepting one another with love ? The idea here comes from Hebrew words for ?forbearing?. It speaks of God?s endurance of the Israelites as they sacrificed to idols (Isaiah 1:13) or Job enduring his trials (Job 6:11). Face it, we Christians are a bunch of losers that have been saved but come into the body of Christ with a lot of baggage that we throw at each other from time to time as weapons. Paul?s idea of ?acceptance? is coupled with the Greek agape, which is a new word (in the first century) meaning: ?self-sacrificing, other-seeking affection?.
John said in 1 John 4:19 ?we love because He first loved us.? You were not exactly a real catch when God called you into His family. When we don?t accept the differences between us, it is a little like the pot calling the kettle black. We need to accept each other?s weaknesses, knowing that we are saved by grace and not by our works and that God is in the process of changing each of us in His way and in His time, and through selfless love.
Whenever I bring this up the first reaction many have is: ?but what about sin?? If you see sin (not thinking, speaking, or acting just like God) then there is a way to address it, but with a gentle hand, not a club:
Gal. 6:1 Brothers, if someone is caught in any wrongdoing, you who are spiritual should restore such a person with a gentle spirit, watching out for yourselves so you also won?t be tempted.
We?re going to stop there because in verses 3 ? 6 Paul furthers his argument for unity by connecting it to the unity of the trinity and all of the ways it is expressed.
So how do these verses work practically in our lives?
- Realize there are areas in your life that need to be changed
- Don?t under or overestimate the need for change
- God?s self-sacrificing love is the standard to measure by
- Begin by an ongoing, Spirit led, Word-based, loving, self-assessment of who you are, and where God has you (humble)
- Continue by a conscious submission of yourself to God?s purposes (gentle)
- Be in it for the long haul, this isn?t a sprint but a marathon (patient)
- Be aware that God is doing the same work in others so make space