Walk Worthy of Your Calling: Ephesians 4:1
Updated: Jan 5, 2020
As I listened to the various speakers laud my supposed accomplishments in almost four decades with the college, I had to admit the team that planned my retirement ceremony had gone all out to make the event memorable. The college’s board of trustees presented a resolution naming me Emeritus Vice-President of the college for life, a wing of the college’s Leadership Institute—an organization I had founded years earlier—was named after me, the local economic development council made me a lifetime director, the local chamber of commerce named me a lifetime board member, our Congressman presented me a flag that had flown over the capitol in Washington, D.C. He also gave me a framed a copy of a page from the Congressional Record containing his quotes made on the floor of the U.S. House of Representatives about my “long service” to Northwest Florida.
Other accolades would follow. My alma mater named me a distinguished alumnus and then added to the recognition by naming me one of the institution’s top 40 alumni in its first 40 years of operation. Soon to follow would be induction into the Florida Veteran’s Hall of Fame and the local Civic Leader’s Hall of Fame. This was heady stuff, all of which I appreciated then and do now. But even with all of the awards, honors, and recognition bestowed on me that day, what I remember most about my retirement ceremony are the words of a local pastor who closed the ceremony.
This pastor based his comments on Ephesians 4:1: “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.” His final words were, “Dr. Goetsch has walked worthy of his calling. He has lived a life of significance.” When all of the handshakes, backslaps, and hugs were finally over, it was this pastor’s words that stayed with me. I couldn’t get them off my mind.
At home after the ceremony, I looked up Ephesians 4:1 and read the verse over and over. The pastor claimed I had walked worthy of my calling and lived a life of significance, but what did that mean? The things I had been lauded for did not seem to match up well with the things listed in this verse. Ephesians 4:1 talks about “humility,” “gentleness,” “patience,” “love,” “unity of the Spirit,” and “peace.” I struggled to reconcile these concepts with the things I had just been honored for achieving over the past four decades.
After thinking about the message in Ephesians 4:1 for some time, I came to the humbling realization I had been lauded for a life of achievement, not a life of significance. The two concepts are not the same. This is not to say they are mutually-exclusive, but they are not the same and the distinction between them is important. One can live a life of achievement without living a life of significance. One can achieve much in human terms while achieving little of significance in God’s terms. As is often the case, God and the world view things differently when it comes to achievement and significance.
The message in Ephesians 4:1 is about how we live our lives, not just what we achieve or who we are to the world. God is more concerned about our character than pedigree, action than words, and service than status. In God’s eyes, what gives our lives significance is living them with “humility,” “gentleness,” “patience,” “love,” “unity of the spirit,” and “peace.” If we happen to achieve great things in human terms while exemplifying these characteristics from Scripture, that’s good. But the message in Ephesians 4:1 is that God does not confuse achievement with significance, nor should we. One can achieve much in human terms without being humble, gentle, patient, loving, unified in the spirit, or peaceful. In fact, one can achieve much in human terms while actually violating Christian principles, at least in the short run. I have seen this happen many times.
While in the Marine Corps I served with an individual who was viewed by his peers as an exemplar of all that was admirable about being a Marine. In uniform he was a walking recruiting poster. He could out run and out shoot all of the rest of us. He could do more push-ups and pull-ups than the fittest of us. But what impressed us most was his combat record. He had earned multiple Purple Hearts, the Bronze Star, Silver Star, and Navy Cross. This man had saved the lives of numerous fellow Marines. Nobody I served with had achieved more than this Marine.
But when I got to know him personally, I saw a different side. He had been divorced several times, abused his current wife, neglected their children as well as those from previous marriages, and became mean when he drank—which was often. On duty, he was a high achiever but off duty he had wrecked his life as well as those of his family members. His wife and children were afraid of him and his neighbors gave him a wide berth. It was clear that this “ideal Marine” led a life of achievement but not significance. I have known numerous people from the private and public sectors whose lives were similar. They were admired as high achievers by world, but in the eyes of God they failed to walk worthy of their calling.
I would give much to be able to go back to my retirement ceremony and have the last word. If I could, the message in Ephesians 4:1 would be my text. But I was too caught up in the ego-boosting accolades to set things straight during the ceremony. Consequently, I did the only thing I could do at the time: I wrote a graduation speech. That’s right—a graduation speech. Soon after my retirement, I was asked to be the commencement speaker for a local Christian school. Here was my opportunity to set the record straight and to draw a distinction between achievement and significance. I used the graduation ceremony to do just that.
In my speech, I encouraged the graduates to achieve much but to do so in ways that honored God. I urged them to remember that no matter what they did for a living, they worked first for God and second for their employer (Ephesians 6:7). I also cautioned them against confusing achievement and significance. I received a lot of requests for copies of that commencement address. Interestingly, the requests came from more than the graduates and their parents. Others in the audience who had long ago graduated and were well into their lives and careers also wanted copies, as did people who weren’t even at the ceremony but heard about the speech.
The speech obviously touched a nerve. I came to the conclusion that Christians want to live lives of significance, not just achievement. It was also obvious to me this desire applied to those just getting started in life as well as many who were well along in theirs. Further, Christians want to understand how to go about giving significance to their lives. These contentions have since been validated many times over by Christians who approach me for counseling. Preparing that commencement address forced me to study carefully the question of how to go about living a life of significance.
