The Prison Epistles, Part Six

The Glorious Church, Part One

If we were to divide up Ephesians into its basic thematic divisions, we would notice that Paul follows a very familiar patter he used in Galatians, Romans, and Colossians.  Paul begins with the grand theological themes of salvation and God’s redemptive plan for His creation and the role of the Church in that plan.  Then he moves into the practical implications of that teaching.  But theology is not dropped all together, but rather it is interwoven with moral and ethical exhortations.  This is what we see from chapters 4-6.

Clearly, and significantly, the theme of unity in the Church begins this section.  This unity, though, is not external and mechanical, but internal and organic (Hendriksen).  It is not forced upon but rather proceeds from within the living organism we call the Body of Christ.  This kind of unity bears absolutely no resemblance to the current wave of ecumenism, which seeks to eradicate all denominational barriers and create one “super-church.”

If we could summarize the message of the first six verses, it might look like this:

The church is spiritually one, so act spiritually as one.

As individuals come to faith in Christ, all barriers that once existed between them disappear and they become one in Christ.  Paul said this in Galatians 3:26-28–

You are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.

These united believers constitute the Church, which was called into being and is maintained by Christ.  But the Church does not exist for itself; it has a function in the world and Paul spends some time discussing this function.  Markus Barth wrote:

The Church has its place and function between Christ and the world.  She is not the mediator of salvation; she is not the savior of the world; she is not even a redemptive community.  But she knows and makes known the savior and salvation.

The Church is not made up of people with similar views on certain things.  It is the assembly of God, of those in whom He dwells and the unity is a unity based on that and nothing else.  A unity based on a creedal statement or on a particular doctrine of man is doomed to failure.

In order for the Church to fulfill its mission in the world, there must be unity within its membership.  However, this unity must not be viewed as believers being a mere “cog in the wheel.”  Personal expression and individual expression is clearly encouraged in verses 7-12, 16.  Finally, this unity is not an end in itself; it is not a superficial or artificial “togetherness.”  Our unity is to demonstrate to an unbelieving world what true unity and agape love looks like.

1.  The plea for unity, 4:1-3

As a prisoner for the Lord, then, I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received.  Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love.  Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace.

What exactly is Paul referring to when writes “then?”  Wood and others believe Paul is referring certain references he made throughout chapters 1-3 to spiritual privileges and the Christian’s calling (see, for example, 3:6, 12, 14-19).

As if to focus his readers attention on the seriousness of the way they live their lives, Paul repeats the fact that he is a “prisoner for the Lord.”  He urges them to live lives worthy of their calling.  The word “worthy,” axios, means literally “bringing up the other beam of the scales” and suggests an equivalence.   There needs to be a balance between one’s confession of faith and one’s practice of that faith.   The gist of verse one seems to be that the Ephesians have been graciously invited into a new relationship with God but have not yet brought their lifestyles into accord with that new life.

Christians need to always do what is in keeping with their vocation.  By definition it is a calling they have received, not one they have acquired by any self-effort.  What is the calling of every Christian?  All Christians share a divine call to be part of the Church, the called-out company (eklesia).

The four graces of unity, 4:2

Walking in a worthy manner–living a balanced Christian life–provides the atmosphere for unity and as unity flourishes in the Church, four graces or virtues will become evident.  These graces are not naturally inherent in human beings, but they are gifts of the Holy Spirit (Galatians 5:22-23).

Humility.  This is a favorite word of Paul’s; he uses it five times in his writings.  The Greek word tapeinophrosyne is “a thankful sense of dependence upon God” and is the exact opposite of pride and conceit.  Taylor has stated that the stance of a humble person is one looking upward.  Westcott remarked:

The proud man only looks at that which is below him, and so he loses the elevating influence of that which is higher.

Gentle.  Another way to translate this word is considerateness.  The KJV translates praotes as “meekness,” but is a much more powerful word than that.  Hodge says it is that unresisting, uncomplaining disposition of mind, which enables us to bear without irritation or resentments the faults and injuries of others.  There is an element of restraint  that is in that word so it “denotes strength and not supine weakness”  (Wood)

Patience.  The old word is “longsuffering” in the KJV and makrothymia means “the enduring, unweariable ‘spirit’ which knows how to outlast pain or provocation in a strength learnt only at the Redeemers feet” (Moule).  It is the opposite of “a short temper,” and is a truly divine characteristic because human nature is not like that.  Patience, according to Paul, finds perfect expression in “bearing with one another.” To bear with another means to literally “hold him up,” and suggests the ability to put up with his faults and idiosyncracies because we have our own.  We are to bear with each other in “love,” and that agape love is a recurring theme in Paul.

