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The Higher Christian Life
1. A prisoner of the Lord. One would hardly expect to find a prisoner in a Roman jail, the author of such a remarkable letter. We are accustomed to think of prisoners as men who are versed in crime. Paul, however, was a prisoner of the Lord. He was in prison, not because of his guilt, but because of his righteousness, and, withal his faithfulness to Christ.
From the prison jail, Bunyan wrote as one sent of God.
Behind the prison bars Madame Guyon wrote the delightful poem,
"A little bird am I,
Shut in from fields of air,
Yet here I sit and sing my song,
To Him who placed me there."
It was in the prison, that Paul taught the word to many who gathered from the city of Rome. It was in the prison, that the apostle led them to Christ including Onesimus, the runaway servant of Philemon. It was from the prison, that this preacher to the Gentiles sent forth, under the inspiration of the Spirit of God, those wonderful letters to the churches, one of which we are now studying.
2. A prisoner of the Lord calling upon saints to walk worthy of their calling. No man can ask of others, what he does not do himself. If Paul sought for the Ephesians to walk worthy of the Lord, he himself must have walked worthily, or else his words would be meaningless. Let us examine what he asked of saints, and discover what a life worthy of our divine calling may be.
(1) It is a life of lowliness. One would think that a Christian, being called out of the depths of sin, and into the heights of glory, would live a life of exaltation. Yes, we are exalted in Christ; but the apostle wants us to walk among men, not with the spirit of pride, and arrogancy, and self esteem, but with the spirit of lowliness.
When royalty recently was visiting Canada and the United States, that which appealed to the people was the ease, and naturalness, with which the royal pair mingled with the lowly. We too are called from the very heights, to enter the very depths. We are the children of the King, and are destined to reign with Christ. We know how to sit down in the heavenlies, in communion with our exalted Lord. We should, however, know how to go into the humblest of homes, and sit with those who gather there.
Our Lord never manifested any spirit of egotism. He frequently spoke of being one with the Father, of His being the light of the world, of being the resurrection and the life, and many other high and holy relationships; yet, withal, He sat with publicans and sinners, and ate with them. He received the woman who was a sinner, and made her whole. He called the blind beggar to come to His side, and He gave him his sight.
(2) It is a life of meekness. Our Lord was meek. He told us to bear His yoke ; but He, Himself, meek and lowly, bore the yoke of His Father. He received the buffeting of His enemies; they spat upon Him; they spurned Him; they wagged their heads against Him; yet He resented none of it. He gave His back to His smiters, and His cheeks to them that plucked out His hair.
The meek man, is not a man who is a weakling. He may, as Christ did, have power to overthrow every enemy. Yet, during His earth life, Christ fulfilled the words: "A bruised reed will He not break; and smoking flax will He not quench, till I send forth judgment unto victory, (3) It is a life of long-suffering. Our Lord not only suffered at the hands of the enemy, but He suffered again and again. When we think of the long-suffering of God in the days of Noah, as He kept back His judgments while the ark was a preparing; when we think of the long-suffering of God to us, and of His forbearance in the days of our sinning against Him, we become more and more willing to suffer long for His sake. If He forgave His enemies, should not we forgive? If He gave His back to the smiters, should we not give ours?
(4) A life of forbearing one another in love. If we, as saints, will forbear one another in love all bickering and strife, all contention and evil speaking will be done away.
I. THE HIGHER CHRISTIAN LIFE IS THE LIFE OF UNITY (Ephesians 4:3-4 )
1. The apostle recognized the disrupting influence of Satan. He knew how difficult it would be for the saints to remain "one" in spirit. Therefore he wrote in Ephesians 4:3 , these words, "Endeavoring to keep the unity of the spirit." Even in Paul's day, in the church of Corinth, one was saying, I am of Paul; and another, I am of Apollos; some, also said, I am of Peter, This was done because the believers were carnal, walking in the flesh. The result of their following after men, was this: envying, and strife, and division arose among them.
