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Masterful Living

Masterful Living

Ephesians 1:15-19


Read Ephesians 1:15-19.


An issue of Outside magazine had a short article about Reid Stowe, a 58 year-old sailor who at the time was en route to setting the record for the longest sea voyage without resupply in history. Reid told the magazine: “I’ve learned a lot about myself … I’ve learned that we as humans must explore. We must see and discover new things or we degenerate. My hope is that this voyage will inspire people to overcome their fears and follow their dreams to explore.” Blogger and pastor Justin Buzzard comments on Reid’s adventurous spirit: What Stowe the sailor says is directly linked to being created in the image and likeness of God, who put us in a to-be-explored-and-cultivated-universe. God declared this vast and varied creation, “very good.” He gave us a world with trails and truth, neighbors and noodles, Bibles and beauty, oceans and orchestras, spreadsheets and spears, art and animals, language and lumber, the gospel and grapes, Yosemite and Yelp, Mars and marriage, goose down and God’s glory. And the Creator gave us eyeballs, fingertips, nostrils, holes in our ears, bumps on our tongues, synapses in our brain, and curiosity in our hearts as tools to explore with. We must “see and discover new things or we degenerate.” The motto for the outdoor company The North Face ought to be the Christian’s motto: “Never Stop Exploring.”[i]


Sadly, in our relationships with Christ, I think that’s exactly what many of us have done. We’ve stopped exploring. See if this statement from a man who had been a Christian for 22 year rings true for you: “I was a Christian for twenty-two years. But instead of being a twenty-two-year-old Christian, I was a one-year old Christian twenty-two times! I just kept doing the same things over and over and over again.”[ii] What would you think if you came across a 22-year-old person who still walked, talked, and acted like a 1-year-old? You’d assume something was wrong, right? Developmentally, something has gone wrong. If your 5-year-old was still acting like a 1-year-old, you’d be going to doctors and psychologists looking for answers, wouldn’t you? You wouldn’t say, “Oh, that’s just Johnny. He’s 5 but he’d rather stay 1, so we’ll just live with it.” “Oh, Jane, she was born 7 years ago, but she looks and acts like she’s still 6 months old. Guess there’s nothing we can do about it.” No! You’d be moving heaven and earth to find answers. True, we all develop at different rates. There are ranges of normal based on lots of things, genetics, life experiences, health and nutrition, but we all develop, unless something goes wrong.


Now, think about this: Church members divorce their spouses almost as often as their secular neighbors. Church members beat their spouses as often as their neighbors. Church members’ giving patters indicate they are almost as materialistic as non-Christians. White evangelicals (that’s people who attend churches pretty much like ours) are THE MOST likely people to object to or have problems with neighbors of another race. Of the “higher commitment evangelicals (that’s people who regularly attend, participate in, and even serve in a leadership role in a church like ours), 26% think premarital sex is acceptable, while 46% of “lower commitment” evangelicals (people who attend a church like ours, but not very regularly) believe it to be okay.” Author Ron Sider, in his book The Scandal of the Evangelical Conscience, says this: “Whether the issue is marriage and sexuality or money and care for the poor, evangelicals today are living scandalously unbiblical lives … the data suggest that in many crucial areas evangelicals are not living any differently from their unbelieving neighbors.”[iii] “I was a Christian for twenty-two years. But instead of being a twenty-two-year-old Christian, I was a 1-year-old Christian twenty-two times.” Personally, I’ve been a Christian for 38 of my 43 years. I accepted Christ when I was 5. I went to a Christian school for elementary and middle school. I attended a Christian college and spent 6 years studying theology, the Bible, and spirituality in seminary. But am I really all that different than my neighbors? You might think so, but I can promise you that Becky, Aubrey, and Sterling are sitting out there saying, “Yeah, not so much.”


In Ephesians 1, St. Paul gives the Ephesian believers a window into his prayer life, into how he has been praying for them. It’s been some time since Paul was in Ephesus, and since this sermon-in-letter-form was intended to go not just to the church at Ephesus but to all of the churches in the region, there’s no way Paul had met all of these people. But he’s been faithfully praying for them. Can you imagine meeting St. Paul for coffee and having this giant of the faith say, “I’ve been praying for you, and this is what I’ve been praying for …” Can you imagine, Paul telling you how he’s been praying for you? If you were with Paul, and he asked you, “How can I pray for you?” how would you answer him? What would you say? Paul tells them exactly what he’s been praying for them. But first, he gives them an encouraging word.


