Putting on the Character of Christ in Divided Days

“As a prisoner for the Lord, then, I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received.” (Ephesians 4:1)

In Ephesians 4:1, Paul urges the Ephesians—and us, through them—to live a life worthy of the calling we have received. The unity of the church in divided times is tied into putting on the character of Christ. The verb here is “to walk.” We need to walk worthy. We’re to walk it out. Live it out daily. What does that look like? Well, Paul tells us in verses 2-3.

“Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. (Ephesians 4:2-3)

We are to put on the character of Christ. What is that character? Well, let’s just walk through it slowly with some application to our current moment.

“Be completely humble”

Paul urges the believers toward complete humility and this is a very challenging word. Who has arrived at that? None of us. The sense of the phrase is that believers are to have a wholly humble opinion of themselves. And when we think about the way we live together in the church, we must remember that if we are quick toward a high opinion of ourselves and lack humility, unity will be destroyed.

“and gentle”

Gentleness is a strange word to us today. Who has ever heard a political leader or a CEO start their campaign or new job by saying their agenda would be gentleness? It would not usually be well received. Now there is a related word to gentleness, which we encounter in the Beatitudes, and that is “meekness.” Jesus said, “Blessed are the meek for they shall inherit the earth” (Matthew 5:5). Our experience tells us that is not true, but Jesus shows a different way. In fact, this first phrase of Paul in Ephesians 4:2, “Be completely humble and gentle,” may remind us of Jesus’ own description of Himself when He said, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart…” (Matthew 11:28-29) If we forsake gentleness and meekness, we do not look like Jesus. If we forsake gentleness, the unity of Christ’s people will be destroyed.

“Be patient”

If the first two words didn’t get you, this one will. Patience means long-suffering. One additional shade of meaning on this word is that such a person is slow to take vengeance. This is good because the Lord has said that vengeance is His, not ours. But if you didn’t notice, we live in a vengeful culture. Be careful of what you say or what you do. It may come back to haunt you. In fact, you may be crucified by those who accuse you. But don’t worry, the accusers usually become the accused in a culture cycling through vengeance. But the body of Christ is to exhibit a different way. We are to be patient. If we forsake patience, if we are quick to anger and swift to revenge, then unity will be destroyed.

“Bearing with one another in love”

The image here is to hold something up as one stands erect, sustaining something or, here, sustaining one another. Believers are, in a sense, to stand shoulder to shoulder, upholding one another. How do we uphold one another? In love. I really appreciate how the New Living Translation renders this: “making allowance for each other’s faults because of your love.” Have you ever seen another person’s faults in the church? Have you ever seen your own? Make space…bear with one another. When we do, unity is sustained and upheld.

“Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace.” (Ephesians 4:3)

And to cap it all off, Paul says that we have to exert ourselves to keep unity. Here is an important idea: unity does not happen by accident. The natural tendency of human existence is toward disunity and disorder. Just look at your apartment or house over the course of a week. It does not become cleaner on its own, but it does become dirtier. In like manner, the gravitational pull in human relationships is toward disunity and disorder. Unity happens only through focused exertion toward that end. But also notice how Paul emphasizes the exertion is partnered with the Holy Spirit. This is not merely a human work; it is a spiritual work of God within humanity. If we do not work at it, relying upon the Holy Spirit, unity will be destroyed

These days have been hard for everyone. Churches are feeling the tension during these days. But the church is supposed to be a diverse community, with young and old, local and international, rich and poor, many professions, many ethnicities, and many opinions. We must make space for one another around Jesus and the Cross, but also choose to put on the character of Christ in our relationships.

Please pause and consider some personal reflection questions about this in the midst of the divided days:

  • how does our character match up with Paul’s exhortation here?
  • how is our humility, gentleness, patience?
  • how well are we bearing with one another in love?
  • are we exerting ourselves toward unity…or are we hoping someone else will sustain it if we speak or act impatiently, live with pride, open our mouths in gossip, and generally lean into our flesh?

May God help us to walk with Christ and in Christ as one.

New Preaching Resources for Books of the Bible

There is a new resource for preaching that I am excited to share with you.

This past week Preaching Today released a new treasure trove of resources for preaching through Scripture. Their new ‘Exegesis’ resource page has articles to help preachers explore specific topics on preaching Scripture faithfully and accurately, but also a guide for each book of the Bible.

I have enjoyed the rich privilege of writing for Preaching Today over the years, and it was my joy to contribute guides for preaching Habakkkuk, Galatians, and Ephesians. As with all the contributors for this series, real preachers who have worked their way through these books in the midst of a congregation developed these preaching guides. My own work on each book was drawn from series I preached on each of these books—”Turning to God in Troubling Times” (Habakkuk), “Free” (Galatians), and “Ephesians: A Crash Course in Basic Christianity“—as well as other topical series and preaching.

If you’re a preacher, I hope you enjoy and benefit from exploring these new resources from Preaching Today.

Bibliography for One: The Being of God in the Life of the Church

When I conclude a sermon series, I usually share resources I utilized in my study and preparation for sermons. Here is the bibliography for our recent series, “One: The Being of God in the Life of the Church.”

Bibliography for “One: The Being of God in the Life of the Church”

Gregory K. Beale. The Book of Revelation. NIGTC. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1998.

Raymond E. Brown. The Gospel of John, I-XII. Anchor Bible. Garden City, NY: Doubleday & Company, 1966.

