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Bible Commentaries

William Barclay's Daily Study Bible

Ephesians 4

 

 

Other Authors
Verses 1-32

Chapter 4

Ephesians 4:1-32 INTRODUCTION (Ephesians 4:1-10)

With this chapter the second part of the letter begins. In Ephesians 1:1-23; Ephesians 2:1-22; Ephesians 3:1-21 Paul has dealt with the great and eternal truths of the Christian faith, and with the function of the Church in the plan of God. Now he begins to sketch what each member of the Church must be if the Church is to carry out her part in that plan.

Before we begin this chapter, let us again remind ourselves that the central thought of the letter is that Jesus has brought to a disunited world the way to unity. This way is through faith in him and it is the Church's task to proclaim this message to all the world. And now Paul turns to the character the Christian must have if the Church is to fulfil her great task of being Christ's instrument of universal reconciliation between man and man, and man and God within the world.

WORTHY OF OUR CALLING (Ephesians 4:1-10 continued)

4:1-10 So then, I, the prisoner in the Lord, urge you to behave yourselves in a way that is worthy of the calling with which you are called. I urge you to behave with all humility, and gentleness, and patience. I urge you to bear with one another in love. I urge you eagerly to preserve that unity which the Holy Spirit can bring by binding things together in peace. There is one body and one Spirit, just as you have been called with one hope of your calling. There is one Lord, one faith, one baptism. one God and Father of all, who is above all, and through all, and in all. To each one of you grace has been given, as it has been measured out to you by the free gift of Christ. Therefore scripture says, "He ascended into the height, and brought his captive band of prisoners, and gave gifts to men." (When it says that "he ascended." what else can it mean than that he also descended into the lower parts of the earth? He who descended is the same person as he who ascended above all the heavens, that he might fill all things with his presence.)

The Christian Virtues (Ephesians 4:1-3)

4:1-3 So then, I, the prisoner in the Lord, urge you to behave yourselves in a way that is worthy of the calling with which you are called. I urge you to behave with all humility, and gentleness, and patience. I urge you to bear with one another in love. I urge you eagerly to preserve that unity which the Holy Spirit can bring by binding things together in peace.

When a man enters into any society, he takes upon himself the obligation to live a certain kind of life; and if he fails in that obligation, he hinders the aims of his society and brings discredit on its name. Here Paul paints the picture of the kind of life that a man must live when he enters the fellowship of the Christian Church.

The first three verses shine like jewels. Here we have five of the great basic words of the Christian faith.

(i) First, and foremost, there is humility. The Greek is tapeinophrosune (Greek #5012), and this is actually a word which the Christian faith coined. In Greek there is no word for humility which has not some suggestion of meanness attaching to it. Later Basil was to describe it as "the gem casket of all the virtues"; but before Christianity humility was not counted as a virtue at all. The ancient world looked on humility as a thing to be despised.

The Greek had an adjective for humble, which is closely connected with this noun--the adjective tapeinos (Greek #5011). A word is always known by the company it keeps and this word keeps ignoble company. It is used in company with the Greek adjectives which mean slavish (andrapododes, doulikos, douloprepes), ignoble (agennes), of no repute (adoxos), cringing (chamaizelos, which is the adjective which describes a plant which trails along the ground). In the days before Jesus humility was looked on as a cowering, cringing, servile, ignoble quality; and yet Christianity sets it in the very forefront of the virtues. Whence then comes this Christian humility, and what does it involve?

(a) Christian humility comes from self-knowledge. Bernard said of it, "It is the virtue by which a man becomes conscious of his own unworthiness. in consequence of the truest knowledge of himself."

To face oneself is the most humiliating thing in the world. Most of us dramatize ourselves. Somewhere there is a story of a man who before he went to sleep at night dreamed his waking dreams. He would see himself as the hero of some thrilling rescue from the sea or from the flames; he would see himself as an orator holding a vast audience spell-bound; he would see himself walking to the wicket in a Test Match at Lord's and scoring a century; he would see himself in some international football match dazzling the crowd with his skill; always he was the centre of the picture. Most of us are essentially like that. And true humility comes when we face ourselves and see our weakness, our selfishness, our failure in work and in personal relationships and in achievement.

(b) Christian humility comes from setting life beside the life of Christ and in the light of the demands of God.

God is perfection and to satisfy perfection is impossible. So long as we compare ourselves with second bests, we may come out of the comparison well. It is when we compare ourselves with perfection that we see our failure. A girl may think herself a very fine pianist until she hears one of the world's outstanding performers. A man may think himself a good golfer until he sees one of the world's masters in action. A man may think himself something of a scholar until he picks up one of the books of the great old scholars of encylopaedic knowledge. A man may think himself a fine preacher until he listens to one of the princes of the pulpit.

Self-satisfaction depends on the standard with which we compare ourselves. If we compare ourselves with our neighbour, we may well emerge very satisfactorily from the comparison. But the Christian standard is Jesus Christ and the demands of God's perfection--and against that standard there is no room for pride.

(c) There is another way of putting this. R. C. Trench said that humility comes from the constant sense of our own creatureliness. We are in absolute dependence on God. As the hymn has it:

"'Tis Thou preservest me from death

And dangers every hour;

I cannot draw another breath

Unless Thou give me power.

