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The truth on the ground (Ephesians 4:1)

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Lionel Windsor
Lionel Windsor lectures in New Testament at Moore College, Sydney.

The year is 1960. In the Netflix comedy A Very Secret Service, a group of French Intelligence officials are having a friendly chat with members of the American CIA. They’re talking about their respective work situations as they prepare for a meeting. The CIA operatives, at one end of the table, mention their plans to discredit John F. Kennedy in the upcoming presidential election. The French operatives, clustered at the other end of the table, ask: “Really? How?” The Americans reply: “He likes women.” Blank stares from the French. Americans: “He likes women a lot.” French: “Yes…” (puzzled looks) “…but to discredit Kennedy, do you know his flaws?” Americans (raised eyebrows): “Women.” French (more blank stares): “Yes, and?” Americans: “He sleeps around a lot.” French remain silent in incomprehension. Americans: “Not good for a politician.” French (looking at each other, perplexed): “Why not?” Awkward silence. Secretary walks in, meeting begins…[1]

Au Service de La France
Au Service de La France, from Wikimedia Commons

The show is playing on historical national stereotypes. There are two very different attitudes towards the private lives of people called to public office. At one end of the table is the French attitude: a man’s private life has nothing to do with his public calling. After all, what matters is how competent he is at leading and managing the country, and if he wants to sleep around, then good for him (and yes, it’s “him”—the show is also trying to depict 1960s attitudes to gender). At the other end of the table is the American attitude: public office requires discipline, honesty and faithfulness, which are all issues of character that have everything to do with a person’s private behaviour. Of course, both of these attitudes are just stereotypes from a bygone era. In reality today, when confronted with questionable private behaviour by a politician, the public reaction in any country can be anything from nonchalance to outrage.

In part, our reaction depends on how much we take to heart the stories of the real people behind the scenes who are actually affected by the behaviour. For example, when it was revealed in late 2017–early 2018 that the Australian Deputy Prime Minister had separated from his wife and was having a baby with his former media adviser, the public was in two minds for a while. But when Australians heard the personal story of the wife and daughters who had sacrificed so much for the man’s career yet had been left hung out to dry, and then heard the man publicly questioning the paternity of the baby in any case, his political fate was sealed. The real stories were heard. The public saw what an affair actually looked like on the ground: it was, in the end, devastating for all involved. We realised that a public person’s private behaviour does matter. So he was out. Unfortunately, not everyone gets a chance to have their story told. There must be many more untold stories of people behind the scenes whose lives have been devastated by the private behaviour of those with important careers and high callings. But at least in this case, when the true story of infidelity was clearly told, the Australian public agreed: people with a high calling need to live in a way that’s worthy of that calling.

In the first three chapters of Ephesians, Paul has been speaking about the immense privileges and high calling of those who believe in Christ. Along the way, he’s described some gigantic truths about God, Christ, the world and indeed the universe. By the end of Ephesians 3, he’s flown us through the stratosphere and beyond. But he doesn’t leave us hanging in space. Here, in Ephesians 4:1, he brings us back to the ground. He starts talking about our personal, private lives. And he tells us that we believers, who have such a high calling, need to live in a way that’s worthy of that calling.

So then, I urge you—I, the bound prisoner in the Lord—to walk in a way that is worthy of the calling with which you were called.

Ephesians 4:1

The bound prisoner in the Lord

The cellars in Finchale Priory, Durham

Do you notice the way Paul speaks about himself here? Paul reminds his readers that he’s “the bound prisoner in the Lord”. This helps them to see that the gospel and the preaching of the gospel is not just some grand vision with no personal implications: the gospel has affected his own personal life in a profound way. Paul is the great preacher of the gospel with a high calling to proclaim God’s great purposes for Israel, the nations, and even the cosmos. And yet his gospel preaching mission at this point has landed him in chains, in prison. It is this apostle—the one whose daily life has been so affected by the gospel—who is urging them, and so urging us, to live our own daily lives in a way affected by that same gospel.

