Paul’s powerful presentation in Ephesians 1:1-3:21 no doubt had its effect, overwhelming the Christians who heard or read it. Paul had set forth the spiritual blessings with which God has blessed Christians in Christ: election; a great salvation, not by works but through grace and faith displayed generously in Christ; access to God in Christ, provided equally to Jew and Gentile who were made one man in Christ; the presence of the Spirit, in whom they had been sanctified; joint participation in the church of which Jesus was the head, a temple for the Spirit, in which all have equal standing before God as members of His household. Paul had wished for them to come to an understanding in the heart of the greatness of the love God has displayed in Jesus; God was able to do well beyond whatever Christians could ask or think.
God had done all of these things or had provided for them in Christ. Paul then turned to speak of how Christians ought to respond in light of all of these wonderful blessings. In short, Paul expected Christians to walk worthily of this calling they had received from God (Ephesians 4:1). He would set forth what walking worthily looked like in Ephesians 4:2-6:20, the “exhortative” or “practical” half of the letter to the Ephesians.
Paul began with a strong emphasis on unity (Ephesians 4:2-6). He had already explained how God secured unity among Christians through the reconciling work of Jesus on the cross (Ephesians 2:11-3:12); Christians must strive to maintain that unity (Ephesians 4:3). They do so by remaining humble and meek,
patient and tolerating one another in love, as if constrained by the peace secured for us through Jesus’ work (Ephesians 4:2-3; cf. Ephesians 2:11-18). Paul stressed the “oneness” of Christianity: one God, one Lord, one Spirit, one faith, one body, one baptism, one hope (Ephesians 4:4-6). Polemically this unity can be used to argue against factionalism and divisiveness; yet Paul’s point is to reinforce the importance and power of unity. God is one in relational unity; God has provided one sufficient sacrifice on our behalf; God has set forth one way for salvation: thus Christians must strive to maintain that unity in the Spirit in the bond of peace. Sadly, for the most part, “Christendom” is far from the unity Paul here emphasizes. Too many are content with a surface-level unity which is really declaring victory in defeat. Real unity takes hard work, humility, and trust in the Lord Jesus, and we do well to strive to be Christians only, preserving the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace, and upholding the one faith in the one body of the one Lord from the one Spirit to obtain the one hope.
But maintenance of unity is not only the responsibility of the individual Christian. God has freely given gifts in Jesus as is written in Psalm 68:18: Jesus descended in death and ascended far above the heavens to fill all things (Ephesians 4:7-10). Within the church God has given various people fulfilling different roles, apostles, prophets, evangelists, and pastor-teachers (Ephesians 4:11). They serve the body of Christ, equipping Christians for the work of ministry (and accomplish their work of ministry themselves), building up the body of Christ (Ephesians 4:12). This work would continue until all would obtain maturity in Christ, no longer troubled by various teachings and doctrines, but having grown up into Christ the head from whom all the body is joined together, would work together to build up one another in love by speaking the truth in love (Ephesians 4:13-16). No more beautiful passage can be found in the New Testament regarding the work of the church than Ephesians 4:11-16: we have the words of the Apostles on which to ground our understanding of Christ and His purposes, the words of the prophets to exhort us to faithful conduct, evangelists to encourage people in the Gospel, and shepherd teachers to provide instruction to apply the Gospel to life, allowing for all Christians to grow and mature and build each other up in their most holy faith to glorify God and strengthen one another.
If one would walk worthily of the calling in Christ and seek to maintain unity and build up the body of Christ, one must give thought to how one is living and how they relate to others, and Paul continued in Ephesians 4:17-32 to this end. Christians must no longer walk as the people of the nations do, alienated from the life of God, hard of heart on account of sensuality; such is not how the Ephesian Christians learned Christ and the truth in Him (Ephesians 4:17-20). The Ephesian Christians were mostly Gentile; Paul uses “Gentile” in Ephesians 4:17 as we might use the term “pagan,” with all of its negative connotations. The Ephesian Christians could not follow Jesus and live according to their former patterns; instead, they were to put away that previous way of living, reckoned as an “old man” corrupted in deceit, and to instead be renewed in the spirit of their mind, putting on the “new man” created in righteousness and holiness (Ephesians 4:20-24). Paul then shifts to speak of specifics: since Christians are now one body, they should stop lying to each other and speak truth to one another (Ephesians 4:25; cf. Zechariah 8:16); they may have cause to be angry at times, but they should not allow it to fester into sin and give an opportunity for the devil (Ephesians 4:26-27; cf. Psalm 4:4); those who stole should cease and instead work to have something for those in need, to cease being a drain on others and become a source of support (Ephesians 4:28). Paul addressed matters of conversation and relationship: Christians must not speak corruptly but to speak well to edify and give grace to those who hear; not grieving the Spirit of God in whom they were sealed; putting away bitterness, wrath, anger, and slander, being kind to one another, disposed to feel for one another, and to forgive one another, as God has forgiven in Christ (Ephesians 4:29-32). The Spirit is grieved when we do not work to maintain unity in Him, speaking that which is false, giving vent to anger which destroys relationship, undermining trust, and refusing to grant the forgiveness to others we so desperately seek for ourselves.
Christians do well to walk worthily of their calling, striving to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. Such requires great effort in love, humility, compassion, and kindness, looking for opportunities to build up and strengthen, and resisting the impulse to vent spleen and corrode relationships. May we walk worthily of the way of Jesus, putting on the new man, renewed in the spirit of our minds!
Ethan R. Longhenry