Text: Ephesians 1:-14
The Rev. Dr. D. William Faupel
July 19, 2015
How many of you believe the verse in the Bible that says: “God helps those who help themselves?” Does anybody know in what book of the Bible that this verse is found?
A few weeks ago, I happened to see in The Washington Post that 75% of Americans polled at random said that this is one of the most important verses in the Bible. And yes, those of you who couldn’t remember where to find it in the Bible had good reason. It is not there!
This reminds me of an old man who attended my church when I was a young boy growing up in Michigan. When he was reminded that another popular proverb wasn’t in the Bible, he replied: Well, maybe it ain’t in the Bible but it should be!”
Actually, I’m not surprised that such a high percentage of the American population would feel that way. So many similar saying have been drummed into our psychic—“Lifting ourselves up by our own bootstraps.” “The self-made man/woman.” “From Log Cabin to the White House.” It is the American way. But is it the Christian way?
Now don’t get me wrong. I firmly believe that God wants us to be all that we can be; and that He will assist us in this undertaking. But what I am suggesting is that so often the way we go about it is often exactly backwards from the way God has designed our task to be.
For the past three weeks the New Testament lesson has been taken from St. Paul’s letter to the Ephesians. It is an amazing document. In it he spells out the secret of successful living. His message can be summed up in three words: sit, walk, stand. To be successful, a Christian must learn first to sit, then to walk, and finally to stand.
Most Christians make the mistake of trying to walk in order to be able to sit. But this is a reversal of the order which our heavenly Father has provided. Our natural reason says, “If I do not walk, how can I ever attain the goal God has set before me?” “What can I accomplish without effort?” “How can I get anywhere if I do not move?” Christianity is a strange business! If at the outset we try to Do anything, we Accomplish nothing. If we seek to attain something, we miss everything. For the Christian we find first of all, not a big DO, but rather a huge Done! Thus Paul can begin his letter by stating that “God has blessed us with every spiritual blessing and has invited us to sit down and enjoy what He has done for us!” In other words, God has not asked us to attain it for ourselves.
“Ah” you might say, “Pastor Bill, you are talking about our spiritual state. We are good Protestants, We know that we are saved by God’s grace, we cannot earn our salvation. But surely God expects us to do something with our lives here on earth. He doesn’t want us to sit around and play our harps all day, does He?” The answer is: “of course not—unless you are in the Philharmonic!
What I am suggesting is that there is a direct connection between our salvation and what we subsequently do with our lives. Christianity is far more than fire insurance to escape Hell when we die. It is about life here on earth and how to live our lives to their full potential. The very first thing that we are invited to do as a new Christian is to sit down in God’s presence.
Now what does this mean in practical terms? When we walk or stand, we bear on our legs all the weight of our own body – (unless you find yourself in outer space!). When we sit down, our entire weight rests upon the chair. We grow weary when we walk or stand, but we feel rested when we have been able to sit down for a while. In walking or standing we expend a great deal of energy. When we are seated, we relax and are renewed.
What St. Paul is telling us is, that as Christians, we are first of all to sit down and rest our whole weight—our load, our concerns, our future, our whole being—upon the Lord. We are to let Him bear the responsibility and cease to carry it ourselves.
This has been God’s principle from the beginning of time. In creation God worked from the first day to the sixth and rested on the seventh. In looking at our world, we can truthfully say that for those first six days, God was very busy. Then, with the task He had set for Himself completed, He ceased to work. The seventh day became the Sabbath of God: it was His rest.
But what of Adam and Eve? Where were they in relation to this “rest of God?” They were created on the sixth day. They had no part of creation. God’s seventh day was their first. God worked for six days and then enjoyed His Sabbath rest. But our first parents began their lives with the Sabbath.
This is a principle that is hard for us to grasp, that whereas God first works and then rests, we are called first to enter into His rest before we begin our work.
Although I have to relearn this truth over and over again in my own Christian walk, I first came to really understand this principle when I learned to swim. Although I grew up near the Great Lakes in Michigan, my mother’s fear of the water result in my not learning to swim until I went to college. For weeks I paddled around in the shallow end of the pool and learned little. Finally, my instructor got so frustrated with me that he took me to the deep end of the pool and pushed me in. Before he gave me that shove he gave me this advice: “Trust the water, relax and you will float. Trust me, I won’t let you drown.’ With that off I went into the deep. Of course at first I forgot everything he said. As I hit the water I panicked and started to struggle. My efforts only served to propel me faster and I hit bottom. Still struggling, I waited for Bill to dive in to pull me out. He didn’t. My lungs seemed ready to burst when his first instruction penetrated my brain. “Trust the water, relax and you will float.” Somehow, I made myself go limp. To my amazement I felt my body start to rise. Finally, after what seemed an eternity, I broke surface, gasping for breath. I never became a great swimmer but I will never drown. I came to understand the water was my friend and learned that its responsibility was to hold me up. My responsibility was to move across its surface.
I have known so many people who have experienced “burnout” working for God. They have not learned how to enter into His rest and just “sit” in the power of Presence.
But although the Christian life begins with sitting, it does not end there. Once we have been truly seated and have found our strength in sitting down, then we do in fact begin to walk. Sitting describes our position in Christ, Walking is the practical out-working of that reality in our everyday lives. Thus, St. Paul goes on to state things like: “I beseech you to walk worthily of your calling,” (4:1); or “This I say that you no longer walk as the gentiles, but be renewed in the spirit of your mind,” (4:17); or “Walk in love even as Christ also loved you.” (5:2).
Eight times Paul uses the word “Walk” in this letter. It brings to our attention the subject of our conduct. God is not so much concerned about What we do as He is about How we do it. In the last half of his letter, Paul proceeds to challenge us upon the whole range of our human relationships—both domestic and public—addressing himself to neighbors, husbands, wives, children, parents, employers and the employed and all them he states in a most realistic way. Walk with longsuffering, forbear one another, speak the truth, be kind, forgive each other, The list of imperatives goes on and on. It is almost like reading our Lord’s Sermon on the Mount.
Have you ever seriously tried to live like this even for one day? I have, and let me tell you, by the end of the day, I’m utterly exhausted! If we try, it wears us out and we will blow it every time. That is why so many Christians say “Living the Sermon on the Mount is unrealistic, I just can’t do it.” Of course they are right. That is why we must first learn to sit. We can’t do it, but He can do it through us!
It is like a person who has an addiction. They can’t overcome in their own strength and will power, but only through recognizing a higher power working through them. The principle is not only for the addict. It is the secret of Christian living.