ACHIEVEMENT VERSUS SIGNIFICANCE
The world rewards achievement. In every aspect of life from Kindergarten to retirement, awards and recognition are given to those who achieve the most. In the classroom, students who make the best grades are included on the Dean’s list, graduated Magma or Summa Cum Laude, or named most likely to succeed. In sports, those who score the most points, win the most games, or perform best at their respective positions are named their team’s most valuable players or MVPs. At work, those who perform best in their jobs are named employee of the month, quarter, or year. They also tend to be the employees who win the promotions, raises, and bonuses.
While achievements in school, sports, work, and other aspects of our lives can be laudable, they are not necessarily so. It depends on how we go about achieving these things and who we are trying to please with our efforts. Identical achievements can serve much different purposes. With one individual the purpose might be to boost the ego and win peer approval. With another the purpose might be to honor God. The latter is conducive to walking worthy of your calling; the former is not. God wants us to achieve good things on earth. For example, when it comes to career accomplishments, the Bible is clear about the importance of working hard (2 Thessalonians 3:10) and being good stewards (Luke 19:11-27). Consequently, achieving through our work is a good thing. But in achieving through our work or any other aspect of our lives, God wants us to be mindful of the characteristics listed in Ephesians 4:1.
Achievements that come as the result of ego, greed, selfishness, cheating, or other nefarious motives will not be blessed by God, no matter how much they impress your worldly peers. Further, they will contribute nothing to living a life of significance. I am sure you have observed people achieving things by questionable means and with questionable motives. I certainly have. It happens all the time. Now consider the same achievements but let them be attained in a spirit of “humility,” “gentleness,” “patience,” “love,” “unity of Spirit,” and “peace.” When things are accomplished in ways that honor God they are laudable and they contribute living a life of significance.
Never forget that what impresses the world does not necessarily impress God. Recall the Biblical story of the widow’s mite (Mark 12:41-44 and Luke 21:1-4). In this parable, wealthy people came to the Temple and contributed large amounts of money to the treasury. People were impressed by the amounts. But then a poor widow came to the Temple and placed two small coins worth just a few cents in the offering—an amount scorned by the world. But Jesus was more impressed with the widow’s contribution than those of all the wealthy people combined. He explained to His disciples, the wealthy were just giving of their excess but the widow gave all she had. She walked worthy of her calling, they didn’t.
WHAT IS YOUR CALLING?
It is often said that pastors are “called to preach.” I have even heard people who work in secular professions say, “For me this position is more than a job—it’s a calling.” A calling is a powerful inner desire provided by God for you to pursue a certain course of action such as a profession. A calling in the context of your career choice is more than just a personal desire to be a homemaker, pastor, lawyer, physician, nurse, engineer, professor, teacher, coach, accountant, carpenter, plumber, electrician, or anything else. It is a desire etched on your soul by God.
If you feel called to pursue a given profession or course of action, God bless you. By all means pursue it. But what about people who pursue a given career or course of action, but do not feel called to it? People in this category have to make a living. Their field of choice is either the best one for them all things considered or, at least, the best they can do. They don’t view their choice of profession as a calling. Are people in this group any less able to live a life of significance those who are called to a given profession? Not in God’s eyes.
If you fall into this latter category, as many people do, don’t despair. Your life can be just as significant—at least in the eyes of God—as the lives of people who have a special calling. The world may place more significance on certain professions, but God doesn’t. God wants you to use the knowledge, skills, and abilities He blesses you with to their utmost, but He wants you to do this in ways that honor Him. God is just as pleased with a janitor who honors Him through his work as He is with a brain surgeon who honors him. Never forget what Jesus said to the Apostle Peter not just once but three times. In John 21:15-17, He told Peter the best way to demonstrate his love for Him was to “Feed my sheep.” God wants us to use our time, talents, experience, and other assets to feed His sheep—to take care of our neighbors. Doing this is what gives your life significance in His eyes.
In God’s eyes, walking worthy of your calling and living a life of significance are not about what profession you practice. Rather, they are about honoring Him in every aspect of your life no matter what profession happens to be. This is the kind of calling spoken to in Ephesians 4:1. It is a higher calling than the profession we choose to practice. When you sincerely seek to please God in all you do and when you honor Him by how you do your work and live your life, you are walking worthy of your calling and living a life of significance.
LIVING A LIFE OF SIGNIFICANCE AND ACHIEVING GOOD THINGS
With the distinction between achievement and significance explained, let me be clear that you can achieve good things in life while also walking worthy of your calling and living a life of significance. You can do both, and should strive to do so. Those who manage to do both live the most significant lives. But how does one go about walking worthily while also achieving good things?
Even with the message in Ephesians 4:1 to guide them, some Christians still struggle with how to go about accomplishing both. I am often asked by counseling clients to explain what walking worthy of their calling and living a life of significance look like in practical terms. Using the characteristics in Ephesians 4:1 as the starting point, I developed the following practical strategies for walking worthy of God’s calling and living a life of significance:
Seek first to please God in all aspects of your life
Show others Christian character, love, kindness, gentleness, and patience
Demonstrate unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace
Exemplify the Christian work ethic
Balance faith, family, and work
Be grateful for your blessings and acknowledge their source
Show others respect
Be humble and gentle
Sacrifice for your neighbor—be helpful and giving
Forgive those who seek forgiveness
Persevere in the faith when life becomes difficult
By applying these strategies, you can walk worthy of your calling, live a life of significance, and achieve big things.
Dr. Goetsch is the author of Christian Women on the Job: Excelling at Work without Compromising Your Faith, Fidelis Books, an imprint of Post Hill Press and Christians on the Job: Winning at Work Without Compromising Your Faith, Salem Books, an imprint of Regnery Publishing, 2019: www.david-goetsch.com