When family members of the next generation go off the rails, all of the adults in the family grieve. In his third letter, John wrote: “I have no greater joy than to hear that my children walk in truth.” Many of us have learned that there is no greater pain than to hear that your children have walked away from the truth.
I’m going to take time to read an excerpt of an article I found in Precious Seed magazine out of Great Britain. It is by an anonymous writer. My guess is that a lot of parents could have written this, or something similar. Listen to this addressed to parents:
“From earliest days you taught your children from the word of God, so that, like Timothy, it can be said of them ‘that from a child you have known the holy scriptures, which are able to make you wise unto salvation,’ 2 Tim. 3. 15. Attendance at all church meetings was an accepted part of the weekly lifestyle, and the things of God lay at the very heart of home life.
“Despite these noble aspirations you have seen your children turn away from all that you hold dear. Maybe some of them have never made a profession of salvation, while those who did so have either renounced it or have drifted away. Principles that regulated your home have not been adhered to by your family and today they, like Demas before them, love this present world. Their affections are not set on things above, former enthusiasm for Christ has dissipated, and carnality has replaced spirituality.
“Maybe you, like us, have often wondered ‘where did it go wrong’ or, even more painfully, ‘where did we go wrong’. To compound your sense of frustration, and sadness, there are a couple of matters that you struggle to understand, even though you cannot articulate those frustrations for fear of being considered unspiritual or bitter. Firstly, although you did your best to train up your children in the way they should go — they have departed from it! Not for one moment would you question the validity of the word of God; however, in some of your ‘down times’, this verse has really challenged your faith. You attempted to fulfil the exhortation as best as you could, but the promise that follows it hasn’t been fulfilled.
“Secondly, why is it that some parents, whose commitment to the spiritual welfare of their family appeared to be less than yours, have seen all their children saved, baptized, and in fellowship? This strikes you as being unfair and, although you would be too embarrassed to admit it, there have been times when you almost wish they had had a taste of your medicine.
“Our deep longing is that those parents who have trodden, or are treading, this tear-stained pathway will derive some solace and encouragement from this article. May we bear each other up in prayer, and live in the continual expectancy that salvation or restoration will come to those who are dearest to us.” That is the end of the passage I wanted to read to you.
Right now, I know of children who are breaking their parents hearts by walking in a way which is unworthy of both their parents and the Lord. Yet, I’m thankful that I also know children who are making progress in returning to the straight, narrow path after years of living totally selfish lives. I pray for all of them. There is hope.
In the passage we’ll explore today, Paul moves from mostly talking about theology to how to live it out. You might call this a little practical fatherly advice for his spiritual children.
Ephesians 4:1 “I therefore, a prisoner of the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, 2 ¶ with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, 3 eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. 4 There is one body and one Spirit—just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call— 5 one Lord, one faith, one baptism, 6 one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all. 7 But grace was given to each one of us according to the measure of Christ’s gift. 8 Therefore it says, “When he ascended on high he led a host of captives, and he gave gifts to men.” 9 (In saying, “He ascended,” what does it mean but that he had also descended into the lower parts of the earth? 10 He who descended is the one who also ascended far above all the heavens, that he might fill all things.
Here, Paul has a family chat with the Christians in Ephesus. He identifies himself as a prisoner of the Lord, indicating that he has completely surrendered himself to God and His will for his life. Then he urges them to “walk in a manner worthy of their calling” as the children of God. I remember at the funeral of a friend, one of her sons mentioned something she frequently said as he left the house to go out with his friends. She would tell him, “remember whose you are and what you stand for.” That’s great advice for all of us every day – to remember to whom we belong and for what we stand.
Paul follows up his encouragement for them to “walk worthy” with some instructions about how they are to do that. Sometimes, Christians think they have to make a big noise about their faith and are quick to aggressively confront anyone who sees things differently. Notice the list of characteristics Paul emphasizes in regard to their walking in a manner worthy of their calling: humility, gentleness, patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. What a noble set of goals to have before us as we think about how we are going to relate to others in the family of God in particular and humanity in general.
As happens so often, we get it wrong. Looking at the church today you might think that Paul’s priorities were: take pride in your place in the family of God, be unbendingly rigid in your opinions, practice strict discipline with the goal of punishing anyone who steps out of line, don’t put up with people who don’t agree with you, and separate yourself from those who don’t see the truth as you do. Many people I know are far more familiar with this list of attitudes than the first one I read to you. But let’s set these negative things aside and return to what Paul wants us to learn from the passage we just looked at.
Once he sets out the things that matter in our relationships with each other (humility, gentleness, patience, bearing with one another in love, eagerness to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace), he gives his rationale for promoting these things. He actually has a reason for mentioning them. They flow out of the fact of our salvation and to make sure we understand, he points out that we are all one in Christ, whatever our differences might be. Then he lists seven points of unity: one body, one Spirit, one hope, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, and one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.
You might think that with all of those things which bring Christians together, we’d be famous for getting along. That’s not quite true. In fact, it’s not true at all. So right after giving us this list, Paul reminds us of something else we have, “grace.” You may remember that the handy definition of grace is “unmerited favour.” We’re very glad to get this from God, but often a little reluctant to offer it to others we think might be wrong about something or other. How much easier it is to just call them “heretics” and ignore them.
But God knew that even with all the things Christians have in common, He would need to supply us with grace to reduce the friction that develops so easily among us. Our sinful human tendencies are always toward division, but that is not God’s plan for us. Verse 8 tells us that upon Jesus’ resurrection, he set a host of captives free and gave gifts to us. This includes grace, but grace isn’t the only gift the risen Christ has for his church – and he quotes Psalm 68 for support.
In verses 9 and 10 we have a little comment on logic – that if Christ ascended, He must have descended first. Ironically, Paul was clarifying things here, but these words have prompted confusion in some minds. Let’s remind ourselves of Paul’s own explanation for why he quoted from Psalm 68. In saying, “He ascended,” what does it mean but that he had also descended into the lower parts of the earth? 10 He who descended is the one who also ascended far above all the heavens, that he might fill all things.
Please note that these verses do not say that He descended into hell, whether or not to “fight the devil,” as some claim. It says that He descended into the lower parts of the earth – that is, the grave. Here Paul reminds us that He took the humblest place – that of dying a human death – and consequently, He was given the greatest glory.
Let’s finish our time together by going back to the first verse of our passage while we keep in mind all of the other things we’ve been looking at. “I therefore, a prisoner of the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called.” As we think about our lives, today, let’s remember that we live them out in the context of God’s purpose and His intent is to bring all things together in Christ. When we separate from each other, cut each other off, or break fellowship with each other, we work against the unity which Jesus died to make reality.
Here’s a challenge for you for this week. Think of someone who is different from you in two ways (age, denomination, social class, race) and reach out to that person. Engage in conversation, offer to help them, pray with them, buy them a treat. Do something that will communicate to them that in spite of your differences, you’re part of the same family.