This meditation is the text of the pre-synodical sermon delivered by Rev. Key on June 7, 2010, in Southeast PRC.
“I therefore, the prisoner of the Lord, beseech you that ye walk worthy of the vocation wherewith ye are called, With all lowliness and meekness, with longsuffering, forbearing one another in love; Endeavoring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.”
Paul’s epistle to the Ephesians is a good reminder to us that doctrine and practice go hand in hand, inseparably connected where the truth is embraced.
What tremendous blessings God has bestowed upon us! What tremendous blessings He has bestowed upon us as churches!
Those blessings began with the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ choosing us in Christ even before the foundation of the world, in love predestinating us unto the adoption of children by Jesus Christ to Himself, that the glory of His grace might be revealed and that we might be holy and without blame before Him. Carrying out that eternal decree of election, He sent His Son into this world, that we might have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of His grace.
He has taken us who were dead in sin, totally depraved, and quickened us together with Christ. “For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: Not of works, lest any man should boast.”
In chapter 3 the apostle had enlarged on this great mystery of Christ, concluding with a prayer for the church that the riches of these glorious truths and the very life of Christ may be fully manifest in them. A bold prayer indeed, but a prayer offered in the confidence that God is able to do exceeding abundantly above all that we ask or think, and that He will reveal His glory in the church “by Christ Jesus throughout all ages, world without end.”
Implicit in the therefore ofEphesians 4:1 is the connection back to those foundational truths of the previous three chapters. The apostle progresses from the development of doctrine to its practical application, showing us how those glorious truths come to expression in the Christian’s life and in the life of the church. Doctrinal development and practical Christian living are inseparable.
As we stand before the convening of Synod 2010, I call your attention to our calling to manifest the unity of the Spirit in the body of Christ. We are to live in the light of the doctrines that we confess. It is incumbent upon us, therefore, to walk worthy of our calling, “endeavoring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.”
The General Principle
The apostle begins by setting forth a general principle of our Christian life. We are thosecalled of God. The first thing that we are to remember is the special place God has given us in Christ Jesus. Let us stand in awe before that wonder. How foolish to look upon the place we occupy in Christ’s church as if we were entitled, as if we have that place because of how “good” we are or how sound in doctrine. No; it’s a wonder. That has been the emphasis from the beginning of Paul’s letter.
God has blessed us with all spiritual blessings in heavenly places in Christ. He has given us a place within His own family, adopting us in Christ as His own children. He has taken us who were dead in sin and has breathed into us new life. He has embraced us with His love. We are God’s handiwork, the called ones! The calling is that by which God Himself has made separation, powerfully and effectually giving us life out of death, and taking us into the fellowship of God through Jesus Christ. That calling is described in Acts 16:14 in terms of the Lord opening Lydia’s heart, with the consequence being that she attended unto the things that were spoken by Paul and laid hold of them with a believing heart. Without that opening of the heart, the Word has no effect. But when the Lord opens the heart, He also works by the Word, drawing unto Himself.
So the Lord Jesus had also said in John 6:44, “No man can come to me, except the Father which hath sent me draw him.” We who are Christians are those who have been called out of the death and darkness of sin, and into the life of Christ and fellowship with God.
The apostle brings forth the idea of the calling, because there is a purpose unto which God has called us, which now becomes the focus.
We are to walk worthy of that calling. That is, our walk is to be fitting with the place that God has given us. Our lives must not be seen as clashing with the gospel. Rather, they are to adorn the gospel in a way that is fitting. Our lives are to make the gospel attractive, to adorn the doctrine of God, to draw attention to it in a positive way.
The word worthy speaks of weighing something in a balance, finding something of like weight and like value. In other words, to walk worthy of the calling wherewith you are called is to show a life that is characterized by a balance in doctrine and practice.
I have often described the Christian life as walking a balance beam. The truth of Scripture, the truth to which we hold as Protestant Reformed churches, is that of a very narrow way. There is no expression of the Christian life more balanced than that to which we hold as churches. It is really very beautiful.
But you also understand that we as Christians and as churches are always under attack. Satan comes after us with a multitude of enticements and sometimes with clubs, trying to knock us off balance. And if we fall off that balance beam to one side or the other, we end up in deep mire, a place where we don’t want to be!
What the text points out is that we are not to be those who are “tossed to and fro,” whose lives are out of balance. There must be stability in our lives, stability that comes from a balance in doctrine and practice. We are to live every aspect of our lives in the consciousness of the glorious place God has given us among His redeemed.
But now having introduced the principle, the apostle goes on to show how this walk worthy of our calling must come to expression within the glorious body of Christ.
The Primary Objective
The primary objective of our Christian life is found in verse 3, namely, “endeavoring to keep the unity of the spirit in the bond of peace.”
