Live in Unity

This passage has a very practical threefold aim: to promote the unity (v3), diversity (v7) and maturity (v13) of the people of God.

4:1 I, therefore, the prisoner for the Lord, urge you to live worthily of the calling with which you have been called, 4:2 with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, 4:3 making every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.

‘For three chapters Paul has been unfolding for his readers the eternal purpose of God being worked out in history. Through Jesus Christ, who died for sinners and was raised from death, God is creating something entirely new, not just a new life for individuals but a new society. Paul sees an alienated humanity being reconciled, a fractured humanity being united, even a new humanity being created.

Now the apostle moves on from the new society to the new standards which are expected of it. So he turns from exposition to exhortation, from what God has done (in the indicative) to what we must be and do (in the imperative), from doctrine to duty, ‘from the credenda…to the agenda’ (Simpson), from mind stretching theology to its down-to-earth, concrete implications in everyday living.’ (Stott)

As a prisoner for the Lord – The indicates the level of commitment Paul expects from himself and others. He was a prisoner precisely because of the kind of zeal he now appeals for in his readers. ‘He speaks as a prisoner not to excite sympathy, not merely to add weight to his exhortation, but rather as exulting that he was counted worthy to suffer for Christs sake.’ (Hodge)

Then – = ‘therefore’ – the NIV slightly obscures the important link between the present appeal and the preceding doctrinal foundation. ‘The exhortations of this part of the Epistle are built on the conscious enjoyment of the privileges mentioned in the former part. Compare Eph 4:32 with Eph 1:7 Eph 5:1 with Eph 1:5 Eph 4:30, with Eph 1:13 Eph 5:15, with Eph 1:8.’ (JFB)

I urge you – ‘He has taught them, and he has prayed for them (Eph 1:15-23 and Eph 3:14-19); now he addresses to them a solemn appeal. Instruction, intercession and exhortation constitute a formidable trio of weapons in any Christian teacher’s armoury.’ (Stott)

Live a life – Lit. ‘walk’. We are to walk in worthiness, Eph 4:1, in holiness, Eph 4:17; in love, Eph 5:2; in light, Eph 5:8; in wisdom, Eph 5:15.

Worthy of the calling you have received – This calling is not so much an invitation as a vocation. We are not beckoned, but summoned. This calling has been dealt with in the chs 1-3, and is essentially as calling to membership of the church, the body of Christ.

‘Man’s practices are the best indexes of his principles.’ (Stephen Charnock)

‘The doctrines of the Bible are all practical and its laws all reasonable. Every doctrine has its practical therefore and every law its doctrinal because.’ (John Brown)

A basic standard of conduct is stipulated by the law of the land. Certain occupations (MP, JP, GP, minister of religion) demand a higher standard of behaviour. The Christian’s calling is the highest of all, and so sets the highest standards.

To what have we been called? ‘The calling in question is to share in Christ’s rule over the new creation (Eph 1:20-22; 2:6), and to be part of the heavenly temple (Eph 2:19-22)’ (NBC). Or, we may say with Stott that the calling is (a) to be “one people,” and (b) to be a “holy people.” Or even more simply, we are called to be ‘holy and blameless’, to live to his praise and glory. Therefore, they must maintain and manifest their unity (Eph 4:1-16) and their purity (Eph 4:17-5:21). Paul is concerned that the believers, as a community and as individuals, would be strengthened by the Spirit of Christ (Eph 3:16-17) so that they would grow toward maturity. (Eph 4:11-16) Such maturity comes as they are kind and compassionate to one another, (Eph 4:32) living a life of love in imitation of God, as modeled in Christs self-giving, sacrificial servant ministry. (Eph 5:1-2) How this imitation of Christ works itself out concretely in the fellowship and common human relationships is dealt with in Chapters 5 and 6.

‘The calling which is wholly of God comes first, and a corresponding life is looked for as the fitting and appropriate fruit of that calling. Their walking can never render them worthy of the calling of God which is their of free grace; but having been enlightened and strengthened, as Paul had prayed that they might be, they are to bring forth fruits in the life, which will give evidence of the presence of the Holy Spirit and the indwelling of Christ in their hearts.’ (Macpherson)

‘That vocation was to sonship, Eph 1:5. This includes three things – holiness, exaltation, and unity. They were called to be conformed to the image of Christ, to share in his exaltation and glory, and to constitute one family as all are the children of God.’ (Hodge)

They have been called by grace to belong to his body; now they are urged to live lives that are worthy of that calling by maintaining their God-given unity.

‘This comprehensive principle offers us sure guidance in all doubtful situations which are not covered by specific precepts: “which course of action will be most worthy of the calling with which God has called us?”‘ (Wilson, quoting Bruce)

‘Thus does Paul exhort the church to be in the eyes of the world what it is in the mind of God.’ (MacDonald)

In Eph 4:1-16, Paul elaborates four propositions concerning Christian unity (cf. Stott):-

  1. It depends on the quality of our relationships with other Christians (v2)
  2. It is based on the oneness of God himself (vv3-6)
  3. It is enriched by the diversity on our gifts (vv7-12)
  4. It requires maturity of faith (vv13-16)

Belief and obedience

‘The Bible was written to be obeyed, and not simply studied, and this is why the words “therefore” and “wherefore” are repeated so often in the second half of Ephesians. (Eph 4:1,17,25 5:1,7,14,17,24) Paul was saying, “Here is what Christ has done for you. Now, in the light of this, here is what we ought to do for Christ.” We are to be doers of the Word, and not hearers only. (Jas 1:22) The fact that we have been called in Christ (Eph 1:18) ought to motivate us to walk in unity. (Eph 4:1-16) And the fact that we have been raised from the dead (Eph 2:1-10) should motivate us to walk in purity, (Eph 4:17-5:17) or, as Paul told the Romans, “walk in newness of life.” (Rom 6:4) we are alive in Christ, not dead in sins; therefore “put off the old man…and put on the new man. (Eph 4:22,24) Take off the grave clothes and put on the grace-clothes!’ (Wiersbe)

How to walk worthy of our calling:

1. Walk compassionately. Pity such as are yet uncalled. Hast thou a child that God has not yet called, a wife, a servant? Weep over their dying souls; they are in their blood, ‘under the power of Satan.’ Oh pity them! Let their sins more trouble you than your own sufferings. If you pity an ox or ass going astray, will you not pity a soul going astray? Show your piety by your pity.

2. Walk holily. Yours is a holy calling. 2 Tim 1:9. You are called to be saints, Rom 1:7. Show your vocation by a Bible conversation. Shall not flowers smell sweeter than weeds? Shall not they who are ennobled with grace have more fragrance in their lives than sinners? ‘As he who has called you is holy, so be ye holy in all manner of conversation.’ 1 Pet 1:1 5. Oh dishonour not your high calling by any sordid carriage! When Antigonus was going to defile himself with women, one told him, ‘he was a king’s son.’ Oh remember your dignity; ‘called of God!’ of the blood-royal of heaven. Do nothing unworthy of your honourable calling. Scipio refused the embraces of an harlot, because he was general of an army. Abhor all motions to sin, because of your high calling. It is not fit for those who are the called of God, to do as others; though others of the Jews did drink wine, it was not fit for the Nazarite, because he had a vow of separation upon him, and had promised abstinence. Though Pagans and nominal Christians take liberty to sin, yet it is not fit for those who are called out of the world, and have the mark of election upon them, to do so. Ye are consecrated persons, your bodies are the temples of the Holy Ghost, and your bodies must be a sacristy, or holy of holies.’ (Thomas Watson)

Stott notes that on this question of unity, too many of us start with ecclesiastical structure, whereas Paul starts with moral character.

Along with the gifts by which we differ (cf. v7), are graces that make us similar. The fruit of the Spirit, Gal 5:22, all have a tendency to promote unity.

Paul outlines the qualities that will characterise ‘a life worthy of the calling’ and will make possible the maintenance of ‘the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace’:- ‘the humility which springs from a realization of their own dependence on God’s grace and the worth of their fellow believers, the gentleness which issues in consideration of the needs of others, and the patience which is tolerant of the shortcomings of others. What will be necessary, in short, is a mutual forbearance that is only possible through the power of love.’ (Lincoln)

Humble – ‘The Greek is tapeinophrosune, and this is actually a word which the Christian faith coined. In Greek there is no word for humility which has not some suggestion of meanness attaching to it. Later Basil was to describe it as “the gem casket of all the virtues;” but before Christianity humility was not counted as a virtue at all. The ancient world looked on humility as a thing to be despised.

The Greek had an adjective for humble, which is closely connected with this noun-the adjective tapeinos. A word is always known by the company it keeps and this word keeps ignoble company. It is used in company with the Greek adjectives which mean slavish (andrapododes, doulikos, douloprepes), ignoble (agennes), of no repute (adoxos), cringing (chamaizelos, which is the adjective which describes a plant which trails along the ground). In the days before Jesus humility was looked on as a cowering, cringing, servile, ignoble quality; and yet Christianity sets it in the very forefront of the virtues.’ (DSB)

Stott concurs, saying that ‘Lowliness was much despised in the ancient world. The Greeks never used their word for humility (tapeinotēs) in a context of approval, still less of admiration. Instead they meant by it an abject, servile, subservient attitude, ‘the crouching submissiveness of a slave’. Not till Jesus Christ came was a true humility recognized. For he humbled himself. And only he among the world’s religious and ethical teachers has set before us as our model a little child.’

