Ephesians

Commentary on the Book of Ephesians

By: Tom Lowe                                              Date: 8/3/17

 

 

Lesson 16: Maintaining the Unity (Ephesians 4:1-6)

 

 

Ephesians 4:1-6 (KJV)

 

 1 I therefore, the prisoner of the Lord, beseech you that ye walk worthy of the vocation wherewith ye are called,

2 With all lowliness and meekness, with longsuffering, forbearing one another in love;

3 Endeavouring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.

4 There is one body, and one Spirit, even as ye are called in one hope of your calling;

5 One Lord, one faith, one baptism,

6 One God and Father of all, who is above all, and through all, and in you all.

 


Introduction

 

Paul doesn't deal with any problems in his letter to the Ephesians.  All the news was good news from the people at Ephesus, and Paul had the glorious privilege of writing a positive letter to encourage them.  The theme of his letter is "Christian Unity."  Paul had established many churches, and watched them grow, so he realized that without unity, nothing else really matters.  And with unity nothing can defeat the church. In the first three chapters of Ephesians, Paul lays the foundation for Christian unity.  In his last two chapters, he describes the practical results of unity.  And in chapter four he deals with the heart and soul of Christian unity.  

 

Today, we are going to focus our attention on the fourth chapter.  Here Paul speaks of:

  1.    The behavior of Christian unity.
  2.    The basis of Christian unity.
  3.    The benefits of Christian unity.

 

Paul begins with behavior, because it has everything to do with Christian unity.  Often it appears that behavior is more important than beliefs, in maintaining unity in the church.  For example, in our church there are many different beliefs about prophesy, and faith healers, and the work of the Holy Spirit, and the Rapture, and the gifts of the Spirit, and yet there is unity.  But I could absolutely destroy this unity by my misbehavior.   We occasionally hear about church splits, but very few can be traced to bad theology.  But many church splits can be traced to behavior.  Therefore, Paul quickly and directly deals with behavior and treats it as the main priority.   

 

 

Commentary

 

 1 I therefore, the prisoner of the Lord, beseech you that ye walk worthy of the vocation wherewith ye are called,

 

“I therefore, the prisoner of the Lord,”

Paul reminds them again that he is a “prisoner of the Lord.” He is not in prison for doing something wrong; he is in prison for the sake of the Gospel.

 

“beseech you that ye walk worthy of the vocation wherewith ye are called,”

When a man enters into any society, he takes upon himself the obligation to live a certain kind of life; and if he fails in that obligation, he hinders the aims of his society and brings discredit on its name.  Here Paul paints the picture of the kind of life that a man must live when he enters the fellowship of the Christian Church.

 

The Christian walk and service are not according to manmade rules or standards.  It does not mean that we are supposed to sign a pledge that we will not go here or there, not do this or that.  We are to walk worthy of the name “Christian.” In us Jesus must find His earthly walk.  He lives in our bodies, He walks in our bodies—and we are the Bible the world reads.  We present the only Christ the world will ever know.  If the world does not see Jesus in us, then we are not walking worthy of the Christ who lives within us. In Bible language He “… dwells in us and walks in us” (2 Corinthians 6:16).

 

It seems to me that Paul was saying to the believers at Ephesus, “I am a prisoner, I am in bonds for the Gospel’s sake; but you believers are free.  Your responsibility is greater than mine.  You must not use your freedom to satisfy your own desires and pleasures, but you must walk worthy of the vocation by which you have been called.”

 

If we are to be one of those people who can help bring Christian unity, we must conduct ourselves in a manner that doesn't reflect poorly on our calling as Christians.  Since we bear the name of Christ we must never bring that name into disrepute.  Remember, it doesn't make any difference what you say, if your life doesn't back up your words.  People will judge you by what they see you do.  So you can't promote Christian unity if you are unfriendly, if you talk about others faults, or if you are living like everyone else does.

 

 

Being a Christian is a vocation, it is a calling or life's work.  It behooves Christians to walk worthy of the source of their high and holy calling of God that they have in Christ. Christians are called to live for Christ and walk "even as He walked." But just in case the church at Ephesus doesn't understand what he's talking about, he spells it out for them.  In verses two and three, he lists five characteristics of the type of behavior that builds Christian unity.  Let's look at each of them and see what Paul had to say.

 

  1. Humility
  2. Meekness
  3. Longsuffering
  4. Love
  5. Peace

 

 

With all lowliness and meekness, with longsuffering, forbearing one another in love;

 

“With all lowliness”

The word “Lowliness” is not used much today, if at all; rather, in this modern era we say humility instead.  In Greek there is no word for humility which does not have some suggestion of meanness attached to it, and before Christianity, humility was not counted as a virtue at all.  The ancient world looked on humility as a thing to be despised.

