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Bible Commentaries

James Nisbet's Church Pulpit Commentary
Ephesians 4

 

 

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Verse 1

VOCATION

‘I therefore, the prisoner of the Lord, beseech you that ye walk worthy of the vocation wherewith ye are called.’

Ephesians 4:1

The vocation or calling here referred to was the name, the status, the dignity, the privileges, flowing from admission to the Church of Christ.

If we are true citizens of the Kingdom of Christ Jesus we have assuredly our work to do.

I. We have each of us to use our earthly citizenship, our civil rights to leaven public and social life with the influence of the laws of Christ’s Kingdom.

(a) We have to discourage the rudeness and coarse frivolity, and clever impudence, and unscrupulous exaggeration and distortion of the truth, which are far too much tolerated and applauded in our day.

(b) We have to crush, by manly effort, the lawless licentiousness and fiendish lust which seethe beneath the surface of society, and poison the fountains of national life.

(c) We have to rebuke the prurient indecency which publishes without reserve or modesty the things of which it is a shame to speak.

(d) We have to foster the delicate reserve and sensitive shrinking from all whisper of uncleanness which used to be the instinct and the law of chaste womanhood.

(e) We have to rescue our cities from worldliness and profligacy, our villages from irreligion, and lethargy, and sloth.

II. We have by well-doing to put to silence the ignorance of those who speak foolish things against the religion and the Church of Christ.

III. We have to deepen the religion of our homes by the silent suasion that proceeds from hearts which are themselves filled with the love of Jesus.

IV. We have to discipline our own lives in growing conformity to the mind of Christ.

Thus, by making the most of our lives, we shall walk worthy of what God has bestowed on us, and accomplish the vocation that He intends.

—Bishop James Macarthur.


Verse 3

CHRISTIAN UNITY

‘The unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.’

Ephesians 4:3

‘Ye are one,’ the Apostle would say, ‘one in Christ Jesus, therefore live and walk as one.’ Two points here suggest themselves for our consideration.

I. In what does true Christian unity consist?

(a) True unity admits of great variety in outward form.

(b) True unity admits of considerable independence of action.

(c) True unity depends upon the whole body being permeated by one spirit.

II. How can true unity be best attained?—The passage before us to a large extent supplies the answer.

(a) First of all, by cherishing a spirit of ‘lowliness and meekness.’

(b) Another mode of attaining greater unity is the cultivation of a spirit of long-suffering and forbearance. ‘With long-suffering,’ the Apostle says, ‘forbearing one another in love.’ This applies, no doubt, chiefly and directly to our social relationships one with another, but has it not also a wider application?

(c) But above and beyond all other things to promote unity, there must be the drawing nearer to the source and centre of all unity, viz. a close personal abiding in the Lord Jesus Himself.

III. Two remarks by way of caution.—In our longing desire for unity let us take care to avoid two opposite extremes.

(b) First, that of thinking that by greater outer uniformity we shall gradually arrive at unity.

(b) The other, that of sacrificing essential and fundamental truth in our desire to meet objectors, and embrace a wider area within our circle.

Rev. John Barton.


Verses 4-6

THE APPEAL FOR UNITY

‘There is one body, and one Spirit, even as also ye were called in one hope of your calling; one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, Who is over all, and through all, and in all.’

Ephesians 4:4-6 (R. V.)

The great dangers we are in by reason of the existence of separated Christian bodies lay beyond the horizon of the Apostles. But the seeds of these ‘unhappy divisions’ were already in the soil, though centuries had to elapse before they bore their bitter fruit. The Apostles were familiar, sadly familiar, with cabals, estrangements, divisions, the spirit of wilfulness and of partisanship, the spirit which postpones the desire for the advantage and progress of the whole society to the desire for the mastery and the pre-eminence of some section of the community. It is against this spirit in its manifold forms that St. Paul in this Epistle makes his solemn protest, over against which he sets his magnificent conception of Christian unity as a supreme law of the Christian Church and a guiding principle of the Christian life. Let us try to follow out his inspired thought.

I. One Spirit.—This unity is the unity of the Spirit; that is, it is the unity which the Spirit inspires and confirms. There is one Spirit. ‘We have been all made to drink,’ as St. Paul says elsewhere, drawing his metaphor from the story of Israel in the wilderness, ‘of one Spirit.’ ‘One body and one Spirit.’ The whole figure is taken from human personality. The interpretation is at once clear. Each Christian man and woman is a member in the one body of Christ. None may go his own ways or seek his own ends. None is independent of his fellow Christians. But all (in the ideal) work together and live one life, each taking that particular part in the one life which God assigns to him. Here, in this later Epistle, St. Paul carries forward and explains his earlier parable. What is the reason of the unity of the human body? Why do the limbs co-operate? Because in every man the members are all ruled by one will. The one spirit of the man controls the many members. Not otherwise is it with the Body of Christ. The one Holy Spirit has been given to all. The one Spirit inspires all, governs all, controls all, energises all. We are all one man, one personality, in Christ Jesus.

