We Support One Another

| Ephesians 4:1-7,11-16

Week of August 9, 2020

The Point: God gives the church spiritual gifts to accomplish His work.

Unity in the Body of Christ:  Ephesians 4:1-7,11-16.

[1] I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, [2] with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, [3] eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. [4] There is one body and one Spirit–just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call– [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 grace was given to each one of us according to the measure of Christ’s gift. [11] And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, [12] to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, [13] until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, [14] so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes. [15] Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, [16] from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love.   [ESV]

“The One and the Many [4:1-6]. We have come now to the hinge point of Paul’s teaching. Now everything begins to change. We have read fifty-six verses of Ephesians and encountered only one command. Now exhortations flow like a swift river through 4:1-6:23. Paul is a prisoner. He is suffering for the gospel and for his fellow Christians [3:13]. That is motive enough for them to pay close attention to what he says. But there is more – for Paul has received divine revelation, and has been called to communicate it to others. While elsewhere he appeals to his apostolic office [1:1; 2:20; 3:5], here Paul is appealing to the depth of his commitment to, and the reality of his care for, the church of Jesus Christ. There is surely good reason to pay close attention to what he says. He sums it up in one exhortation, which takes him the next three chapters to work out in detail: walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called. In speaking of a lifestyle that is worthy of the gospel, Paul is not suggesting that we merit the grace of God. The reverse is the truth – it is God’s grace that produces the new lifestyle. In this context worthy means ‘fitting’ or ‘appropriate’. In Christ we are called to a lifestyle that reflects our new family name. Our lives are to give practical expression and visible illustration to the power and reality of God’s grace in us. A central element in such a lifestyle is the harmony of our relationships with one another in the church. Ephesians 4:4-6 uses the word one more frequently than any other passage in the Bible – seven times in three verses. This echoes what was said in chapter two about the effect of Christ’s work: he has brought together those who were previously alienated not only from God but from one another [2:12-22]. Now our reconciliation to God will come to expression in the quality of our reconciliation with one another. We are to live as one because in Christ we are one! Paul answers two basic questions in this context. (1) What does this look like in practice, and (2) What motivation does the gospel give us to pursue it? The motivation to a new quality of fellowship is the unity we already have in Christ [3-4]; practicing it always requires the exercise of love and humility [2]. The Practice. The quality of our fellowship together as Christians depends on the exercise of humility and gentleness, patience and forbearance. This is a recurring theme in Paul [Rom. 12:3ff.; 1 Cor. 12:14ff.; Phil. 2:1ff.]. Humility is not a false demeaning of ourselves. The root meaning of the Greek word is ‘lowly-mindedness’. This is not a ‘low self-image’. Rather it is the recognition that everything we have and are, everything we accomplish is because of the grace of Jesus Christ to us. Every gift we possess was given, not to inflate our self-importance and bolster our ego, but to enable us to minister to others as Christ has ministered to us – as a loving servant [2 Cor. 4:5]. We have nothing except what we have received [1 Cor. 4:7]. Understand this and no matter how great our gifts are, or how highly esteemed ‘our ministry’ is, our heads will not be inflated, nor will we count ourselves as more important than others. Indeed, the reverse will be true: for we will see that we have received gifts to help us to engage in humble service to others. In addition, we will recognize our need to receive the gifts Christ has given to others to enable them to serve and minister to us. This is the secret of mutual affection and esteem in the body of Christ. Furthermore, where humility reigns, tenderness and gentleness – the gentleness of our humble Savior [2 Cor. 10:1] – will also be present. Humility and unity thus go hand in glove in a fellowship that belongs to Christ. Indeed, humility turns out to be an essential ingredient in a church that is evangelistic in its existence and communal lifestyle. This was the burden of our Lord’s prayer on the eve of his death [John 17:21-23]. The worthy life is also characterized by patience and forbearance. The New Testament contains several different words that can be translated ‘patience’. Paul’s term here has the root meaning of being ‘long-souled’. Patience means being able to take a long-term view, especially when things go wrong. Here it is appropriately coupled with bearing with one another in love. Christian patience involves being able to take a long-term view of a fellow Christian as a ‘work in process’, remembering that our Lord has been and is so patient with us. How easily we lose sight of that and treat fellow believers as though Christ had never needed to be patient with us! Grasp these elements in God’s grace to us and we will be eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. Paul loved Christians who were eager, enthusiastic and energetic about church fellowship. It is a priceless possession given to us in Christ. Just as we would guard a precious but fragile heirloom lest it come to any harm, so we protect Christian fellowship – the heirloom of Christ to his family – from sinister influences that might cause it damage or destroy it. Paul helps us develop a sense of the importance of this unity by outlining its foundations, which are massive in character [4-6]. Here is a unity built on a seven-fold foundation: one body … one Spirit …one hope … one Lord … one faith … one baptism … one God. Could there possibly be a more basic, closer, all-embracing or important unity than that?

