In these Bible study blogs I’m writing what could be called a devotional commentary. Enough commentary for us to understand the Scripture, but not so much that we wander in the “weeds” of various interpretations. Devotional to apply the Scripture to ourselves and allow it to speak to us, so we worship, trust and obey the God of the Scripture who has revealed himself supremely in Jesus Christ
I offer that explanation to help you understand my goal and to help keep me on track.
That said, let’s get to Ephesians 4:1-16—a text too large to allow deep digging here. (This blog is longer than I’d hoped!)
“Therefore I, the prisoner of the Lord, implore you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling with which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, showing tolerance for one another in love, being diligent to preserve the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. 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” (4:1-6).
For comments on 4:1 please see theoldpreacher.com/live-worthy-of-the-calling/. In Christ God calls us to his saving grace. Paul’s proclaimed this in chapters 1-3. Now he “implores” us to live in a manner worthy of that calling. What that worthy manner is, he lays out in chapters 4-6. He begins with something of a surprise.
Live “with all humility and gentleness”. “Humility” is an attitude of lowliness, of not wanting to draw attention to oneself. “Gentleness” is tenderness or consideration toward others.
Live “with patience”. “Patience” is being emotionally quiet in the face of unfavorable circumstance. “Patience” is endurance and steadfastness under troubling circumstances.
Live “showing tolerance for one another in love”. “Tolerance” is exercising self-restraint; it’s “putting up with” someone. “Tolerance” “in love” means not just putting up with someone until you can get away. It means tolerating that person so you can do good to him.
Live “being diligent to preserve the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace”. With these words Paul makes it clear what he’s up to. He urges us to live in a manner worthy of our calling by preserving the unity of the church. Paul calls this unity “the unity of the Spirit”, because it’s the Spirit who has made us one in Christ. By our attitude and action (humility, gentleness, patience, tolerance in love), we must diligently preserve that unity.
This unity is ours by virtue of our common “connection” to and belief in “one body, one Spirit, one hope, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all”. This is the unity of the church the apostle urges us to preserve. Significantly, names it the first “worthy manner”.
The hostility of church splits is out. So are our little squabbles with fellow believers. Look at any congregation and you’ll find unChrist-like feelings that must be overcome to keep unity.
“But to each one of us grace has been given as Christ apportioned it. This is why it says: ‘When he ascended on high, he led captives in his train and gave gifts to men.’ What does “he ascended” mean except that he also descended to the lower, earthly regions? He who descended is the very one who ascended higher than all the heavens, in order to fill the whole universe” (4:7-9).
Christ has given each believer “grace”. Charis has several meanings. Here the context dictates it refers to exceptional effects produced by God’s grace. Thus, charis here means spiritual ability, power, enablement—not merited, but freely given.
The NIV translates “given as Christ apportioned it”. Literally, the original Greek says “given according to the measure of Christ’s gift”. So, Christ gives charis to the extent he wants.
Paul claims this is why Psalm 68:18 says, “When he ascended on high, he led captives in his train and gave gifts to men.” But that raises a problem. In Hebrew (the language of the Old Testament), Psalm 68:18 says, “You ascended the high mount, leading captives in your train and receiving gifts among men..” In its original context, Psalm 68 celebrates God’s triumphal ascent to Mount Zion after delivering his people. In Jesus’ exaltation, Paul saw more of God’s triumph. But why did he change “you received gifts among men” to “gave gifts to men”?
Some say Paul is quoting from memory and makes a mistake. Others say he intentionally changes the quote to make a theological point. Still others say that, writing under the Holy Spirit’s inspiration, and quoting from a messianic psalm, Paul sees in verse 18 a fuller, deeper meaning—and writes it. As much as I relate to the first, I favor the last.
Another issue arises over “[Christ] descended to the lower, earthly regions”. Does Paul mean Christ descended into hell sometime between burial and resurrection? Or is he referring to Christ’s “descent” into the grave? Or does he mean Christ descended to the lower parts of the cosmos (earth itself in contrast to heaven)? The latter seems truest to the language.
Paul explains the purpose of Christ’s ascension and grace-giving is to “fill the whole universe”. In other words, Christ’s intention is to permeate the whole universe with his ruling presence—and the church is his instrument for carry out that purpose, as believers use Christ’s grace-gifts to build up his body. In line with that purpose and process, Paul tells us Christ gave “grace-gifted people to the church . . .
