Ephesians 4: 1-16
4I therefore, the prisoner in the Lord, beg you to lead a life worthy of the calling to which you have been called, 2with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, 3making every effort to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.4There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to the one hope of your calling, 5one Lord, one faith, one baptism, 6one God and Father of all, who is above all and through all and in all.
7 But each of us was given grace according to the measure of Christ’s gift. 8Therefore it is said,
‘When he ascended on high he made captivity itself a captive;
he gave gifts to his people.’
9(When it says, ‘He ascended’, what does it mean but that he had also descended* into the lower parts of the earth? 10He who descended is the same one who ascended far above all the heavens, so that he might fill all things.) 11The gifts he gave were that some would be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers, 12to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, 13until all of us come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to maturity, to the measure of the full stature of Christ. 14We must no longer be children, tossed to and fro and blown about by every wind of doctrine, by people’s trickery, by their craftiness in deceitful scheming. 15But speaking the truth in love, we must grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, 16from whom the whole body, joined and knitted together by every ligament with which it is equipped, as each part is working properly, promotes the body’s growth in building itself up in love.
There are some questions in this life that will always have a set answer. Questions like, when was the Declaration of Independence signed? 1776. What do you do when the traffic light turns red? Hopefully, you stop! If I start out with 10 bags of M&M’s and I eat 7 of them, what am I left with? 3 bags of M&M’s and a stomachache from eating so much candy.
These questions with a concrete, defined, fixed answers. There are also questions in this life that do not have such fixed responses. One of them is the question that starts of innocuous and simple when you’re a little kid, and becomes a lot more serious as you grow older: What do you want to be when you grow up?
Honestly, I really do like this question, and there are many reasons why. For one, it’s a question that is very much focused on personal desire, big dreams, and also imagination. If you ask this to a kid, what are you likely to hear? A firefighter? An astronaut? A movie star? A musician? An all-star athlete? A doctor? A nurse? President of the USA? Usually, kids will imagine and dream about being someone really cool, someone they can look up to, someone important, and honestly? That’s a good thing. It’s important for a kid to dream big, because it means they have ambition, imagination, and they want to something with their lives. Having ideals, having dreams and ambitions are good things, and I feel like it’s our responsibility as caregivers to future generations to inspire them to live their dreams. There are too many people out there that give up on their dreams because they never had anyone who believed in them, and they wind up hating their lives because they felt like they could never make a difference. I don’t ever want to see a child think that they aren’t good enough, or that they don’t have the ability to achieve their dreams.
As we get older, the dreams remain with us, but at the same time, new dreams may make their way into our heads. As we enter adulthood, we are then forced to make some hard decisions about what we want to be when we grow up, don’t we? Time comes when the innocence fades from the question, and we begin to take seriously what it means when we ask that question. What do we want to be? Who do we want to become? And does a career define us, or are we more than what we do for a living? Do we live to work, or do we work to live? Where does love enter the picture? Where does family? Do we want to be a father or a mother? What am I willing to do to become the person I want to be? Big questions, and all of them are important in their own way, which is why we need to seriously consider the idea of vocation, or calling, when we think about where we are headed in life. When we do that, we can more fully live the life that God promises us. When we listen to our calling, we bring God into the equation, and not only that, God soon becomes the center of that equation.
This is the fourth week in our sermon series on Ephesians called “Be the Body,” in which we are trying to dig deeper into what it means to be called the body of Christ, the church. So far, we’ve explored our purpose for being chosen, that we are chosen primarily to be holy. We know that we have been saved by grace, so that we can love others. We discussed how it’s important to be open to the movement of the spirit, and how the Spirit moves empowers us in everything we do. Today though, I really want to dig into the effects that these three theological statements, that we’re chosen, saved, and empowered, really do impact our lives, first in the idea of calling, and that truly we are called.
I think we can all agree that in US culture these days, we are not often asked what we are called to do, because the language of calling isn’t usually the way we think. We tend to think that what we do is based entirely on our own personal desires, and partially what society thinks is an acceptable or praiseworthy thing to do in life. We don’t often tend to think about what we are called to do, because to do so would be to take us out of the center of the equation and put God in the center of it.
I mentioned earlier in this series that Ephesians is written in profoundly theocentric, God-centered language. Everything revolves around God, and God is involved in everything. The thing about calling is that not often will someone ask what we are called to do. We have to ask that question of ourselves, and closely examine what it is we are called to do.
Christians, as a whole, as a church, as a community, as a chosen people set apart for holiness, have a unique, if not individualized, answer: we are called to live the life that God has planned for us, a life defined by salvation, shaped by the Gospel, and empowered by the Spirit. Beyond that, beyond that general answer, we have to go into specifics of where we personally fit into our communal identity. That is not an easy thing to do, but far from impossible.
