All sorts of bad things can happen when you’re without navigational equipment. You might not realize how much you rely on a compass or a GPS signal – until you find yourself in Kansas City, Mo., instead of Denver, Colo. (This actually happened, in case you’re wondering.)
Mokoluaniu, a blogger on a drone website, almost hit a tree while flying his drone. He encountered compass interference and a loss of GPS control. Flying your drone without GPS is not recommended. He writes, “I just bypassed the GPS connection because I was a noob and didn’t realize how important it was. I was trying to get a quick shot of my hotel balcony and was surrounded by tall buildings with Wi-Fi interference.” This is when he nearly hit a tree.
You don’t have to fly drones or hike in the woods to need a compass to augment your orienteering skills. If you travel at all, you’re using navigational equipment without being aware of it. Your vehicle, especially if it’s relatively new, probably has a screen with a map option. So, as you drive through Portsmouth, New Hampshire, on I-95 and have a hankering for Jamba Juice, you can ask for directions to the closest franchise.
Pilots, archaeologists, moving companies, farmers, loggers, civil engineers, surveyors, geologists, mining companies and Navy SEALs all use a compass or a sophisticated form of one in their work.
We know what compasses are. Maybe we remember the little hand-held compass we used as kids in scouting or at summer camp. It was round, and there was a little needle under the glass bouncing around on a pin, and it sort of pointed north. This is a magnetic compass, and you can build a basic one with a needle and a cork in a bowl of water.
Another type is a gyrocompass. This compass does not use the Earth’s magnetism to show direction. Instead, a spinning gyroscope works in conjunction with the Earth’s axis of rotation to point to true north. This type of compass is often used on ships and aircraft.
The solar compass uses the sun as a navigational tool.
And then there is the moral compass. You might say that this compass uses the Son – the Son of God – as a directional tool. It is a compass that points to our True North and keeps our steps on a good and trustworthy path. A compass helps us travel with confidence in the right direction. If it doesn’t, you need a new compass.
A new year is before us. We’re optimistic. We’ve probably already made some tentative travel plans. We might hope to see friends and family we’ve not been able to see in the past year. We have professional dreams and goals we’re eager to achieve.
This is a year when we plan to fling the doors wide open – to realize our potential. This year is going to be big!
But we had better check our navigational tools and the skill set we have for using them. A review might be in order, and one place to start is by considering the points on a compass.
According to one definition, the points of a compass are “the vectors by which planet-based directions are conventionally defined.” There are four principal points of the compass — north, east, south, and west. These are called the cardinal points. Between these cardinal points are the intercardinal points – northeast, southeast, southwest, and northwest. These can be divided as well, until you have a compass with as many as 32 points, even 128!
Let’s regard the text before us as a compass with four cardinal points that guide us as we navigate through life.
Although there are many points of the Ephesian compass, the cardinal points help us understand our place in the world and in our relationship with God. We need not be confused as to who we are, and who is directing our steps. The apostle Paul immediately provides what we could say are the north-south points on our compass: chosen and children. The Earth’s axis is formed by the north and south poles. The planet rotates on this axis. It is not a stretch to suggest that being chosen and being children of God are pivotal points on our moral and theological compass.
First, we are chosen. Note that we were chosen “in Christ before the foundation of the world” (v. 4). Let’s not fuss about predestination and issues of free will when we linger over this amazing verse.
Paul’s intention is to remind the Ephesian church that Gentiles, not just Jews, were chosen. While the Jews referred to themselves as the “chosen people,” now, in Jesus Christ, the circle has widened, the boat is bigger, and the tent has been expanded. We, too, are chosen.
Paul reminds his primarily Gentile audience that God has a sweeping and expansive plan for the unfolding history of the world, and that they — and we today — occupy a central role in this plan.
So where do we stand at the beginning of this year? We face an unknown future as someone who was chosen in the mind of God and according to the will of God before continents were formed, oceans came into being or before the stars were thrown into the dark tapestry of the heavens.
Paul goes on to identify two intercardinal points, if you will. We were chosen in Christ “to be holy and blameless before him in love” (v. 4). The two words might sound like synonyms, but they’re quite different in meaning.
We were chosen to be holy, that is, morally pure, without blemishes or fault lines. The word includes the idea of “separation.” The instruments of worship in ancient Judaism (and even today) were separated or singled out for use in the rituals of tabernacle worship. The sanctuary was a holy place because it was designated solely for worship purposes.
We, too, are set apart in that same sense as instruments for the glory of God. Our bodies, Paul says to the Corinthian church, are temples of God, and we should treat them as holy (1 Corinthians 3:16-17). This is an important biblical vector. We strive to live a lifestyle that conforms to the highest possible moral standard.
Blameless, however, is a judicial term. It means that we were chosen to live in justice and fairness. The path we walk in the coming year will be wide enough for others to walk with us without fear of being misused or abused. No earthly court will touch us, nor will the heavenly one. We have no rap sheet, no record. We will continue to live a spotless life.
It’s an interesting concept, especially if we reference the “Me Too” movement, during which scores of individuals, hitherto believed to be blameless, have been exposed. They have not been morally pure, nor blameless.
