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Bible Commentaries

Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers
Ephesians 4

 

 

Other Authors
Introduction

IV.

[4. Final Summary of Doctrine (Ephesians 4:1-16).

(1) THE UNITY OF THE CHURCH OF CHRIST (Ephesians 4:1-6).

(a) Its ground in the unity of the Holy Trinity;

(b) Its means in the one baptism;

(c) Its conditions and effects in one faith, one hope, one charity.

(2) THE DIVERSITY OF GIFTS AND OFFICES IN THE CHURCH through the mediation of her glorified Lord (Ephesians 4:7-11).

(3) THE DIRECTION OF ALL TO ONE OBJECT—the individual and corporate growth of all into the likeness and image of Christ the Head (Ephesians 4:12-16).]


Verse 1

(1) Worthy of the vocation wherewith ye are called.—This “being worthy of the Christian calling” may obviously show itself in any of the graces of regenerate humanity, all being features of the image of Christ. Thus in 1 Peter 1:15 it expresses itself in “holiness” (as in the frequent phrase “called to be saints”); in Philippians 1:27-30, in steadfastness of faith. But in this passage the especial point which has been dwelt upon in their calling is the fact that they were aliens, helpless and miserable, and that they are now united in one body with the ancient people of God. Hence, naturally, the graces declared to correspond with their calling, so viewed, are the graces of humility and gentleness, teaching them to sink all thought of self in “the unity of the Spirit.”


Verses 1-6

(1) Ephesians 4:1-6, although cast in a hortatory form contain the final summary of the great doctrine of the Epistle—the UNITY OF THE CATHOLIC CHURCH—in words which have all the glowing freedom of spiritual enthusiasm, and all the clear-cut precision of a creed.

Thus (a) the ground of that unity is laid in that spiritual communion of each soul with the “one Spirit,” the “one Lord,” and the “one God and Father of all,” which underlies all outward ordinance, and which no power of man can either give or take away, (b) The means of entering that unity is the “one baptism,” ordained by Christ Himself, universal in the Christian world, capable of being ministered (though irregularly) by any Christian hand, (c) The graces, which in germ are conditions, and in full growth are effects, of such unity are the “one hope,” the “one faith,” the one “bond of peace” or charity. These last most of all depend on the “fellow-working” of man—primarily in the soul receiving them, and secondarily in all who can influence it for good and for evil.

We have here a perfect and exhaustive exposition of the unity of the Church, on which depend the other qualities of “Holiness,” “Catholicity,” and “Apostolicity” ascribed to it in the Creed. In other passages the essential life of the Church is attributed, now to the revelation of the Father (Matthew 16:17-18), now to the indwelling presence of the Son (Matthew 28:20), now to the gift of the Holy Ghost (Acts 2:38-39). Here all are united in one comprehensive view. The order, however, is natural, not artificial. The exhortation to peace naturally leads to the conception of one Body, animated by the “one Spirit”; next, the remembrance of their calling leads to the “one Lord,” who called them to Him in one faith and by one baptism; and all ends in the contemplation of the “one God and Father,” who is not only above all and through all His creation, but specially in those who are adopted to a new sonship in Christ. (See John 14:22-23.) In its completeness and depth this passage stands alone. It is interesting to compare and contrast with it the equally celebrated passage occupying the corresponding place in the Colossian Epistle (Colossians 3:1-4), and to gather from this the mingled similarity and difference in the main idea of those two Epistles—the Ephesian Epistle dwelling especially on the unity and regeneration of the whole body, the Colossian Epistle on the sole Headship and Deity of Christ.


Verse 2

(2) From this general description of the regeneration of the soul out of the death of sin, in the Lord Jesus Christ, St. Paul now passes on to deal with special moral duties (Ephesians 4:25-30)—the casting out of falsehood, wrath, dishonesty, and impurity, which are the four typical sins forbidden in the four general Commandments of the Second Table—the Ninth, the Sixth, the Eighth, and the Seventh. But he treats all with a marked and striking peculiarity of treatment—in relation to the great principle of unity in Christ, rather than in relation to a man’s own nature or his individual responsibility to God. In this treatment he shows the vivid practical application of the characteristic doctrine of this Epistle.


Verse 2-3

(2, 3) Forbearing one another in love . . .—The word rendered “endeavouring” is, in the original, a word expressing “earnestness” of thought and exertion to secure a thing not lightly obtained. (See 2 Timothy 4:9-21; Hebrews 4:11; 2 Peter 1:10.) It shows that St. Paul here passes from the negative aspects of love, summed up in forbearance, to the more positive and energetic enthusiasm for unity and peace. Love is in both aspects, the “uniting bond” of peace. In the parallel passage of Colossians 3:14, it is “put on over” all else, and is the uniting “bond of perfectness.” In the celebrated thirteenth chapter of the First Epistle to Corinthians (Ephesians 4:4-7) it is made to include “long-suffering” and “kindness,” and all forms of humility and gentleness. But, if it be real, it must necessarily pass into active energy; if it is to win the final beatitude of “blessing to the peacemakers,” it must “labour for peace,” and “follow after the things which make for peace” (Psalms 120:7; Romans 14:19).

The unity of the Spirit is certainly the unity given by the indwelling of the Holy Ghost. This we cannot create, for it is the gift of God; but we can “keep” it: that is, cherish it, guard it, and make it effectual by love; and all experience proves that, if we would so keep it, we need the positive earnestness of exertion against evils without and within.


Verse 3

(3) Ephesians 4:12-16 return from diversity of functions to singleness of object—viz., the perfecting individual souls in the likeness of Christ, and so building up of the whole Church in unity with Him.


Verse 4

(4) There is one body, and one Spirit.—The words “There is” are not in the original, which starts with a striking abruption, and with that terse concentration of thought and word which marks out an embryo creed.

The “one body” is the Body of Christ, “from whom it is fitly framed, joined together, and compacted,” so that in every part “it grows up into Him.” But this communion with God in Christ being “the life eternal,” the Holy Ghost, by making it effectual alike to the Church and to the individual soul, is the “Lord and Giver of Life.” Hence, His presence is spoken of as being to the body of Christ what the spirit is to the natural body—the uniting and vivifying power for all its members. Under the same idea we have (in 1 Corinthians 12:13), as a description of the first entrance into the Church of Christ, “By one Spirit are we all baptised into one body . . . and have been all made to drink into one Spirit.”

