(Appeared first in April 2011, The Mennonite. Reprinted with permission.)
By Ervin Stutzman
I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you.—Ephesians 1:18 (TNIV)
There is one body, and one Spirit, even as ye are called in one hope of your calling.—Ephesians 4:4 (TNIV)
God intends that the church be a hopeful place. The Apostle Paul often spoke of that hope and made great effort to help others comprehend it. Paul’s hope was inextricably linked to the person and work of Jesus Christ. It was based on the certainty of God’s calling, not merely on some weak and wishful thinking on the part of believers.
In his letter to the Ephesians, Paul reflected on the ways they had once lived in darkness, without hope and without God in the world (4:18, 5:8). And he prayed that the eyes of their heart would be enlightened. Perhaps Paul was reflecting on his own conversion, thinking of the way scales fell from his eyes when Ananias prayed for him (Acts 9:18). It is possible, as Paul implies, for even believers to be virtually blind to the hope that God has in store for them.
In hope we cast our gaze to the future, to the grand consummation of salvation, the summing up of all that Jesus Christ can and will make possible for those who put their trust in him. The promised treasures of the heavenly kingdom provide security to the believer, a sense of assurance that God will make good on every promise in Scripture. This hope rests not merely on human endeavor but on God’s initiative. It is fueled not by mere human optimism but by God’s action in the world. It is a spiritual vision perceived by the “eyes of the heart.”
However, true followers of Jesus Christ do not merely rest in the hope of eternal salvation, the confidence that we will escape punishment and win God’s eternal reward. The hope of our calling also has a present dimension, shaping our lives toward noble ends in the present world. That is why Paul encouraged the Ephesians to live a life worthy of the calling they have received.
He wanted them to walk the path of life with assurance that they were called and loved by God. He longed for their hope-filled calling to make a vital difference in their daily activities.
I also see hope writ large in Jesus’ well-known invitation to the crowds at Galilee: “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light” (Matthew 11:28-30).
The call to come to Jesus for respite is also a call to work. It is a call to take up the yoke alongside Jesus, to learn from him and carry our share of the burden in the work of the kingdom. This is not a picture of an easy life but an “easy” or “well-fitting” yoke. This is a picture of God’s grace, a calling to share both the security of eternal salvation and the significance of daily participation with Jesus in God’s redemption of the world.
We have hope for the future because Jesus proclaimed and demonstrated the kingdom of God. It was a foretaste of God’s eternal reign. The good work that Jesus began among his early disciples will someday be consummated through the redemption of the whole creation, including us. Until then, we are called to invest in hope by following God’s call to grow as communities of grace, joy and peace, so that God’s healing and hope flow through us to the world.