We’re continuing our study of Ephesians, this week focusing on chapter 4. Paul wrote this letter while he was in prison (because of his decision to follow Jesus.) Some things to remember as you read is that these people in Ephesus were real people with real lives, family, friends, strengths, weaknesses. Paul writes this letter as a call to return to the basics of following Jesus.
The six chapters of Ephesians shows this amazing line of thought. Summed up, Paul tells the Ephesians, “Jesus is absolutely into you! God’s grace is for you who were once outsiders. It’s actually for everyone. God gives you his grace so that you can understand what a life set apart unto Him looks like. Here’s some practical things to remember. Don’t forget you’re His now.”
This week Ty talked about coaching gymnastics and how the more difficult skills are all built on foundations that are simple. Ephesians 4 is a moment where Paul is laying down some simple foundation for these followers of Jesus.
Chapter 4 really starts to open up the practicals of following Jesus.
Okay, you’re in Christ now. Here’s what that really means. Look at all these things God says you are. Don’t forget them. You got them? Are you sure? Okay. Let’s talk about some practical stuff.
The first part of the letter establishes that God has a plan that started long before us and continues through and beyond us. That grace is God’s gift to people and can’t be earned and that there is responsibility in community. That God is always present in the midst of our shortcomings.
Sometimes life in Christ feels overwhelming, and community can feel like it’s full of questions. One of the biggest encouragements Paul gives to the Ephesians is that God has called them His and has a place for them. Our call as followers of Jesus is to make place for others.
I wonder if the Ephesians would have viewed this part of Paul’s letter as a to-do list of sorts. I know I have the tendency to do so. We’ve used chapters like this to describe what the ideal Christian should look like.
Be humble and gentle.
Don’t sin by letting anger control you.
Stop telling lies.
Give generously to those in need.
These things are all really good and true, but I’m not sure Paul wrote them as a checklist, once you’ve done it you’re done kind of things. These people had chosen to follow Jesus. They didn’t get everything right and they certainly didn’t have all the answers but they knew that they were in Christ, and Paul was reminding them that yes, they were indeed in Christ, and how that ought to change certain things in their lives.
Imagine though for a moment that Paul’s letter to the Ephesians consisted only of chapter 4. How would it be different?
Many of these people may have thought, “Why should I/do I care about these things? What’s the purpose? Why is Paul writing us this to-do list?”
What about you? What if all you had to follow Jesus was Ephesians chapter 4? How would that change things for you?w
Alright. Stop reading. Go outside and yell “Alabama” at the top of your lungs. Ready set GO!
...You’re not going to do it? Why not? I gave you clear instructions. GO DO IT!
Silly, I know, but this helps me see that I have a hard time when I’m given instructions without any context or relationship, or maybe instructions that are super unclear.
How do you handle instructions that are given without context, clarity or relationship?
What about when they are given with context or clarity or through relationship?
Remember that Ephesians is a letter. Our chapter numbers are relatively modern. People may have mulled over some things in Paul’s letter, but generally it would have been read or recited from start to finish.
Paul using the phrase “in light of all of this” is reference to everything that came before. Everything that we’ve focused on in chapters 1-3. He’s saying remember what you’ve just read or heard, because it’s the foundation for everything I’m about to say.
He reminds the Ephesians of his current circumstances (prison), and he encourages them to take action, to run on the road God called you to travel. He admonishes them not to sit on their hands or get distracted by paths that lead nowhere. To run this road with humility and discipline, staying steady.
We can easily get off track or distracted by other paths when we think God’s plans and callings for us are all about us individually. Paul reminds these believers that the body of Christ is full of people who pour themselves out for one another and who are alert at noticing differences and quick at mending fences.
What is the difference between faith done alone and faith done in community?
Paul’s writings on unity might lead us to think faith is not individual. The amazing thing is that following Jesus is individual and communal. That there’s unity in the body of Christ, and there’s individuality within that. Unity not meaning uniformity.
As Paul goes on to direct the Ephesians on how their lives should look, remember how he told them to think back on the first part of the letter. These standards for Christian living are all empowered by the grace Paul mentions in chapters 1-3.
What actions have a deeper understanding of grace empowered in you?
All of this chapter is great. It’s so encouraging. And, if I never let it move from knowing to doing, it’ll just be useless information bouncing around in my head. How do we get from knowing to doing?
Paul gives over twenty calls to action in Ephesians 4. Read it again and make note of them. Remember the foundation of grace Paul built in the first half of the letter. This second half, if we were to put it into a question for ourselves, is what is your response to this grace?
So, what you’re saying is I need to do a bunch of things to get grace? No.
Oh. So you’re just saying I’m not good enough. No.
Hmm. So what I do and don’t do is all that matters? No
This action Paul calls the Ephesians to is “to be set apart.” And the key to being set apart (the action) is not perfection. It is grace!
For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast. For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.
I know from experience that being commanded, persuaded, inspired, shamed or excused into action doesn’t actually lead to action. I want this to be a moment where I look inside, using Paul’s instructions as a mirror. Not the external. Not the “well I do that one, but I don’t really do that one.”
Get at the internal. As you read through Ephesians 4, use it as a mirror for what’s going on inside of you. Forget about commands to just do the list. Persuasions or inspirations to “just do the list and be all you can be.” Forget about the shame that might be saying “you’re never going to get there.” Forget about the excuses of “well, I haven’t got it yet, so I’ll probably never get it.
What do you sense internally? What do you see about yourself and God internally?
What do you see as you use Paul’s instructions as a mirror?
What happens in you when you hear Paul’s instructions?
Take It Deeper Questions
What were the house rules when you were growing up?
Read Ephesians 4
Why does God care about how we live? (What are some potential “wrong” answers?)
How has God refined you in the past?
How is God refining you in this season?
What do you think God wants to refine in you in the future?
What to be reading as we are studying Ephesians
- Read the whole letter to the Ephesians in one sitting (It takes about 20 minutes)
Bible Reading Plan
- Acts 6
- Acts 7
- Acts 8
- Acts 9
- Acts 10
- Acts 11