First Chapel address as EMM president 10/4/11
When Richard called me last week and invited me to do the chapel address today the first thing that came to my mind was that today was to be my second day in the office which means that I barely know the place leave alone the people although I know quite a number of you from my previous involvement in different settings. I am still getting lost here when I leave my office especially when I go downstairs. So, it is quite a task to speak this morning here in this chapel although this is my second time to speak here my first was last year. I thought that it would be proper for my first message to center on the call of gospel which I believe is the reason we are here and the reason for which EMM exists.
No other place in the New Testament in my judgment is more fitting for such a reflection than the prison letters. In these four letters I believe we are challenged deeply to reflect on the meaning of our Christian call or the call of the gospel. Growing up in the church in East Africa, I kind of got this idea that being a Christian sort of made you special and set you apart form other people who were not Christians. This implied among other things that your life would be protected and nothing bad would happen to you. But one look at the prison letters calls such an assumption into question.
One such letter is the book of Ephesians. I believe that the very notion that Paul wrote this book while in prison ought to cause us to pause and reflect deeper on what it means to be called into God’s ministry. To be in prison in Paul’s time was much more like being in prison in the developing world in which I was born and grew up; it is not like being in our prisons here in America today. If you have any doubts about that read Philippians and discover Paul’s thankfulness for the care he received from the Philippians while he was in prison no wonder in Philippians Paul expresses a warm and special relationship with the community that he had come to love as they cared for him in prison and partnered with him in the Gospel.
In the book of Ephesians Paul reflects on his imprisoned state but still espouses a sense of commitment to the calling of the Gospel on his life and insists on the difference such a calling makes in terms of how we live our lives. Therefore, he reminds the Ephesians and us to look back and refresh our memory of the calling we received for while we were yet sinners Christ died for us.
This morning allow me to highlight two things in verses 1-6:
1. The meaning of “our calling”
2. Guarding and protecting our unity
1. Our Calling (Eph. 4:1)
What Paul meant by “our calling” here is not a specific ministry calling to an area of gifting or a specific role but rather the basic calling of the gospel which compelled you and I to believe in Jesus as the risen Lord and king and to give him complete and undivided allegiance for the rest of your life and mine. Paul had done exactly that and where did such a commitment land him? It landed him in prison. Sometime our idea of God’s call does not come close to Paul’s experience here or the experiences of other biblical characters. Think again as you look at Paul’s situation and that of the prophets not to mention Jesus himself. Obedience to God’s calling does not always translates to easy life it might actually make your life more challenging. Our Anabaptist forebears discovered that and Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote, “When the Lord bids you come, he bids you come and die.”
From my perspective as I read the prison letters and I don’t think I am alone on this, I wonder whether Paul might have realized that he made a wrong career choice when he abandoned his position in the Pharisaic school and followed the self-proclaimed Lord who was a no show in his time of need. After all he was doing the Lord’s work and the least the Lord could do for him would have been to show up and break some chains in a dramatic red-sea fashion and show the authorities who really was in charge. Perhaps that would have convinced Paul that he made an excellent career move; God was acting on his behalf now!
But that was not the case at least from what we can see. However, in spite of that not being the case, Paul still wrote this letter to the Ephesians, which I believe, tells us that he had a different understanding of his calling. He saw no contradiction in his calling by being in prison. He actually was even more convinced that faithfulness to his calling would lead to him being in prison therefore he wrote this letter instructing the church on how to live a life worthy of their calling. Because their calling meant that they lived differently regardless of the curve balls life threw on their way. He was fully committed to Jesus and he wanted the church to succeed and be faithful to her lord.
For Paul and I believe for us as well, our ministry calling invites us to a life lived in complete abandonment to our Lord Jesus Christ. A key part of this calling is the Christian hope. Hope in the risen Lord does not disappoint us. We believe that since Jesus conquered death itself, all who give him their faithful allegiance are assured that same victory. No wonder Paul calls Jesus the “first born among many siblings” and Jesus’ resurrection as the “first fruits” implying a plentiful harvest yet to follow. This is the ‘calling’ to which the Ephesians and you and I ought to live up to. At every moment, in every decision, in all word and action, you and I are to remember that the call that we received to follow Jesus trumps everything else in our lives. For some of us here at EMM, the restructuring process has brought deep pain and we are saddened that some of our colleagues are leaving us. This is sad, it is painful and we must accept that. However, let this situation not bring doubt in your mind and heart in regards to God’s calling on your life. For those of us that will continue to work here, this calling must lead us back always to celebrate our unity as Christians and guard and protect that unity.
