If you know what a “chain gang” is, I assume that it would never be your desire to become part of one. The once fairly common reality of chain gangs in our United States prison system is not one that has been part of our culture for quite some time now. There are few places in our nation which still allow prisoners from a jail to be bound together in chains as they go out to a roadway or a park to do a cleaning project or some other sort of work. While a chain gang was meant to make people who were not in the chain gang feel safe, it also made the people in the chain gang work together in as cooperative of a way as possible in order to get done what they were supposed to get done for the benefit of the community.
As humbling and humiliating of an experience as that understandably could be for anyone who was ever part of a chain gang while in prison, there is a very wonderful sense in which you and I can talk about us being part of a chain gang. It is the sense in which the apostle Paul speaks in our opening verse when he urges us to live in a very specific way – speaking to us, he says, “as a prisoner for the Lord” – as someone who was in chains himself – in prison because he preached to people about Jesus Christ. The way he wants us to live out of love for Jesus Christ can be summarized in verse 3 of our lesson, where he says, “Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace.”
You can’t tell it in the English language, but the word “bond” in the expression “bond of peace” is the same word as the word “prisoner,” when Paul calls himself a prisoner for the Lord. The only difference is that it’s a word that talks about being a prisoner with other people – with other people who are also in shackles – in bonds – in chains. What it comes down to is that all of us, whether we have ever thought about it this way or not, and no matter how uncomfortable it may make us to think about it at first, are part of a chain gang – A Chain Gang for Christ.
How you and I became part of this wonderful chain gang had nothing to do with us and everything to do with Christ. St. Paul gets at that when he says in the opening verse that as a prisoner for the Lord he urges us to live a life worthy of the calling we have received. The calling we have received is the calling from God himself to come out of a different prison – a different chain gang – the whole group of people born into this world who are born, the Bible says, as slaves chained to sin. No one of us is different from any other person in here or any other person out there. No one of us had any better chance to get into God’s good graces than anyone else. No one of us could say more than anyone else, “Lord God, please come and call me to become part of the family in heaven above because of how hard I am trying to become part of your family in my life on earth below.” That calling to come and become part of God’s family, Paul had said in an earlier chapter of this letter to the Ephesians, was totally by God’s gift of grace and totally by God’s gift of faith – faith in Jesus.
Jesus loved you and me so much that he allowed himself to be chained. He allowed himself to be chained to the cross on Calvary so that he could be chained to you. And he became chained to you right in your heart when God gave you the faith in your heart to believe that the blood of Jesus Christ, his Son, has purified you from every sin you have ever committed. And then in his love for you he didn’t want you go through your life of faith alone, but he gave you a family of people in his church called the Body of Christ – all the people baptized in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, meaning they are part of the family of God. That family unity is what those expressions in verses 4-6 are referring to when Paul says “There is one body and one Spirit, one hope, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all…” Since the one God there is brought you to the one faith in the one Lord and therefore made you part of the one body of the church of God, you and I and everyone else here have a “bond of peace” with the almighty God of heaven and earth. Since we all believe in Jesus as our Savior from sin, we are all part of the chain gang for Christ.
What God is also telling us in these words is how to live as part of his chain gang, since the fact of the matter is we are part of it. Think about that before we go on. God wants us to live in the way he says we are. He says we are united with Christ and with one another in a body, so he wants us to live as people who are united with Christ and with one another in a body. He wants us to be… who we are. He wants us to live a life worthy of the calling we have received.
So, brothers and sisters in this great family of God, “be” what verse 2, for example, says: “Be completely humble and gentle, bearing with one another in love.” If you and I truly appreciate how we fail to be like what God wants us to be like, it should not be hard to be humble inside ourselves and gentle to others, should it? All those people around me here today – all my other fellow believers in the world – these are people who I am like in every way whatsoever, even if it doesn’t seem like that in any single way whatsoever. Like me, they are people who get angry at God, who don’t always trust God, who constantly blame God. But like me, they are also people toward whom God has been gentle when he sent his Son to humble himself to the point of death, not just bearing with us, but bearing on himself everything you and I have done wrong ourselves. And then there are the people you and I know who don’t yet know or believe in Jesus. Being humble and gentle toward them because of Jesus’ humility and gentleness toward us might be what God uses to get their attention so they will listen when they are told that Jesus’ humility and gentleness is also toward them.
Living a Christian life can be a very difficult thing. We know that. But it is not a hard thing at all to understand how alone it can be done. Remember what a little, lost person you are without Jesus and what a great, saved person you are with Jesus. And then with a smile in your heart let people see Jesus when they see you.
But, again, every single one of us knows that while it is not hard to understand how alone it can be done, it is very difficult to do it. St. Paul comments on that, too. He tells us in the last paragraph in verse 14 that there are people – and, indeed, there are many, many people – who want to try to confuse us – to make us go back and forth like waves in the sea, he says – by trying to get us to think that things that God says are right are wrong and things that God says are wrong are right. He describes these people as using “cunning and craftiness and deceitful scheming” to try to confuse us, especially if we are not regularly using God’s Word.
The word “cunning” there refers to dice-playing – to someone trying to cheat you in a game of chance – someone trying to take advantage of you when you are vulnerable. How many people, for example, don’t get taken advantage of by the so-called storm chasers, who in their “cunning” want you to “throw the dice” by paying them money to fix your roof or some other part of your house or yard after a storm and then just take your money, leaving your house the way it was and leaving you worse off than you were before. That’s what it’s like when people tell us that believing things God doesn’t want us to believe will make us feel better or will help us be better liked or accepted. They are just taking our spiritual money and running off, leaving us worse off than we were before.
That helps us understand one of the reasons God gives us pastors and teachers. In verse 11 Paul says that God gives apostles and prophets who wrote his Word and evangelists who went and shared his Word and pastors and teachers who do the same for us. And the purpose of what pastors and teachers are to do, according to verse 12, is “to prepare God’s people for works of service so the body of Christ may be built up,” and according to verse 13, to help us to reach unity in our faith and to “become mature” – to help us become more like Christ every single day of our lives. That’s why God wants pastors and teachers and all of us to do what verse 15 says when it comes to remembering who we are in Christ and to warn one another about those who are deceitfully trying to take us away from Christ: “Speak the truth in love,” Paul says there. Yes, keep listening to and speaking the truth of the Bible, and as you and I speak it and share it, let’s speak it and share it in love – whether that means lovingly correcting someone who is doing or believing something wrong, or whether that means lovingly assuring someone that God loves them so much that he sent Jesus to die for their every sin – and that nothing they have ever done can ever keep them from the Father’s love.
Once more think about the picture of a spiritual chain gang as I read the last verse, verse 16: “From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work.” Who also is part of our chain gang of Christ? Jesus Christ himself. “From him the whole body grows and does its work,” Paul says. In this congregation there are over 800 links in the chain. If we don’t work together, we can do nothing. But chained to one another because we are also chained to Christ, this body will continue to grow into the people Jesus Christ has called us to be. And, that, finally is why we are here – to serve our Lord until we get there – and to bring with us as many other people as we can. God is always willing to make more links for the chain gang of Christ. Amen.