Even as ye are (or rather, were) called in one hope of your calling.—The connection, though not at first obvious, is clear on consideration. Since the grace of the Holy Spirit is not only the “seal” of regeneration, but also the “earnest” (Ephesians 1:14) of future perfection, the mention of the one Spirit suggests naturally the “hope of our calling” (i.e., the perfect unity of heaven). In this, in spite of all natural and spiritual inequalities, and in spite even of our divisions and strifes upon earth, all Christians are still actually one. Hence the communion of saints is perhaps most clearly realised in the times of high spiritual aspiration, and in the near presence of death.


Verse 5

(5) One Lord, one faith.—From the idea of “the calling,” the Apostle passes naturally to Him who calls—the “one Lord”—and to the method of His calling to Himself, first, by the “one faith,” and then by the “one baptism” at which profession of that one faith is made. It is on the indwelling of Christ in each heart by faith that the spiritual unity of all Christians—primarily with Him, secondarily with one another—depends; and that spiritual unity is “put on” in baptism (Galatians 3:27), in which we are “buried with Him and risen again” (Colossians 2:12), growing into the likeness of His death and resurrection (Romans 6:3-5). Again we note that, with but few exceptions, all Christians, even in the divided condition of the Church, are still united in the “one baptism;” and if we look to such expressions of the one faith as are contained in the baptismal profession (e.g., of the Apostles’ Creed), it is clear that our divisions, great as they are, turn mainly on the fourth subsidiary Article on the “Holy Catholic Church,” and not on the three primary Articles of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost. In these the mass of Christendom has still one faith.


Verse 6

(6) One God and Father of all.—Necessarily, through the Son, we pass to the Father (as the Lord Himself invariably teaches us to do), since He is (to use the old Greek expression) “the fount of Deity.” He is said to be the “Father of all.” We cannot limit this universal Fatherhood; although, undoubtedly, the context shows that the immediate reference is to those who are His children by adoption in Jesus Christ. The Church is essentially Catholic, inheriting by special gift what is the birthright of all humanity; incapable of perfection till all be drawn into that closer sonship, yet having neither right nor desire to deny that outside her pale at any moment the wider Fatherhood of God extends.

Who is above all, and through all, and in you all.—The word “you” has little authority; many MSS. and commentaries have “us.” But the best MSS. and authorities omit both, as probably early glosses of explanation which have crept into the text. Accordingly, the word “all” throughout must be taken, as above, as applying to all God’s rational creatures, made in His image (and indeed, in a lower sense, even to all His creatures), but especially and properly to the members of Christ’s Church. In the three-fold sentence many ancient and modern interpreters trace a reference to the Holy Trinity. But, strictly speaking, this cannot be, as the passage expressly points to the Father; although, in virtue of the eternal unity of the Godhead, it may be true that in the expression “through all” and “in all” we trace those manifestations of the Father which are especially made through the Son and by the Holy Spirit. Hence we must refer all properly to the ultimate conception of God the Father; as “above all” in the sovereignty of His will, since to work out “His pleasure they are and were created,” and His will becomes to them the “law eternal;” as “through all” in the diffusive power of the forces—physical, moral, and spiritual—by which the world of nature, still more the world of man, most of all the society of Christians, are swayed as wholes; and “in all” by the indwelling of God in the individual for creation, sustentation, regeneration, which is the breath of life—both the physical and spiritual life. (This individuality, and the especial reference to Christians, are marked by the very natural gloss “us,” or “you,” in this clause.)


Verse 7

(7) But unto every one of us is given grace.—This verse should be rendered, To every one of us the grace (the one “grace of the Lord Jesus Christ”) was given—that is, given in the Divine purpose in the regeneration of the whole body, although it has to be received and made our own, separately in each soul, and gradually in the course of life. It was and is given “according to the measure of the gift of Christ.” (See below, Ephesians 4:13-16.) In Him it dwells “without measure” (see John 3:34); He gives it to each according to the measure of his capacity to receive it in faith (called in Romans 12:3 the “measure of faith”). Compare with this verse the fuller description of the differences of “gifts,” “ministries,” and “operations” in 1 Corinthians 12:4-6, in which passage there is the same general reference to the Three Persons of the Holy Trinity; but the particular reference is there to the Holy Spirit, while here it is to the Son.


Verse 8

(8) Wherefore he saith.—The reference is to Psalms 68—a psalm which (as the quotation from Numbers 10:35, in the first verse, shows) is a psalm celebrating some moving of the ark, traditionally (and most probably) connected with David’s bringing up of the ark (2 Samuel 6) to Mount Zion. The very change from the second person to the third person shows it to be a free quotation; and this is made far more evident by the remarkable variation from the text of the original, which runs, Thou receivedst gifts in man—i.e., probably, “among men;” and adds, “even the rebellious, that the Lord God might dwell among them”—a clause which (from Ephesians 4:29-31) we may suppose to refer to the homage of the heathen to the Lord Jehovah. Now, it has been noted that the word “received” is used constantly for “receiving,” or “fetching,” for another (Genesis 15:9; Genesis 18:5; Genesis 27:13, et al.); and it appears that the Chaldee Targum actually has here, as a gloss: “Thou hast given gifts to the sons of men,” interpreting the words, curiously enough, of Moses as a mediator between God and man. The psalm also was recognised as a Messianic psalm, foreshadowing the dwelling of “God with us” in the universal kingdom of the true Mediator. St. Paul accordingly uses it with a bold variation suiting his context. The key to this use is found in the truth enunciated of our Lord in Acts 2:33, that “being by the right hand of God exalted, and having received of the Father the promise of the Holy Spirit, He hath shed forth this.” Our Lord, as the Head of humanity, receives only in order to give. From the means, therefore, the Apostle passes to the end.

He led captivity captive.—The modern use of these words as describing our Lord’s triumph over the power of evil, hitherto triumphant over man, and so giving freedom by leading captive the power of captivity, although in itself profoundly true, is not supported by the original, in which it is simply used for “a body of captives.” St. Paul’s use of it here is probably best interpreted by Colossians 2:15, where it is said of the “principalities and powers”—the powers of sin and death—that “He made a show of them openly, triumphing over them in the cross.” (See Note on this passage.)


