I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.

Ephesians 4: 1-3

 

People will be people. This common expression contains a lot of painful truth, for even on our good days, we humans are a challenging and a difficult collection of creatures. We often do things that cause friction to arise among us, and we too frequently seem to focus on the negativity of our interactions and relationships rather than spending our time gazing upon the extraordinary beauty and great wonder that God has given to each of us as His hands shaped us. Even in the body of faith in Christ, we are given to a form of individuality that leads to separation and eventually that distance brings about the isolation that is one of Satan’s greatest weapons against God’s people. Paul has seen all of this, and he understood the dangers that came from going through life on our own, and he also knew the importance of surrendering self to Christ and to each other in the process of living out God’s will for our lives.

 

At the center of the Apostle’s statement here are the powerful words humility and gentleness. These are simple words that convey very large concepts. Humility is perhaps the most striking singular descriptor that one can apply to Jesus. He was God in human form, King and Messiah come; yet, He was also simple, caring, observant of the lowliest of people, and always submissive to the will of the Father. Jesus was able to surrender all comfort, relinquish every ounce of pride, and grant worth and great dignity to people who were unlovely and without value in our earthly system of evaluating people’s place and position. Jesus walked this earth in a humble manner, but even more than that, He lived out His days as humility’s definition. In addition, Jesus’ humility found expression in the gentleness of His touch. He sought to bring about restoration of relationship with God by the way that He engaged with others. His gentleness was expressed even in contentious and difficult situations as Jesus did and said everything with redemption as the objective and healing as the desired outcome.

 

The manner of walking through life that Jesus employed and the humble and gentle way that He went about it are, frankly, beyond the capacity and the capability of almost all people. We certainly don’t function like this in our natural state of being. Yet, we are called by Christ to be like Him in all ways; so, this must include the God-given characteristics of humility and gentleness. These are gifts that Christ will give to us as we seek after them. They come to us as we set aside our own desires and yield to His Spirit. They also grow within us as we seek out others and engage with them in a manner that sets aside our wishes, wants, and preconceived ideas in order to enter into the deep places of their hearts and minds and to walk through the day in observant understanding of who they are and what is important to them. This sort of approach to life does make us vulnerable to hurt and to disappointment, but it also expands our understanding of people and also that of our Lord. As Paul states, humility and gentleness are qualities that lead us into the deep love that Christ has for all people, and they operate together with love as the glue that bonds us together with the sort of strength that stands up to all that the forces of this world can hurl our way.

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Fight the good fight of faith. Take hold of the eternal life to which you were called and about which you made the good confession in the presence of many witnesses.

1 Timothy 6: 12

 

Unfortunately, many people think that accepting Jesus means that all of the struggles and hardships of this life should come to an end. This sets people up for great disappointment, and it also creates a badly mistaken expectation for what it means to live as a follower of Christ in our world. They start expecting that Jesus will cure all of the ills of body and spirit and bring about happiness, peace, and even prosperity in the process of working His magic. This is not the reality that the early church experienced, and it is certainly not what any of those early leaders of the church expressed to us as what we should look forward to as a mark of faithfulness in our living out Christ’s direction for us. Paul’s use of the word fight here is a sign of exactly what he knew about the way that a life of submission to the Lord would look.

 

A life that is lived out in obedience to God is a life that is conducted in the center of a hostile field of contest. This is a place that more resembles the tortured earth of the front-line trenches that devoured the earth during World War I than it does our usual images of the idyllic and peaceful Eden of our hopes and dreams. Every day involves a struggle with forces of evil that are desperately attempting to demonstrate their control and dominance over all of Creation when they, in fact, have already been defeated by God in the person of Jesus and in the hour of His resurrection from the cross’ tomb. These are days when Jesus leads us into battle, and this fight is one that is being conducted for the souls of people and for the redemption of Creation.

 

When Paul speaks of this struggle, he also speaks in terms of making a good confession in the presence of many witnesses. This is a part of the means and the method that our Lord is calling upon us to use in accomplishing His purposes, and this idea of confession is much larger than the words that we speak. It involves the totality of the life that is lived out in view of the rest of the world and it also encompasses the most personal and private moments of our days. The confession of faith that Christ desires for His people to make includes such things as the attitudes that we hold toward our possessions, the way that we use our finances, caring for the weak and the oppressed, and the thoughts that we have about others. Confessing Christ is not going to be comfortable or easy, and it will inevitably lead us into a place of conflict with other people and with the systems and structures of our world. However, making a good and continuous confession of Christ in all aspects of life is the most powerful weapon that we have been given by Christ to use in engaging in the fight into which He leads us.

This is how one should regard us, s servants of Christ and stewards of the mysteries of God.

