One of the most comprehensive and instructive selections on the church found within the Bible is the great passage from Paul's Letter to the Ephesians, chapter 4.
It provides the follower of Jesus with the tools necessary to understand the foundational mission and purpose of the church, the real, active presence of the Body of Christ in our world.
I believe in the church. As one prominent Pastor once said, "The local church is the hope of the world!" I agree with it so much that I have staked my life and vocation on it.
Below, I have posted an excerpt from my sermon this past Sunday. It is rooted in Ephesians 4, and it contains a worked out response to living into the call that you received from Christ, the head of the church!
May you come to see the church as the hope for the world and the primary means through which one discovers the grace of our Lord and works out her or his redemption!
Paul writes in chapter 4, verse 1 and following:
As a prisoner for the Lord, therefore [a word used to encompass everything that preceded this statement - therefore...], 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.
This passage and the ones to follow offer the most descriptive and profound instruction for the church in its entirety.
Verse 1 says, “Therefore, I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received.”
The phrase ‘calling you have received’ ties the three previous chapters together into a bundle and brings them forth here as the central instruction for the local church to follow.
But what exactly does a calling mean? Quite simply, a calling is a way of life. It is accepting the content you just heard and making the necessary adjustments to apply it to your identity.
A calling denotes a movement toward a particular way of living and being. It is dynamic. It is alive. For one to hear a call means that person turns from one way of living life and begins moving into the direction of that call. Hear how Paul uses vivid, energetic, spirited imagery to describe how one works out her or his calling. it requires a doing kind of action. It is alive, and beckons us to respond.
Furthermore, the notion of calling also evokes the idea of freedom and choice. Indeed, you have received a calling to believe and embrace the act of God for your life. But you are under no obligation to do so.
You are entirely free... to live alive in Christ without fear or anxiety or hopelessness. However, you are also entirely free... to live dead in your sin and transgression.
This is the ultimate form of freedom in that God does not robotically choose your way of life. God longs for a relationship rooted in love - where both parties freely choose one another - and that requires choice.
God has already chosen you. Will you choose God?
Continuing in verse 1, Paul uses the word “Worthy” as a descriptor for how you should walk in your calling. Primarily, to live worthily of your call means that you decide to live your life with intentionality and purpose.
Paul tells us to let your walk and way of life be a worthy sign of the truth and meaning of the call that you received. As you live a life worthy of the call, your life ought to give others who wonder aimlessly reason to pause and start walking with intention and purpose! If God’s love is so great... If God’s salvation is so true... If God’s power is so real, then every person who believes must feel so compelled to live her or his life according to that reality.
At times, will you feel like one without direction? Of course! Will your sin and transgression fog out the direction of where God wants to lead you? Certainly! But not forever. Grace removes the fog and provides a new day for you to walk where God wants to lead you.
Christ in you is stronger than your sin in you.
A worthy life constantly points to that truth! To live worthily means to live a life that fully believes and abides by the work of the Father for you! As you receive this calling and strive to live worthily of it, you not only begin to live a life that moves in the direction of the Father, but the best part... your life actually begins to resemble the calling itself.
As you live worthily into your call...
- Peace - a value for which so many long - resides in you and provides real hope and tangible, emotional freedom from your disturbance.
- Self-control becomes an action that makes you glad, not one that you consider suffocating and joy-stealing.
As you grow closer to the Father and live worthy of the calling you have received, in turn, you become a signpost... a witness... and a pointer to your call!
Then, as you gather with others who believe the same about God and become one, united community, the total sum of the local church becomes greater than its individual parts. You can do infinitely more together than you can apart. Thus, the local church becomes a movement with power and strength - just as Paul prayed for the church - and starts to transform its surrounding city.
The definition of the local church does not mean a building or an establishment, but it is the gathering of believers who desire to receive this call, to believe in the truth of what the Father did for us through his son, to pray the same power of the Spirit to dwell within our innermost being, and to strive to live worthy of it!
That’s it! That’s the church! And it’s the greatest thing on Earth! I once heard a pastor say that as an unchurched person moves closer to the people of grace in the local church, that person in turn moves closer to the tangible, here and now presence of Jesus Christ! You, church, are as close as it gets for someone who does not yet believe in Jesus to experience the grace and love of Jesus! Thus why Paul behooves you to walk worthy of your call.
Please do not misunderstand this notion as you must work for your salvation. That could not be further from what I want to say! Remember, none of us deserve any of this. You cannot earn it, nor can you work toward it with good deeds.
Instead, you ought to live your life worthy of the call, for in doing so, you point to a worthy God.
This is great news for the people of Hillside Church and Marin County in that the people who live in our community - the twin cities, the towns of Southern Marin, San Rafael, even as far away as Novato and the East Bay - these people can know without any doubt that the real, here and now presence of Jesus Christ is alive, and nothing nor hell or high water can stop this movement or quench the active presence of the Body of Christ in our community, for the power of the living God who rose a man from the dead, who forgives sins and transgressions, and who made every person who believes alive through the resurrection of Jesus Christ is real and never going away. The the community of our local church bears witness to the truth of it in how we live out our lives together!
People may think the church is dead, but it will never die! And our lives together as one united community who serves one God and Father of all who is over all, in all, and through all, will bear witness to this truth for the rest of our lives!
Paul provides with further instruction on how to live a life worthy of the call in verse 2 and following:
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.
The church becomes the church when we seek to live a worthy life by first and foremost remaining completely humble and gentle... keeping humility at the forefront of everything one does... responding with gentleness to others... maintaining unity amidst division and within a culture that values separation and individualism... staying bonded to one another and the mission of the church... and persevering toward peace at whatever the cost.
We stake our lives on the truth that there is only one body of Christ, the church, and one Spirit who gives it power... There is only one hope - it comes through Jesus who called us... There is only one Lord, one faith, one baptism... There is only one God and one Father who acted for us undeservingly through his son, Jesus... And this God is over all, through all, and in all.
God continuously provides everything the church needs to thrive under this truth. Paul goes onto write in verse 11 and following:
11 So Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, 12 to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up 13 until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ. 14 Then we will no 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 Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will grow to become in every respect the mature body of him who is the head, that is, Christ.
16 From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work.
You have a role in the community. You have an ability to contribute. You have a mission to live out! This is the local church, and it is the hands and feet of Jesus in our world. As one prominent Pastor said, “The local church is the hope for the world.” I pray for us to believe this and become it!