Verse 9

(9) The lower parts of the earth.—This may mean either the regions of the earth, as “lower” than heaven, or the regions beneath the earth. The reasoning of the text in itself would be satisfied by the former. For St. Paul is simply arguing that the use of the phrase “ascended” from earth to heaven implies a previous corresponding descent, which must be from heaven to earth; exactly as in John 3:13, “No man hath ascended into heaven, but He that came down from heaven.” But form and usage of the phrase itself seem to point to the other meaning, which is held by almost all ancient interpreters and most moderns. It agrees with the strong expression of “filling all things,” in Ephesians 4:10, and is possibly suggested by the leading captive of the powers of hell and death. Though, perhaps, injurious to the strictness of the antithesis, it is quite accordant with St. Paul’s manner to introduce thus a fresh idea beyond the simple idea of descent, which is sufficient for his argument: “He descended—yea, even to the realms below.” For this idea is most apposite to that frequent reference to spiritual powers of evil found in this Epistle, and it may be thought to correspond by antithesis to the “far above all heavens” of the next verse.


Verse 9-10

(9, 10) These verses form a parenthesis, designed to bring out the pervading idea of this and the parallel Epistle—the Divine humanity of Christ as “filling all in all” and “gathering all things” into Himself.


Verse 10

(10) That he might fill all things.—Compare the description in Ephesians 1:23 of the Lord as “filling all in all.” In both cases the reference is more particularly to the gift of the fulness of His grace, flowing from His glorified humanity to all His members. But the words are too wide for any limitation. In heaven and earth, and the realms under the earth, His presence and sovereignty extends, by whatever means and over whatever beings He wills. In Revelation 5:13, accordingly, we read the ascription by “every creature in heaven, and on the earth, and under the earth . . ., of blessing, honour, glory, and power to . . . the Lamb for ever and ever.”


Verse 11

(11) He gave.—In the original “He” is emphatic—He and He alone, as the ascended Head of humanity. The word “gave,” instead of the more obvious word set, or appointed (used in 1 Corinthians 12:28), is, of course, suggested by Ephesians 4:8. They who are ministers of His gifts are themselves gifts from Him to the Church.

Some, apostles; and some, prophets . . .—With this passage we must compare 1 Corinthians 12:28, “God hath set some in the Church, first apostles, secondarily prophets, thirdly teachers, after that miracles, then gifts of healings,” &c.; and, perhaps, Romans 12:6-8, “Having then gifts . . . whether prophecy . . . or ministry . . . or teaching . . . or exhortation . . .,” although this last passage is lass formally apposite. In all three cases there is the same general idea, first of the one body, and then of the one Spirit, guiding and animating it through various ministries. The parallel between this passage and the passage in 1 Cor. is very close; for in the latter all that follows the words “after that” may be put aside, as describing, not special offices or ministries, but special gifts. We have, therefore, in both, “first apostles, secondly prophets.” Then come, in the earlier Epistle, “teachers;” and this class, in our own later Epistle, is subdivided into “evangelists” and “pastors,” both being teachers—the one in conversion of those still aliens from Christ, the other in edification of those already brought into His flock.

Some, apostles.—The name “apostles” is certainly used here in its technical and restricted sense, as applying to the Twelve, whom “the Apostle” of God Himself (Hebrews 3:1) named as His Apostles (Luke 6:13), and with whom St. Paul claims equality (see 1 Corinthians 9:1; 1 Corinthians 15:9-11; Galatians 1:1) on the ground of his own special mission and revelation from the same Lord. It is, indeed, used in a wider sense; sometimes with words distinctly implying a derivation and human mission, as in 2 Corinthians 8:23, “apostles (or, messengers) of the churches;” Philippians 2:25, “Epaphroditus, your apostle (or, messenger);” sometimes without such qualification, as in 2 Corinthians 11:5; 2 Corinthians 11:13; 2 Corinthians 12:11-12; 1 Thessalonians 2:7; and, perhaps, Romans 16:7. But such use is rare, and cannot be applied to a passage like this, which is distinctive of a special and primary class. In direct charge from the Lord, universal scope of mission, special inspiration and power of miracle, which are “the signs of an apostle” (2 Corinthians 12:12), the Apostles, properly so called, stood out in office absolutely unique and supreme. What was said of the first age of the Church is true of all ages—“of the rest durst no man join himself unto them” (Acts 5:13).

Some, prophets.—For the nature and function of prophecy in the Church, see the detailed treatment of the subject by St. Paul in 1 Corinthians 14. It is sufficient here to note (1) that from very early times the “prophets” are mentioned as a separate class (see Acts 11:27; Acts 15:32; Acts 21:10), distinguished from teachers (Acts 13:1), and that, in this Epistle especially, they are spoken of, in connection with the Apostles, as receiving the revealed mystery of the gospel (Ephesians 3:5), and being (or, laying) “the foundation of the Church;” (2) that their office, like the Apostolate, is clearly extraordinary, distinct from the ordinary and permanent teaching of the evangelists and pastors, and, probably, best described by the two phrases so constantly applied to the prophets of the Old Testament—“the word of the Lord came to me;” “the Spirit of the Lord was upon me.” As all God’s extraordinary gifts and workings are closely correlated with His ordinary laws of operation, so in this case the apostolic and prophetic offices gradually melt away into the regular functions of government and teaching, belonging in all times to the ministry of the Church.

Some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers.—In these two phrases (corresponding to the simple word “teachers” in 1 Corinthians 12:28) we find described the two-fold office of the regular ministry of the Church—first, to preach the gospel to the heathen or the unconverted, and next, to fulfil our Lord’s pastoral charge (John 21:15-17) of feeding and shepherding those who are already His sheep. It is clear that the same person may be invested with the two offices, as Timothy, when in pastoral charge at Ephesus, is bidden “to do the work of an evangelist” (2 Timothy 4:5); and that in some degree the two offices must always be united, for the evangelist, like the apostle, is generally called upon to organise and “confirm the churches” (Acts 14:22-23; Acts 15:41), and the pastor must always find men unconverted, to whom he must be an evangelist. But the two elements of duty will co-exist in different proportions in different persons. Some were then, and are now, especially called to be “evangelists”—that is, as is shown by the career of Philip, to whom the name is first given (Acts 21:8), to be, under the apostolic guidance, missionaries to the unconverted; others to be “pastors and teachers,” feeding now with “pure milk of the word,” now with “solid meat” (see 1 Corinthians 3:2, and Hebrews 5:12), those already gathered into the fold, and exercising over them the pastoral authority solemnly committed by our Lord to His ministers. Yet both can discharge only under limitation the functions which in the Apostles were practically unlimited.

