"Secret Power to Love the Unbearable"
Feb.13, 2011 Eph.3:14-4:2
NO VALENTINES FOR THE UNBEARABLE
Scripture commands us, "Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love." But there are some people with whom it's extremely difficult to be patient; some people that are close to unbearable...
One thing that can be annoying is people with hundred-watt amps for stereos in their vehicles, whose woofers take up most of their trunk - and they want to let you know it. About a week ago I was walking down the street when a car passed thumping its music loudly. I looked and noticed the driver even had his or her window down all the way - in the middle of winter! Did they think they had to freeze in order to let the world hear the magnificence of their music?!
There are other driving habits that are equally annoying - and more dangerous. A man was enjoying his new car's powerful sound system by driving along with the volume up. At a traffic light, he heard someone shout, "Hey, do you mind?" Stopped next to him has a young man in an open convertible. He pointed to an object in his hand and said, "I'm on the phone!"
Then there are people who seem to be just plain obnoxious. While dining in a fancy restaurant, a businessman spotted Lee Iacocca (of Chrysler fame) by the phone booth. He came up to him and said, "Mr Iacocca, you're the American business hero.I've studied your career and any success I've had I owe completely to you.Would you do me a favour? I'm with some colleagues.Could you please come by my table and say, 'Hello, Harry,' and let me introduce you? It would mean so much to me."
Iacocca agreed. He waited for the man to sit down and then walked toward his table. One of the men sitting at Harry's table said, "I don't believe it! There's Lee Iacocca and he's headed this way!" Iacocca came up to the table and said, "Hello, Harry - introduce me to your friends." At this, Harry looked at him impatiently and said, "Come back later, Lee.We're trying to have lunch." (Sheesh! What nerve!)
In my trade I've heard there's a code for such people - EGR, "Extra Grace Required." Another pastoral expert refers to them as 'Joy-suckers'. How do you deal with people who tick you off, irritate you, get under your skin? Where do you find the patience and gentleness as Paul calls it to bite your lip and bear with them? It's very challenging; we won't always succeed if we try to do it just by our own effort.
In Ephesians 3 the apostle gives some valuable teaching on where we can find the strength and grace to act lovingly even toward those who don't rate any valentines.
FOUNDED ON BLESSING: ROOTED AND ESTABLISHED
Paul always builds a doctrinal basis before he gets into the exhorting / instructional parts of his letters. So when we are commanded in 4:2, "Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love" - it's important to remember this follows the 3 previous chapters and builds on them. V2 is the first elaboration of v1, "live a life worthy of the calling you have received": that phrase "the calling you have received" points back to the previous chapters. We simply can't do v2 on our own steam without what's gone before. So let's look back a page or two: where does this start? 3:17 talks about "being rooted and established in love" - where's the foundation to all this?
Chapters 1-3 of Ephesians are some of the richest passages in the New Testament describing the blessings that can be ours when we trust in Jesus as Lord and Saviour. 1:3, God "has blessed us...with every spiritual blessing in Christ." As we skim through we can pick out 25 (count 'em!) 25 ways God enriches the lives of those who have turned to Christ. In my list, they all start with P - aren't you pleased? Hang on, here we go!
First, if you're a Christian, you are PICKED: 1:4, "For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight."
2) You are also PARENTED: 1:5, "He predestined us to be adopted as His sons through Jesus Christ..." So we can pray to God as Abba, Papa, Our Father.
3) You are PLEASING to God: 1:5, "in accordance with His pleasure and will..." It has pleased God to grant you new birth; He delights in His children by faith, He takes 'great delight' in you and rejoices over you (Zeph 3:17).
4) You benefit from God's POURED-OUT KINDNESS: 1:6, "His glorious grace, which He has freely given us in the One He loves." NLT, "the wonderful kindness He has poured out on us..."
5) You are PURCHASED TO BE FREE: 1:7, "In Him we have redemption through His blood..." 14, "those who are God's possession". You were bought at the price of Jesus' life-blood shed at the cross.
6) You are PARDONED: 1:7, "In Him we have...the forgiveness of sins..." That's a biggie: without that, we could not ever have anything to do with a holy perfect God.
7) You are PART OF GOD'S PLAN: 1:9f, "the mystery of His will...which He purposed in Christ, to be put into effect when the times will have reached their fulfilment..." NLT "God's secret plan...a plan centred on Christ, designed long ago..." A plan the Old Testament prophets gave clues about hundreds of years before it came to pass.
8) You POSSESS AN INHERITANCE: 1:11 NRSV, "In Christ we have also obtained an inheritance..." 14, the Holy Spirit is "a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance" and 18, "the riches of His glorious inheritance in the saints..."
