We had just moved to Poland and we were practicing our Polish with some children.
In a casual conversation, one of the boys asked us “Is it ok to say bad words in English, if you don’t know what they mean?” Of course, he was the Pastor's son!
Over forty years of children’s ministry and raising my own children, I have come to learn what a PK and MK are. Pastor's Kids and Missionary Kids often know a lot about the Bible, have memorized countless Bible verses, and are full of Bible information but have had trouble translating that into real living.
While this phenomenon has many causes, one is the lack of focus on response in our Bible teaching. We spend enormous amounts of time on Bible facts, Bible information, and right answers but not as much on response and real-life application.
This is certainly not the way that Paul carried on his ministry.
When we read Paul’s letters, we can’t miss the pastoral concern he had for the response of the recipients.
A significant portion of each letter addresses the life issues the churches were facing, issues ranging from tensions between Jewish and Gentile converts (the books of Romans and Galatians) to big matters of immorality (1 Corinthians).
For Paul, theology was not a philosophy detached from life; neither was Bible teaching merely a set of doctrines to be debated.
Instead, Paul—like Jesus Himself—regarded theology as a set of beliefs that affected every aspect of a Christ-follower’s life. After all, a person’s thinking should affect actions and help shape self-identity.
Ephesians: A Letter of Having People Respond to the Gospel
Paul’s writings offer numerous examples, but we will focus on his letter to the Christians in Ephesus.
In this letter, as with his others, we will see that having people respond to the gospel of Jesus Christ with love and obedience was an essential objective of Paul’s ministry:
"As a prisoner for the Lord, then, I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received. Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love." (Ephesians 4:1-2)
Most scholars divide the letter to the Ephesians into at least three sections.
Chapters 1-3 establish some great theological truths.
Chapters 4-6:9 focus on how the Ephesians live in response to that truth.
Tension existed between Jewish and Gentile converts in the churches in Ephesus. Paul wrote to remind them that not only has Christ reconciled all of us to God but that He has also reconciled us to each other.
All of us—Jew and Gentile alike—are sinners (Ephesians 2:1-3), and all of us have been declared right before God despite our sins (Ephesians 2:4-5). We are all one in Jesus Christ (2:11-19), who rescued us from a world of sin, rebellion, and sorrow.
As the new people of God, reconciled with Him and with each other, the Ephesians—along with Paul—were declaring that good news to the world (Ephesians 3:1-12).
The essence of the good news for boys and girls is the same as it was for the Ephesians: through Jesus Christ, we can be made right with God and with each other.
After establishing the truth of the gospel, Paul addressed the way his audience—then and now—should respond to this truth. God had called the Ephesians to be His people (Ephesians 4:1), and they were to live accordingly.
These new believers were to respond to that truth with action: they were, for instance, to be humble, gentle, patient, and bearing with each other in love (v. 2).
Simply put, if we are reconciled with God and with each other, we have to live like it. Our response to God’s salvation is to be in line with the biblical truth we are sharing.
One reason Paul wrote to the Ephesians was to encourage them to respond to the truth of the gospel, and he called the Ephesian church not to a one-time response, but rather to an ongoing response that would transform their community life.
The third and final section of Ephesians ends with a warning that our response to God’s truth is not taking place on a neutral field. All around us rages a spiritual war that requires us to put on the armor God provides (Ephesians 6:10-20).
Satan would have us believe lies, or if we know the truth, he is pleased when we live in a manner that denies our knowledge of God and His truth.
Satan can and does use the response of God’s people to discredit the truth they are representing. Life is not played out on a neutral spiritual field.
I attended Louisiana State University, and LSU football fans know what it means to not have a neutral field. The football stadium, affectionately known as Death Valley, is one of the most feared venues in all of college football. It is where opposing teams come to have their dreams die!
One of my good friends played at USC in the 1970s during the heyday of Charles White, Pat Haden, and national championships. He told me that when they ran out of the tunnel onto the LSU field, they couldn’t even hear each other.
The stadium sound system blasted the roar of Mike the Tiger, the crowd was in a frenzy, and the Trojans thought they were going to be fed to the lions like the Coliseum in Rome! Hardly a neutral playing field!
Similarly, our children today live in a world that is no friend to God, a field that is far from neutral.
Satan does not want children of any age to respond to God’s Word. He would rather children focus on head knowledge and information that is disconnected from real-life response.
Simply stated, he would rather have children know about love than actually be loving. Like the Apostle Paul, we should teach the truth and make certain to give boys and girls every opportunity to respond to that truth in real life!