 

In the days before Jesus, humility was looked on as a cowering, cringing, servile, shameful quality; and yet Christianity sets it in the very forefront of the virtues.  What then is the source of this Christian humility, and what does it involve?

 

(a)Christian humility comes from self-knowledge.  It is the virtue by which a man becomes conscious of his own unworthiness, as a consequence of the truest knowledge of himself. To face oneself is the most humiliating thing in the world.  True humility comes when we face ourselves and see our weakness, our selfishness, our failure in work and in personal relationships and in achievement. Humility depends on honesty; it depends on having the courage to look at ourselves without the rose-colored spectacles of self-admiration and self-love.  In simple terms humility comes from knowing who and what you are.  If you are saved, then you should know that it's by the grace of God, and not because you deserve it.  So you and I are nothing without God.  And everything we have comes from Him.  And anything that is "good" about us is due to the Holy Spirit, who has taken up residence in us.  If we can just realize this, then it will be easy to be humble.

 

 

(b)Christian humility comes from setting our life beside the life of Christ and in the light of the demands of God.

 

We should be humble because we know Almighty God and we know the One who died to save us.  Humility comes from comparing our life with the life of Christ.  As long as we compare ourselves with others, we may come out of the comparison looking rather good.  Friends, there is always someone that you can compare yourself to and say something like, "I'm not so fat after all; just look at Mr. So-and-so."  Or perhaps you might think to yourself, "I'm a pretty good woman; just look at the other women and you'll see that I talk about Jesus more than they do." But my friends, we should not be comparing ourselves to others; instead, we should compare ourselves to Jesus.  It is only when we compare ourselves to Jesus that we can see our own failures. None of us will come out well when compared to Him. Knowledge of God added to knowledge of self equals humility.

 

God is perfection and to satisfy perfection is impossible.  So long as we compare ourselves with second best, we may come out of the comparison well.  It is when we compare ourselves with perfection that we see our failure.  Self-satisfaction depends on the standard with which we compare ourselves.  If we compare ourselves with our neighbor, we may well emerge very satisfactory from the comparison.  But the Christian standard is Jesus Christ and the demands of God’s perfection—and against that standard there is no room for pride.

 

Christian humility is based on the sight of self, the vision of Christ, and the realization of God. In other words, your high calling should not lead to pride, but on the contrary, it should lead to a modest opinion of yourself. This means unfailing humility, and a deep sense of unworthiness, in every experience and in every relationship.  We must not be conceited, or egotistical, or proud.  

 

“and meekness,”

The second of the great Christian virtues is what our text calls “meekness” and what some would translate “gentleness.” Aristotle, that great Greek thinker and teacher has much to say about meekness.  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 meekness as the mean between being too angry and never being angry at all.  The man who is meek 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 meek is the man who is fired up 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.  The man who is meek is the man who has every instinct and every passion under perfect control.  It would not be right to say that such a man is entirely self-controlled, for such self-control is beyond human power; but it would be right to say that such a man is God-controlled.

 

Those who are gentle are so God-controlled that they are continually kind and gracious towards others.  They are people who often deny themselves, and people who have the Spirit of God living within them in all of His humility. Paul said, "I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me" (Galatians 2:20).  This is Paul's personal testimony, which may be repeated by every believer in Christ. He is saying that when he believed in Jesus, the old nature was crucified, but the new man that he has become in Christ, is living.  The new believer is crucified with Christ, yet he is spiritually alive, because he possesses life through Christ who lives within him. 

 

Here then is the second great characteristic of the true member of the Church.  He is the man who is so God-controlled (meek and gentle) that he is always angry at the right time but never angry at the wrong time.

 

“with longsuffering,”

The third great quality of the Christian is what the King James Version calls “long-suffering.”  This word has two main meanings because it endures to the end, and will reap the rewards.  Its meaning can best be seen from the fact that a Jewish a writer used it to describe what he called “the Roman persistency which would never make peace under defeat.” In their days of greatness 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 “longsuffering” has an even more characteristic meaning than that.  It comes from the normal 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 use 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 while the big dog, who could annihilate the puppy with one snap of his teeth, bears the puppies impertinence with a “long-suffering” (forbearing) dignity.  Longsuffering is the spirit which bears insult and injury without bitterness and without complaint.  It is the spirit which can deal with unpleasant people with graciousness and fools without irritation.