Today, some are saying, I am a Methodist; and another, I am a Baptist; another I am a Presbyterian; etc. This means that division and strife is caused continually. I came into my own city of Elyria, O., this past week. Walking by a church, I saw a motto on their bulletin board that stirred my soul. It showed that the church stood true to the faith. Yet, the ministrations of that church are absolutely distinct, separate, and divided from the ministrations of the church where I am preaching.
The churches know but little, one of the other; and probably they care less. Where is the spirit of unity? The apostle commanded that we should endeavor to keep the unity of the Spirit, in the bond of peace. The saints in Elyria are making no endeavor in this direction whatsoever.
2. The Apostle gave the basis of unity. He said, "There is one body, and one Spirit, even as ye are called in one hope of your calling; one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all." It seems very difficult for the church not to be one when the Spirit is one, the hope is one, the Lord is one, and everything is one.
We can almost catch the heart of God as He prayed that they might be one; even as He, and the Father were one. What a shame that saints are divided as they are. Even Baptists are divided, sub-divided, and then divided again. Methodists are divided, and then divided and still divided. The same is true of the Presbyterians and the Lutherans, and the Plymouth Brethren, and everybody else.
II. THE HIGHER CHRISTIAN LIFE IS A LIFE OF EDIFICATION (Ephesians 4:11-12 )
1. There are varied offices in the church of Christ There are apostles, and prophets, and evangelists, and pastors, and teachers. We have not time to take these up singly, but whether the one or the other, they all have the same God-given objective. That objective is the perfecting of the saints.
In the average church of today, there is a recognition of these varied gifts; but, with many, there is but little thought of perfecting the saints, even among the most spiritual of our churches and the most energetic. The supreme objective is to get sinners saved, and to get people added to the church. There are places where a preacher is expected every time he enters the pulpit, to preach strictly evangelistic messages, filled with good Calvary Gospel; and with appealing illustrations seeking to arouse sinners, etc.
Not for one moment would we underestimate the glory of leading men to Christ. Neither would we underestimate the glory of babies being born in a home. However, that is not all of the church obligation, nor is it all of the obligation of home life. The home is not merely established for bringing children into the world. It is established for their training, for bringing them up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord. The church is not established, alone, for the salvation of lost men, and women. It is established for perfecting of the saints.
2. The objective in the perfecting of saints. Saints are to be perfected for, or unto the work of ministry; and also, for, or unto, the edifying of the body of Christ. The objective of apostles, prophets, evangelists and the like is to perfect saints; that they, in turn, may carry on the work of the Lord, and build up the body, which is the church. We are not perfecting saints, merely that they may go to heaven, and be accepted there. We are perfecting them, that they may carry on the work of evangelism and of edification. Here is where the ministry of leaders comes in. They are preparing other people to win souls, and to carry on for God.
III. THE HIGHER CHRISTIAN LIFE IN ITS OBJECTIVES (Ephesians 4:13-16 )
1. The first great objective, is the perfecting of the saints. Ephesians 4:13 says, "Till we all come in the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ." God does not want, in His churches, children to remain children, tossed to and fro, and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the sleight of men and their cunning craftiness.
God wants each member of His body, which is the church, to grow daily in His knowledge, and in the unity of the faith, until they are what God calls a perfect, fully developed, fully rounded Christian, who has reached the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ.
Some may think that this ideal is too high; that no believer can ever reach unto such an exalted position. Nevertheless that is what God wants. He wanted it in the Isle of Crete, when He wrote, through Paul, unto Titus concerning this very thing. He wants it in your town, or city, or village, or country church.
2. The second and culminating objective of the perfecting of the saints and of the edifying of the body of Christ is that they may grow up into Christ Who is the Head. Ephesians 4:15 tells us that we are to grow up into Him, in all things. Now with this accomplished, with the saints having reached this unity of the faith, this knowledge of the Son of God, and this perfect manhood in Christ, we have God's picture of a glorious and perfected church. Here it is: "From whom the whole body, fitly joined together, and compacted by that which every joint supplieth, according to the effectual working of the measure of every part, maketh increase of the body, unto the edifying of itself in love."