‘Lowliness found no place in heathen ethics since it was thought of as a form of abject grovelling. That it became a primary Christian virtue is entirely due to the example and teaching of Christ, (Jn 13:4ff) whose sinless humility consisted in taking the form of a servant and rendering a perfect obedience to God.’ (Php 2:5-8) (Wilson)

‘Humility is essential to unity. Pride lurks behind all discord, while the greatest single secret of concord is humility.’ (Stott)

Gentle – (Meek) ‘Aristotle, the great Greek thinker and teacher, has much to say about praotes. It was his custom to define every virtue as the mean between two extremes. On one side there was excess of some quality, on the other defect; and in between there was exactly its right proportion. Aristotle defines praotes as the mean between being too angry and never being angry at all. The man who is praus is the man who is always angry at the right time and never angry at the wrong time. To put that in another way, the man who is praus is the man who is kindled by indignation at the wrongs and the sufferings of others, but is never moved to anger by the wrongs and the insults he himself has to bear. So, then, the man who is (as in the King James Version), meek is the man who is always angry at the right time but never angry at the wrong time.

There is another fact which will illumine the meaning of this word. Praus is the Greek for an animal which has been trained and domesticated until it is completely under control. Therefore the man who is praus is the man who has every instinct and every passion under perfect control.’ (DSB)

Meekness ‘is the gentleness of the strong, whose strength is under control. It is the quality of a strong personality who is nevertheless master of himself and the servant of others.’ (Stott)

Humility and gentleness belong together. The humble person thinks little of his personal merits, and the meek person thinks little of his personal claims.

‘Meekness is not weakness. It is power under control. Moses was a meek man, (Nu 12:3) yet see the tremendous power he exercised. Jesus Christ was “meek and lowly in heart,” (Mt 11:29) yet he drove the money changers from the temple. In the Greek language, this word was used for a soothing medicine, a colt that had been broken, and a soft wind. In each case you have power, but that power is under control.’ (Wiersbe)

It is the meek who inherit the earth, Mt 5:5; cf. Ps 37:11. It was the coming King who was meek and lowly, Mt 21:5.

‘Undeserved honor always produces these effects upon the ingenuous. To be raised from the depths of degradation and misery and made the sons of God, and thus exalted to an inconceivable elevation and dignity, does and must produce humility and meekness. Where these effects are not found, we may conclude the exaltation has not taken place.’ (Hodge)

‘The blessed Savior says of himself, I am meek and lowly in heart, Mt 11:29; and the apostle speaks of the gentleness of Christ, 2 Cor 10:1. Meekness is that unresisting, uncomplaining disposition of mind, which enables us to bear without irritation or resentment the faults or injuries of others. It is the disposition of which the lamb, dumb before the shearers, is the symbol, and which was one of the most wonderful of all the virtues of the Son of God. The most exalted of all beings was the gentlest.’ (Hodge)

Patient – The underlying word ‘describes the spirit which will never give in and which, because it endures to the end, will reap the reward. Its meaning can best be seen from the fact that a Jewish writer used it to describe what he called “the Roman persistency which would never make peace under defeat.” In their great days the Romans were unconquerable; they might lose a battle, they might even lose a campaign, but they could not conceive of losing a war. In the greatest disaster it never occurred to them to admit defeat. Christian patience is the spirit which never admits defeat, which will not be broken by any misfortune or suffering, by any disappointment or discouragement, but which persists to the end.

But makrothumia has an even more characteristic meaning than that. It is the characteristic Greek word for patience with men. Chrysostom defined it as the spirit which has the power to take revenge but never does so. Lightfoot defined it as the spirit which refuses to retaliate. To take a very imperfect analogy-it is often possible to see a puppy and a very large dog together. The puppy yaps at the big dog, worries him, bites him, and all the time the big dog, who could annihilate the puppy with one snap of his teeth, bears the puppy’s impertinence with a forbearing dignity. Makrothumia is the spirit which bears insult and injury without bitterness and without complaint. It is the spirit which can suffer unpleasant people with graciousness and fools without irritation.

The thing which best of all gives its meaning is that the New Testament repeatedly uses it of God. Paul asks the impenitent sinner if he despises the patience of God. (Rom 2:4) Paul speaks of the perfect patience of Jesus to him. (1 Tim 1:16) Peter speaks of God’s patience waiting in the days of Noah. (1 Pet 3:20) he says that the forbearance of our Lord is our salvation. (2 Pet 3:15) If God had been a man, he would long since in sheer irritation have wiped the world out for its disobedience. The Christian must have the patience towards his fellow men which God has shown to him.’ (DSB)

‘Underlying the term patience…is the thought of “slowness in avenging wrong” (Abbott). To be longsuffering is to suffer long: there is no limit. It is used of God’s relation to man, (Rom 2:4; 9:22; 1 Pet 3:20; 2 Pet 3:15) and of Christian behaviour in relation to others (Col 3:12 and 2 Tim 4:2). It is above all a fruit of the Spirit.’ (cf. Gal 5:22) (MacDonald)

Bearing with one another – The underlying idea is of restraint. It is ‘bearing with another’s weakness, not ceasing to love one’s neighbour or friends because of those faults in them which perhaps offend or displease us’ (Abbott). This is a natural consequence of humility. ‘The truly humble Christian does not inquire into his neighbour’s faults; he takes no pleasure in judging them; he is occupied wholly with his own.’ (Athanasius)

‘There are many conflicts that can be properly solved only through confrontation, confession, forgiveness, and cooperative negotiation. But there are hundreds more that can be properly resolved simply by overlooking minor offenses – relinquishing rights for the sake of God’s kingdom. Therefore, before focusing on your rights, take a careful look at your responsibilities, and before you go to remove the speck from your brother’s eye, ask yourself, “Is this really worth fighting over?”‘ (Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn)

Love – ‘In Greek there are four words for love. There is eros, which is the love between a man and a maid and which involves sexual passion. There is philia which is the warm affection which exists between those who are very near and very dear to each other. There is storge which is characteristically the word for family affection. And there is agape, which the King James Version translates sometimes love and sometimes charity.

The real meaning of agape is unconquerable benevolence. If we regard a person with agape, it means that nothing that he can do will make us seek anything but his highest good. Though he injure us and insult us, we will never feel anything but kindness towards him. That quite clearly means that this Christian love is not an emotional thing. This agape is a thing, not only of the emotions, but also of the will. It is the ability to retain unconquerable good will to the unlovely and the unlovable, towards those who do not love us, and even towards those whom we do not like. Agape is that quality of mind and heart which compels a Christian never to feel any bitterness, never to feel any desire for revenge, but always to seek the highest good of every man no matter what he may be.’ (DSB)

Notice that love figures strongly at the beginning and end of this section (vv2, 16).

Make every effort sets the tone for this verse and lets us know that it is enthusiastic effort, not passivity, that bring true unity and peace. ‘It is hardly possible to render exactly the urgency contained in the underlying Greek verb. Not only haste and passion, but a full effort of the whole man is meant, involving the will, sentiment, reason, physical strength, and total attitude. The imperative mood of the participle found in the Greek text excludes passivity, quietism, a wait-and-see attitude, or a diligence tempered by all deliberate speed. Yours is the initiative! Do it now! I mean it! You are to do it! – Such are the overtones in verse 3.’ (Markus Barth)

The disunity of the church is, of course, a standing rebuke. The existence of 20,000 different denominations does not go unnoticed by a cynical world. The 20th-century churches has responded in the form of the ecumenical movement. This, however, has to often sacrificed truth in the quest for togetherness.

Keep – we are to maintain the unity that has already been inaugurated by Christ, 2:11-22. We are not to produce it (for that has already been done) but to maintain it.

Paul does not ask his readers to create this unity: God has already done that.  Chapter 2 says that God has taken people, who were not only at enmity with himself but also at loggerheads with each other, and has made them one.  While Paul does not ask his readers to create unity, he does urge them to keep it, to maintain it.

The unity of the Spirit – The unity we are to strenuously preserve is a spiritual unity. It is based on our common regeneration and indwelling by the Spirit of God. ‘Unity of the Spirit’ is that unity which of which the Holy Spirit is the author. Our Lord said, ‘Blessed are the peacemakers.’ When we think of the potential for conflict between Jewish and Gentile believers, we realise just what a supernatural thing real peace among the brethren is. The same attitude is referred to in Php 2:5.

We tend to think of the unity of the Spirit as insubstantial. But Spirit who formed the first creation also forms the second. The same Spirit who raised Christ from the dead will also quicken our mortal bodies. ‘The work of the Spirit is to give reality, to actualize. The Spirit is the down-payment, the reality of the final redemption given in advance. (Eph 1:11,13,14) The fellowship of the Spirit is more than a sense of camaraderie. It is a sharing together in the presence of the Spirit, and of his gifts. Those who share the Spirit are of one accord, united in the love of Christ. (Php 2:1-2) Fellowship in compassion includes fellowship in material blessings: those who share a common life will share daily bread and clothing. Koinonia in the New Testament often means sharing of this kind. (Ac 2:42; Rom 15:26; 2 Cor 8:4; Heb 13:16) The unity of the Spirit must be as tangible as a hand-clasp or a cup of water.’ (Edmund Clowney, The Church, 81)

Spirit…peace – On fighting and peace, see Jas 3:13-4:10.

