Ephesians the Switzerland of the NT.
But Switzerland isn’t all mountain peaks, and Ephesians isn’t all lofty doctrine.
We move from belief to behaviour, from principles to practice, from our wealth in Christ to our walk in Christ, from doctrine to duty, from exposition to exhortation, from the indicative to the imperative, from what God has done to what we must do, from the credenda to the agenda
Yet the two parts of Ephesians are closely connected. Chs 1-3 are the engine that drives chs 4-6. “Love so amazing, so divine” – that’s Eph 1-3 – “demands my soul, my life, my all” – that’s Eph 4-6.
And yet all the doctrines of the Bible are practical and all its practical teachings doctrinal. Every doctrine has its practical therefore and every practical teaching its doctrinal because.
The thrust of this passage: the unity, diversity, and maturity of the people of God.
Unity: ‘Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.’ Note, we are not called to create this unity: God has already done that. We are urged to maintain it.
Diversity: ‘To each one of us grace has been given as Christ apportioned it.’
Maturity: ‘Until we all reach unity of the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature…we will in all things grow up into him who is the Head, that is, Christ.’
These are splendid ideals, but how can they be achieved?
1. AIM HIGH – Have great expectations
“Live a life worthy of the calling you have received.”
What is this calling? Called to be holy and blameless, 1:4; to sonship, 1:5; to a hope, 1:18; to do the works which God prepared in advance for us to do, 2:10; to be reconciled to God, 2:16; to be fellow citizens with all God’s people, 2:19; to be members of God’s household, 2:19; to become a holy temple in the Lord, and to become a dwelling in which God dwells by his Spirit, 2:22.
And now the apostle urges to live a life worthy of it. Becoming what we are.
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.
By the way, this is a great piece of teaching on guidance.
The unity of the people of God does not begin with strategies and schemes and policies and commissions and reports. It begins with character, v2. Humility, gentleness, patience, forbearance. Humility says, ‘I put Jesus first, you next, and myself last.’ Gentleness says, ‘I do not assert my rights over your rights.’ Patience says, ‘I choose not to fight back when you try to hurt me.’ Forbearance says, ‘I do not spend much time inquiring into your faults; I have quite enough of my own.’
V13, “Attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.” Growth and maturity.
You says, ‘This is very hard. It’s a very high standard to aim for.’ Yes. The development of Christian character takes time and effort. You say, ‘I can’t do it own my own.’ Right again. But according to Eph 3:20 there is a mighty power at work within us.
What expectations do we have? How much, or how little, will you settle for? Cf. 3:20 ‘him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine.’
“Expect great things from God, attempt great things for God.”
2. DIG DEEP – Build on a solid foundation
A leading theme is unity. The disunity of the church is a standing rebuke. But true Christian unity is not just shelving our differences or seeking the lowest common denominator. The only unity worth having is one that is built on a foundation of truth.
The unaswerable logic of Christian unity: vv 4f. Seven unities, seven givens, seven fundamental truths. They form the essential foundation for the unity that we are called to maintain.
V11, Word ministries. The apostle applies God’s truth in a pioneering way. The prophet applies God’s truth in a challenging way. The evangelist applies God’s truth in a saving way. The pastor applies God’s truth in a leading and caring way. The teacher applies God’s truth in a clear and systematic way. So, the diversity of Christian service is made possible by these ministries of the word.
Growing in faith and knowledge; speaking the truth in love.
Built on the foundation of the prophets and apostles, 2:20
Too often in the present century, the quest for unity has been at the expense of truth. “Doctrine divide; service unites.”
Stability & maturity
‘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)
Wesley on catholic spirit. It is clear from v14 that true unity does not arise from an indifference to the truth. ”A catholic spirit is not speculative latitudinarianism. It is not an indifference to all opinions: this is the spawn of hell, not the offspring of heaven. This unsettledness of thought, this being “driven to and fro, and tossed about with every wind of doctrine,” is a great curse, not a blessing; an irreconcilable enemy, not a friend, to true catholicism. A man of a truly catholic spirit has not now his religion to seek. He is fixed as the sun in his judgement concerning the main branches of Christian doctrine…Observe this, you who know not what spirit ye are of: who call yourselves men of a catholic spirit, only because you are of a muddy understanding; because your mind is all in a mist; because you have no settled, consistent principles, but are for jumbling all opinions together. Be convinced, that you have quite missed your way; you know not where you are…Go, first, and learn the first elements of the gospel of Christ, and then shall you learn to be of a truly catholic spirit.’ (Wesley, Forty-Four Sermons, 453)
‘In fundamentals unity, in non-fundamentals (or “doubtful things”) liberty, in all things charity.'”
3. BUILD TOGETHER – everyone has a part to play
What was the purpose of those word ministries? – to prepare God’s people for works of service, to enable the rest of us to exercise our own ministries. Each of us has a part to play. Notice how in v16 Paul has a vision of ‘each part doing its work’.
Don’t sit on the edges
Don’t become a church-hopper
Don’t be a grumbler
Everyone has a part to play. Each has the ability to serve God and other people. We call these God-given abilities ‘spiritual gifts’. No-one can do everything, but everyone can do something. Some of these gifts seem quite ordinary: gifts of caring, service and organisation. Others are extraordinary: gifts of healings and of miracles. But Christ has apportioned them to each of us.
Some will see this as a sick joke.
God is concerned not so much with our ability, as with our availability.
V12 the purpose of the word ministries – to facilitate every-member ministry
We need to work at it. “Make every effort”, v3. We need to work at our relationships.
‘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)
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?
In a sense, the very tensions we experience are a sign of health. They show that we care. But we are called to work at them, and work through them.
On this question of unity, too many of us start with ecclesiastical structure, whereas Paul starts with moral character, v2. Humility, gentleness, patience, bearing one another in love.
‘Mucking in’ does not mean grabbing a football and having an aimless kickaround, in which no-one knows where the touchine is or even where the goals are. It does not mean a bunch of volunteers turning up at a derelict garden, intent on turning It means co-ordinated effort. It means organisation, different roles, training, purpose. It may even mean saying, ‘We are not ready to tackle this now.’
The picture of the body.
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.
It is the unity of the Spirit: a living, active unity.
‘As the century draws to its close, the church would seem to need the benefits of spiritual gifts more than ever before. For at a time when Christians of all traditions realise deeply the imperfections of the church, Christ has given gifts “for the perfecting of the saints” (Eph 4:12), AV. At a time when the continued existence of the Christian ministry is at stake, with panic, uncertainty and surrender on every hand, there are gifts “for the work of ministry” (Eph 4:12). At a time when Christians are ashamed at their divisions but embarrassed at misdirected efforts to heal them, gifts are available “until we all attain to the unity of the faith” (Eph 4:13). At a time when heresy and half-truth and doctrines of men bewilder Christians, God has given his gifts, “so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the cunning of men, by their craftiness in deceitful wiles. Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ.” (Eph 4:14-15)’