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New Life in Christ, Ephesians 4

Practicing the Art of Cultivating Values

Paul encouraged the Ephesians no longer to live the way they were living as Gentiles -- in his imagery, being tossed to and fro like children. Instead, he encouraged them to strive for living better -- being united with others, forgiving others, refraining from sinning. In Christ there is new life -- new clothing of love, peace, hope, resilience.

Living a new life in Christ is not a test. It is not pass/fail. It is not a measure of worthiness. Living a new life in Christ is a practice. Baseball players, swimmers, runners -- none of these advance in their sport without practice. Actors, musicians -- these advance only when they rehearse. Business people, workers -- these move forward in their careers only when they practice at mastering their work.

Love, peace, hope, resilience, forgiveness, kindness, generosity, curiosity, humility -- all of these require practice as well. Any value or virtue we desire requires practice. Yet we often find ourselves tossed to and fro like children. Instead, we can cultivate the practices that move us toward mastery in the values we hold.

Love, for example, requires the practices of awareness, intentionality, service. As we practice awareness (noticing what another needs to feel loved), intentionality (making a commitment to self to serve the other), and service (doing for the other what they need to feel loved), we take concrete steps toward nurturing love. There are unlimited ways to cultivate these practices -- daily meditation, journaling, notebooks, setting time in our calendars, conversations with others who are cultivating their own practices, prayer, yoga, taking classes, listening to music -- the possibilities are endless. The key is to identify the values we wish to nurture, find what practices work for you, and then making a commitment to work on those practices. And be kind to yourself. No one masters a practice overnight, and no one ever masters a practice flawlessly. Take baby steps, and you will begin to see progress sooner than later.

Narrative Lectionary Text: Ephesians 4

I therefore, the prisoner in the Lord, beg you to lead a life worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, making every effort 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 of your calling, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is above all and through all and in all.

But each of us was given grace according to the measure of Christ’s gift. Therefore it is said,

“When he ascended on high he made captivity itself a captive;
    he gave gifts to his people.”

(When it says, “He ascended,” what does it mean but that he had also descended into the lower parts of the earth? He who descended is the same one who ascended far above all the heavens, so that he might fill all things.) The gifts he gave were that some would be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until 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. We 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. But speaking the truth in love, we must grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and knit 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.

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 heart. 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.

So then, putting away falsehood, let all of us speak the truth to our neighbors, for we are members of one another. Be angry but do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, and do not make room for the devil. Thieves must give up stealing; rather let them labor and work honestly with their own hands, so as to have something to share with the needy. Let no evil talk come out of your mouths, but only what is useful for building up, as there is need, so that your words may give grace to those who hear. And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with which you were marked with a seal for the day of redemption. Put away from you all bitterness and wrath and anger and wrangling and slander, together with all malice, and be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ has forgiven you.