Several weeks ago, at the end of the concerts in the park season, I came across a table, at the back of the crowd, loaded with Christian books, and they were giving them away. Yes, curiosity got me and I stopped because no one gives stuff that nice without a hook. I wanted to find out who these people were. The man who approached me introduced himself as the Pastor of a home church. (I found out later that this group has met for several years) and he told me his name. That name was familiar to me but I could not place it. The Pastor invited me to their Friday morning bible study at a local restaurant. Several weeks have gone by and I finally made it.
I walked in at 0615 and found a man sitting in a back room, by himself, with a bible in front of him, and so I walked in. He was involved in a phone call, but looked up to acknowledge me, and immediately I am aware that I know this man too well.
Just to give him his privacy I stepped out but I wanted to run. Odd that I felt comfortable enough to share my sudden discomfort with the waitress. Here I am telling a stranger that I have come for a bible study only to find this guy; a man who used to “pastor” a bible study I attended at another restaurant. A man who I have had unpleasant confrontations with. A man who could not go five minutes without telling us about his mentor, this pastor, and that their primary motivation and therefore everyone elses' should be to evangelize. So as he came to the table I remained silent. I met the men that joined us and after I read the passage in Ephesians 4:1-6, as he requested, I listened as my old acquaintance developed an exclusive theme on evangelism without going any further than the first half of verse one. He had us move through about four other passages in the New Testament through which he expounded on the theme of evangelism.
The man sitting directly across from me eventually interrupts and asks, “so what do I do with the other gifting that Paul spoke of, or are you trying to tell me that they have no importance and therefore Paul should not have written about them?”
It was a good question, especially in a “bible study.” Every man at the table had something to say in response but they never answered his questions.
Let's explore the passages and context for a moment.
Ephesians 4:1-6 NIV As a prisoner for the Lord, then, I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received. (2) Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. (3) Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. (4) There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to one hope when you were called; (5) one Lord, one faith, one baptism; (6) one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.
Can I restate verse one without losing the potential impact? Of course. Paul, a prisoner, because of the message I preach, urge you to live a life that exemplifies the calling you have received.
The most simple definition of this calling we have received is to be sons and heirs with Christ.
Paul goes to explain: Ephesians 4:4 NIV There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to one hope when you were called;
Called to live out our lives in a manner appropriate to the nobility and hope we have been adopted into. The hope is our anchor and promise that this life is worth it and real. A hope that Christ will do what he said and come again for us just prior to God's wrath being poured out on Israel and the World.
If I am looking for a context that goes further than this then I need to expand the range of my reading by looking at Ephesians 4:8.
Ephesians 4:8 NIV This is why it says: "When he ascended on high, he took many captives and gave gifts to his people."
I have no reason to believe that the terminology is unimportant. Gifts were given, and here is a listing of some of the gifts.
Ephesians 4:11 NIV So Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers,
Is there sequence to it, or even a priority? Perhaps. Nothing is random!
- Apostles – Church planters. Many would tell us that the disciples fulfilled that mission and I can live with that. To hear someone stand in front of me and declare that they are an apostle makes the hair on the back of my neck stand up, and I will probably not be back.
- Prophets – We have played to many games with this wording. Most of us have done what the pharisees did, attributing the things of God to the devil. You need to know that Jesus excoriated them for that and told them that they had finally crossed the line and were guilty of blasphemy. For those of you that wonder if you have gone there I must ask, have you attributed God's works to the devil? Do not go there!
- Evangelists – We had evangelists come to our church when we were younger. They still do it today. They came with a strong message and brought life back into the church. The messages were powerful but so were the acts of God. One fellow brought the message for 13 weeks. Our church tripled in size for years. It was awesome and we had church 4 and 5 nights a week. While a missionary to Rwanda might fulfill that role he was not necessarily called to be an evangelist. These guys in many cases were preaching to the choir, because the choir had lost its first love.
- Pastors – These guys do the work of an evangelist and yet have to stay and put bandages on the wounded within the church. In this age of superstar pastors we seem to have lost that and at my church those that treat the wounded are the life coaches or recovery groups.
- Teachers – These are the guys that try to make you understand the word, and get you pumped up enough to read it for yourself. I imagine you can see where this would be the same role that a pastor might play and rightly so. This happens to be my calling but I can tell you that my other calling is a prophet.
Gifts for what?
Ephesians 4:12-15 NIV 1to equip his people for works of service, 2so that the body of Christ may be built up (13) 3 until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and 4become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ. (14) Then we will 5no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of people in their deceitful scheming. (15) 6Instead, speaking the truth in love, 7we will grow to become in every respect the mature body of him who is the head, that is, Christ.