9) If you're a believer, you've been gifted with PIETY, or faith: 1:12f, you hoped in Christ, you were included in Christ when you heard the word of truth, "having believed..." 2:8, "For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith-- and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God..." 3:17, "that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith." Believing is a biggie: without that, you don't get to first base in the Christian life. Gotta trust God.
10) You've been given the PARACLETE AS PROMISED: 1:13, "You were marked in Him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit..." The Counselor, the Spirit of Truth, "one called alongside to help" (which is a rough translation of the word Paraclete Jesus used in John 14-16). The Spirit is God's 'secret agent' inside His children by which, as Eph 3:16 puts it, "He may strengthen you with power through His Spirit in your inner being..."
11) We're blessed by the PRAYERS OF OTHERS: 1:16, "remembering you in my prayers..." And the start of today's passage is a prayer for which Paul says, "I kneel before the Father..." (3:14) At our Elders meeting Wednesday we saw in the last chapter of Ephesians how the prayers of others are the invisible '7th piece of protection' in the 'full armour of God.'
12) You are gradually making PROGRESS IN KNOWING GOD: 1:17, Paul prays for the Spirit to be given "so that you may know [God] better." The goal is that we 'attain to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ' and 'in all things grow up into Him who is the Head...' (4:13,15)
13) You have the PROSPECT OF A GOOD FUTURE: 1:18, "the hope to which He has called you"; God intends "in the coming ages [to] show the incomparable riches of His grace" (2:7) - now THAT's something to look forward to!
14) A repeated emphasis is that God blesses His people with POWER: 1:19f, "and his incomparably great power for us who believe.That power is like the working of his mighty strength, which he exerted in Christ when he raised him from the dead..." 3:16, "He may strengthen you with power..." 18, "[that you] may have power, together with all the saints..."; 20, "Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us..."
15) In Christ we have a PRE-EMINENT PRESIDENT: 1:20ff, God raised Christ and "seated him at his right hand in the heavenly realms, far above all rule and authority, power and dominion, and every title that can be given...And God placed all things under his feet and appointed him to be head over everything for the church..." Jesus is Lord over all, pre-eminent over anything that might threaten us.
16) To believers God grants the PRESENCE OF CHRIST: 1:23, "Him who fills everything in every way;" 3:17, "so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith." See also the classic verse, Galatians 2:20, "I no longer live, but Christ lives in me..." Stop and consider what a wonder that is!
17) You are PRECIOUS TO GOD: 2:4, "because of His great love for us..." John 3:16 comes to mind - "God so loved the world that He gave His only Son..." You're that dear to your Heavenly Father!
18) You have a POST-MORTAL EXISTENCE: 2:1/5, "As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins...[God] made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions..." When we were spiritual road-kill, bound for perdition, God breathed new life into us and granted us a fresh start - bound for heaven not hell.
19) You have a POSITION IN THE HEAVENLIES IN CHRIST: 2:6, "And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus..." Don't overlook the significance of the little phrase 'in Christ' all through Paul's writings: our identity is now wrapped up with the Saviour.
20) You are POINTED TO AS EXAMPLES OF GRACE: 2:10, "For we are God's workmanship," NLT "God's masterpiece", v7 "so God can always point to us as examples of the incredible wealth of His favour and kindness toward us..." You're a piece by Michelangelo, a violin by Stradivarius, that God can shine the spotlight on as an example of how much He cares about people.
21) You now enjoy PROXIMITY TO GOD: 2:13, "But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far away have been brought near through the blood of Christ." 18, "For through Him we...have access to the Father by one Spirit." 3:12, "In him and through faith in him we may approach God with freedom and confidence." Such awesome privilege!
22) We can be blessed by PEACE WITH OTHERS: in the case of the Ephesians, no more hostility between Jews and Gentiles - they were all brought together in the church. 2:14ff, "For He Himself is our peace...who has...destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility...thus making peace...He came and preached peace to you who were far away [ie Gentiles] and peace to those who were near [the Jews]." Forgiven by God's grace, what right have we to hold any grudge against anyone else? Jesus helps us overcome hostility.
23) We have PARTNERSHIP IN ALL GOD PREVIOUSLY PROMISED: 2:12, though formerly we were "separate...excluded...foreigners to the covenants of the promise, without hope and without God in the world," 3:6 states "This mystery is that through the gospel the Gentiles are heirs together with Israel, members together of one body, and sharers together in the promise in Christ Jesus." Partners!
