“I can only answer the question ‘What am I to do?’ if I can answer the prior question ‘Of what story or stories do I find myself a part?’” —Alasdair MacIntyre
Our brother Paul is writing to particular people, as we have seen—maybe a lot of particular people. If Ephesians was a letter intended to reach many believers in a circuit, then its intent was almost uniquely comprehensive compared to a lot of the other epistles. We may receive it in that spirit; it was written in a particular time for a particular region, but its relevance to us and for the whole body of believers is profound. I love that—and I love and appreciate this book and this chapter.
There is so much in it about our identity and place because of the rich mercy of God who has done so much for us in his incredible plan and in his own perfect timing. He has brought near those of us who were far off! By grace.
We have been invited into a story. The Story. And we have been shown our place: a place of receiving and believing. So much emphasis in Ephesians is placed on what God has done. Out of this identity, we are instructed to walk in a manner worthy of our calling. We’re invited to see and appreciate the unity of the body, walk in the unity of the Spirit, and to see ourselves as in communion. We are in communion with others who have been given gifts by our triumphant Christ! These gifts are for people for people. They are given to bless, build up, and equip our brothers and sisters in Christ. Paul is serious about love and unity and what our gifts mean. One body, being built up—all of us heading for maturity.
Goodness, truth, and beauty live together or die apart. Brian Brown
He is also serious about truth. He doesn’t want us to be easily shipwrecked by deceitful schemes and false teaching, but to be strong in truth and unity. This is how we grow and build up the body. It is not a body of lies. Many artists are tempted to lay aside an emphasis on truth and go after beauty instead. This is a grave error. Beauty and Truth are sisters who sing beautifully in harmony, but are—either one—horribly off-pitch alone.
It’s easy to be tempted to think of a concern for the truth as being at odds with a concern for love. Loving truth does not, in my reading of Paul here in chapter four and elsewhere in Scripture, conflict with love. Rather, it is an expression of love. Jesus came, full of grace and truth. As Qoheleth in Ecclesiastes says about another matter: “It is good that you should take hold of this, and from that withhold not your hand…”
And Paul cares about goodness, too. He warns his readers against the hollow and unsatisfying pursuit of sexual sin. He describes their bondage as a greed for impurity. The original readers, and all who belong to Christ, are called to moral goodness. No amount of whataboutism can provide an escape hatch to give us liberty (though it’s actually slavery) to indulge in our sinful desires. The acknowledgement that these are our real desires, very much what comes naturally to us, does not inspire Paul to welcome it. Instead, he invites us to remember who we are and how we were called: how we came to Christ.
Coming to Christ means leaving non-Christ. It means being welcomed into a treasure-trove of truth, relationship, and reality. But we are fools. We want, having been saved from the tsunami by the Coast Guard, to dive off the rescue helicopter right back into the swirl so we can guzzle gallons of seawater in self-indulgent suicide.
Don’t believe it. Don’t surrender to lies.
And what are some of the primary sins of this self-indulgence? Bitterness. Anger. Wrath. Quarreling. Slander. Malice. Many of us who see ourselves as “fighters for the truth” are simply fighters. Mere quarrelers. It ought not be.
Our way, the way of Christ, is the way of love. This love does not leak virtue or truth—rather, it’s robust and mature. It’s a love made up of differently-gifted, similarly-called, diversely-beautiful gift-receivers and gift-sharers.
We cannot escape the fact that there are so many commands in this passage and this letter—and in much of Scripture, for that matter. And we shouldn’t. God does not only save us by grace, but gives us grace for life. We are not welcomed to Christ by the Spirit only to return to the flesh. Paul’s letter to the Galatians gives us the good word there: we are obeyers. Christ followers are…Christ followers. We are servants and Christ is our Master. Paul repeatedly identifies himself as a servant, as does Peter, James, and Jude.
This is actually good news, though our proud entitlement, privilege, and self-esteem can be affronted by it. God’s commands are not a cage, but a key. His rule is good, and his commands are life. And, according to Paul himself in Galatians, we are far more than simply servants—we are sons and daughters. We have a share in the inheritance. We are in the family and all the stuff is ours. We are welcomed, rich, and our position is like the ending of a Jane Austen novel, only better.
Out of this abundance, should we turn aside from obedience? Should we indulge our sinful desires? Should we be quarrelsome? Should we embrace falsehood? To the contrary, who we are in Christ ought to inform and give meaning to the story we live out in the world.
How should we act? Chapter four shows us where to begin: “Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.”