With these three graces in play within the Church, the world outside of the Church can see what true Christian love is like.  That’s why unity in the Church is so important.  Unity outside of the Church is non-existent, yet this is what all people crave.   Beare concludes:

The harmony within the fellowship, which is the harbinger of universal harmony, can be maintained only in the measure that all Christians practice the virtues here mentioned.

Unity of the Spirit, verse 3

Unity is not an option, it is, in fact, a responsibility of every Christian to keep.  This unity is both promoted by peace and results in peace.  When we are at peace with our fellows, being in unity with them is easy.  And the more unity that is existent in a congregation the more peace will be manifested in that congregation.  “Make every effort” is how the NIV translates spoudazontes, which is better rendered “give diligence” or “strive earnestly.”  The NEB reads “spare no effort.”  The implication is that while unity already exists within the Church, it must be, like all blessings of God, acquired by individual members; they must practice it.

2.  The great unities, 4:4-6

There is one body and one Spirit—just as you were called to one hope when you were called— one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.

What follows are seven things which are the essence of the Church’s oneness.  The word “one” is repeated and is emphatic, which, as John Calvin observed, “Christ cannot be divided; faith cannot be rent.”  These great “unities” form a sevenfold description of a threefold unity, a statement of the character of Christian unity and of its trinitarian source.

One body, verse 4.  The “one body” of course is the Church, consisting of Jews and Gentiles.  In the pagan world of Paul’s day, there were many religions and many gods, differing from town-to-town even.

One Spirit, verse 4.  This body, or church, is not man-made or an earth-born institution, but a product of the Holy Spirit, and so Paul  mentions “one Spirit.”  Membership in the Body of Christ comes by the drawing, regeneration, and indwelling of the Holy Spirit, Romans 8:9.

One hope, verse 4.  “Hope” is another of Paul’s favorite words and has already figured in his presentation of the Gospel.  In 2:12, we read:

[R]emember that at that time you were separate from Christ, excluded from citizenship in Israel and foreigners to the covenants of the promise, without hope and without God in the world.

But now, they have an inheritance and the possession of the Holy Spirit is a guarantee or a “foretaste” of its fulfillment.

[I]n order that we, who were the first to hope in Christ, might be for the praise of his glory. And you also were included in Christ when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation. Having believed, you were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit, who is a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance until the redemption of those who are God’s possession—to the praise of his glory.   (1:12-14)

Paul prays that they may come to a fuller understanding of that hope:

I pray also that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints. (1:18)

Exactly what that “hope” is not said here, but in 1 John 3:2 John tells his readers that it is the hope of sharing  in the glory of Christ in the place He has prepared for us.

Dear friends, now we are children of God, and what we will be has not yet been made known. But we know that when he appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is.

Jew or Gentile, the hope is the same for both of them.

One Lord, verse 5.  The pagan world had many gods but Christianity has only one whose claim is absolute.  Christ is our Lord in the sense that He bought us, and we are His.  He owns us, loves us, cares for us, and protects us.  We recognize His  sovereignty, we own Him as our Deliverer, Redeemer, Ruler, the One whom we trust, obey, love, and worship.

One faith, verse 5.  This faith (pistis) is the faith that unites all believers to Christ and to each other.  This “one faith” has been taken in two way by scholars.  First, it refers to our subjective faith:  the acceptance of Christ as our personal Lord and Savior.  Second, it refers to the objective faith:  the Gospel, that is, the doctrines delivered to the saints, Jude 3.  In both senses, believers share a common experience of saving faith and we believe in a common set of doctrines; the Word of God.

One baptism, verse 5.  With respect to “one baptism,” Groshide observes,

There is only one baptism that is received by many (perhaps a number of persons simultaneously).  All the members of the congregation are baptized in the same  manner, and we may well assume, after or in connection with the same sermonic elucidation.

In other words, we are all baptized for the same reason, in obedience to God’s Word.  Again, regardless of one’s background, whether Jew or Gentile, it is by means of baptism that believers were sealed with their Lord (Galatians 3:27).  In baptism, then, lies the evidence that all kinds of people, without any discrimination, share in a common grace (Ridderbos).

One God and Father, verse 6.  To show the unity within the Trinity as the ultimate basis for the unity of the Church, Paul now turns to the Father.  Though mentioned last in the ascending scale of unities, “one God and Father” is really first in terms of cause.  He is the One who has caused the six other unities to come into play.

God is above all:  He is sovereign and supreme.  God is through all:  His power and His presence penetrates the whole Church.  He is in all:  His Spirit indwells all His people.

We all worship before the same God, before the same eternal throne, the same Holy Spirit motivates, empowers, and propels all of us in our worship, and in Christ we are all the children of the same heavenly Father.

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