David Guzik Commentary on the Bible
Ephesians 4:1-32 - LIVING TO GOD’S GLORY
A. A call for unity among God’s people.
1. (Ephesians 4:1) The foundation for all exhortation.
I, therefore, the prisoner of the Lord, beseech you to walk worthy of the calling with which you were called,
a. Therefore: Paul spent three chapters spelling out in glorious detail all that God did for us, freely by His grace. Now he brings a call to live rightly, but only after explaining what God did for us.
b. Walk worthy of the calling with which you were called: When we really understand how much God did for us, we will naturally want to serve and obey Him out of gratitude.
i. Understanding who we are is the foundation of this worthy walk. “Luther counsels men to answer all temptations of Satan with this only, Christianus sum, I am a Christian.” (Trapp)
ii. The idea is clear. We don’t walk worthy so that God will love us, but because He does love us. It is motivated out of gratitude, not out of a desire to earn merit.
iii. “Every believer is God’s first-born; and so higher than the kings of the earth, Psalms 89:27. He must therefore carry himself accordingly, and not stain his high blood.” (Trapp)
2. (Ephesians 4:2-3) The character of a worthy walk.
With all lowliness and gentleness, with longsuffering, bearing with one another in love, endeavoring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.
a. With all lowliness and gentleness: A worthy walk before God will be marked by lowliness and gentleness, not a pushy desire to defend our own rights and advance our own agenda.
i. Before Christianity, the word lowliness always had a bad association to it. In the minds of many, it still does, but it is a glorious Christian virtue (Philippians 2:1-10). It means that we can be happy and content when we are not in control or steering things our way.
b. Longsuffering, bearing with one another: We need this so that the inevitable wrongs that occur between people in God’s family will not work against God’s purpose of bringing all things together in Jesus - illustrated through His current work in the church.
i. Chrysostom defined longsuffering as the spirit that has the power to take revenge, but never does. It is characteristic of a forgiving, generous heart.
c. Endeavoring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace: This humble, forgiving attitude towards each other naturally fulfills this gift of the unity of the Spirit.
i. We must endeavor to keep this unity - we do not create it. God never commands us to create unity among believers. He has created it by His Spirit; our duty is to recognize it and keep it.
ii. This is a spiritual unity, not necessarily a structural or denominational unity. It is evident in the quick fellowship possible among Christians of different races, nationalities, languages, and economic classes.
iii. We can understand this unity of the Spirit by understanding what it is not. In a sermon on this text, Charles Spurgeon pointed out some of the things that the text does not say.
· It does not say, “To endeavor to maintain the unity of evil, the unity of superstition, or the unity of spiritual tyranny.”
· It does not say, “Endeavoring to keep up your ecclesiastical arrangements for centralization.”
· It does not say, “Endeavoring to keep the uniformity of the Spirit.”
iv. Structural unity can even work against true unity of the Spirit. We can perhaps see a purpose God has in preventing a structural unity of the church right now, to keep misdirected efforts of the church (such as ambitions for political power) from fulfillment. “It is not a desirable thing that all Churches should melt into one another and become one; for the complete fusion of all Churches into one ecclesiastical corporation would inevitably produce another form of Popery, since history teaches us that large ecclesiastical bodies grow more or less corrupt as a matter of course. Huge spiritual corporations are, as a whole, the strongholds of tyranny and the refuges of abuse; and it is only a matter of time when they shall break to pieces.” (Spurgeon)
v. “For the church fellowship in the Gentile and Jewish believers were united was no mere enrollment on a register of membership; it involved their union with Christ by faith and therefore their union with each other as fellow-members of his body.” (Bruce)
vi. We are confident that this unity is found in Jesus Christ, by the Spirit of God. “We want unity in the truth of God through the Spirit of God. This let us seek after; let us live near to Christ, for this is the best way of promoting unity. Divisions in Churches never begin with those full of love to the Savior.” (Spurgeon)
3. (Ephesians 4:4-6) The description of the unity of the Church.