How then shall we relate as we do God’s work at EMM? (2-3)
• Humility (lowliness of mind)
As Paul brings out the implications of how we are to live, we see why he begins as he does. Paul draws on his own life situation as a prisoner and invites us to live our lives likewise. What could be more humbling than being in chains? It is natural to strive for upward mobility and being in prison hardly gets you there in fact it does the opposite. We all instinctively try to get the best for ourselves. It is easy for this natural tendency to be nourished in such a way that people become selfish, concentrating on what will be to their own advantage. When we consider our calling, humility not pride is the value we ought to embody. Jesus showed us this by becoming like one of us (Phil. 4:5-11).
Jesus combined these two terms together in Matthew 11 when he says of himself as gentle and humble in heart. To be gentle is not to be easily ruffled, or easily stirred up by daily irritations with co-workers, parents, or children. Gentleness is the powerful ability to be composed when everyone around you is losing it. Gentleness is not timidity, or lack of courage; it is a consideration that comes from the Spirit’s work in us. See the fruit of the Spirit in Galatians 5.
• Patience (to be long tempered)
We have the word ‘short-tempered;” we do not usually speak of the opposite virtue as “long-tempered,’ but this is the literal meaning of the word Paul uses here. It points to the state that resists provocation. When a wrong is done to us our natural tendency is to resist strongly, perhaps even to pay back the wrongdoer for the wrong that has been done. The Christian is one who through rigorous practices such as prayer, worship, etc develops a resistance to the temptation to strike back.
Endurance (to hold up; to bear with, forbearance)
Christians are not always easy to get along with contrary to the assumption that we are like Christ, and fellow Christians sometimes irritate us, so the temptation comes to be short with one another. But this, Paul says, is not the Christian way. Just as we’ve been forgiven, we must also bear with others, put up with their shortcomings and at times even their sins against us.
Our struggles with others are best reflected in that familiar saying:
To dwell above with saints we love, / O that will be glory
But to dwell below with saints we know, / Well, that’s another story.
“Make every effort…”This should be your aim; this should your goal. The focus of your life should be here. The words, “to keep”, literally mean to guard, to hold fast, or to preserve. The point is that even though we do not create unity, we are to stand on guard to make every effort to ensure that this unity is not disrupted. Frankly, at times, you may have to work diligently to keep the unity at work; it isn’t always easy. The verb “to keep” indicates that it is fragile and needs to be guarded, kept carefully. The fact that we are told to bear with one another, to be patient, gentle and humble is an admission that we will not always see eye-to-eye; we will at times be in error; we will annoy and even irritate those around us.
2. Protect the unity we already have by his grace (4-6)
We are members of the same body and sharers in the same spirit. We possess the same hope. Above all, we have the same Lord, the same faith, the same baptism, and the same God, the true God, the sovereign one, who stands over against all other gods and goddesses. Unity is something we long for; we cherish it. But unfortunately, unity is tremendously lacking in our world. What is worse is that it is often lacking where it should exist most clearly, in our churches.
Paul stressed unity in chapter 2, where the emphasis was on the astonishing coming-together of Jew and Gentile in God’s new family in Christ. Paul now looks to instruct these believers to guard and protect that unity. As sovereign and triune God, He has chosen us, redeemed us and sealed us with his unity by placing us together as the body of Christ, with the Lord Jesus as our head; we are united to one another. The old lines of division are done away with. In Paul’s day, it was the Jew-Gentile distinction. We must work diligently to maintain, nurture and develop the unity we already enjoy, and to overcome, demolish and put behind us the disunity we still find ourselves in. Our lives are to reflect that which God has done and God’s calling.