Bound Together - Wellington First Assembly

Wellington First Assembly

326 W Botkin Lane, Wellington Kansas ........Family Faith Lessons - 9:30 AM........ Sunday Worship - 10:30 AM


Monday, May 15, 2017

Bound Together

Field day is a common rite of passage for students at the end of a school year.  It involves a day in the sun, an escape from the classroom, and competitions between grades levels and teachers.  The old fashioned outdoor games are brought out – tug of war, the crabwalk, the wheelbarrow race, spinning around a bat until you are so dizzy you can’t run straight – my favorite -- the kick of your shoe and see how far it flies…  And then there’s always the three-legged race.   That one takes some coordination and some work to do right.  Especially if one contestant is short and the other is tall.  Sometimes we’ve used old feed sacks, other times, we’ve used giant rubber bands or cords to actually tie the legs together.  If you want to win this race, you will need to listen to each other and sync up your actions.  One might have to swing their foot a little longer than normal, another might have to slow it down a bit.  I have watched as to competitive athletes are paired up – they don’t listen to each other – they rely on their own strength and power to win, and invariably, they trip up the other person.  I’ve come to realize this – winning this type of competitions has nothing to do with the individual skill, but everything to do with communication and teamwork with the one with whom you are bound together.


This is exactly the message that Paul is trying to get across in his letter to the Ephesians. 

4 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. There is one body and one Spirit—just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call— one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.
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If you recall, Paul is writing this letter towards the end of his life, around 62 AD – almost 30 years since Christ was crucified.   At the time this is being written, Paul has been in prison for a number of years.  The last few chapters of Acts records his arrests and subsequent trials.  His case had been stuck in court for a number of years, already heard by two governing bodies, but Paul, utilizing his rights as a Roman citizen, appealed to the court of Ceaser and was subsequently shipped off to Rome.  You might remember, that Paul was in chains, alongside other prisoners, when the ship floundered off the coast of Malta – Facing certain execution by the centurion guard, Paul persuaded him that no prisoners would escape if they were allowed to live.  They remained bound together on the island until brought to Rome.  And there in Rome, Paul stayed under house arrest, a prisoner in a private home, under imperial guard, but allowed to teach and preach, and write.

Paul is reminded of his captivity every single day.  He recognizes that his appeal to Ceaser will result in near certain death eventually.  He understands what it means to be in chains and to be in bondage – yet he knows this is only temporary.  This letter is sent to Ephesus, carried by his friend Tychus, who is also bringing the letter to Philemon regarding the return of a slave who is also in bondage, and the letter to Colossians. 
If there was anyone who knew about hardship and bondage, and prison – it would be Paul.  It would be extremely easy for him to be bitter, upset, and reflect his current identity as a prisoner of the state.  But Paul had another identity, another call.  He realized that while the chains on his ankles were Roman made – that was not what defined him.  He instead was defined by the chains linking himself to God.  Chains of the heart, chains forged in love, chains that brought comfort.

Perhaps the country song writer, Paul Overstreet captured this idea the best in his 1991 hit about marriage – Ball & Chain.   It was on my list of reception songs.
But love don't feel like a ball and chain to me
When I'm close to you, my heart feels wild and free
If you are my jailer, darling, throw away the key
Love don't feel like a ball and chain to me

Having been married for nearly 25 years now, my identity is caught up with that of my wife.  Hers is caught up in mine.  Yes, we still have our own interests and our own hobbies – but without the other, we would be incomplete.  We are bound together.
Chains forged by the enemy result in death and despair, but chains forged in Christ’s love are liberating.  Paul confidently accepted his chain to Christ as part of his new identity.  One major theme of his writing is reconciliation.  For Paul, reconciliation is being brought back into right relationship, and then forever being stuck together, never to part again.

So, Paul, writing to the church at Ephesus, pens ideas that are applicable to the entire church through history, including us.  Here are some of those principles.

