Chapter 4, Lesson 1
Ephesians 4:1-3 – I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace,
In the first three chapters of this letter, Paul shared numerous high and lofty truths with the Ephesian church concerning their admission into the body of Christ and the spiritual blessings that God has given them. The remaining three chapters consist of practical applications of these truths.
First of all, they are to live their daily lives (walk) in a manner that reflects the grace of God. They are also to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. While that sounds simple, I doubt it was. Remember, the Ephesian church was composed of both Gentiles and converted Jews. Based on the history between the two groups, we might expect frequent differences that were more likely to produce argument and division rather than peace and harmony.
Paul wants to stop that from happening, so he admonishes them to “eagerly” work for peace and unity. The Greek word for ‘eager’ means intense, diligent or industrious. The clear indication is that this peace and unity will not happen naturally or magically. They are going to have to work at it. It is going to take some effort on their part. So it is for the church of today. We should allow the Holy Spirit to direct the way we think, speak and act towards our fellow believers. We would do well to focus on those points on which we agree, not so much on our points of difference.
The bond of peace is an outward manifestation that is visible to the lost world around us. Why would the world want to be part of an organization that has infighting and quarreling? They have enough of that already! It is peace and love that will show them we are different.
So, practically speaking, how is the church to keep unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace?
Paul says it begins with humility or lowliness, which is the opposite of pride and arrogance. It means to have a modest estimation of our own worth; it means we are willing to waive our rights and take a place or station that might be lower than what we are due. Jesus gives us an excellent example of humility in the book of John.
John 13:3-5 – Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he had come from God and was going back to God, rose from supper. He laid aside his outer garments and taking a towel, tied it around his waist. Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet…
See the picture? Jesus, knowing he was the Son of God, was still willing to take on the humble/lowly role of a servant.
He was willing to get down on his knees and wash their feet, even though he was their creator and savior!
If we are willing to keep an attitude of humility, it will go a long way to creating a bond of peace in the church.
Gentleness or meekness is also needed in forming the unity of Spirit and bond of peace. My favorite definition of meekness is “power under control”. It relates to the manner in which we respond when someone else injures or insults or attacks us. We are to bear that injury patiently, without retaliating or seeking revenge. Best example? Jesus on the cross. He had the power to obliterate those who were crucifying and humiliating him, yet he had perfect control of that power and he did not retaliate.
Lastly, Paul says we are going to need longsuffering (with patience). It is defined as ‘bearing injuries or provocation for a long time; patient endurance’. Example? You guessed it – God. God is longsuffering towards sinners. He patiently waits until we acknowledge him and accept salvation.
2 Peter 3:9 – The Lord is not slack concerning his promise, as some men count slackness; but is long-suffering toward us, not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance.
Obviously, we cannot control the actions of others (Bummer! That would really come in handy sometimes). The Christian traits of humility, meekness and long suffering do not mean that we will all become like identical robots with the same sentiments, the same opinions and the same decisions. Rather, it means that we should strive to interact with others without giving offence or taking offence. We should avoid contention when we don’t get our way. If we can do this, our different personalities and intellects will bond us together in peace. The world needs to see that peace and unity in the church.
Ephesians 4:4-6 – There is one body and one Spirit – just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call – one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is overall and through all and in all.
I have been accused of beating a dead horse on more than one occasion, but obviously, I am not the only one! Here Paul stresses the need for unity by pointing out that the church is one body, with one head (Jesus). We are all quickened by one and the same Holy Spirit. All of us are called to one hope, which is eternal life in heaven. We have one faith which is the gospel message. We have one baptism, in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. We have one Father who has ultimate dominion over all things. In light of this, we clearly need to conduct ourselves in unity. Given this list, there should be more to unite us than to divide us.
Ephesians 4:7 – But grace was given to each one of us according to the measure of Christ’s gift.
God promotes unity in his body by giving each member a measure or part of a gift that is needed by the body.
No one person has it all, therefore, the members of the church must pool their gifts together so that everyone can have what is sufficient for maintaining their place in the body. For example, we need worship leaders, but not everyone can lead worship or play an instrument or sing. We need pastors, but not everyone is called to pastor. We need teachers, administrators, sound technicians, carpenters and electricians, grass cutters, janitors, ushers, etc. Notice that regardless of how big or how small a person’s gift may be, it is still a gift. We did not manufacture it on our own, it was gifted to us by God. In God’s infinite wisdom, he made us dependent upon each other, which promotes unity, strength and harmony in the church.
Ephesians 4:8-10 – Therefore it says, “When he ascended on high he led a host of captives, and he gave gifts to men”. (In saying, “he ascended”, what does it mean but that he had also descended into the lower regions, the earth? He who descended is the one who also ascended far above all the heavens that he might fill all things).
In verse 8, Paul is referencing Psalms 68:18. He is not actually quoting it. The 68th Psalm is considered a Psalm of triumph, written by David to celebrate the time when the ark was brought up to Jerusalem. It also has Messianic overtones which we are not going to examine at length in this study. For our purposes we only need to know that the bringing of the ark up to Jerusalem was a picture or shadow of the triumph of Christ‘s victory over Satan in Jerusalem.
In referencing this Psalm, Paul also makes reference to an ancient war custom. The people in Paul’s day were well aware that when an army won a victory, it was common for the commander to climb up into his chariot and ride into his country or city as the people welcomed him home in victory.
