Written Sermons & Bible Studies

Discipleship: Our Many Life Worlds

Continuing our sermon series on discipleship, today we will read Ephesians 4: 17-24. The approach I have been taking to these sermons is different than the topic-based expository sermons. I have been working through Ephesians and asking God what we need to learn from the passage. I believe that Scripture is our guiding light and that all of Scripture has lessons for us. My question is not, “what do we need to learn as a congregation?” and then go and find Scripture to support my ideas. Instead, I ask a different question, “What does this Scripture reveal to us today?” With this approach, I need to pray and study the Scripture to understand what God wants to tell us as Place of Grace Fellowship. Let us read today’s Scripture together.

 

Our reading for today, Ephesians 4:17-24.

 

Now this I affirm and insist on in the Lord: you must no longer live as the Gentiles live, in the futility of their minds. They are darkened in their understanding, alienated from the life of God because of their ignorance and hardness of heart9 They have lost all sensitivity and have abandoned themselves to licentiousness, greedy to practice every kind of impurity.  That is not the way you learned Christ. For surely you have heard about him and were taught in him, as truth is in Jesus.  You were taught to put away your former way of life, your old self, corrupt and deluded by its lusts, and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and to clothe yourselves with the new self, created according to the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness.

 

In Ephesus, Paul’s Gentile believers find themselves in two different worlds. They are still involved in Roman society, but they are now part of the Christian community. Those are very different worlds! They are involved in commerce for their livelihood. They may be asked to worship Caesar. Their previous pagan ways are considered immoral. The Ephesians also come from every stratum in society, and those roles are different worlds. They are slave owners, merchants, slaves, soldiers, etc. So many different life worlds were coming together in one church. The Gentile believers navigated between different worlds to blend into the Roman society around them. Paul asks them to put away their old ways and to be clothed with the likeness of God, in righteousness and holiness. No matter what place in society they occupied, their most identifying characteristic was to be clothed with Christ.

 

Like the Ephesians, modern life involves us moving in different circles or wearing different hats. When I think of these circles, I think of them as different lives. In many ways, these different hats we wear are distinct. I think of them as different worlds. Let’s call the various circles we function in or hats we wear as life worlds. For instance, I am a former commodities trader. In that role and with the friends that I have from that world, my persona is very different from my role as a pastor. I can speak about Christ within that life world because I have credibility with them. I know their world, and I understand how they see their world.

 

Another life world I can move in is that of a business owner. Because of my understanding of business, I have credibility to speak with people about the workplace and faith.

 

My wife can navigate the life world of music. She was a music major in college and a symphony orchestra assistant manager. She understands classical music. I enjoy music, but I have no place in the life world with musicians.

 

When I went into ministry, my trading buddies said that trading and ministry were so far apart—I could never do it. They were saying that I couldn’t integrate the trader and the preacher. They were right, in the sense that trading and ministry are very different life worlds with competing priorities and values. Each life world occupied its own sphere, and I needed to live in both worlds simultaneously. My trading friends were wrong, however, because Christ entered human life with its many life worlds to save us and the Spirit is with us as we navigate those different realities.

 

Because we live in different life worlds, no one place we find ourselves tells the full story of who we are. We are many different people. Each one of our life worlds tells a different story about us.

 

We prioritize our life worlds. One life world defines us more than another. I like classical music; I like classical music more than jazz. My classical music life world is larger than my jazz life world. What life worlds do you move in and how do you prioritize the life circles of your life?

 

Sometimes we identify with a life world so much or we are tied to it so strongly that it becomes a group identity. In Paul’s day, it was the same. Jews and Gentiles held a group identity. Slave owners and merchants held a group identity. Different ethnic groups held a group identity. Those identities conflicted with each other. Paul says in our Scripture that those identities have no place in the Christian community. Scripture helps us understand that our life worlds are trumped by our identity as Christians. Above all, we are clothed with Christ.

 

I recently heard an interview with Brett Favre, former quarterback for the Green Bay Packers. He talked about his teammate Reggie White—one of the greatest defensive tackles of all time. Reggie was a vicious defensive player. No player ever wanted to get hit by him. He was the last blocking assignment an offensive tackle wanted. Reggie was a viciously hard-hitting player, yet he never played dirty, and he played within the rules of the game. He lived in the life world of the NFL with great skill.

 

Brett said that off the field, Reggie was the nicest guy. He was a devout Christian and even a minister. His non-player life world was very different from his player life world. He moved between these two worlds well and had integrity in both. But he was a very different person depending on which world he inhabited.

 

When I think about someone like Reggie, I don’t see a person who lived an integrated life. His two worlds could not be made to blend or fit together. There was no way to integrate being a vicious tackle with being a docile minister.

 

With Reggie White, his NFL life world and his ministry life world were very different. Yet, in both places, he was a committed follower of Christ Jesus. He used his connection to Christ to influence people in both of his life worlds. As an NFL player, he wore the helmet of the game. Although he was tough, Reggie never took cheap shots at an opposing player. He didn’t make illegal hits. He did not trash talk other players. He was a moral player within the confines of the game. As a preacher, he was a gentle and pleasant man. When he left the football field, his friendly demeanor shared Christ with the world.

