I’m always intrigued by how Paul shifts from doctrine to application.
Take Romans. Luther called Romans “the chief part of the New Testament and the very purest gospel.” Samuel Taylor Coleridge, the English poet, called Romans “the profoundest book in existence.” One can’t read it without marveling at its riches. And yet when Paul shifts to making a practical appeal in chapter 12, his theology hits the ground with running shoes. “Let love be genuine, he writes. “Abhor what is evil; hold fast to what is good. Love one another with brotherly affection … Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer. Contribute to the needs of the saints and seek to show hospitality.”
The gospel applied looks like love, love among the ordinary pressures and situations of life in mundane matters like relational conflict, navigating differences, opposition, and more.
Ephesians is no different. Coleridge — the same poet who praised Romans — termed Ephesians “the divinest composition of man” because, as he believed, “it embraces, first, those doctrines peculiar to Christianity, and, then, those precepts common with it in natural religion.” Ruth Paxson called Ephesians “the Grand Canyon of Scripture.” When Paul shifts to the second half of the book, he addresses the unity of that local church. “I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” (Ephesians 4:1-3).
Paul seems to be saying something like this: Are you doctrinally orthodox? Good. That’s important. Keep digging. Keep marveling at what God has done.
But then, Paul seems to be saying, we should ask some other questions. How do you handle your differences? How do you respond when someone in the church ticks you off? How is God growing your patience and your ability to put up with others when they’re insufferable? That’s how the gospel is applied.
Are you doctrinally orthodox? Good. How do you respond when someone in the church ticks you off?
Guardians of Doctrine and Culture
The church is charged in Scripture to guard its doctrine. “By the Holy Spirit who dwells within us, Paul writes to Timothy, “guard the good deposit entrusted to you” (2 Timothy 1:14).
I’m increasingly convinced that we’re not only guardians of doctrine but of culture. Paul commands Timothy and Titus to rebuke those who teach false doctrine (Titus 1:13), rebuke elders who persist in sin (1 Timothy 5:20), as well as to engage in the overall ministry of reproof, rebuke, and exhortation (2 Timothy 4:2). But they are also called to deal with people who threaten the culture and unity of the church. “As for a person who stirs up division, after warning him once and then twice, have nothing more to do with him, knowing that such a person is warped and sinful; he is self-condemned” (Titus 3:10-11).
In his commentary on Proverbs, Ray Ortlund writes, “I have never seen adultery send a whole church into meltdown. Gossip, by contrast, is often perceived as a little sin. But it destroys churches.”
Let’s guard our doctrine, but let’s also pay attention to how that doctrine works out in our relationships. It’s not just what we believe that matters, but how we love each other in the church when it’s not easy.