Therefore I, the prisoner of the Lord, implore you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling with which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, showing tolerance for one another in love, being diligent to preserve the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. Ephesians 4:1-3
The measure of success
We live in a very work-centered culture. We are often measured by how hard we work, and how active our lives are. If we’re not busy with something we feel lazy or that we’re wasting precious time.
Even in Christian circles we are encouraged to “work for the Lord” – to serve in church, or share the gospel with our friends and neighbors. The truth is that our society often judges success or character by how much a person does, how active they are, or by how much they’ve accomplished. Please understand. Works are important to God and his purposes. I’m not suggesting otherwise.
But the Bible’s emphasis on works and service is represented as an outgrowth of a right relationship with God through personal fellowship with the Lord Jesus. In other words, works are never the root; they are the fruit, the by-product if you will, of our saved condition as well as our spiritual growth and fellowship. So works and service are good and necessary.
But standing in contrast to that view of works, our society worships at the feet of accomplishment and activism. Achieving goals or helping to bring about political or social change are not bad things. But often they come from a misplaced sense of responsibility and trust.
That happens when we put man at the center of our worldview. And when man is at the center, we lose our sense of responsibility and trust in the Lord. Instead we place that worth, which belongs to God, in what we do, in what we have accomplished, in how busy we are. When these values become the measure of success, it indicates a wrong focus, one on doing rather than on being.
As Christ-followers, our lives should reflect the worth or value of our great salvation by obeying God. And we are able to work out our salvation as Philippians 2 says, because he gives us both the desire and power to do that.
But that’s not what we do many times. Too often we haphazardly fill our lives with the trivia and junk of the world. As a result, we find ourselves either failing to serve the Lord at all because we’re so consumed with our own agenda, or we feverishly act in the energy of the flesh in an attempt to do the work of God on our own steam.
You see, works are important. Service is necessary. Accomplishments are satisfying. I’m not here to suggest we don’t “DO” anything. Quite the contrary. The Bible is full of imperatives and admonishments. Things we need and should do.
Work vs walk
What I want to do is to look at what I think goes directly to the heart of all. And I believe that our text in Ephesians 4 helps us to see what the essence of all our activity boils down to.
Therefore I, a prisoner for serving the Lord, beg you to lead a life worthy of your calling, for you have been called by God. Always be humble and gentle. Be patient with each other, making allowance for each other’s faults because of your love. Make every effort to keep yourselves united in the Spirit, binding yourselves together with peace. -Ephesians 4:1-3 NLT
The root of everything we’ve touched on regarding work, activity and service can be summed up in the phrase “walk in a manner worthy”.
This message is a call to walk worthy. I appeal to you to walk in a manner worthy. Our walk is how we regulate our lives. It’s how we conduct ourselves. In other words, it’s how we live. You see, each one of us has a walk, a way in which we live.
Ephesians tells us we are to live in a manner worthy. That means appropriately or suitably. So we’re told to walk in a way that is worthy. Worthy of what? Of the calling with which we’ve been called. You see it all hinges on where we place our value.
As Christ-followers we sometimes walk as the world does, placing utmost value on ourselves and our rights. When that happens we get sucked into the world’s way of looking at things. We measure both ourselves and others by that same distorted lens. And we all know what happens next. We compare and assume.
Well I make more than them so I must be doing better. Wow, it seems that they are always on the go, having fun and doing things. I’m just so lazy. We do this in church too regarding all manner of works and service. We either measure up or we don’t, and depending on where we fall in the spectrum, we puff ourselves up with pride at how involved we are or we beat ourselves down for not being more involved.
But God says in his word that there is a better way. We are to walk worthy of our calling.
Now I’m sure you get this, but just in case, I want to point out that walking worthy does not mean that we become worthy of the Lord’s salvation. Instead it’s to walk in a manner that is consistent with what God has done for us in Christ. In other words, we acknowledge the extreme value of God’s call, then we live in a way that reflects that understanding. Again, it’s where we’re placing value. Is it on me and my perceived rights and agenda or is it on God and who he is?
I really like the NLT translation here. It says to “lead a life worthy of our calling”. When we walk worthy of the Lord, it means that we conduct ourselves in a way that is appropriate based on who He is and what He deserves. Rather than placing utmost value on self, we place utmost value on God. Consider this verse.
Above all, you must live as citizens of heaven, conducting yourselves in a manner worthy of the Good News about Christ.” Philippians 1:27
We are citizens of heaven and we should act like it. How do we act like it? How do we lead our lives in a way that is consistent with our calling? It’s true that works and service are important. But let our focus be how we lead our lives and the rest will follow. In Ephesians 4 he’s telling us to live life in a certain way — in a manner befitting of who we are (citizens of heaven). He then expands this plea to live in a worthy manner, by giving what I view as four characteristics of a life that has placed great value on what it means to have been called by God. Let’s take a look.
We need to walk with humility
Humility means lowliness of mind or modesty. The Bible tells us not to think more highly of ourselves than we ought to think. When we walk with humility, we have a deep sense of our moral littleness. I’m not talking about self loathing. That’s not humility. And that’s not what scripture is saying. When we are humble we will have a low estimate of our own importance. There’s a difference. And that’s what Paul is saying when he says be humble. A humble person recognizes that they aren’t the center of all things. That’s it’s not always about them. When we live in a way that focuses on the fact that God called us out of darkness into his marvelous light, we understand that pride has no place in our hearts and we will be less inclined to think that we are the focus.
