Okay . . . quiz time. Who considered himself to be “less than the least of all of God’s people”? If you said the Apostle Paul, you are right (Eph. 3:7-12). The Message Bible states this passage as follows, “This is my (Paul’s) life work: helping people understand and respond to this Message (the gospel of Jesus Christ). It came as a sheer gift to me, a real surprise, God handling all the details. When it came to presenting the Message to people who had no background in God’s way, I was the least qualified of any of the available Christians. God saw to it that I was equipped, but you can be sure that it had nothing to do with my natural abilities.
“And so here I am, preaching and writing about things that are way over my head, the inexhaustible riches and generosity of Christ. My task is to bring out in the open and make plain what God, who created all this in the first place, has been doing in secret and behind the scenes all along. Through followers of Jesus like yourselves gathered in churches, this extraordinary plan of God is becoming known and talked about even among the angels!
“All this is proceeding along lines planned all along by God and then executed in Christ Jesus. When we trust in him, we’re free to say whatever needs to be said, bold to go wherever we need to go” (Eph 3:7-12 MSG).
The Apostle Paul lived what he preached. He was bold in what he had to say to the Ephesians back then and to us today, but his boldness was mixed with being humble and gentle, patient and forbearing in love, and he taught us as followers of Jesus Christ to be the same way. He calls us to live a life worthy of the calling we have received in unity with one another (Eph. 4:1-6). And what he has to say to us goes beyond “belief” (as in head knowledge) to hit us where it counts . . . in our “behavior” (our heart attitude and actions). As Eugene Peterson points out in his introduction to the book of Ephesians in The Message Bible, “What we know about God and what we do for God have a way of getting broken apart in our lives . . . . Paul’s letter to the Ephesians joins together what has been torn apart in our sin-wrecked world.”
I don’t know about you, but I often find that when I want to be really bold about something I strongly believe in, oftentimes it does not come off sounding humble. The combination of being bold and being humble at the same time is a hard one, especially in our self-oriented society of the past few decades. However, the words of Paul all through Ephesians are bold, and he was humble when stating them. So let’s look at what he had to say about what our lives in Christ should look like to the rest of the world.
Paul pulls no punches in Eph 4:17 when he states, “So I tell you this, and insist on it in the Lord, that you must no longer live as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their thinking.” Okay, take a deep breath (I know I have) and let’s look at some of the stuff he said that we should not to be doing (see Eph 4:25-32):
—“Put off falsehood and speak truthfully to your neighbor” (Eph. 4:25)
—“In your anger do not sin: Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry” (Eph 4:26-27)
—“Stop stealing” (Eph. 4:28)
—“Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs” (Eph. 4:29)
—“Do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God” (Eph. 4:30)
AND . . . get rid of all:
rage and anger
brawling and slander along with every form of malice (Eph 4:31)
kind and compassionate to each other
forgiving each other just as in Christ God has forgiven us (Eph 4:32)
We are to “be imitators of God as dearly beloved children and live a life of love, just as Christ loves us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God” (Eph. 5:1-2). And among those of us who call ourselves Christian there is not to be even a hint of the following in our lives (see Eph. 5:3-4):
–sexual immorality or any kind of impurity (Eph. 5:3)
–greed (Eph. 5:3)
–obscenity, foolish talk or coarse joking (Eph. 5:4)
And Paul goes on to state in Eph. 5:5-7: “For of this you can be sure: No immoral, impure or greedy person—such a man is an idolater—has any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and of God. Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of such things God’s wrath comes on those who are disobedient. Therefore do not be partners with them.”
Ouch, ouch, ouch. Knowing how we should live is one thing, but living it out is an entirely different matter– it’s a “heart” issue and not just head knowledge. And if we aren’t living it out, we need to question why we aren’t. If we truly know Jesus Christ as our Savior and Lord, our very lives will show it by our actions and attitudes which are not to be like the rest of the world around us–“having nothing to do with the fruitless deeds of darkness, but rather expose them. For it is shameful even to mention what the disobedient do in secret. But everything exposed by the light becomes visable, for it is light that makes everyting visible. This is why it is said:
‘Wake up, O sleeper,
rise from the dead,
and Christ will shine on you.’
“Be very careful, then, how you live–not as unwise but as wise, making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil. Therefore do not be foolish . . . “ (Eph. 5:11-17).
This is the Apostle Paul talking to us in boldness with humility. And we need to listen to his words carefully. I know I am, and while we will never be perfect in this life, if we truly belong to Jesus we have the power of the Holy Spirit living within us that we can call upon in our moments of weakness.
However, we do have a choice at any given time, and we can either continue to serve ourselves or we can serve the Lord. “If you decide that it’s a bad thing to worship God, then choose a god you’d rather serve—and do it today. . . . As for me and my family, we’ll worship God” (Joshua 24:15 MSG).
Which will you choose to serve today?
The title of this post is taken from the title of the gospel song, “Gotta Serve Somebody,” by Bob Dylan. YouTube video is the voice of Shirley Caesar singing this song:
Photo credit here