In a Nutshell…
Read the passage here.
In today’s passage, we have reached the thematic center of Ephesians. When we began our series, we talked about the basic structure of Ephesians. It appears to be two halves, roughly corresponding to what Eugene Peterson calls Calling and Walking.
You may recall that we talked about 4:1 occupying that thematic center with the words, “walk in a manner worthy of the calling…” (ESV). The word “worthy” or “worthily” as in “walk worthily” is that word axios, which is translated “worthy” but also gives us that picture of an old-fashioned scale, the axios being that point in the middle, where everything on one end affects everything on the other. So in like manner, we reach that middle point of our series, where everything on the one side needs to be considered along with everything on the other.
Our passage begins with yet another, “therefore,” which causes us once again to consider what came before. And what came before, without going into too much detail or repetition, in the first half of Ephesians, is the gospel.
The first part of Ephesians has given us a view of the gospel. Now I don’t know if you’ve noticed it but it may be slightly different than the gospel you think you know. For some of us, the gospel is largely, “You can go to heaven when you die.” Or, “You won’t go to hell when you die.” For some of us, the gospel means, “You can have a personal relationship with God.” Which might be interpreted by some of us as, “You can have a fulfilling life (whatever that means) because God is on your side.” Or to put it more bluntly, “God will give you what you want.”
But Ephesians gives us a fuller, broader sense of the Gospel. Ephesians gives us a picture of a Gospel that is not just about me. Ephesians gives us a picture of a Gospel that is about the redeeming and uniting of all things under Christ. Ephesians gives us a gospel that tells us that, though things are not right in this world, through Christ, God is bringing about the right.
The gospel of Jesus Christ is not about membership in a social club. The gospel is not about getting rewards or about avoiding punishment. The gospel is not about achieving spiritual enlightenment or insight. The gospel is about the Kingdom of God breaking into a broken world. The gospel is about the sovereignty of God overcoming the sinfulness of humankind. The gospel is about reclaiming and restoring that which was lost.
This is what Paul is talking about when he says in 1:18-23
18 I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in his holy people, 19 and his incomparably great power for us who believe. That power is the same as the mighty strength 20 he exerted when he raised Christ from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly realms, 21 far above all rule and authority, power and dominion, and every name that is invoked, not only in the present age but also in the one to come. 22 And God placed all things under his feet and appointed him to be head over everything for the church, 23 which is his body, the fullness of him who fills everything in every way.
The gospel is nothing less than that the Kingdom of God is here.
It is because of this gospel that Paul says, therefore, walk worthily. Walk worthily because, through Christ, things have changed. And we can either participate in the eschatological reality of the kingdom of God, or we can participate in the illusion of life given by the world.
Earlier in Ephesians (2:1-2) we read that we used to be dead in our transgressions and sins. We let the world, which doesn’t know the first thing about living, tell us how to live (MSG). To walk worthily, then, means to live this new life, the kingdom life, rather than the worldly life that we are so used to.
Interestingly, this is not Paul’s complete thought. In the Greek, vv. 1-3 are one sentence, not three (as in the NIV). In other words, walking worthily, at the very least, seems to be something that we do together. It’s not possible to divorce Godly living, Christ living, Kingdom living, from community.
Now, in some respects, this statement is nothing extraordinary. We all understand that going to church is important. We may not like it much – many weekends, there are other things we’d rather be doing. But we understand that church is something we should do. But Paul puts great emphasis on this. Because church isn’t just something we join, it’s something we become part of.
Peter O’Brien puts it like this:
The church’s unity is described as the unity of the Spirit, which signifies a unity that God’s Spirit creates30 and therefore not the readers’ own achievement, yet they are exhorted urgently to maintain it. God has inaugurated this unity in Christ, through the events described in Ephesians 2:11–22, as a result of which believers, Jew and Gentile together, have access to God ‘in one Spirit’ (2:18). In the following verses, this unity, which includes Jew-Gentile relations in the body of Christ but is not limited to them, is underscored by a series of acclamations of oneness, which means that it is as ‘indestructible as God himself’.33 Ultimately, the unity and reconciliation that have been won through Christ’s death (2:14–18) are part and parcel of God’s intention of bringing all things together into unity in Christ (1:9, 10). Since the church has been designed by God to be the masterpiece of his goodness and the pattern on which the reconciled universe of the future will be modelled (see on 2:7), believers are expected to live in a manner consistent with this divine purpose. To keep this unity must mean to maintain it visibly. If the unity of the Spirit is real, it must be transparently evident, and believers have a responsibility before God to make sure that this is so. To live in a manner which mars the unity of the Spirit is to do despite [contempt] to the gracious reconciling work of Christ. It is tantamount to saying that his sacrificial death by which relationships with God and others have been restored, along with the resulting freedom of access to the Father, are of no real consequence to us!
Now that’s a pretty bold statement. O’Brien is basically saying three things that we should pay attention to:
- The Christian community (Church) is God-created, not human-created. And this solely through the work of Christ.
- Because it is God-created, through Christ, it is an eschatological reality, not a temporal reality.
- And lastly, we are exhorted to live this eschatological reality now.
And it’s this last point that we most struggle with, the very thing to which Paul calls us. Does the church live as kingdom people, as an eschatological people? Or do we allow the world, which doesn’t know the first thing about living, tell us how to live?
So What Now…?
Note that, though this is a God instituted and constituted thing, it takes work. It takes effort. Paul exhorts us to “make every effort,” in fact. Therefore, how we, as churches, do community – how we do it amongst ourselves and how we announce it or demonstrate it to others – says something about what we believe. Conversely, what we believe, about the nature of the gospel shapes (or should shape) how we do community.
Do we live out community as an incarnational reality of the gospel? Do we believe that, in Christ and through Christ, who we are and how we are is different than what the world tells us we are? Are we living out the eschatological realities of the Kingdom in the here and now? Do we live out community as an echo of eternity? And as a beacon of hope and light to those who don’t know Christ yet?
Our desire is that we would try. That we try to live out the gospel to which we have been called. We’re not trying to be better than anyone else; we’re not trying to be bigger than anyone else; we’re not trying to be flashier than anyone else. We are simply trying to live out the realities of the kingdom in our lives with one another.
 O’Brien, P. T. (1999). The letter to the Ephesians (pp. 279–280). Grand Rapids, MI: W.B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.