My health, my friends, and parents dear

To me by God are given;

I have not any blessing here

But what is sent from heaven."

We are creatures, and for the creature there can be nothing but humility in the presence of the creator.

Christian humility is based on the sight of self, the vision of Christ, and the realization of God.

The Christian Gentleman (Ephesians 4:1-3 Continued)

(ii) The second of the great Christian virtues is what the King James Version calls meekness and what we have translated gentleness. The Greek noun is praotes (Greek #4236), the adjective praus (Greek #4239), and these are beyond translation by any single English word. Praus has two main lines of meanings.

(a) Aristotle, the great Greek thinker and teacher, has much to say about praotes (Greek #4236). It was his custom to define every virtue as the mean between two extremes. On one side there was excess of some quality, on the other defect; and in between there was exactly its right proportion. Aristotle defines praotes (Greek #4236) as the mean between being too angry and never being angry at all. The man who is praus (Greek #4239) is the man who is always angry at the right time and never angry at the wrong time. To put that in another way, the man who is praus (Greek #4239) is the man who is kindled by indignation at the wrongs and the sufferings of others, but is never moved to anger by the wrongs and the insults he himself has to bear. So, then, the man who is (as in the King James Version), meek is the man who is always angry at the right time but never angry at the wrong time.

(b) There is another fact which will illumine the meaning of this word. Praus (Greek #4239) is the Greek for an animal which has been trained and domesticated until it is completely under control. Therefore the man who is praus (Greek #4239) is the man who has every instinct and every passion under perfect control. It would not be right to say that such a man is entirely self-controlled, for such self-control is beyond human power, but it would be right to say that such a man is God-controlled.

Here then is the second great characteristic of the true member of the Church. He is the man who is so God-controlled that he is always angry at the right time but never angry at the wrong time.

The Undefeatable Patience (Ephesians 4:1-3 Continued)

(iii) The third great quality of the Christian is what the King James Version calls long-suffering. The Greek is makrothumia (Greek #3115). This word has two main directions of meaning.

(a) It describes the spirit which will never give in and which, because it endures to the end, will reap the reward. Its meaning can best be seen from the fact that a Jewish writer used it to describe what he called "the Roman persistency which would never make peace under defeat." In their great days the Romans were unconquerable; they might lose a battle, they might even lose a campaign, but they could not conceive of losing a war. In the greatest disaster it never occurred to them to admit defeat. Christian patience is the spirit which never admits defeat, which will not be broken by any misfortune or suffering, by any disappointment or discouragement, but which persists to the end.

(b) But makrothumia (Greek #3115) has an even more characteristic meaning than that. It is the characteristic Greek word for patience with men. Chrysostom defined it as the spirit which has the power to take revenge but never does so. Lightfoot defined it as the spirit which refuses to retaliate. To take a very imperfect analogy--it is often possible to see a puppy and a very large dog together. The puppy yaps at the big dog, worries him, bites him, and all the time the big dog, who could annihilate the puppy with one snap of his teeth, bears the puppy's impertinence with a forbearing dignity. Makrothumia (Greek #3115) is the spirit which bears insult and injury without bitterness and without complaint. It is the spirit which can suffer unpleasant people with graciousness and fools without irritation.

The thing which best of all gives its meaning is that the New Testament repeatedly uses it of God. Paul asks the impenitent sinner if he despises the patience of God (Romans 2:4). Paul speaks of the perfect patience of Jesus to him (1 Timothy 1:16). Peter speaks of God's patience waiting in the days of Noah (1 Peter 3:20). He says that the forbearance of our Lord is our salvation (2 Peter 3:15). If God had been a man, he would long since in sheer irritation have wiped the world out for its disobedience. The Christian must have the patience towards his fellow men which God has shown to him.

The Christian Love (Ephesians 4:1-3 Continued)

(iv) The fourth great Christian quality is love. Christian love was something so new that the Christian writers had to invent a new word for it; or, at least, they had to employ a very unusual Greek word--agape (Greek #26).

In Greek there are four words for love. There is eros (compare Greek #2037), which is the love between a man and a maid and which involves sexual passion. There is philia (Greek #5373) which is the warm affection which exists between those who are very near and very dear to each other. There is storge (compare Greek #794) which is characteristically the word for family affection. And there is agape (Greek #26), which the King James Version translates sometimes love and sometimes charity.

The real meaning of agape (Greek #26) is unconquerable benevolence. If we regard a person with agape (Greek #26), it means that nothing that he can do will make us seek anything but his highest good. Though he injure us and insult us, we will never feel anything but kindness towards him. That quite clearly means that this Christian love is not an emotional thing. This agape (Greek #26) is a thing, not only of the emotions, but also of the will. It is the ability to retain unconquerable good will to the unlovely and the unlovable, towards those who do not love us, and even towards those whom we do not like. Agape (Greek #26) is that quality of mind and heart which compels a Christian never to feel any bitterness, never to feel any desire for revenge, but always to seek the highest good of every man no matter what he may be.