‘For sinful man there must first be peace with God, the removal of sin’s enmity through the sacrifice of Christ (Rom. 5:1; Col. 1:20). Then inward peace can follow (Phil. 4:7), unhindered by the world’s strife (Jn. 14:27; 16:33). Peace between man and man is part of the purpose for which Christ died (Eph. 2) and of the Spirit’s work (Gal. 5:22); but man must also be active to promote it (Eph. 4:3; Heb. 12:14), not merely as the elimination of discord, but as the harmony and true functioning of the body of Christ (Rom. 14:19; 1 Cor. 14:33).’  (NBD)

We should not miss the paradoxical nature of this verse. ‘The unity of the Spirit’ (i.e. the unity which the Spirit creates) is, of course, indestructible. And yet we are to make every effort to keep it. It is ascribed to us, but also achieved by us. It is a gift, but also a goal. At least part of the meaning must be that the inner unity that God has created must be declared and demonstrated to the outside world. ‘We are to demonstrate to the world that the unity we say exists indestructibly is not the rather sick joke it sounds by a true and glorious reality…The fact of the church’s indestructible unity is no excuse for acquiescing in the tragedy of its actual disunity.’ (Stott) An illustration of this would be marriage: if a husband and wife experience tension and conflict between one another, a wise Christian counsellor would urge them to ‘make every effort to keep their God-given unity through the bond of peace.’

“We cannot do better than to follow the maxim which was enunciated by a certain Rupert Meldenius at the beginning of the seventeen-century and quoted with approval by Richard Baxter: ‘In fundamentals unity, in non-fundamentals (or”doubtful things”) liberty, in all things charity.'” (John Stott, Christ The Controversialist, p. 44.)

‘The message given by Jesus and the apostles is resoundingly clear: whether our conflicts involve minor irritations or major legal issues, peace and unity are of paramount importance to God. Therefore, peacemaking is not an optional activity for a believer…Token efforts will not satisfy this command; God wants you to strive earnestly, diligently, and continually to maintain harmonious relationships with those around you.’ (Isaac Barrow)

‘Be deeply affected with the mischievous effects and consequences of schisms and divisions in the societies of the saints, and let nothing beneath a plain necessity divide you from communion with one another; hold it fast till you can hold it no longer without sin. At the fire of your contentions your enemies warm their hands, and say, Aha, so would we have it.’ (Dennis Johnson)

We must ask ourselves, ‘Where is this eagerness to maintain Christian unity among biblical Christians today? There has been plenty of ecumenical activity amongst those for whom purity and richness of doctrine (i.e. a grounding in Eph 1-3) is of little importance. But Evangelicals have been content, for the most part, to perpetuate their sectarian habits.

There are, perhaps, two phases to this unity: (a) unit within local churches; and (b) unity between local churches.

4:4 There is one body and one Spirit, just as you too were called to the one hope of your calling, 4:5 one Lord, one faith, one baptism, 4:6 one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.

Vv 4-6 may well echo an early creedal statement. An ascending trinitarian structure (Spirit-Son-Father) has often been noted. Paul lists seven unities which undergird the church’s unity.

This verse summarises some of the major themes of this letter: Eph 2:14-17 (one body); Eph 2:18-22 (one Spirit) and Eph 1:11-14; 18-23 (one hope).

‘Many people today attempt to unite Christians in a way that is not biblical. For example, they will say: “We are not interested in doctrines, but in love. Now, let’s forget our doctrines and just love one another!” But Paul did not discuss spiritual unity in the first three chapters; he waited until he had laid the doctrinal foundation. While not all Christians agree on some minor matters of Christian doctrine, they all do agree on the foundation truths of the faith. Unity built on anything other than Bible truth is standing on a very shaky foundation. Paul names here the seven basic spiritual realities that unite all true Christians.’ (Wiersbe)

One body – This is the church, the body of Christ, Eph 1:23, comprising Jewish and Gentile believers, Eph 2:16; 3:6, cf. 1 Cor 12:13. ‘All believers are in Christ; they are all his members; they constitute not many, much less conflicting bodies, but one. We, being many, are one body in Christ, and every one members one of another. Rom 12:5; 1 Cor 10:17; 12:27. In Eph 1:23, the church is said to be his body, the fullness of him that filleth all in all.’ (Hodge)

This phrase emphasises again Paul’s point that we ought to be one (v2) because we are one.

This expression demonstrates that the church is so much more than an organisation. The body consists of cells, tissues, organs and systems, with a mutually shared life. The thing that unites the body is not the similarity of the different parts, but the life that they have in common.

‘When the modern groups deny the supernatural character of Christ the church becomes a society, a natural, human, nonsupernatural, religious community. It is bound by purely natural ties, such as a common heritage in the Bible, a common belief in some sort of uniqueness in Jesus, a common belief in the historical continuity of Christians, and a common ethic of love. Now the church is a society, but this is secondary to its being the supernatural body of Christ.’ (Bernard Ramm)

One Spirit – Just as the various parts of the human body are joined together by virtue of their common life, so it is with the church: its unity is realised by virtue of the presence of the life-giving Spirit. (Eph 2:18; Rom 8:9; 1 Cor 3:16; 12:13) ‘This fact prevents any view of the church as a mere organisation; for the presence of the Spirit constitutes the church, and is the basis of its unity.’ (Foulkes) ‘As there is one body, so there is one Spirit, which is the life of that body and dwells in all its members…There is no doctrine of Scripture more plainly revealed than that the Spirit of God dwells in all believers, and that his presence is the ultimate ground of their unity as the body of Christ. As the human body is one because pervaded by one soul; so the body of Christ is one because it is pervaded by one and the same Spirit, who dwelling in all is a common principle of life. All sins against unity, are, therefore, sins against the Holy Ghost.’ (Hodge)

One hope – Before, they had been without hope, Eph 2:12. But now they look forward to a unified and reconciled cosmos, Eph 1:9f, and to a heavenly inheritance, Eph 1:18, having already received a foretaste in the gift of the Spirit, Eph 1:14. The existence of a unified church now is an anticipation of the final unification of all things. ‘The fact that they all have the same high destiny, and are filled with the same expectations, proves that they are one.’ (Hodge)

When you were called – ‘The inward, effectual call of the Holy Spirit gives rise to this hope for two reasons. First, because their call is to the inheritance of the saints in light. They naturally hope to obtain what they are invited to receive. They are invited to reconciliation and fellowship with God, and therefore they hope for his salvation; and in the second place, the nature of this call makes it productive of hope. It is at once an earnest and a foretaste of their future inheritance. See Chapter 1:14, and 1 Cor 1:22. It assures the believer of his interest in the blessings of redemption, Rom 8:16; and as a drop of water makes the thirsty traveler long for the flowing stream, so the first fruits of the Spirit, his first sanctifying operations on the heart, cause it to thirst after God. Ps 42:1,2. Hope includes both expectation and desire, and therefore the inward work of the Spirit being of the nature both of an earnest and a foretaste, it necessarily produces hope.’ (Hodge)

The Ties That Bind us, vv4-6

  1. One body – if you are ‘in Christ’, you are in ‘the body of Christ’.
  2. One Spirit – we are members of Christ’s body because of the indwelling of the Spirit, Rom 8:9.
  3. One hope – the hope of which the Spirit is the guarantee.
  4. One Lord – our common allegiance to Christ binds us to each other.
  5. One faith – one set of ‘facts’; one way of salvation.
  6. One baptism – one outward sign of faith, 1 Cor 12:13.
  7. One God and Father – we are his children by adoption: we are brothers and sisters.

‘A great many interpersonal, church and denominational divisions could have been avoided if those who differed had openly faced one crucial question relating to these verses: Are the reasons for separating from each other greater than the reasons given here for maintaining our unity?’ (IVP)

‘For as a kingdom, divided into many shires, and more towns and villages, is called one, because it hath one and the same king, one and the same law; so the church is one, because it liveth by one and the same Spirit, and is ruled by one and the same Lord, and professeth one and the same faith; hath one and the same hope, and hath been baptized with one and the same baptism.’ (Nehemiah Rogers)

One Lord – The declaration that ‘Jesus is Lord’ stands as a brief but lofty confession of faith. As such, it defines and unites all believers in all situations and in all ages. Jesus is the ‘one Shepherd’ who gathers his flock, Jn 10:16. On this basis Paul attacks the incipient denominationalism at Corinth, 1 Cor 1:13. Both baptism and the Lord’s Supper proclaim the unity of the Church. We are baptised into the name of Christ, not into the name of Calvin or Wesley. We are one body as we share the one bread, 1 Cor 10:17. This one Lord is he who is destined to bring all things in heaven and on earth together, Eph 1:10.

One faith – This could be objective faith (‘the faith’, Col 2:7; 1 Tim 6:21; Heb 4:14; Jude 1). ‘There is one settled body of truth deposited by Christ in his church, and this is “the faith.” Jude calls it “the faith which was once delivered unto the saints” (Jude 3). The early Christians recognized a body of basic doctrine that they taught, guarded, and committed to others. (2 Tim 2:2) Christians may differ in some matters of interpretation and church practice; but all true Christians agree on “the faith”-and to depart from “the faith” is to bring about disunity within the body of Christ.’ (Wiersbe) Alternatively, is could refer to subjective faith, i.e., trust in Christ. This would fit well with the immediate context.

