Listen to some questions that people asked in a library at the reference desk.

Do some of those questions suggest that the person would have a better understanding of a library if he or she knew the purpose of a library?

Would you like to see God's list of unbelievable questions that we ask about Christianity? If we saw that list, would it reveal that we do not understand the purpose of Christianity?

Turn in your Bibles to Ephesians 4. Paul wrote the letter we call Ephesians to the Christians in the city of Ephesus. This was an established congregation, not a new congregation composed of recent converts.

Chapter three ends (3:14-21) with a thought provoking, insightful, written prayer Paul prayed for these Christians.

  1. Chapter four begins with a "therefore" statement:
    Ephesians 4:1 Therefore I, the prisoner of the Lord, implore you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling with which you have been called, (The New American Standard Bible, 1995 Update, La Habra, California: The Lockman Foundation, 1996.)
    1. "Because of my spiritual desires for you expressed in my prayer, I plead with you to do this: conduct yourself in a manner that is befitting a person who has been called by God."
      1. "Paul, what conduct is befitting a person who has been called by God?"
        1. The conduct of humility.
        2. The conduct of gentleness.
        3. The conduct of patience.
        4. The conduct of loving forbearance.
      2. Christian conduct that is befitting God commits itself to unity and peace in the congregation.
    2. "In order for you to live your daily lives in worthy conduct, you must understand God's purpose for the church."
      Ephesians 4:11-12 And He gave some as apostles, and some as prophets, and some as evangelists, and some as pastors and teachers, for the equipping of the saints for the work of service, to the building up of the body of Christ; (The New American Standard Bible, 1995 Update, La Habra, California: The Lockman Foundation, 1996.)
      1. Everything that God put in place, every work that He established--apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors, teachers--have two God-given objectives among Christians.
        1. The first objective of all of them is to equip Christians to serve.
        2. The second objective is to build up (spiritually mature) the body of Christ.
      2. How long are these objectives to be pursued?
        1. Until collectively the congregation's faith reaches unity in accepting and understanding God's work in Jesus Christ.
        2. Until collectively the congregation's knowledge reaches unity in accepting and understanding what it means for Jesus to be God's son.
        3. Until collectively they grow to the maturity that is measured by the stature and fullness of Jesus Christ.
      3. Why were they to pursue unity in faith in Jesus, unity of knowledge of Jesus, and spiritual development?
        Ephesians 4:14,15 As a result, we are no longer to be children, tossed here and there by waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, by craftiness in deceitful scheming; but speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in all aspects into Him who is the head, even Christ, (The New American Standard Bible, 1995 Update, La Habra, California: The Lockman Foundation, 1996.)
        1. Why? To eliminate childishness among Christians, because when we are childish we are easily influenced by evil and easily deceived.
        2. Why? To allow the body of Christ to grow to the spiritual strength and love that God intended to exist in His people.

  2. Paul explained his reason for this emphasis in 4:17.
    Ephesians 4:17,18 So this I say, and affirm together with the Lord, that you walk no longer just as the Gentiles also walk, in the futility of their mind, being darkened in their understanding, excluded from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them, because of the hardness of their heart; (The New American Standard Bible, 1995 Update, La Habra, California: The Lockman Foundation, 1996.)
    1. "Because you are to conduct yourselves in a manner befitting a person called by God, do not live your lives or behave like people who do not know God."
      1. How do people who do not know God live?
        1. Their behavior is determined by the futility of their minds (their reasoning is based on deceptive illusions).
        2. Their ignorance creates a "blackout" in their understanding.
        3. They are alienated from God's life.
      2. What does this futility, ignorance, and alienation produce in their lives?
        1. They are callused (unfeeling) toward people and the human condition.
        2. They are controlled by their sensual desires.
        3. The "bottom line" in their lives is that every choice they make, every practice they engage in is ruled by their greed.
    2. When you learned about Jesus Christ, when you began understanding Jesus Christ, that is not the kind of existence that you were taught.
      1. The truth that Jesus teaches did not teach you to behave in those ways.
        1. There is a former life and former self that existed before Jesus taught you how to live and behave.
        2. That old life was corrupted by your deceitful desires.
        3. There is the new life and the new self.
        4. The new life and new self is created by God.
        5. God created your new life in the righteousness and holiness of truth.
      2. How will this new life behave?
        1. It will not deceive.
        2. It will not be a slave to anger.
        3. It will not give the devil opportunity.
        4. It will work and it won't steal.
        5. It will help those who are in need.
        6. It will control the words that it speaks.
        7. It will not grieve the Holy Spirit.
        8. It will deliberately destroy negative emotions and the negative behavior that assault and attack other people.
        9. It will deliberately develop positive emotions and behavior that produce kindness and forgiveness.