There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called in one hope of your calling; one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is above all, and through all, and in you all.
a. There is one body and one Spirit: We have unity because of what we share in common. In Jesus we share one body, one Spirit, one hope of our calling, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, and one Father. Each of these common areas is greater than any potential difference.
b. One baptism: Some think that because Paul says there is one baptism that the idea of the baptism of the Holy Spirit as a subsequent experience is invalid. But Paul only spoke here of the baptism by water which is the visible token of God’s common work in every believer, and thus a basis of unity. There aren’t separate baptisms for Jew and Gentile.
i. The concept of the baptism in the Holy Spirit is spoken of clearly in Matthew 3:11, Acts 1:5; Acts 11:16. This may be considered an initial (and sometimes dramatic) experience one has with the fullness of the Holy Spirit, a filling that God wants to continue through a person’s Christian life.
B. The way God works unity: through spiritual gifts of leadership in the church.
1. (Ephesians 4:7-10) The giving of spiritual gifts to the church.
But to each one of us grace was given according to the measure of Christ’s gift. Therefore He says: “When He ascended on high, He led captivity captive, and gave gifts to men.” (Now this, “He ascended”; what does it mean but that He also first descended into the lower parts of the earth? He who descended is also the One who ascended far above all the heavens, that He might fill all things.)
a. Grace was given: We all have grace given to us according to the measure of Jesus’ gift. This is basis for God’s distribution of spiritual gifts through His church: grace, the free, unmerited giving of God. No one deserves or has earned spiritual gifts.
b. When He ascended on high: This giving happened (as described prophetically in Psalms 68:18) when Jesus ascended to heaven, evidence of His triumph over every foe (the leading of captivity captive).
i. Bruce on the picture from Psalms 68:1-35 : “One may picture a military leader returning to Jerusalem at the head of his followers, after routing an enemy army and taking many prisoners.”
ii. As Jesus said, It is to your advantage that I go away; for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you; but if I depart, I will send Him to you. (John 16:7)
c. When He ascended on high, He led captivity captive, and gave gifts to men: Paul does not quote the passage exactly as it appears in Psalms 68:1-35. Either he altered it under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit or under similar inspiration he quotes from an ancient translation (called a Targum) that quotes the Psalm in this manner.
i. Psalms 68:18 reads: You have ascended on high, You have led captivity captive; You have received gifts among men. There is certainly enough room in the language of the original Hebrew to allow Paul’s reading, even though it is unusual.
ii. “It is enough for me that the apostle, under the inspiration of God, applied the verse in this way; and whatever David might intend, and of whatever event he might have written, we see plainly that the sense in which the apostle uses it was the sense of the Spirit of God.” (Clarke)
d. Now this, “He ascended”; what does it mean: In this, Paul demonstrates how the words He ascended in Psalms 68:18 have reference to the resurrection of Jesus, speaking first of His rising from the lower parts of the earth, and secondly of His ascension far above all the heavens.
i. Some think that the phrase lower parts of the earth refers to Jesus’ preaching to the spirits in prison described in 1 Peter 3:19 and 1 Peter 4:6. While this aspect of Jesus’ ministry in Hades following His work on the cross is true (and prophesied in Isaiah 61:1-2 and Luke 4:18), Paul did not necessarily refer to it here.
2. (Ephesians 4:11-12) The offices of spiritual leadership in the church and their purpose.
And He Himself gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers, for the equipping of the saints for the work of ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ,
a. He Himself: This means that Jesus established these offices. They are the work and appointment of Jesus, not men. Though pretenders may lay claim to them, the offices themselves are a Divine institution and not a human invention.
b. Gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers: Paul describes four offices (not five, as in the commonly yet erroneously termed “five-fold ministry).
i. Apostles, who are special ambassadors of God’s work, though not in the same authoritative sense of the first century apostles. They were used to provide a foundation (preserved as the New Testament) as described in Ephesians 2:20.
ii. Prophets, who speak forth words from God in total consistency with the foundation of the Old and New Testaments. Sometimes they speak in a predictive sense, but not necessarily so, and they are always subject to the discernment and judgment of the church leadership (1 Corinthians 14:29). As with the apostles, modern prophets do not speak in the same authoritative sense that the first century prophets brought God’s foundational word (Ephesians 2:20).