This verse could then be understood as asserting: ‘There is one Saviour; one way of salvation; and one of outwardly expressing one’s commitment to that way.’

True Christian unity can only exist when there agreement over the essential truths of the gospel, and a seeking of agreement over the non-essentials. Therefore, it was capital error on the part of Christian pragmatists earlier this century to assert that, ‘Doctrine divides; service unites.’

‘In my own conviction, the visible unity of the church (in each region or country) is both biblically right and practically desirable, and we should be actively seeking it. At the same time, we should ask ourselves a simple”] but searching question. If we are to meet the enemies of Christ with a united Christian front, with what kind of Christianity are we going to meet face them? The only weapon with which the opponents of the gospel can be overthrown is the gospel itself. It would be a tragedy if, in our desire fro their overthrow, the only effective weapon in our armoury were to drop from our hands. United Christianity which is not true Christianity will not gain the victory over non-Christian forces, but will itself succumb to them.’ (John Stott, Authentic Christianity, 296)

One Baptism – Is it water baptism or Spirit baptism? MacArthur says that it is the latter: ‘The one baptism of verse 5 is best taken to refer to water baptism, the common New Testament means of a believer’s publicly confessing Jesus as Savior and Lord. This is preferred because of the way Paul has spoken specifically of each member of the Trinity in succession. This is the Lord Jesus Christ’s verse, as it were.’ Lincoln points out that water baptism is “the public rite of confession of the one faith in the one Lord…This baptism is one, not because it has a single form or is administered on only one occasion, but because it is the initiation into Christ, into the one body, which all have undergone and as such is a unifying factor”

‘In the early Church baptism was usually adult baptism, because men and women were coming direct from heathenism into the Christian faith. Therefore, before anything else, baptism was a public confession of faith. There was only one way for a Roman soldier to join the army; he had to take the oath that he would be true for ever to his emperor. Similarly, there was only one way to enter the Christian Church-the way of public confession of Jesus Christ.’ (DSB)

‘If there were many gods, then there might be many religions, every God would be worshipped in his way; but if these be but one God, there is but one religion; one Lord, one faith. Some say, we may be saved in any religion; but it is absurd to imagine that God who is one in essence, should appoint several religions in which he will be worshipped. It is as dangerous to set up a false religion, as to set up a false god.’ (Thomas Watson)

Although the Lord’s Supper has been called ‘the meal that unites’, it is not mentioned in this list. The usual explanation is that this passage deals only with initial, or inaugural acts.

On the other hand, the reference here may be to Spirit baptism. The following arguments may be adduced:-

‘First, the unities listed here have a certain emphasis on the supernatural. Water baptism on the other hand is performed by man.

Second, water baptism is not necessarily unifying because this issue has actually divided Christians. Even in Paul’s time there were misunderstandings. For example, Paul was glad that he had not baptized many in 1 Cor 1:13 because it was a partial source of disunity. And most would agree that Ephesians was written after First Corinthians.

Third, as already mentioned, if water baptism is meant, why not mention the other sacrament, the Lord’s Supper?

Fourth, this is not consistent with the baptismal formula of Mt 28:19 which associates water baptism with “the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” Although Paul wrote before Matthew, Matthew surely recorded what was the prevalent and accepted practice.’

One God and Father of all – This seventh and last unity is climactic. The oneness and unity of God is a foundational doctrine in Scripture. Cf. Mk 12:29; Jn 5:44; Rom 3:30; 1 Cor 8:4,6; Gal 3:20. And the unity of God is the foundation of the unity of God’s people: because there is one God, there can only be one people of God. ‘The unit of the church is as indestructible as the unity of God himself. It is no more possible to split the church than it is possible to split the Godhead.’ (Stott)

We cannot claim to be united to God in love if we do not love our brother, 1 Jn 4:20. We do not dare approach God in worship if we will not be reconciled to our brother, Mt 5:24.

‘As the Church is one because pervaded by one Spirit, and because it is owned and governed by one Lord, so it is one because it has one God and Father – one glorious Being, to whom it sustains the twofold relation of creature and child.’ (Hodge)

Who is over all and through all and in all – God is transcendent, pervasive and immanent. ‘The apostle does not refer to the dominion of God over the universe, or to his providential agency throughout all nature. Neither is the reference to his dominion over rational creatures or over mankind. It is the relation of God to the church, of which the whole passage treats. God as Father is over all its members, through them all and in them all. The church is a habitation of God through the Spirit. It is his temple in which he dwells and which is pervaded in all its parts by his presence…This is the climax. To be filled with God; to be pervaded by his presence, and controlled by him, is to attain the summit of all created excellence, blessedness and glory.’ (Hodge)

The practical outcome of all this must be: ‘the church is one; therefore let it be one.’

4:7 But to each one of us grace was given according to the measure of the gift of Christ.

‘Paul now turns ‘from “all of us” to “each of us,” and so from the unity to the diversity of the church.’ (Stott)

Unity is not the same as uniformity. ‘We are not to imagine that every Christian is an exact replica of every other, as if we had all been mass-produced in some celestial factory. On the contrary, the unity of the church, far from being boringly monotonous, is exciting in its diversity.’ (Stott)

To each one of us – Each and every Christian has been gifted by God in some way. No-one should feel, or be made to feel, useless.

One of the dangers with this diversity of gifts lies in the tendency to fraternise only with like-minded and like-gifted people. ‘But Christians often most need those who differ from them the most with regard to spiritual gifts.’ (Clowney)

Grace – There is a distinction between ‘saving grace’, which is given to all who believe (Eph 2:5,8), and ‘serving grace’, which has been given in different degrees as Christ apportioned it. The gifts are not there for the taking (“name it and claim it”), but are distributed as the Lord himself sees fit. ‘The unity of the church is due to charis, God’s grace having reconciled us to himself; but the diversity of the church is due to charismata, God’s gifts distributed to church members’ (Stott)

Unity is not uniformity.  We are not so many peas in a pod.  Rather, each of us is an ear, an eye, a hand, a foot, a tongue, a heart, in the body of Christ.  And each part has its own contribution to make to the proper working of the whole.

‘We should register a biblical protest against the designation “charismatic movement,” whether its adherents themselves chose it or were given it. “Charismatic” is not a term which can be accurately applied to any group or movement within the church, since according to the New Testament the whole church is a charismatic community. It is the body of Christ, every single member of which has a gift (charisma) to exercise or function to perform.’ (Stott)

Unity in Diversity, vv7-12

  1. The extent of God’s gifts, v7.
  2. The origin of God’s gifts, vv8-10
  3. The diversity of God’s gifts, v11.
  4. The inter-dependence of God’s gifts, v12.
  5. The purpose of God’s gifts, v12.

‘The word gift (literally “donation”) appears in connection with spiritual service only in Eph 4:7-8. Paul explains the phrase he… gave gifts to men as referring to the ascended Christ giving his church persons called to and equipped for the ministries of apostle, prophet, evangelist, and pastor-teacher. Also, through the enabling ministry of these functionaries, Christ is bestowing a ministry role of one sort or another on every Christian. Elsewhere (Rom 12:4-8; 1 Cor 12-14) Paul calls these divinely given powers to serve charismata (gifts which are specific manifestations of charis or grace, God’s active and creative love, 1 Cor 12:4), and also pneumatika (spiritual gifts as specific demonstrations of the energy of the Holy Spirit, God’s pneuma, 1 Cor 12:1).’ (Concise Theology)

4:8 Therefore it says, “When he ascended on high he captured captives; he gave gifts to men.” 4:9 Now what is the meaning of “he ascended,” except that he also descended to the lower regions, namely, the earth? 4:10 He, the very one who descended, is also the one who ascended above all the heavens, in order to fill all things.

The quotation is from Ps 68:18, a Messianic psalm which Paul applies to Christ’s victory over death. ‘To make his point about Christ the giver of gifts, Paul quotes, with a very significant difference, from Ps 68:18. This Psalm describes a king’s conquering return. He ascends on high; that is to say, he climbs the steep road of Mount Zion into the streets of the Holy City. He brings in his captive band of prisoners; that is to say, he marches through the streets with his prisoners in chains behind him to demonstrate his conquering power. Now comes the difference. The Psalm speaks next about the conqueror receiving gifts. Paul changes it to read, “gave gifts to men.”‘ (DSB)

When quoting from the Old Testament, ‘sometimes New Testament writers chose a particular version because it made the point they wanted to make, much as preachers today sometimes choose to quote from translations which put a passage in such a way that it supports the point they want to make. For example, when we read Eph 4:8 we discover that it reads differently than Ps 68:18 in English. This is not because Paul used the Septuagint, for in this case that translation agrees with our English Bibles. Instead, Paul appears to have used one of the Aramaic translations (called a Targum). In many Jewish synagogues the Scriptures were first read in Hebrew and then translated into Aramaic, for that is the language the people actually spoke. Paul would have been familiar with both versions, and in this case he chose to translate not the Hebrew but the Aramaic into Greek. The Hebrew text would not have made his point.’ (HSB)

The textual problem in Paul’s treatment of Ps 68:18 is not a major difficulty. We need to remember that ‘after every conquest in the ancient world there was invariably both a receiving of tribute and a distributing of largesse. What conquerors took from their captives, the gave away to their own people. The spoils were divide, the booty was shared.’ (Stott). Cf. Gen 14; Jud 5:30; 1 Sam 30:26-31; Ps 68:12; Isa 53:12. That receiving and given are intimately connected is illustrated in Acts 2:33, where Peter says that Jesus has poured out the same Spirit that he himself had received. Kidner says that the change ‘summarises rather than contradicts the psalm, whose next concern is with the blessings God dispenses.’ Ps 68:19ff.