Look at V. 15. To be honest, these believers, these churches are doing really well. In a world where news traveled at the speed of foot, not the speed of light, Paul had heard good things about them. “I have heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love toward all the saints …” These believers have a reputation, and that reputation has reached Paul’s ears, even though he is under house arrest and awaiting trial before Caesar hundreds and hundreds of miles away in Rome. Of all of the Greek words in the biblical manuscripts, the word translated as faith is one of the most difficult to translate. It pictures someone who is standing on a stable, secure base. The opposite would be someone standing on a slippery, muddy surface. They had responded the good news of Jesus Christ by placing their faith and trust in him and because of that, their lives were solidly grounded in Christ. And that solid foundation for life was evident in the way they treated one another. And the word for love here is a word that Paul almost never uses to describe the love one human being has for another, whether it be the love of one spouse for another, or the love between friends or family members, he almost never uses this word. He typically uses this word only to describe the love of God, because when Paul said that he had heard of their love for one another, the word he used was “agape.” A love that sacrifices self for the good of the whole. A love that loves the other without condition and without fail, regardless of the behavior of the other. It is not a sentimental, emotional love. It is love as an act of the will, a commitment to the other that does not depend on the circumstances of day to day life. And news of their ability to love one another, even in the midst of disagreement, has reached Paul. Genuine faith, authentic faith, transforms the way we live with one another, the way in which we love one another. It is not our ability to love those outside the church that shows the reality of God in our midst. It is our ability to love one another, even when we disagree passionately. You see, the word Paul uses for love here is “agape” love. That is unconditional love as an act of the will. I is a love that says “I may not like what you are saying, or how you think about this issue or that issue, I may not even like you very much at all right now because our views are so different, our backgrounds are so different, our ethnicities are so different, our perspectives are so different, but you and I agree on one thing … Jesus Christ, and so I love you, and I will show that love by the way I treat you. You are my brother, my sister, in Christ, and that trumps everything else. And these believers are doing just that. Believe me when I tell you that every pastor alive would leap with joy if her or his congregation was known in the community for their deep faith in Christ and love toward one another. No greater compliment to a congregation can be made. Paul’s heart is filled with thanksgiving for them. When others think of you, is their heart filled with thanksgiving? When Paul thinks of them, his heart is filled with gratitude. But he doesn’t want them to stop even here, in this great place. He wants them to continue growing. And so as he prays for them, doing as well as they are, he prays for their growth to continue.


Look at Vv. 16-17. If you’re the kind of person who writes in their Bible, and if you have a pen handy, I want you to circle four words in V. 17. “That you may know.” Those four words are the key to this whole prayer of Paul. That you may know. The word “know” there is the Greek word “gnosis.” But here the word is intensified with the preposition “epi.” He prays that they will have “epignosis.” A real, deep, full, thorough knowing. It means to know more deeply. And it happens in the heart. That doesn’t mean the brain isn’t involved. You see, for Paul, the heart was the seat of the inner self, the authentic you’re your intellect and your will, as well as your emotions. Today we view the heart as the seat of emotions and the brain as the seat of the intellect, even though biologically they both originate in the brain. But for Paul, the word heart means the core of who you are, not just your emotions. So these people already knew Christ. They already knew who they were in Christ. They were living in Christ well, loving one another well, but Paul doesn’t want them to stop there. He wants them to keep knowing Christ more and more deeply. How silly would it be for me to have assumed, after Becky and I had been married for say 5 years, that I knew everything about her? That would have been nuts. Marriage is a life-long adventure of getting to know one another more and more deeply. Next June Becky and I will celebrate our 20th wedding anniversary. And some of you have been married much longer than that! And she still surprises me. And I’m quite sure I still surprise her too. Of course, with me it’s “How can he still be so dumb?” So why do we tend to think that if we’ve been attending church for a while, we know everything there is to know? We don’t!  Life in Christ is a lifelong adventure of getting to know God in deeper and deeper ways as the Holy Spirit works in my life, shaping me into the person God has created me to be. Paul wants us to go from living in Christ well to living in Christ masterfully. And so he wants them to know, even more deeply than they already do, two things.


