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Dec 30 / Chuck Smith, Jr.

December 28, 2014 – Ephesians 4:1-3

The Fruit of Christian Spirituality

Therefore I, the prisoner of the Lord, implore you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling with which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, showing tolerance for one another in love, being diligent to preserve the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. Ephesians 4:1-3

Intro: The chapter begins with a “therefore”

It serves as a link to connect what came before to what comes next
– what came before?
• a radiant horizon of spiritual blessing, enjoyed by Christians, which includes average people (“Gentiles”)
• the inner self is prepared to receive Jesus Christ as a permanent resident (3:16-17)
• we become more and more enlightened to a divine love that is infinitely unsearchable
– this is the essence of Christian spirituality

Until now, we have been contemplating the inner experience of Christian spirituality
– an analogy Christian mystics liked to use was that of the sisters Mary and Martha
(Lk. 10:38-42, which can be found in Cassian’s Conferences, for example)
• Mary, the contemplative, sat at Jesus’ feet, listening to every word he spoke
◦ this is one way that our hearts and souls become open, receptive, and responsive to him
• but there is another way that is just as important — Martha who was active in serving
– Paul now walks us into the Martha half
• that is why this chapter begins with “Therefore”
◦ it links the contemplative part to the active part of Christian spirituality
• Mary is joined by Martha
◦ sometimes Christians make the mistake of identifying with either on or the other — the point is, we are both
◦ they do not represent alternative behaviors but alternating behaviors

Thomas Aquinas observed that the contemplative life and the active life go together to form the Christian life. “But just as in every mixture one of the simple elements predominates, so in this mixed kind of life now the contemplative, now the active predominates.” [Now Mary, now Martha]

V. 1, Paul asked us to contemplate, now he asks us to walk

Walk is my favorite metaphor of the Christian life
– walk, because this is a spiritual journey
• walk, because we’re not there yet – it’s a process
• walk, because God walks through the world and asks us to join him
– for Paul, it was meant to give hands and feet to our spirituality

I’m not comfortable with “worthy”
– it sounds like “deserving”
• if there’s anything we know regarding Paul’s theology, we don’t deserve this life with God
◦ we never have and we never will
◦ it is not about a performance that is “worthy” of a seat with Christ in heavenly places (Ep. 2:6)
– the Greek word translated worthy literally meant “to bring down the scale”
• that is, to bring down the arm of a balance scale until it was level and the the two plates were of equal weight
◦ we might say, “equivalent” or a walk that is “consistent with” the life to which we have received our “calling”
• by our choices we can adopt a lifestyle consistent with our inner experience of God

Vv. 2-3, Paul shows us what that kind of lifestyle looks like

The words in Paul’s short list were not virtues in Roman or Greek society
– and they’re not virtues in our society
• they do not represent the way people in business act when they want to claw their way to top
• but they are critical in fulfilling purposes of God in us

Humility: Not just an accurate assessment of myself
– and not just knowing my own brokenness
• but recognizing the value of the other person
◦ knowing God uses their gifts to perfect his work in me
• it is listening to the voice of another — acknowledging the “self” of the other

Gentleness: I have to remind myself of others’ wounds
– return to Jesus’ analogy in Matthew 7:5
• we’re helping remove speck from another’s eye — the most sensitive exposed part of the body
– I am not a cruel person, but I can be an insensitive clod
• in the poem, “The Fools Prayer,” a king asks the court jester to entertain his guests with a mock prayer
• what the jester offers is a confession of failure that is so universal, even the king has to excuse himself to his garden
◦ on stanza reads:

These clumsy feet, still in the mire,
Go crushing blossoms without end;
These hard, well-meaning hands we thrust
Among the heartstrings of a friend.

– this is how I see myself — the wounds I’ve inflicted on others have been accidental
• yet also avoidable, if only I had been more thoughtful
• for me, Jesus’ tenderness and gentleness are his loveliest features

Patience: Do I need to define this for you?
– I’ll just say, it’s a maturity factor
(the frontal lobes, responsible for learning delayed gratification, are not fully developed until the late teens to early twenties)
• we’ll have patience when we finally grow up

Tolerance: Acceptance of others

Paul adds another factor to each item on this list, “in love”
– not “in the line of duty”
• even small children can perfect skill of a totally insincere apology (“Tell your sister, ‘I’m sorry.'”)
– not “in piety” – to demonstrate what a saint you are
– it must be real and to be real, it must be “rooted and grounded in love” (Ep. 3:17)

Paul saw in the spiritual community something not visible to others – “unity of the Spirit”
– an underlying oneness (that he spells out in next few verses)
• we cannot create that unity
◦ when people try, it always looks artificial and is superficial
• we cannot create it, but we can destroy it
◦ that is what Paul warns us not to do
– this unity is held together in a bond of peace
• after WWII, John Bowlby discovered that healthy humans are the product of healthy bonding
◦ “attachment theory” — that with loving nurture an infant forms a secure base
◦ later in life, these people are able to form health relationships with other adults
• Paul recognized love is “perfect bond of unity” (Col. 3:14)

Another great aphorism picked up by Alcoholics Anonymous

In a small group Bible study this last week, a woman quoted a proverb she learned in AA
– she told us that she had found it useful in developing new and healthy habits
• “Fake it till you make it”
– a couple days later I mentioned to her, “You know, when we do what’s right, we’re not really faking it”
• smiling, she said, “I know”

To walk in Christian spirituality never requires us to fake it
– this was the sinkhole of the scribes and Pharisees: “hypocrites” (Mt. 23:13-33)
• we do not have to fake or pretend anything
• what the history of Christian spirituality teaches us is that to make progress, it is necessary to have a practice
◦ a practice of biblical study and also of intense listening to scripture
◦ a daily practice of active prayer and contemplative prayer
◦ a practice of tending to the needs of others
– so rather than face it until you make it, the approach is practice it until you master it
• practice until it becomes natural — your new habit

The purpose of having a practice is to move into the reality of faith
– the Bible has not constructed an imaginary world
• it has revealed the real universe and it consists of more than our four dimensions
◦ but to see this as well as Paul saw it takes practice
• I can fantasize playing classical music on the guitar, but it would not become reality without practice

Isn’t it remarkable that the practice Paul implores takes us straight to other people
– our spiritual progress is directly related to way we treat others
• it is not about having visions of God or seeing angels
• it is about loving the people we can see and in this way showing love to the God we cannot see
◦ it is in our daily interactions with other people that our spiritual growth is tested and challenged

If through contemplative spirituality I have come to a place of contentment in life, have a strong and consistent awareness of God’s presence, if I am able to embrace mystery, enjoy ceaseless prayer and ongoing thanksgiving, if God’s spiritual blessings belong to me, Jesus Christ is living in my heart, and all of this is real to me, then it will not a stretch (and never a hardship) for me to treat others well

• humility, gentleness, patience and acceptance will come to me naturally
◦ practicing these things takes me right direction
– can I become a better person without becoming a different person? No.
• can I become a different person without adopting a different practice? Not likely.

Conc: You and I will be taking walks this week

Even if it is no more than from the parking lot to a store or from the end of the hall to our office
– as we walk we will make choices – where to turn, how to pace ourselves, etc.
• along the way, we’ll have lots of opportunities to adopt a practice
• opportunities to walk consistently with the wonder of God who walks with us

One Comment

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  1. Paul Udell / Jan 3 2015

    Your comment, ” it is listening to the voice of another—acknowledging the “self ” of the other, said it perfectly. Unfortunately we react, objectify, and negate the ” self ” of the other before we think.

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