1 Corinthians 4: 1

 

By definition, a steward is a person who takes care of things, who manages them and who keeps order. Stewardship is the process of maintaining this well-thought out and orderly operation. Paul thinks of himself in this manner. He sees his calling and that of others who, like him, are following Christ by entering into the lives of others as they bring the truth of God’s Word and the direction of His Spirit to the forefront in all aspects of life and of living as being to stewardship. As they work in service to Christ and His Gospel, they strive to restore the order in this world that was lost in our sinful departure from God’s righteous path. We ate the fruit, but instead of God-like wisdom, we obtained a godless capacity to wreak havoc and bring about unceasing chaos. As we attempt to control everything ourselves, life seems to proceed as if we have covered our fragile world with grease and our hands with rubber mittens.

 

We fumble our way through it all and break precious things along the path that we travel. Mostly, we pour out ungodly or other-god oriented views of how this world should be managed as if they were a new and a more informed gospel. We say that we value order and seek after peace, but the fact is, we do not truly desire either. Order and peace are foundational qualities that God designed into the form of life that He created for this world to enjoy. These are aspects of that creation intent and execution that we turned over and tossed out in our rejection of God’s authority over us, and that have been lost in the world that we have claimed as our own. Yet, God does not leave things that He loves in disarray and confusion. Jesus came, and He pronounced the renewed presence of God’s kingdom of peace. Christ brings that peace into our lives as He restores us to the unceasing relationship with our Creator that was ours to enjoy in God’s plan for this world.

 

The possibility of living in a state of deep-seated peace with God and of dwelling inside of the orderliness of His vision for the universe is one of the great mysteries of the Kingdom of God. The evidence that we see around us does not support the existence of this peace and order, but the testimony of God’s people tells of its reality. This is why Paul understood the vital importance of the role of steward of these great mysteries of life in Christ. He presented them to the people that he met and to us in his letters. God’s Word does the same with the entire narrative of God’s vision, intent, and execution of redemption and restoration for all who will come to Him. So, like Paul, we too are servants of Christ and stewards of the mysteries of this faith that leads to a life. This is a life that stands apart from this world, and so, it joins in the chorus of testimony, along with Paul and all who have come before us, to these great mysteries of peace and order, of life in Christ.

But our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body, by the power that enables him even to subject all things to himself.

Philippians 3: 20, 21

 

Paul was onto something. He knew one of the truly great secrets of the universe; something that brings miracles into being, and its basis is described in these words. They are not some form of incantation or magic spell that needs to be recited in a certain way or at a specified time; instead, these words describe a relationship and a way of viewing life and of living it that comes forth out of that relationship. In Christ, we change homelands and gain a different set of allegiances. Through Christ, the way that we view the world around us is also reshaped along the lines of the way that God views His Creation. Because of Christ, the Spirit works within and upon us to transform our hearts and minds into ones that are no longer focused upon the darkness of this world but that are oriented toward the glory of the Lord.

 

This new way of believing, of thinking, and of viewing the world around us changes the nature of our responses to others and to the life situations that we encounter. Sin is still sin, wrong and hurt are still painful, and that which is lost remains troubling; yet, Christ brings His redemptive view of it all to exist within our otherwise earth-bound and worldly view. So, Christ opens our eyes to see forgiveness where we might see strife. He brings us to offer grace when it would seem that rebuke might feel more powerful. We come to see the Lord of the Universe bending down to touch those who were unclean and stopping to scandalously enter into talk of true love with a shameful woman. Thus, in seeing Jesus with the eyes of a heart that is awakened to His desire to call each of us into service to His Gospel, we too can stop in the midst of our seemingly important journey through life and bend down to lift up those who are beaten down and fragile and to enter into the stories of others who have been cast aside by the proper and too correct authorities of our day.

 

As He did with Paul, Christ transforms the rules for living for us, too. Our citizenship in heaven also means that we are now to live under the laws and within the economy of God’s Kingdom come upon the earth. We now dwell in a place that is framed in by the presence of the Spirit and whose boundaries are defined by all the God claims as His own. In this sort of land, all of us who know Christ are called upon by God to seek peace with everyone, to love all others with a form of love that willingly sacrifices self in order to portray Christ and His love, that grants grace and mercy to those who seem least deserving of either, and that serves the will of our only true King, Jesus Christ, in all matters. This is a place where we still stand on truth and hold God’s Word as holy, absolute, and righteous, but we also possess the freedom in Christ to deliver this eternal truth with the sort of love that God framed it in at its inception. We are here for one purpose and that is to bring the redemptive love of our Savior into direct contact with every person and place in our world that we may go during each of our days here.

If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.

Romans 12: 18

 

This statement is about as conditional as Paul ever gets, for he rarely leaves this much to our own discretion and understanding of the situation. Yet, here in this proverbial saying that is placed within a string of similar expressions, we are told to do something “If possible.” So, whose possibility is to make that determination? If it is mine, then there may be very few times when I am really going to live peaceably with people who rub me the wrong way, or hold views about issues that differ from mine, or come from a different cultural background than mine. The possibility for exception to that directive to live peaceably gets to be very long quite quickly, and the list of people with whom I am living in peace becomes short enough that I can readily handle it on my own.

