We have been exploring Christian Spirituality through the lens of the Apostle Paul’s letter to the Christian church Paul founded in the city of Ephesus. And today I wanted to begin our conversation on Christian Spirituality with a contrasting view of spirituality. While the person drawing the contrast is a modern person, her thoughts parallel the thoughts of the people Paul addressed.
The modern person is a 22-year-old college student named Lindsey. Lindsey was stopped for an informal, person on the street interview. Lindsey was relaxed smoking a cigarette. She was comfortable speaking with the interviewer about spirituality and God. The interviewer asked, “To you, what is God like?” Lindsey replied, “To me, God is more like an energy than any sort of person. He is an energy that is like within everything, living, animated, not animated. It’s just everywhere.” The interviewer, noticing the cigarette in Lindsey’s hand, asked, “So God is like in your cigarette there? Lindsey replied, “Yep. I am smoking God.”
Lindsey’s view of spirituality is that God is an unrelatable energy force. God cannot be seen, heard, or experience. Instead, God is just there in the things that we can see, eat, or even smoke. In Lindsey’s view there is no difference between you, a chair, a plant, a rock, or a cigarette. Lindsey is not alone in her view of God nor is Lindsey’s view a modern view. This view is called pantheism and it is part of the belief systems of Hindu, Buddhism, Christian Science, and Scientology.
The Apostle Paul faced similar views as he planted churches in the ancient world. As we have seen over the last couple of weeks, Paul, a follower of Jesus Christ, taught a very different view of God than the one to which Lindsey ascribed. Paul taught that Christian Spirituality has at its heart a recognition that God is the Creator of all and that God values humanity about everything else in his created world, even above a chair, a plant, a rock, or a cigarette. Christian Spirituality holds that God blesses people not because of our works. This God and Creator, blesses us because God loves loving us. Christian Spirituality has at its heart an understanding that this God who loves us has made himself known in the person of Jesus Christ. In Christ, with his Spirit, we have abundant life in the present and forever. Paul taught and we have learned that being in Christ meant that Christ embedded within us the Holy Spirit to guide us, challenge us, comfort us, and correct us. With the Holy Spirit, we can also see ourselves as changed by God’s love that redeems us and forgives us. We see through the Holy Spirit that we can change our relationships and behaviors towards others by becoming for gracious, gentle, and loving. In all these changes we then have hope and our presence to others becomes a source of hope. This is the God of Christian Spirituality and, I can assure you, will not be found in a cigarette.
This same Christian Spirituality Paul taught is all about seeing that God works continually to remind us that the walls that create division among his people have been torn down. This Christian Spirituality is all about seeing the paradox that the violence done to Jesus on the cross brought us peace. Christian Spirituality is all about us coming together to encourage each other, to love each other, and to see that more we cooperate with the Holy Spirit in building up this church in holiness and compassion the greater the sense we will have of God’s presence among us.
From this foundation of Christian Spirituality, we heard Paul’s words as he continued to encourage the people of the Ephesian church to fully embrace the God of love and peace. Paul wrote, “As a prisoner for the Lord, then, I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received. 2 Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. 3 Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. 4 There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to one hope when you were called; 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 to each one of us grace has been given as Christ apportioned it” (Ephesians 4:1-7).
Paul, who explained that God loves loving us, and explained that God revealed his own nature in the person of Jesus Christ and that Jesus gives each person who follows him peace, turned his attention toward the behavior of individual Christians. Paul said in response to God’s love and the peace from Christ, we ought to live a life worthy of God’s love and peace.
I really like Paul’s words, “live a life worthy of the calling you have received.” First thing we see in Paul’s words is that everyone responding to the gospel of Jesus Christ has received calling. Paul means to include you and me in his words. You and I have received a calling from God through Jesus Christ to be here this morning to be part of a Christian community. You and I are not here by accident or habit. You and I are here because somewhere in time God moved within you to prompt you, to encourage you to be in worship. We are here because we have received a calling from God. Let that sink in for a few moments.
Second, you and I have received a call from God to apply ourselves in this world. Paul wrote earlier, “10 For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do” (Ephesians 2:10). You and I each have a calling to be in Christ and to do certain tasks, certain work, that advances the blesses of God and the peace of Christ. The call on your life and the call on my life will overlap, there will be some similarities, and some uniqueness to each call. Neither call is superior to the other. Each call, the one on your life and the one on my life, complement and complete the others. I find that God would bring us together who were once strangers and unite us as a community to accomplish our callings together an amazing blessing.