  3. In the first verse of chapter five, Paul used still another "therefore":
    Ephesians 5:1,2 Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children; and walk in love, just as Christ also loved you and gave Himself up for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God as a fragrant aroma. (The New American Standard Bible, 1995 Update, La Habra, California: The Lockman Foundation, 1996.)
    1. To see Paul's emphasis, to understand his point, we must be certain that we follow the flow of his thinking.
      1. Because you understand my prayer for you, because you understand that you are to conduct yourself in a way that is befitting a person who has been called by God, because you understand that it is God's purpose for you to seek unity and peace in the congregation, because you understand that God created you to be a new self who lives a different life, because you understand all of this, this is the purpose you accept for your existence.
        1. You will imitate God just like children who love their father.
        2. You will live your life in love just like Jesus Christ loved you.
      2. Because you understand that you are a new creation with a new life, there are things that you will not do.
        1. You will not be sexually immoral as are the people who do not know God.
        2. You will refuse to allow greed to rule you.
    2. Any person who tries to convince you that it is proper for a Christian to be sexually immoral or controlled by greed is using empty words to deceive you.
      1. In the past you lived in that darkness; now you live in the light.
      2. Don't participate in the life and practices of darkness; instead, expose the darkness for what it is.
      3. "Wake up, sleeper, and arise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you."
    3. Paul continued to think with them by using still another "therefore" in 5:15.

  4. Let me contrast God's approach to evil with our approach to evil.
    1. Two mammoth happenings occurred that many of us expected to totally change our world.
      1. In 1989 the Berlin wall was destroyed, a major failure for Communism.
      2. In 1991 the Soviet Union collapsed, and Communism fell.
      3. Many younger adults say, "So what?"
      4. Many of us could not imagine a world without the Berlin Wall and Soviet Union.
        1. We lived through Stalin's ruthless control of the Soviet Union.
        2. We lived through the Cuban missile crisis.
        3. We lived with all the fears of the Cold War.
        4. Those were the biggest, most impossible problems in our world.
        5. So many weapons were aimed at the United States and at the Soviet Union that a war might actually destroy life on earth.
      5. When Communism collapsed, many of us believed the world's greatest dangers had passed.
    2. Why? Because we believed the same thing you believe.
      1. What? What do we all believe? We all "buy" the conviction that we can solve any problem if we can change the circumstances.
      2. When Communism collapsed, world circumstances changed in a major way.
      3. But, changing the circumstances did not eliminate worldwide dangers.
      4. That collapse created an enormous moral and ethical vacuum for millions of people who had known nothing but atheism.
      5. It threw millions of suffering people who knew nothing about God into chaos that offered no alternatives.
    3. Paul said very clearly in Ephesians that God's objectives are not merely to change circumstances.
      1. God does not create moral and ethical vacuums.
      2. Jesus Christ teaches us life-building understandings of right and wrong.
      3. Jesus Christ teaches us life-building understandings that can distinguish between good and evil.

[Song of reflection]

As a Christian, are you trying to solve your problems by changing your circumstances or by understanding how to be God's new creation?

David Chadwell

West-Ark Church of Christ, Fort Smith, AR
Morning Sermon, 29 November 1998

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