Weds 2nd August - Ephesians 4:1-16
Meditation on Ephesians 4:1-16
As a prisoner for the Lord, then, I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received. 2 Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. 3 Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. 4 There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to one hope when you were called; 5 one Lord, one faith, one baptism; 6 one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.7
But to each one of us grace has been given as Christ apportioned it. 8 This is why it says:
“When he ascended on high, took many captives gave gifts to his people.”
9 (What does “he ascended” mean except that he also descended to the lower, earthly regions? 10 He who descended is the very one who ascended higher than all the heavens, in order to fill the whole universe.)
11 So Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, 12 to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up 13 until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.
14 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 people in their deceitful scheming. 15 Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will grow to become in every respect the mature body of him who is the head, that is, Christ. 16 From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work.
As we reflect back on chapters 1-3 of this letter, we have been climbing a proverbial mountain and we reached the top as Paul told us of all the blessings that God has given to His people and the blessings that are to come.
Now we come to the practical outworking of all these blessings as we live the Christian life day by day.
This is how chapters 4-6 unfold as Paul reminds us of who we are in Christ and now we have to show it.
Remember that Paul is in prison as he writes this letter.
Our Christian faith will affect our behaviour.
Paul gives us…
A NEW FRAMEWORK Verses 1-16
- WHO AM I? Verses 1-3
He appeals to us to be careful how we behave.
Here is how some of our other translations quote this opening verse:
Contemporary English Version: As a prisoner of the Lord, I beg you to live in a way that is worthy of the people God has chosen to be his own.
The Living Bible: I beg you - I, a prisoner here in jail for serving the Lord - to live and act in a way worthy of those who have been chosen for such wonderful blessings as these.
Here is a challenge as to how we live and how we relate to each other as fellow travellers. Each of the characteristics that Paul mentions takes us back to Jesus who showed them as an example for us to follow.
Some of you might remember Cassius Clay, the heavyweight boxer who, on more than one occasion, claimed “I am the greatest”.
How different from the words of Jesus when He said of Himself, “The Son of Man didn’t come to be served but to serve and to give His life as a ransom for many”.(Mark 10:45)
Remember how Paul described the humility of Jesus … ‘Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used for His own advantage; rather He made Himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to death, even death on a cross.’ (Philippians 2:7-8)
Paul challenges us to ‘be completely humble’.
Paul wrote to the Christians in Rome, saying, ‘For by the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned.’ (Romans 12:3)
That seems a good place to start as we work out in practice how to live our Christian lives.
Humility will also work itself out in practice as we take up the second challenge – i.e. ‘be gentle’. This, again, brings us back to the example of Jesus.
Yes, He got cross with the religious leaders because they were leading people astray. Yes, He got frustrated with His disciples because they seemed to be so slow at learning. But see how He always had time for the poor, the weak, the downtrodden and the outcasts.
‘be patient’ – Rev John Balchin, one of my mentors, translates this as ‘be long tempered’
‘bear with one another in love’. Some translations use the word ‘longsuffering’. Chrysostom defines this as: ‘the spirit that has the power to take revenge but never does.’
In practice this means that we make allowances for each other. Quoting John Balchin again, he says, ‘I have a realistic view of myself and my opinions, considering it possible that I may be wrong!’
And finally, I will do what I can to ‘keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace.’
Another writer says, ‘any fool can have a row – it takes a wise person to keep the peace.’
This does not mean that we go along with every new idea or change our theology in order to keep up with the times. We can learn to disagree without harming our brothers and sisters in Christ.
Spurgeon preached a sermon on this. (It is available on line if you have the patience to look for it!)
Here is an excerpt from that sermon preached on the 1st January 1865.
We can understand this unity of the Spirit by understanding what it is not. In a sermon on this text, Charles Spurgeon pointed out some of the things that the text does not say.
“· It does not say, “To endeavour to maintain the unity of evil, the unity of superstition, or the unity of spiritual tyranny.”
- It does not say, “Endeavouring to keep up your ecclesiastical arrangements for centralisation.”
- It does not say, “Endeavouring to keep the uniformity of the Spirit.”
Structural unity can even work against true unity of the Spirit. We can perhaps see a purpose God has in preventing a structural unity of the church right now, to keep misdirected efforts of the church (such as ambitions for political power) from fulfilment. “It is not a desirable thing that all Churches should melt into one another and become one; for the complete fusion of all Churches into one ecclesiastical corporation would inevitably produce another form of Popery, since history teaches us that large ecclesiastical bodies grow more or less corrupt as a matter of course. Huge spiritual corporations are, as a whole, the strongholds of tyranny and the refuges of abuse; and it is only a matter of time when they shall break to pieces.