iii. Evangelists, who are specifically gifted to preach the good news of salvation in Jesus Christ.
iv. Pastors and teachers (or, pastor-teachers; the ancient Greek clearly describes one office with two descriptive titles), who shepherd the flock of God primarily (though not exclusively) through teaching the Word of God. “Teaching is an essential part of the pastoral ministry; it is appropriate, therefore, that the two terms, pastors and teachers, should be joined together to denote one order of ministry.” (Bruce)
v. These gifts are given at the discretion of Jesus, working through the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 12:11). The importance of having “all four in operation” in any church body is up to Jesus who appoints the offices. The job of responsible church leadership is to not hinder or prevent such ministry, but never to “promote it into existence.”
c. For the equipping of the saints for the work of ministry: The purpose of these gifts of leadership is also clear. It is that saints (God’s people) might be equipped for the work of ministry (service), so that the body of Christ would be built up (expanded and strengthened).
i. Equipping also has the idea of “to put right.” It was used for setting broken bones, and for mending nets. These ministries work together to produce strong, mended, fit Christians.
ii. God’s people do the real work of ministry. Leaders in the church have the first responsibility to equip people to serve and to direct their service as God leads.
iii. “The primary purpose of the Church isn’t to convert sinners to Christianity, but to perfect (complete and mature) the saints for the ministry and edification of the Body.” (Smith)
3. (Ephesians 4:13-16) The desired goal of God’s work through church leadership and equipped saints.
Till we all come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a perfect man, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ; that we should no longer be children, tossed to and fro and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, in the cunning craftiness of deceitful plotting, but, speaking the truth in love, may grow up in all things into Him who is the head; Christ; from whom the whole body, joined and knit together by what every joint supplies, according to the effective working by which every part does its share, causes growth of the body for the edifying of itself in love.
a. Till we all come to the unity of the faith: This is the first goal of God’s work through the gifted offices and equipped saints. This is consistent with both the ultimate purpose of God (Ephesians 1:10) and the mystery of God revealed through Paul (Ephesians 3:6).
i. Again, by clearly stating that this is a unity of the faith, Paul does not command a structural or organizational unity, but a spiritual unity around a common faith.
b. And of the knowledge of the Son of God: When the gifted offices work right and the saints are properly equipped, there are increased maturity and greater intimacy in our experience of God.
c. To a perfect man, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ: The gifted offices and equipped saints bring the saints to maturity, according to the measure of Jesus Himself. As years pass by, we should not only grow old in Jesus, but more mature in Him as well, as both individuals and as a corporate body.
d. We should no longer be children, tossed to and fro and carried about with every wind of doctrine: The gifted offices and equipped saints result in stability, being firmly planted on the foundation of the apostles and prophets (Ephesians 2:20).
i. Those who do not mature in this way are targets of deceivers, who are effective precisely because they operate with trickery and cunning craftiness - and they lie in wait to deceive. They are out there like land minds that the mature can avoid.
ii. The ancient Greek word for tossed to and fro is from the same words used to describe the stormy sea of Galilee in Luke 8:24 (raging of the water). We can wrongly value movement over growth; mere movement is being tossed to and fro, but God wants us to grow up in all things.
iii. By the trickery of men: “The words . . . refer to the arts used by gamesters, who employ false dice that will always throw up one kind of number, which is that by which those who play with them cannot win.” (Clarke) Running after spiritual fads always leaves one a loser.
e. Speaking the truth in love: This speaks to not only how we are to relate to one another in God’s family, but also to how leaders and saints are to deal with deceivers. We should deal with them in love, but never budging from the truth.
f. May grow up in all things into Him who is the head: Another way maturity is described is as the growing up into Jesus, who is the head. Again, this defines the direction of maturity. We never grow “independent” of Jesus, we grow up into Him.