They would chain or bind the most prominent captives from the battle and force them to walk behind the victor’s chariot in shame. Everyone would see and mock the captives. At the same time, the commander would throw spoils/money/coins out into the crowd of people who came to celebrate his victorious return.
Colossians 2:14-15 – [Jesus cancelling] the record of the debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, mailing it to the cross. He disarmed the rulers and authorities and put them to open shame, by triumphing over them in him [the cross].
So, what we see in verse 8-10 is Paul comparing Jesus to Psalm 18 and the victorious commander. Jesus descended first to earth, then to hell, defeated Satan, took the keys of death, hell and the grave, then rose victorious. He paraded Satan around as a defeated foe and gave gifts to the church. This ties in with the subject in Ephesians, which is the victorious Christ giving gifts to his people the church. In fact, the victorious Jesus is the fountain of all blessings to the church. He dispenses his blessings to whom he wills, in the measure he wills, to the different members of his body, both Jews and Gentiles. The greatest gift of all, obviously, is the Holy Spirit.
Ephesians 4:11-13 – And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ.
Having established that Jesus has given gifts to the church and that the church must function in unity to be fully equipped, Paul goes on to discuss specific offices in the church. It seems odd that Paul would discuss offices of the church instead of gifts, but the obvious answer is that when God calls you to an office, he equips you with the gifts necessary to fulfill that office. If you are a true pastor, then God has given you the gifts and abilities necessary for that office. The same is true of all the offices.
Scholars agree that the powers exercised by the leaders of the early church were not as well defined and systematically arranged as they are in today’s church. Their duties varied depending on the circumstances and the people who exercised them. Therefore, rather than dissecting the differences between the offices listed, we are going to focus on the ultimate purpose of these offices in the body of Christ.
We want to begin by noting that HE gave… in other words, the office of true Christian leadership in ministry is based on divine authority.
We further note that the appointment of apostles, pastors, etc, is given for specific purposes.
The first of these purposes is “to equip the saints for the work of ministry” (your translation may say ‘for perfecting of the saints’). The word for equip or perfect means to restore to its place/putting in order; making complete or completing what is unfinished. The meaning is that apostles, pastors, etc have been ordained by Christ to bring individual members of the body to maturity, thus making the whole church complete or perfect. Maturity includes instruction, purification, holiness, etc.
The second purpose of church leadership is “for building up the body of Christ” (your translation may say ‘(for the edifying of the body of Christ). This phrase refers to the growth or maturity of the church body as a whole, in contrast to the individual members as mentioned above. We note that the church belongs to Jesus. He could have edified it any way he wanted; he chose to do it by the outward preaching of the word by people. When individuals claim that they do not need to attend church or be part of a body, they are saying that they know better than God!
So, let’s draw a few conclusions from this:
Jesus has decided to use leaders to help bring the individual members of the body to maturity, but they cannot do this alone. The believer must desire to come to maturity and work in conjunction with the leadership and the Holy Spirit. Are you doing your part? Are you meditating on the word, spending time in prayer, asking the Holy Spirit to identify the parts of your life that need to be perfected, working towards a more holy life? Or are you just coming to church every week waiting for the pastor to spoon feed you like a baby?
No person is excluded from this hierarchy. A person who claims that they do not need to be planted in a body of believers is really in a form of rebellion to Christ. If any person feels they have arrived at maturity, then they should be an active part of the body by helping those who are still immature believers. There is plenty of work to be done – who will rise up to mentor or disciple the new believers?
Mistakes will be made. Despite the calling and gifts they have been given, spiritual leaders are themselves fallen humans who are not perfect. In addition, as each individual member increases in maturity, they will begin to take a bigger role in the church. They too, will make mistakes. If we react with criticism and strife, division will result; this is the opposite of unity. However, the body should have enough love for one another to work through these difficulties. The only perfect workers are the ones who do nothing but warm the seats!
Speaking of workers, keep in mind that all the members of the body are essential. What is your call, your gift, your ministry? If you don’t know, I suggest you start by filling a need you see in the body. If that is not where you belong, God will move you towards something else. Just get started!
Ephesians 4:14-15 – so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes. Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ…
Paul goes on to illustrate another reason for spiritual leaders. The leaders guard against childish behavior or mistakes in the ignorant and inexperienced of the faith. Until the believer becomes firmly rooted in truth, they are in danger of being led into false doctrine or beliefs by any crafty or deceitful person who professes to be a Christian teacher. The spiritual leaders are to oversee the flock as they grow from babes to mature believers.
Romans 16:17-18 – I appeal to you, brothers, to watch out for those who cause divisions and create obstacles contrary to the doctrine that you have been taught; avoid them. For such persons do not serve our Lord Christ, but their own appetites, and by smooth talk and flattery they deceive the hearts of the naïve.
Speaking the truth in love – in this instance, truth is the whole gospel doctrine. They are to teach and preach the truth as opposed to the false doctrine as noted above. Truth is the element in which the Christian is to live at all times. But, truth should be inseparable from love. While God is certainly a just judge, he is not to be portrayed as harsh task master, waiting for his subjects to fail so he can bring punishment.
Ephesians 4:16 – from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love.
Just as the physical human body is formed by a union of all its parts, with the head in charge, so the church is formed by the union of its members with Jesus in charge. Both the physical body and the spiritual body (the church) arrive at maturity when each individual part begins to function as it should.
What is your place in the body of Christ? Are you rooted in a local church? If not, why? Are you diligently working for unity in the body? Have you prayed and asked the Holy Spirit to help you mature in Christ? How much to you think you have grown spiritually in the last three months? In the last six months?