Formal theology calls the term apophatic when we define God by what He is not.. [And with that I fear I’ve lost half of the readers. Don’t give up on me yet it will make sense if you stick around.] Eastern Christianity tends to define God by what He is not (He is not a liar, He is not finite, etc.) It may seem odd to lean this way but I find that very often we tend to define what a Christian is by what they are not. What they do not do.
The imbalance in this approach is fairly straightforward: if I do not define what a Christian is I leave a person or myself attempting to define myself by negation. By ridding myself of things I become something. Its like saying ‘a car is something that does not wreck.’ Certainly that is the hope. To not wreck the car. But if that is the focus it might lead one to think ‘well let me leave the car in the garage and not use it.’ It is still a car but the completed (fulfilled) purpose of the car is to be used for the enjoyment of a journey, to get something (and itself) from one place to another, not just to not wreck.
Paul begins to transition in his letter to the Ephesians in chapter 4. The formal application is probably around vs. 17 and the first sixteen verses give us an earnest plea hinging on the word ‘Therefore.’ This immediately leads us to ask what was stated before. The plea from 4:1 to the end of the book is to be in unity (and a number of immediate implications of that unity.) In chapter 1 we discussed last time what rich blessings are stored among the heavenly ones in Christ. In chapters 2 and 3 we find Paul further unpacking that inheritance:
- How it brought two groups (who naturally would not get along) together so tightly you cannot see the seams.
- How Jesus’ offering himself as the gift to God graciously saved us.
- How we are a masterpiece for God’s glory and our lives now are a work that was already planned out. [2:10]
- How we are permanently citizens of Gods household (oikeioi.) [2:19]
- That Paul is a steward of this mystery (something unknown now made know) that all nations have access to the body through Jesus Christ. [Chpt. 3]
- This building made up of born Jews and Gentiles trusting in Jesus as Lord needs four dimensions and a doxology to describe it (3:14-20)
The value of anything is predicated on how well you know that thing. Steven Garber in His book Visions of Vocation: Common Grace for the Common Good says if a person really possesses knowledge it means that ‘one is responsible for it. If one knows then one cares, if one does not care, then one does not know.’ With respect Ephesians Chapter 4, when we know the church, we will be people defined by caring for the church.
In Acts 19 no small disturbance unfolded due to the Gospel affecting the economy of the city. Silversmiths began to get angry due to the lost demand of purchases [offerings] for Artemis (Dianna) which lead to economic decline and a lost love for the city. This skirmish leads to one silversmith Demitrius explaining why this is a problem for him and the trade and leads to an intriguing statement in verse 19:28-29
28 When they heard this they became enraged and began to shout, “Great is Artemis of the Ephesians!” 29 The city was filled with the uproar, and the crowd rushed to the theater together, dragging with them Gaius and Aristarchus, the Macedonians who were Paul’s traveling companions.
It begs the question how did his outburst lead to the entire city rushing into the theater? Perhaps they had cellphones? Was there a phone tree? No it’s 2000 years ago. I think the answer is found in their yelling “Great is Artemis…”
When I was young in the summer time it was hot. And at a point in my life I think I had bionic hearing. I think I was happier or life’s lessons were less complicated. Hope and wonder stuck around longer back then. I could be playing in the basement in a pool of water with my ears duct taped if I heard “Doo-doo-doooo-do do-doo do-doo do duhhh-duhhhhh” it was time to go outside. The ice-cream truck is here. All my troubles have washed away. Gonna lay down my burdens on the curbside and study the ice cream options with the $1.50 I have received from my beloved father and mother in whom there is no trickery when it comes to getting ice cream. And I found just as I had heard the call from the basement so had 68 other kids from 3 neighborhoods in their respective areas of work and we all came to the place and ironically we would without incident each taking his rightful place for snow cones, toe-shaped ice cream with the bubble gum, and Neapolitan ice cream sandwiches. We heard the call of the truck.
And just like our call, when the residents (assembly-ekklesia) of Ephesians heard “Great is Artemis of all of the Ephesians” they knew that is was an acclamation both calling them into assembly and one that they knew, owned, and were responsible for. Like the representatives in a government give acclamation when the call “all in favor” is stated, they respond by acclaiming “I.” So also is there an acclamation for the follower of Jesus.
Paul says in Ephesians 4:1 “I, therefore, the prisoner for the Lord, urge you [all plural] to live worthily of the calling with which you [plural] have been called,” There it is. The call. The melodious message billowing back in time from the cross to at least Genesis 3:15 and forward past us until we stand on the renewed creation in the renewed Jerusalem. The cross calls every believer to follow the One who did not get off the cross so that we would only have to carry ours. His call is vocation and vocation is a life that permeates every field of endeavor. It is nonsense to talk about ‘with lowliness and meekness, long suffering, forbearing, etc. [vs. 4+]’ if we believe that vocation is something we can clock out of. But if it is calling and it changes all we do then the question would be to who should I not be humble and gentle, and patient towards? God’s calling reestablishes the bestowal of dignity to all people even the really far off ones because we know before the call we were just as far away as them. And he bestowed the dignity and grace on us.
In the kingdom we see all kinds of people from all walks of life hearing the call from the cross and they are picking up their crosses (and their jobs and neighborhoods, and joys and pains, and resources and capacities, and God’s creation) and begin to walk toward the One calling. Not just not doing. But walking and doing. Helping one another, serving one another, knowing each other and still choosing to love one another, forgetting no one, leaving no one behind. While they are leaving the things that used to do, they are not defined exclusively by what they do not do any more.
So the only question left is what is the acclamation? What is the “I” that every believer would say. I am reminded that the best theology (practical theology) should work in every generation in every condition. Take your theology to an underdeveloped country or a place with no church building with regular oppression because of the Gospel message alone and see if it is an absolute. The acclamation is that we all ascribe to. The one the original reader would have understood as they heard the letter read in verse 5:
5 one Lord, one faith, one baptism,
In every situation, regardless of color or socio-economic background, regardless of personality differences, whether they have been following Jesus for years or just started earlier today,regardless of past failures of sin and present struggles to trust God. Our acclamation is not ‘God is going to get me a job or this mate or a new….or a better….’ those may be true. What makes us unified is
- One Lord: One sovereign reigning Son of God. Who died and redeemed all of creation (in heaven and on earth, every principality and power, and us too) back into His complete control. Who the saved have the distinct privilege of dwelling in the city that He will be in forward. He is Lord. Our Lord.
- One Faith: One Gospel. Not subjective belief. But objective trust in Jesus the son of God fully able to atone for sin, sitting on the right hand of God, interceding for us all. Jesus the one who stood not only in my stead but who I trust just as much that He stood in your stead also. You are my brother and sister and therefore I trust Him for your salvation just much as my own. Even if I am forgotten I will not forget about you because that is not the type of calling I have received.
- One Baptism: One death burial and Resurrection. And not that we are dying and just wanting to get to heaven to be body-less beings floating around. But as He died and rose, so also will we die and rise. We anticipate resurrected bodies because this is the essence of our trusting in Jesus. Saved yes. Saved to who? And Saved how? And saved for what reason? They all relevant. If He did not rise; if has no resurrected body then we have no hope. And this blog is useless.
We are not a lot of things. But the work we are called to speaks so much more about what we are now. This unity is only as fruitful as our ability to own the calling. We embrace one another; we embrace this calling when we know what it is that has brought us together.
One Lord, One Faith, One Baptist.
His bloodshed makes a pretty strong argument to live worthy of it.