You are bound together with Christ when (1) You choose to live by a different ethic. (2)
One of the first things Paul does is to call attention to the calling of a Christian – and he puts it in the context of a journey – a walk.  In the days before mass rapid transportation, Paul and his contemporaries new what it meant to walk.  Walking takes time.  Walking endures different terrains.  At times the road is smooth and worn, other times the ruts turn into muddy swamps, each step sucking the sandals right off the feet.  Sometimes the walk is a difficult climb, uphill.  At other times the rush downhill is so fast, it alone is treacherous.  Yet Paul undoubtedly remembers scriptures like Psalm 119:105 – Your word is a lamp to my feet, a light to my path.  Even in the darkness, God is there.

And it is in this walk, this lifelong journey, that Paul reveals we have a different standard of living, a different code of conduct.  We don’t walk as individuals, we walk as brothers and sisters, we walk as co-laborers – we walk as teammates -connected to each other.  Our survival is depended upon each other.  Our success relies on how we get along.
So, what does this ethic look like?  What are the components of this way of living.  Paul identifies three essential ones here: humility, gentleness, patience.  Paul expands elsewhere about this ethic – In the book of Galatians – we refer to them as the fruits of the Spirit.

Let’s take a quick look at these three.  First, Humility.
While humility is highly related to piety in Jewish Christian thought, this is a foreign idea in the Greco Roman world.  The audience Paul is writing to are the Greek & Roman converts to Christianity and the Hellenistic – the Greek speaking Jews.  While they were certainly influenced by some Jewish religious culture and thought – the idea of humility as a value is still a hard idea to grasp ahold of.  In their culture, humility is only what the subservient classes must do as part of their duties towards the ruling class.
Paul turns that idea up on its head and makes humility central to the story of Christ.  It is Christ, counting himself humble and coming in the form of a man that gives a new impetus and a new understanding to what sacrificial humility really looks like.  Humility is not a knock to self-worth, it is not weakness of character, it is not a sign of a lower class.  Quite the opposite – it’s a recognition that we are mere mortals, dependent upon the grace of God, and reliant upon the community of faith.

Similarly, Paul introduces gentleness
Let no one be confused – gentleness is not the same thing as being weak.  Instead, it takes a strong person, highly developed in character, and often well regarded to exhibit gentleness.  Gentleness involves courtesy and consideration. Gentleness is a willingness to be kind, step aside, and let someone else go first.  Gentleness examines the gameboard and realizes that instead of just one winning, everyone can experience success –if he only gets out of their way.  Gentleness is more concerned with the common good than personal gain.  Gentleness does not look for zero-sum games – where there is only one winner – Gentleness looks for the win-win.

Perhaps a great example of this is a parent playing a game with a small child.  To the older child, it looks like the parent is always letting the child win.  So, one day, the teen asks – Why do you always let my little brother beat you in the game?  Everyone knows that you are better at it than him.  The parent with gentleness simply replies – you see the game as whoever scores the most.  I see the game as spending enjoyable time together with my son.

Paul is reminding people that the Christian ethic is not about who wins in this life – but who gets to spend enjoyable time with their Lord and Father.

Paul identifies a third ethic in this passage – patience.  
Specifically, patience in relationships.  Patience in interacting with each other.  Patience can be accurately translated as “long temper” – contrasted with a short temper.  Everyone can probably think of someone with a short temper – who can easily get very upset.  When we recall the three-legged race, it is those who are impatient in getting started that usually get upset at the other one and end up failing, losing the race.  Patience understands that the journey is not a sprint, but a long marathon.  Patience allows for the other persons exasperating shortcoming.  There is no way for a person to get along in a marriage, at a jobsite, or in a faith community without allowing for some patience. 

The next phrase, forbearance in love, amplifies this idea of a long temper. Do you know what long tempers do the best?  The forget, the even ignore the early stuff.  They don’t hold grudges, they reset on a regular basis.  They understand the concept behind forgiving your neighbor 70 x 7.  They realize that everyone has bad days, bad moments – and while not excusing the behavior, understand and move on – for the sake of the long-term relationships.

The length of your temper is directly related to the strength of your relationship.  My guess is that if you are short tempered with everyone at work or school all the time– you probably aren’t invited into many conversations or activities.
For Paul, this is a major problem.  His whole career has been to befriend others and tell them about the powerful love of Christ – so that they can be bound together.  It’s difficult to be an effective witness when you are angry all the time.

