I, therefore, the prisoner of the Lord, entreat you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling with which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, showing forbearance to one another in love, being diligent to preserve the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit, just as also you were called in one hope of your calling; one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all who is over all and through all and in all.
A Manner Worthy of Our Calling
My Brothers and Sisters in Christ:
You have been called. So begins the Lutheran doctrine of vocation. The word "vocation" comes from the Latin for "calling" or "to call". I have been called to be the pastor of this congregation. You all know that because you were the ones who extended the call. God called me, but He did it through the agency of the congregation. I serve God by serving you. But that is my second call. My first call is the same as your call, to be the child of God in faith. Each of us has been called by the Gospel, and then granted faith by the power of the Holy Spirit at work through the Word of God, and through the Sacraments.
You all know this, but I review these facts because our Epistle lesson this morning speaks about your call. I wanted you to have these truths in the forefront of your mind as we talk this morning about the text in this sermon. Our theme is, "A Manner Worthy of Our Calling."
The Apostle Paul wrote that we should walk - that is to say we should live - in a manner worthy of our calling - the calling with which you have been called. That is essentially the same as saying that you should live out what you confess - or what you believe. You actually do act on what you really believe because what you believe makes you what you are. It forms the foundation for how you view things and think about life and other people and yourself. Think about it. Pagans act like pagans. They live without a consistent moral center, because their gods, if they bother to profess having one in today's world, are of their own making and imagination, and they are shaped according to their own desires of the moment. They do what they want to do, and they justify their actions by reference to their god - as Muslims do - or by explaining that they have no god, and they are free to do whatever they are strong enough or clever enough to get away with.
Sensualists live for the pleasure of it - however they may define pleasure. The Connoisseur lives for the pleasure of food, or wine, or whatever he or she claims is their speciality. The practitioner of the extreme sports lives for the thrill of being on the edge. Some live for the more erotic sensual pleasures. They do so because that is where they believe the meaning of their lives exists.
People who believe that this life is all there is live for the moment, and when life is no longer fun or profitable, they often throw it away. The Hemlock Society, for example, lobbies for the right to exit this life at the time of one's own choosing, in the manner of one's choosing, before this life is no longer worth living, in their estimation of what gives life worth. It is a highly personal thing.
Christians are called by God to live out what they believe - or, to put it as Paul does, they live in a manner worthy of the calling with which they have been called in Christ Jesus. We have been called to faith in God and to live in the light of the forgiveness of sins, and the hope of salvation. Please note that we are not called to live in such a manner as would make us worthy of our calling. We are called, rather, to live in a way that is appropriate to one who has such a calling.
"[W]alk in a manner worthy" means deliberately to live consciously as a member of the Church, that is, as a member of the body of Christ, living out our forgiveness, and our unity with one another and with everyone who places their hope completely on the grace of God in Jesus Christ.
The question is, how do you do that? What is the worthy manner?
We turn to the text again. Paul describes it with these words, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, showing forbearance to one another in love, being diligent to preserve the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. The first element in the "manner worthy" is humility. That makes sense, since we live by the grace of God. That grace is the undeserved choice of God to bless and save us, through Jesus Christ. We do not merit Christ's gift. The fact that we needed to be saved reveals that much. You and I are just like every other human being. We deserve God's wrath and destruction, when you measure our deserving-ness on the divine scale. So we have no particular reason for ego or for pride that we are Christians or that we will be going to heaven. We have been chosen! We have been chosen for reasons we cannot even comprehend. We surely have reason for joy, and this salvation is a gift, not something we have earned.
The worthy manner also includes gentleness. We are called to be 'like Christ.' Jesus did not come with violence or aggressiveness. He had just cause for violence and aggressive behavior, but He came humble and gentle for our sakes. He didn't demand His rights or compel the people He met into living out the pattern which He wanted them to live. He came teaching and preaching and setting an example, and enduring the sin of those around Him even when it was focused on Him. He chose to lead the flock, not drive the herd. We, too, are to be gentle with others.
Paul next listed patience in his description of that worthy manner. Patience belongs with humility and gentleness. Patience doesn't demand its own way or its own time schedule. The manner worthy of our calling is a manner that recognizes that we have been called to represent Christ on earth - not as employees, but as members of God's family, and as those who share the same purpose, that through Jesus Christ men and women might find salvation. Patience makes particular sense, since we are a people founded upon forgiveness, and what is more fitting forgiveness that patience? This forgiving spirit is evidenced also in forbearance, which Paul also lists. We bear with the weakness and folly or one another as Christ has borne with our own. We, too, are weak and foolish, and in spite of our weakness Christ nevertheless has chosen us and rescued us from sin and death and hell.