If that's it, something relatively simple with no great pressure push to make you be something you were not “called to”, then what changed. What changed our calling since Paul was imprisoned?
If I answer this from my reasoning then Paul may be pleading for some to take his place in spreading the good news. But Paul knew enough to keep the pressure of his situation out of the sentence.
Inspired by the Holy Spirit to write, the Holy Spirit is telling US to continue living in a way that demonstrates the calling placed upon us and within us by that same Holy Spirit.
Now you have to ask yourself what that calling is and how to use it.
An obvious factor is that some believe that calling looks a lot like a burdensome work load. I am not so sure that was God's intent.
Paul also wrote about a “calling” in his letter to the Romans.
I will show you the KJ version:
Romans 8:28-30 KJV And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose. (29) For whom he did foreknow, he also did predestinate to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brethren. (30) Moreover whom he did predestinate, them he also called: and whom he called, them he also justified: and whom he justified, them he also glorified.
Many would read this and see themselves excluded, but that is not the case, for in John's gospel chapter 3 verse 16 you find that God so loved the world, not just a select, well dressed, degree-d people, that are highly motivated and dysfunction free, to recapture the so-called lost world. He (Jesus Christ) poured out his life for the entire world, giving it as an example of how we could and should live.
Beside that, the word calling (klēsis) can also mean an invitation, as in “the marriage supper of the lamb”, to which we have been invited.
If Christ died for the sins of the world then the world's sins have been covered, right? Jesus, in John's gospel told those listening,
"If anyone hears my words but does not keep them, I do not judge that person. For I did not come to judge the world, but to save the world. (48) There is a judge for the one who rejects me and does not accept my words; the very words I have spoken will condemn them at the last day.” John 12:47-48 NIV
In theory, the world is saved, but from what? Not from themselves, and not from the enemy that wishes to destroy them, but potentially from the wrath due the world for sins. So in our zeal we send out evangelists to do what, change the heart from evil to good, or point out the good that Christ has done for us and give them a faith in Jesus Christ that recreates that original good heart God made man with, and establish in them the hope that Jesus Christ will come back soon for us, rescuing us from the wrath to come. The wrath meant for Israel because they rejected him, and the wrath meant for the nations (those considered outside of the family of God.)
Another version of Ephesians 4:1 states:
Ephesians 4:1 BBE I then, the prisoner in the Lord, make this request from my heart, that you will see that your behaviour is a credit to the position which God's purpose has given you,
In this version it is clearly less of a demand for work as it is a lifestyle and purposeful life.
Life is little more than living. If you are believer, then scripture does give you guidelines, but it also gives you grace. It is the grace that gives driven people fits for it allows you freedom to live with the understanding that God will never let you out his hands and you will never be judged for sins by him. (Try equating this grace to turning a child loose in a mud filled yard. There is no reason in the world not to expect that child to not come back from this day in the yard muddy) Most religious folk cannot handle that freedom and freak out. Many will create their own set of rules in an effort to maintain control. We see this in the Jews as Jesus blasted them for their rules made in excess of God's laws.
Here is my point: God gave us the grace to follow him; his word says I will, and though I have gotten myself muddied up at times, as did you, I have always known the way back home and come back to him. Home is where I can get cleaned up. The religious will say, you do not have the right (according to them) to merely muddy yourself up as you please.
Do you really think God is falling off his throne or that his love and grace is insufficient?
As I have gotten older getting muddy is no longer something that I want to do. I can tell you that slipping and falling in the mud is generally associated with some form of pain and the landing can leave you with a nasty bruise, the kind that reminds you of your fall for some time.
A better idea is to anchor your thinking in the Love of God and his grace and live a life in that freedom. Always know that his everlasting love, the same love that motivated him to put his son on a brutal cross for you, is more than enough to hold on to you. I do not know what it takes for us to get that concept into our thick skulls. God made his pitch and if you accepted Jesus Christ as the payment for your sin (all of it – forever) then you have been made family and a joint heir with Christ. Heaven is your promise, a life with the Father, and peace in a peaceful kingdom.
Now as for your calling. As you have developed as a family member the Holy Spirit has already spoken to your heart and motivated you in particular directions. Move in them. Find opportunities. Consider Stephen; as he served tables and did his job he listened to the Holy Spirit and moved in that inspiration. What came out of him was notable and powerful, merely by living and doing. Every family has a distribution of chores, setting the table or taking out the trash may be part of that. While you are doing your chores as under to the Lord let him speak through you and use you. It's really that simple. Be open and obedient and he will give you more.
God bless and have a great day.