‘In ancient times, when warriors returned home from their conquests they led their captives with them and distributed largesse to their people, 1 Chron 16:1-3. And this is exactly what Paul says our Lord did, Eph 4:8-16.’ (J.O. Sanders)

Psalm 68 is a celebration of God’s mighty acts in leading his people in triumph, culminating in the bringing of the ark to Zion. ‘Paul applies this picture to Christ’s ascension, not arbitrarily because he detected a vague analogy between the two, but justifiably because he saw in the exaltation of Jesus a further fulfilment of this description of the triumph of God. Christ ascended as conqueror to the Father’s right hand, his train of captives being the principalities and powers he had defeated, dethroned and disarmed.’ (Stott)

“When he ascended on high” – Cf. Acts 1:8.

“He led captives in his train” – On Christ as deliverer from spiritual bondage, cf. Lk 4:18,21; Jn 8:36; Rom 7:24,24; Col 2:15; Heb 2:14. These captives are the vanquished powers of evil..

“And gave gifts to men” – ‘A little noticed aspect of the New Testament’s theology of the ascension is the emphasis placed on Jesus’ ascending for his people. This love manifests itself in the sending of his Spirit, an act dependent upon Jesus’ ascension. Thus, in John, he tells the disciples that he goes to prepare a place “for you” (Jn 14:3) and that “it is for your good that I am going away. Unless I go away, the Counselor will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you” (Jn 16:7). The references to the ascension in Acts 1 and 2 both come in the context of a giving Christ who bestows the Spirit on his people, as does the reference in Eph 4:8-10. Hebrews emphasizes that his going into the “inner shrine” was “on our behalf” (Heb 6:20; 9:24 NRSV), and that since we have “a great high priest who has passed through the heavens. let us hold fast to our confession” (Heb 4:14 NRSV). These references to Jesus ascending “on our behalf” further connect the ascension with Jesus’ atoning work, implying that, far from being a self-oriented, power-seeking act, the ascension is to be viewed as flowing from the same self-sacrificial love Jesus demonstrated for his people in his incarnation (2 Cor 8:9) and crucifixion.’ (Rom 5:6-8) (EDBT)

Matthew Henry, commenting on Jn 1:18, says of Christ, ‘He received gifts for men, (Ps 68:18) that he might give gifts to men, Eph 4:8. He was filled, that he might fill all in all, (Eph 1:23) might fill our treasures, Pr 8:21.’

Flavel: ‘Christ ascended munificently, shedding forth, abundantly, inestimable gifts upon his church at his ascension.’ The same writer adds that since Christ ascended to munificently, we should take care not to neglect or abuse his precious ascension-gifts (whether regarded as the officers and ordinances of the Church, or the Holy Spirit himself), but rather to value them and use them wisely.

Flavel remarks that the words of Psa 68:17f ‘in their literal sense, are a celebration of that famous victory and triumph of David over the enemies of God, recorded 2 Sam. 8. These conquered enemies bring him several sorts of presents, all which he dedicated to the Lord. The spiritual sense is, that just so our Lord Jesus Christ, when he had overcome by his death on the cross, and now triumphed in his ascension, he takes the parts and gifts of his enemies, and gives them, by their conversion to the church, for its use and service: thus he received gifts, even for the rebellious, that is sanctifies the natural gifts and faculties of such as hated his people before, dedicating them to the Lord, in his people’s service. Thus, (as one observes) Tertullian, Origin, Austin, and Jerome, came into Canaan, laden with Egyptian gold. Meaning they came into the church richly laden with natural learning and abilities. Austin was a Manichee, Cyprian a magician, learned Bradwardine a scornful, proud naturalist, who once said, when he read Paul’s epistles, Dedignar esse parvulus; he scorned such childish things, but afterwards became a very useful man in the church of God. And even Paul himself was as fierce an enemy to the church as breathed on earth, until Christ gave him into his bosom by conversion, and then no mere man ever did the Lord and his people greater service than he. Men of all sorts, greater and smaller lights, have been given to the church. Officers of all sorts were given it by Christ. Extraordinary and temporary, as prophets, apostles, evangelists; ordinary and standing, as pastors, and teachers, which remain to this day, Eph. 4:8, 9. And those stars are fixed in the church heaven by a most firm establishment, 1 Cor. 12:28. Thousands now in heaven, and thousands on earth also, are blessing Christ at this day for these his ascension-gifts.’

‘Did Christ ascend so triumphantly, leading captivity captive? How little reason then have believers to fear their conquered enemies? Sin, Satan, and every enemy, were in that day led away in triumph, dragged at Christ’s chariot wheels, brought after him as it were in chains. It is a lovely sight to see the necks of those tyrants under the foot of our Joshua. He made at that day, “an open show of them,” Col. 2:15. Their strength is broken forever. In this he showed himself more than a conqueror; for he conquered and triumphed too. Satan was then trod under his feet, and he has promised to tread him under our feet also, and that shortly, Rom. 16:20. some power our enemies yet retain, the serpent may bruise our heel, but Christ has crushed his head.’ (Flavel)

“He ascended” – ‘As this ascension was the return of the one whose proper abode is heaven, (cf. Jn 3:13 NEB: ‘whose home is in heaven’) it must also imply his previous descent to the earth, a descent in which he plumbed the lowest depth of humiliation for the sake of those he came to save. Thus we have here a pregnant reference to the same sequence which is fully described in Php 2:6-11.’ (Wilson)

He also descended

Christ's descent
This expression has been variously understood:-

  1. Traditionally, this verse has been understood to refer to Christ’s death.  Cf. 1 Pet 3:19.  If Paul’s expression, translated here as ‘descended to the lower regions, namely, the earth’ is better translated as ‘descended to the lower regions of the earth’ (as many older interpreters thought), then this view would make good sense.  Hades, after all, was thought of a being below the earth’s surface.  This would then be understood either
      1. more literally, meaning that Christ descended to the place of the dead in order to bring salvation to, say, the OT saints.  So many older commentators.  Or it could be understood
      2. more figuratively, meaning simply that Christ went to the place of the dead in the sense that he actually died; Hades = the grave.  This is the view of Westcott, Hoehner, Arnold, Thielman and others).
  2. Calvin and Hodge argue (citing Jn 3:13 in support) that the descent simply refers to Christ’s incarnation.  Snodgrass (NIVAC) also inclines to this view, as do Schnackenburg, Bruce, O’Brien, and Talbert.  Thielman notes that this interpretation is consistent with Paul’s conviction that Christ was with God before the foundation of the world (Eph 1:4), and that he left that glorious existence to take up a humble existence among human beings (Phil. 2:6–8; 2 Cor. 8:9).  Such thinking is also reflected in John 3:13; 6:33, 41, 50–51, 58, 62.
  3. The reference may be to the humiliation of Christ’s sufferings, and in particular those of the cross. So Hendriksen.  On the link between Christ’s sufferings and his ascension see Eph 4:9; Php 2:5-11; Heb 1:3; 2:9; 12:2; Rev 5:6.  Stott: ‘What is in Paul’s mind…is not so much descent and ascent in spatial terms, but rather humiliation and exaltation, the latter bringing Christ universal authority and power, as a result of which he bestowed on the church he rules both, the Spirit himself to indwell it and the gifts of the Spirit to edify it or bring it to maturity.’
  4. Still others regard this as a reference to Christ’s coming, after his ascension, by his Spirit.  So Foulkes, tentatively, Caird, and Lincoln.  One of the problems with this interpretation, according to Thielman, is that Paul is here concerned to say that it was precisely the same Christ who ascended and descended (and not Christ who ascended and the Spirit who descended).

Ascended higher than all the heavens – ‘that is the heavens which we see, for they are but the pavement of that stately palace of the great King.’ (Flavel, The Fountain of Life)

Results of Christ’s ascension

Paul means that:-

  1. ‘There is no part of the universe that is free from Christ’s control.
  2. ‘There is no room for anyone else.  Diana, Mithras, Jupiter, Osiris and Venus had to go.  Jesus has taken all the space!
  3. The ascension of Jesus implies, not a Christ-deserted world, but a Christ-filled world.’

Richard Bewes, The Top 100 Questions, p15)

4:11 It was he who gave some as apostles, some as prophets, some as evangelists, and some as pastors and teachers, 4:12 to equip the saints for the work of ministry, that is, to build up the body of Christ, 4:13 until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God—a mature person, attaining to the measure of Christ’s full stature.