On the question whether this celebrated passage describes the regular orders or the functions, ordinary and extraordinary, of the ministry, we may fairly say that while no doubt the very genius of the passage points to the latter alternative, yet the ultimate appeal must be made to history. It is clear, from the nature of the case, that none could inherit the direct and universal commission from Christ held by the Apostles; it is certain historically that the supernatural gifts of prophecy and miracle passed away; it is hardly less indisputable that the two functions of evangelism and pastorate were always shared among the three orders of bishops, priests, and deacons after the close of the Apostolic age.


Verse 12

(12) For the perfecting . . .—The parallelism of the three clauses of our version of this verse does not exactly correspond to the original, though we notice that Chrysostom supports it, and therefore evidently saw nothing in the Greek to contradict it. The preposition (eis) used in the two latter clauses (which should be unto work of ministration, unto edification of the body of Christ) properly signifies “contact with a thing,” and the preposition (pros) used in the first clause, “direction towards a thing.” The two are often apparently interchanged; but in close juxtaposition here can hardly be intended to be identical or exactly parallel; and, if distinction is to be drawn, the former must signify immediate consequence, and the other the remoter object to which such immediate consequence is designed to minister. The construction would be greatly simplified, if inversion of the first two clauses could be allowed. For it would then run, “unto work of ministration with a view to perfecting of saints, unto building up of the body of Christ;” and so would plainly represent the two-fold operation of the ministry: first, its work in its various offices for the perfecting of individual souls; and next, its general direction to the building up of the whole body. But whether this construction be grammatically possible or not, this appears to be in any case the general sense of the passage.

The perfecting of the saints.—The word rendered “perfecting” (akin to the “perfection” of 2 Corinthians 13:9) is derived from a root which signifies either to “mend” what is broken (as in Matthew 4:21), or to “complete” what is unfinished (as in Luke 6:40; Romans 9:22); and hence is used spiritually for to “restore” the fallen (Galatians 6:1), or to “perfect” the imperfect Christian (Hebrews 13:21; 1 Thessalonians 3:10). Both processes are necessarily implied in that perfection of the individual saints here spoken of, and more fully described in the next verses.

The edifying of the body of Christ.—This is that part of the work of the ministry (as in preaching and ministering in public worship) which tells upon the Church or congregation as a whole. It is here represented as subsequent, perhaps as subordinate, to the individual pastoral dealing with souls. But each has his own gift. Some ministries are more blessed to the individual perfecting of the saints; others to the building up of the whole Church.


Verse 13

(13) Till we all come.—The marginal rendering is correct: till we all arrive at the unity of the faith. The “one faith” has been spoken of above; the full grasp of that faith by each and all is the first object of all the ministries of the Church, since by it both the individual perfection and the corporate unity begin to be secured. Such faith always goes on to knowledge, that is (as in Ephesians 1:17) “full knowledge” of Him in whom we have believed. So in 2 Peter 1:17, “Add to your faith virtue” (that is, energy in well-doing), “and to virtue knowledge.” This knowledge (see Ephesians 3:17-19) is gained mainly through the love in which faith is made perfect.

Of the Son of God.—These words should be connected with the word “faith” (as in Galatians 2:20) as well as “knowledge.” They are probably to be considered as a distinctive phrase, designating our Lord especially as glorified and exalted to the right hand of the Father in “the glory which he had with the Father before the world was.” So in Romans 1:4, He is “declared to be the Son of God by the Resurrection;” and in Hebrews 4:14, “Jesus the Son of God” is “the High Priest ascended into the heavens.” Compare also our Lord’s declaration that “if any man speaks against the Son of Man it shall be forgiven him” (Matthew 12:32) with the declaration of the certain vengeance on him who “treads under foot the Son of God” (Hebrews 10:29). Note again, in St. John’s First Epistle, the constant reference to the belief in and confession of Jesus as “the Son of God” as the one thing needful (Ephesians 4:15; Ephesians 5:5; Ephesians 5:10-12; Ephesians 5:20). For on the belief not only of what He was on earth, but of what He is in heaven, all distinctive Christianity depends. If He is only “Son of Man” He cannot be the universal Saviour.

Unto a perfect (that is, full-grown) man, unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ.—In these words are described the second great object of the ministries of the Church—not only the production of faith and knowledge of the Son of God, but the formation of Christ in the soul, as “dwelling in the heart through faith.” This image of Christ in “fullness” is the absolutely perfect humanity, showing forth the image of God. Each can partake of it only up to “the measure” which God gives him. (See Ephesians 4:7.) When he so partakes of it to the utmost, he is “full-grown” (relatively, not absolutely, perfect) up to the spiritual “stature” assigned to him, although (as in the body) that stature may vary in different persons, and in none can perfectly attain to the whole “fulness” of Christ. The rendering, “stature” is preferable to age, as suiting better the context, though both are fully admissible under New Testament usage. On the word “fulness,” see Note to Ephesians 1:23.


Verse 14

(14) That we be no more children.—Here the process of growth is described negatively; in the next verse positively. We are to be no more children. The word used here and in 1 Corinthians 3:1; 1 Corinthians 13:11; Galatians 4:1; Galatians 4:3; Hebrews 5:13 (often rendered “babes”), is a word almost always applied in a bad sense, like our word “childish”—not to the guilelessness, the trustfulness, or the humility of children, which our Lord emphatically blessed (Matthew 18:2-4), but to their unforeseeing and unthinking impulsiveness. The distinction is marked in 1 Corinthians 14:20, “Be not children in understanding: howbeit, in malice be ye children, but in understanding be men.” Thus, in 1 Corinthians 3:1; 1 Corinthians 13:11, Hebrews 5:13, it describes crudeness and shallowness of conception; in Galatians 4:1; Galatians 4:3, incapability of free self-direction; here, liability to disturbance and change by every external impression from without, so as to be “everything by turns and nothing long.”