Each One Has One [4:7-12]. Paul has been describing the foundation of church unity and explaining the chief reasons for maintaining it. It is not an optional extra, but part and parcel of our calling. We do not create it – it is the work of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. But since it is a unity we experience we must seek to sustain it – not by self-promotion but by self-denial. There is another aspect to this unity. It does not lack variety. Rather it is the unity within a rich diversity of believers whose gifts and graces complement each other. We share in one body, says Paul – but each one of us functions in a different way. We trust the same Christ, we are indwelt by one and the same Spirit, we each have one and the same heavenly Father – yet each one of us receives grace – which in this context suggests a special grace-gift – from Christ, so that we can serve him and one another in a variety of different ways [cf. 1 Peter 4:10-11]. The gifts given by Christ create diversity-in-unity in the life of the church. Here Paul’s focus is on ‘word-gifts’, ministries which involve teaching and preaching the Word of God: apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teacher. What were these ministries and how did Paul understand their role? Apostles. The word apostle means ‘someone who has been sent’. The New Testament uses the word in several different senses. But here it refers to the Twelve apostles called by Jesus, trained by him, equipped to serve him, and sent into the world by him. It is possible that in the early church some others were regarded as belonging to this group since the number twelve had symbolic rather than literal significance. But however many apostles there were in this sense they belonged to the foundation stage of the new community. Prophets. The position in which prophets appear here suggests that Paul is thinking of the special ministry that stood alongside and complemented that of apostles – to reveal God’s Word, will, and purposes. We have already seen that their ministry belonged to the work of foundation building around the chief stone Jesus Christ [2:19-22]. Whenever God has expanded the revelation by which he instructs and guides his people, he has raised up prophets. They served as the divine mouth. So in the early church, as the canon of Scripture was being expanded and eventually being completed, God gave special gifts to guide his people. Like the ministry of the apostle, this prophetic ministry was a once-for-all gift. While this is true, we also need to recognize that in Scripture an element of all prophetic ministry was Spirit-given illumination, enabling the prophet to understand the Scriptures that had already been written, and to apply them to his own day. That element of prophetic ministry – what we might call ongoing illumination with application to individuals and the church – remains in all ministry of God’s Word through which Christ speaks himself. Evangelists. It is difficult to be dogmatic about the identity and ministry of evangelists. But the New Testament evidence suggests that these men were not evangelists in the sense we use the term today – people with special ‘evangelistic’ gifts. Only Philip is explicitly described in the New Testament as an evangelist [Acts 21:8]. Paul urged Timothy, however, to ‘do the work of an evangelist’ [2 Tim. 4:5]. What did they have in common? Both men were called in the first instance to work closely with the apostles in their ministry, and seem to have served specifically as apostolic lieutenants. If this is the case, the evangelist had a wide-ranging commission to serve alongside or instead of an apostle. That is why they are mentioned together here. These callings belong to the inaugural life of the New Testament church. Apostles and prophets had a foundational office [2:20; 3:5]; evangelists were their deputies. In the very nature of the case we do not expect these ministries to reappear in the church today. Pastors and Teachers. Pastors and teachers were, however, clearly intended to be ongoing ministries in the church. Here the two nouns are linked together with a single definite article (the). This may indicate a single ministry with dual-functions. Or perhaps it suggests that pastors belonged to a larger group who were teachers without serving as pastors – all pastors teach, but not all teachers are necessarily pastors. Here again, it is difficult to be dogmatic, and probably wise not to attempt to be – even although the interpretation of these words impinges on the practical life of our churches. What is certain, however, is that by pastors Paul is referring to ‘elders’ or ‘bishops’ in the church. Elsewhere he hints that while all elders are to pastor the flock, and must therefore be able to teach, some are particularly called to and gifted in the work of teaching [1 Tim. 5:17]. These callings focus on the ministry of God’s Word. Apostles and prophets gave the Word of God in the first instance, and proclaimed it. Evangelists served with them and were to preach it. Pastors were settled in congregations and were to use it to feed the people of God. All of these ministries have a single purpose: to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ 4:12].