(v) These four great virtues of the Christian life--humility, gentleness, patience, love--issue in a fifth, peace. It is Paul's advice and urgent request that the people to whom he is writing should eagerly preserve "the sacred oneness" which should characterize the true Church.

Peace may be defined as right relationships between man and man. This oneness, this peace, these right relationships can be preserved only in one way. Every one of the four great Christian virtues depends on the obliteration of self. So long as self is at the centre of things, this oneness can never fully exist. In a society where self predominates, men cannot be other than a disintegrated collection of individualistic and warring units. But when self dies and Christ springs to life within our hearts. then comes the peace, the oneness, which is the great hall-mark of the true Church.

The Basis Of Unity (Ephesians 4:4-6)

4:4-6 There is one body and one Spirit, just as you have been called with one hope of your calling. There is one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is above all, and through all, and in all.

Paul goes on to set down the basis on which Christian unity is founded.

(i) There is one body. Christ is the head and the Church is the body. No brain can work through a body which is split into fragments. Unless there is a coordinated oneness in the body, the designs of the head are frustrated. The oneness of the Church is essential for the work of Christ. That does not need to be a mechanical oneness of administration and of human organization; but it does need to be a oneness founded on a common love of Christ and of every part for the other.

(ii) There is one Spirit. The word pneuma (Greek #4151) in Greek means both spirit and breath; it is in fact the usual word for breath. Unless the breath be in the body, the body is dead; and the vitalizing breath of the body of the Church is the Spirit of Christ. There can be no Church without the Spirit; and there can be no receiving of the Spirit without prayerful waiting for him.

(iii) There is one hope in our calling. We are all proceeding towards the same goal. This is the great secret of the unity of Christians. Our methods, our organization, even some of our beliefs may be different; but we are all striving towards the one goal of a world redeemed in Christ.

(iv) There is one Lord. The nearest approach to a creed which the early Church possessed was the short sentence: "Jesus Christ is Lord" (Philippians 2:11). As Paul saw it, it was God's dream that there should come a day when all men would make this confession. The word used for Lord is kurios (Greek #2962). Its two usages in ordinary Greek show us something of what Paul meant. It was used for master in contra-distinction to servant or slave; and it was the regular designation of the Roman Emperor. Christians are joined together because they are all in the possession and in the service of the one Master and King.

(v) There is one faith. Paul did not mean that there is one creed. Very seldom indeed does the word faith mean a creed in the New Testament. By faith the New Testament nearly always means the complete commitment of the Christian to Jesus Christ. Paul means that all Christians are bound together because they have made a common act of complete surrender to the love of Jesus Christ. They may describe their act of surrender in different terms; but, however they describe it, that surrender is the one thing common to all of them.

(vi) There is one baptism. In the early Church baptism was usually adult baptism, because men and women were coming direct from heathenism into the Christian faith. Therefore, before anything else, baptism was a public confession of faith. There was only one way for a Roman soldier to join the army; he had to take the oath that he would be true for ever to his emperor. Similarly, there was only one way to enter the Christian Church--the way of public confession of Jesus Christ.

(vii) There is one God. See what Paul says about the God in whom we believe.

He is the Father of all; in that phrase is enshrined the love of God. The greatest thing about the Christian God, is not that he is king, not that he is judge, but that he is Father. The Christian idea of God begins in love.

He is above all; in that phrase is enshrined the control of God. No matter what things may look like God is in control. There may be floods; but "The Lord sits enthroned over the flood" (Psalms 29:10).

He is through all; in that phrase is enshrined the providence of God. God did not create the world and set it going as a man might wind up a clockwork toy and leave it to run down. God is all through his world, guiding, sustaining, loving.

He is in all; in that phrase is enshrined the presence of God in all life. It may be that Paul took the germ of this idea from, the Stoics. The Stoics believed that God was a fire purer than any earthly fire; and they believed that what gave a man life was that a spark of that fire which was God came and dwelt in his body. It was Paul's belief that in everything there is God.

It is the Christian belief that we live in a God-created, God-controlled, God-sustained, God-filled world.

The Gifts Of Grace (Ephesians 4:7-10)

4:7-10 To each one of you grace has been given, as it has been measured out to you by the free gift of Christ. Therefore scripture says, "He ascended into the height and brought his captive band of prisoners, and gave gifts to men." (When it says that "he ascended," what else can it mean than that he also descended into the lower parts of the earth? He who descended is the same person as he who ascended above all the heavens, that he might fill all things with his presence.)

Paul turns to another aspect of his subject. He has been talking about the qualities of the members of Christ's Church; now he is going to talk of their functions in the Church. He begins by laying down what was for him an essential truth--that every good thing a man has is the gift of the grace of Christ.

"And every virtue we possess,

And every victory won,

And every thought of holiness,

Are His alone."

To make his point about Christ the giver of gifts, Paul quotes, with a very significant difference, from Psalms 68:18. This Psalm describes a king's conquering return. He ascends on high; that is to say, he climbs the steep road of Mount Zion into the streets of the Holy City. He brings in his captive band of prisoners; that is to say, he marches through the streets with his prisoners in chains behind him to demonstrate his conquering power. Now comes the difference. The Psalm speaks next about the conqueror receiving gifts. Paul changes it to read, "gave gifts to men."