The first is the hope of salvation completed. Look at V. 18. Look at the language Paul uses here. “The hope to which he (God) has called you.” Did you know that God has placed his calling on your life. God is calling you to something. To be “called” is something we often associate with the call to ministry. When a pastoral student is being examined by a denomination or group of church leaders for ordination, he or she is asked questions like, “Tell us about your sense of calling to the ministry.” They’re trying to discern through prayer and examination of the person whether this person is “called” into the ministry or not. But the biblical truth is that I am not the only “called” person in this room. God has called each one of us … to hope. And that hope is based on the completed work of Jesus Christ on the cross, his death in our place for our sins, which points toward the future consummation of that salvation when Christ returns. Probably my all-time favorite writer, scholar, and pastor is the British Anglican priest and scholar John Stott. He passed away a few years ago. But about this passage he wrote these words: “God called us to Christ and holiness, to freedom and peace, to suffering and glory. More simply, it was a call to an altogether new life in which we know, love, obey, and serve Christ, enjoy fellowship with him and with each other, and look beyond our present suffering to the glory which will one day be revealed.”


And as God’s children, we are his inheritance. Typically when Paul uses the language of inheritance, he’s talking about our inheritance of God’s glory because of our relationship to Christ. But that isn’t what Paul says here. He isn’t talking about our inheritance. He’s talking about God’s inheritance. And as God’s children, not only is his glory and goodness our inheritance, but WE are also HIS inheritance. We are God’s possession. Dearly loved by God, he has gone to great lengths both to reveal the depth of his love to us and to purchase our salvation. The story is told of a dad who gave his son a gift on his birthday. It was a do-it-yourself little boat. The young boy spent many hours building it into a beautiful little sailboat, crafting it down to the finest detail. He then took it to a nearby river to sail it. He played with it each day after school. One day, when he put it in the water to play, an unexpected wind moved it away from him very quickly. Though he chased it along the bank, he couldn’t keep up with it. The strong wind and current carried the boat far away. The heartbroken boy knew how hard he would have to work to build another sailboat. Farther down the river, a man found the little boat, took it to town, and sold it to a shopkeeper. Few days later, as the boy was walking through town, he noticed a boat in a store window. When he went near, it looked exactly like his lost boat. Entering the store, looking at it closely, he told the owner that the boat belonged to him. It had his own little marks on it, but he couldn’t prove to the shopkeeper that the boat was his. The man told him the only way he could get the boat was to buy it. The boy wanted it back so badly that he did exactly that. As he took the boat from the hand of the shopkeeper, he looked at it and said, “Little boat, now you’re twice mine! Once I made you and now I bought you.” In Christ we belong to God, and we are twice his, once because he made us, and again because in Christ he bought us.


The second thing Paul wants us to know more deeply each day is the power of the Holy Spirit at work in us. Look at V. 19. If the death of Jesus Christ is the supreme demonstration of the love of God, the resurrection of Christ is the supreme demonstration of his power. And while the completion of our salvation in Christ is our future hope, the power of the Holy Spirit at work in our lives is a present experience. In Romans 8:11, Paul says “If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit who dwells in you.” The same Spirit that raised Christ from the dead is at work in you! And that is something that Paul wants to grow deeper and deeper in your knowledge and experience. The vast resources of his power. To ask the same question asked by Maxie Dunnam, “Why do we continue in anemic lives, feebly stumbling along as best we can, plodding along, defeated, uninspiring examples of spiritual ineffectiveness, when the same power that raised Christ from the dead is at work in us. Paul’s heart is filled with thanksgiving whenever he hears about or thinks about his brothers and sisters in Ephesus and beyond. May the same be true of us. Are our lives inspiring examples of what God can do, or uninspiring examples of spiritual ineffectiveness?  Are we living masterfully in Christ, or just living? “May the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, give you the Spirit of wisdom (that’s your own brain, your own learning) and of revelation (that’s the work of the Holy Spirit) in the knowledge of him, having the eyes of your hearts (your mind, will, and emotions) enlightened, that you may know (in a deeper and deeper way) what is the hope to which he has called you … and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power toward us who believe (the same power that raised Christ from the dead).” Never stop exploring. Let us pray.


[i] Justin Buzzard, “Never Stop Exploring,” Justin Buzzard blog (4-11-16); source: Ryan Krogh, “Adventure Icon: Reid Stowe,” Outside (3-10-10)

[ii] Peter Scazzero, “Emotionally Healthy Spirituality,” pg. 23

[iii] Ibid., pg. 30.