As you read the verse just quoted you may say, "What an accumulation of words." They seem to you to be what the printer calls jumbled type, meaningless. Sit down, my beloved, and study this verse. Study it in the light of the human body, which is so marvelously, and so fitly joined together. Study how the human body is operated by that which every joint supplieth. Study how the human body works effectually through the unity, and the compactness, and service, of every part. Then, having thought of it, in the light of your own personal body; think of it in the light of the Church, which is His Body, and keep in mind God's ideals for us, and for His Church.
IV. THE HIGHER CHRISTIAN LIFE DEMANDS THE LEAVING OF THE OLD LIFE (Ephesians 4:17-19 )
1. The setting aside of the old life. Ephesians 4:17 says, "This I say therefore, and testify in the Lord, that ye henceforth walk, not as other Gentiles walk." Think you that we are not saved from anything? When God called the children of Israel to come unto Him as special people, He took them out of Egypt. It has always been the same. In Isaiah the call from Heaven was, "Let the wicked forsake his way and the unrighteous man his thought." In Ephesians the call is, "Have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness."
The call of our Lord Jesus Christ, is the call of separation. He says, "Ye are not of the world, even as I am not of the world." We who are saved cannot walk, henceforth, as sinners walk.
2. God's photograph of the old life. Ephesians 4:18 tells the way of Gentile sinners.
1. Their understandings are darkened.
2. They are alienated from the life of God.
3. They are filled with ignorance and blindness of heart.
4. They are past feeling.
5. They have given themselves over unto lasciviousness.
6. They are working all uncleanness, with greediness.
Think you then, that God has called us to continue in the way of sinners? Nay, we have not so learned Christ.
The life of a believer is just as different from the life of the unbeliever as light is distinct from darkness.
If you want to get God's contrast between the Christian, and a Spirit-filled life, and the non-Christian, and his fleshly lusts, read Galatians 5:22-23 in conjunction with Galatians 5:19-21 . Here is a contrast that is -true. On the part of the Spirit-filled believer the fruitage is love, joy, peace, long-suffering, gentleness, faith, meekness, temperance. On the part of the unregenerate, the works of his flesh are; adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lasciviousness, idolatry, witchcraft, hatred, variance, emulations, wrath, strife, seditions, heresies, envyings, murders, drunkness, revelings, and such like.
V. THE HIGHER CHRISTIAN LIFE DEMANDS THE PUTTING OFF OF THE OLD MAN, AND THE PUTTING ON OF THE NEW (Ephesians 4:22-24 )
1. The putting off of the old man. We suppose that all of you know that the old man refers to our life and nature, before we were saved. The old man is the ego, the self life; the man begotten by natural generation. It is the adamic nature. You remember how it was written, "By one man, sin entered into the world." A very full description of this old man is given us in the third chapter of Romans. We might suggest a few of its statements, relative thereto.
"There is none that doeth good.
"Their throat is an open sepulchre.
"With their tongues they have used deceit.
"The poison of asps is under their lips.
"Their mouth is full of cursing and bitterness.
"Their feet are quick to shed blood.
"Destruction and misery are in their way.
"There is no fear of God before their eyes."
If any of you seem to object to God's description of the old man, you may have it out with Him. We agree with everything stated above. It is not only the possible, but also the probable outflow from the human heart. Do you wonder, therefore, that God says, "Put off concerning the former conversation, the old man, which is corrupt according to deceitful lusts."
Before we pass from this, may we suggest that the responsibility of putting off this old man is yours. God does not say, "I will put him off." He tells His saints to put him off. There is no doubt but what He will give strength, for He is abundantly able. Nevertheless, to will must first of all be in your own heart. You must take the attitude of death to the old man. You must be ready to deny him, and to renounce him, and to put him away.