i. “A church that is only united in itself, but not united to Christ, is no living church at all. You may attain to the unity of the frost-bound earth in which men and women are frozen together with the cold proprieties of aristocracy, but it is not the unity of life.” (Spurgeon)
ii. Clarke on grow up into him: “This is a continuance of a metaphor taken from the members of a human body receiving nourishment equally and growing up, each in its due proportion to other parts, and to the body in general.”
g. According to the effective working by which every part does its share: The evidence of maturity - that the leaders and the saints are all doing their job - is this effective working. This means every part and joint provides what it can supply in a coordinated effort. When this happens, it naturally causes the growth of the body (both in size and strength), but especially growth for building itself up in love.
i. Some people think of the church as a pyramid, with the pastor at the top. Others think of the church as a bus driven by the pastor, who takes his passive passengers where they should go. But God wants us to see the church as a body, where every part does its share.
C. Putting off the old man, putting on the new man.
1. (Ephesians 4:17-19) The character of the old man.
This I say, therefore, and testify in the Lord, that you should no longer walk as the rest of the Gentiles walk, in the futility of their mind, having their understanding darkened, being alienated from the life of God, because of the ignorance that is in them, because of the blindness of their heart; who, being past feeling, have given themselves over to lewdness, to work all uncleanness with greediness.
a. Therefore: This makes the connection, not only with the glorious spiritual privileges laid out in Ephesians 1:1-23 through 3, but also with the high call of a unified, mature body as described in Ephesians 4:1-6. Because of this high calling, we should walk (conduct our life) in a different manner than the world around us does.
i. There is a constant tendency for Christians to display to the world that we really aren’t so different after all. This is usually a misguided effort to gain the world’s “respect” or approval. This must be resisted at all costs, because the goal in itself is both undesirable and unachievable.
ii. This principle of compromise can be illustrated by the exchange between a liberal scholar theologian and a Christian professor. The liberal agrees, “I’ll call you a scholar if you’ll call me a Christian.” The trade isn’t worth it.
b. No longer walk as the rest of the Gentiles walk: The Gentile walk is characterized by the futility of their mind. In the end, their thinking is futile because their understanding is darkened - because they are alienated from the life of God.
i. This is not to say that man, in his rebellion against God, is not capable of mighty intellectual achievements. But it is to say that all such achievements fall short of true wisdom, because the fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom (Proverbs 9:10).
ii. Futility: “The thought is not that unregenerate minds are empty. It is that they are filled with things that lead to nothing.” (Vaughan)
iii. As Christians, we have a proper way and place to walk. It is as if Jesus turned us around and put us in the right direction, and now we have to walk and progress in that direction.
c. Because of the blindness of their heart: Fundamentally, the ignorance and lack of understanding of man is a heart problem. It is shown not only in a foolish denial of God, but also in their moral failures (licentiousness, uncleanness, greediness).
i. The Gentiles Paul speaks of were either atheists or they believed in gods who were themselves immoral. Therefore in their denial of the true God, they denied any standard of morality that they must answer to.
ii. Past feeling has the idea of one’s skin becoming callous and no longer sensitive to pain. It is the logical result of the blindness of their heart. Blindness can also be understood here as hardening, and this ancient Greek word “is used medically to denote the callus formed when a bone has been fractured and reset. Such a callus is even harder than the bone itself.” (Wood)
iii. Licentiousness is sin that flaunts itself, throwing off all restraint and having no sense of shame or fear; uncleanness is a broad word, mostly with reference to sexual impropriety.
iv. Barclay elaborates on the Greek word aselgeia, translated licentiousness: “The great characteristic of aselgeia is this - the bad man usually tries to hide his sin; but the man who has aselgeia in his soul does not care how much he shocks public opinion so long as he can gratify his desires.” (Barclay)
2. (Ephesians 4:20-24) Putting on the new man.