Tim Chester. Delighting in the Trinity. Oxford: Monarch Books, 2005.

Marva J. Dawn. Truly the Community: Romans 12 and How to Be the Church. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1997.

Michael O. Emerson and George Yancey. Transcending Racial Barriers: Toward a Mutual Obligations Approach. New York: Oxford University Press, 2011.

Irwyn L. Ince, Jr. The Beautiful Community: Unity, Diversity, and the Church at Its Best. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 2020.

Andrew T. Lincoln. Ephesians. WBC. Dallas, TX: Word Books, 1990.

________. “God’s Name, Jesus’ Name, and Prayer in the Fourth Gospel.” In Into God’s Presence: Prayer in the New Testament, edited by Richard N. Longenecker, 155-180. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2002.

D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones. The Assurance of Our Salvation (Studies in John 17): Exploring the Depth of Jesus’ Prayer for His Own. Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2013.

Scot McKnight. A Fellowship of Differents: Showing the World God’s Design for Life Together. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2015.

Christine D. Pohl. Living Into Community: Cultivating Practices that Sustain Us. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2012.

Ephraim Radner. Hope Among the Fragments: The Broken Church and Its Engagement of Scripture. Grand Rapids, MI: Brazos, 2004.

Michael Reeves. Delighting in the Trinity: An Introduction to the Christian Faith. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2012.

Ken Sande. The Peacemaker: A Biblical Guide to Resolving Personal Conflict, 3rd ed. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2004.

C. Christopher Smith. How the Body of Christ Talks: Recovering the Practice of Conversations in the Church. Grand Rapids, MI: Brazos, 2019.

Gerhard Von Rad. Genesis. Translated by John H. Marks. OTL. Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1961.

Bruce K. Waltke with Cathi J. Fredricks. Genesis: A Commentary. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2001.

Bibliography for Ephesians series

 

Here is the resource bibliography to accompany the recent preaching series, “Ephesians: A Crash Course in Basic Christianity.” Although I utilized many books or resources for specific messages within this series, I did not include all of those in this bibliography. Instead, I limited it to books our preaching team utilized throughout the series. The books I found particularly helpful are marked with an asterisk.

Bibliography on the book of Ephesians:

* C. E. Arnold. “Ephesians, Letter to the.” In Dictionary of Paul and His Letters, edited by Gerald F. Hawthorne, Ralph P. Martin, and Daniel G. Reid, 238-249. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 1993.

F. F. Bruce. The Epistles to the Colossians, to Philemon, and to the Ephesians. NICNT. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1984.

John Chrysostom. “Homilies on the Epistle of St. Paul to the Ephesians.” In Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, edited by Philip Schaff, vol. 13, 49-172. Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 2004.

LaMoine F. DeVries. Cities of the Biblical World. Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 1997.

*Harold W. Hoehner. Ephesians: An Exegetical Commentary. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2002.

William W. Klein. “Ephesians.” In Expositor’s Bible Commentary, rev., vol. 12, 19-173. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2006.

Eugene Peterson.  Practice Resurrection: A Conversation on Growing Up in Christ. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2010.

* Andrew T. Lincoln. Ephesians. WBC. Dallas, TX: Word Books, 1990.

Handley C. G. Moule. Ephesian Studies. London: Hodder & Stoughton, 1900.

Klyne Snodgrass. Ephesians. NIVAC. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1996.

John R. W. Stott. The Message of Ephesians: God’s New Society. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 1979.

Following Jesus is Not a Consumer Activity: Eugene Peterson on maintaining our spiritual footing

Eugene Peterson 2Working on a message on Ephesians 6:10-24, I came across this timely gem from Eugene Peterson in his book Practice Resurrection: A Conversation on Growing Up in Christ.

The message to the Ephesians is a solid orientation for the entire Christian church in the conditions created by God in Christ through the Spirit for a life of growing to maturity in Christ. This is a dependable place to stand. This is solid ground. Conditions here are favorable to growing up to the “measure of the full stature of Christ.” Stand firm.

We live in an advertisement culture in which new products are continuously presented to us. This is a culture of built-in obsolescence. Nothing is designed to last. In order to keep the economy healthy we are conditioned to respond to the latest as the best: a new car, the latest fashion in clothes, the breakthrough model of computer, the newly published best-selling novel, the just-discovered miracle diet. We have no sooner bought or tried one thing than we are off to the next. Quickly bored, we are easily diverted from whatever we have just purchased or the book that we have not quite finished or the church we joined two months ago. Highly skilled and lavishly budgeted attention-getters target us tirelessly. Every “latest” is overtaken by another “latest” in dizzying succession.

When this novelty mentality seeps into the church, we start looking for the latest in God, the latest in worship, the latest in teaching, the best preacher in town. Church shopping is epidemic in America. When religion as novelty spreads, maturity thins out. The well-established and much-verified fact is that following Jesus is not a consumer activity. Prayer is not a technique that can be learned as a skill; it can only be entered as a person-in-relation. Love cannot be improved with jewelry or an exotic cruise; it requires submission and sacrifice and reverence.

Paul has warned us that we are perpetuating our adolescence when we indulge in spiritual novelties: “We must no longer be children, tossed to and fro and blown about by every wind of doctrine. . . . we must grow up” (Eph. 4:14-15). Brace yourself. Keep your footing. Stand firm.