In the Old Testament the conquering king demanded and received gifts from men: in the New Testament the conqueror Christ offers and gives gifts to men. That is the essential difference between the two Testaments. In the Old Testament a jealous God insists on tribute from men; in the New Testament a loving God pours out his love to men. That indeed is the good news.

Then, as so often, Paul's mind goes off at a word. He has used the word ascended, and that makes him think of Jesus. And it makes him say a very wonderful thing. Jesus descended into this world when he entered it as a man; Jesus ascended from this world when he left it to return to his glory. Paul's great thought is that the Christ who ascended and the Christ who descended are one and the same person. What does that mean? It means that the Christ of glory is the same as the Jesus who trod this earth; still he loves all men; still he seeks the sinner; still he heals the sufferer; still he comforts the sorrowing; still he is the friend of outcast men and women. As the Scottish paraphrase has it:

"Though now ascended up on high,

He bends on earth a brother's eye;

Partaker of the human name,

He knows the frailty of our frame.

Our fellow suff'rer yet retains

A fellow-feeling of our pains;

And still remembers in the skies

His tears, His agonies and cries.

In every pang that rends the heart

The Man of sorrows has a part:

He sympathizes with our grief,

And to the suff'rer sends relief."

The ascended Christ is still the lover of the souls of men.

Still another thought strikes Paul. Jesus ascended up on high. But he did not ascend up on high to leave the world; he ascended up on high to fill the world with his presence. When Jesus was here in the flesh, he could only be in one place at one time; he was under all the limitations of the body; but when he laid this body aside and returned to glory, he was liberated from the limitations of the body and was able then to be everywhere in all the world through his Spirit. To Paul the ascension of Jesus meant not a Christ-deserted but a Christ-filled world.

THE OFFICE-BEARERS OF THE CHURCH (Ephesians 4:11-13)

4:11-13 And he gave to the Church some as apostles, and some as prophets, and some as evangelists, and some as pastors and teachers. This he did that God's consecrated people should be fully equipped, that the work of service might go on, and that the body of Christ should be built up. And this is to go on until we all arrive at complete unity in faith in and knowledge of God. until we reach perfect manhood, until we reach a stature which can be measured by the fullness of Christ.

There is a special interest in this passage because it gives us a picture of the organization and the administration of the early Church. In the early Church there were three kinds of office-bearers. There were a few whose writ and authority ran throughout the whole Church. There were many whose ministry was not confined to one place but who carried out a wandering ministry, going wherever the Spirit moved them. There were some whose ministry was a local ministry confined to the one congregation and the one place.

(i) The apostles were those whose authority ran throughout the whole Church. The apostles included more than the Twelve. Barnabas was an apostle (Acts 14:4, Acts 14:14). James, the brother of our Lord, was an apostle (1 Corinthians 15:7; Galatians 1:19). Silvanus was an apostle (1 Thessalonians 2:6). Andronicus and Junias were apostles (Romans 16:7).

For an apostle there were two great qualifications. First, he must have seen Jesus. When Paul is claiming his own rights in face of the opposition of Corinth, he demands: "Am I not an apostle? Have I not seen Jesus our Lord?" (1 Corinthians 9:1). Second, an apostle had to be a witness of the Resurrection and of the Risen Lord. When the eleven met to elect a successor to Judas the traitor, he had to be one who had companied with them throughout the earthly life of Jesus and a witness of the Resurrection (Acts 1:21-22).

In a sense the apostles were bound to die out, because before so very long those who had actually seen Jesus and who had actually witnessed the Resurrection, would pass from this world. But, in another and still greater sense, the qualification remains. He who would teach Christ must know Christ; and he who would bring the power of Christ to others must have experienced Christ's risen power.

(ii) There were the prophets. The prophets did not so much fore-tell the future as forth-tell the will of God. In forth-telling the will of God, they necessarily to some extent fore-told the future, because they announced the consequences which would follow if men disobeyed that will.

The prophets were wanderers throughout the Church. Their message was held to be not the result of thought and study but the direct result of the Holy Spirit. They had no homes and no families and no means of support. They went from church to church proclaiming the will of God as God had told it to them.

The prophets before long vanished from the Church. There were three reasons why they did so. (a) In times of persecution the prophets were the first to suffer; They had no means of concealment and were the first to die for the faith. (b) The prophets became a problem. As the Church grew local organization developed. Each congregation began to grow into an organization which had its permanent minister and its local administration. Before long the settled ministry began to resent the intrusion of these wandering prophets, who often disturbed their congregations. The inevitable result was that bit by bit the prophets faded out. (c) The office of prophet was singularly liable to abuse. These prophetic wanderers had considerable prestige. Some of them abused their office and made it an excuse for living a very comfortable life at the expense of the congregations whom they visited. The earliest book of church administration is the Didache, The Teaching of the Twelve Apostles, which dates back to just after A.D. 100. In it both the prestige and the suspicion of the prophets is clearly seen. The order for the sacrament is given and the prayers to be used are set out; and then comes the instruction that the prophet is to be allowed to celebrate the sacrament as he will. But there are certain other regulations. It is laid down that a wandering prophet may stay one or two days with a congregation, but if he wishes to stay three days he is a false prophet; it is laid down that if any wandering prophet in a moment of alleged inspiration demands money or a meal, he is a false prophet.

