The Grand Vision and the Ordinary Stuff

“I pray that you may have the power to comprehend, with all the saints, what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, so that you may be filled with all the fullness of God. Now to him who by the power at work within us is able to accomplish abundantly far more than all we can ask or imagine, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations, forever and ever. Amen. I therefore, the prisoner in the Lord, beg you to lead a life worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love.” (Ephesians 3:18-21; 4:1-2)

There is hardly a bigger canvas on which bolder brush strokes have been painted to portray the grandeur of the Christian imagination than the last few verses of Ephesians chapter 3. The breadth and the length and the height and the depth of the love of Christ, the fullness of God, the power of God that is able to accomplish abundantly far more than all we can ask or imagine, the glory of God in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations, forever and ever–the phrases pile up in a crescendo of wonder. This is the grand vision of the faith, the broad horizon, the telescopic scale.

There is hardly a more practical picture of what faithful Christian living looks like than the first few verses of Ephesians 4. After the breadth and length and height and depth, the apostle instructs the church in the concrete, daily patterns and practices of Christian living. He says, “I therefore, the prisoner in the Lord, beg you to lead a life worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, . . . be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ has forgiven you.”

As it turns out, the grand heights of Christian vision need to be supported and nurtured by the daily exercise of Christian virtues. The splendid vista of Ephesians 3 and the daily, common, ordinary stuff of getting along with one another of Ephesians 4–these two things are deeply connected.

It takes humility to deal with one another day after day, when other impulses much more prized in our culture compete for our attention, e.g., the values of success and privilege and status. It takes gentleness and kindness to deal with one another day after day, when hurry and pressure and busyness crowd in. It takes patience to deal with one another day after day. Only in patience, practiced every day, will we begin to take on the form of Christ.

It takes love to deal with one another day after day for, as our brother Paul said in another place, love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Without love, our work, our families, our ministries in all their forms are empty shells. Just like all the fruits of the Spirit, love takes practice. We practice loving that difficult co-worker, that frustrating child or spouse or relative, all those puzzling and stubborn fellow church members.

It takes tenderheartedness to deal with one another, day after day. Tenderheartedness is first cousin to brokenheartedness and sometimes tenderheartedness will lead us into brokenheartedness. Both will be required of us if we are daily to build up the mind of Christ. It takes forgivingness to deal with one another, day after day. Forgivingness is a bit like breathing, inhaling acceptance and exhaling resentments. Forgivingness, like love, does not hold grudges; it does not calculate a balance sheet.

The grand vision of the faith so expansively presented in Ephesians 3 encounters the ordinary stuff of working together, making plans, solving problems, serving, loving, forming, teaching, reaching out, and embracing in Ephesians 4. Only in these day-to-day patterns of living and loving can we glimpse the breadth, length, height and depth, the forever and ever, of God’s grace and love.

Leanne Van Dyk is the dean and vice president for academic affairs at Western Theological Seminary in Holland, Michigan.