Ephesians 4:1&2 “As a prisoner for the Lord, then, I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received. Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love.”
Why should we Christians live any differently from people who have another religion or no faith in God at all? How are we different? A cynic would say, “I don’t think you are any different from the rest of us.” Certainly we don’t dress any differently – there’s no distinctive Christian uniform. Our haircuts or hairstyles are no different from an atheist’s. Our diets are the same; some of us are vegetarians but most of us are not, but that kind of thing changes. Some Christians are on the Atkins diet but most, I guess, aren’t. We don’t talk a special language, though there are terms to do with our faith which God has given to us, our own little vocabulary, which every Christian quickly learns. We Christians don’t all live in the same place, for example, in a Christian new town development, or in a commune. Our homes vary and are indistinguishable from other homes of our own income group. Yet I would claim that we do things differently from non-Christians, for example, we worship God on Sundays. We meet with other Christians and we pray, we sing praise to God, we listen to the Bible being explained to us, we break bread at the Lord’s Supper. We act in that way every Sunday. That is something we do that is different. We also give thanks to God for our daily food, and that too is different. We don’t take the name of the Lord in vain, and the foul language that you can hear anywhere you don’t normally hear on the lips of Christians, and so we are different in things we do and say. If you were to ask me in what respect Christian morals are different from the morals of other people then I would suggest such elementary behaviour as that. Christian living is much more than that, but it is never any less than that.
1. CHRISTIAN ORTHODOXY MUST LEAD TO CHRISTIAN ORTHOPRAXIS.
There is the little word ‘then’ in our text. In many translations it is rendered ‘therefore’ which I would prefer here, and it is the link word between what has been written and what Paul is going to write. Paul has been explaining to the Christians in Ephesus the truths that we Christians believe, and at this juncture in the letter he moves on to deal with the way we Christians should live. ‘Then’ or ‘therefore’ he says, in other words, in the light of what you’ve just been reading, these are the implications for how you are to live and they are as follows . . . and he opens up the theme of new living day by day. Many of you are aware that that is Paul’s pattern in a number of his letters, that he begins with Christian truth and then moves on practical advice. We see that particularly in the letter to the Romans; the first eleven chapters are all about the salvation of God in Jesus Christ and then in chapter twelve of Romans Paul turns to Christian living. “Therefore present your bodies as living sacrifices to God,” he says, and the next four or five chapters deal with the moral outworking of the faith. You meet that same pattern again in the letter to the Galatians where the first two thirds of the epistle deal with Christ’s salvation, which is all of grace, and the last third is a plea that the Galatian Christians live by the power of that grace and not be burdened once more under a yoke of slavery by trying to keep religious traditions like circumcision and food laws.
So in the first half of this letter to the Ephesians Paul has been showing his readers the greatness of God’s redemption in Christ, even concluding that section with a doxology – “To God be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever, Amen.” That effectively is a line that he draws across the page. He has finished one section with that ‘Amen’ but he doesn’t end his letter there; he doesn’t speak to the next Christian who visits him in prison asking him to arrange for this letter now to be taken eastwards across the land of Italy, and then across the sea, and across Greece, and then across another sea, finally arriving in Ephesus in Asia Minor and taken to the elders of the church there for them to read it to the congregation on the next Lord’s Day. “Yes, certainly, Paul. We’ll arrange that.” It is going to be another week or so before he’ll have finished this letter. Paul is not quite half way through it yet, and before he completes it he wants to exhort the Ephesians about living elevated and noble lives which will reflect something of this glorious Lord who has redeemed them. They have received Paul’s doctrinal input, but now they must display a practical output in their daily lives – if they are indeed genuine Christians.
You may remember that our Lord Jesus speaks at the end of the Sermon on the Mount about many self-deluded men and women who died in the false hope that they were Christians. They had the right beliefs about Christ; they used the right words; they worked for him and even did extraordinary things in his name, but he will say to many such people, “Depart from me, I never knew you.” They were never received in heaven, and one reason for that was that they weren’t living as Paul describes in the second half of this letter. Holding orthodox doctrinal convictions is not a passport to heaven. You can talk the talk; are you walking the walk?
