We live in a divided world. Sometimes it feels as if the divisions between our various tribes have never been more stark and painful. It’s almost impossible to imagine a world in which there is unity among people who aren’t pretty much the same. But Ephesians 4:3 calls us to “make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace.” Why? Why make every effort to preserve unity? Why is unity such a big deal?
As you know, we’ve been focusing for several days on the exhortation in Ephesians 4:1: “Live a life worth of the calling you have received.” Have you ever paused to consider what an honor it is to be called into relationship and partnership with God? I confess I can easily take this for granted. I’ve been a Christian for fifty-five years now, and sometimes I miss the wonder of my vocation. But if I pause to reflect, I’m blown away by the extraordinary distinction of being called by the living God.
Psalm 124 begins by wondering how it would have gone for Israel if the Lord had not been on their side. Without God, the children of Israel would have been swallowed alive, engulfed by the flood (124:2-5). But the fact is that God was on the side of his people, and he still is today. That’s good news, to be sure. Now, the fact that God is on our side does not mean that we won’t ever go through challenges, heartaches, and sufferings… Yet, the truth is that God will use all things, even very hard things, for our good.
Christian unity isn’t just an ideal or a principle. And it isn’t just global or denominational. Rather, it’s a day-to-day, matter-of-fact reality that needs to be embodied in actual Christian assemblies. This kind of unity will be realized if and only if Christians live out their calling with humility, gentleness, patience, and forbearance. It will happen only when we make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.
For the last several days, we have seen that God has called us to belong to him and to participate in his redeeming, restoring work in the world. As people who have been saved by God’s grace in Christ and newly created in Christ for good works, we are to live a life (walk the walk) worthy of our calling. Ephesians 4:2 begins to spell out in detail how we are to live worthy of our calling: “Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love.”
Sometimes, the calling of God requires an actual “get going,” as people are summoned to a different place, a different job, a different community. But, for most of us, heeding God’s call doesn’t so much mean radical relocation as it does radical renovation. Though we might very well live in the same place and work at the same job, we do so with new vision, new motivation, new values, and a new way of living.
In last Thursday’s Life for Leaders devotion, we began to work on the question: What is your calling? We saw that, in Ephesians, the calling of each and every Christian emerges from the story of God in the first three chapters, a story centered in God’s saving work through Jesus Christ. Today, I want to focus on one essential but often overlooked dimension of God’s work. This dimension will help you understand more clearly the character of your calling.
Why would we even dare to ask a holy, perfect, righteous God for mercy? Because God is “rich in mercy” (Ephesians 2:4). He has more than enough to share with us. God’s mercy is not an add-on to his nature, but rather an expression of his gracious core. God’s mercy comes to us in many ways, but most of all through Jesus Christ, who bore our sin on the cross, delivering us from death, and leading us into the fullness of life. We all stand in need of mercy before a God who is ready to give us what we need.
In Ephesians 4:1, “calling” emerges from what we have learned in chapters 1-3 about God, God’s work through Christ, and our participation in this work. We discover our calling through the fact that God has blessed us, chosen us, adopted us as his beloved children, lavished his grace upon us, redeemed us, forgiven us, made known his plans to us, sealed us with his Spirit, raised us with Christ, saved us, created us anew in Christ, joined us to his people, enlisted us in his cosmic mission, and rooted us in his love.
That we have a caller warns us not to fall into the culturally-popular trap of thinking that our calling is mainly a matter of following our own feelings. Your calling isn’t necessarily acting on your own passion. Rather, it is acting in obedience to the God who calls you. To be sure, sometimes God’s call aligns with your passion. But often your passion will come after you respond to God’s call, saying “yes” even when you feel uncertain or resistant. The point is not what you feel, but how you act in response to God your caller.