Pastor James Hopkins preached this sermon on the Seventeenth Sunday after Trinity, 10/9/2022. The bulletin is available as a PDF: Trinity17 Bulletin
The text for the sermon was the day’s epistle lesson. To read the Bible texts for the Seventeenth Sunday after Trinity, click here.
This sermon from St. Paul to the Ephesians is about good works and the Christian life. Again, it’s written to the Ephesians, i.e. to a group of Christians. Why does this matter? Because the ground of all Christian doctrine is salvation by grace through faith alone.
Faith alone grasps the forgiveness of sins. Faith alone clings to the life and salvation Jesus won for you on the cross. But this isn’t clear to unbelievers, who can easily think that good works earn salvation. But Paul writes to the Ephesians who know better, and desire to live a life that honors God.
This doesn’t happen by a pastor wagging his finger at you. Paul writes that the chief influence in how a Christian lives is to remember his calling. His appointment by God. He is to shine before the world, reflecting the glory of God. Thus, Jesus said:
Let your light shine before men; that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven. Matthew 5:16
As those who have received God’s grace, and who know His Word, be mindful that you’re called to a far different and vastly higher life than others know. Show by your way of living that you seek a higher good than the world does. Not by making a self-righteous show of yourself, of course; not by seeking attention and praise; but, rather, by a godly life and good works that glorify Christ. That, alone, will influence others. The world is to recognize Jesus by His shining in you.
Of course, the inverse is also true. The so-called Christian life that does not honor Christ makes its sin more heinous on account of the name it bears. This is why it’s always so damaging and shaming when church bodies, pastors, and Christian leaders are caught in some grievous sin.
Nobody winks when it happens in Hollywood. But despite the world’s hatred of you; it expects better from you. Who would’ve thought? Paul did. It’s what he was thinking when he wrote to the Romans,
The name of God is blasphemed among the Gentiles because of you. Romans 2:24
It isn’t all just a matter of you and your relationship with Jesus. It isn’t all just about you and your salvation. A Christian should, in his life, guard the honor of Christ. The world will try to construe everything you do in the worst possible way, that it could have more reason to hate Christ and His Word, and to deter unbelievers from embracing the Gospel.
To guard against this you need to be especially careful, in your conduct, to give no occasion for offense, but to honor God’s name in your life. This doesn’t mean that you compromise on God’s Word. If the world will hate you on account of the Word, so be it. Jesus says that in this you are blessed. But you cannot give the world reason to hate Jesus on account of your sins.
Man was created to be the image of God, that through his image God Himself might be expressed. God’s image, then, should be reflected in the lives of Christians.
As it turns out, the question: “What would Jesus do?” Properly understood, isn’t a bad one.
But rather than give you a question, Paul tells the Church what good works to do. And there is enough here to occupy all Christians in every station of life.
They are not works which make a brilliant show in the eyes of the world. Nevertheless, they are true, worthy, good, and salutary works in God’s sight.
What can be more acceptable to God and advantageous to you than to live according to your calling in a way that contributes to the honor of God, and by its example influences others to love God’s Word and praise His name?
What virtues, of all that man possesses, serve him better than humility, meekness, patience, and bearing with others in love?
So, if the question of what to do is answered in exercising that short list of virtues, we should admit that this might still seem at least a little bit ambiguous. But it isn’t hard to figure out the particulars. For if these virtues are to be lived out in your calling as a Christian, they are to be lived out where God has called you to live as a Christian.
Beware the temptation of the world here. In the world, the best things you can do are ones that earn you praise and admiration. The people doing the most good are the ones who are famous for doing good.
But we speak of works instituted by God Himself and the conditions of His appointing, that the world regards as nothing.
To live a Christian life in your own family, to faithfully perform the duties of a husband or wife, son or daughter, worker or employer, etc., this is the life to which you are called.
To paraphrase Pastor Luther: “The cobbler (shoemaker) does not fulfill his calling by stitching little gold crosses on all his shoes. Rather, he makes good shoes and sells them at a fair price.”
You probably already understood that you aren’t to seek praise for your good works. But the surprise might be that you aren’t to seek ways to make your good works better. Living faithfully according to your calling as Christians, in the places where God has called you to serve your neighbor, this is what God desires.
Everyone living faithfully where God has called them: in schools and businesses, in government and the academy, in families and neighborhoods, in congregations, districts, and as a Synod…
Living faithfully in these callings is how God cares for everyone everywhere.
This life, of course, is lived out together. And that is why Paul calls for the unity of the Spirit.
We are to strive for harmony and make every effort to preserve it. Since the Holy Spirit is present only where there’s knowledge of and faith in the Gospel, the unity he speaks is unity of faith and doctrine.
That’s why the Church still bothers to point out where we disagree with one another. We are contending for the Scriptures, striving to purge out error, and achieve unity. To simply leave those who are in error the way they are, to be satisfied with separation, is to desire less than Jesus does when He prays that the Church would be one.
This, however, cannot be sought after without exercising the virtue of love, which will enable us to exercise humility, patience, and forbearance.
This unity doesn’t mean that the church will look the same everywhere. It does not consist of uniformity in church customs, vestments, music, or language. That is pure papal foppery.
The Church is called the “one holy, catholic or Christian Church,” because it represents one plain, pure doctrine and outward confession of faith. That confession of faith is confessed in word and deed. It is expressed and celebrated in our fellowship at this altar.
We are here together as one Body, of one Spirit, with one hope belonging to our call, with one faith, one Lord, one Baptism, and one God and Father of us all.