 

Perhaps that is really the point. God’s desire for us in all aspects of life is that we would let go of control and surrender all of it to Him. So, in this very challenging area of relationships with other people, God is giving us the option of releasing our grip upon the rules for acceptance or rejection of others or of holding onto them so that we manage the way that we interact with the human elements of our world. To me, this places the idea of possibility into an entirely different light. It says that my relational boundaries and barriers can be either as narrow as my own definitions and comfort or they can be as expansive and inclusive as are God’s. This is the real choice that Paul is proposing to us, and it is one that he had entered into, himself, as a significant aspect of Paul’s coming to Christ involved the reordering of his view of God’s mission for him in relation to accepting or persecuting people who viewed their relationship with God differently than did Paul, the Pharisee.

 

It seems to me that entering fully into the possibilities in connecting with and caring about and for others is predicated upon surrender to Christ. The more of myself that I give over to my Lord in submission to His will, the more likely it is that I will see the lovable and the beautiful in people who would otherwise make me uncomfortable or worse. There is no one on this earth who Christ cannot love. There are no people for whom He did not die in order to redeem them from the death that belongs to all who are born into this world. So, there should be very few people who I am unable to care about and to love with a similar passion and redemptive desire. Now, I am not Christ, and all of this depends upon the response of others in order for me to be able to live peaceably with them, but, in so far as I am able to impact the outcome of the interaction, I can yield my attitudes, actions, and responses to Christ with my heart and mind set upon doing all that I can to enter into productive life together with all of the people that God grants me the gift of encountering during my days.

Now He who prepared us for this very purpose is God, who gave us the Spirit as a pledge.

2 Corinthians 5: 5

 

Promises, promises, promises; our lives are interlaced with commitments received and given, others that are kept or broken, and trust or lack of it that is developed through these interactions. Sometimes people fail to keep their pledges because they honestly tried yet failed to follow through. Other people can be disingenuous or even deliberately deceitful; and circumstances can conspire to defeat our best intentions. Additionally, we all know that governments and large corporate entities often lack the sort of fundamental integrity that makes their word good; at least that is how it too often seems.

 

Here, Paul gives us a promise from God that we can truly count on, for this is one that we can stake our lives upon. In the verses just before this one Paul has been discussing the fact that this life is filled with pain, struggles, and hardship and that the very fabric of our earthly existence is flawed, failing, and will be destroyed. He also has shared with us the fact that, in Christ, this is actually a good, hopeful, and desirable state of affairs. As the old person with our sin damaged and ravaged makeup is set aside and surrendered to the transformative work of Christ in and on us, we begin to be reformed into the new beings that God has planned for us to be. This process will not be completed in this life, and it is, at best, just a preview of the glory that we will know in eternity with Christ. Yet, God promises this new relationship with Him and this new life in His complete presence to everyone who accepts His gift of salvation through Jesus.

 

Throughout the history of human interaction with God, He has continually provided us with a clear picture of His intent to have an active and ongoing relationship with us, and the Lord has made the sincerity of His intentions known to us by making promises to us. This is another of those promises. Here God has done more than give His word. Here God has provided His presence in our lives as a tangible sign that functions much like the earnest money that we put down when we commit to make a major purchase such as a house. The Spirit of God is with us throughout our lives, and He is an ever present and very tangible reminder of the fact that God has promised to never leave us in this life, and He helps us to see and to hope for the promise of our eternal future.

 

My beloved brethren, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that your toil is not in vain in the Lord.

1 Corinthians 15: 58

 

Have you ever experienced uncertainty or become so weary from trying to live righteously in this troubled world that it felt like you were going to be swept over the edge of a towering cliff at any moment? Right, I didn’t think that I was totally alone in these responses to life. This world is a big time highly stressful place to exist. Also, Paul is generally a fairly practical guy; for, he lived his life in the center of the storm that happens whenever people who desire and seek to serve the Lord venture out into their communities and engage in bringing the truth of Christ to others. So, my conclusion is that realistic Paul wouldn’t tell us to do or to be something that couldn’t be done.

 

In order to avoid the inevitable sense of futility that comes when my desire to serve Christ intersects with all of the road blocks that spring up in front of my path, I am required to find my direction and the strength to carry on from a very special source. Christ calls me to follow Him and to do His work in my world. If this work is to reach the sort of potential that He knows exists, I must allow someone else to make decisions with me. Finally, if I am to stay the path of that calling through times of personal failure, disappointment with others, and the distractions that life brings my way; my feet need to be firmly set on a foundation that is stronger and that runs deeper than anything that I can fabricate on my own.

 

This all seems so complex to my mind; yet, it all has one relatively simple answer. Jesus, the Christ, is God’s response to every concern that I can contemplate. Jesus, who gave all so that I can live in the complete fullness of God’s riches is all that I need. Jesus, whose Spirit goes through everything in this life with me is my guide and counselor. Jesus, the One who took all of my sin and the shame that it brought to me onto His back is my strength. Jesus, the One who loves me despite all of my hurtful acts and deceitful thoughts holds me steady through all of the trials and the storms that attempt to drive me away from the Lord’s way. Jesus, there is nothing more; so, how can I accept anything less?