I reviewed this book earlier this week, and although it doesn’t specifically apply to our month’s theme, Laity, the author does have some important things to say about what he calls “engaging with others.” To be successful as laypeople we must be able to get along and work well with one another. In any congregation there are differences: differences in background, education, ability, understanding and more. Sometimes these differences lead to conflict. When that happens, Gregory Spencer points to the 4th Chapter of Ephesians for a guide to “reframing” our outlook. Maybe you’ll find it helpful.
“An extended biblical passage that addresses “engaging with others” is Ephesians 4. Paul reminds his readers of what makes for a strong community. Overall we maintain unity by living peacefully (3) and fulfilling our various roles and callings (4-13). We do this by putting off the old self and putting on the new self (22-34, some obvious reframing here), feeding certain character qualities–humility, gentleness, patience, bearing with one another in love(2) industriousness (28), compassion and forgiveness(32) –and by starving sensual indulgence (17-19), extended anger, bitterness, brawling, slander and malice(31). I’m particularly taken with the admonitions to speak the truth in love (15,25) and to talk for the sake of building others up (29).”
In this little book, Henri Nouwen, who was a Catholic priest, educator and writer takes on the task of trying to explain spiritual life to his secular, Jewish friend. For Henri, that life begins with understanding that we are created, loved and chosen by God. We must experience His love and feel gratitude for how He has blessed us; then we pass that love and blessing along by serving others. Society constantly encourages us to compete, to excel and to compare ourselves to a worldly version of “success.” Often this means we see ourselves as failures, or we force ourselves into a mold that looks good to our culture, but doesn’t fulfill our deepest, God-given desires and abilities. According to Nouwen:
“Spiritually you do not belong to the world. And this is precisely why you are sent into the world. Your family and your friends, your colleagues and your competitors, and all the people you meet on your journey through life are all searching for more than survival. Your presence among them as the one who is sent will allow them to catch a glimpse of the real life.”
In the epilogue we learn that according to Henri’s friend, the book is a failure. He tells him, “you do not realize how far we are from where you are.” However a number of Christian friends assure him to “trust what is there (in the book) will bear fruit.” It becomes the basis for a course on “The Life of the Beloved” at the Servant Leadership School of the Church of the Savior in Washington D.C. Nouwen muses about how ironic it is that he tried so hard to write something for secular folks and the ones helped by it were searching Christians. The point, I think is this:
“But God, who is rich in mercy, out of the great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead through our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), and raised us up with him in the heavenly places that in the coming age he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith; and this is not of your own doing, it is the gift of God — not because of works, lest any man should boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.” Ephesians 2:5-10
He made us, He loved us, He chose us, and He will use us in ways we would never expect.
The Bible not only tells us to continue in brotherly love, it gives us instructions on how to do that. I’ve heard them called the “one anothers”:
- Be at peace with one another (Mark 9:50)
- Outdo one another in showing honor (Romans 12:10)
- Serve one another (Galatians 5:13)
- Forgive one another (Ephesians 4:32)
- Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ (Ephesians 5:21)
- Accept one another, just as Christ accepted you (Romans 5:17)
- Instruct one another (Romans 15:14)
- Bear one another’s burdens (Galatians 6:2)
- Encourage one another (1 Thessalonians 4:9)
- Admonish one another (Colossians 3:16)
- Be patient with one another (Ephesians 4:2)
- Be kind and compassionate with one another (Ephesians 4:32)
- Pray for one another (James 5:16)
- Confess your sins to one another (James 5:16)
Then there are some “do nots.”
- Don’t pass judgement on one another (Romans 14:13)
- Do not lie to one another (Colossians 3:9)
- Do not slander one another (James 4:11)
- Do not grumble against one another (James 5:9)
How do you do with this list? If you’re like me, you fall down quite a bit. I have to admit patience and not grumbling are areas I really need to work on; serving and submitting deserve extra attention as well. What about confessing sins to one another — I would really rather not go there!
It boils down to this: brotherly love requires humility and sacrifice. It involves imitating the one who loved us like a brother — Jesus. He did all these things and did them perfectly. He’s the one who teaches us to love.
“Then the Lord God said, ‘It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper suitable for him.”
In the beginning, God saw that Adam needed companionship, so He gave him a gift. He gave him a wife, Eve, who became the mother of his children. Sometimes we forget that our spouse is a blessing, and we’re meant to take care of that blessing wisely just as we’re called to be stewards of everything God has given us.
My husband and I have been married for almost 46 years. After all that time, it’s easy to become complacent, to settle into familiar routines, and to take one another for granted. It’s so much easier to complain than to appreciate. I certainly am guilty of feeling aggrieved about the few things my husband doesn’t do for me while ignoring the many things he does. When I fall into this sinful thinking I need to remember this scripture about how God expects us to relate to one another:
“Submit to one another, out of reverence for the Christ.” Ephesians 5:21
Submitting means to yield our own rights. In other words, put the other person first. Think about what is best for them. I’m sure many quarrels (and even divorces) would be avoided by following this simple advice. The verse also tells us WHY we need to do this — it shows respect for the other person, but also respect and reverence for Christ. It shows our gratitude for the great gift God has given. Think about it. How do you feel when you give your child a new bike, only to find he has it out in the rain to rust? How do you feel if a week or a month after getting the bike of his dreams, he’s wishing for a different model? That’s not the way to treat a gift. No parent would be happy with such behavior.
If you are married, give thanks today for your spouse — a gift and a blessing from God.
“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
The apostle, Paul, writing from prison, gives some good advice on how to maintain our unity with other Christians. When I read it, I have to ask myself, am I walking in a worthy manner? Am I humble, gentle and patient with others in my church family? Am I willing to overlook some flaws as they mature in the faith? Am I eager, really eager to get along with everyone? Do I love them, each individual, as a child of God and my sister or brother?
It’s human to fail in all these things. Just like everyone else, I can sometimes be self righteous, impatient, critical or abrupt. That’s not worthy of my calling. I’m called to love others, and that means acting in a loving way. I can be eager in all the wrong ways – eager to prove my point, eager to look good in the eyes of others, eager to promote my own agenda. That’s not worthy of my calling, either. I’m called to serve others, not advance myself. I can be guilty of surrounding myself with those I find most compatible, failing to include or ignoring part of God’s family. How unworthy is that, forgetting that Jesus called me His friend, when I was still a sinner!
Whenever I fall down, I need to remember my calling. Christian unity depends upon you and me. Am I committed to keeping the peace? Are you?
When it comes to obedience, Satan is our enemy. His wiles were behind the very first instance of disobedience in the garden, and he continues to lead us astray today. However God has given us tools to resist the devil. In Chapter 6 of Ephesians, the apostle Paul describes these tools and calls them “the armor of God.” (Ephesians 6:13-17)
When and how do we receive this armor? I believe it comes with our baptism. This is the day God claims us as His own, the day that we “put on the Lord Jesus Christ.” (Romans 13:14) Only in Him do we become righteous and capable of true obedience.
Here’s what the Lutheran Catechism says about baptism:
“It (baptism) signifies that the old Adam in us, together will all sins and evil lusts, should be drowned by daily sorrow and repentance and be put to death; and that the new man should daily come forth and rise, to live before God in righteousness and holiness forever.”
This is based upon Romans 6: 4
“We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised form the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.”
So here’s the question Paul poses:
“How can we who died to sin still live in it?” (Romans 6:2)
You and I are new creations. God gave us righteousness through Christ. We have the armor of God. Remembering this can help us to be obedient.