UNDERSTANDING GOD’S ETERNAL PURPOSES, 4

Fulfilling God’s Purpose, Ephesians 4:1—6:9

Essentially, the first three chapters of Ephesians deal with God’s plan of redemption as it relates to the world and the role of the Church in achieving that goal.  Chapter 4 marks a major transition in this letter.  Paul turns from the doctrinal to the practical, although there are moments of profound theology in chapters 4 through 6.

The overarching theme of these chapters is one of unity within the Church.  God’s answer to all the disharmony of the world is Christ, and the Church is to be a living example of what real unity looks like.  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.

To fulfill its mission in the world, the Church must exemplify throughout her membership the wisdom, power, and grace of God.  When members of the Church live worthily among themselves, and in the world, they minister Christ to others.  Any person who considers themselves part of the Body of Christ must live faithfully with this end in view.

1.  Living in unity, 4:1—6

(a)  A divine calling, verses 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.

Paul repeated the fact that he was “a prisoner for the Lord” as a way to demonstrate the seriousness of what he is about write, for if he could live a worthy life even in while in prison, they should be able to live right in relative freedom.

What Paul urges the Ephesians to do is nothing less than lead the sort of life that matches their Christian vocation.  The Greek word for “worthy” is axios, and literally means “bringing up the other beam of the scales.”  It indicates equivalence.  What Paul is telling his friends is that they should live in harmony with the responsibilities that come with their new relationship to God.  When a person becomes a believer, they have a whole new set duties and responsibilities to God, to other believers, and to the world in general.

Paul lists four specific graces that should mark every member of any Church:

  • Humility.  The Greek word is found 5 times in Paul’s writing, and is a distinctively Christian quality not found in the world outside of the Church.  It may be defined as a thankful dependence upon God, and is the opposite of pride and conceit.
  • Gentleness.  This virtue is linked to humility; the two go hand-in-hand, and may be viewed as “being kind” or “considerate” to others.  There is the thought of restraint in this word, and so it denotes a sort of “controlled strength” and not passive weakness.
  • Patience.  This is truly a divine characteristic that God’s children ought to share with their heavenly Father.  Moule has described this quality as “the untiring ‘spirit’ which knows how to outlast pain or provocation in a strength learned only at the Redeemers’s feet.” This kind of “longsuffering” is not a native quality; it is not a learned behavior; it must be deposited into the heart of a Christian by the Spirit of God.
  • Forbearance.  This is a practical outworking of a patient spirit in which we go on loving and respecting others regardless of their faults or weaknesses.

What needs to be pointed out at this juncture is this:  these marvelous virtues are not be considered as a pattern of behavior toward mankind in general; Paul is concerned with the life within the Christian community—the Church.

The simple fact is the absence of these graces would put the whole assembly in jeopardy.  This is why Paul wanted his Ephesian friends to “work very hard” to maintain the unity in Christ by ensuring they live properly.  The verb translated “make every effort,” spoudazontes, suggests overcoming a great difficulty with grit and determination.

What Paul wanted to see in the Ephesian church, and what should be manifested in all churches, is not a cold and mechanical forced unity based on rules and regulations, but a kind of unity that is organic and internal.  This kind of divine unity is possible as each member the Church submits to God and to each other.

As we allow this happen, members of a church will find themselves “bound together” in “peace.”  One may wonder how something so simple as “peace” can bind disparate human beings together.  In truth, only a person who has never experienced divine peace would ask that question, for when an individual or a group of individuals has found God’s peace, they never want to give it up and they will do anything to ensure that peace is maintained.

(b)  Divine oneness, verses 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.

In this paragraph, Paul lists seven things that are the essence of unity.  These emphasize the fact that Christ cannot be divided; not His work in us nor His Body.  This section gives the reasons why those who claim to belong to Christ should work so hard to preserve their unity.

  • One body, one spirit, one hope.  These first three “unities” actually have direct reference to the Body of Christ, the Church.  The Church, both a local assembly as well as the Church universal, should be a visibly united community.   The formal connection between these three unities may be described like this:  There is one body (the Church), indwelled and empowered by the Holy Spirit, moving toward the same hope of eternal life in Christ.
  • One Lord, one faith, one baptism.  The second trio of unities is linked to the “one Lord,” to whom all believers owe their allegiance.  The “one faith” in the “one Lord” is the foundation of our unity.  One scholar has aptly observed, “Loyalty to the one Lord gives birth to the one faith and is demonstrated by the one act of baptism.”
  • One God and father of all.  The last in the ascending scale of unities is the Father.  Notice that God is not associated with any other of the unities; He stands alone for there is one God, not many.   He is the Source of good that happens in the Church.  He is over all—God is supreme and sovereign.  He is through all—His abiding presence penetrates the entire Church.  He is in all—through the Holy Spirit, God living in His people.

Of this incredible unity, Dale observed:  “We all worship before the same eternal throne and in Christ we are all children of the same Divine Father.”

2.  Live as children of light

(a)  Not like others, 4:17—24

The theme of this group of verses is renewal, suggested by verse 23—

…be made new in the attitude of your minds.

This “renewal” implies a complete change of life, a total detachment from the world in which we formerly lived.