You are bound together with Christ when (2) You show initiative to remain committed (3)
We find this in verse 3 – “eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace”
How eager are you?  How committed are you?  The commentator Barth looks at this passage in the Greek and prefers to translate the imperative forms of the verb in a different way.  He says this verse has more of a punch to it, like an order barked from a drill sergeant.  Keep it up!  Just do it!  Whatever it takes!  The eagerness is reflected in the command.

What are they commanding?  This has nothing to do with building the community – but staying within it.  Paul’s issue with some of the people is not that they needed to become saved and start attending church – but that the church had started to turn inward, focused away from community, and onto themselves.  The priority is to stay committed to the cause.  And much of that comes down to personal motivation.
Do you burn hot or cold?  What is your level of passion?  How far will you follow the new ethic of humility, gentleness, and patience before you get tired of the bond.  Do you realize that if you stop running – it will have an effect on those around you?
We don’t have to look to far back in early church history to see what happens when commitment waivers – when oaths made to God take the back seat to personal selfishness.  Paul knows the story, because he caught it at the tail end back when he was a young Pharisee, using the nationalistic name of Saul.

Do you remember how Paul got his start?  He was committed to a cause to persecute Greek speaking Christians.  He served as an official witness to the stoning of Stephen, a deacon appointed by the Hellenistic Jewish Christians living in Jerusalem to ensure that the needs of the widows and orphans were being taken care of.  Why were they not being taken care of when they should have been?  Because people like Ananias and Sephirah, who had promised to take care of them, chose instead to be greedy and lie to the Holy Spirit.  They said one thing and did another – which caused pain and suffering on fellow believers.  They paid the ultimate price – you can read about it Acts 5-7.

When you give up your initiative to stay committed, it causes others to stumble around you. If you’ve ever watched Olympic bicycle racing downhill you will see bunches of riders crammed next to each other, all pushing themselves to the limits.  What happens when one checks up?  When one decides they are not going to push it?  They all end up crashing into each other.
So, Paul says – stay hot, initiate the action, be the one that lives the fruits of the Spirit in their life before demanding it from others.

You are bound together with Christ when… (3) You worship the Sovereign Father (6)
There is one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.
The two preceding verses spent a lot of time on the power of unity.  In fact, two sets of three items exponentially reinforced Paul’s reminder that the communities of faith, are literally groups with unity.  Singular purpose, united in mission and vision. What is that singular mission for Paul – Luke articulates it for him well in Acts 1:8 --
 But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you. And you will be my witnesses, telling people about me everywhere—in Jerusalem, throughout Judea, in Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”

For Paul, it’s all about one church, living one mission, serving one God.  While we readily acknowledge that Christian scripture reveals the Triune God, three distinct persons in the godhead, we also proclaim that the mystery of God is upheld in the triune unity of his being.

We, like Paul the consummate Jew, the devout Pharisee, can accurately and worshipfully acknowledge that there is one true God, the Creator of us all, the good, good Father.  We too can recite the ancient prayer of the Shema – the Lord our God is One God.  Blessed be the name of the Lord.

Paul recognizes that there is only one place that initiative can be grounded, where it can receive the dynamic power to be placed into action.  There is only one place that the fruits and evidences of a Spirit filled life can emerge from – and that is in the heart of God – who binds us together in him.

If we desire unity, singular focus, and unified purpose in our marriages, we must talk and communicate and operate as one.  If we desire unity, singular focus and unified purpose in our church, we must talk, communicate, and worship as one.  Only when we are bound together by the One Lord can we ever attain unity.
So, Remember This Today. 

The peace Christ promises you is available only when you are committed to the unifying Holy Spirit. 

Allow the Spirit to direct your live.  Receive the wholeness and the holiness which He alone offers.  Henry Ford, speaking about assembly lines, and leadership, in general, said this – “If everyone is moving forward together – than success takes care of itself”

Let’s move forward together with unity.  We are no longer strangers.  In Christ, we are bound together, forever.