Worthy of the calling

The life that Paul urges believers to live is one that is “worthy of the calling with which you were called”. What have believers been called to? Here are just some of the amazing things Paul has said about our calling in Ephesians 1–3. The gospel of Jesus Christ has been preached from Israel to the nations. Through believing in this gospel, we’ve been called to be part of God’s great plans for the universe: to sum up all things in Christ. In Christ, we’ve been blessed with every blessing in the heavenly places: adopted as God’s children, forgiven of our offenses by Jesus’ death on the cross, made holy and blameless, and given a sure hope of life and redemption. We’ve been brought to life from the dead, saved from God’s judgment, raised, and seated with the risen Christ. We’ve been given security, love, and power to live. We are a new creation of God, “created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God pre-prepared for us to walk in” (Ephesians 2:10). We’ve been made “one”: gentile believers with Jewish believers in “one body”. Christ has preached the gospel of peace, to both Israel and the nations, near and far. Through him we have been given access to God by the Spirit. God has revealed to us the secret of his plans for the universe. We are called to be part of Christ’s body, the church, which Christ dearly loves and which exists for his sake and his glory. Through the church, even the cosmic powers see “the multidimensional wisdom of God” (Ephesians 3:10). And this calling involves a great “hope”, which is “the riches of the glory of his inheritance among the holy ones” (Ephesians 1:18).

Sun over city

It is a high calling and privileged position to be a believer in Christ, isn’t it? These are great truths. But these aren’t just truths to contemplate. They’re truths to live by, day by day. We’re to live our lives in a way that is worthy of this calling.

Walk

Paul chooses a particular word to describe the way we are to live: “walk”. It’s a word that describes life on the ground, day by day, step after step. The same word is used in the Old Testament to describe living out the truths of God’s word in the details of our daily lives. Living in line with our calling isn’t just about the big things; it’s also about all the little things. In the following chapters (Ephesians 4–6), Paul talks about many different areas of our daily “walk”. He mentions anger, theft, work, harsh words, encouragement, bitterness, slander, forgiveness, love, sex, swearing, alcohol, singing, family life, prayer, and more. And what he says in Ephesians 4–6 is not simply a random list of rules or useful tips for living the Christian life in different areas. Paul begins it all here: “So then, I urge you…” That is, what Paul says about our daily walk is intimately connected with what he’s said before in his letter about the gospel of our salvation.

Feet walking on cobbles

On the ground

So our walk—our step by step living, in all the details of life—matters a lot. It’s intimately connected to our calling as Christians, and can’t be separated from it. Being a believer in Christ means having a high calling to be a part of God’s great, multidimensional plans for his universe. But it’s not all about big plans and visions, or great things that we can do for the great cause. It’s about our walk. It’s about truth on the ground. It’s about what life looks like when the door is closed. It’s about our relationships and how we live with those who are close to us. It’s about what happens when we’re under pressure. It’s about what we do with our desires, our passion, our anger, our words, our bodies. It’s about what we do with alcohol. It’s about how we treat our husbands and wives and children and parents, those for whom we have responsibility and those who have a responsibility towards us. It’s about little things that are actually very big things: things like kindness, faithfulness, care, and sacrifice, and more.

That, of course, is why the private walk of our pastors and other church leaders matters, doesn’t it? Whatever we might think about the importance of the private lives of politicians or sports stars or business leaders, there’s no argument when it comes to the private lives of pastors and church leaders. Ministry can’t be separated from life. Walking the walk, in every area of life, is not an optional extra or some minor element of the job description of gospel ministers. In a fundamental way, it is their job description. But of course, it is the job description of gospel ministers because it is the job description of all Christians. Our job is to walk, day by day and step by step, in a way that is worthy of the calling to which we have been called.

For reflection

How does knowing the calling that God has given us in Christ help you to live for him in your daily walk?

Are there any particular areas of your daily walk that you know you need to work on? Bring them before God now in prayer.


[1] A Very Secret Service, Series 1, Episode 5, 10:10–11:20. Original title Au service de la France, created by Jean-François Halin, produced by Gilles de Verdière.

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Want more?

This post is part of a series of ~70 reflections covering every sentence in Paul’s letter to the Ephesians. You can see all the posts so far, and subscribe to receive updates via email, audio podcast, and social media, by following this link.

The academic details behind these reflections

Reading Ephesians & Colossians After Supersessionism: Christ's Mission through Israel to the Nations

In this series, I don’t go into detail justifying every statement I make about the background and meaning of Ephesians. I’ve done that elsewhere. If you’re interested in the reasons I say what I say here, and want to chase it up further with lots of ancient Greek, technical stuff, and footnotes, check out my book Reading Ephesians and Colossians After Supersessionism: Christ’s Mission through Israel to the Nations.

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