24) We are showered with PRIZES UNENDING: 3:8, "the unsearchable riches of Christ", BBE "unending wealth", NLT "the endless treasures available to them in Christ." As Paul said back in Corinthians, "All things belong to you...and you belong to Christ..." (1Cor 3:21,23)
25) [last one - maybe the best!] You are blessed to PERCEIVE HOW MASSIVE CHRIST'S LOVE IS: 3:18f, "[that you] may have power...to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge..." To experience the love of Christ [NLT], how HUGE it is. The Life Application Bible notes, "[God's love] reaches every corner of our experience.It is wide - it covers the breadth of our own experience, and it reaches out to the whole world.God's love is long - it continues the length of our lives.It is high - it rises to the heights of our celebration and elation.His love is deep - it reaches to the depths of discouragement, despair, and even death."
Only after outlining all these spiritual blessings does Paul turn to the matter of how we're to live it out in terms of our relationships with others. 4:1 NRSV "I therefore...beg you to lead a life worthy of the calling to which you have been called." Note the therefore, what's it there for?! It's pointing back to the first 3 chapters, that's what we're called to, what we're so privileged to enjoy. Live WORTHY of that. We can't 'earn' it, but it should sure shape our response.
How? Zero in on 3:17-19, here's where Christ's love becomes the battery powering our love for others. 17a, Christ dwelling in our hearts; 17b, 'rooted and established in love' - the word behind 'established' can mean founded upon, firm and solid like a good foundation. Items 1-25 ARE that foundation, the benefits of being 'in Christ'. They're an unassailable anchor for your self-esteem, your sense of being secure and loved and valuable, something no one can possibly take away from you - however much a jerk they happen to be!
V18, when we're grasping the hugeness / the massiveness of Christ's love, v19 when we're knowing / soaking in / experiencing the ocean of His agape proven at the cross - when we're 'filled to the measure of all the fullness of God'- how can any person's attack diminish us? We're so rich in spiritual treasures, what can they possibly take away from us? V16, "out of His glorious riches He [will] strengthen you with power through His Spirit in your inner being..." 18 "[that you] may have power..." 20 "His power that is at work within us" - plugged in, flowing freely. He's your love-battery.
LIVE IT OUT: THINKING BEYOND YOURSELF
So what's our life to look like? 4:2, "Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love." Humble, modest, lowly. Gentle, meek, trusting God to be in control even when we're being attacked, confident He'll look after us at the right time. Patient, long-suffering, having a long fuse before we get angry. Bearing with others in love - holding up, enduring.
That's tough to do when we're trying to cope with just our own limited self's resources. Love asks a lot - impossibly much, UNLESS we first realize how blessed we are through all those "P's" Paul has listed in the first three chapters. Then it is not just us, but Christ in us, responding to the needs of others. The Holy Spirit within will release His bounty of love and grace and kindness and goodness so we are reinforced to genuinely bear with those who may be difficult, instead of lashing out like a bear ourselves.
This month Reader's Digest ran a couple of articles related to dating and romantic love. It's notable that even a secular magazine echoes some of the apostle's counsel. For example, in an article titled "Lessons from the Dating Trenches", one woman's 'worst date' was a lunch where the guy talked only about himself. She recalls, "It was just the most painful hour and a half ever." Selfishness didn't win him any points. A couple of the article's tips are: "Ask interesting questions to start conversations" (which requires you to invest some thought in what would be a good question that might engage the other person's interests); and, "Have patience" - it adds, "You're probably going to meet a lot of duds before you meet the right person." Be patient - just like Paul says.
In another article, former NHL 'enforcer' Georges Laraque offers what are called 'love tips'. Apparently Laraque hosted a relationship-advice program that became one of Edmonton's top talk shows in 2006. What's he recommend? First, "Let her talk" - she'll think you're the greatest guy in the world "even though you didn't say a word." That takes some humility, not to dominate the conversation.
Another 'love tip' is, "Compliment her" rather than be one of those guys who think they're too cool to give a compliment and make the woman feel taken for granted. How many marriages would be better off if we complimented our spouse more often? That takes love, thoughtfulness, noticing the other person.
I'll close with Laraque's third tip: "Be a gentleman." He adds, "A lot of guys think it's old school, but girls love feeling like a princess. Open the door for her - women love that. Guys don't do that anymore, but that's something really big." To be a gentleman takes what Paul said seriously, "Be completely humble and gentle."
When we reckon ourselves royalty with all the spiritual blessings God has bestowed upon us as His dear children through faith in Christ, it's easier to treat another person like they're a princess or prince. Let's pray.