 

Reggie’s worlds were not integrated. They were very different. Yet, in both worlds, he was clothed with Christ. In our Scripture, Paul is not telling the Ephesians to leave their life worlds and live some form of pure Christian monastic lifestyle. I think that Paul is asking the Ephesians to live in their life worlds with different motivations and to influence the world around them. Paul does not ask them to cease being merchants. He knows full well that the Gentile believers will continue to do what is necessary to survive and succeed in their respective life worlds. He asks them to remember that because they are clothed in Christ, they can no longer live as others who inhabit the same life worlds. As those clothed in Christ, they are expected to behave morally and to not exploit their fellow humans. They are to love people and live a life that honors Christ.

 

Sticking with our NFL example, if previously, the Gentile player made dirty hits, trashed talked his opponents or took cheap shots, now he had to lay those aside on the life world of an NFL game. He had to become a moral player. If he previously treated the towel person, reporters, trainers, coaching staff, or fans as nuisances and his servants, he now needed to treat them with dignity and respect. Why the change? Because the player is now clothed in Christ and his once ignorant and abusive behavior is no longer acceptable in any of his life worlds.

 

When I opened the sermon, I mentioned that my approach goes to Scripture and asks God what the passage has to say to us. What can Place of Grace Fellowship take away from our passage today?

 

First, we are all clothed in Christ. Regardless of what life world we find ourselves occupying or what activities we engage in, we are clothed in Christ.

 

In all the many different places we go, our one integrating reality is our identity as followers of Christ.

 

Second, we are called by Christ. We need to be open to possibility that our call is outside our comfort zone and moves us into another life circle.

 

There is another type of life world that is just as significant as those of necessity, such as our workplace, and those of choice, like our social circle or political affiliation. There is another type of affiliation that I want to address – the “I am not” life worlds. The “I am not” affiliations or life groups also determine us.

 

 

For example, I am not a sky diver and I never want to be a sky diver. The fraternity of sky divers will never be my life world.

 

So, what “I am not” groups do I hear in the church? I am not young. I cannot pray for others. I am not a teacher. I am not a group leader. I am not a facilitator.

I have been asking for volunteers to come forward and help with the ministries of the church. I want everyone in this whole church to have a role.

 

In a big church, I would hire professionals to run all the ministries. If I did that, I would be saying that there is a life world of ministry professionals and a life world of pew sitters.

 

Here is the thing. I do not believe that is how Christ intended his church to be run. I believe that Christ calls all of you to do the ministry of Christ’s church. I do not believe there is a legitimate life world of pew sitter. You all wear the clothes of Christ. You are filled with Christ, and you can do the ministry of Christ. I challenge your “I am not” identities and ask you to prayerfully follow where the Spirit leads.

In the first century church, there were leaders supported by the congregations. Some of them were mentioned in last Sunday’s reading: apostles, itinerant evangelists, teachers and prophets. There also were pastors and teachers who were patrons of their church. Everyone participated in the service and in the growing up of the congregation. Education leading up to baptism could take three years and was done by the church. It was the members of the small churches that taught, served communion, read scripture, prayed for healing, asked for wisdom and worshipped God. Participation in the life world of their church was normal and expected. The members of the church supported and encouraged each other in their roles. They looked for the Spirit to give them members that were gifted for the building up of the church.

 

When I ask you to become leaders of the student ministry, or to join our prayer team, or to serve communion or greet at the door, I am treating the life world that is Place of Grace Fellowship no differently than what Christ intended for the church 2000 years ago. In whatever role you choose in the life of this church, I am here to support you. I am here to help you succeed. With many hands, the burden will not fall disproportionally on anyone. Some of you have seen me lead Bible study or GriefShare. Maybe you feel like you cannot live up to what a pastor does. I have spent years acquiring skills and educating myself. You are not being asked to do that. I will coach you and pray with you for the Holy Spirit’s guidance. We will go to the Bible for answers together. You will succeed doing the job in your way with your level of skill, as God has equipped you. The programs that we develop are designed to be led by you.

 

A long-time member of the church talked to Jan last Sunday and told her that she picked up the student ministry outline that Brett introduced and used it in the Bible study group at her retirement home. It was a smashing success. This discipleship approach works and all of you can follow the process, whether with students or your own small group.

 

In closing, I am going to pull out Tim from my Trader Life World and speculate. Approximately 25 years ago, the megachurch trend started. With it, the charismatic speaker who speaks to tens of thousands verses the local pastor who brings a message from the Bible for a specific congregation. The megachurch trend also began the professionalization of the roles of ministry usually filled by you. 25 years later, we are in the midst of a serious decline in Christianity. Are these trends just coincidental or are they related?

 

The ministries of this church are your ministries. There is no staff here at Place of Grace. Next Sunday, we begin the training for the student ministry leaders, and we need six, ideally eight. For our prayer outreach, we need three prayer partners. We need people to be greeters and security at the front door so that Phil and Rich can join us in the service on Sunday. If you want to serve communion, let me know. Please join me in the ministry of our church.

About Pastor Tim

Tim Holmes

Senior Pastor

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