The Goal of Ministry [4:11-16]. The ministry of God’s Word is a gift to the church from her ascended Lord. When that Word is preached faithfully the voice of Christ is heard through the ministry of the Spirit. What fruit does this produce? How does the ascended Christ use his Word to rule over, direct, and guide the church? Equipping the Saints. The verb to equip was used in the medical world of restoring broken limbs. In the New Testament it is used in Matthew 4:21 to describe the fishermen-disciples getting their nets ready – cleaned and repaired – with a view to the next night’s fishing. Similarly these varied ministries of God’s Word restore lives to spiritual health and strength and prepare them for future service. Thus the fellowship where the Word of God is expounded and applied in the power of the Spirit becomes a hospital for the sick and a gymnasium to build up spiritual strength and stamina. Here the ministry of the Word of God does its own healing, cleansing, transforming work on our sinful and broken lives. The result is that through its exposition the preached and received word strengthens the fellowship of believers and builds it up in unity, knowledge of Christ, spiritual height, and balanced growth until it comes to spiritual maturity. This is the biblical understanding of the preaching of the Word of God. Its goal is not merely educational but transformational; it informs the mind in order to touch the conscience, mold the will, cleanse the affections and sanctify the whole life. The Word is thus allowed to do its own sanctifying work, as our Lord himself prayed [John 17:17]. This requires intensive treatment. It should not surprise us that whenever there has been a spiritual quickening in the church Christians have looked for an intense diet of the ministry of the Word. The Word at Work. The phrases that follow describe the fruit of such ministry. (1) It encourages our unity. If as God’s people we were together exposed to the same sanctifying truth on a regular and intensive basis, our minds and our thinking, our wills and desires, would be recalibrated to the mind and will of God. (2) It increases our knowledge of Christ. It is through his Word, opened to us in the power of the Spirit, that we get to know, understand, and love our Lord Jesus Christ. Such personal knowledge is not merely book-knowledge. Yet we have no access to knowing him apart from the revelation given to us in Scripture of who he is and what he has done. We do not each follow a Christ forged in our own imaginations. This is why we all need far more exposure than most of us receive to God’s Word rightly interpreted and applied in the power of the Spirit. With hours of that exposure each week (plus additional instruction at times in their own homes [Acts 20:20]) the Ephesians must have well understood what Paul meant. (3) It leads to spiritual maturity. Maturity means becoming more like Christ, becoming full of Christ; it comes from letting the Word of Christ dwell in us richly [Col. 3:16]. Stability and Integrity. Paul goes on to spell out the practical implications of this maturity. We grow in stability [14]. The ministry of the Word enables us to mature so that we are no longer children. Children grow in stages. As infants they are unsteady on their feet and easily knocked over; they are readily distracted; they lack the necessary experience to distinguish the insignificant from the really valuable; they are easily taken in by the superficial; they find it difficult to see things in the long term. The same is true spiritually. Immature believers are today exposed to ‘the latest thing’, the most recent ‘wind of doctrine’ that blows through the evangelical church. The marketing of literature, television preachers, seminars, videos, DVDs and the like almost necessitates novelty. The pride of the human heart does not like to be thought old-fashioned. Many are swept off their feet by teaching that may begin with an open but misinterpreted Bible and ends with a deceived mind. But the prolonged, intensive, faithful exposition of God’s Word delivers