Victor Hugo’s novel, Les Miserables, tells the story of Jean Valjean, a man who serves a 19 year prison sentence for stealing a loaf of bread to feed his poor, starving family. After serving his prison sentence, Valjean is physically freed, but spiritually and emotionally he is enslaved to bitterness and rage due the injustice he endured. Searching for a place to stay the night, he is repeatedly shunned and turned away. At last a clergyman, Bishop Myriel, offers Valjean Gospel hospitality. He trusts him, feeds him, and gives him a bed for the night. During the night, Valjean absconds with the bishop’s silverware and silver plates. He is quickly arrested, and the police bring him back to the bishop to return the stolen items. But the bishop rebukes Valjean in the presence of the police for “forgetting” to take the silver lampstands as a gift from him. Valjean is dumbfounded at the bishop’s mercy and grace and is released. But moments after experiencing this mercy, Valjean steals a coin from a little boy and chases him away. Immediately after the boy runs away, Valjean is gripped with guilt, and he chooses repentance. He attempts to find the boy to return the money and begins a new life of extending kindness, love, and grace toward others. Valjean steps out of the darkness and begins being a light. He begins battling evil and living in the mercy and grace he has received. This is our calling as Christians. God delivered us from darkness, and He intends to use us to bring others into the beautiful light of His mercy and grace. In Ephesians 3 and 4, we see three primary ways God instructs us to go on the attack and seize ground from the enemy.
1. Pray for Power & Hearts Rooted in Love (3:14-21)
If our hearts are not rooted in love, they’ll be rooted in pride, or bitterness, selfishness. This is a call for men and women to be after God’s own heart. Every night when I tuck my children into bed, this is my prayer for them.
He raised up David to be their king, of whom he testified and said, ‘I have found in David the son of Jesse a man after my heart, who will do all my will.’ – Acts 13:22
Now if you read your Bible, and you should, you’ll see that David did some really messed up things—adultery and murder. So why does God, thru the apostle Paul, a thousand years later still refer to David as a man after his own heart? The answer is grace and mercy. A few weeks ago, Chaplain Dan Potter preached from Ephesians 2 how God is rich in mercy. You know what happens when we squander his mercy? He gives more mercy. That’s what it means when the Bible says He’s rich in mercy. God poured out mercy and grace on David. He didn’t deserve it. Jean Valjean experienced this in Les Mis. At first it confounded him, but then he received it. None of us “deserve” it. David didn’t deserve it.
David was a man chasing the heart of God, and when he disobeyed and sinned against God, he repented. He turned away from his sin and chose humility. Though he was arguably the most powerful man in the world, David knew he needed to be right with God and he needed His mercy and grace.
This is the way of Jesus. It’s daily dying to self. It’s continual repentance. I struggle to avoid sin every day. Our adversary wants us to always see the problem as being “out there.” This person hurt me, so and so did this to me. But our King wants us to see that our biggest problems are almost always in here—in our hearts. I don’t do what I was made to do. Why is that? Because sin dwells within me. There are cosmic forces that are working to keep us from confessing sin and repentance.
Do we really live in the reality that we face evil spiritual forces?
12 For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.
If we did, we would pray like it. We would pour out our hearts to God and ask Him for His strength.
2. Walk Worthy of our Calling (4:1-7)
I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, 2 with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, 3 eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. 4 There is one body and one Spirit—just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call— 5 one Lord, one faith, one baptism, 6 one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all. 7 But grace was given to each one of us according to the measure of Christ’s gift.
Embracing humility, gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eagerly pursuing unity, strengthening bond of peace
Dying to self is how we walk (do life) worthy of our calling. There is no other way. The Way of Jesus means our pride, self-centeredness, selfishness must be put to death.
Then Jesus told his disciples, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. Matthew 16:24
We’ll either walk worthy of our calling, or we’ll walk (do life) unworthy of it.
If our hearts aren’t rooted in love, reliant on God’s power, then we won’t walk worthy of our calling.
When we dishonor our King, we’ve lost the battle. We are worse than combat ineffective. The enemy uses us to sow division and discord. We’re focused on ourselves, and when we rebel against God we usher in strife and break the bond of peace. Our adversary desperately wants the church, this chapel community to be divided. He hates us, and he wants to bitterness and hatred to rule us.
In C.S. Lewis’ book The Screwtape Letters, Wormwood is a demon dedicated to sidelining or destroying Christians and humans. His demon uncle Screwtape pens him letters giving him advice on how to accomplish this objective. They refer to Jesus as the “Enemy” and here’s how Screwtape advises Wormwood on one occasion:
“Whenever they are attending to the Enemy Himself we are defeated.” In other words, whenever they’re focused on honoring and serving God, we (Satan and the forces of evil) lose. Screwtape continues. “But there are ways of preventing them from doing so. The simplest is to turn their gaze away from Him towards themselves.”
Screwtape is exactly right. That’s how we fail and suffer defeat on the battlefield. When we turn our gaze away from Jesus, we are like Peter when he is walking on the water to Jesus and then he looks down. How do we focus on ourselves? We fix our eyes on our own comfort. Music’s loud. Seating arrangement annoys me. We fix our eyes on the approval of man. We demand control. We demand others cater to our preferences. We want power. We must win.
But God tells us in this passage, that shouldn’t be us. People live our lives according to a plausibility structure. It’s this idea that as we think about life, something either sounds right or it doesn’t. Well, the world operates by a plausibility structure that is messed up. I mean just turn on the news. Anybody over the past year just look at what’s going on in the world and come away with, “Wow things are going just peachy!” If you do, we probably need to drug test you. But the Gospel offers a different way, a better way of doing life. The church is designed to be countercultural. We’re designed to challenge the world’s plausibility structure.