Tossed to and fro, and carried about with every wind of doctrine.—The metaphor is of a ship drifting at the mercy of a storm, tossed by the waves, and carried round from time to time by every blast. The word “tossed” is more properly used of the waves (compare James 1:6) themselves, but the following words seem to show that here it is applied to the ship rising and falling with them. The word “doctrine,” as usual, is a general word for all deliberate “teaching,” whether acting on the understanding or the heart. It includes, in fact, all influence consciously exercised to a definite end.

The metaphor is then dropped, and the evil influences to which childish instability is a prey are described—first, as the “sleight,” i.e., the sleight of hand of the dice-thrower, describing quick, sudden deceit of detail; next (to substitute an accurate translation for the unusually paraphrastic rendering of our version), as a “craftiness devoted to the systematic plan of deceit,” thus referring to deeper and subtler forms of delusion. This reference is so definite in the original, that we are tempted to believe St. Paul to have had in view some particular scheme of erroneous teaching, which had already struck root in the soil of Asia Minor. The Epistle to the Colossians shows that such false teaching had appeared itself at Colossæ; it was, perhaps, the germ of the more full-grown Gnosticism noted in the Pastoral Epistles.


Verse 15

(15) But speaking the truth in love.—It has been doubted whether the words “in love” should not be connected with “may grow up,” &c., exactly as in Ephesians 4:16, “maketh increase of the body . . . in love.” But both order and sense seem to point to the connection given in our version. The correct rendering is, being true in love; including in this the “being true” to others, by speaking truly and acting honestly towards them (as in Galatians 4:16), but including also the “being true” absolutely—that is, the loving the truth, and clinging to it at all costs. The latter element, indeed, is the one which stands here more properly in antithesis to the childish instability described in the preceding verse; as it is in itself the more important, and is, in fact, the only basis for the other.

“To thine own self be true,

And it will follow, as the night the day,

Thou canst not then be false to any man.”

This “being true” is expressed in many forms. Sometimes as “being of the truth” (John 18:37; 1 John 2:21; 1 John 3:19); sometimes as “abiding in the truth” (John 8:44), or “having the truth in us” (1 John 1:8); sometimes as “doing the truth” (John 3:21), and “walking in the truth” (2 John 1:4; 3 John 1:4). In all cases it is closely connected with the idea of unity with Him who is Himself “the Truth” (John 14:6).

With the phrase “being true in love” we may compare the corresponding phrase of “loving in truth . . . for the truth’s sake, which dwelleth in us” (2 John 1:1; see also Ephesians 4:3, and 3 John 1:1). In both we recognise the harmony of the two great principles of individuality and unity, on which true humanity, and therefore likeness to God, depends. In the contemplation and love of truth each of us is alone; even in the speaking and doing truth towards others we have to consult only God and our own conscience, which is His voice within. In love, on the contrary, we deny and sacrifice self, merging our individual being in humanity or in God. Taking the first alone, we have a hard, almost stoical, self-concentration; taking the other alone, it may become towards man an idolatry, to which both truth and freedom are sacrificed, and even towards God may pass into a mysticism, in which all active energy is lost. Uniting both, we have the perfect humanity, at once individual and social, at once free before God and lost in God. Accordingly, it is thus that we “grow up into Him who is the Head, even Christ,” who, by perfect truth and perfect love, manifested to us in His humanity all the fulness of God.

The head, even Christ.—In this name of our Lord we have the link of connection between the individual perfection and corporate unity. He is (as in 1 Corinthians 11:3) the Head of each man. He is also the Head of the whole Church.


Verse 16

Verse 17

(17) This I say therefore.—The phrase “This I say” seems to be used by St. Paul in returning (so to speak) from some lofty aspiration or profound reasoning, in which some might not be able to follow him, to a solid, practical ground, which all may tread. (See, for example, 1 Corinthians 15:50.) Here he is not content to use this phrase simply, but he enforces it by the solemnity of the adjuration “I testify” (comp. Acts 20:26; Galatians 5:3), which properly means, “I call God to witness the truth of what I say”—a phrase found in express terms in Romans 1:9; 2 Corinthians 1:23; Philippians 1:8; 1 Thessalonians 2:5. Nor was even this enough, for he adds “in the Lord”—that is, in the name, authority, and spirit of the Lord Jesus Christ Himself. The whole form is therefore one of peculiar force and solemnity.

The vanity of their mind.—In these words St. Paul describes the fundamental condition of heathenism. The “mind,” that is (as in Romans 7:23; Romans 7:25), the “inner man”—the spiritual intuition of invisible principles of truth and right, which is the true humanity—has become “subject to vanity” (Romans 8:20),—the vanity of which the Book of Ecclesiastes so often speaks. In losing the living conception of a living God, it has lost also the conception of the true object and perfection of human life; and so wanders on aimless, hopeless, reckless, as in a dream. With what absolute fidelity St. Paul describes the heathen world of his day, its history and its literature alike testify. Compare with the whole passage the picture drawn in Romans 1:21-32, “They became vain in their imaginations, and their foolish heart was darkened,” &c. The difference is that in the latter passage the prominent idea is mainly of “judicial blindness,” sent by God as a penalty on wilful apostasy from Him, whereas here St. Paul rather dwells on self-chosen blindness and hardness of heart.


Verses 17-24

[5. Practical Exhortation (Ephesians 4:17-21).

(1) THE NEW LIFE first, taught in Christ and learning Christ; and secondly, regenerate in Him to the image of God (Ephesians 4:17-24).

(2) HENCE THE POWER OF CONQUEST OF SIN GENERALLY—

(a) Falsehood (Ephesians 4:25);

(b) Passionate anger (Ephesians 4:26-27);

(c) Dishonesty (Ephesians 4:28);

(d) Foulness of word (Ephesians 4:29-30);

(3) HENCE ITS POWER AGAINST THE SPECIAL BESETTING SINS OF—

(a) Bitterness and malice, unworthy of the love of Christ (Ephesians 4:31-32, and Ephesians 5:1-2);

(b) Fornication and lust, unworthy of the light of Christ (Ephesians 5:3-14);

(c) Recklessness and drunken excitement (Ephesians 5:15-21).]

(1) In Ephesians 4:17-24 we enter on the practical section of the Epistle, which, indeed, appears to begin in Ephesians 4:1, but is broken in upon by the magnificent digression of the doctrinal summary of Ephesians 4:4-16. It opens with a striking contrast of the past and the present—the life of the heathen in its “vanity,” with the two-fold result of blindness and callousness of soul; and the Christian life, which has in learning Christ found the secret of regeneration.


