What is "therefore" there for?
I can’t recall which of my seminary professors first made the point, but I’ve never forgotten his emphasis on the word “therefore” whenever it appears in Scripture. “Always ask the question,” he said, “what is ‘therefore’ there for?” That is to say, what is its function? To what does it refer? Does it point backwards or forwards? How does it help set your passage in context? It obviously means, at least to some degree, that what is about to be said is grounded in or based upon what has preceded. So what is it there for?
Nowhere is this better seen than in Ephesians 4:1 where Paul writes, “I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called.”
I recently made this point in a sermon at Bridgeway in order to drive home yet again what it means when we say we are a gospel-centered church. The gospel, I said, is not simply about how you get saved. The gospel is not simply for unbelievers. The gospel is also about how you get sanctified. The gospel is for believers. In fact, everything we are and do as Christians throughout the course of our lives on earth and in the church is grounded in and flows out of and is shaped by the gospel.
What this simple word means is that everything Paul is going to say in Ephesians 4-6 flows out of what he’s already said in chapters 1-3.
Let me illustrate it this way. All of you know how children at around the age of two or three begin to respond to everything told to them by their parents. Sadly, in many cases it extends even into their teen years! When given a command or when told to do something, they respond with the simple word: “Why?”
“Honey, please finish your dinner?” “Why?”
“Sweetheart, don’t throw that brick at your sister?” “Why?”
“I’ve told you a hundred times, don’t put your toy truck in the toilet?” “Why?”
And all too often, by now somewhat exasperated, we as parents answer them by saying: “Because I said so!”
That’s not very helpful and it rarely satisfies the curiosity of a child. What we need to understand is that God is not doing that here in Ephesians 4. He doesn’t issue the subsequent extended list of exhortations and then, when we ask “Why?”, respond with an authoritative: “Because I said so!”
The word “therefore” tells us that everything he is about to command and call for in his people has a reason; it is grounded in something real and substantial. There is a rock-solid spiritual foundation for every one of these exhortations.
“Walk in a manner worthy” of your calling (4:1). “Why?” Because God “has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places” (1:3).
Let “humility” characterize your interactions with one another (4:2). “Why?” Because God “chose us” in Christ before the foundation of the world (1:4).
Be “gentle” and “patient” with one another (4:2). “Why, God?” Because I have “predestined” you “for adoptions as sons through Jesus Christ” (1:5).
“Bear with one another in love” (4:2). “Why, God?” Because in Christ “we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses” (1:5).
We could continue by pointing to each of these commands about how we are to live in community with one another, then asking “Why?”, and then yet again appeal to what God has done for us in the gospel of Christ: You received the Holy Spirit when you believed and are now sealed and indwelt by him to empower you for godly living (1:11-14). God, in his mercy, caused you to come alive and saved you apart from any work you might perform. God has refashioned believing Jews and Gentiles into “one new man” (2:15), by which he means the church, the body of Christ, where ethnic identity is irrelevant and the only thing that matters is trusting Jesus. And on and on we could give reasons why we should do the things commanded in Ephesians 4.
In other words, all of Ephesians 1-3 is gospel! It is all about what God has graciously and lovingly done in and through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus to reconcile you and me to himself forever.
What this means is that the pursuit of community and the responsibilities that come with it (see Ephesians 4-6) is the only proper response to the saving love of God in Jesus. Or to turn that around, if you have been a recipient of the saving grace of God in Christ, if you have experienced the forgiveness of your sins, if you have been justified by faith alone in Christ alone, if the Holy Spirit now dwells within you, the only appropriate and expected reaction is to give yourself to other Christians in the building up of the body of Christ.
In light of all this, because of everything God graciously gave you and Christ died and rose to obtain for you, live in unity and peace and fellowship and mutual encouragement with other Christians so that together you might be built up and grow up into mature men and women whose lives reflect the glory and greatness of God.
Again, living in community with other Christians, serving and being served by other Christians, is the natural, expected, inescapable consequence of having been made a recipient of the saving grace of God in Christ!
The same point could be made by looking at the phrase in v. 1 where Paul says we are to walk “in a manner worthy” of our calling. This word “worthy” points to the standard or measure or criterion to which our lives are expected to conform (see Phil. 1:27; Col. 1:10; 1 Thess. 2:12). The world says you should embrace a radical freedom in which you can do whatever you want without regard for anyone or anything else aside from your own fleshly desires. But that’s not what God says to us in his Word. We have a standard to which we are called. We have moral and spiritual guideliness that govern our behavior. Our “calling” is not to give ourselves to sinful self-indulgence but to a lifestyle that magnifies Jesus.
But note well. When Paul speaks of living a life “worthy” of our calling, he is not saying that we become worthy of being called but that, having been called, we are to live in a way that reflects the glory, beauty, holiness, and great privilege of being a child of God. We are to live in a way that is befitting the grace of God already shown us in Christ, a life that is appropriate to what we have received by faith alone.
So, the next time you are reading your Bible and you come across “therefore” (some examples include Romans 1:24; 2:1; 5:1; 5:12; 5:18; 8:1; 12:1; Gal. 5:1; Eph. 2:11; Phil. 2:12; 4:1), pause and ask and pursue what it is there for. You may find treasure!