In last week’s post, I encouraged you to simply read the Bible repeatedly (as you’ve done with other lengthy book series you’ve enjoyed) in order to know it deeply and allow it to change you, so now I want to give you a more specific example of the benefits of this.
Consider the first half of Ephesians. In the past, I assumed Paul’s command in 4:1 to “walk in a manner worthy of the calling with which you have been called” referred generally to acting in a way that reflected well on God, but in context, he’s actually referring to something more specific—something you’ll see if we quickly walk through the text up to that point.
After describing how “in love [God] predestined us to adoption as sons through Jesus Christ…according to the kind intention of His will, to the praise of the glory of His grace” in Chapter 1, and then explaining even more carefully in Chapter 2 that this is all by his grace—that though we were “by nature children of wrath,” deserving only punishment, “because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in our transgressions, [God] made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved)”—and that, in this way (i.e., by God’s loving grace), even Gentiles can be reconciled to God together with Jews through the cross, “for through Him we both have our access in one Spirit to the Father,” he then, after marveling at God’s wisdom and the “unfathomable riches of Christ,” comes to this prayer:
For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth derives its name, that He would grant you, according to the riches of His glory, to be strengthened with power through His Spirit in the inner man, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith; and that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may be able to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ which surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled up to all the fullness of God. (Eph. 3:14–19)
In other words, Paul concludes his description of how God loved us through the undeserved grace of Christ on the cross with a prayer that we would be able to comprehend the kind of love he just described, saying that if we can grasp the “length and height and depth” of the love that has “rooted and grounded” our salvation, we “may be filled up to all the fullness of God.”
Then comes 4:1–3:
Therefore I, the prisoner of the Lord, implore you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling with which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, showing tolerance for one another in love, being diligent to preserve the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.
Following Paul’s flow of thought, the manner “worthy of our calling” is the manner that flows directly from understanding everything he just explained about our sin and God’s gracious love. That is, the manner specifically includes humility (because we didn’t earn our salvation), gentleness (because God showered “the surpassing riches of his grace” on us rather than condemnation), patience (because God has “sealed us” with the Holy Spirit and will not reject us), tolerance (because God forgives our sins), and peace with our fellow believers (because God has unified us in Christ).
This is who we are to be as Christians—people who respond to the truth of who God is and what he’s done for us in a manner worthy of that truth. When we fulfill our roles in the church in this way, Paul says in 4:16, the body of Christ is built up “in love.”
And how, according to Paul, do we “fill up to all the fullness of God” and respond to his love in a manner appropriate to that love? By knowing his love. And how do we know his love? Just as Paul painstakingly revealed God’s love to us by describing his actions towards us before he prayed we would know that love deeply, we must see his love in order to know his love.
Now we are back to my previous post. If, as Christians, the fuel that fills us with “the fullness of God” and transforms us into humble, gentle, patient, tolerant people is our comprehension of the love of God (who saved us on the basis of nothing but his grace), and if to know that love, we must see that love, how then, after praying as Paul did, do we endeavor to see God’s love? By reading the entire Bible. Repeatedly. By saturating ourselves in his story of redemption, observing his perfect righteousness, seeing the lengths he went to in order to save those who hated and rejected him, watching his patience and acts of undeserved love over the centuries, and letting our repeated readings settle the truth into our minds and hearts more and more deeply over time.