Let me stay for a moment on this point. I don’t want to seem to denigrate revealed Christian teaching. You surely know how important truth is. How crucial it is to believe Ephesians chapters one, two and three, those words, written there on the pages before you. They are to be read and understood and believed. That is why God has given them to us. You don’t have an option about that. You cannot be selective as to what purple passages you believe and as for the rest feel they can be ignored. God has spared not his own Son to redeem us from sin. Redemption has all been achieved through the incarnation, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. That fact and also what it means has been recorded by the Holy Spirit through Christ’s apostles in the Bible. Unbelief is a sin.
Bill Oddie writes of a vicar who told him he was greatly relieved when the Apostles’ Creed was changed from beginning “I believe in God the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth . . .” to “We believe . . .” because he didn’t believe a fair number of the statements of the Creed. In saying ‘we’ he felt that there would always be someone in the congregation who believed the bits which he rejected. Such men are wolves in sheep’s clothing, that is, false prophets of whom we were warned by Jesus. Your right to stand in a pulpit before a church and teach them the Word of God depends on your believing what Scripture says. That is your great authority, and without it you are nothing. We’re not interested in listening to men who say, “Well, I think of God like this . . .” I couldn’t care less. Your only right to inform my mind when you stand in a pulpit is that you believe the revelation of God in his word and that you endorse the truth by a Godfearing life. So Paul’s concern at this juncture, after having expounded the doctrines God had given him, is to expound the principles of conduct that please God. So, true Christian teaching should lead to righteous Christian living; our behaviour flows out of what we believe about God and his salvation.
This is a pattern seen not only on the grand scale of the structure of the great New Testament letters but in the simple exhortations that pop up here and there in any chapter. Our daily behaviour is structured within the great events of redemption. Let me give you one example from the letter to Titus. In the second chapter Paul says these words, “say ‘No’ to ungodliness and worldly passions, and . . . live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age,” (v.12). That is a moral exhortation, and you might find similar sentiments in other religions or philosophies. But you will not find them in those systems of belief set in this context in which Paul sets them. Notice the context for that ethical exhortation; firstly, the apostle looks back into recent history to the coming of the Lord Jesus Christ and he says in the eleventh verse; “For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men.” In other words, grace has become incarnate in God the Son and has preached the Sermon on the Mount to men; that revelation of the divine grace teaches us how to live, “It teaches us to say ‘No’ to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age,” but then we can see that Paul also looks ahead to another event in the future; “while we wait for the blessed hope – the glorious appearing of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ” (vv.11-13). Our eyes are on the throne of judgment and the eternal state, and so Christians are to live different lives, because of what God has done, once and for all, through Jesus Christ, and also because of what God promises that he will yet do through him.
Let me explain this crucial point again very simply so that the youngest can understand. We sing the great hymn, “When I survey the wondrous cross on which the Prince of glory died.” Now that is Christian doctrine. We are affirming in those words that the cross of Christ is not the ordinary death of a criminal, that it an object of wonder and amazement because Jesus of Nazareth was the Prince of glory hanging on Golgotha. He was in agony dying there for my sins because he loved me. So how am I to respond to that? The hymnist tells us, “Love so amazing, so divine, demands my soul, my life, my all.” Henceforth my life (as someone saved by the Prince of glory’s precious blood) is going to be different. I am not going to live for myself from now on, but my soul and my life and my all is going to be for him, the one who died for me. The moment we believe in the cross work of Christ, the moment we are born again, we are going to change our way of life.
I must move on, and I’ll let go of this matter in one more moment, but this theme of living a different life as a Christian is so very important that there’s a final point I want to make to clarify it as well as I’m able. Let me put it in this way, that you have members of your family who are not Christians. There are people who live on your street and they never darken the doors of a church from one year to the next. Many of those people, your family and neighbours, are simply grand people. They have splendid family lives; they don’t fool around; they give themselves to caring for older parents and for their children. They are people of integrity in their jobs; they can hold a firm together by their dedication and they’re greatly respected. We Christians also seek to live moral lives like they do, but sometimes we feel they live more consistent lives than ourselves. They put us to shame. In what ways are we different as Christians? Or think of the righteousness of the Pharisees. In what spirit did the early Christians live so that their whole outlook was different from merely moral men? Let me ask it like this; how is a Christian woman different from a Stepford wife? I suggest in four or five ways.