Verse 18

(18) Having the understanding darkened.—Of this vanity the first result noted is the intellectual. They are “darkened in the understanding,” and so, “by the ignorance in them alienated from the life of God.” The phrase “the life of God” is unique. It may, however, be interpreted by a similar phrase, the “righteousness of God” (Romans 1:7), i.e., the righteousness given by God. What the life given by God is, we know by our Lord’s own words (John 17:3), “This is the life eternal, to know Thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom Thou has sent.” So far as the understanding is concerned, this alienation signifies the loss of the central light of Truth in God, and with it the loss, partial or complete, of the vision of other truths in their right proportion and harmony.

But the second result is moral. St. Paul attributes the alienation from God, or (possibly, though less probably) “the ignorance which is in them,” to the hardness of their heart—for the marginal reading is correct; the word used signifies, almost technically, “callousness” and insensibility. To make his meaning clearer still he adds, “who (or, inasmuch as they) being past feeling, have given themselves over to lasciviousness.” There is precisely a similar current of thought (noting, however, the characteristic difference referred to above) in Romans 1:24-32, where St. Paul draws out, as consequences of the same vanity, first lusts of uncleanness, next unnatural sin, and at last breaks out into a fearful enumeration of the signs of the reprobate mind. On this side, therefore, “the alienation from the life of God” is the loss of the grace by which He dwells in the soul, and by indwelling gives it the moral and spiritual life.


Verse 19

(19) Who being past feeling . . .—We note that St. Paul, passing lightly over the intellectual loss, dwells on the moral with intense and terrible emphasis. They are (he says) “past feeling”; or, literally, carrying on the metaphor of callousness, they have lost the capacity of pain—the moral pain which is the natural and healthful consequence of sin against our true natures. Consequently, losing in this their true humanity, they give themselves over to “lasciviousness.” The word used here (as also in Mark 7:22; Romans 13:13; 2 Corinthians 12:21; Galatians 5:19) signifies a lust devoid of all sense of decency, recklessly and grossly animal. Hence its result is not only to work out uncleanness of every kind, but to do so “with greediness,” with a reckless delight in foulness for its own sake. The union of this brutality of sensual sin with intellectual acuteness and æsthetic culture was the most horrible feature of that corrupt Greek civilisation, tainted with Oriental grossness, of which he was especially writing.


Verse 20

(20) Ye have not so learned Christ.—Better, ye did not so learn the Christ. To “learn Christ” is a phrase not used elsewhere; but easily interpreted by the commoner phrase to “know Christ” (see John 14:7; John 14:9; 2 Corinthians 5:16; Philippians 3:10), which is still nearer to it in the original, for the word used for “to know” properly means to perceive or “come to know.” It would seem that the name “the Christ” is here used emphatically, in distinction from the “Jesus” of the next verse. “To learn the Christ” is to enter into the true meaning of His office as the Anointed Priest, Prophet, and King, or, in one word, as the Mediator, in whom we as Christians escape from the guilt and bondage of the sins described above. Such learning—like the “knowing” of 2 Corinthians 5:14—is not “after the flesh,” by the mere hearing of the ear, but “after the Spirit,” writing Christ upon the heart.


Verse 21

(21) If so be that.—The word is the same which is used in Ephesians 3:2, Colossians 1:23, indicating no real doubt, but only that rhetorical doubt which is strong affirmation.

Ye have heard him . . .—The true rendering here is, ye heard Him, and were taught in Him. St. Paul begins with the first means of knowledge, the “hearing” His voice, directly or through His ministers; and then proceeds to describe the fuller and more systematic process of “being taught,” not “by Him” (as in our version), but “in Him,” that is, in that unity with Him which embraces both teachers and taught as with an atmosphere of His presence.

As the truth is in Jesus.—Here by the name “Jesus,” the personal and proper name of the Lord, St. Paul leads us on from the conception of “learning the Christ,” to understand the method of that learning, in the knowledge of the “truth” in the person of Jesus Himself, who declares Himself to be the Truth (John 14:6). By a loving study and knowledge of His person, as set forth to us in the gospel, and brought home to us by His grace, rather than by abstract musing on the office and attributes of “the Christ,” we come to learn the Christ also. The use of the simple name Jesus, so common in the Gospels, is rare indeed in the Epistles, where we constantly find the fuller description “Jesus Christ,” “the Lord Jesus,” “Jesus the Son of God.” Wherever it occurs, it will be found to be distinctive or emphatic. This distinctiveness is most strikingly evident in Romans 8:11 : “If the Spirit of Him who raised up Jesus from the dead dwell in you, He that raised up [the] Christ from the dead shall also quicken your mortal bodies.” The “raising up of Jesus,” is the historical resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth; the “raising up the Christ” points to the mysterious effect of that resurrection on those for whom He is the Mediator. Of the few other passages in which the simple name occurs, some (as Romans 3:26; 2 Corinthians 4:10-11; 1 Thessalonians 1:10; Hebrews 10:10) are mere reiterations of the name occurring above with the due title of honour; others are quasi-recitals of a creed declaring the historic Jesus (1 Corinthians 12:3; 1 Thessalonians 4:14; comp. 2 Corinthians 11:4). In the Epistle to the Hebrews, where, in accordance with one main purpose of the Epistle, this usage is least rare (see Hebrews 2:9; Hebrews 6:20; Hebrews 7:22; Hebrews 12:2; Hebrews 12:24; Hebrews 13:12), it will be found that in all cases, either special stress is laid on the lowly and suffering humanity of the Lord, or the historic facts of His ministry on earth are referred to. The modern familiarity of use of the simple name “Jesus” has little authority in apostolic usage.


Verse 22

(22) Concerning the former conversation.—So far, that is, as concerns the conversation or mode of life described above (Ephesians 4:17-19) as the moral condition of heathenism. It is in relation to this, the corruption of the true humanity, and not in relation to the true humanity itself, that the “old man” is put off.

