Week of June 12

Mastering the Entire Moral Keyboard

Read: Ecclesiastes 7-9; Ephesians 4
“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, ESV


The oft-heard sage counsel whenever one signs a contract is to read the small print. This wisdom is not meant to harm us; instead, it is given to help us to flourish. There is some “fine print” in Ephesians 4 that we often skim over as we race toward the more recognizable parts of the chapter that often surface in sermons and Bible studies. We all enjoy hearing about spiritual gifts and equipping the saints, and even about being kind to one another, but the remaining portions of the chapter are a veritable goldmine of ethical truth too. Let’s focus on what I believe to be the central appeal in this key section of Ephesians.

Understanding the Bible Context

A key transition
The opening verse in chapter four represents the “principal transition” in the entire letter to the Ephesians (EBC). One may think that Paul will close a door on the theology of chapters 1-3 to throw open a new door on the practical. Not so! He expands the theological throughout the remaining portion of the letter by weaving it into the moral exhortations that he gives to the church. So, what is the main point? Paul exhorts the Ephesians (and you and I) to live together in unity. What?! Yes, he knew that none of the individual moral norms would make sense to the Ephesians, nor to the lost world around them, unless all could witness their unity.
Steps toward Christian unity
The plain message that Paul urges upon the church is to live the type of Christian life that matches their Christian calling. The heart of this challenge is wound up in the word “worthy.” He means, literally, “to bring up the other beam of the scales.” In other words, there must be a balance between what we profess and what we practice. Boom!

The elephant in the room for Baptist folks is there has been a great amount of emphasis in the last generation upon the quality of our profession, to the neglect of our practice. How may I illustrate this statement? We’ve protected the root of the theological flower at all costs but have been oblivious to the fact that we were standing all the while on the community blossom! OK, so what does Paul, who knew the stresses of mixing ultra-orthodox Jewish Christians with Gentile Christians, exhort us to do?
Living a well-rounded “grace life”
He urges us to “get our graces on!” He says that we are to practice humility (thinking rightly about oneself; be self-effacing; drained of pride), demonstrate gentleness (considerate of others through controlled strength), exhibit patience (steadfast even when suffering; reluctant to avenge wrongs), and bear with one another (literally, “holding up one another”; putting up with the faults of others because we know we have our own) (EBC). These four graces are all elements of the love of Christ that He believed and practiced to perfection (Philippians 2:2, 5). There is more!
The point: unity in our communities
Let’s look back at the overall chapter to press forward. Paul writes to appeal to Christian unity throughout the entire chapter. He strengthened this appeal by writing to show how the body of Christ is built up and unified. He turns his focus in the last section of the chapter to a Christian lifestyle in verses 17-32. Unity can be broken if the individual member of Christ’s body determines not to grow and mature in his or her Christian walk. Now let’s consider the main point.

You and I may have the doctrinal root, but the blossom will be grossly undernourished without the nutrients of the graces mentioned in verses 1-3. Furthermore, if we lack these four graces, then all of our lip service to “unity” will be viewed as being “hot air.” Paul knew that the maintenance of true unity was difficult. The verb “maintain” suggests this struggle and requires “resolute determination.” In Ashlock speak: It is a mighty right time to use our Bibles to encourage unity rather than to use them to beat others into the same view. Paul is calling you and me to demonstrate the “profound oneness” that has been made possible by the Spirit (cf. Ephesians 2:13-18; EBC).

Applying the Passage to Our Lives

There is a considerable difference between playing chopsticks and Chopin on a piano! Have you ever attended a piano concert and left upon its conclusion longing to play the instrument in a similar fashion? I have! I was surprised to learn that concert-level pianists practice 3-5 hours per day. Choosing to become an expert on that instrument means that a person must become less proficient in many other lifestyle pursuits. In fact, world-class pianists will study long hours each day under the tutelage of an expert teacher for fifteen-plus years in order to achieve their goal of performing at a concert-level. The modern piano keyboard has eighty-eight keys. Composers pressed for this number of keys because they sought a broader potential for expression. How lovely to think that these gifted souls long to master every key so that they may produce a unified expression of their giftedness. I sense a spiritual application!

Cultivating Christian unity. Ephesians 4 is filled with all the kinds of virtues that we should enjoy considering and practicing in our daily lives: for example, let no corrupt talk come out of your mouths, put away falsehood, and put off your old self (4:25ff.). However, Paul never intended for us to pick and choose a few of our favorite moral graces to practice. Stated differently, his ethic was not a “chopsticks” variety. The heart of the passage is found in mastering the unified moral keyboard. Such a life produces the best witness to God’s glory.

Reflecting Upon and Discussing the Passage

1. Read again slowly through Ephesians 4 and ponder the other, less familiar exhortations to Christian living. Ask the Lord to help you to become more complete in your Christian practice. Write down several areas that the Holy Spirit challenges you to put into practice.

2. For Families: This evening before bed, gather your children and read Ephesians 4:29-32, out loud and slowly, from The Message. Tell your children that you would like for them to listen and remember all of the good things Paul reminds us to do, or wrong things we need to get rid of in our lives. Every time they hear one of these suggestions, ask them to raise their hand, like a flag, and put it back down.

When you are finished, let your children point out things they heard, and what they sense God might want them to change in their lives. Finally, pray for them, asking God to finish the work He has begun that will make them like Himself. Ask your children to pray for something that needs changing in your life too. End your special time by pledging together to live for Christ in all you do as a family.

May your paths be straight,
Larry C. Ashlock