“It was he who gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers, to prepare God’s people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up 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. 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 men in their deceitful scheming. Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will in all things grow up into him who is the Head, that is, Christ. 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” (4:11-16).
“ . . . he . . . gave some to be apostles”. Greek apostolos refers to someone sent out on a mission with full authority to represent the sender. “ . . . some to be prophets”. The Greek is prophaytays—one who speaks for God, declaring what God wants to make known. Apostles and prophets are spoken of as “the foundation of the church” because their inspired teaching concerning Christ’s person and work forms the theological base on which all ministry and spiritual growth takes place. I don’t want to be drawn into a cessationist-continuationist debate here. Suffice it to say the New Testament nowhere teaches those gifts cease, though their ministry today isn’t to reveal new teaching.
“some to be evangelists”. Euangelistays, found only twice in the New Testament (Acts 21:8; 2 Timothy 4:5) refers to one who announces good news and may identify itinerants who establish churches by their preaching.
Obviously, these terms overlap. An apostle may prophesy and evangelize. Do we have apostles today? In a broad sense. But not in the sense of the first twelve plus Paul who gave us revelatory teaching from God in Christ. Personally, I think we’re wise not to use that title, because of its authoritative implications.
Besides the overlapping nature of these three, biblically they are itinerant ministries.
“Prophecy”, however, is a “church-wide phenomenon “(as Dr. Gordon Fee calls it) Acts 2 and 1 Corinthians 14 make that clear.
“ . . . and some to be pastors and teachers”. Poimain means “shepherd”. These are the pastors, elders or overseers of a local congregation. “ . . . teachers” obviously are grace-gifts given to teach the local congregation.
The definite article “the” appears before apostles, prophets and evangelists. Only one “the” appears before pastors and teachers, implying they constitute one grace-gift to the church. So “pastors and teachers” are one grace gift. We could express it like this: “pastor-teacher”.
I recently learned of two large-church pastors who preach the sermons of a mega-church pastor, adjusting them for their congregations, filling in their illustrations, etc. I understand large-church pastors are pressed with many responsibilities. But I think a pastor’s primary responsibility is teaching God’s word. I believe there are lessons the Lord wants to teach through him—through his knowledge and prayer and personality and experiences.
Paul now presents us with three prepositional phrases: (1) “for the equipping of the saints,” (2) “for the work of ministry,” and (3) “to the building up of the body of Christ”. I understand the first two phrases to be virtually synonymous. That is, grace-gifted leaders are to equip God’s people for the work of ministry (or service) toward the over-all purpose that the church, the body of Christ, be spiritually strengthened. (Remember: the church is the means by which the fullness of Christ fills the universe.)
* * *
I go back and ponder all the “becauses”–the reasons for living in manner worthy of our calling: theoldpreacher.com/live-worthy-of-the-calling/.
And I’m truly staggered–and humbled. In fact, I find all those virtues rising up (humility, gentleness, patience, loving tolerance, a desire to preserve the unity of the Spirit). But here, alone before my computer, isn’t the testing ground. It’s among the people who constitute the church. And it’s there I must remember what the church is called to–those remarkable “becauses”.
Paul explains what the built up church will not 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 men in their deceitful scheming”); then, positively, what the built up church will be (“we will in all things grow up; into him who is the Head, that is, Christ”).
For 44 years I was a pastor-teacher. By God’s grace I tried to faithfully teach God’s Word and care for God’s people, so together we would progressively grow up into the likeness of Christ. But leaders aren’t the only grace-gifts. The whole body grows and builds itself in love, “as each part does its work”. And that doesn’t require preaching spell-binding sermons.
My son-in-law’s parents just visited for their grandson’s (and mine) middle-school graduation. They all stopped by Sunday afternoon. My son-in-law’s mother brought me two pieces of rhubarb cake. (Something new and delicious!) I’m not suggesting all church members exchange desserts. I am suggesting little acts of Christ-like love help build up the body of Christ: a prayer, a hug, a listening ear, an encouraging word, an timely Scripture.
Even a piece of rhubarb cake.