i] Firstly, our motives for living lives of self-denial are different from theirs. We live as we do in gratitude to God for what he has done for us in Jesus Christ.
ii] Secondly, our energy to go on denying ourselves, and turning the other cheek, and not retaliating comes from outside our own genetic or environmental resources. It comes from a wholly different source, from our tapping the fulness of grace in the heavenly Lord Christ and in the indwelling Spirit of Jesus Christ.
iii] Thirdly, the instructions we receive in how we should behave come to us from a different authority. God has inspired the writers of Scripture and we accept this Book as the word of God. It binds our consciences to obey the Old and New Testaments. It is an endemic part of our lifestyles to be submitting to the Bible.
iv] Fourthly, our purpose in living a Godfearing life is different. We live to please our Saviour, and spread his kingdom, and honour our God by behaving in this new way. Men should see our good works and glorify our Father who is in heaven, said Jesus.
v] Fifthly, our hope is different, that we are going to heaven to be with Christ, and those who have such a hope purify themselves in preparation for that goal.
So it’s in that ethos or that spirit that we are utterly different, besides the fact that we also do such different things as worship God each Sunday, and guard our tongues from taking his name in vain, and so on. Our actions come out of our purpose and goal in life. So Paul is making this link between what we believe and how we live. Our conduct is deduced from the teachings we believe. Beliefs and practice must never be separated.
2. WE ARE BEING CHALLENGED BY ONE OF THE SUFFERING APOSTLES.
“As a prisoner for the Lord, then, I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received” (v.1). The first Christians suffered much for their Lord; he had made that prospect clear to them, “Blessed are you when men revile you and persecute you and say all manner of evil against you falsely for my sake.” It was going to happen, and it did and then they would know its blessing. They were disowned by their families and thrown out of the synagogues. They were stoned, and killed with the sword, and crucified. Paul spent years in prison, but he tells us that he never regarded himself as Caesar’s prisoner but always as the prisoner of Jesus. It was the Lord who had put him there in that cell, not the Jews, and not the Romans. The Lord has chained him to that particular soldier that day. Everything is of the Lord; of him, and through him, and to him are all things. It is crucial for all of us to believe that truth. There is no one here who is not locked into certain circumstances that are hard to bear. Maybe you are doing academic courses you don’t like; you are far from home and are hurting because of that; you are in difficult families or marriages; you have a boss who is insensitive; you feel trapped, and there seems to be no escape. It is important for you to think like Paul, “The Lord has put me here. I’m his prisoner. He must have a purpose for me in this situation, and I shall find out what it is.”
When we start thinking like that immediately we have escaped from a preoccupation with our particular prison. “God has set me in this place, and God is keeping me while I’m here. I wonder why he’s done that?” What has happened? The focus is no longer on yourself; you’ve stopped feeling sorry for yourself; the focus is not on what others have said and done and how they’ve hurt you, and so on, but on what your Saviour has done to you. It is his will in these circumstances that is the first thing, and the last thing, and the only thing that matters. So everything that happens to you must serve God’s will. You say, “I must get in line with what God is doing through this problem.” That is the Christian response to providence. All your dealings must be with the Lord and no one else. Those who are restricting you are merely the means of sending you to God. Paul as a prisoner, with all the humiliation, deprivation, hardship, loss of freedom and suffering that such a regimen entailed yet could live a life worthy of the calling he’d received from God to spend some years in prison. So Paul felt himself a free man, and also Christ’s prisoner. So could the Ephesians. Paul could not walk out of his cell. The Ephesians were free to walk anywhere. O that their walk was as worthy of their own callings as Paul’s was of his calling while in jail.