(iii) There were the evangelists. The evangelists, too, were wanderers. They corresponded to what we would call missionaries. Paul writes to Timothy, "Do the work of an evangelist" (2 Timothy 4:5). They were the bringers of the good news. They had not the prestige and authority of the apostles who had seen the Lord; they had not the influence of the Spirit-inspired prophets; they were the rank and file missionaries of the Church who took the good news to a world which had never heard it.

(iv) There were the pastors and teachers. It would seem that this double phrase describes one set of people. In one sense they had the most important task in the whole Church: They were not wanderers but were settled and permanent in the work of one congregation. They had a triple function.

(a) They were teachers. In the early Church there were few books. Printing was not to be invented for almost another fourteen hundred years. Every book had to be written by hand and a book the size of the New Testament would cost as much as a whole year's wages for a working man. That meant that the story of Jesus had mainly to be transmitted by word of mouth. The story of Jesus was told long before it was written down; and these teachers had the tremendous responsibility of being the respositories of the gospel story. It was their function to know and to pass on the story of the life of Jesus.

(b) The people who came into the Church were coming straight from heathenism; they knew literally nothing about Christianity, except that Jesus Christ had laid hold upon their hearts. Therefore these teachers had to open out the Christian faith to them. They had to explain the great doctrines of the Christian faith. It is to them that we owe it that the Christian faith remained pure and was not distorted as it was handed down.

(c) These teachers were also pastors. Pastor is the Latin word for a shepherd. At this time the Christian Church was no more than a little island in a sea of paganism. The people who came into it were only one remove from their heathen lives; they were in constant danger of relapsing into heathenism; and the duty of the pastor was to shepherd his flock and keep them safe.

The word is an ancient and an honourable one. As far back as Homeric times Agamemnon the king was called the Shepherd of the People. Jesus had called himself the Good Shepherd (John 10:11; John 10:14). The writer to the Hebrews called Jesus the great shepherd of the sheep (Hebrews 13:20). Peter called Jesus the shepherd of men's souls (1 Peter 2:25). He called him the Chief Shepherd (1 Peter 5:4). Jesus had commanded Peter to tend his sheep (John 21:16). Paul had warned the elders of Ephesus that they must guard the flock whom God had committed to their care (Acts 20:28). Peter had exhorted the elders to tend the flock of God (1 Peter 5:2).

The picture of the shepherd is indelibly written on the New Testament. He was the man who cared for the flock and led the sheep into safe places; he was the man who sought the sheep when they wandered away and, if need be, died to save them. The shepherd of the flock of God is the man who bears God's people on his heart, who feeds them with the truth, who seeks them when they stray away, and who defends them from all that would hurt their faith. And the duty is laid on every Christian that he should be a shepherd to all his brethren.

THE AIM OF THE OFFICE-BEARER (Ephesians 4:11-13 continued)

After Paul has named the different kinds of office-bearers within the Church, he goes on to speak of their aim and of what they must try to do.

Their aim is that the members of the Church should be fully equipped. The word Paul uses for equipped is interesting. It is katartismos (Greek #2677), which comes from the verb katartizein (Greek #2675). The word is used in surgery for setting a broken limb or for putting a joint back into its place. In politics it is used for bringing together opposing factions so that government can go on. In the New Testament it is used of mending nets (Mark 1:19), and of disciplining an offender until he is fit to take his place again within the fellowship of the Church (Galatians 6:1). The basic idea of the word is that of putting a thing into the condition in which it ought to be. It is the function of the office-bearers of the Church to see that the members of the Church are so educated, so guided, so cared for, so sought out when they go astray, that they become what they ought to be.

Their aim is that the work of service may go on. The word used for service is diakonia (Greek #1248); and the main idea which lies behind this word is that of practical service. The office-bearer is not to be a man who simply talks on matters of theology and of Church law; he is in office to see that practical service of God's poor and lonely people goes on.

Their aim is to see to it that the body of Christ is built up. Always the work of the office-bearer is construction, not destruction. His aim is never to make trouble, but always to see that trouble does not rear its head; always to strengthen, and never to loosen, the fabric of the Church.

The office-bearer has even greater aims. These may be said to be his immediate aims; but beyond them he has still greater aims.

His aim is that the members of the Church should arrive at perfect unity. He must never allow parties to form in the Church nor do anything which would cause differences in it. By precept and example he must seek to draw the members of the Church into a closer unity every day.

His aim is that the members of the Church should reach perfect manhood. The Church can never be content that her members should live decent. respectable lives; her aim must be that they should be examples of perfect Christian manhood and womanhood.

So Paul ends with an aim without peer. The aim of the Church is that her members should reach a stature which can be measured by the fullness of Christ. The aim of the Church is nothing less than to produce men and women who have in them the reflection of Jesus Christ himself. During the Crimean War Florence Nightingale was passing one night down a hospital ward. She paused to bend over the bed of a sorely wounded soldier. As she looked down, the wounded lad looked up and said: "You're Christ to me." A saint has been defined as "someone in whom Christ lives again." That is what the true Church member ought to be.

