Ephesians 17- 32; Exodus 16:9-16
Welcome back to our sermon series thru Ephesians. We are left with one week to conclude our discovery theme. Paul claims, as we heard last Sunday, that God has planned to make peace and create one new humanity in place of the two and would do this in the body of Jesus Christ (Ephesians 2:14-15). He managed to unify the dividing humanity by tearing down the wall of hostility among them and bring peace and harmony. God fulfilled his promise through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
Now in chapters four through five, Paul encourages the Ephesians to be mindful of their calling and take the responsibility Christ has given them when he ascended to heaven. He called on the new converts to abandon the previous way of life and begin to exercise their newness. If the church wanted to survive and carry on the task of the gospel, it should remain united, pray for one another, and break from the past so that they bring about the needed reconciliation and unity with God and one another.
Regarding the gifts, Paul claimed that Christ did not leave the church emptyhanded. He believed that Ephesian are rich in gifts to maintain the unity and continue the work entrusted to them.
Paul said, “Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ. Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of people in their deceitful scheming. Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will grow to become in every respect the mature body of him who is the head, that is, Christ” (Eph 4:11-15).
Few things remain true in this passage as we have been learning from this book of Ephesians. Many converts from Ephesus, Colossae and throughout the province of Asia minor, were saved from temples and handful of them were priests, priestess, and temple attendants. They used to worship other gods.
In Ephesus, many of them were followers of Artemis, goddess of fertility. It was a custom for Men and Women to go seek fertility from the goddess when they fail to bear children. They would go and lay with priestess and priests, believing that they would be made fertile after such encounter and able to bear children. There was no shame but was considered part of worship practice. Taking someone's belongings in public bathing places was widespread and people are known to fail to tell the truth. There was so much bragging as the society rallied around sports. As the church grows, as we have learned in many epistles, there was constant conflicts, disagreements and even quarrelling on how to deal with the matters of faith and the church.
As we can imagine, believers were filled with countless questions and looking for answers. We've left temple worship, now what? What shall we eat and not eat? What laws shall we keep? etc. The question remains how to live as Christians, how to worship, and how to maintain such changes. There were also more critical issues the new converts had to deal with. Sadly, there were no established church institutions, let alone denominations like in our time today.
The church, then and now remains thankful for the gift of Paul. He remained a resourceful person in those hard times, and his letters had given better guidance for the new converts.
In his responses, Paul said new converts “must no longer live as the Gentiles live in the futility of their minds.” This is because, even if what there is to be known about God has been disclosed to them, Gentiles chose to darken their own understanding, harden their hearts and their ignorance had alienated them from God. As a result, they gave themselves over to dissolution and lost all sensitivity of life. Paul went on and warned the new converts to avoid bragging and deceptions to transitioned into the new way of living. They do so by getting rid themselves "of all such things because that is not the way you learned Christ! (Eph. 4:20; Colossians 3:7-10).
As William Barclay said, “Paul has dealt with the great and eternal truths of the Christian faith, and with the function of the Church in the plan of God. Now he begins to sketch what each member of the Church must be if the Church is to carry out her part in that plan.”
Paul reminds Ephesians the purpose of their calling and now must discover their new way of life in their new selves " created according to the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness” (Eph. 4:23-24).
Paul took a universal norm where, when a person is initiated into certain group, or decides to join a different society, such a person is mandated to oblige with the way of life such a society requires of them. Otherwise, as William Barclay says, if such a person fails that obligation and hinders the aim, such failure brings discredit on the name of the group. Paul tells the Ephesians the kind of life they must follow when they become Christians and experience the new life in the church of Christ.
I am reminded of the initiation ceremony of the tradition of the Anuak people and other African tribes. Among the Nuer tribes in Ethiopia and South Sudan, when a young man's face is cut with six marks both sides (twelve in total), that young man becomes a full man, earning "manhood" as soon as the initiation is completed. This practice was/is done without any anesthesia. The boy would be expected not to cry, shed tears, and even move his body during the procedure. It's hurting and blood keep pouring as the tip of the knife goes deep to the skin.
Also, when a group of the Anyuwaa young men are sprinkled with oil, they would be required to obtain a new name, vowed to achieve a goal. For example, the group would commit to catch a young lion by hand, or a tiger, or an elephant etc. and bring the young animal home alive. They would abide by certain terms. Failure to achieve such goal would discredit the family and was a disgrace to the village.
