By Semi-Retired Pastor Jeremy Stopford

“I, therefore, the prisoner of the Lord, beseech you 
to walk worthy of the calling with which you were called, 
2 with all lowliness and gentleness, with longsuffering, 
bearing with one another in love, 
3 endeavoring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.  

– Ephesians 4:1-3 [NKJV]

   The year was 1979.  The Baltimore Orioles (American League) were playing the Pittsburgh Pirates (National League) in that year’s edition of baseball’s World Series.  The #1 song of the pop charts was Sister Sledge’s “We Are Family” (got the tune in your head?).  And the charismatic leader of the Pirates was none other than Willie Stargell, who, by series end, would be given the coveted title of “Most Valuable Player of the World Series”.  

   The Pirates won the series 4 Games to 3.  How did they do it?  Their team was a bunch of old timers and youngsters thrown together.  On the surface they had no cohesiveness, no teamwork.  But in stepped the Captain, Willie Stargell.  The song, “We Are Family” became the team theme song.  And Willie, well, willed his team to victory.

   Family.  What is your concept of family? 

 In 2011 we were heading down to Ft. Lauderdale for my then 40th high school reunion.  In the midst of our plans, my sister-in-law from South Carolina suggested, “as long as you’re heading south, why not stop at our place here and spend time with your brother?”.  In retrospect, I am still amazed at my response:  “only if you contact our other brother in North Carolina so that the 3 of us can be together.”  Family.  We had a BLAST!  We knew right them that we needed to do this reunion thing every year – which we did until 2020 when my North Carolina brother died of cancer.  In the BIG PICTURE, I am so glad that we had quality time together the last 10 years of his life.  For we figured it out:  the 3 of us brothers had been in the same room 5 times – for 3 funerals and 2 weddings – in the 43 YEARS previous to 2011.  Family.

   What is YOUR concept of “Family”, which, according to the Good Book is the most precious unit created by God in society.  

   But then we talk loosely about “Church Family”.  But how loose is loose?  The most precious unit created by God also refers to the church!

   I encourage you to read the book, “NO LITTLE PLACES”, written by Ron Klassen, a man I met a number of years ago at a conference for the “Rural Home Missionary Association” (“RHMA”).  In the book he speaks of a small country church he pastored which had pastor after pastor, each one using that church as a stepping stone to a “bigger and better” charge.  When the author had been there 5 years, he too began to candidate elsewhere until…he realized his heart was back in the country church.  He stayed, and it PROSPERED!  His conclusion is interesting:  he realized the church, as a family, each time a pastor left, was being ripped apart like a DIVORCE.  

   Another thought on family:  is the family made up of perfect people?  NO!  Is the church family made up of perfect people? NO! Then why do we expect perfection when all God requires is…FAITHFULNESS.

   Have you looked up our Savior’s roots lately?  Take a minute and read Matthew 1:1-17.  What do you have?  Children born as a result of rape.  A son born as a result of having the husband (Uriah) killed so that David could marry Uriah’s wife (Bathsheba).    Very interesting!  But NOT perfect!   Isn’t that something?  The Savior’s lineage, while He is sinless, is made up of sinners!  And God shows how He brings together SINNERS as FAMILY in Ephesians chapters 4-6.

   So let’s look at these first 3 verses of Chapter 4.  

FIRST, the foundation of the family is…(and how would YOU fill in the blank?).   DOCTRINE!  “Therefore” – don’t forget that when you read that word in scripture, you need to find out WHAT IT’S THERE FOR!  This “therefore” refers to the previous three chapters which were Paul’s doctrinal theology to the Ephesian church.  But don’t forget:  even as we enter into the practical section of this book, even PRACTICAL is “practical doctrine/theology”.  

   How do you know you belong – because of your heritage!  

Have I a story for y’all!  Last month my wife and I were in Florida for a mini-vacation, and guess who we met?  “Betsy”.  She is my…Dad’s brother’s daughter!  At age 81, Betsy is my FIRST cousin.  With her brother, they are my ONLY “first cousins” on my dad’s side.  AND this was the FIRST time we ever met!  (Now that’s a long story for another time!).  In the midst of our catching up, Betsy kept on referring to her grandfather in the first person, “my grandfather.”  Finally I said, “shouldn’t Grandpa be OUR grandfather?”.  FAMILY!  We belong to each other!

   Practical living is based upon a godly foundation.  Having the foundation of chapters 1-3, we can now live for Christ as guided by chapters 4-6!

   SECOND, the family’s LIFE is a WALK!    OK, it’s been a while, hasn’t it?  Remember when your baby was thinking about taking his/her first step?  He waddled, then fell.  He waddled, then grabbed the wall, then fell.  He waddled, then grabbed your leg, and then?  He took one step,..then another…then another…then?  You haven’t been able to keep him down since!  

   Paul says that the believer is to “walk worthy”.  Wait a minute!!!  Where was Paul when he wrote this?  You bet – he was in a Roman jail!  In fact, from prison he wrote many of the New Testament books!  You mean, you can “walk worthy” while feeling like you are in a prison, even if it is not a literal one?  You bet!  The church family is also a worthy walk!  And that takes time, just like watching a baby learn how to walk.  Now the baby is growing up.  So do you give him steak at age one?  NO!  It takes time to grow – and in turn, it takes time for the family to grow.  And in the same breath, it take time for the church to grow!  

   Finally, the family’s HEART is its MATURITY.  

    Look at the description:  
• “Lowliness” (verse 2).  This means “humility”. Romans 12:3 says “not to think of oneself higher than we ought to”
•   “Gentleness” (verse 2).  This means “unselfishness, meekness”.  It has the idea of a tamed horse.  Jesus said of Himself, “I am meek” (Matthew 11:28).
•   “Longsuffering” (verse 2).  This is a most interesting word!  It has the idea of patience until…are you ready?…until the time of irritation!  Can you be longsuffering that long?
•   “Bearing with one another in love” (verse 2).  This has the idea of making allowances, to put up with one another because…you love one another!
•   “Endeavoring to keep” the unity (verse 3).  The idea is to guard, just like someone who protects his quarterback!

   “The unity of the Spirit”.  Well now, can you imagine this happening in YOUR family?  Can you imagine this happening in YOUR church?  This is not a denominational unity but a oneness because…we are FAMILY.

   Have you ever heard of the term “metamorphosis”?  It refers to those moments when a cocoon becomes a butterfly.  Have you ever watched the process, I mean WATCHED it?  It take a LONG TIME!    You might be tempted, as the butterfly is appearing, to help it along by cutting those fibers which connect it to the wall of the cocoon.  And then pretty soon what happens?  That creature which had potential to be a beautiful butterfly…DIES.  The fibers contained the fluid which goes to the wings and ultimately gives the butterfly its nutrients and complete life.

   Similarly, a family, as well as a church, is a collection of sinners which each one needs the grace of God!  Each member is to “walk worthy of the calling with which” he/she was called.  And each one is going through an amazing “metamorphosis”!  So here are some questions:

I am a baby – are you willing to let me grow?
I am maturing in the family – are you willing to come alongside?
I could become dysfunctional – are you going to work at “keeping the unity of the Spirit”?