Second, we are not only chosen people of God, but children of God. This appellation is more personal. We are not children by nature, but by adoption, the apostle says. This dovetails with the concept of being chosen. All children are special, but an adopted child is even more special. They were chosen.
Look out over the unknown terrain of the coming year. Now remember that you are a child of God. Why is this important?
Do children with loving parents worry about their future? Do they wonder how they will survive? Do they even bother themselves with these types of adult concerns? No! They have complete and utter confidence that their earthly parents will provide for their needs.
Jesus references this concept in the “Sermon on the Mount.” Jesus says, “Therefore do not worry, saying, ‘What will we eat?’ or ‘What will we drink?’ or ‘What will we wear?’ … indeed your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things” (Matthew 6:31-32).
Now to what might be called the east-west cardinal points. We are redeemed, and we are forgiven. Both of these words, fraught with theological and salvific meaning, are possible only because of the grace of God that has been freely bestowed on us in Christ Jesus (vv. 6-8; see also 2:8-10).
These are east-west compass points, based on what the psalmist says in Psalm 103: “As far as the east is from the west, so far he removes our transgressions from us” (v. 12).
We are redeemed. Although in ruin because of sin, and although broken and dysfunctional, through Christ we have been made new and usable again.
We are forgiven. Everything ugly and unsightly has been blotted out. Our offenses against a holy God have been removed and forgotten. At the start of a new year, we are a tabula rosa. By God’s amazing grace, it is never too soon to begin again as redeemed and forgiven, chosen children of God!
And here’s an intercardinal point. All of this means that we have a purpose for the coming year: To bring glory and praise to God (v. 12).
To review: The four cardinal points of the Ephesian compass are the north-south vectors of our status as chosen/children of God. The east-west points of redemption and forgiveness locate us squarely within God’s vast plan of extravagant grace and salvation. Everything we are and hope to be falls within these four vectors, which in themselves encompass God’s eternal plan for us.
A compass can’t help you if it’s buried in your backpack or gathering dust on a bookshelf. Here are some important reminders about using your compass.
Always trust the compass. The compass will not lie to you. Trust it, even when your instincts or preferences are suggesting a different path. You have a compass for a reason. If you do not trust the compass, it’s just taking up space. Your compass is a guidance device that ensures you have the correct heading and that you’re in the place you need to be. As a traveler and sojourner through life, you want to arrive safely at your destination. As with most commercial airlines (“Here at Delta Airlines, safety is our most important priority.”), so too, God wants us to arrive safely – as the liturgy expresses it – in the “joy of our true eternal home.” Trust the compass.
Consult it frequently. This is a crazy, upside-down, topsy-turvy, goofy and dangerous world. Boundaries, fault lines, mile posts, and road conditions are always changing. Consult your moral and biblical compass frequently to make certain you are where you think you are.
Be aware of variations and deviations. The magnetic north of a compass is not true north. Professional navigators have the means and knowledge to adjust for this variation. Moreover, shifts and irregularities of the Earth’s magnetic field can alter the position of the magnetic north. Ships and trucks that have enormous amounts of ferrous metals in their construction can cause deviations when navigating across oceans and over roads.
These deviations and variations can be recognized, and adjustments can be made. Responding to these irregularities is something Christians do all the time, and it means that we cannot be too judgmental of others who seem to be following a path different than ours. They may be headed in the right general direction but on a path that differs theologically or politically from our path. We must be mindful of our own steps and tone down our rhetoric about the paths of others.
On the other hand, we must remember that it is easy to think we’re on the right path when, in reality, we’re not even headed on a magnetic north heading, let alone a true north heading. We have fooled ourselves. We have put false idols, false images and attractive destinations ahead of the righteous path on which we should be traveling.
The prophet Jeremiah addresses this: “The heart is devious above all else; it is perverse — who can understand it?” (17:9). The answer comes immediately: “I the Lord test the mind and search the heart, to give to all according to their ways, according to the fruit of their doings” (17:10).
This brings us to the final note about using our compass: Always be aware of our True North, Jesus Christ. It is no coincidence that Jesus Christ is mentioned directly or indirectly (pronouns) as many as 16 times in this passage. He is our True North – north according to the Earth’s axis, not magnetic north. There is nothing truer than Jesus. If we are following in the shadow of the Son, we need not worry about directional issues. He is leading us home.
The apostle Paul writes a pastoral letter to the church at Ephesus, and he begins this fascinating epistle by lifting up Jesus Christ as the center of all things. He takes this approach in his letter to the Colossians as well. In fact, Jesus Christ is Paul’s True North. His passion for Jesus, his desire to follow Jesus, and his need to be obedient and to know the will of the Lord is his overriding concern.
In Paul’s message to the church, we hear him suggesting that we will go through experiences and troubles when we feel utterly lost. We’ll be in a soupy fog that brings us to a standstill. We might be in a sandstorm of confusion and despair. We won’t have a clue as to which way is north.
The beautiful thing about being in a meaningful relationship with Christ is that we will never lose our compass, nor can anyone take it from us. Seriously, our compass, properly defined, is our faith. The points of our faith have brought millions of pilgrims over millennia safely into harbor.
In even the most confusing of times, it will do the same for us!