GROWING INTO CHRIST (Ephesians 4:14-16)

4:14-16 All this must be done so that we should no longer be infants in the faith, wave-tossed and blown hither and thither by every wind of teaching. by the clever trickery of men, by cunning cleverness designed to make us take a wandering way. Instead of that it is all designed to make us cherish the truth in love, and to make us grow in all things into him who is the head--it is Christ I mean. It is from Christ that the whole body is fitted and united together, by means of all the joints which supply its needs, according as each part performs the share of the task allotted to it. It is from him that the body grows and builds itself up in love.

In every Church there are certain members who must be protected. There are those who are like children, they are dominated by a desire for novelty and the mercy of the latest fashion in religion. It is the lesson of history that popular fashions in religion come and go but the Church continues for ever. The solid food of religion is always to be found within the Church.

In every Church there are certain people who have to be guarded against. Paul speaks of the clever trickery of men; the word he uses (kubeia, Greek #2940) means skill in manipulating the dice. There are always those who by ingenious arguments seek to lure people away from their faith. It is one of the characteristics of our age that people talk about religion more than they have done for many years; and the Christian, especially the young Christian, has often to meet the clever arguments of those who are against the Church and against God.

There is only one way to avoid being blown about by the latest religious fashion and to avoid being seduced by the specious arguments of clever men, and that is by continual growth into Christ.

Paul uses still another picture. He says that a body is only healthy and efficient when every part is thoroughly coordinated. Paul says that the Church is like that; and the Church can be like that only when Christ is really the head and when every member is moving under his control, just as every part of a healthy body is obedient to the brain.

The only thing which can keep the individual Christian solid in the faith and secure against seduction, the only thing which can keep the Church healthy and efficient, is an intimate connection with Jesus Christ who is the head and the directing mind of the body.

THE THINGS WHICH MUST BE ABANDONED (Ephesians 4:17-24)

4:17-24 I say this and I solemnly lay it upon you in the Lord--you must no longer live the kind of life the Gentiles live, for their minds are concerned with empty things; their understandings are darkened; they are strangers from the life God gives, because of the ignorance that is in them and because of the petrifying of their hearts. They have come to a stage when they are past feeling, and in their shameless wantonness they have abandoned themselves to every kind of unclean conduct in the insatiable lust of their desires. But that is not the way that you have learned Christ, if indeed you have really listened to him, and have been taught in him, as the true teaching in Jesus is. You must stop living in your former way of life. You must put off your old manhood, which is perishing, as deceitful desires are bound to make it do. You must be renewed in the spirit of your minds. You must put on the new manhood, created after God's pattern, in righteousness and in true holiness.

Paul appeals to his converts to leave their old way of life and to turn to Christ's. In this passage he picks out what he considers the essential characteristics of heathen life. The heathen are concerned with empty things which do not matter; their minds are darkened because of their ignorance. Then comes the salient word; their hearts are petrified.

The word which Paul uses for the petrifying of their hearts is grim and terrible. It is porosis (Greek #4457). Porosis comes from poros, which originally meant a stone that was harder than marble. It came to have certain medical uses. It was used for the chalk stone which can form in the joints and completely paralyse action. It was used of the callus that forms where a bone has been broken and re-set, a callus which is harder than the bone itself. Finally the word came to mean the loss of all power of sensation; it described something which had become so hardened, so petrified that it had no power to feel at all.

That is what Paul says the heathen life is like. It has become so hardened that it has lost the power of feeling. In the Epistle to a Young Friend, Robert Burns wrote about sin:

"I waive the quantum o' the sin,

The hazard of concealing:

But och! it hardens a' within,

And petrifies the feeling!"

The terror of sin is its petrifying effect. The process of sin is quite discernible. No man becomes a great sinner all at once. At first he regards sin with horror. When he sins, there enters into his heart remorse and regret. But if he continues to sin there comes a time when he loses all sensation and can do the most shameful things without any feeling at all. His conscience is petrified.

Paul uses two other terrible Greek words to describe the heathen way of life. He says that they have abandoned themselves to every kind of unclean conduct in the insatiable lust of their desires; and that they have done so in their shameless wantonness.

The word for shameless wantonness is aselgeia (Greek #766). It is defined by Plato as "impudence"; and by another writer as "preparedness for every pleasure." It is defined by Basil as "a disposition of the soul incapable of bearing the pain of discipline." The great characteristic of aselgeia (Greek #766) is this--the bad man usually tries to hide his sin; but the man who has aselgeia (Greek #766) in his soul does not care how much he shocks public opinion so long as he can gratify his desires. Sin can get such a grip of a man that he is lost to decency and shame. He is like a drug taker who first takes the drug in secret, but comes to a stage when he openly pleads for the drug on which he has become dependent. A man can become such a slave of liquor that he does not care who sees him drunk. A man can let his sexual desires so master him that he does not care who sees him satisfy them.

The Christless man does all this in the insatiable lust of his desires. The word is pleonexia (Greek #4124), another terrible word, which the Greeks defined as "arrogant greediness," as "the accursed love of possessing," as "the unlawful desire for the things which belong to others." It has been defined as the spirit in which a man is always ready to sacrifice his neighbour to his own desires. Pleonexia (Greek #4124) is the irresistible desire to have what we have no right to possess. It might issue in the theft of material things; it might issue in the spirit which tramples on other people to get its own way; it might issue in sexual sin.