We are confident that this unity is found in Jesus Christ, by the Spirit of God. “We want unity in the truth of God through the Spirit of God. This let us seek after; let us live near to Christ, for this is the best way of promoting unity. Divisions in Churches never begin with those full of love to the Saviour.”
- THE UNITY OF THE CHURCH Verses 4-6
The characteristics which we display, as shared by Paul in these opening verses of chapter 4 are to be demonstrated in the church so that the church is united.
Paul doesn’t speak of denominations of which, today, around the world, there are hundreds. He is speaking about the Church of Jesus Christ to which, we as believers, belong.
Pause for a moment and read what he says about unity of the Church.
- ONE body – this is the world-wide church of believers in the Lord Jesus
- ONE Spirit – the Holy Spirit was given on the day of Pentecost after Jesus had ascended back to heaven
- ONE hope – as the hymn writer says: ‘My hope is built on nothing less than Jesus’ blood and righteousness’
- ONE Lord – read John 17:20-26 where John records the prayer of Jesus for all believers down through the centuries
- ONE faith – we try to change the basis of faith at our peril. The Scriptures are our foundation
- ONE baptism – this probably refers to water baptism as an outward sign of an inward change
- ONE God and Father of all
And here is the author and sustainer of such ONEness – ‘one God and Father who is OVER all and THROUGH all and IN all (capitals are mine).
- THE DIVERSITY IN THE CHURCH Verses 7-13
Paul is quoting from Psalm 68 in these verses. He is referring to the death, resurrection and ascension of Christ and from there he talks about the gifts of leadership in His church. There are other passages which speak of the gifts that God, by His Spirit, gives. What is quite clear is that everyone who has entrusted their life to Jesus has been given gifts. Read 1 Corinthians 12 and Romans 12:3-8 for other references to the gifts that God gives to His people.
The important aspect of all this is the phrase, ‘but to each one of us grace has been given as Christ apportioned it.’
Grace is the undeserved favour of God which brings salvation to us and also brings gifts to us so that we serve Him as we use those gifts that He has given us.
In these verses Paul is speaking, initially, about the gifts of leadership in the church but then he turns to the outcomes of using these gifts.
Notice that it is the risen and ascended Lord who gives these gifts. We don’t get to pick and choose those that we fancy from a list of gifts.
John Stott in his commentary on the letter to the Ephesians brings many useful insights into the meaning of these five specific gifts.
- ‘apostles’ – John Stott writes: ‘these are not successors to the original twelve apostles of Jesus who were with Him as eyewitnesses. Some talk of the ‘apostolic succession’ but we need to be careful how we define that. There may be those who have apostolic ministries such as pioneer missionary work, church planting and leadership. The original word for apostles is ‘apostolos’ which means ‘sent’.’
- ‘prophets’ – John Stott writes: ‘as with apostles, Paul is referring to those who exercised a prophetic ministry which was based on the Word of God.’
Reading the prophets in the Old Testament, we see how often each refers to ‘the LORD said to me’ or ‘the LORD spoke to…’ and then they passed on God’s Word as given them. ‘Whilst there are not prophets such as these Old Testament prophets today, there may be those who have a gift of interpretation or exposition, none of which are new revelations but a new understanding of the old.’
- ‘evangelists’ – here is the gift of evangelistic preaching which makes plain the message from God to the people, especially, as John Stott writes, ‘making the gospel particularly plain and relevant to unbelievers, or of helping people to take the plunge of commitment to Christ, or of effective personal witnessing.
- ‘pastors’ – a shepherd who tends his flock by feeding it and looking after it. Feeding the flock is often by teaching but not always.
- ‘teachers’ – explaining the Word of God to those the teacher is pastoring.
Whilst not every Christian fits into these gifts, Paul goes on to explain that these gifts, when properly exercised, affect ‘all’ of us. The purpose of these gifts is ‘until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining the whole measure of the fulness of Christ.’
Here is a challenge for each of us.
This was the prayer of Jesus, already referred to – John 17:21 “that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you.”
And not only are we brought to unity in the faith, but we, as members of the Body of Christ, His Church, we will ‘become mature’ and we will become like Jesus.
- THE OUTCOME FOR ALL OF US Verses 14-16
Notice the progression of spiritual growth.
- ‘from infancy to maturity.’
- ‘no longer being tossed about’
- ‘no longer being blown here and there by every wind of teaching’
- ‘no longer taken in by the cunning and craftiness of deceitful and scheming people’
Rather the opposite…
- ‘ we speak the truth in love’
- ‘we become mature in Christ’
How exciting is that?
But here is the final challenge in these verses – ‘as each part does its works.’
God help me to honour the part you have got for me so that I am built up and the Church is built up as I play my part.
Please God, help me not to let your Church down because I don’t fulfil my part.