So, God asks, “Where is your brother, Cain?”
The response? “What do you want from me? Am I expected to report back on everything Abel does, God? Do you want me to chart out a timeline of his day? …when he wakes up, what he eats, how long he works, and with whom he speaks? Am I responsible for the well-being of my adult brother, who, by the way, is perfectly capable of my making his own decisions? Am I my brother’s keeper?” (Genesis 4:8-9)
Well, are you? And, I’m not just talking about your biological siblings. I’m talking about those inside your church. All those men and women and boys and girls who stand in the family of God. Do you care about their spiritual needs, their spiritual struggles, their spiritual questions? Or, is there a complete lack of interest? Is there an excuse meant to remove personal responsibility in protecting the life of others?
Carelessness can lead to death— and not just physical death, but spiritual death as well. So, God takes action to prevent such a spiritual catastrophe. With his Word, he urges you: Live a Life Worthy of the Calling You have Received. You can do that, because God has called you into one faith and God has equipped you for Christian service.
The first three chapters of this letter [Ephesians] have been leading up to this key point. But first, remember how it begins. God unveils everything he has done for you. He chose [you] in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight (Ephesians 1:4). That’s not something you did; it is God who chose you. It is God who puts Jesus on trial for the commands and regulations you (and I) trashed. It is God who makes you spiritually alive by taking away the holy and blameless life of Jesus (2:4-5).
Do you comprehend just what it is God has done? He has placed Christ into your heart (3:17). God has called you into one faith. One— meaning, the object you trust is Jesus. You confess that the only way into heaven comes through the One who pays your penalty for sin. Because of the work Jesus completed for you, you will never be locked away into the gloomy dungeons of hell. Instead, you live with open access to God both now and forever.
This life-saving action is not yours alone, as though you will stand in heaven by yourself. Rather, each person brought to faith stands beside you. Each of you individually have been brought into the same family of God. That means, you share something in common, just like brothers and sisters do. So, are you [your brother’s keeper]?
In the February issue of the Forward in Christ [our synod’s magazine], Wisconsin Synod President, Mark Schroeder, noted “Every year, roughly 8,000 members of our WELS congregations leave for various reasons.” (https://wels.net/when-brothers-and-sisters-really-care/) Eight-thousand souls! Take the entire population of Clare, Harrison, and Houghton Lake (that’s 8,000 people!) and imagine it gone. Absolutely no cars in the streets, no kids in school, no couples in the park, nothing. Gone. Eight-thousand souls. each. year.
Unfortunately, those same sad numbers affect your congregation also. Let’s be clear: I am not referring to those made homebound due to physical limitations. I am not speaking about those who have moved from earth to heaven. I mean those who worshipped here, walked out the doors, and never returned. Do you know someone like that? It may be your spiritually lazy daughter. Yes, she knows God exists. She knows Jesus died on a cross for her benefit. Yet, sleep is more important than the life Jesus gave up for her. Sunday morning shopping is more important. Nonstop weekend getaways are more important. Or, perhaps you think about your confirmed grandson who just graduated. First time away from home; first time without living under the rules of mom and dad. “Freedom!” he calls it. ‘Free’ to challenge what the Bible teaches! ‘Free’ to decide if God is really necessary or not. ‘Free’ to wallow in shameful behavior! ‘Free’ to place “self” onto the pedestal of God! Or, maybe the spot open next to you was once filled by the friend who still lives in town, but doesn’t return because no one cares enough to ask her about her spiritual questions. Are you your brother’s keeper, concerned about the spiritual life of your fellow Christians?
Or, are you like me, mumbling out the same bumbling excuses Cain did? “I care, but… I do not have the time to call my sister and ask why she doesn’t worship anymore.” “I care, but… that’s Pastor’s job. Let him chase down my teenager.” “I care, but… my friend will insult me and that will make me sad.”
Dear family of God, the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, looking for someone to devour (1 Peter 5:8). That’s his goal: destroy faith. He loves it when you (and I) think so little of this oneness we have (1) with God and (2) with each other. Because he knows that if you (and I) create excuses to do nothing, then he has a free shot to lunge and destroy another soul.