The phrase “the old man” (found also in Romans 6:6; Colossians 3:9) is here illustrated by the description following: which is being marred in virtue of the lusts of deceit. The word rendered “corrupt” expresses not so much pollution as disintegration and decay, much as in 2 Corinthians 4:16; and so carries out the idea implied in the epithet “old.” The unregenerate nature, subject to “the lusts of deceit”—the lusts, that is, of the spirit of delusion, blind themselves, and blinding the soul which yields to them—is gradually sinking into the spiritual decay which must become spiritual death, unless by the effort of faith, entering into the communion with Christ, it be, once for all, “put off.” The various qualities of the nature thus stripped off are variously described: in Rom. 13:22, as the “works of darkness; in Hebrews 12:1, as simply “encumbrance;” in James 1:21, as “filthiness and excess of evil;” in 1 Peter 2:1, as “malice, and craft, and hypocrisies, and envies.” All these are the “lusts of deceit.”


Verses 22-24

(22-24) These verses explain the substance of the teaching of Ephesians 4:21. The original may be interpreted either of the teaching of a fact, “that ye did put off . . . and are being renewed,” &c., or of a duty, “that ye put off . . . and be renewed.” The latter is, on the whole, the more probable, although the former would yield a simpler sense. It is to be noted that the words “put off” and “put on” in the original denote a distinct and complete act; the word “be renewed,” a continuous and still incomplete process. The complete act is consummated, and the continuous process begun, by the practical “learning” of Christ—that is, by growth in spiritual communion with Him.


Verse 23

(23) And be renewed in the spirit of your mind.—The word translated “renewed” is not the same as the word “new” below. It is properly “to be made young again,” and the process of recovery is described as the natural effect of putting off the decrepitude of the old man, and the decay engendered by fleshly lusts. The effect is seen in “the spirit of the mind”—that is, “in the spiritual nature of the inner man.” The “spirit” of man is the mind or inner man, considered in its true relation as quickened and sustained by the Spirit of God. (See Romans 8, and especially Ephesians 4:16.) We note, in Colossians 2:18, the opposite condition of “the mind of the flesh,” in those who do not “hold the Head.” This spirit is spoken of as regaining its undying youth, as it were, naturally, when “the muddy vesture of decay” is cast off.


Verse 24

(24) And that ye put on . . .—But this effect of “the putting off of the old man” is at once absorbed in the stronger idea of “putting on the new man.” In the “new man” here is implied not merely youthfulness, but the freshness of a higher nature (as in Ephesians 2:15). To “put on the new man” is, therefore, to “put on the Lord Jesus Christ,” by that divine process of which we have the beginning in Galatians 3:27, the continuation in Romans 13:14, and the completion in 1 Corinthians 15:53-54; 2 Corinthians 5:3. For He is “the new man,” “the second Adam,” “formed after God, in righteousness and holiness of the truth.”

Holiness (used only here and in Luke 1:75) is “purity” consecrated to God in His “Holy One” (Acts 2:27). It describes the “purity of heart” of which our Lord Himself speaks as a still higher grace, gifted with a higher reward, than even “hunger and thirst after righteousness” (Matthew 5:6; Matthew 5:8). “Righteousness” is goodness shown to others, to man and to God: “holiness” is goodness in itself, as it is in “the High and Holy One who inhabiteth eternity.” Stress is laid upon it here in contrast with the lusts and uncleanness described above.

Truth is similarly opposed to the “deceit” of Ephesians 4:22. Christ is Himself “the Truth,” as being the manifestation of “the fulness of the Godhead.” As the corrupting and beguiling lusts belong to the spirit of Deceit, so righteousness and holiness to the Truth.


Verse 25

(25) For we are members.—Accordingly the reason given for “putting away lying” is that “we are members one of another.” Truth is the first condition of the mutual confidence which is the basis of all unity. Hence it is the first duty of that “membership one of another,” which follows from our being “one body in Christ” (Romans 12:5; 1 Corinthians 12:27). No doubt it is also the first duty to our own humanity, and to the God “who hateth a lie.” But these views, though true in themselves, would not be relevant to St. Paul’s great subject here.


Verse 26

(26) Be ye angry, and sin not.—A quotation from the LXX. version of Psalms 4:4. Anger itself is not sin, for our Lord Himself felt it (Mark 3:5) at the “hardness of men’s hearts;” and it is again and again attributed to God Himself, in language no doubt of human accommodation, but, of course, accommodation to what is sinless in humanity. In the form of resentment, and above all of the resentment of righteous indignation, it performs (as Butler has shown in his sermon on “Resentment”) a stimulating and inspiring function in the strife against evil. But it is a dangerous and exceptional weapon: and hence the exhortation “sin not,” and the practical enforcement of that exhortation in the next clause.

Let not the sun go down upon your wrath.—In this command (for which a Pythagorean parallel may be found) St. Paul gives a two-fold safeguard against abuse of even righteous anger. (1) It is not to be prolonged beyond the sunset—beyond the sleep which ends the old day and leads in the freshness of the new, and which by any godly man must be prepared for in commendation of himself to God, and in prayer for His forgiveness, “as we forgive those who trespass against us.” (2) It is not to be brooded over and stimulated; for the word “wrath” is properly self-exasperation, being similar to the “contention” of Acts 15:30, described as alien to the spirit of love in 1 Corinthians 13:5. It is that “nursing of wrath to keep it warm,” which can be checked even by those who cannot control the first outburst, and which constantly corrupts righteous indignation into selfish personal anger, if not into malignity.


Verse 27

(27) Neither give place (i.e., scope) to the devil.—The name “Devil” is used by St. Paul only in his later Epistles (see Ephesians 6:11; 1 Timothy 3:6-7; 1 Timothy 6:9; 2 Timothy 2:26; Titus 2:3); in the earlier Epistles (Romans 16:20; 1 Corinthians 5:5; 1 Corinthians 7:5; 2 Corinthians 2:11; 2 Corinthians 11:14; 2Co_12:7; 1 Thessalonians 2:18; 2 Thessalonians 2:9) we have the name “Satan,” which is also found, less frequently, in the later also (1 Timothy 1:20; 1 Timothy 5:15). The latter name simply describes him as “the enemy “; the former describes one method of his enmity (as “the Tempter” another), for it signifies “one who sets at variance,” man with God, and man with man. Since this fiendish work is mostly contemplated as wrought by slander, the name is commonly taken to mean “the slanderer;” and when applied to human beings (as in 1 Timothy 3:11; 2 Timothy 3:3; Titus 2:3) it seems to convey some such meaning. But here the original sense suits the distinctive idea of the passage. In accordance with the general principle noted above, excess of wrath is forbidden, as giving opportunity to the enemy, who desires to break up unity, and “set at variance” those who should be one in Jesus Christ.