3. WE ARE URGED TO LIVE A LIFE WORTHY OF OUR HIGH CALLING.
Live a life worthy of your vocation, the apostle says. Worthy of that? That’s incredible. A worthy winner, yes we understand that. A standing ovation for a brilliant performance – “He is worthy of that,” someone says, and we can understand that too, but not this. God has chosen us to be his children before the foundation of the world. How can anyone be ‘worthy’ of that? God’s own Son gave his life on Golgotha to save me. How can I be ‘worthy’ of that? It is because I am utterly unworthy that I kneel before him and ask for mercy. I am promised the glories of the presence of God for ever, fulness of joy at his right hand for evermore. How can I live a life worthy of that? I cannot. The standard is impossible, but the effort itself is glorious. Anything less is pathetic.
Paul has been reminding these Ephesian Christians for three chapters that they have received this ‘calling’ from God. It is a summons that has effectually brought them into the fellowship of his Son. Henceforth their life is going to be inextricably intertwined with Christ’s own life. What a vocation! They have been summoned out of darkness into God’s marvellous light. “Walk in that light all your days,” for that is their vocation. They have been called to be sons of God, blameless and holy in this present world. That is the calling we have all received as Christians. Live a life worthy of that! Incredible! You have received this change of status; you were once a homeless alien but now you are a son living in your Father’s kingdom. Have you heard of that man who has lived for years in an airport in Paris? He cannot return to his homeland because a new regime is in power and he would immediately be arrested and thrown into prison if he flew back, but he has no immigration papers to enter France; they will not allow him to enter the country. So for years he has lived in a corner of the airport and there seems no likelihood of any change to his status in the immediate future. He belongs nowhere, a stranger and an alien in the world. Hollywood has recently made a movie based on his plight. Or let me bring this nearer to you in quoting a little poem of Richard Hill;
Before she went to bed
Mrs. O’Neill said,
To that nice announcer
On her small T.V.
Because she was eighty
And very much alone.
And when she died
He never even went
to her funeral.”
What a lonely old person, and our culture has many such. Such isolation and alienation was once your status before God; you were not in his kingdom, not receiving God’s provision, and not under his care. You did not know God. You were on the outside as a stranger to Christ. One of the most famous French novels of the 20th century was written by Albert Camus and it describes the existential angst of a man who feels he doesn’t belong anywhere. He never discovers who he is. Ignorant of God he is ignorant of himself. The novel is called L’Etranger, and you can translate that as “The Stranger” or “The Outsider” but such estrangement is the natural status of all men who try to understand the meaning of life without God. As Robert Murray M’Cheyne wrote,
“I once was a stranger to grace and to God,
I knew not my danger, and felt not my load.
Though friends spoke in rapture of Christ on the tree,
Jehovah Tsidkenu meant nothing to me.”
Then in his grace, by the gospel and through the Holy Spirit God summoned you into his kingdom of light and into his family. Now you belong to the Lord; you are a son of God and a joint heir with Christ. Are you living as such people should? Does your life manifest the glorious change? Can you imagine how that man in France would behave if he was given citizenship, and his long imprisonment in that soulless airport came to an end? With what gratitude and obedience he would spend his days walking the boulevards, working at his job, paying his taxes, a legal member of French society with all the privileges of such. At last he belongs somewhere. He wouldn’t be hanging around that airport and keeping the dismal routine of his days a single hour longer.
Paul knows how quickly we come to take for granted our privileged calling in Christ. So here is this amazing command to life a life worthy of our status. Notice that there is this note of urgency in his words to us to be working at this – “I urge you . . .” He is speaking in the imperative to these Ephesians, but this is a pleading command; there’s nothing severe or harsh about his tone. He’s our loving father not the regimental sergeant-major. “You know the teaching concerning forgiveness of your sins through the blood of Christ, that there is no condemnation whatsoever to those who are in Christ Jesus. You can go to Almighty God and look into his face and say “Abba Father” and he loves you as much as he loves his blessed Son Jesus Christ. What a privilege! Are you living a life worthy of that?” That is his kind of exhortation. Paul is encouraging these Christians to live out their callings day by day. See all the wonderful benefits of being in God’s kingdom. Then you say, “I will do nothing to oppose my privileges but I will adorn them by my whole life. I have no right to live to myself. Henceforth I shall live for him.”
