by Barry Newton
We Americans thrive on practical checklists and how-to guides. Keep it simple. Make it practical. Cut to the chase. These ubiquitous phrases provide proverbial guidance for weeding out the immaterial from the valuable.
Are biblically literate Americans tempted to rush through or even skip over the first three chapters of Ephesians to arrive at the really good part—the practical advice on Christian living? Except for a few proof texts, might some Christians functionally treat the early chapters like wasted ink?
How might Paul respond to such thinking?
I have a sneaky suspicion he would say that a premature rush into outlining Christian behavior produces an anemic Christianity. I expect a groan would erupt from his throat at hearing a Christian answer the question, “Why do you strive to love and tell the truth?” with the passionless blasé, “That’s just how Christians live.”
In Ephesians, Paul serves up a much more robust answer for Christian living. It is as though Paul provides strong medicine to cure us of failing to comprehend why Christian behavior matters.
For starters, God had an eternal plan predetermining how he would work through Christ. Using Christ’s blood, God would redeem broken humanity to become dedicated and blameless before him as he united the things of heaven and of earth under Christ.
Furthermore, God released his power toward those who would believe to make them alive with Christ. Through Christ God joins them with the heavenly realms and creates them as his workmanship to do good.
If all of this were not enough, Christ then unites everyone whom God has saved through the cross. Christ builds the saved into being a temple where God’s Spirit dwells.
No wonder then, that after summarizing these thoughts with “Now to him who by the power that is working within us is able to do far beyond all that we imagine or think, to him be the glory in the church” (Ephesians 3:20), Paul urges Christians to “live worthily of the calling with which you have been called” (4:1) and to make “every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” (4:3).
To what standard have Christians been called? What is this unity to be preserved? Paul just spent three chapters outlining it! Even when we are primed to jump into a how-to-do-the-Christian-life, Paul further insists on outlining seven pillars enabling unity (4:4-6) as well as the resources Christ provided for his fledging community to get off the ground and become a unified mature body (4:7-16).
Today, God remains at work creating unity out of divided sinful chaos. Christians are not to work against this unity by wallowing in pagan attitudes and behavior. Rather, they are to adopt Christ’s attitude and live in ways that maintain God’s accomplishments through Christ. Now this is a life filled with purpose!
Suddenly, Paul’s instructions on Christian living no longer sound like a list of rules simply to be obeyed “because God said so.” Rather, they describe how God’s people need to live to preserve unity between the things of heaven and earth as well as between the saved within Christ.
If whether or not Christians strove to maintain the unity of the Spirit made no difference, then preparing Christians for spiritual warfare in chapter six would be wasted ink. Is Ephesians filled with wasted ink? Hardly!
This letter enables a profound understanding why living with characteristics such as love and forgiveness really are so important. Christian, live up to your calling!