Verse 28

(28) Let him that stole (properly, the stealer) steal no more. . . .—In this verse St. Paul treats dishonesty, virtually, although less distinctly, from the same point of view as before. For he is not content with forbidding it, or even with forbidding it as fatal to society; but he directs that it be superseded by the opposite spirit of self-sacrifice, working in order to give to others what is honestly our own, as the fruit of the labour of “our own hands.” In that direction there is a profound wisdom, in striking at the root of that exclusive selfishness which so often and so naturally exhibits itself in dishonesty. But we note in it also a peculiar harmony with the great doctrine of unity; for the sense of unity will always exhibit itself in working what is “good,” that is, gracious, for the sake of “him that needs.”


Verse 29

(29) Let no corrupt communication . . .—The word rendered “corrupt,” is a strong word, signifying “rotten”; used in Matthew 7:17-18, and elsewhere in the literal sense, here alone in the metaphorical. By the corrupt word, probably, here is meant especially the foul word, which is rotten in itself, and spreads rottenness in others.

The use of edifying.—This is a mistranslation, by inversion, of a difficult expression, “the building up of the need”—that is, the supplying by suggestion of good the peculiar “need” or defect of the hearer’s spiritual state. Perhaps, as before, the word “good” may be taken for gracious and full of sympathy, noting by the quick insight of love what each man’s need is, and hastening to speak accordingly, so as to “give grace” or blessing to meet that peculiar need. The same use of the word “grace” is found in 2 Corinthians 1:15 (“that ye might have a second benefit”). The same idea is found in 1 Thessalonians 3:10, “to perfect that which is lacking in your faith.”

Here again we have a similar treatment of moral duty. The corrupt word is forbidden, not because it defiles the speaker’s own soul, and is an offence in the pure eyes of God, but because it is a sin against others, pulling down instead of building them up, and aggravating, instead of supplying, their moral defects. Like the falsehood, and wrath, and dishonesty, forbidden above, it sins against the unity of all in God.


Verse 30

(30) And grieve not the holy Spirit.—This verse refers to all the practical commands given above. The four cardinal sins forbidden are regarded as “grieving the Holy Spirit of God.” In that expression, even more than in the cognate expressions of “quenching the Spirit” (1 Thessalonians 5:19), and “resisting the Holy Ghost” (Acts 7:51), there is implied a personal relation to a Divine Person, capable of being “grieved” by our transgressions, partly as sins against His perfect holiness, partly as suicidal rejections of His unfailing love. In the description of this effect of sin we have the needful complement to the view hitherto taken of its effect, as marring our unity with men; for that unity is always in God, through the Holy Spirit working out in each soul the image of Christ. “There is one Body” only because “there is one Spirit.” Sin vexes the one, but grieves the other.

Whereby ye are sealed.—Properly, in whom ye were sealed. See the fuller expression of the same truth in Ephesians 1:13-14, and the Notes there. The reference to it is here emphatic. The “sealing unto the day of redemption” reminds us of the glorious consummation to which we are destined, and from which every sin is a falling off. The very thought of this perfection, with all its associations of purity and love, should shame us from sin.

This general exhortation seems fitly to close the warning against the series of typical sins, which is itself exhaustive of the general sins against men. In the passage which follows (Ephesians 4:31 to Ephesians 5:21) St. Paul does not indeed traverse new ground, but dwells with special emphasis on some of these sins, which especially beset the society to which he wrote, viz.: (in Ephesians 4:31 to Ephesians 5:2) bitterness, (in Ephesians 5:3-14) impurity, (in Ephesians 5:15-21) reckless excess.


Verse 31

(3 a) In Ephesians 4:31 to Ephesians 5:2, he deals with malignity, as utterly unworthy of the love of God manifested to us in Jesus Christ.


Verse 31

(31) Let all bitterness.—There is a similar enumeration in the parallel passage, Colossians 3:8; and in all such catalogues in St. Paul’s Epistles, while it is vain to seek for formal and elaborate system, there is always profound method and connection of idea. Here the first symptom of the temper forbidden is “bitterness,” or sharpness—a word seldom used, and generally in half-poetical passages (see Acts 8:23; Romans 3:14; Hebrews 12:15)—that is, an acerbity of temper, ready to take offence and break out in anger. The next stage is “wrath and anger,” that is, passionate outburst, and the deeper anger of which it is at once effect and cause. (Comp. Romans 2:8; Colossians 3:8; Revelation 19:15.) In these the smouldering bitterness kindles into flame. The last stage is “clamour and evil speaking”—“clamour” (used in this sense only here) being the loud fury of the first burst of wrath, passing into the more deliberate evil-speaking, as the temper cools down without losing its settled anger.

With all malice.—All are various exhibitions of “malice”—that is, evil mindedness or malignity—the general disposition which is the opposite of goodness, graciousness, and sympathy. (Comp. Romans 1:29; 1 Corinthians 5:8; 1 Corinthians 14:20; James 1:21; 1 Peter 2:1.) By the law of human nature they rise out of this temper, and react upon it so as to intensify its bitterness. Both it generally, and they in particular, must be resisted and cast out.


Verse 32

(32) Kind . . . tenderhearted.—“Kindness” is gentleness in bearing with wrong (Luke 6:35; Romans 11:22; Ephesians 2:7; 1 Peter 2:3). “Tenderheartedness” (see 1 Peter 3:8) is more positive warmth of sympathy and love. Both issue in free “forgiveness,” after the model of the universal and unfailing forgiveness “of God in Christ” to us—the only model we dare to follow, suggested by our Saviour Himself in the Lord’s Prayer, and expressly enjoined in Luke 6:36. It is a forgiveness which in us, as in Him, does not imply condonation of evil, or even the withholding of needful chastisement, but which absolutely ignores self, conquers man’s selfish anger, and knows no limit, even up to “seventy times seven.”

 


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Bibliography Information
Ellicott, Charles John. "Commentary on Ephesians 4:4". "Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/ebc/ephesians-4.html. 1905.


Lectionary Calendar
Wednesday, October 18th, 2017
the Week of Proper 23 / Ordinary 28
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