Our God is the same God who blesses us, Jesus is the same Lord who gives us peace, we have received the same call to follow Jesus, and we have received different callings to advance love and peace. But…There is always the “but” in Scripture. But in completing our different, complimenting callings, we must complete those callings in the same way.
Paul said, “live a life worthy of the calling you received,” by being “2 Completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. 3 Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace” (Ephesians 4:2-3). Paul was talking to the people of the church about their behavior toward the people of the church.
I had a phone call a few weeks ago from a person who was angry, upset, frustrated, and exhausted. For about 40 minutes, this person went on virtually non-stop recounting story after story of difficult interactions with doctors’ offices, merchants, and online support services all of which led to dissatisfaction because the people this person dealt with were cold, uncaring, and heartless. This person said they were so angry they felt they were done. When I had a chance to respond, I said, “You have told me about your interactions with the world which is as you experienced cold, uncaring, and heartless. What you have not told me about is your interaction with the Christian community who are called to be humble, gentle, patient, and loving toward one another. Tell me about your interactions with fellow Christians in worship, fellowship, and service.” The person said there have been none.
I think you can see that this person was, at best, dealing solely with Lindsey’s world of an impersonal God, some energy force found in chairs, rocks, and cigarettes. This person was not dealing in the community of believers blessed by a God and Jesus Christ to be co-creators of love and peace by being shaped by God to be people who are humble, gentle, patient, and loving toward one another. The differences between the God of the cigarette and the living God revealed through Christ could not be starker. When we come together as a church this is our time to be refreshed, to refresh one another, to worship, to encourage, to receive grace and be gracious toward another. This is at the heart of Christian Spirituality.
Paul said that in the presence of the Christian community, here, we can be brought to the fullness of Christ. In the fullness of Christ, “14 Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of people in their deceitful scheming” (Ephesians 4:14). It is in the loving arms of Christ made real in through his church, his followers, that we can be at peace knowing that God loves us and has surrounded us with gentleness and compassionate people. To serve one another in this manner is part of the call on each of our lives and is part of living a worthy life.
Paul then set out some behaviors to put aside and some behaviors to take on so that we can all express the calling on our life. Paul said:
- “17 So I tell you this, and insist on it in the Lord, that you must no longer live as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their thinking.” “24 Put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness.” Allow the wisdom of God’s word guide your lives.
- “25 Put off falsehood.” “Speak truthfully.” Speak the plain truth to yourself and to others.
- “29 Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths.” Speak, “only what is helpful for building others up.” Be encouragers of each other.
- “31 Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice.” “32 Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.” Be willing to be made different from the world and be that beacon of light and peace to others.
Christian Spirituality then is about being a peace in Christ and living a life worthy of that peace by sharing the peace of Christ with other believers in Christ by imitating the characteristics of Jesus who was humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. This Jesus is the Jesus that had been promised to us in the Old Testament. The prophet Isaiah saw the coming of Jesus and the depth of Jesus’ desire for our peace. Isaiah wrote of Jesus, “But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was on him, and by his wounds we are healed” (Isaiah 53:5).
Paul wrote to the Ephesians about the paradox Isaiah saw of the violence done to Jesus that brought us peace. Paul said, it is Jesus who reconciled us to God through the cross. (Ephesians 2:14-15). It was on that cross that Jesus gave of his body and gave his blood. Jesus called on his disciples to remember Him whenever they took the bread and drank from the cup. God, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit are not some force we find in these elements as Lindsey might believe. Jesus wanted his disciples, you and me, the church, to remember by taking the bread and the cup that through the cross we have peace. So, the bread we eat is bread. And the cup we drink is juice. But…but the bread and cup remind us that we have a God who loves loving us and a Savior and Lord, Jesus, you gave us peace. Jesus does not ask us to take his place on the cross and give our body or bloody. We are just asked to be humble, patient, gentle, and loving toward one another. That is what the Christian Spirituality that Paul spoke passionately about to the ancient people of Ephesus. That is the Christian Spiritualty that we desperately need to see and experience today. To live in that manner, my dear friends, is a life worthy of the calling we received. I am glad we have answered the call together. Let us pray.