Central to our walking worthy of our calling is that we endeavor to keep the unity of the Spirit.
To walk suggests movement, activity, and progress. The Christian life is not one of looking back and reminiscing. We don’t crawl into a hole and hide. The Christian “reaches forth unto those things which are before,” and “presses toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus.” There are always fresh perspectives of truth to be discovered and new experiences to be enjoyed as God leads us through our earthly sojourn.
But verse 3 takes that idea of walking and adds endeavoring. That is a word that speaks of pushing beyond our comfort zone, exerting ourselves with a single-minded focus and urgency in reaching toward the goal. In this calling wherewith God has called you, there is this to which you must diligently give yourself—and that is to keep the unity of the Spirit.
Now when we are told to keep something, that implies that we already have it. There is an essential unity in the church as a result of the inner working of the Holy Spirit. We have it as churches, as a denomination, because the Spirit of truth has laid the foundation upon which we stand together as one.
But we must endeavor to keep it. And that is to guard, to hold fast, to preserve that unity of the Spirit. After all, the expression of that unity is always fragile. Our adversary the devil is himself endeavoring to tear apart that unity. Schism and discord is the work of the devil, not of the Spirit. And how we have seen Satan’s influences in our midst! The tongue flows like the open sewers of India, leaving in its wake not only an unbearable stench, but devastating disease. We have heard of, some have seen, the works of the devil on Facebook, sowing discord in the church. What endeavoring is necessary on our parts, to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace!
In the context Paul emphasized that especially with the new relationship between Jew and Gentile. With all the natural diversity that is seen among men, there is only one thing that works true spiritual unity, and that is the work of the Holy Spirit. What a blessing that we may experience this—also in our relationships with the fellow saints in Northern Ireland, in the Philippines, in Singapore, and elsewhere.
Now we must be careful that this unity is not a vague and hazy concept for us. If we are going to talk about unity, and if we are going to endeavor to keep the unity of the Spirit, this unity for us must be a true, spiritual unity. We find in the context of Ephesians 4:3 that this unity of the Spirit is a unity that results from all that the apostle has said in the first three chapters. We don’t start with verse 3. We take into account the therefore of verse one, which ties this to the previous chapters. You can’t have Christian unity unless it is based upon the great doctrines that the inspired apostle has outlined in the first three chapters.
Unity proceeds from and is based upon the truth of Scripture. The Holy Spirit, who works this unity, is the Spirit of truth. This unity comes to expression, according to the text, in the bond of peace. Where this unity is established, there is no schism, no separation from the body; but peace reigns. Peace is the fruit of the love that the Holy Spirit gives us when He takes us into the fellowship of God’s covenant life and comes to expression, therefore, in love for His name, for His truth, for His Christ, and therefore love for the body of Christ.
Living in the bond of peace, we make every effort to guard the unity that the Spirit has wrought in our midst. When those who claim the name of Christ are allowed to do as they please, where the truth is watered down, there are the sure signs of coming strife and desolation. For there is no longer the unity of the Spirit.
At the same time, if my way of asserting that which I contend to be right means that I break the peace and bring disruption to the unity of the Spirit in the glorious body of Christ, I am not right. I have either failed to keep the balance of the truth, or there is something lacking in my character. My way is corrupt.
Understanding those things and the corruption of our own natures, we see that more must be said.
The Careful Manner
To walk worthy of our calling involves walking in a careful manner, as we read in verse 2: “With all lowliness and meekness, with longsuffering, forbearing one another in love.”
The first two words here speak of our own disposition or attitude. We have to examine our own attitudes as we come together as delegates to this year’s synod. We are called to walk “with all lowliness and meekness.” Lowliness is an attitude of humility, the opposite of all aggressiveness and selfish ambition that would tear at the unity of the Spirit. Lowliness seeks to listen to others. It is at the root of being “swift to hear, slow to speak, slow to wrath” (James 1:19).Meekness accompanies lowliness. It refers to a certain gentleness.
But the manner of walking worthy involves more than just our own attitude; it also involves our living relationship to others. So we are called to walk worthy of our calling, “with longsuffering, forbearing one another in love.” Both of these virtues reflect upon the fact that there are always weaknesses within the body of Christ on this earth. We have to suffer long with the weaknesses of others. And when we may be tempted to react by speaking evil or saying something not conducive to edifying, we must forbear by enduring over against the temptation. Live as those concerned about keeping the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.
But notice the apostle’s further addition—”with longsuffering, forbearing one another in love.” If we love one another, we will be longsuffering and forbearing toward each other, because we have each other’s interests at heart.
Indeed, in this week we have the welfare of the churches at heart. Let’s endeavor, therefore, to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. May our obedience be manifest unto all.