 

The thing which gives “longsuffering” its best meaning of all is that the New Testament repeatedly uses it as an attribute of God.  Paul asks the unrepentant sinner if he despises the patience of God (Romans 2:4).  Paul speaks of the perfect patience of Jesus toward him (1 Timothy 1:16).  Peter speaks of God’s patient waiting in the days of Noah (1 Peter 3: 20).  He says that the forbearance (patience) of our Lord is our salvation (2 Peter 3:15).  If God had been a man He would in sheer irritation have wiped out the world long ago for its disobedience.  The Christian must have the patience toward his fellow men that God has shown to him.

 

Perhaps we can think about patience like this.  It's the spirit that has the power to take revenge, but never does so.  Patience is the spirit that puts up with insults without becoming bitter or complaining.  This is the opposite of being short-tempered. The old nature is so quick to be offended that we need longer fuses. The new life in Christ allows us to endure, without retaliation, any wrong that we have suffered, and then, to turn the other cheek. Paul also says that to promote Christian unity, we must be magnanimous.  As Christians, we must make allowances for one another; we must be magnanimous towards others when their faults are revealed.  After all, wasn't God being magnanimous to us when He forgave our sins.  But remember, God could be magnanimous only because Jesus paid the penalty for our sins.

 

“forbearing one another in love;”

The fourth great Christian quality is “love.” Christian love was something so new that the Christian writers had to invent a new word for it; or, at least, they had to employ a very unusual Greek word—agape.

 

In Greek there are four words for “love.” There is eros, which is the love between a man and a woman 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 translates sometimes as 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 very 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.  This agape is the ability to retain unconquerable goodwill toward 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.

 

We are able to bear with one another, through life's difficulties and problems, out of Christian love, not because we have a lot of grit and determination.  The Bible teaches that "love conquers all."  Though there are four Greek words for love, the word Paul uses in verse 2 when he says, "bearing with one another in love," is the highest.  It means that we must love others so much that nothing they do or say will keep us from loving them and wanting to do good things for them.  Even though they mistreat and hurt us, we will feel only kindness toward them.

 

 

Endeavouring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.

 

These four great virtues of the Christian life—humility, meekness, patience, love—give rise to a fifth, “peace.”  It is Paul’s advice and urgent request that the people to whom he is writing should eagerly preserve “the sacred oneness” which should characterize the true Church.

 

“Peace” may be defined as right relationships between man and man.  This oneness, this peace, these right relationships can be preserved only in one way.  Every one of the four great Christian virtues depends upon the obliteration of self.  So long as self is at the center of things this oneness can never fully exist.  In a society where self predominates, men cannot be anything other than a disintegrated collection of individualistic and warring units.  But when self dies and Christ springs to life within our hearts, then comes the peace, the oneness, which is the great hall-mark of the true Church.

 

Lastly, Paul says that Christian unity is marked by being peaceable.  We have peace with God only by accepting His Son as our Savior.  We can feel at peace and live peaceably with others when God's Spirit within controls us. We have seen that the characteristics of Christian unity are: living lives that reflect our calling as Christians, humility, gentleness, patience, generosity, love, and peace.

 

 

NOW PAUL GOES ON TO WRITE DOWN THE BASIS ON WHICH CHRISTIAN UNITY IS FOUNDED.

 

 

There is one body, and one Spirit, even as ye are called in one hope of your calling;

 

“There is one body,”

Christ is the head and the Church is the “body.”  No brain can work through a body which is split into fragments.  Unless there is a co-ordinated oneness in the body, the plans of the head are frustrated.  The oneness of the Church is essential for the work of Christ.  That does not need to be a mechanical oneness of administration and of human organization; but it does need to be a oneness founded on a common love of Christ and of every part for the other.

 

The verse says, "There is one body." The church is a living thing composed only of living members, i.e., blood-bought, born-again, Bible-believing saints. This one body has one Head and many members. 

 

“and one Spirit,”

The word pneuma in Greek means both spirit and breath; it is in fact the usual word for breath.  Unless the breath is in the body, the body is dead; and the visualizing breath of the body of the Church is the Spirit of Christ.  There can be no Church without the Spirit; and there can be no receiving of the Spirit without a prayerful waiting for Him.

 

And there is “one Spirit.” The Holy Spirit is the life and breath of that body, and He was involved in the salvation of each member. 

 

“even as ye are called in one hope of your calling;”

We are all proceeding towards the same goal.  This is the great secret of the unity of Christians.  Our methods, our organization, even some of our beliefs may be different; but we are all striving towards the one goal of a world redeemed in Christ.

 

The last part of the verse states that there is "one hope of your calling."  Here Paul is talking about the goal that is set before all believers.  They will be taken out of this world and into the presence of Christ. This is the blessed hope.