In the heathen world, Paul saw three terrible things. He saw men's hearts so petrified that they were not even aware that they were sinning; he saw men so dominated by sin that shame was lost and decency forgotten; he saw men so much at the mercy of their desires that they did not care whose life they injured and whose innocence they destroyed so long as these desires were satisfied. These are exactly the sins of the Christless world today, sins that can be seen invading life at every point and stalking the streets of every great city.

Paul urges his converts to have done with that kind of life. He uses a vivid way of speaking. He says: "Put off your old way of life as you would put off an old suit of clothes; clothe yourself in a new way; put off your sins, and put on the righteousness and the holiness which God can give you."

THINGS WHICH MUST BE BANISHED FROM LIFE (Ephesians 4:25-32)

4:25-32 So then strip yourselves of falsehood, and let each of you speak the truth with his neighbour, because we are all members of the same body. Be angry--but be angry in such a way that your anger is not a sin. Do not let the sun set on your wrath, and do not give the devil any opportunity. Let him who was a thief steal no more; rather let him take to hard work, and to producing good with his hands, in order that he may be able to share with the man who is in need. Do not allow any foul word to issue from your mouth; but let your words be good, designed for necessary edification, that they may bring benefit to those who hear them. Do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with whom you are sealed until the day of your redemption comes. Let all bitterness. all outbreaks of passion, all long-lived anger, all loud talking, all insulting language be removed from you with all evil. Show yourselves kind to one another, merciful, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.

Paul has just been saying that when a man becomes a Christian, he must put off his old life as a man puts off a coat for which he has no further use. Here he speaks of the things which must be banished from the Christian life.

(i) There must be no more falsehood. There is more than one kind of lie in this world.

There is the lie of speech, sometimes deliberate and sometimes almost unconscious. Dr. Johnson has an interesting bit of advice in regard to the bringing up of children. "Accustom your children constantly to this (the telling of the truth); if a thing happened at one window, and they, when relating it, say that it happened at another, do not let it pass, but instantly check them; you do not know where deviation from truth will end.... It is more from carelessness about truth than from intentional lying, that there is so much falsehood in the world." Truth demands a deliberate effort.

There is also the lie of silence, and maybe it is even commoner. Andre Maurois, in a memorable phrase, speaks of "the menace of things unsaid." It may be that in some discussion a man by his silence gives approval to some course of action which he knows is wrong. It may be that a man withholds warning or rebuke when he knows quite well he should have given it.

Paul gives the reason for telling the truth. It is because we are all members of the same body. We can live in safety only because the senses and the nerves pass true messages to the brain. If they took to passing false messages, if, for instance, they told the brain that something was cool and touchable when in fact it was hot and burning, life would very soon come to an end. A body can function healthily only when each part of it passes true messages to the brain. If then we are all bound into one body. that body can function properly only when we speak the truth.

(ii) There must be anger in the Christian life, but it must be the right kind of anger. Bad temper and irritability are without defence; but there is an anger without which the world would be a poorer place. The world would have lost much without the blazing anger of Wilberforce against the slave trade or of Shaftesbury against the labour conditions of the nineteenth century.

There was a certain rugged bluntness about Dr. Johnson. When he thought a thing was wrong, he said so with force. When he was about to publish the Tour to the Hebrides, Hannah More asked him to mitigate some of its asperities. She tells that his answer was that "he would not cut off his claws, nor make his tiger a cat, to please anybody." There is a place for the tiger in life; and when the tiger becomes a tabby cat, something is lost.

There were times when Jesus was terribly and majestically angry. He was angry when the scribes and Pharisees were watching to see if he would heal the man with the withered hand on the Sabbath day (Mark 3:5). It was not their criticism of himself at which he was angry; he was angry that their rigid orthodoxy desired to impose unnecessary suffering on a fellow creature. He was angry when he made a whip and drove the changers of money and the sellers of victims from the Temple courts (John 2:13-17).

F. W. Robertson of Brighton tells in one of his letters that he bit his lips until they bled when he met on the street a certain man whom he knew to be luring a pure young girl to destruction. John Wesley said: "Give me a hundred men who fear nothing but God, and who hate nothing but sin, and who know nothing but Jesus Christ and him crucified, and I will shake the world."

The anger which is selfish and uncontrolled is a sinful and hurtful thing, which must be banished from the Christian life. But the selfless anger which is disciplined into the service of Christ and of our fellow men is one of the great dynamic forces of the world.

THINGS WHICH MUST BE BANISHED FROM LIFE (Ephesians 4:25-32 continued)

(iii) Paul goes on to say that the Christian must never let the sun set upon his wrath. Plutarch tells us that the disciples of Pythagoras had a rule of their society, that if, during the day, anger had made them speak insultingly to each other, before the sun set they shook hands and kissed each other and were reconciled. There was a Jewish Rabbi whose prayer it was that he might never go to sleep with any bitter thought against a brother man within his mind.

