“Life in the Balance” — Throwback Thursday Books (Ephesians 4:1-16)

Paul urges us to “…lead a life worthy of the calling to which you were called.” Eugene Petersen, in his book Practice Resurrection sees “worthy” as the central image in Ephesians. The Greek word is “axios.” It is worth, if you’ll pardon the pun, worth looking at this image.

An “axios” in the first century was a pan and beam scale. The standard measure—usually a lead weight—is placed in one pan. The commodity to be weighed–flour or sugar or silver or gold—is placed in the other pan. When the pans balance, you know the weight.

Paul’s urges a way of life that has a “weight” equal to the calling to which we have been called. “When our walking and God’s calling are in balance,” Petersen writes, “we are whole; we are living maturely, living responsively to God’s calling, living congruent with the way God calls us into being”. So this text is a challenge to us.

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Are we heavy enough believers?

Petersen suggests that this image is at the center of the letter just like the beam of the scale is balanced on a center point. The calling to which we are called in chapters one through three is to be balanced by a sufficiently “weighty” way of life in chapters four through six.

The words for “call,” “called,” and “calling” do not appear once in the first three chapters of Ephesians. And yet, the whole first half of the letter describes the calling to which we have been called in Jesus and by the power of the Spirit.

We have been blessed to be a blessing to the world. We have been filled with the fullness of God’s love. We are God’s works of art and no longer strangers to one another. We are stewards of the revelation of this age-old mystery and the living temple of God’s Holy Spirit. This is who we are in the Messiah and by the power of the Spirit.

”Therefore, Paul says. Whenever you come to a “therefore” in one of Paul’s letters you must come to a full stop and throw the car in reverse. Paul is launching into a conclusion based on what has been said before. What has come before is three chapters of worshipful prayer, celebrating Jesus’ lordship and our place in Jesus’ mission as God’s works of art.

Therefore—on the basis of all that has come before–Paul pleads with us to live a life “worthy of the calling to which we have been called.” “Worthy” here isn’t about being acceptable or deserving of something. Instead, this is about a life of sufficient weight as to deserve the name “Christian.”

Are we heavy enough believers?

Many of us wonder about our callings. What am I supposed to do now? Perhaps things have changed for us somehow. Perhaps we are thinking about a different job, a change in family situation, an increase in years, a shift in our health. What am I supposed to do now?

That is a worthwhile question. But it is interesting here that Paul urges us to focus first on the calling we all share. Paul urges us to stand light to the things this world holds to be important. He urges us in verse three to walk around in our lives “with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, making every effort to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.”

If all we have to put in the pan is our meager selves, the beam will never balance. But we are showered with gifts from God through the work of Jesus. Paul quotes a few verses of Psalm 68 to make his point. It’s important to hear the story that stands behind that quotation.

Jesus, the human face of God, has come to be among us. In his letter to the Philippians, Paul puts it another way. He points to Jesus who “did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness. And being found in human form,” Paul continues, “he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death—even death on a cross.” That’s the “descending” that Paul describes in his Psalm quote here.

But there’s more. Jesus ascends as Lord of all Creation. He has conquered sin, death and the devil in his cross and resurrection. Now, like a Roman emperor presiding over a military triumph, King Jesus showers his people with the fruits of victory. Those fruits are the gifts of the Holy Spirit for mission and service. It is the weight of the Holy Spirit in our hearts that allows us to live lives worthy of the calling to which we are called.

Are we heavy enough believers? We are by the power of the Spirit within us!

God’s gifts always come with a calling. We manage God’s gifts. We don’t own them. Our calling is to use God’s gifts for God’s good and loving purposes. “If we are to become mature,” Eugene Petersen says, “we must gradually but surely realize ourselves as gift from first to last.”

It is our life lived together in the Spirit that can be of sufficient weight to be worthy of our calling. Of course, we don’t lose our individual identity when we are baptized into the body of the Messiah that we call the church. But even though the gifts may vary from person to person, they all have the same goal–to produce and sustain disciples who are heavy enough believers.

The real goal is to grow up into the life of Jesus the Messiah. That requires worship and prayer. But it also requires formation and information. No Christian congregation can be heavy enough if adults do not study the Bible and the faith together.

I have to say that seeking to grow in faith and knowledge is not a high priority for most adults in the congregation. Until we change that, we will be held back in our growth toward maturity in the Messiah. I find that offering adult education here does not meet with an energetic response. I pray that might change.

Are we heavy enough believers?

Next time we’ll talk think in some detail about what heavy believing looks like. Let’s pray…

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