Jesus tells us, and it translates well from first century Greek to Tennessean, “Ya’ll are the light of the world.” You collectively, the church, are the light of the world. Now we all, individually are commanded to be holy and serve God, but Jesus commands us to carry out our calling in community with other Christians. At Agape, we do this thru missional communities.
We’re going to hurt one another, we’re going to disappoint one another. It’s OK to feel anger. But what we do with that emotion is mission critical. Anger is one letter away from danger. When we let anger rule over us, then we lob grenades at people around us. The shrapnel of our sin wounds many people, and the bond of peace among the church community is weakened or shattered. When people get hurt or angry, they rail on Facebook. But that shouldn’t be us. We counter that by pursuing peace. We bear with one another in patience and love. We don’t torch people on social media, emails, or text messages. We choose to extend mercy and grace, because our King has poured out mercy and grace on us.
Can I just be honest with you? There are people who have hurt me. I fight against becoming jaded and unforgiveness taking root in my heart. I can give in to pettiness and self-pity. “Really? After all we’ve done to love and care for you, you choose to do me that way?” But God tells us, “You must forgive as I’ve forgiven you.” Jesus taught us to pray, “Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.” He knows we’re going to be hurt by others. I cannot defeat my desire to fix my gaze on myself without God’s strength and His power. Neither can you.
I pray for us and ask God to illuminate any feelings or struggles with bitterness, unforgiveness and bring them to the forefront of our hearts. Let’s give it to Him.
We see from this passage that we have to fight for harmony among the body of Christ. We must take risks and pursue reconciliation. We’re not called to live by fear. We’re called to live by faith. The only way we can walk by faith, walk worthy is if we acknowledge like John the Baptizer did, “He must increase, I must decrease.” John 3:30
3. Serve and Mature (4:11-16)
11 And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, 12 to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, 13 until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, 14 so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes. 15 Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, 16 from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love.
The apostles and prophets God has given to us thru His Word. The evangelists are the faithful followers who fulfilled the Great Commission and proclaimed the Gospel to us. God has given Agape and every church community pastors, teachers, spiritual gifts to everyone of his sons and daughters to help strengthen the body and achieve unity. These believers are here to help you grow. We speak the truth to one another to help one another grow. We don’t slander or rage on Facebook. That’s the world’s response. We give it to Jesus who tells us “to cast our cares on Him, because He cares for You.” (1 Peter 5:7)
Are you tired of playing defense? Our atmosphere is so charged right now. If we’re going to go on the attack against the darkness, then we have to equip one another and grow up spiritually. So what does it look like to be a spiritually mature Christian?
It’s exactly what we see in this passage! You’re praying and relying on God’s power. You’re guarding your heart and chasing after the heart of God. You’re walking worthy of your calling with humility, gentleness, patience, pursuing unity, and peace among your brothers and sisters in Christ. You’re serving others by using your spiritual gifts. You’re strengthening the faith of your brothers and sisters in Christ. That’s how we grow.
Your age, how long you’ve been a Christian, how long you’ve been in church—that’s not how God defines spiritual maturity and combat readiness. He measures our growth and maturity by faithful obedience and servanthood. Are we following Him?
During Jesus’ ministry, two of his disciples, the Zebedee brothers, approach him one day and ask Jesus to sit at his right and left by His throne. In other words, they’re saying, “Jesus we want to be the greatest, and we want to be seated beside you so everybody knows it.” Now notice that Jesus doesn’t rebuke James and John for wanting to be great. It’s because He want us all to achieve greatness. But He wants us to be Kingdom great. So Jesus redirects them and explains how we achieve true greatness.“But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, 44 and whoever would be first among you must be slaveof all. 45 For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” Mark 10:43-45
Jesus is saying, in my Kingdom, this is how you achieve greatness. Jesus is saying, “the disciple is not above the Master.” Jesus is the greatest, because He is the ultimate servant—taking my sin and your sin on his shoulders and dying in our place as our Substitute. C.J. Mahaney writes, “Serving others for the glory of God. This is the genuine expression of humility; this is true greatness as the Savior defined it.”
Serving others to honor God is the pathway to growing in humility and experiencing spiritual growth. If you’re wondering why you’re not experiencing spiritual growth or intimacy with God in your life, there’s a high probability that it has to do with a) your heart not being rooted in love for our King and b) your failure to obey Jesus and consistently serve others.
It’s possible to become a Christian, but remain a spiritual baby or child, because of disobedience. Because we don’t do what we’re commanded to do in this passage. We walk in pride instead of humility when we expect people to serve us instead of obediently and humbly serving others. You cannot mature as a Christian apart from servanthood.
James 1:19 tells us to be “slow to speak, quick to listen, slow to become angry.” So often, do the opposite. We’re quick to speak, slow to listen, quick to become angry. When we are easily angered, we’re not gentle and patient with one another; we don’t fight for harmony and peace and, instead, we sow seeds of division and hostility. That should not be how we live. We’re living unworthy of our calling when we disobey.
If we’re honest, we all fail to live worthy of our calling. But the beauty of the Gospel is that God forgives us and lavishes His grace on us. To receive His forgiveness and grace, we must choose to turn away from our sins (this is repentance), and when we turn, we’re greeted by the loving arms of our Heavenly Father. He helps us walk worthy like a Father helps a toddler learn her first wobbly steps. He provides strength, encouragement, and grace for us to be obedient and grow into mature Christians.
We can’t inflict damage to the enemy if we’re spiritual toddlers. But if we are growing and maturing into men and women of God, then we are combat effective and dangerous to the enemy. Our King has wants to strengthen us, grow us into spiritually mature manhood/womanhood, so we are battle-ready.
How will you grow in praying for God’s strength and power?
What would it look like in your life to walk worthy of your calling?
How is God pressing you to grow and mature in your walk with Him?