All these remind us of how people leave a form of life and commit to lead a new way of living. Paul calls on Christians then and now to “put on the new self (Colossians 3:10). This new life is not easy to tend to. It requires leaving behind something dear to us in our previous life. It's painful and hard to follow but we're encouraged to attain to, like the Nuer boys and the Anuak young groups strive to fulfill the demand of initiation. Yes, Christ has accomplished the salvific act on the cross. The new living requirement does not add to our salvation, rather fulfils the purpose of unity as we imitate Christ Jesus.
As a new group seeking to build up itself, Paul encourages Ephesians to put forth Christian virtues to avoid separation and dissension in the church of Christ. That the Christian church must cloth itself with the newness and get rid of their old humanity, which was subject to rage, falsehood, anger, theft, etc.
For Paul, what is required of Christians and the Christian church, first, is the virtue of humility. Humility is the most important aspect of faith, that they obtain from Jesus himself. It's about giving way to God to work through us, in us and with us. It is the virtue by which we are made conscious and acknowledge our calling. It describes a course of action where a person looks to oneself see where one has fallen short and needs to give way to progress. "True humility comes when we ace ourselves and see our weakness, our selfishness, our failure in work and in personal relationship and in achievement," William Barclay. Humility also is echoing our dependency on God in whom we now have hope (Ephesians 2:12).
Paul added on saying, a Christian person must be gentle. The Greek term for "gentle” is being domesticated. This refers to an animal that has been trained and comes under control of the owner. Americans would understand Paul's intention in using their verb because Americans are good at this. They train their dogs to sit, dance, roll and even jump. Paul says a person in a Christian church must not only be self-controlled but be domesticated by God and listen to the instructions of the Lord. Christians must exercise patience as we continue to explore and learn from and about one another. We learn patience from Christ himself as we are called to faith (1 Timothy 1:16. For the church to survive and continue in the work of gospel, such virtues are important to keep for the sake of the unity. Paul said because Christians are called to "one hope, one body, one faith, one baptism and one God" (4:4).
Lastly, Ephesians and the Christian Church must exercise agape—a love that does not depend on anything less than putting others before us. "Agape, is that quality of mind and heart which compels a Christian never to feel any bitterness, never to feel any desire for revenge, but always to seek the highest good of every [person] no matter what he may be." William Barclay
Friends, Paul encourages us today as he urged the Ephesians to clothe ourselves with truth, speak tenderly to our neighbors and put away falsehood. That everyone should strive to work to have something to share with the needy.
Paul addressed theft, immorality, falsehood, etc. in this passage because they were practiced in the Greco-Roman world, and Paul knew that such way of life was not healthy for the new body. For example, stealing was a major problem in the Roman bathing places. Clothes and sandals were grabbed without any excuses.
Now even if we do not exercise the 1st century practices, scripture reminds us of our weaknesses and be mindful of such flaws as might lead us astray and not attain our Christian living. Paul encourages his readers to change such habits and live as they were taught. He urged Ephesians to make Christ's love and Christian virtues spring from their hearts to prefect the church of Christ.
We are encouraged to listen and be patient with one another and maintain right anger, because the anger of a Christian person does not produce the righteousness of God (James 1:20 ESV). Let this be clear. Paul does not deny anger. It is something we are born with.
However, anger must not define us, and we should not be overflowed with it. Rather, we must get rid of bitterness and resentment and clothe ourselves with patience, gentleness, humility and choose to discuss and not let the anger last forever.
In doing so, we discover our Christian living in our mutual understanding. As one body, we are encouraged to take care of the body as we take care of ourselves. The love of Christ to the church is compared to a love between a husband and wife. That Christians should love one another dearly; “For no one ever hates his own body, but he nourishes and tenderly cares for it, just as Christ does for the church, because we are members of his body (Eph. 5:29-30)
We can only succeed in our Christian living by committing to prayer, and we are asked to keep praying. I also leave you with Paul's prayer when he tells them in his letter saying, "I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God." Ephesians 3:16-19
Friends, Christ has left us a great gift to sustain our unity and enrich our Christian living. Let us utilize such virtues as we continue to live our lives in the Church of Christ. Let us "BE kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ has forgiven us" (Eph4: 32). Amen!