Eight Cows and a Worthy Call

There’s a hinge screwed into Paul’s epistle to the Ephesians. You hear it creak when he turns to chapter 4 by urging believers “to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which [they had] been called” (Ephesians 4:1). Paul has already described, in an almost indelicate manner, what they were before they were called: spiritually dead people who followed Satan as their king and pursued the passions of their flesh. In a word, enemies of God (Ephesians 2:1–3). But grace prevailed and they received life and salvation in Christ. 

Then again, we hear the hinge as Paul swings the reader from what Christ has done to what Christ now enables us to do. With the gospel door open wide before us, Paul exhorts us to walk forward. But what does it look like for formerly dead people to walk in a manner that corresponds with the gift of life from the eternal God?

A Day in the Life of Johnny Lingo

Johnny Lingo was a character in a short piece of fiction written by Patricia McGerr in 1965 titled Johnny Lingo and the Eight-Cow Wife. Johnny was Polynesian and one of the sharpest traders in the South Pacific islands. Strong, bright, and rich, he was a leader among the people on the island of Nurabandi.

On the adjacent island of Kiniwata, there lived a woman named Sarita. Plain, skinny, and in desperate need of some Mary Kay products, Sarita was not exactly a looker. She often walked the village with a fretful disposition, shoulders sloping downward as if she carried some unseen burden. But for reasons known only to poets and prophets, Johnny loved Sarita and wanted her as his wife.

According to their custom, a prospective husband had to use cows to buy his wife from her father—sort of a reverse dowry. Two cows would secure an average wife. Adding another cow would get you an upgrade; two more would buy a head-turning beauty and 4-slice, stainless steel toaster. 

But then something remarkable happened. In a transaction that shocked the islanders, Johnny shelled out eight cows for Sarita. 

Why pay quadruple the going rate for Sarita? Simple. Johnny wanted her to know that in his eyes she was worth more than any other woman. It was a loud statement from him of her value. To Johnny, it was how he saw Sarita. She was an eight-cow wife.

Word of this unprecedented bride price spread far and wide. But that’s not the end of the story.

One day a visitor came who had heard the story of Johnny’s marriage and wanted to see the bride for herself. When she did, she couldn’t believe her eyes. Sarita “was the most beautiful woman I have ever seen,” the woman reflected. “The lift of her shoulders, the tilt of her chin, the sparkle of her eyes all spelled a pride to which no one could deny her the right.”

Do you see what happened? Sarita became what Johnny declared her to be: an eight-cow wife. She was walking worthy of her call.

Synch Your Life to God’s Call

Like Sarita, we’re called to become what God has declared us to be. God saved us, adopted us, forgave us, declared us righteous in his sight, and altered our desires so they bend toward him. Then he says to us, “Now become what I have declared you to be.”

Paul begins to explain what walking worthy actually looks like in the next two verses: “. . . with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” (Ephesians 4:2–3).

Humility, gentleness, patience, forbearance. This is what it looks like to walk consistent with the mind-boggling privileges we enjoy in Christ. We are called by God to synchronize our life to what God has accomplished for us. “Become”, says God, “what I have declared you to be!”. 

 “The basic idea” observes Sinclair Ferguson, “is that a life that is worthy of the gospel expresses in the form of a lifestyle what the gospel teaches in the form of a message. Such a life takes on the character that reflects the character of the Lord Jesus Christ”.

What does that mean for you today? What does it look like to “express the gospel in the form of a lifestyle”? Maybe it starts with the first thing you encounter today that doesn’t conform to your wishes. Rather than irritation or entitlement, display a little humility. Remember, there’s only one perfect, omniscient, omni-competent Being in the universe. And it’s not the guy who stares back at you in the mirror. What might it look like today for you to astonish someone with the gospel being applied in your life? Greet them warmly. Surprise them with a gentle response to a mistake. Show patience and forbearance to someone who needs it. Seriously, this is the call–act consistent with who God says you are. God has declared you righteous and then called you to be holy. What does it look like to take that out for a spin in real life? I mean, today!

Because of Christ’s sacrifice on our behalf, God has declared you righteous in Christ. Use this day to walk in the manner of what he has spoken over you. 

Sarita knew she was an “eight-cow wife,” and it changed her whole demeanor. If you are trusting in Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, the price God paid for you was the “the precious blood of Christ” (1 Peter 1:19). You are far worth far more than eight cows. Set your sights today on living like it. Become what God has declared you to be!

Tenacious Tuesday Question

How does knowing what you are worth to the eternal, infinite, Creator change the way you will carry yourself today as you pursue humility, gentleness, patience, and unity with the body of Christ?


Heavenly Father, thank you for sparing no cost to purchase me and give me new life in Christ. Help me today, by the power of your Spirit, to walk in a manner worthy of my calling as your child.

Photo by Priscilla Du Preez on Unsplash

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