It was he who gave – Although we often refer to spiritual gifts as ‘gifts of the Spirit’, here Christ is identified as the giver, while in Rom 12 the giver is God the Father. We should not distinguish too radically the functions of the members of the Father, Son and Spirit. The whole Trinity is involved in every aspect of the church’s well-being.

The various lists of spiritual gifts in the NT vary quite widely, and none should be considered a complete catalogue. In any case, what is being given here is not so much spiritual gifts, as spiritual gifted persons.

‘Those who preside over the government of the church in accordance with Christ’s institution are called by Paul as follows: first apostles, then prophets, thirdly evangelists, fourthly pastors, and finally teachers. (Eph 4:11) Of these only the last two have an ordinary office in the church; the Lord raised up the first three at the beginning of his Kingdom, and now and again revives them as the need of the times demands.’ (Calvin, Institutes, IVIII4)

The ministries listed here are principally ministries of the word. ‘Evangelists, pastors and teachers produce unity and maturity as they proclaim, preserve, and apply the apostolic tradition. The writer is particularly concerned with the part they have to play in contributing to the unity of faith and knowledge, in providing an antidote to false teaching, and in bringing about a community that proclaims the truth in love.’ (Lincoln)

Apostles – In its basic meaning, the word refers to someone ‘who is sent’.  It is used in a more restricted sense of those characterised by ‘a commission directly from Christ: being a witness of the resurrection: special inspiration: supreme authority: accrediting by miracles: unlimited commission to preach and to found churches’ (Vincent).  Paul himself uses the word in this sense in Eph 1:1; 2:20; 3:36; and also 1 Cor 12:28.  Apostolic ministry of this kind cannot have ‘continued into the present day.  Their authority is preserved in the writings of the New Testament.  But the word can also be used in a wider sense, to include episcopal jurisdiction, pioneer missionary work, church planting, itinerant leadership’ (Stott), and in this sense there are good reasons to look for such people in the church today.

‘Paul has already noted that “apostles” (ἀπόστολοι) served a foundational function in the early church (2:20; see comments). This passage is different than 2:20, however, in that Paul is not reflecting back on the beginnings of the church but is speaking about its present and ongoing structure. Christ is continuing to give these leaders to the church for the equipping of the individual members and facilitating their growth to maturity (see also 1 Cor 12:28, where Paul uses the aorist ἔθετο [“appoint for the same purpose). Markus Barth rightly notes, “Ephesians distinctly presupposes that living apostles and prophets are essential to the church’s life.”

‘The “apostles” he mentions here likely extend beyond the Twelve and Paul to include others whom the Lord Jesus has called to go, establish churches, and ground these new believers in the common faith. Their authority would be differentiated from the Twelve and Paul, who had “seen the Lord” (1 Cor 9:1; Acts 1:21–22). Nevertheless, they are authorized by the risen Lord Jesus himself, who has called them to this role, and by the authoritative message of the gospel itself, which they impart. Their function is closely tied up with their name, “one who is sent.”

‘…Some of those who fall into this more extended category of apostles include Barnabas (Acts 14:4; 1 Cor 9:6), Andronicus, and Junia(s) (Rom 16:7)…It is certainly possible that the Lord Jesus raised up many apostles during this period who took the word of the Lord, which they heard from Paul, to many other cities and villages throughout the Roman province of Asia. This certainly helps explain Peter’s reference to “your apostles” when he speaks of how the inhabitants of Asia and northern Anatolia received the word of the Lord (see 2 Pet 3:2).’ (Arnold)

Prophets – These differ from teachers in that they speak under the immediate impulse and influence of the Holy Spirit. See Acts 2:18n

‘Paul applies the name “prophets” not to all those who were interpreters of God’s will, but to those who excelled in a particular revelation. (Eph 4:11) This class either does not exist today or is less commonly seen.’ (Calvin, Institutes, IVIII4)

The idea that the reference here is to the prophets of the OT is difficult to sustain.  This would not suit the context, where the other ministries mentioned are clearly contemporary, rather than historical.  Moreover, when Paul states in 1 Cor 12:28f that ‘God has placed in the church first apostles, second prophets…’ he clearly indicates that prophets were present in the church in his own day.

‘The prophets of the apostolic age were men who from time to time spoke in the churches under the direct prompting of the Spirit of God (cf. Acts 11:27 ff.; 13:1 ff.; 21:4, 9; 1 Corinthians 14:1 ff.). Toward the end of the apostolic age it became increasingly necessary to test the claims of these people, to see whether they spoke by the inspiration of the Spirit of God or of a very different kind of spirit (1 John 4:1 ff.; Revelation 2:20).’ (Bruce)

Evangelists – Their role was to spread the gospel in new places. So Philip, Acts 8:5ff. In Bunyan’s famous expression, the evangelist was ‘a man, who had his eyes up to heaven, the best of books was in his hand, the law of truth was written upon his lips, and he stood as if he pleaded with men.’

Pastors and teachers – Because the definite article is not repeated in this phrase, many think that these are two names for the same role. Not so Calvin: ‘There is, I believe, this difference between them: teachers are not put in charge of discipline, or administering the sacraments, or warnings and exhortations, but only of Scriptural interpretation – to keep doctrine whole and pure among believers. But the pastoral office includes all these functions within itself.’ (Calvin, Institutes, IVIII4)

‘Perhaps one should say that, although every pastor must be a teacher, gifted in the ministry of god’s Word to people…yet not every Christian teacher is also a pastor (since he may be teaching only in a school or college rather than in a local church).’ (Stott)

Pastors – ‘The word is an ancient and an honourable one. As far back as Homeric times Agamemnon the king was called the Shepherd of the People. Jesus had called himself the Good Shepherd. (Jn 10:11,14) The writer to the Hebrews called Jesus the great shepherd of the sheep. (Heb 13:20) Peter called Jesus the shepherd of men’s souls. (1 Pet 2:25) he called him the Chief Shepherd. (1 Pet 5:4) Jesus had commanded Peter to tend his sheep. (Jn 21:16) Paul had warned the elders of Ephesus that they must guard the flock whom God had committed to their care. (Ac 20:28) Peter had exhorted the elders to tend the flock of God.’ (1 Pet 5:2) (DSB)

‘They were teachers. In the early Church there were few books. Printing was not to be invented for almost another fourteen hundred years. Every book had to be written by hand and a book the size of the New Testament would cost as much as a whole year’s wages for a working man. That meant that the story of Jesus had mainly to be transmitted by word of mouth. The story of Jesus was told long before it was written down; and these teachers had the tremendous responsibility of being the respositories of the gospel story. It was their function to know and to pass on the story of the life of Jesus.

The people who came into the Church were coming straight from heathenism; they knew literally nothing about Christianity, except that Jesus Christ had laid hold upon their hearts. Therefore these teachers had to open out the Christian faith to them. They had to explain the great doctrines of the Christian faith. It is to them that we owe it that the Christian faith remained pure and was not distorted as it was handed down.’ (DSB)

Thomas Watson points out the connection between this verse and v14, ‘Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of men in their deceitful scheming,’ in order to assert that ‘it is the great end of the word preached, to bring us to a settlement in religion.’

All five gifts mentioned in this verse have some connection with teaching. It is not surprising, then, that in v14f maturity of knowledge and understanding figure so largely in the growth and maturity of the church as a whole. The teaching role is especially important when the church is rapidly growing, because new Christians are especially prone to error and lack of balance. However, the teaching role is also vital in today’s established churches, assailed as they are by doctrinal indifference and endemic heterodoxy.

How pathetic the situation of those who feel they had the gift of preaching but complain that no one has the gift of listening!

We should not drive too much of a wedge between ‘institutional’ and ‘charismatic’ ministries. Authorisation to exercise a ministry is, or should be, just a public recognition that God has called and gifted the person concerned.

This section (vv12-16) is all about the purpose of the spiritual gifts, which is not to boost the pride or enhance the enjoyment of the recipient, but to build up god’s people for service. Note, by way of comparison, the focus of 1:3-14 on the idea of purpose.

To prepare God’s people – Lit. ‘saints’, ‘a title not to be restricted to the godly of the first times, but common to all that are saved in all after-times also, as Eph 4:12. This name putteth mere morality and formal profession out of countenance, as the sun doth a glow-worm. Saintship is a matter of Divine workmanship, and therefore it is far more remarkable than human excellence. We should keep up the name of “saints,” that the reality of the true religion be not lowered by avoiding this title; for in these times it is to be feared that the name is out of use, because holiness itself is out of fashion.’ (Thomas Goodwin)

‘The word Paul uses for equipped NIV ‘prepare’ is interesting. It is katartismos, which comes from the verb katartizein. The word is used in surgery for setting a broken limb or for putting a joint back into its place. In politics it is used for bringing together opposing factions so that government can go on. In the New Testament it is used of mending nets, (Mk 1:19) and of disciplining an offender until he is fit to take his place again within the fellowship of the Church. (Gal 6:1) The basic idea of the word is that of putting a thing into the condition in which it ought to be. It is the function of the office-bearers of the Church to see that the members of the Church are so educated, so guided, so cared for, so sought out when they go astray, that they become what they ought to be.

Works of service – or ‘the work of ministry’: this expression, although it may refer to things like the teaching of Scripture and evangelistic work, (Ac 6:4 12:25) does not in itself have the ecclesiastical overtones which it carries today. ‘Whatever is done for God and in his name for people is a ministry’.