us from immaturity. Indeed, as the psalmist notes, knowing Scripture can give us more understanding than our teachers and make us wiser than our enemies [Ps. 119:98-99]. Study and meditation, application and obedience develop in us the ability to see clearly, to distinguish between what is true and false, and also between what is good and what is really best. We are then not deceived by false teaching. The truth of the gospel makes our spiritual antennae sensitive. The Word seeps into our instincts so that we sense the superficial and detect teaching that is sinister or dangerous (human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes [14]). Far from being immature, spiritual teenagers as it were, driven by our emotions, attracted by spiritual ‘spin’, shaped by the passing trends of peer pressure, we live by the Word of God and grow strong. We develop integrity [15]. Speaking the truth in love becomes instinctive to us. While falsehood was a characteristic of the old life [4:25], truth, integrity, and reality are the marks of disciples of Christ the Truth. Pretense and hypocrisy have no place in the new community of grace. Moreover, truth is always set in the context of love because it is never only a matter of speech and words, but of spirit and motive. Truth and love together express the balance of the mature Christian and lead to growth in a church fellowship. We progress in unity [16]. Christians who are already united to Christ and therefore to one another grow nearer to and more and more like Christ and correspondingly nearer to one another in his body the church. Paul describes this with vivid imagery. Like a human body, the church is held together with joints. Only when every part is working properly does healthy growth take place. But where there is a wise and nourishing ministry of the Word it will happen. And it will do so almost like a youngster growing to maturity in his or her own body – which seems to ‘grow itself’: makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love. Often our churches do not seem to be growing. Stunted fellowship is almost always caused by a lack of either truth or love – sadly sometimes by both. Where the central ministries of the Word are lacking, the knowledge of the truth will be diminished and the ability to develop maturity impoverished. Where there is not thorough-going submission to the Word love will be lacking and any growth will be misshapen and unlike Christ. But where, under the ministry of the Word, truth and love go hand in hand, growth is assured and grace prevails.” [Ferguson, pp. 98-114].

Questions for Discussion:

  1. In 4:1, Paul issues a charge for every believer. What does it mean to you personally to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called? What do you understand your calling to involve? What does a life worthy of this calling look like? What changes do you need to make in your life to obey this command?
  2. How important is humility and what are the hallmarks of its presence in a Christian? What particular things challenge your patience? How might Paul’s teaching help you to grow in patience?
  3. How does this passage help us to think more clearly about the use of spiritual gifts in the church? How does the ministry of the Word accomplish what Paul says here (a) in your own life and (b) in your church fellowship? Why does Paul place such importance on the gift of teaching? According to 4:12-16, what is the purpose of teachers in the church?
  4. According to verse 13, how would you define Christian unity? How are we to measure this unity? What are the chief signs of spiritual maturity [13-15] and immaturity [14] in the faith? What do you think it means to speak the truth in love [15]?

References:

Ephesians, James Boice, Baker.

Let’s Study Ephesians, Sinclair Ferguson, Banner of Truth.

The Message of Ephesians, John Stott, Inter Varsity.

Ephesians, Frank Thielman, BENT, Baker.

The purpose of this article is to provide additional reference resources for those Sunday School teachers who use Lifeway’s Bible Studies for Life material.