So I tell you this, and insist on it in the Lord, that you must no longer live as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their thinking.  (verse 17)

This admonition is so important; Paul musters all the authority at his command:  he insists “in the Lord” that his friends stop living as the Gentiles do.  The word “futility” in the Greek means “purposelessness, uselessness and emptiness.”  In the context of this letter, mataiotes (“vanity,” KJV) assumes the ideas of delusion and moral failure.  Without the leading of the Holy Spirit, a person lives an aimless life, living in a dark room, as it were.

The word translated “thinking,” nous, includes much more than what we do with our brains!  It refers to all aspects of a person’s being which enable him to recognize moral values and deep, spiritual truths.  In other words, believers need to stop living like unbelievers because they are called to a higher standard of living and they have been enabled to discern the “higher standard” and therefore empowered to live that new life.

They are darkened in their understanding and separated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them due to the hardening of their hearts.  (verse 18)

This verse is so simple, a deep truth is often missed in its simplicity.  While there is definitely a reference to the fall of man in this verse, there is another truth lurking beneath the surface.  While man’s alienation from God is certainly the result of his natural sinful state, his alienation is also an active alienation.  The thought is that man’s behavior separates him from God.  If man’s behavior separates him from God, then it follows that Christians should never engage in any behavior that would separate them from God.

Verse 19 bears out this truth.  Because unbelievers live apart from God naturally, they are unable to discern the right way to live and as a result, rush headlong into self-destructive behavior.  They are literally unable to help themselves, but believers are able to stop that self-destructive behavior, and so they should.  This whole line of thinking is greatly expanded upon in Romans 1:21—28.

In contrast to the unbeliever, stands the believer—

You were taught, with regard to your former way of life, to put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires; to be made new in the attitude of your minds; and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness.  (verses 22—24)

The “former way of life” was supposed to have been discarded completely just as one removes dirty socks to put on a clean pair.  There is another deep truth in this paragraph and it is this:  the “old self” is in the process of decay and disintegration.  Notice “is being corrupted” is written in the present tense, meaning that its destruction is continuous and unstoppable.  Like alcohol to the alcoholic will eventually destroy his liver, so an addiction to sin will cause one to rot.

However, believers, because they have been re-created, are now exempt from that rot.  Instead of being addicted to sin (the old self), the believer is to make a conscious effort to abide by the obligations of his new life.  A Christian has undergone a drastic change and must reorient their whole way of thinking, which results in a whole new way of living.

(b)  Like Christ, 5:1, 2, 8—11

Most scholars ignore the chapter division between 4 and 5 and carry on reading through verse 2 of chapter 5.  There is a clear relationship between 4:32 and 5:1, 2—

Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.  (4:32)

Follow God’s example, therefore, as dearly loved children and walk in the way of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.  (5:1—2)

Having been given a new life and having stopped the sinful behavior of unbelievers, Christians must now display kindness, compassion and forgiveness to others in the Body of Christ.  This makes perfect sense, for to “follow God’s example” means to literally “imitate” Him.  If God is love, then we as His children must be love, as well.  In these verses, Paul is discussing is “agape” love, the pure love of self-giving that never asks anything in return and wants only the best for others.

In Christ’s example of giving His life for us while we were yet sinners, we experience another deep truth:  Christ’s demonstration of agape love for us was viewed as a “fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.”  In other words, as Christ loved us, and as He demonstrated that love in His work on the Cross, He was worshiping God.  The application here cannot be missed.  True worship is not limited to singing a hymn or raising your hands to God in praise.  Within the Body of Christ, as we manifest agape love in our dealings with fellow believers, we not only do them good, but we are worshiping our Heavenly Father at the same time.

Our love must be like Christ’s love.  If we are to imitate God, we must live and love as Christ did, even if that means we must suffer as Christ did.  Mackay makes a wonderful observation when he wrote that to “copy God” is to “be like a Person, to reflect His image” and not simply to be loyal to truth.

For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Live as children of light (for the fruit of the light consists in all goodness, righteousness and truth) and find out what pleases the Lord.  Have nothing to do with the fruitless deeds of darkness, but rather expose them.  (verses 8—11)

Like John always did, Paul contrasts light (new life) with darkness (old life).  Clearly, if one is born again, then one has become a “child of the light” and he should no longer live as a “child of darkness.”   In parenthesis, Paul briefly describes how a child of the light should live:

  • He should live in “all goodness.” The Greek (agathosyne) refers to the achievement of moral excellence coupled with a generous spirit.  Who wouldn’t want to know a person like that?
  • He should live in righteousness.  This is doing what is right in the eyes of God, walking the straight and narrow path and never deviating from it.
  • He should live in the truth.   This means that the believer now has an obligation be a person of integrity and reliability.

How can you tell if you are living as a child of the light?  This list is the standard to measure your life by.  In reality, though, if we consciously try and “find out what pleases the Lord,” we will be living as children of the light because we will be living according to God’s perfect will.

There is a final deep truth that often goes overlooked, and it is this:  believers are to “expose the fruitless deeds of darkness.”   There are many ways we can take this admonition, but most scholars agree that “exposing the fruitless deeds of darkness”  means simply that the believer, by his life, is to be a light shining in the darkness, therefore exposing the “fruitless deeds” done under the cover of darkness.  A believer need never open his mouth to expose sin; all he has to do is live right, and his life will be a testimony to a life lived in the light.

(c)  2010 WitzEnd
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