“As a prisoner for the Lord, then, I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received.” (Eph. 4:1)
Although he was not always the most elegant writer, the Apostle Paul was certainly rhetorically talented. He knew how to make a strong point. Consider, for example, some of what he says to Philemon in pleading that he receive the runaway slave Onesimus with kindness and love: “Therefore, although in Christ I could be bold and order you to do what you ought to do, yet I prefer to appeal to you on the basis of love” (vv. 8-9). This is a rhetorically strong approach because Paul manages to reference his apostolic authority as a basis for Philemon doing what he says while not insisting upon it alone. And when he tells Philemon that he will repay whatever debt Onesimus might owe him, he says: “I will pay it back — not to mention that you owe me your very self” (v. 19). In doing this, Paul shows both magnanimity, in being willing to pay the damages that Onesimus might owe Philemon, while also a position of superiority, reminding Philemon that whatever debt his former slave might owe him, Philemon’s debt to Paul is even greater.
This same rhetorical prowess is on display in this verse in Paul’s Epistle to the Ephesians. By calling attention to the fact that he is a prisoner for the Lord’s sake, his call to the Ephesians to live a life worthy of the Gospel is even stronger. He can shame them for their lax living and unseriousness and motivate them to be stricter with themselves, because he is suffering for Christ’s sake in prison. Of course, his purpose is not to shame them tout court, but rather to motivate them to live lives worthy of the Gospel by presenting himself as an example.
In light of what Paul does here, I would like to make a point about the ecclesial calendar. In the more “traditional” churches, such as in Roman Catholicism, Eastern Orthodoxy, and Anglicanism, there are many feast days for a number of saints from all times of the history of the Church. In these days, for example, the sermon preached during the liturgy might make reference to the life and example of faithfulness of the saint in question. Contemporary Christians look to their forebears in the faith for an example of how to live in fidelity to Christ in the face of the dangers of this world.
This seems to me a perfectly reasonable and salutary practice, if it is done intentionally. Paul himself, in this passage from the Epistle to the Ephesians, teaches us that we can learn from the examples of the faithful, and it is especially from those who’ve suffered for the Gospel that we have much to learn. In this light, we might very well do ourselves some good to consider often the many people in Christ’s Church who, by the help of the Holy Spirit, lived lives worthy of the Gospel to which they had been called.