 

 

One Lord, one faith, one baptism,

 

“One Lord,”

The nearest thing to a creed which the early Church possessed was the short sentence; “Jesus Christ is Lord” (Philippians 2:11).  As Paul saw it, it was God’s dream that there should come a day when all men would make this confession.  The word used for Lord is kurios.  Its two usages in ordinary Greek show us something of what Paul meant.  It was used for master in contrast to servant or slave; and it was the regular designation of the Roman Emperor.  Christians are joined together because they are all in the possession and in the service of the one Master and King.

 

 "One Lord" refers to the Lord Jesus Christ.  His lordship over the church is what brings into existence the unity of the church.

 

“one faith,”

Paul did not mean that there is one creed.  Very seldom does the word faith mean a creed in the New Testament.  By faith the New Testament nearly always means the complete commitment of the Christian to Jesus Christ.  Paul means that all Christians are bound together because they have made a common act of complete surrender to the love of Jesus Christ.  They may describe their act of surrender in different terms; but, however they describe it, that surrender is the one thing common to all of them.

 

"One faith" refers to the body of truth called the apostles doctrine in Acts 2:42.  

 

“one baptism,”

In the early Church “baptism” was usually adult baptism, because men and women were coming directly 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 faithful forever to his emperor.  Similarly, there was only one way to enter the Christian Church—the way of public confession of Jesus Christ.

 

Today, we would say that truth is found in the Bible. When true doctrine is denied it causes divisions.  There must be a substance to form an adhesion of believers.  And that substance that binds us together is true doctrine.

 

"One baptism" is referring to the baptism of the Holy Spirit, which is real baptism.  Ritual baptism is by water.  Water baptism is a symbol of the real baptism of the Holy Spirit, by which believers are actually made one.

 

 

One God and Father of all, who is above all, and through all, and in you all.

 

“One God and Father of all,”

The subject of this verse is the fatherhood of God.  He is our heavenly Father, and as such, He watches over us and cares for us.  Since there is only one Father, He is not the Father of unbelievers.  Sonship can only come through Christ.  

 

The unity of believers produces a sharp distinction between believers and unbelievers.   He is Father of all those who are His through faith in His Son. My friends, there is only one God, and He is not Buddha or Allah.  The One God unites us into the one family of God.  

 

Paul says four things about the one God.

  1.     He is Father of all--that is, He created all.
  2.     He is above all--that is, He controls all.
  3.     He is through all--that is, He sustains all.
  4.     He is in all--that is, He is present everywhere.

 

There is “one God,” and He is the “Father of all.” In that phrase, “Father of all,” is enshrined the love of God.  The greatest thing about the Christian God is not that He is king, not that He is judge, but that He is Father.  The Christian idea of God begins in love.

 

“who is above all,”

In that phrase is enshrined the control of God.  No matter what things may look like God is in control.  There may be floods; but “The Lord sits enthroned over the flood” (Psalm 29:10). 

 

“and through all,”

In that phrase is enshrined the providence of God.  God did not create the world and set it going as a man might wind up a clockwork toy and leave it to run down.  God is all through His world, guiding, sustaining, loving.

 

“and in you all.”

He is in all; in that phrase is enshrined the presence of God in all life.  It may be that Paul took the germ of this idea from the Stoics.  The Stoics believed that God was a fire purer than any earthly fire; and they believed that what gave a man life was that a spark of that fire which was God came and dwelt in his body.  It was Paul’s belief that in everything there is God.

 

When I read this verse I am made to believe that Paul was a southerner, because he ends the verse with "you all."  

 

 

IT IS THE CHRISTIAN BELIEF THAT WE LIVE IN A GOD-CREATED, GOD-CONTROLLED, GOD-SUSTAINED, GOD-FILLED WORLD.

 

 

Conclusion

 

When the Roman soldiers, who were on guard at Jesus' crucifixion, were dividing up His clothes, they came to His coat and they discovered that it was seamless.  If they tore it, it would be ruined.  Therefore, they decided to keep it and to cast lots for it.  The seamless robe of Christ has become a symbol for the unity of the church.  Henry Ward Beacher prayed that the church might be one again, like the seamless robe of His Lord.  This very appropriate symbol is a thing of great beauty for those who are believers.  Strife and divisions within the church have been ugly efforts to tear into pieces the sacred garment of truth.  The Crucified One must look down sadly at the miserable conflict between those He died to redeem.  His look of love and sorrow is reminiscent of His prayer, "May they be brought to complete unity to let the world know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved Me." (John 17:23)

 

The unity of the church is essential for the work of Christ. When there is unity, there will be oneness, and harmony, and agreement. Unity was apparent on the day of Pentecost when the believers "were all with one accord in one place" (Acts 2:1). The Church is a unity in diversity, a fellowship of faith, and hope, and love that binds believers together.

 

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