Remember, God has called you into one faith. He sends Jesus, your perfect Brotherly-Keeper. For thirty-three years on earth, Jesus lives to rescue you. He cares for your soul that he lives his entire life obedient to the commands of God. He cares for your soul that he sacrifices himself to free you from the jowls of that devilish lion. He cares for your soul that he rises from death and announces victory to you!
With one baptism, faith in Jesus as Savior started in your heart. The Holy Spirit still grows your faith as you look forward to entering your one great hope: eternal life in heaven. The one God and Father, the One in control over all creation, still assures you, “I have called you into one faith.”
Yes, you are just one person. Yet, look around and see the many others who share the same faith, same belief in Jesus as Savior as you do. God has called into one faith, and therefore, one family. That means you do not live concerned about yourself alone. Living a Life Worthy of the Calling You have Received also means caring for your fellow believers. You can do that, because God has equipped you for Christian service.
Really? You? Me? Isn’t that the instant response? “Who am I?” Listen to what God has handed you: to each one of us grace has been given as Christ apportioned it. Do you see that? Each of you are different with different life experiences and different talents and gifts and abilities— and that’s ok. In fact, that’s wonderful! It’s great that I cannot do the all the things you can. It’s great that you cannot do all the things I can. Because that means I can reach people in unique ways with the unique gifts I have and you can reach people in unique ways with the unique gifts you have.
God has distributed his gifts as he sees fit to benefit believers everywhere. He gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers, to prepare God’s people (that’s you!) for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up. Did you catch that? The Pastor of your congregation studies God’s Word. He teaches God’s Word. He applies the Word to the many situations of life. Yet, he is not the only one who serves. God equips you to serve also!
God has placed his Word into your heart and on your lips so that you might tell others about Jesus. God uses you to build up the body of Christ. God uses you to encourage your fellow believers to press on towards your heavenly hope.
Evaluate the gifts God has handed you. You may give out the biggest affectionate hugs that tell someone you care. You may have the life-experience to encourage those who struggle with cancer or who have lost a spouse or have struggled with addictions. You may have the comforting words to cheer up the sad. See the gifts God has given you and remember that God has equipped you for works of service. God sends you out with those gifts to encourage your fellow believers to remain with God.
That’s why I included this diagram in your bulletin again. “FRIENDS WHO NEED JESUS.” That refers to those without faith, but it is also there to remind you: Believers need Jesus too. Is there someone you know slow to worship? Some are your children. Some are your friends. Some are the ones who sat beside you in the pew. God equips to go and reach them.
He even gives you the words to say. Look at verse 15: Speaking the truth in love, we will in all things grow up into him who is the Head, that is, Christ. Believers grow more mature—that is, their trust in God’s promises swells, their knowledge of God’s actions grow, their reliance on God’s Word increases. It all happens by speaking the truth in love.
When you encounter Christians growing sluggish in their faith, speak the truth in love. Gently encourage them to worship the One who gave his all for them. Be patient if the results seem slow. Be persistent in reminding them of this truth. Understand that love might be ‘tough.’ You may have to speak stern words to a wandering soul, plainly warning: “Christians love to be with Christ. You call yourself Christian, but make excuses to remain from Christ. Which one is it?” (Matthew 7:17-20) It is loving to speak what God says about eternal life and eternal death. It is loving to warn what unbelief reaps and what God has done to rescue the world.
God equips you for works of service. Speak the Word; let God work on the heart. God is not telling you to change hearts. After all, you cannot. That’s God’s job. He changed your heart. He will change the hearts of others with his same Word. God simply reminds you (and me) that we walk together. The body of believers is joined and held together by every supporting ligament (that’s you!), grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work.
Live a Life Worthy of the Calling You have Received. What a calling it is! God has called you into one faith. He has made you part of this body, one of his, one who clings to life with God.
Yet, look around. See the others who stand with you. What joy it is to encourage each other to press on to the eternal glories of heaven! You can do that, because God has equipped you for Christian service. With your words, actions, your care, you strive to strengthen the body of Christ so that no one is lost.
Carelessness can lead to death— and not just physical death, but spiritual death as well. That’s why God takes action to prevent such a spiritual catastrophe. With his Word, he urges you: Live a Life Worthy of the Calling You have Received. You can do that, because God has called you into one faith and God has equipped you for Christian service.