As the Ephesians writer states, each of us was given gifts according to the grace of God, gifts that are as unique and as personal as your fingerprint. These gifts come in the shape of your abilities, your desires, your skills, your strengths, and yes, even your weaknesses. These things that God has given you are the things that make you unique, and that uniqueness is a blessing. The kicker of all this is that God made unique in the same way that God chose us and saved us; God did this with a purpose in mind, despite what it may seem like on the outside. That purpose is that of diakonia.
Diakonia is a fun little Greek word that can be translated in many ways, the most common is that of ministry. But what is ministry? Ministry sounds like something only a minister does, a pastor does. It sounds like that is reserved for the elite, the chosen of the chosen. However, that’s not really the best way of translating that. Diakonia is more accurately translated as service. It’s where we get the English word “deacon.” We, the body of Christ, are called to service, and primarily service to the Gospel. We are all called to ministry.
God has equipped us all with gifts so that we may serve, so that we can minister to people. That’s the power that the Spirit has given to us, and empowered us to do. Service! All of us are called to service, and when it comes to the gospel that usually means that we are called to our own kind of service, or ministry. Ephesians says that God gave us gifts so that some would apostles, or disciples, faithful followers. God gave gifts so that some could be prophets, people who see injustice and speak the truth to those in power. God gave gifts to some so that they could be evangelists, gifts that enable them to spread the good news in healing and spiritually encouraging ways. God gave gifts to some so that they could be pastors, and not just guys in the pulpit who preach every Sunday, but people who are good leaders and have a gift for listening, leading and organizing faithfully. God gave gifts to some that they could be teachers, people with wisdom and a compassionate ear, who have knowledge and passion for sharing knowledge with others.
But the truth of the matter is that these are not the only gifts that God equipped us with, nor are these the only ministries that God can use. The truth is God uses all walks of life and can make them ministries in service to the gospel. Calling is so vast and diverse a concept, the church walls can’t contain it. Any occupation you can think of, God can use. Never think that God can’t use you.
There’s a story I heard once, I believe it was from a book by Os Guinness. I may get a few of the details wrong, but the details aren’t as important as the idea. It was about a pastor that was moved to a real rural part of the northern Midwest, an area of the US where there was a whole lot of land, a whole lot of snow in the winter, and not a whole lot of people. Anyways, the pastor gets moved there to this real small rural church, full of good salt-of-the-earth people. One of the people in his congregation really caught his attention. The man was a mechanic who worked in an auto shop, and he specialized in brakes and tires for 18-wheelers. In the pastor’s discussions with the guy, he had all the gifts and graces one could ever need though in ordained church ministry though. The guy knew his bible, he was a gifted Sunday school teacher, he was there every Sunday, and attended almost every church work-day. He had a lot of gifts, and the Pastor had it in his head to talk to him about a potential future in ordained ministry.
So that’s exactly what he did. After church one Sunday, he talked to the mechanic, and asked him, “Have you ever thought about going to seminary?”
And the mechanic looked at him, and said real matter-of-fact, “No sir, I haven’t.”
“Really?” asked the pastor. “You really have a lot of gifts, and you may do well being a pastor.”
“No sir, I haven’t. I’m quite happy in my ministry where I am. You see preacher, I work on the tires and brakes for big rig trucks. And I know it ain’t glamorous work, but it’s good, honest work and it makes me happy. The truth is, it gets real cold here in the winter, and the roads get real slippery. If those trucks have bad brakes, or bad tires, one of those tires are liable to burst or fall off, or the brakes’ll pop, and possibly wind up getting into an accident. It’s my job to see that that doesn’t happen. I save lives in my job by making sure those brakes and tires work. If that ain’t God’s work, I don’t know what is.”
You see, this mechanic got it. His vocation was what he loved doing, and he saw that what he was doing for a living, while not what most people think of it as ministry, he certainly saw that it was. The fact of the matter is that you can do this with almost any job out there. And if you can’t, you can find somewhere else in your life that you do have gifts, and add it to your life and serve God in the way that God has given you gifts to work.
God has given you gifts of grace. God has equipped each and every one of us for ministry, for service, and anything you do for the greater glory of God, God can use. Each part of the body does different things, and that’s just a fact. The reason the body works is because each part does different things. When all these parts work together, the body performs at its best. So it is with the body of Christ. When we do what God has equipped us to do, we build each other up, and become a stronger body, a body who gives glory to God in all things. It’s a beautiful vision of what God does with the people that God has chosen. And it’s the life God has called us to lead. We’ve been equipped for service, so that we may serve each other in love.
So listen to what God is calling you to do. Find the gifts God has given you, and use them. When you do that, you grow and become more mature in your faith. When you do that, you can most assuredly answer the question of “What do you want to be when you grow up?” with the answer, “When I grow up, I want to be what I’m called to be. I want to be a servant of the gospel, and a servant to others. I want live into the life that God has given me. I want to a part of the body of Christ.”