Finally, Paul says that the manner worthy of our calling includes that we are to be diligent to preserve unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. Basically that means living out the reality of the unity we have been given in Jesus Christ, in the presence of the world's temptations to division and quarreling. We have one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all who is over all and through all and in all. That is a lot of unity! Paul also describes us as having one body and one Spirit. The body he refers to is the Church and the Spirit is the Holy Spirit who dwells in each one that believes. By this, Paul means to remind us that we, though individuals, are united. We are one in many ways.
In John 13:35, Jesus said, "By this will all men know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another." We are to love each other first. That is what Paul refers to when he writes that we are to "preserve the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace." This love is not about feeling affection or liking one another particularly well, although it certainly doesn't exclude those feelings if we have them. This love is about peace and harmony, about patience and humility and such things with one another. In other words, the love of which Jesus speaks is another part of the worthy manner of living in and living out the calling of Jesus Christ to eternal life and salvation.
Our unity is both visible and invisible. The visible part of it is that we are part of that "one body" that Paul writes about. He is writing about "the body of Christ", which is the Church. That is that unity which can be seen. We are to work at making that unity evident to one another, first, and then to the world around us. The invisible part is that we share that one Spirit. We have the Holy Spirit - God's gift to every single person that believes. We all share it, but we cannot always see who is a true believer, so that part of our unity is not visible to the naked eye - only to God. Nevertheless, we are to live aware that this unity does exist.
And we all partake of one hope - by that Paul means the promise of resurrection from our graves, and eternal life in glory with Christ and with all those who have loved the Lord, including the saints who have gone before us. This invisible unity in the hope of the Gospel is the truth of God, revealed to us, but not always the truth of our senses or, necessarily, of our feelings.
Naturally, all those that believe this same Gospel have one Lord - the Lord Jesus Christ. That is our confession. Those who cling to the Law for their hope of salvation, or to a different Gospel entirely, obviously have a different lord. But true Christians have one and the same Lord, Jesus Christ.
We also confess one faith. That goes along with that one hope. Denominational labels do not matter in this issue. Everyone who goes to heaven, that is to say every true Christian, will finally be shown to have believed what exactly we believe, that is to say we all share the same basic truths. One way I have stated this truth before is to say that everyone who goes to heaven is a Lutheran, whether they know it or not, because all genuine Christians believe the same Gospel. They hold to the same salvation. They repent. They trust in Jesus alone for their salvation by grace alone through faith alone - or they are not really Christians. It isn't enough to know how to pronounce the name, Jesus. It is a false faith which hopes in that which is not true and therefore not saving. Such people will often trust in things which are not promised, such as a gospel of prosperity, or health, or liberation in terms of this world's structures. So one might say that the Baptist, or the Catholic, or the Methodist that trusts in Jesus for salvation is a Lutheran under the skin and unawares, for they share that one faith of which Paul has written to us. That also is a part of our true unity.
In addition, each of us shares in the one baptism. It is the Baptism of Jesus, commanded in Matthew 28:19 and Mark 16:16, in Acts 2:38 and Acts 22:16. It is that baptism which clothes us with Christ, washes away our sins, causes us to be born again to a living hope, and makes us members of Christ's body, the Church. Without that one baptism, we are not a part of this thing called the Christian Church. It is all the same baptism if one is baptized according to the command in Matthew 28. It does not matter where it is done, at a font or in a lake or in a stream, or what method we may use - immersion, pouring the water, or sprinkling. It is all the same baptism, and it is all by Christ's command and done by Christ's hand - for He calls those whose hands baptize into His service, and gives them the command - "Baptize them in the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost."
The Church is our true unity. We all worship the same God and have but one heavenly Father who is over all, and in us all, and works through all of us to accomplish His gracious will here on earth. Living consciously within this unity, and deliberately seeking to preserve it in peace and concord, is what we are called by in this text to live: the manner worthy of your calling.
Each of us is in the same delicate condition, clinging to a hope which is beyond our power to choose to believe in the first place, and beyond our native ability to continue to believe. We rest in the hands of the Holy Spirit, sustained in faith by His power. We earnestly want nothing to shake us, and, as we are true Christians, we just as earnestly want nothing to shake other believers. God has given us to one another to help each other stand fast and firm in this evil world.
The American dream of independence is strong in our culture, and strong in our flesh, but it is not a part of the Christian faith. We are individuals, but in faith we are united, walking together in the manner worthy of our calling, deliberate in love because it is the Holy Spirit who works in us, and He works love in us for one another - by this will all men know that you are disciples of mine, if you have love for one another.
So, when all is said and done, we live out our vocation, our call, by walking in the manner worthy of our calling because it is who we are as God's holy people. God grant that we do it deliberately and faithfully.
In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.
(Let the people say Amen)
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