Chapter four represents a key division in Paul’s letter to the Ephesians. Beginning with the word “therefore,” Paul directs his listeners to what is expected of them in light of God’s eternal purpose. Consider the opening words: “Walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called.” To what then have we been called? Paul has repeatedly stated God’s purpose in calling us:
1:6, “to the praise of his glorious grace”
1:12, “so that we who were the first to hope in Christ might be to the praise of his glory”
1:14, “to the praise of his glory”
2:7, “so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace”
3:10, “so that through the church the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places”
3:21, “to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations forever and ever”
As Ezekiel foretold, God did not save us “for our sake,” but “for the sake of his holy name, which you have profaned” (36:22). Therefore, chapters 4-6 are not just a set of “rules” on how to live, they are the means to fulfilling God’s purpose for us to be to the praise of his glory. Whether our relationship and work in the body, our moral life, our marriage and family life, or our secular work, our lives are to be to God’s glory. How sad when Christians do not take their calling seriously and repeat Israel’s sin of profaning God’s holy name!
Keys to the Text
There are two keys to this text: maintaining the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace (vs. 3) and the growth of the body so that it builds itself up in love (vs. 16). Paul emphasizes these principles when he outlines the purpose for equipping the saints – “for the building up of 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.”
When we think of unity, we tend to only think of how well brethren are getting along. But Paul does not speak of one means to the unity of the Spirit, but three. There is the disposition of unity (1-3), the foundation of unity (4-6), and the work of unity (7-16). We begin with our attitudes and treatment of others: humility, gentleness, patience, and bearing with one another in love. Our challenge to act humbly and treat others with gentleness and patience is to do so during disagreements and in difficult relationships. There is no excuse for harshness and impatience even when we are confident of our own correctness.
One Body, One Spirit, One Hope, One Lord, One Faith, One Baptism, One God
This is Paul’s sevenfold summation of the unity of the Spirit. “Let’s just agree to disagree” is often an excuse for disregarding the command to maintain the unity of the Spirit. The basis for the unity of the Spirit already exists. We cannot simply treat one another with gentleness while ignoring the foundation for unity, and then claim unity. One God, one Lord, and one Spirit created one body of believers who follow one standard of faith (the revealed word) and come to Christ through one baptism. It is no more acceptable to speak of various “kinds” of Christians than it is to speak of more than one God. It is no more reasonable to believe there are many “faiths” by which one serves God than to believe there are many Lords. And it is just as foolish to accept numerous ways and reasons to be baptized, as it would be to believe in more than one Holy Spirit. I might add, if baptism is so unimportant, as the denominational world would like us to think, why is this one act singled out in Paul’s list of “ones” that make up the unity of the Spirit?
Building Up of the Body of Christ
Verses 7-10 are a description taken from Psalm 68 in which God is pictured as leading His people out of Egypt, then to Mt. Sinai, from which He prepared them to conquer the enemies of God in Canaan, and then be enthroned on Mt. Zion. Therefore, when we read verses 11-16, we are seeing something similar to what happened at Mt. Sinai, the Lord giving gifts to His people and preparing them to conquer His enemies. This “equipped-preparation” is a critical part of our journey to fulfill our calling.
Verses 11-16 expose a common weakness in churches. Apostles, prophets, evangelists, shepherds and teachers are to be equipping Christians to do their part in building up the body of Christ. When this happens, notice the result at the end of verse 16: “makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love.” A growing church (whether spiritually or numerically) happens as a result of equipped saints who grow together to “mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ.” So, are Christians studying diligently the work of the apostles and prophets for the purpose of being equipped to cause the body to grow? Are evangelists teaching and training Christians how to be lights in the world and share the gospel message? Are shepherds involved in the lives of their church in such a way that they are guiding them to the unity of the faith and maturity? And most importantly, do Christians understand their calling to use their gifts in building up the body?
When Paul identifies the goal of maturity he offers opposing descriptions of “mature manhood” and “children.” Spiritual children are easily deceived by various doctrines that are presented through human cunning and craftiness in deceitful schemes. Therefore, a critical part of equipping by evangelists and shepherds must be in the area of giving Christians the ability to discern false teachings and be able to give an answer to those who ask. Preachers who offer a steady diet of “self-help” preaching do a church no favors. Notice the opposing description of maturity is the ability to “speak the truth in love.” If being able to speak the truth in love is a character trait of maturity, there are quite a number of Christians both young and old who have not reached the goal. It is one thing for a person to think he knows the truth, it is quite another to communicate those truths in an understandable and loving manner.
- Perfect unity has not been attained in any local church. Too often there are leaders who demand unity of belief and therefore dictate it by setting up their “perfect” standard, then withdrawing from anyone who differs with them even in some of the smallest points. Unity isn’t dictated; it is attained through teaching.
- We do not have unity just because we like one another and believe the same thing. Unity requires functioning together as a mature team. I have often listened as elders discussed a plan to help the church to maturity only to hear the question, “How many of our members will come?” Where true unity begins to happen is when we actually work together in the Lord’s cause. No organization joins itself tightly until everyone is “pushing and pulling” together.
- Churches divide when they are not working toward a common cause. When we are not joined and knit together in the goal of building up the body, then we are looking inward instead of outward. Inward looking churches tend to pick on one another and think this is all about them. In such cases, division, or at the very best dwindling, is inevitable.
- This is the best text in scripture that urges us to study together and format our Bible classes so that we can discuss the scriptures and interact in such a way that helps us come to unity. Bible classes should not be lectures nor monopolized by a few. This is a time to attain to the unity of the faith and practice speaking the truth in love.
- One more thing. Some ask where the scripture is that “requires” us to meet more than once a week. Reread this text. How could we accomplish what we just read and meet only once a week?