4. WE ARE TOLD OF THE MARKS OF THOSE WHO LIVE A WORTHY LIFE.
“Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love” (v.2). That is how those Christians must live who believe the first three chapters of Ephesians. This is a lifestyle worthy of God’s calling; it is one of complete humility, gentleness, patience and loving forbearance towards others. Do you think that that’s an anticlimax? Were you expecting to be told to walk like princes through this world? “Humility? Patience? Gentleness? These are the principal marks of the life of God in the soul of man?” You say, “Are you sure?” What I intend to do is to explain to you first of all these four graces, and then I want to urge you to implement them in your life, and suggest some ways how. They are very similar graces and the importance of them is their cumulative effect.
i] Be completely humble. Paul writes about ‘all humility’ and he means by that humility always, and humility before everyone. It is easy to be humble before the policeman when he has caught you speeding and you don’t want a speeding ticket. It is easy to be humble before a bank manager when you want an extension of your loan. It is easy to be humble before your professor when you haven’t handed in a paper on time. Paul is speaking about clothing yourself from head to foot always with humility; constant humility is his theme.
If you fed this word ‘humility’ into a computer connected with a data base on which every piece of ancient Greek was recorded and told the computer to print out its every instance you would discover that it was a grace almost exclusively found in the New Testament. In other words, as a positive virtue it is a word invented by the New Testament church and by the Holy Spirit to describe this primary Christian grace of lowliness. In the New Testament it describes Paul working among the Ephesians “with great humility” (Acts 20:19). It defines Jesus as the one who is lowly of heart, or the one who humbled himself to death even the death of the cross. This is the word that describes a man who esteems other people better than himself.
ii] Be completely gentle. The word is also translated ‘meek.’ I believe that the only grace that the Lord Jesus Christ claimed for himself is this one, when he said, “Come unto me . . . for I am meek.” In the Sermon on the Mount Jesus said, “Blessed are the meek for they shall inherit the earth.” If a Christian has sinned he is to be restored by his fellow Christians in a spirit of meekness. This is one of the fruit of the Spirit. The Greeks of Paul’s time hated meekness. For them it was a vice; it meant weakness; it was opposed to self-respect. If someone failed in something you said to them, “So you made a mess of things, didn’t you? I could have told you that you would!” But such an attitude shows no strength of character’ that speaker is a bully. Maybe it would be easier to understand meekness if we say what it doesn’t mean. Certainly it doesn’t mean false modesty, and self-depreciation, and a spineless refusal to stand for anything. I am thinking about a singer who has just sung beautifully, and when you complement her she says, “It was nothing . . . I was just getting over a cold;” but she had real God-given talents. She should have said, “Thank you. Don’t mention it.”
One of my professors was told by a missionary who was home on furlough that she’d decided not to return to the mission field, but as he talked to her he found that this missionary nurse wanted to go back more than anything else in the world. Then he learned that she had been taught that if you really desired something you had to deny it for yourself, no matter what it might be. Her greatest desire was to return to that hospital and care for those people, but she felt she had to suppress it for the Lord’s sake. That spirit is not this grace. That’s not meekness, it’s a kind of deceit. Of course it is a natural reaction to the boasting of too many of us Christians, but it is still an ugly weed that needs uprooting. Gentleness is the opposite of an attitude of criticism and faultfinding. You appreciate the good in another because it is a talent given by God, and you treat him with gentleness. Men and women should alw ays encourage children, but they should do so in a way that doesn’t boost their pride. Susanna Wesley advised people not to praise children directly for any natural talents that they might have – physical dexterity, intelligence, a sweet singing voice and so on – but to say to them, “Hasn’t God given you a good mind? Hasn’t God made you strong? Hasn’t God given you pretty hair?” and so on. That is real meekness in operation.
iii] Be patient. Think of Jehovah and how for 40 long years he was longsuffering with his grumbling people in the wilderness. We are being called to make allowances for the shortcomings of others, to endure wrong rather than lose one’s temper. It is no excuse to plead that you have a short fuse, or that your father was like this and your grandfather before him. Your heavenly Father is not like this and you are a partaker of the divine nature. You hear people say, “I blow up, but I don’t hold a grudge!” They explode with anger, but they are not resentful afterwards. It is still wicked behaviour. Do you think Jesus Christ blows up when he sees some of the things you do?