2. The putting on of the new man. The new man is that man which, after God, is created in righteousness, and in true holiness. You remember how it is written, "Ye must be born again." That which is born again, is the new man. It is born from above, it is born of God, it is begotten of the Holy Ghost. This new man has no sin, and does no sin. No one can conceive of one, begotten of the Holy Spirit, as unholy. It is this new man, which is to be put on. The expression "put off," certainly means the negation of, the setting aside of the old man; the refusal to give ear to the nature, which is corrupt. The putting on of the new man, means the recognition of the new man. It means to enthrone the new man; to walk after the impulses of this newly begotten nature. If someone says that we still have both the new nature, and the old, we remind you that the old nature does not mean the old body; it means the deeds of our old, fleshly nature. Why should we still have it if we put it off? At least one thing is sure, it does not need to have us. As to our mind, Ephesians 4:23 says that we should "be renewed in the Spirit of our mind." God, Himself will put a new spirit in us, to control our thoughts and our mental man. Beside all of this, God enforces our new man, and our spirit, by His Holy Spirit.
VI. THE HIGHER CHRISTIAN LIFE INCLUDES OBEDIENCE TO THE FOLLOWING DEMANDS (Ephesians 4:25-28 )
Our Lord does not merely say, "Put off the old man," but He tells us exactly what He means.
1. Put away lying. You smilingly say, "Do Christians lie?" Certainly not if they have put off the old man. Lying, however, is a very common trait of the old man, and you will agree when we say that many believers are guilty of lying. For instance, in the Epistle of John it is still written, "If we say that we have no sin we deceive ourselves." It also is written: "If we say we have not sinned we make Him a liar." Then we read, in the same chapter, "If we say we have fellowship with Him, and walk in darkness, we lie." God therefore wants us to put away all lying, including the asserting of a false Spiritual attainment. Let us not lie about ourselves, about our deeds, about our accomplishments, our piety, or anything else. Neither let us lie about our friends, or our foes. John wrote the elect lady, about her children walking in the truth. Let us walk in the truth.
2. Be angry and sin not. God says, "Let not the sun go down upon your wrath." There is an anger where there is no sin. That anger, however, is a permanency in the life. It is an attitude toward evil and sin. We read a great deal in the Bible about the wrath of God. There is no sin in His wrath. Anger that flares up and cools off, anger that causes people to say and do things that they know is wrong, is absolutely a sin and a grievous one and it should be put off.
3. Let him that stole steal no more. Some one says, "Do Christians steal?" We answer they certainly should not steal, but they may steal. There is a great deal of stealing that is legally done. There is a great deal of stealing that is done under other names. We want to sum up everything about lying, and anger, and stealing, under the expression of Ephesians 4:27 , "Neither give place to the Devil." Put off your old man and then resist the Devil.
VII. THE HIGHER CHRISTIAN LIFE IS A CALL NOT TO GRIEVE THE HOLY SPIRIT (Ephesians 4:29-32 )
In these days there is preaching which places an emphasis upon grace, which God does not place. It tells us that the law and its just commands are entirely done away, so far as the believer is concerned. We concur fully in the fact that salvation is by grace, apart from the law; apart from law-works, and apart from everything excepting faith. However, all of the epistles of Paul lay down commands, requirements upon requirements for the believer. The ten commandments said "Thou shalt not." Then they also said, "Thou shall." This chapter, which we are studying today, is filled with "thou shalt, and thou shalt not."
1. The "shalt not" of grieving the Holy Spirit of God. It's an awful thing to think that a Christian indwelt with the Spirit of God would grieve Him. Yet, alas, many do. How may Christians grieve the Spirit? Anything in the believer that is contrary to holiness, and purity, and spiritual life, grieves the Spirit of God.
2. The "shalt not" of evil speaking. Ephesians 4:29 says, "Let no corrupt communication proceed out of your mouth." Christians must not let their tongues be used to speak unclean things.
3. The "shalt not" of bitterness and wrath, and anger, and clamor, and evil speaking, and malice. All of these things grieve the Spirit, and all of them must be put away.
4. The "shalts." We have considered the negatives under three points. We must take the positives under just one point. Here are the things which we are told to do. We are to be, "Kind one to another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God, for Christ's sake, hath forgiven you." With this chapter fully before us dare we ever go on, and live in carnality anymore? God forbid!
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Text Courtesy of BibleSupport.com. Used by Permission.
Neighbour, Robert E. "Wells of Living Water Commentary on Ephesians 4". "Living Water". https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 9 / Ordinary 14