RSV (1st ed.): ‘for the equipment of the saints, for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ.’ – This suggests these are all special aspects of the role of the pastor/teacher. So AV The first comma (the ‘fatal comma’) has been described as ‘without linguistic authority but with undoubted ecclesiological bias’ (Mackay).

RSV (2nd ed.): ‘for the equipment of the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ.’ – This suggests that the pastor/teacher equips God’s people for their work of ministry and edification. The ‘work of ministry’ then becomes the work of each and every Christian, and not just that of the pastors and teachers. So most modern translations.

The formal ministries of the church should not be restrictive, but facilitative, of the informal ministries. ‘Here is incontrovertible evidence that the New Testament envisages ministry not as the prerogative of a clerical elite but as the privileged calling of all the people of God.’ (Stott) If the correct translation of this verse defines the role of the ‘laity’, then it also clarifies the function of the ‘clergy’: ‘The New Testament concept of the pastor is not of a person who jealously guards all ministry in his own hands, and successfully squashes all lay initiatives, but of one who helps and encourages all God’s people to discover, develop and exercise their gifts. His teaching and training are directed to this end, to enable the people of God to be a servant people, ministering actively but humble according to their gifts in a world of alienation and pain. Thus, instead of monopolizing all minstry himself, he actually multiplies ministries.’ (Stott)

‘Christ has appointed the ministry of the Word as the means by which all members of the church are equipped for Christian service in the world cf. 4:25-32; 5:21-6:9. Thus Christ gave men to be servants of the Word, so that through their ministry his Body might be guilt up.’ (Wilson) ‘From this it is plain that those who neglect this means and yet hope to become perfect in Christ are mad. Such are the fanatics, who invent secret revelations of the Spirit for themselves, and the proud, who think that for them the private reading of the Scriptures is enough, and that they have not need of the common ministry of the church.’ (Calvin)

So that the body of Christ may be built up– The aim of Christian ministry is constructive, not destructive.

Am I a builder or a wrecker?

I saw them tearing a building down,
A gang of men in a dusty town.
With ‘yo heave ho’ and a lusty yell,
They swung a beam and the side wall fell.

I asked the foreman if these men were skilled
As the men he’d hire, if he were to build.
He laughed and said, ‘Oh, no indeed.
Common labour is all I need.’

For those men can wreck in a day or two,
What builders had taken years to do.
I asked myself as I went my way,
Which kind of role am I to play?

Am I the builder who builds with care,
Measuring life by the rule and square?
Or am I the wrecker who walks the town,
Content with the role of tearing down?

Illustrations for Biblical Preaching, 117f)

The proper exercise of spiritual gifts has the goal of the building up of the body of Christ, v12. This goal is now expressed in three different ways: 1. reaching unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God; 2. becoming the mature person; 3. attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.

Unity in the faith – The latter expression is probably semi-technical and means what we would call ‘the Christian faith’.

We have our ideas as to what maturity consists of in various walks of life. Here, two criteria are combined: unity and knowledge. There is a relational as well as a doctrinal aspect to Christian maturity. But Christian unity is not simply friendliness or toleration: it is a unity in the faith. We are never asked to maintain unity with those who do not hold the faith, for this would be treason. But we are called upon the work strenuously to overcome our personal and denominational preferences and differences. Similarly, the knowledge we are to attain is not simply intellectual or abstract knowledge: it is the knowledge of the Son of God.

And become mature – J.I Packer mentions this verse in a discussion of the problem of ‘under-translation’:- ‘Undertranslation, in pursuit of an easy English flow, can be more of a problem than is sometimes realized. Two examples show this. First, in Eph 4:13 most modern versions (NIV, RSV, NRSV, GW, NLT for starters) make Paul say that through reaching unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son we are to become mature, or to reach mature manhood, the fullness of Christ being the standard of our maturity. Only the KJV and NASB let us know that Paul actually wrote of reaching “a mature man.” The paraphrasing translations take the “mature man” to be either a full-grown Christian or Christ himself, both of which find support in the commentaries. But, as John Stott observes, the context points to a corporate understanding of the “mature man” as the “one new man” of Eph 2:15, the Jewish-Gentile church that Paul pictures as Christ’s body, building, and bride. Paul’s point then is that only through the maturing of the whole worldwide, multinational, multicultural Christian community will the fullness of Christ-that is, all that he is and gives-find full expression. No single one of us can embody it all! But the translations mentioned conceal from us the possibility that this is Paul’s meaning by putting “manhood” where he put “man,” or indeed by dropping “man” altogether. This is undertranslation.’

4:14 So we are no longer to be children, tossed back and forth by waves and carried about by every wind of teaching by the trickery of people who craftily carry out their deceitful schemes.

Then we will no longer be infants – ‘Of course we are to resemble children in their humility and innocence, Mt 18:3 1 Cor 14:20, but not in their ignorance or instability.’ (Stott)

There is rich imagery here, from infants to a helpless boat to a helpless bird to cheating at dice.

Two kinds of problem people are mentioned in this verse: those who need to be protected, like children, and those who need to be protected against.

We are to be like children, but not in every respect. We should certainly acquire a childlike simplicity and an infant’s sense of dependency. But here Paul tells us that we should shun that childish fickleness, which is attracted by every new and glittering object of distraction, and yet is liable to throw it away as quickly as it picked it up.

Tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching – Immature Christians are like small boats in a stormy sea, completely at the mercy of the wind and the waves. They have no settled convictions. They latch on to the latest fad, and then drop it when another comes along. They often wander from church to church, never really settling into a consistent and useful role in any of them.

The cunning and craftiness of men in their deceitful scheming – ‘Paul cannot speak of the dangers of false teaching without also describing the devious arts of those who propagate it.’ (Wilson)

Cunning – ‘Paul speaks of the clever trickery of men; the word he uses (kubeia) means skill in manipulating the dice. There are always those who by ingenious arguments seek to lure people away from their faith.’ (DSB)

Deceitful scheming

Deceitful scheming

This may include:-

  1. Smooth talk and flattery, Rom 16:18. They have fine elegant phrases and flattering language, and so win over the weak and the foolish.
  2. Another scheme is the pretence of extraordinary piety, that so people may admire them, and suck in their doctrine. They seem to be men of zeal and sanctity, and to be divinely inspired, and pretend to new revelations.
  3. A third cheat of seducers is the attempt to to vilify and nullify sound orthodox teachers. They would eclipse those that bring the truth, like black vapours that darken the light of heaven; they would defame others, that they themselves may be more admired. Thus the false teachers cried down Paul, that they themselves might be received, Gal 4:17.
  4. The fourth cheat of seducers is, to preach the doctrine of liberty; as though men are freed from the moral law, the rule as well as the curse, and Christ has done all for them, and they need to do nothing. Thus they make the doctrine of free grace a key to open the door to all licentiousness.
  5. Another means is, to unsettle Christians by persecution, 2 Tim 3:12. The gospel is a rose that cannot be plucked without prickles. The legacy Christ has bequeathed is the cross. While there is a devil and wicked man in the world, never expect a charter of exemption from trouble. How many fall away in an hour of persection! Rev 12:4.

(Watson, A Body of Divinity, 3, adapted)

4:15 But practicing the truth in love, we will in all things grow up into Christ, who is the head.

Speaking the truth in love – The Gk makes no reference to speech. A more literal rendering would be: ‘truthing it in love’ – i.e. maintaining, living, and doing the truth. Such a combination of truth and love leads to that quality we call ‘tactfulness’.

Speak truth and love

‘Thank God there are those in the contemporary church who are determined at all costs to defend and uphold God’s revealed truth. But sometimes they are conspicuously lacking in love. When they think they smell heresy, their nose begins to twitch, their muscles ripple, and the light of battle enters their eye. They seem to enjoy nothing more than a fight. Others make the opposite mistake. They are determined at all costs to maintain and exhibit brotherly love, but in order to do so are prepared even to sacrifice the central truths of revelation. Both these tendencies are unbalanced and unbiblical. Truth becomes hard if it is not strengthened by love; love becomes soft if it is not strengthened by truth. The apostle calls us to hold the two together, which should not be difficult for Spirit-filled believers, since the Holy Spirit is himself “the Spirit of truth,” and his firstfruit is “love”.’ (Jn 14:17 15:26 16:13 Gal 5:22) (Stott)

‘Truth without love lacks its proper environment and loses its pursuasive power; love without truth forfeits its identity, degenerating into maudlin sentiment without solidarity, feeling without principle.’ (McCheyne, Q by Simpson)

We will in all things grow up into…Christ – ‘The only thing which can keep the individual Christian solid in the faith and secure against seduction, the only thing which can keep the Church healthy and efficient, is an intimate connection with Jesus Christ who is the head and the directing mind of the body.’ (DSB)

Am I growing up?

Some families have photos taken of their children each year.  As you compare the photos, you can see the signs of growth and development.  How would it be if a series of pictures could be taken of our spiritual development?  Would there be any difference over the years?  Are we becoming mature?  Are we growing up?

4:16 From him the whole body grows, fitted and held together through every supporting ligament. As each one does its part, the body grows in love.