We need to walk with Gentleness
This is meekness, not to be confused with weakness, and it begins with the Lord’s inspiration and finishes by his direction and empowerment. In other words, it’s quite the opposite of weakness. It’s the fruit of power that is manifested by the Lord and entrusted to us as believers. When we walk with gentleness we will exhibit a mild disposition; a gentle spirit. Gentleness is the opposite of self-assertiveness or self-interest. Gentleness or meekness is an evenness of temper or calmness of spirit that is neither over the top happy nor cast down or despondent, because it is not occupied with self at all. And Paul says we are to lead our lives in such a way.
We need to walk with patience
Patience is the same as long suffering. Walking with patience involves accepting or bearing with one another in love. It means we endure or persist. We don’t give up on each other. Paul tells us to be patient and to “make allowance for each other’s faults.” In other words, there is a slowness in avenging wrongs. How’s that for a slap in the face of how most of us conduct our lives? We don’t like to be done wrong, be misunderstood or be taken advantage of. We want to rectify the situation immediately. But the Bible clearly says that part of living our lives in a manner that is worthy of our calling is to be humble, gentle and patient.
Wow. The bar has suddenly been raised pretty high. I might be able to fake humility and gentleness long enough to get through a situation. But you add patience to the mix and that’s another story.
We need to diligently keep the unity of the Spirit
We represent the King and we want to do so with excellence. One translation says we should , “make every effort,” and another uses the word “eager.” We need to do everything we can to keep ourselves united in the Spirit. To keep ourselves united we must recognize that we are all members of the same body. When Paul speaks of the “bond of peace,” it carries the idea of ligaments by which the members of the human body are united together. We are one body (of believers) because of God’s Spirit that lives in us, and the bond that ties us together is peace. We must guard or preserve this unity even as we recognize that God establishes various roles we fulfill. God designed these roles to equip us for the work of ministry and grow us to spiritual maturity, which if you read the rest of chapter 4, you’ll see that Paul describes one of the objectives of this growth is the unity of the faith.
Believers belong to Jesus now
Here’s part of our problem. We still think we have rights. We think that we are justified in our actions. Yet the Bible tells us that we are not our own. We were purchased at a very great price and we belong to Jesus now. And he says in his Word that we are to lead a life consistent with his calling on us and to always be humble and gentle. He then tells us to be patient with each other, making allowance for each other’s faults. Why?
Because of our love. And that word, love, is the agape type of love, which if you remember, is one of several forms of love the Bible references. There’s feleo which is brotherly love, eros which is the romantic type love we have for our spouse and then there’s agape, which is the God-type love. It’s an affection, a good will. It’s the sort of love that Jesus’ followers have toward one another. It is prompted by the fact that God loves and has saved us. So we are to be patient with one another, making allowances for each other’s faults because of our affection and good will.
Here’s the catch
There’s always a catch isn’t there? Well here it is. Walking with humility, gentleness and patience is not likely to happen if we are filling our minds and hearts with all the trash that the world has to offer. I’m not talking about some gross sin. I’m talking about the daily routines that pull us away. Endless news cycles. Social media with all of its allure. Squeezing out our pursuit of God through the pursuits of our own agendas. All that adds up to NOT leading our lives in a manner worthy of our calling. That doesn’t mean that we should never read the news, get on social media or have an agenda so don’t misunderstand me.
But the great tension of every disciple of Jesus is learning:
- To be in the world and not of it
- To live as a foreigner on this earth but still maintain our responsibilities
- To realize that we can have fun or work hard toward some end or goal.
The point is that these things shouldn’t consume us. They shouldn’t distract us from our main purpose.
That’s why Paul says in Philippians 2 that we need to work out our salvation (or see it to its final conclusion), and we can do that because it is God who works in us giving us the power and desire to do it. In a similar fashion, we will exude humility, gentleness and patience as we spend time in God’s word, spend time with him in prayer and limit the world’s influence on our hearts. That means you might not be able to see that new movie, or you might have to spend less time on Facebook or Twitter.
Paul begs us to lead our lives – to conduct ourselves – in a way that is consistent with the extreme value that is God’s call. And because that calling on every believer is so valuable to each of us, we need to treat each other in a way that manifests that value. To that end, we are to be humble, gentle and patient with each other. We should make every effort to keep ourselves united in the Spirit because after all, it is God’s Holy Spirit that binds us all together.
If you lack humility, gentleness or patience, which we all do at times, I encourage you to really mull over the first 3 verses of Ephesians 4. Think about what it means to walk in a manner worthy of our calling. Think what it means to be humble. To be gentle. To be patient. Think about areas of your life where you fall short.
Then pray. Ask God to give you strength during those moments. But remember to pull your own weight. In other words, God is not likely to magically change your heart if you only desire the world and its ways. If you consistently fill your mind with self-centered messages, you will act selfishly.
If, on the other hand, you begin to fill your mind with messages like Ephesians 4, over time you will begin to notice a change in your behavior. Suddenly you will recognize an act of humility, or notice that you had patience. In other words, God’s Spirit through the power of his word will change you.
That’s why it always goes back to what we value. If you value self then you’re going to spend your time on self. If you value God, and you recognize that one of the key ways in which he changes us is through our internalization of scriptural truths. Then you will spend time in his word and in prayer. And guess what? Over time you will be able to lead a life worthy of your calling.