Paul's advice is sound, because the longer we postpone mending a quarrel, the less likely we are ever to mend it. If there is trouble between us and anyone else, if there is trouble in a Church or a fellowship or any society where men meet, the only way to deal with it is at once. The longer it is left to flourish, the more bitter it will grow. If we have been in the wrong, we must pray to God to give us grace to admit that it was so; and even if we have been right, we must pray to God to give us the graciousness which will enable us to take the first step to put matters right.

Along with this phrase Paul puts another command. The Greek can equally well mean two things. It can mean: "Don't give the devil his opportunity." An unhealed breach is a magnificent opportunity for the devil to sow dissension. Many a time a Church has been torn into factions because two people quarrelled and let the sun set upon their wrath. But there is another meaning which this phrase can have. The word for devil in Greek is diabolos (Greek #1228); but diabolos is also the normal Greek for a slanderer. Luther, for instance, took this to mean: "Give the slanderer no place in your life." It may well be that this is the true meaning of what Paul wishes to say. No one in this world can do more damage than the slanderous tale-bearer. As Coleridge wrote in Christabel:

"Alas! they had been friends in youth;

But whispering tongues can poison truth,"

There are reputations murdered over the teacups every day; and when a man sees a tale-bearer coming, he would do well to shut the door in his face.

(iv) The man who was a thief must become an honest workman. This was necessary advice, for in the ancient world thieving was rampant. It was very common in two places, at the docks and above all in the public baths. The public baths were the clubs of the time; and stealing the belongings of the bathers was one of the commonest crimes in any Greek city.

The interesting thing about this saying is the reason Paul gives for being an honest workman. He does not say: "Become an honest workman so that you may support yourself." He says: "Become an honest workman so that you may have something to give away to those who are poorer than yourself." Here is a new idea and a new ideal--that of working in order to give away.

James Agate, tells of a letter from Arnold Bennett, the famous novelist, to a less fortunate writer. Bennett was an ambitious and in many ways a worldly man; but in this letter to a fellow writer whom he hardly knew, he says: "I have just been looking at my bankbook; and I find that I have a hundred pounds which I don't need; I am sending you a cheque herewith for that amount."

In modern society no man has overmuch to give away but we do well to remember the Christian ideal is that we work, not to amass things, but to be able, if need be, to give them away.

(v) Paul forbids all foul-mouthed speaking; and then goes on to put the same thing positively. The Christian should be characterized by words which help his fellow men. As Moffatt translates it, Eliphaz the Temanite paid Job a tremendous compliment. "Your words," he said, "have kept men on their feet" (Job 4:4). Such are the words that every Christian ought to speak.

(vi) Paul urges us not to grieve the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is the guide of life. When we act contrary to the counsel of our parents when we are young, we hurt them. Similarly, to act contrary to the guidance of the Holy Spirit is to grieve the Spirit and to hurt the heart of God, the Father, who, through the Spirit, sent his word to us.

THINGS WHICH MUST BE BANISHED FROM LIFE (Ephesians 4:25-32 continued)

Paul ends this chapter with a list of things which must go from life.

(a) There is bitterness (pikria, Greek #4088). The Greeks defined this word as long-standing resentment, as the spirit which refuses to be reconciled. So many of us have a way of nursing our wrath to keep it warm, of brooding over the insults and the injuries which we have received. Every Christian might well pray that God would teach him how to forget.

(b) There are outbreaks of passion (thumos, Greek #2372) and long-lived anger (orge, Greek #3709). The Greeks defined thumos (Greek #2372) as the kind of anger which is like the flame which comes from straw; it quickly blazes up and just as quickly subsides. On the other hand, they described orge as anger which has become habitual. To the Christian the burst of temper and the long-lived anger are both alike forbidden.

(c) There is loud talking and insulting language. A certain famous preacher tells how his wife used to advise him, "In the pulpit, keep your voice down." Whenever, in any discussion or argument, we become aware that our voice is raised, it is time to stop. The Jews spoke about what they called "the sin of insult," and maintained that God does not hold him guiltless who speaks insultingly to his brother man.

Lear said of Cordelia:

"Her voice was ever soft,

Gentle and low, an excellent thing in woman."

It would save a great deal of heartbreak in this world if we simply learned to keep our voices down and if, when we had nothing good to say to a person, we did not say anything at all. The argument which has to be supported in a shout is no argument; and the dispute which has to be conducted in insults is not an argument but a brawl.

So Paul comes to the summing up of his advice. He tells us to be kind (chrestos, Greek #5543). The Greeks defined this quality as the disposition of mind which thinks as much of its neighbours affairs as it does of its own. Kindness has learned the secret of looking outwards all the time, and not inwards. He tells us to forgive others as God forgave us. So, in one sentence, Paul lays down the law of personal relationships--that we should treat others as Jesus Christ has treated us.

-Barclay's Daily Study Bible (NT)

 


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Text Courtesy of BibleSupport.com. Used by Permission.

Bibliography Information
Barclay, William. "Commentary on Ephesians 4:4". "William Barclay's Daily Study Bible". http://www.studylight.org/commentaries/dsb/ephesians-4.html. 1956-1959.


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Friday, June 23rd, 2017
the Week of Proper 6 / Ordinary 11
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