So far in this series we have emphasized that God is seeking to reconcile the world to himself and to each other. He wants to create one new humanity, and he wants to do it through Christ. We’ve mentioned two ways we can cooperate with God’s purpose, namely, to remember where we’ve come from (Ephesians 2) and to learn to live in love by God’s power (Ephesians 3:14-21).
As we continue on into Ephesians 4-6, we will notice and discuss several other specific ways we can cooperate with God’s purpose. Before we look at those specific attitudes and behaviors, however, it is important for us to understand that all the things we are to do and say are to be done in a truly Christian fashion. I mean more by this than what is obvious. I’m tempted to describe the truly Christian fashion I’m referring to as “New Covenant Obedience,” “Inside Out Obedience” or “Uniquely Christian obedience.” A case could be made for describing it in each of those ways. I wanted to describe it with terminology Paul actually uses in Ephesians, however, so I settled on the word “therefore.” Believe it or not, “therefore” is a profound theological term! Today I want to talk about “therefore obedience.”
I made the decision a good while ago to humble (humiliate?) myself for the sake of teaching, so I now regularly tell classes, “When you see a ‘therefore,’ look and see what it is there for.” This corny line nevertheless calls attention to a little term that often has big theological importance. It is true that the word “therefore” sometimes serves as a simple connecting word. I think that’s why the NIV translates it “then” in Ephesians 4:1: “As a prisoner for the Lord, then, I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received.” In my opinion, though, the word is more than a simple connector in that verse so that “then” is too soft. ESV, NASB, and NRSV all translate it “therefore,” with the sense of “consequently” or “for that reason.” The word tells us that what Paul writes in Ephesians 4:1ff. refers back to and is based on what he had been saying previously. The sense is, “Therefore” (based on what I have been saying), “I, the prisoner of the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling with which you have been called” (NASB, except for the parenthesis I added).
In this case the therefore appears to refer back to the entirety of Ephesians 1-3. That means Ephesians 4:1 is the pivotal verse in Ephesians. By pivotal, I don’t mean most important. I mean a pivot takes place there. Paul turns from what he had been doing in Ephesians 1-3 to what he will do next in Ephesians 4-6. It is a turn from theology to praxis, from truths to exhortations.
Ephesians 1-3 is full of statements. There Paul makes many assertions about things that are true. In grammar, we use the indicative mode for statements, and Ephesians 1-3 is full of verbs that are in the indicative form. Paul makes statements in this form about all the blessings we have in Christ, the power that is available to us, the exalted position of Christ, God making us alive by his grace, God including the Gentiles, God’s plan to bring the world together as one, God calling Paul to bring the gospel to the Gentiles, and his prayers for his readers.
In contrast, Ephesians 4-6 is full of exhortations, instructions, or commandments. Paul talks about many things that he wants his readers to do. In grammar, we use the imperative mode for commandments and exhortations. Ephesians 4-6 is full of verbs that are in the imperative form. He urges his readers to lead a life worthy of their calling, no longer live as the Gentiles, put off their old self, speak the truth in love, and much more.
Ephesians 4:1 is the pivot where this change of focus takes place. In 4:1, Paul moves from indicative to imperative. He moves from focusing primarily on making statements to making exhortations. He moves from a primary focus on telling his readers truths about what God has done to urging them to live as God desires.
It is more than a shift, however. The “therefore” in 4:1 tells us that the latter is based on the former. The second half of the book is based on the first half. The exhortations are based on the realities of what God has done. This is indeed a uniquely Christian approach to obedience.
Here is an insight that is more profound than it sounds. Ephesians doesn’t begin with chapter 4; it begins with chapter 1! As badly as Paul wants the Christians he is addressing to be united, he doesn’t just jump in and start telling them what they need to do to bring that to pass. He first lays the groundwork of what God has done. What about you? Does your religion begin with chapter 4? Or chapter 1? Does your church or preacher start with chapter 4? Or chapter 1? I don’t mean literally, when you study Ephesians. I mean generally and conceptually. Do we take a Ephesians 4-6 shortcut? Or do we take the time to lay the Ephesians 1-3 groundwork first.
I’m not down on chapters 4-6. Exhortations like the ones we find there are indispensable to living lives pleasing to God. In fact in 4:1 Paul says he wants to “urge you to walk in a manner worthy.” That means that, in order to live lives pleasing to the Lord, we need to be “urged” to do so. We can find such exhortations in Scripture (like Ephesians 4-6), from godly church leaders (like Paul and hopefully your leaders), and to and from each other (Romans 12:8). Being exhorted to live worthy lives is essential to being able to do so.
But too often we have begun with the exhortations and commands, and that’s not the way Ephesians does it. What we are urged to do (4-6) is based on and connected to what God has done for us (1-3). When we keep them connected, it leads to “therefore obedience.” Such obedience is not legalism. It’s not merely a matter of keeping rules. It’s living our lives in a way that pleases God based on what he has done for us.
The word “calling” in 4:1 makes this same point. Paul urges us to live a life worthy of our calling. For a while I thought calling referred to Ephesians 1-3. Conceptually I still think it does, but I don’t think the word refers specifically to chapters 1-3. Instead, our calling refers to our vocation as Christ-followers now that God has called us through the gospel (2 Thessalonians 2:14). Many blessings come with such a calling, and Ephesians 1:3-14 catalogs several of them. Our calling, however, is not merely to sit around and enjoy grace and peace. Rather, our calling is to hope (Ephesians 1:18; 4:4), holiness (“saints”=holy ones, Romans 1:7; 2 Timothy 1:9), heaven (Hebrews 3:1), and to belong to Christ (Romans 1:6). We need to live a life worthy of this high calling.
If a wealthy business person calls one of his employees to be his personal assistant, he may well offer them a raise in salary and various kinds of perks. Still, though, the calling is to be his personal assistant and that assistant will need to be available and willing to do the work appropriate to that calling. So with us and God. We are to live a life worthy of the calling we have received. Based on the “salary” and “perks” God has given us, we are to live in a way that is appropriate it to our calling to be holy and belong to him. The “salary” and “perks” in our case include such things as being chosen according to his purpose and grace (2 Timothy 1:9). Based on and empowered by such blessings, we live according to our calling. This, too, is a uniquely Christian obedience.
As we proceed through Ephesians and notice several other specific things we can do to cooperate with God’s purpose, please remember that in the larger context of Ephesians, all of them are “therefore obedience.” We are talking about doing things based on what God has already done for us.
This will contribute to unity by empowering us to cooperate with God’s purpose in the ways he urges us to (specified in 4-6). It will also contribute to unity in another way, namely, it will remind us that we can only do what we ought to do based on God’s power and blessing. Since we are dependent on his provision for us, we have no reason for the divisive sin of boasting. Remembering we are dependent on God to be able to live as we ought thus thwarts us from dividing the church by our arrogance (cf. 2:9).
In the next several posts we will explore some more specific qualities, deeds, and words that are ways of cooperating with God’s purpose of unifying the world. Please remember that the call to live in those ways is based on what God has already done for us. Doing so provides power for obedience and protection from pride.