II. One Lord.—And if there is but one Spirit, so also there is but one Lord, one supreme Master of the lives of all Christian men. St. Paul’s mind, doubtless, is reverting to what we learn from a a series of passages in his writings to have been the earliest confession of Christian faith, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ ‘Jesus Christ is Lord.’ We are His by right of purchase. ‘Ye are not your own; ye were bought with a price.’ There is one Lord—one supreme Master. That is the one faith which all Christian men confess. That is the one baptism by which all Christian men are brought into a vital relation to Him. The inference is clear and immediate. Servants who are loyal to the one Lord and Master are bound together by their one allegiance. The household is one: to divide the household is treason against the one Master.

III. One Father.—There remains one plea even higher than the constraining power of the one allegiance to the Lord Christ. ‘One God and Father of all, Who is over all, and through all, and in all.’ He Who is the primal source of all, Who transcends all, and through the Word transfuses and permeates all, has revealed Himself through Christ as the Father of all for whom Christ died. His fatherly love is the final cause of redemption. He is the Father of all, specially of them that believe. All Christians are His sons. Again the inference is clear and immediate. Sons who love the one Father, and whom the one Father loves with so great a love that for their sakes He spared not the Eternal Son of His love, are bound together by their one sonship. The family is one. To divide the family is treason against the one Father.

One Spirit, one Master, one Father. By these great fundamental verities of the Christian faith—not cold abstract truths, but each instinct with the love of atonement—St. Paul conjures us to labour for peace, for love, for unity.

—Bishop Chase.


Verse 26

USES OF ANGER

‘Doest thou well to be angry?’ ‘Be ye angry, and sin not.’

Jonah 4:4 (with Ephesians 4:26).

The former text implies that there is an anger which is sinful; and the latter text implies that there is an anger which is not sinful. The difference lies not so much in the character, or even in the degree of the emotion; but rather in the motive which rouses it, and the object towards which it is directed.

I. There is a feeling to which we give the name of moral indignation; by way of distinguishing it from other kinds of anger, more or less selfish and self-asserting; moral indignation is characterised chiefly by this—that it is quite unselfish. It is the feeling which rises in the breast of a man when he reads of or looks upon the ill-treatment of an animal, or the deception of a child, or the insulting of a woman. To stand by and see these things without remonstrance or without interference, is not forbearance; it is a cowardice, it is an unmanliness, it is a sin.

II. There is a place, again, and room for anger, not only in the contemplation of wrong, but in the personal experience of temptation.—There is an indignation, there is even a resentment, there is even a rage and fury, which may be employed, without offence to the Gospel, in repelling such an assault. Nor is that anger necessarily misplaced, because the lips of friendship or love are those which play the seducer. The tempter, like the bully, is a coward; the very eye undimmed by sinning will scare him off, like the rising sun of the Psalmist, to lay him down in his den.

III. Be angry with yourself, and sin not; let the time of this ignorance and folly and fatuity go at last and bury itself; awake to righteousness, and sin not; see if a moral indignation, powerful against others, may not beneficially be tried against yourself.

Dean Vaughan.

Illustration

‘Jonah is so sullenly disappointed that he considers life not worth living. This extravagant and almost ridiculous situation of the prophet, chiding and disappointed in God for being too loving and patient, is designed by the writer to bring vividly before the Jewish people the absurdity of their limitation of God’s love to themselves alone. It was a lesson they had not learned in the time of our Lord’s life on earth, and one of their chief objections to Him was that His mercy transgressed their ceremonial laws, and His love was too gracious to sinners.’


Verse 30

AN APOSTOLIC INJUNCTION

‘Grieve not the Holy Spirit of God.’

Ephesians 4:30

How sad it is to grieve a friend! But to grieve the best of friends seems more than sad, more than culpable.

We may grieve the Holy Spirit of God—

I. By lack of Christian charity.—Selfishness no doubt is at the root of our want of love to the brethren. And not only selfishness, but that narrowness of spirit which prevents one seeing the good in others and from realising that Christ is leading them on perhaps quite as much as He is leading us on. Love to the brethren ought to be extended far wider than we are accustomed to allow it to extend; we are to take care that we love others no less than we believe that God loves them.

II. By wilfully indulged sin.—‘If any man defile the temple of God, him shall God destroy.’ And can we forget that any wilfully indulged sin, any allowance of ourselves in ways that we know instinctively, intuitively, must grieve the Spirit of God, ought never to be followed for a single instant.

III. By distrust of the love of God.—He calls us his children. He bids us by the Spirit that He gives us look up to Him and call Him, ‘Abba Father’; and how it must grieve Him when after all we distrust that love of God. The same gracious Spirit brings us back to God, and therefore must there be the constant prayer from us that He would return to us if we have driven Him away, so that we by His power may return again to God.

 


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Bibliography Information
Nisbet, James. "Commentary on Ephesians 4:4". Church Pulpit Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/cpc/ephesians-4.html. 1876.

Lectionary Calendar
Thursday, November 21st, 2019
the Week of Proper 28 / Ordinary 33
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