Summary: An overview of Ephesians teaching that believers live for and by the power of Christ.
It’s Not About You
Dr. Roger W. Thomas, Preaching Minister
First Christian Church, Vandalia, MO
Introduction: “It’s not about you. The purpose of your life is far greater than your own personal fulfillment, your peace of mind and your happiness.” That’s how Rick Warren begins his classic The Purpose Driven Life. Warren’s book has become so popular in part because that basic premise gets our attention. It contradicts everything we have been taught to believe.
Individuality thrives in our society. We are born and bred to believe that we have an inherent right to be our own person, make our own rules, and pursue our own dreams. “I did it my way,” sang the crooner. But we all believe it. Even in the church.
The notion of individuality has helped create a consumer mentality in churches. Folk in our day shop for churches like they shop for a new car or a new pair of shoes. We look around. We try on different models. We compare costs. Finally, we settle on a model we like. We choose based on how it fits and meets our needs. How could it be otherwise? After all, it’s all about me.
What’s wrong with that picture? The whole process assumes that church is about us, our needs, our wants, and our desires. Most of us are so deep into this mentality that we find it hard to even conceive of a different perspective. This system turns faith on its head. Worship becomes about my fulfillment rather than God’s worship. Church music is about what I like.
This consumerism has doctrinal consequences as well. We can treat the Bible and Christian doctrine like a big smorgasbord. Nobody eats everything on the buffet. We pick and choose what interests us. That’s how many approach the Bible’s teaching. We can take what WE like and just leave the rest. It’s all about me, what I like or am willing to accept.
Individuality or consumerism affects how we relate to others in the church as well. A lot of us attend church for what we get out of it. A small minority lead, teach, serve. The rest receives what others provide. That’s the way it’s supposed to be—if it’s all about us.
But it isn’t. That’s a big part of the message of Ephesians, our next stop in our journey through the New Testament. Ephesians will tell us again and again that the life of a Christ-follower is not about us but about him. Paul makes that point in a variety of ways in every chapter.
First a bit of background. Ephesians is one of Paul’s prison letters. He wrote the book later in his ministry after he had been arrested in Jerusalem and transported to Rome for trial before the emperor. It is addressed to Christians in Ephesus, an important city in what is now western Turkey. The Romans called the province Asia. Paul made the city a center of ministry for the entire region. He traveled to nearby communities. He then set up a ministry training center in a school in Ephesus. For three years he preached and trained leaders there, longer than in any other location. His ministry had an impact. Eventually, he was forced to leave because of protests from the city’s silversmiths. So many Ephesians were converting to Christ and abandoning the worship of the idols that idol makers’ business fell off.
Paul visited with the elders of the Ephesian church as he made his way to Jerusalem where he was eventually arrested. Acts 20 tells what happened. His words offer an insight into Paul’s ministry and his relationship with these believers. “For I have not hesitated to proclaim to you the whole will of God. 28Keep watch over yourselves and all the flock of which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers. Be shepherds of the church of God, which he bought with his own blood. 29I know that after I leave, savage wolves will come in among you and will not spare the flock. 30Even from your own number men will arise and distort the truth in order to draw away disciples after them. 31So be on your guard! Remember that for three years I never stopped warning each of you night and day with tears. 32“Now I commit you to God and to the word of his grace, which can build you up and give you an inheritance among all those who are sanctified” (20:27-32).
Like many of Paul’s letters, Ephesians divides into two parts. The first part (chapters 1-3) lays down a doctrinal foundation. The second part (chapters 4-6) outlines how these teachings apply to the Christian life. This is an important principle. Behavior always follows belief. Doctrine and duty cannot be separated. Stated in theological terms, the first half of Ephesians explains the believer’s salvation. The second part describes the believer’s sanctification or the quality of life that distinguishes the believer from the unbeliever.