First Things First

Part two of an eleven-part series on “Habits of Highly Successful People”

Habit #1 – A Successful Person Places God First in All Areas of Life

By Kevin Riggs

Ephesians 4:1-16

“Gentlemen, this is a football.” So explained Coach Vince Lombardi, sarcastically, according to legend, as he addressed his error-prone Green Bay Packers early in his first year with the Pack. He had inherited one of the worst teams in the league. Lombardi quickly went about the work of re-establishing priorities for his players, and the rest is Hall of Fame history.

In Ephesians 4:1-16, Paul sets three priorities for the church. This important section serves as the pivot on which the entire letter swings. The apostle now transitions from belief to behavior, from doctrine to practice.

Even as we note this shift, we must remember that these two concerns always go hand-in-hand. How we live flows from what we believe, and faith necessarily produces works. To stress one over the other leads to a wobbly Christian walk.

Priority #1: Unity (vv. 1-6)

Paul uses his status as the Lord’s “prisoner” to urge these believers toward a life (“walk”) of unity among one another. By “walking worthy” of their calling they will not betray their position in the heavenlies with Christ, as noted in the first three chapters.

Maintaining this oneness, though, depends on the commitment of both the individual Christian and the church body as a whole. Unity first issues from the character of each believer. In verses 2 and 3, Paul commends four attitudes essential to concord in the church.

“Lowliness,” or humility, prompts me to recognize that I am dependent on others. It is the servant’s disposition. Humility in practice is “meekness,” submitting to God and subordinating myself to others. “Longsuffering” people patiently endure whatever comes their way. This quality leads them to put up with (“forbear”) difficult people out of a sincere heart of love.

Let’s face it, though; it’s tough to put these qualities into practice. The word translated “endeavoring” (v. 3) suggests effort and hard work. Such a commitment toward unity is essential, however, because of the corporate nature of the church. Ours is one body, one Spirit, one hope, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all (vv. 4-6). We are already one positionally in Christ. The question is whether we will live as one practically through Christ.

Priority #2: Ministry (vv. 7-12)

Verse 12 summarizes the church’s task: God has gifted His people “to equip the saints for the work of ministry to build up Christ’s body.” Ministry is service. Serving must be what we’re about as we follow our Lord; after all, He came to serve (Mark 10:45).

As was the case with Paul’s instructions about unity, so, too, his challenge to ministry is not just a concern of the corporate church. Each individual plays a role in ministry. Verses 7-11 stress that “every one of us” receives “grace” in the form of “gifts” from the victorious Christ. Robert Picirilli calls these gifts endowments given by the Spirit for serving the Lord through His church.

According to verse 11, Christ’s gifts include the apostolic office (probably only in the first generation of the New Covenant); the prophetic work of speaking for God; spreading the gospel and planting churches (“evangelists”); and nurturing Christ’s flock through caring instruction (“pastor-teachers”). Paul mentions other gifts in Romans 12 and I Corinthians 12.

Priority #3: Maturity (vv. 13-16)

The great goal for all of us, for the church collectively and believers individually, is that we attain the “fullness of Christ” (v. 13). This end seems so far from our present experience that we often lose sight of it. We are too much like the “children” Paul describes in verse 14 – unstable, blown from this doctrine to that, easy prey for deceivers.

In a day when many churches water down preaching and teaching, forsaking education in the Word for the entertainment of the world, let us commit ourselves and our churches to “speaking the truth in love.” Only such a bold stand for the truth will produce Christians who will “grow up into him in all things” (v. 15).

Paul concludes his call to maturity with an analogy comparing the church to the human body (v. 16). When the organism functions properly, every part contributes to the growth process. Healthy cells, tissues, organs and systems – all play their roles as the body develops.

The focus of attention, however, is not the body itself. As “head” of the body (v. 15), Christ exercises supreme control over its functions and receives ultimate glory from its ministry.

A. W. Tozer reminds us, “The highest expression of the will of God in this age is the church which He purchased with His own blood . . . . According to the scriptures, (T)he church is the habitation of God through the Spirit, and as such is the most important organism beneath the sun.” It merits our top priority.

Article adapted from Contactmagazine, February 2002.