One Crucial Word

I don’t think it’s too much of a stretch to say that Ephesians 4:1 contains one particular word that is crucial to notice if we’re going to understand how we’re to approach living the Christian life. There, the apostle Paul writes the following: “I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called.”

Yes, I’ll admit you could actually make a good case that several of the words Paul uses here communicate important truths in regard to living out our faith. But I want to concentrate our attention on a term that might appear at first glance to be an unlikely candidate to illustrate a foundation biblical principle: “therefore.” (For those of you reading an NIV Bible, it’s translated as “then.”)

Why is this seemingly nondescript word so important? Well, at the risk of sounding a bit corny, it’s worth remembering an important rule of biblical interpretation: always ask what the “therefore” is there for. In this case, we can understand Paul to be saying that his exhortation to “walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called” is to be seen in light of something he’s already written.

Realizing this, many biblical scholars would suggest in this case that Paul’s “therefore” is meant to call attention to everything he’s written up to that point in the letter. And going back through the previous three chapters, we find that Paul has written almost exclusively about the truth of what God has done for his people in Christ. To put it another way, it is three chapters of rich, sustained reflection on the truth of the gospel. A sample passages:

Eph. 1:3 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, 4 even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love 5 he predestined us for adoption through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, 6 to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved. 7 In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace, 8 which he lavished upon us, in all wisdom and insight 9 making known to us the mystery of his will, according to his purpose, which he set forth in Christ 10 as a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth.

If we slow down long enough to ponder what Paul is saying, we’ll find it to be simply staggering. God has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing. Motivated by his love, he has marked out his people before our world even existed for the purpose of bringing us into his own family. Lavishing (an extravagant word) the riches of his grace upon us, he has redeemed us, i.e., purchased us from our bondage to slavery and forgiven us of all the wretched disobedience we’ve committed.

A few verses later, Paul expresses his first prayer for the Ephesians, that they would understand what God has given them in his Son:

1:17 that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you a spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of him, 18 having the eyes of your hearts enlightened, that you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints, 19 and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power toward us who believe, according to the working of his great might 20 that he worked in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places, 21 far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the one to come.

Notice Paul prays that they would know “what is the hope to which he has called you,” i.e., the eternal glory of life with God, a gift so wonderful that we can scarce imagine it at present. He also makes mention of the “immeasurable greatness of his power toward us who believe.” Elaborating, Paul offers that the power that is at work on behalf of those who trust in Christ is the very same power that proved its jaw-dropping potency by raising Christ from the dead and seated him above every other power.

Of course, none of this was deserved. In chapter two, Paul explains that every believer was once “dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked,” a follower of Satan (!) and, a child of wrath, a sobering description if there ever was one. And yet, it was while we were in this state—supremely unlovable, hopelessly unworthy—that God poured out his love and blessing:

2:4 But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, 5 even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved— 6 and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, 7 so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. 8 For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, 9 not a result of works, so that no one may boast. 10 For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.

God’s people, at his instigation and by his power, have gone from being destined for his wrath to people who now demonstrate the riches of his grace and the wonder of his redemptive workmanship.

Is it really any wonder then that Paul goes on to mention that that the Ephesians would be granted the “strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God” (3:18-19). Make sure you catch that: Paul prays that they would know the love Christ has for them, the love so rich it surpasses knowledge!

And it’s only after all of that (and more) that Paul turns to the manner in which the Ephesians are to carry out their lives. Because, as I hope you can start to understand, it makes a great deal of difference to read the commands in the final three chapters of Ephesians knowing that they are given by a God who has already done so much on our behalf, who so obviously loves us and wants the best for us. It makes a great deal of difference to know that an immeasurable power is available for us to live out the instruction he gives. As it turns out, these are not the demands of some joyless, cruel taskmaster. They are not the means for a man-centered, moralistic approach to God. Instead, they’re the commands of a loving Father, a Father who is fashioning and equipping us so that we might live in a manner that happily leads both to our good and his glory. Therefore—only in full view of all of these stunning realities—let us walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which we have been called.

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