From him – Because each member of the body is directly related to the Head, the church must never be regarded as a “mediating institution” which comes between the soul and the Saviour.’ (Clowney)

The whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament – Every part of the body has its role. Here, the ministers of the word, represented by the ligaments, connect everything together and allow it to function as a whole.

As each part does it work – ‘Thus the vertical descent of Christ’s grace finds its expression in the horizontal harmony of the members. Paul sees this spiritual truth illustrated in the growth of a healthy body in which there are no disproportionate developments. for each part receives that measure of grace which determines its proper contribution to the functioning of the whole body.’ (Wilson)

Concluding thoughts on Eph 4:1-16

This section outlines the kind of community the Christian church is intended to be. First and foremost, it is united. It is united, not just by virtue of its outward structures but by its inner relationships which are characterised by love. Its concept of unity is not just a theoretical ideal, but something to be strived for, because God himself is one. It does not settle just for a uniformity of practice but rejoices in and nurtures a rich diversity of gifts and ministries. It does not aim merely to maintain numbers but seeks and promotes spiritual maturity.

Live in Holiness

4:17 So I say this, and insist in the Lord, that you no longer live as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their thinking. 4:18 They are darkened in their understanding, being alienated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them due to the hardness of their hearts. 4:19 Because they are callous, they have given themselves over to indecency for the practice of every kind of impurity with greediness.

‘Ignorance is a black veil drawn over the mind. Men by nature may have a deep reach in the things of the world, and yet be ignorant of the things of God. Nahash the Ammonite would make a covenant with Israel to thrust out their right eyes. 1 Sam 11:2. Since the fall, our left eye remains, a deep insight into worldly matters; but our right eye is thrust out, we have no saving knowledge of God. Something we know by nature, but nothing as we ought to know. 1 Cor 8:2. Ignorance draws the curtains round about the soul. 1 Cor 2:14.’ (Thomas Watson)

4:20 But you did not learn about Christ like this, 4:21 if indeed you heard about him and were taught in him, just as the truth is in Jesus. 4:22 You were taught with reference to your former way of life to lay aside the old man who is being corrupted in accordance with deceitful desires, 4:23 to be renewed in the spirit of your mind, 4:24 and to put on the new man who has been created in God’s image—in righteousness and holiness that comes from truth.

You heard of him – Lit. ‘you heard him’ (there is no preposition in the original)  ‘Paul assumes that through the voice of their Christian teachers, they had actually heard Christ’s voice.  Thus, when sound biblical moral instruction is being given, it may be said that Christ is teaching about Christ.’ (Stott)

‘Christ himself is the Christians’ Teacher, even if the teaching is given through the lips of his followers; to receive the teaching is in the truest sense to hear him.’ (F.F. Bruce)

‘The implication is that Christ is alive and that when one hears the gospel preached, as Paul assumes his readers have (1:13), one is put in touch with a living person.’ (Thielman)

Your old self – lit. ‘your old man’. ‘It is said to be the old man, not that it is weak, as old men are, but for its long standing, and for its deformity. In old age the fair blossoms of beauty fall; so original sin is the old man, because it has withered our beauty, and made us deformed in God’s eye.’ (Thomas Watson)

True – ‘Truth is spiritual knowledge, that knowledge which is eternal life, which not only illuminates the understanding but sanctifies the heart. The Holy Ghost is called the Spirit of truth as the author of this divine illumination which irradiates the whole soul. This truth came by Jesus Christ, Jn 1:17. He is the truth and the life, Jn 14:6. We are made free by the truth, and sanctified by the truth. The Gospel is called the word of truth, as the objective revelation of that divine knowledge which subjectively is the principle of spiritual life.’ (Hodge)

4:25 Therefore, having laid aside falsehood, each one of you speak the truth with his neighbor, for we are members of one another.

Speak truthfully – See Pr 12:22; Zec 8:16.

‘One of the most overlooked emphases in the Pauline letters is his exhortation concerning the spirituality of ordinary human speech. In Eph 4:25-5:20 and a parallel passage in Colossians, (Col 3:5-17) we find the strongest possible language-both negative and positive-exhorting believers to give heed to their speech. The Ephesians passage is longer and more detailed: those who have “put on the new nature” (Eph 4:24) are not to lie, but to speak the truth; (Eph 4:25) not to employ evil talk, but to use fitting, edifying speech which imparts grace to those who hear; (Eph 4:29) not to be bitter or to slander, but to be tenderhearted, without malice, and forgiving; (Eph 4:31-32) not to employ filthy or silly talk, but to give thanks. (Eph 5:4) In keeping with the Pauline emphasis upon the urgency of thanksgiving (see 15 below), Paul concludes his commentary on Christian speech with an appeal to thanksgiving-“always and for everything, giving thanks in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ to God and the Father.” This is the way of “true righteousness and holiness;” (Eph 4:24) it is the fruit of having been taught in the way of Jesus, the Christ; (Eph 4:20-21) it is life lived in imitation of God (Eph 5:1) and in the pattern of Christ. (Eph 5:2) It is the fruit of the life which has been “sealed with the promised Holy Spirit,” (Eph 1:13) so that the believer is “a dwelling place of God in the Spirit”.’ (Eph 2:22) (DPL)

4:26 Be angry and do not sin; do not let the sun go down on the cause of your anger.

‘The Greek imperative, “be angry” (orgizesthe), is probably a “concessive” or “permissive imperative” and may be translated appropriately “if you become angry” (GNB, cf. Ps. 4:4).’ (Patzia)

This verse quotes the LXX of Psa 4:4.  In the Hebrew, the verb rāgaz ‘means basically to ‘tremble’, and it could be with fear or rage (BDB)…There is anger which is righteous anger, such as we see in our Lord himself (e.g. Mark 3:5; John 2:13–17); but his anger never led to sin, because his emotions were kept under perfect control. Christians must be sure that their anger is that of righteous indignation, and not just an expression of personal provocation or wounded pride. It must have no sinful motives, nor be allowed to lead to sin in any way.’ (Foulkes)

4:27 Do not give the devil an opportunity.

Do not give the devil a foothold – This is taken by some to refer to individual demons entering a person, and thus as an argument for the demonisation of believers. However, it is more likely that Paul is referring to sinning, or falling into temptation.

4:28 The one who steals must steal no longer; rather he must labor, doing good with his own hands, so that he may have something to share with the one who has need.
4:29 You must let no unwholesome word come out of your mouth, but only what is beneficial for the building up of the one in need, that it may give grace to those who hear.
4:30 And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption.
‘Do not grieve the Holy Spirit’

There is a course of conduct which will drive that Spirit from the mind as if he were grieved and pained-as a course of ingratitude and sin would pain the heart of an earthly friend, and cause him to leave you.” If asked what that conduct is, we may reply,

1. Open and gross sins. They are particularly referred to here; and the meaning of Paul is, that theft, falsehood, anger, and kindred vices, would grieve the Holy Spirit, and cause him to depart.

2. Anger, in all its forms. Nothing is more fitted to drive away all serious and tender impressions from the mind than the indulgence of anger.

3. Licentious thoughts and desires. The Spirit of God is pure, and he dwells not in a soul that is filled with corrupt imaginings.

4. Ingratitude. We feel ingratitude more than almost anything else; and why should we suppose that the Holy Spirit would not feel it also?

5. Neglect. The Spirit of God is grieved by that. Often he prompts us to pray; he disposes the mind to seriousness, to the perusal of the Bible, to tenderness and penitence. We neglect those favoured moments of our piety, and lose those happy seasons for becoming like God.

6. Resistance. Christians often resist the Holy Ghost. He would lead them to be dead to the world; yet they drive on their plans of gain. He would teach them the folly of fashion and vanity; yet they deck themselves in the gayest apparel. He would keep them from the splendid party, the theatre, and the ballroom; yet they go there. All that is needful for a Christian to do, in order to be eminent in piety, is to yield to the gentle influences which would draw him to prayer and to heaven. (Barnes)

Do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God – ‘God’s honour is an awfully tender thing and may be injured before we are aware.’ (Bengel, Q by Simpson)

‘It is he [the Holy Spirit] that puts efficacy into the ordinances, and without him they would be a dead letter. It was he that blessed them to your conviction and conversion. For if angels had been the preachers, no conversion had followed without the Spirit. It is he that is the vinculum unionis, bond of union between Christ and your souls, without which you could never have had interest in Christ, or communion with Christ. It was he that so often has helped your infirmities, when you knew not what to say; comforted your hearts when they were overwhelmed within you, and you know not what to do; preserved you many thousand times from sin and ruin, when you have been upon the slippery brink of it in temptations. It is he (in his sanctifying-word) that is the best evidence your souls have for heaven. It where endless to enumerate the mercies you have by him. And now, reader, do you not blush to think how unworthy you have treated such a friend? For which of all these his offices or benefits do you grieve and quench him? O grieve not the Holy Spirit whom Christ sent as soon as ever he went to heaven, in his Father’s name, and in his own name, to perform all these offices for you.’ (Flavel, The Fountain of Life)

4:31 You must put away every kind of bitterness, anger, wrath, quarreling, and evil, slanderous talk.

Consistent with his theme of darkness and light, Paul tells his readers what to avoid v31 as well as what to nurture, v32.

4:32 Instead, be kind to one another, compassionate, forgiving one another, just as God in Christ also forgave you.

Cf Col 3:13

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