Let me use this illustration; have you seen a puppy playing with an older dog? He yaps at him, bites his ears, worries away at him, snaps at him and never stops. The old dog could crunch his skull in with one bite, but he just ignores him with forbearance and dignity. That’s a picture of patience isn’t it? A church member once went to her minister and told him what a problem she had with her impatient spirit and she asked him to pray for her. So he did; “Lord,” he said, “please send some great tribulations into our sister’s life.” She said to the preacher, “It’s patience I’m lacking. Pray that I might be more patient.” “Haven’t your read Romans 5?” he said to her. “Don’t you know that Paul says that tribulation worketh patience?” God puts us in testing situations to strengthen our patience. We ask for more humility so God will send a man into our lives who doesn’t think we’re the greatest thing since Spurgeon. The man is absolutely right.
iv] Bear with one another in love. You think of the Lord being nailed to the cross, and that there he loved his torturing neighbours as his tortured self. He prayed, “Father forgive them for they know not what they do.” It means that we will always seek the highest good of another. If they hurt us or insult us then we will never show anything but kindness to them. We determine by the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ to show unconquerable good will toward the unlovely and the unlovable, toward those who don’t love us, towards even our enemies. It’s like the preacher at the wedding who said that he hoped the young couple would always have two bears in their home, ‘bear’ and ‘forbear.’ We bear and forbear with one another.
A Chinese Christian noticed how a part of the bank of his paddy fields was being broken in the night by a neighbour and the water flowed down into the neighbour’s rice field. He was laboriously pumping water into his field only for the neighbour to steal that water during the covering of darkness. This happened four times, and so he went to see another Christian in his church and he asked him what he should do. Should he go and talk to his neighbour? The other Christian said to him, “We have to do more than simply that which is just and right.” Those words stuck in his mind and so the next morning he got up earlier than he normally did and first of all he pumped water into his neighbour’s field before he pumped the water into his own field. He did that for a week and throughout that time no breach was made in the banks of his rice-field. His neigbour was astonished at his behaviour, and made inquiries about this man and his faith. In fact it drew the man to believe in Jesus Christ. That is bearing one another with love and showing forbearance. You give your time, and concern, and money, and energy, or whatever it takes to put up with the annoyances and insults and offences that come from other Christians. That is bearing with one another in love. This is the worthy life in God’s sight.
Now this is the way we are to live worthy of God’s glorious calling. I urge you to live like this. I beseech you not to think that this is some ideal simply to be admired. It is not impractical, but actually day after day, for the rest of your life, never stopping, you are called to behave like this everywhere, especially in your homes. All the many times we fall we get up again and repent, and go right back to living in a godly way until you see the Lamb in all his glory in Immanuel’s land.
5 HOW CAN WE BE ENCOURAGED TO LIVE LIKE THIS?
How can I strengthen your determination to live like this? There is no point at all in us coming here on a Sunday and listening to the word of God being preached if we do not do what we hear. We are actually worst off than if we stayed at home. What can I say?
i] Firstly to remind you of what is the opposite of these graces and that is pride, our greatest enemy at every stage of our Christian lives and in every single activity. It was the first sin and it’s the essence of all sin. It’s the sin that God finds most offensive. The Holy Spirit calls it hateful, an abomination and detestable. It robs God of the honour and glory due to him. It grieves the Holy Spirit. But by way of contrast how different humility is. God searches for it and then exalts the humble man. How can a church thrive when there is pride in the pew and pride in the pulpit? Let’s seek to mortify self, and pour contempt on all our pride.
