I therefore, the prisoner of the Lord, beseech you that you walk worthy of the vocation with which you are called,
I therefore, the prisoner of the Lord, etc. The verses, looked at homiletically, suggest the following truths: -
I. THAT MAN'S EXTERNAL CONDITION IN THIS WORLD IS NO TRUE TEST OF HIS REAL WORTH. A greater man than Paul, greater in true thought, lofty aims, disinterested sympathies, self-sacrificing love, Christ-like devotion, and philanthropy, never lived. He was great in himself, great in his spiritual influence, great in the estimation of all capable of appreciating worth. Yet he was a "prisoner" and doomed to martyrdom - a condition the most ignominious and painful. This fact shows:
1. The corruption of human society. So blind in moral judgment and so perverse in heart has civil society been, almost from the beginning, that it has doomed its best men to degradation, suffering, and often martyrdom.
2. The high probability of a future retributive dispensation. The beheading of John the Baptist, the imprisonment of a Paul, the crucifying of the Christ, proclaim with a tongue of thunder a coming judgment, a day when "all ungodly men shall be convinced of all ungodly things which they have ungodly committed."
II. THAT THE END OF ALL TRUE THEOLOGY IS THE IMPROVEMENT OF CHARACTER. The apostle, after laying down in the preceding chapters the grandest theological truths, begins in these verses an application of these truths to practical life. "I beseech you therefore." "Therefore." Why? Because of the wonderful things I have stated. Theology, if it remains with us merely as a science, will do us no spiritual service. It may stimulate thought, widen the realm of intelligence, afford scope and incentive to our speculative faculties, and develop our powers of logic and controversy. But what boots all this? Devils in depravity and torture are theologians. It is only when theological truths pass from the intellect to the heart, and thence circulate as blood through every particle of our being - in other words, when doctrines are translated into deeds - that they really serve us. Theology is bread; but undigested bread does not impart health, but impairs it, does not invigorate the man, but enfeebles him. A great theologian is often a moral invalid.
III. THAT THE PRIVILEGES OF A MORAL BEING ARE THE MEASURE OF HIS OBLIGATIONS. "Walk worthy of the vocation," etc. The Bible teaches us our duty, not so much by written precepts as by principles, either expressed or implied. Indeed, it seems to me no code of legislative propositions, though its volumes filled the world, could supply directions for the boundless activities of an undying soul. You cannot bring all the obligations of souls into any number of written sentences. Hence we have principles, and often one principle will meet all the possible activities of a soul, determine its duty in every separate act. The principle we have stated is an example. When a real Christian is told to "act worthy of his vocation," he is told everything touching all conceivable obligations. This point supplies us with two general remarks.
1. Christians are called into a Divine sonship, and their duty is to walk worthy of that. The call you have in the fifth verse of the first chapter. "Having predestinated us unto the adoption of children by Jesus Christ to himself, according to the good pleasure of his will." We are called to be the sons of God. What is our duty? To act worthy of our relationship, act as sons ought to act towards such a Father. Give him:
(1) The highest reverence. Our heavenly Father is not only greatest to us, but greatest to the universe. Therefore reverence him.
(2) The highest gratitude. We owe everything to him - being and the highest blessings of being. Therefore to him our profoundest and incessant thanks are due.
(3) The highest esteem. He is the best of Beings, the Fountain of all virtues, the Standard of all character, the Totality of goodness. Therefore he should be loved with all our soul and strength.
(4) The highest confidence. Yield to him a cheerful trust, a boundless reliance. Trust in him forever.
(5) The highest attention. He should occupy more of our thoughts than any other being. You should study his character, trace his ways, anticipate his wishes, imbibe his Spirit, imitate his character, and thus become partakers of his nature. When Christians are told to walk worthy of their sonship, what more can he said? It means to live a pure, useful, elevated, morally royal life.
2. Christians are called into a spiritual corporation, and their duty is to walk worthy of that. When on earth Christ founded a new society, its members consisted of those who practically accepted him as their great Teacher, Example, Savior, Lord. That society, few in numbers at first, has been increasing ever since. Millions have gone to heaven, and millions are still on this earth found in connection with all Churches, and not a few in connection with none. This society, though its members are divided by sentiment and ritual and distance, are nevertheless one - one in spirit, purpose, life. They are but branches of one tree the Root of which is Christ, members of one body the Head of which is Christ. Now, every Christian is called into this grand corporation. And the apostle here states two things concerning our relation to it.
(1) The grand purpose we should aim at. "Endeavoring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace." "Unity of the Spirit" means the unity of which the Spirit is the Author. Unity, not merely doctrinal or ecclesiastical, for there may be doctrinal and ecclesiastical unity where there is spiritual separation. It is the unity of souls in Christ. Now, every one belonging to this corporation should diligently endeavor to maintain its unity. This unity is consonant with diversity; the waves are different, but the ocean is one; the branches are different, but the tree is one; the members are different, but the body is one; the stars are different, but the system is one. Men's thoughts may be different, but men's loves may be one, and loves are the bonds of souls.
(2) The method for promoting this purpose. Three things are indicated here.
(a) Humility. "With all lowliness and meekness." Pride, arrogance, and haughtiness in all its forms, have ever been amongst the most disturbing elements in Church life.
(b) Mutual forbearance. "Forbearing one another." The best members of this Church are imperfect in belief, sympathies, and conduct; hence mutual forbearance is necessary in order to maintain unity. He who feels disposed to quarrel with every fault of his associates may spend his time in doing nothing else.
(c) Brotherly love. "Forbearing one another in love." Love is the healer of discords. No hand but hers can retune the discordant harp of Church life. These - lowliness, meekness, long-suffering, loving forbearance - quiet, unpretending, unshowy virtues are amongst the best means for promoting true unity in the Church of God. Who is the most useful Christian? Not as a rule he who has the most transcendent genius, brilliant talents, and commanding eloquence, but he who has the most of this quiet, loving, forbearing spirit. The world may do without its Niagaras, whose thundering roar and majestic rush excite the highest amazement of mankind, but it cannot spare the thousand rivulets that glide unseen and unheard every moment through the earth, imparting life and verdure and beauty wherever they go. And so the Church may do without its men of splendid abilities, but it cannot do without its men of tender, loving, forbearing souls. - D.T.
Parallel VersesKJV: I therefore, the prisoner of the Lord, beseech you that ye walk worthy of the vocation wherewith ye are called,