But you have not so learned Christ, if indeed you have heard Him and have been taught by Him, as the truth is in Jesus: that you put off, concerning your former conduct, the old man which grows corrupt according to the deceitful lusts, and be renewed in the spirit of your mind, and that you put on the new man which was created according to God, in true righteousness and holiness.
a. Put off . . . the old man . . . put on the new man: This has the same idea of putting off or putting on a set of clothes. The idea is to “change into” a different kind of conduct.
i. Think of a prisoner who is released from prison, but still wears his prison clothes and acts like a prisoner, not a free man. The first thing you would tell that person is “put on some new clothes.”
ii. Even as putting on different clothes will change the way you think about yourself and see yourself, even so putting on different conduct will start to change your attitudes. This means that we shouldn’t wait to feel like the new man before we put on the new man.
iii. Fundamentally, Paul says that for the Christian, there must be a break with the past. Jesus isn’t merely added to our old life; the old life dies and He becomes our new life.
b. You have not so learned Christ: The repetition of this idea shows that putting on the new man has a strong aspect of learning and education to it. You have heard Him and have been taught by Him, as the truth is in Jesus . . . and be renewed in the spirit of your mind.
i. Our Christian life must go beyond head knowledge, but it must absolutely include head knowledge and affect our whole manner of thinking. Not just in the sense of knowing facts, but the ability to set our minds on the right things. This is so fundamental to the Christian life that Christian growth can even be described as the renewing of your mind (Romans 12:2).
ii. The Ephesians learned Christ, not only learning about Jesus, but also learning Him. This means a living, abiding knowledge of Jesus will keep us from the kind of sinful conduct Paul speaks of. Just knowing about Jesus isn’t enough to keep us pure.
i. “So, if you want to know the Lord Jesus Christ, you must live with him. First he must himself speak to you, and afterwards you must abide in him. He must be the choice Companion of your morning hours, he must be with you throughout the day, and with him you must also close the night; and as often as you may wake during the night, you must say, ‘When I awake, I am still with thee.’” (Spurgeon)
c. Put on the new man which was created according to God, in true righteousness and holiness: The new man is the new creation (2 Corinthians 5:17) created in us at conversion. It is the person created according to the image of Jesus Christ and instinctively righteous and holy. It is in contrast to the old man, who is the person inherited from Adam and instinctively rebels against God.
3. (Ephesians 4:25-32) The conduct of the new man.
Therefore, putting away lying, “Let each one of you speak truth with his neighbor,” for we are members of one another. “Be angry, and do not sin”: do not let the sun go down on your wrath, nor give place to the devil. Let him who stole steal no longer, but rather let him labor, working with his hands what is good, that he may have something to give him who has need. Let no corrupt word proceed out of your mouth, but what is good for necessary edification, that it may impart grace to the hearers. And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. Let all bitterness, wrath, anger, clamor, and evil speaking be put away from you, with all malice. And be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, just as God in Christ forgave you.
a. Therefore, putting away lying: The new man tells the truth. The motive for doing this is because we are members of one another, therefore there is no place for lying.
i. A body can only function properly if it tells itself the truth. If your hand touches something hot but your hand tells your brain that the thing is cool, your hand will be severely burned. That’s why telling the truth is so important, because we are members of one another.
b. Be angry, and do not sin: The new man may get angry, but he does not sin. The new man knows how to let go of his wrath, thus giving no opportunity to the devil.
i. “Here it is suggested that anger can be prevented from degenerating into sin if a strict time limit is placed on it: do not let the sun set on your anger.” (Bruce) “He that will be angry and not sin, let him be angry at nothing but sin.” (Trapp)
ii. The devil’s work is to accuse and divide the family of God, and to sow discord among them. When we harbor anger in our heart, we do the devil’s work for him.
iii. The name devil literally means “slanderer.” Paul may be saying that when we hold on to our anger, creating bitterness, we give place to the slanderer - either because we become one or because we provoke their slander.
c. Let him who stole steal no longer: The new man does not steal, but he works with his hands. He does this not only to provide for his own needs, but also to have something to give him who has need.
i. Let him labor: Labor is literally “to exert himself to the point of exhaustion.” This is the kind of working heart God commands those who used to steal to have. Paul’s idea is that we should work so that we can give. The purpose for getting becomes giving.