ii] Secondly, let’s all consider God and the sum of his glorious attributes, his unique and unparalleled greatness. Every one of us has to say, “By the grace of God I am that I am,” but God says, “I am that I am.” What we call infinite space is merely a speck floating on his vision. He has no boundaries, no edges, no centre, no one point of concentration, no single place where his essence is located. Everything in creation is in complete dependence on his sustained attention. It can exist moment by moment only in him. The more we are aware of how mighty he is and how insignificant we are the more humble we will become. I urge you to read such books as Jim Packer’s Knowing God, or the opening chapters of Grudem’s Systematic Theology. Jacques Derrida, the French thinker and founder of the movement connected with “deconstruction”, died a few days ago. A film was made about him in 2002 and at one place he ambles through his library. The interviewer look at the shelves of books and asks him, “Have you read all the books in here?” Derrida pauses for a moment; “No,” he replied, “only four of them. But I read those very, very carefully.” It is certainly better to read some books carefully and often rather than to read many books in a cursory way.
iii] Thirdly, let’s never become over-familiar with the cross of Christ. All of us would say that Jesus died for our sins, but are we broken in little pieces by that truth? That bloodied naked man sucking air into his lungs with enormous effort on Golgotha, in intolerable pain, is God the Son, and that death in that darkness is the only way I can be accepted by God. There is no mercy and no pity for me except by the death of the Lord of glory. Am I undermined by that thought? Is my head bowed as I think of it? Is my spirit broken? I look at the Lord Christ on that cross and I say, “That is my only hope of avoiding hell. That is my only hope of God accepting me, because of him hanging there.” Have I faced up to the gross offensiveness to the natural man of those words? They are the very heart of Christianity. There is no possibility of my knowing the grace of humility without that.
iv] Fourthly, our salvation begins with God’s heart and it ends with God’s glory and it depends on God’s grace. There is no place for an atom of self-congratulation if we are saved sinners today. Our salvation is designed so that no man can boast of any part that he played in it, not at all. I am not saying that boasting is discouraged, or boasting is kept to the minimum. God’s plan of the only salvation there is or ever will be means that boasting is impossible. There can be no deep humility without grasping sovereign grace.
v] Fifthly, the Bible’s analysis of my sinful condition must humble me. It describes me as covered in sores and oozing with puss in the sight of God. It tells me that before God I am a corpse. It tells me that I am like a dog eating my own vomit or like a pig wallowing in mud. Aren’t I offended by that? Yet when I see day after day how men behave – when I heard that a man from Liverpool had his head cut off on Friday after 20 days of captivity what more suitable images can be found? There are two categories of sinners and only two; those who do something about their sin, and those who don’t. That again humbles me.
vi] Sixthly, recognise your own relative unimportance. If I died this coming week there would be a sense of shock, a larger crowd at the funeral than if I lived for another decade. There would be a longer time of mourning amongst my close family, and grief in the congregation, but in six months I would become a warm memory for most people, a vaguely familiar voice on some cassettes, and a pile of sermons on the web. God in his mercy and love will have replaced me with a successor and richly anointed him, and I won’t be caring about any of this because I’ll be with my Saviour in heaven. I have to be prepared to be replaced. I’m just keeping the seat warm for someone else. The timing is uncertain but one day I’ll be replaced, and I must be preparing for that now.
vii] Seventhly, every day as you rise acknowledge your dependence on God, and need of God. Appropriate your great High Priest. Thank him for another day, and then preach the gospel to yourself. Then through the day look out for the many answers to prayer that Christians get. Memorise Scripture. Cast your worries very deliberately and constantly on the Lord. Look at the long list of things to do – some of them have been on that list for days – and commit all that remains to his mercy. Pray that not too much harm will come from your ill discipline. At the end of the day thank God for any blessings and help you have had during that day.
And then there’s sleep. What a funny old thing that is. As you drift off to sleep what a reminder of your mortality, that every day you have a desperate, irreversible physiological need of entering into a state of mental and physical incapacity which lasts for seven or eight hours. This is so every single day of your life, as you become utterly helpless and utterly useless. Isn’t that comical? You lie there in your pajamas and snore, and only by submitting to that can your body be restored for another day. God never sleeps, but there is never a day when you don’t have to sleep. What phantoms we are! How can we be anything less that meek and lowly people?
These are some of the ways that we learn to live in complete humility and gentleness and patience bearing with one another in love, and so live lives worthy of the amazing salvation that Christ achieved by himself, and that God has freely given us.
10th October 2004 GEOFF THOMAS