d. Let no corrupt word proceed out of your mouth: The new man knows how to watch his tongue, speaking only what is good for necessary edification, desiring to impart grace to all who hear him.
i. Corrupt communication: “Not only obscene vulgarity but slanderous and contemptuous talk.” (Bruce)
e. And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God: The new man will not grieve the Holy Spirit, knowing that He is our seal both in the sense of identification and protection.
i. There are many ways to grieve the Holy Spirit. We can neglect holiness and grieve the Holy Spirit. We can think in purely materialistic terms and grieve the Holy Spirit. The Spirit exalts Jesus (John 15:26); when we fail to do the same, we grieve the Spirit.
ii. “I think I now see the Spirit of God grieving, when you are sitting down to read a novel and there is your Bible unread. Perhaps you take down some book of travels, and you forget that you have got a more precious book of travels in the Acts of the Apostles, and in the story of your blessed Lord and Master. You have no time for prayer, but the Spirit sees you very active about worldly things, and having many hours to spare for relaxation and amusement. And then he is grieved because he sees that you love worldly things better than you love him.” (Spurgeon)
iii. “Although the word ‘grieve’ is a painful one, yet there is honey in the rock; for it is an inexpressibly delightful thought, that he who rules heaven and earth, and is the creator of all things, and the infinite and ever blessed God, condescends to enter into such infinite relationships with his people that his divine mind may be affected by their actions. What a marvel that Deity should be said to grieve over the faults of beings so utterly insignificant as we are!” (Spurgeon)
iv. “Sin everywhere must be displeasing to the Spirit of holiness, but sin in his own people is grievous to him in the highest degree. He will not hate his people, but he does hate their sins, and hates them all the more because they nestle in his children’s bosoms. The Spirit would not be the Spirit of truth if he could approve of that which is false in us: he would not be pure if that which is impure in us did not grieve him.” (Spurgeon)
v. The Holy Spirit’s grief is not of a petty, oversensitive nature. “He is grieved with us mainly for our own sakes, for he knows what misery sin will cost us; he reads our sorrows in our sins . . . He grieves over us because he sees how much chastisement we incur, and how much communion we lose.” (Spurgeon)
f. Let all bitterness, wrath, anger, clamor, and evil speaking be put away from you: The new man has control of his emotions (bitterness, wrath, anger and so forth). When such things do emerge, he is able to deal with them in a manner glorifying to God.
i. Aristotle defined bitterness as “the resentful spirit that refuses reconciliation.”
ii. Wrath speaks of an outburst of the moment; anger speaks of a settled disposition. Both must be put away.
g. And be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another: The new man seeks to show the same kindness, tender heartedness and forgiveness to others that God shows him. If we treat others as God treats us, we fulfill every thing Paul told us to do in this chapter.
h. Just as God in Christ forgave you: Our forgiveness to others is patterned after the forgiveness of Jesus towards us. When we think of the amazing way God forgives us, it is shameful for us to withhold forgiveness from those who have wronged us.
i. The older King James Version puts it like this: even as God for Christ’s sake hath forgiven you. This gives us an assurance of forgiveness - that it is for Christ’s sake. “God for Christ’s sake hath forgiven thee. Get hold of that grand truth, and hold it, though all the devils in hell roar at thee. Grasp it as with a hand of steel; grip it as for life: ‘God for Christ’s sake hath forgiven me,’ - may each one of us be able to say that. We shall not feel the divine sweetness and force of the text unless we can make a personal matter of it by the Holy Ghost.” (Spurgeon)
ii. “If anyone here who is a Christian finds a difficulty in forgiveness, I am going to give him three words which will help him wonderfully. I would put them into the good man’s mouth. I gave them to you just now, and prayed you to get the sweetness of them; here they are again! ‘For Christ’s sake.’ Cannot you forgive an offender on that ground?” (Spurgeon)
iii. It isn’t that we must forgive because Jesus will forgive us. We forgive because He has forgiven us. “It is the historical fact of Christ once for all putting away sin by the sacrifice of Himself, which is alluded to.” (Moule)
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