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The Believer's Walk in Relation to the Assembly
( Eph_4:1-16 )
The last three chapters of the Epistle form the practical portion in which the apostle exhorts to a walk worthy of the great truths presented in the first three chapters. It will be noticed that, as believers, we are exhorted to conduct consistent with our privileges and responsibilities in three different connections:
Firstly, we are exhorted to a worthy walk in view of our privileges in relation to the assembly as being members of the body of Christ, and as forming the dwelling place of God by the Holy Spirit ( Eph_4:1-16 ).
Secondly, we are exhorted to practical godliness as individuals who profess the Name of the Lord while passing through an evil world ( Eph_4:17-32 ; Eph_5:1-21 ).
Thirdly, we are exhorted to a consistent walk in connection with the family and social relationships that belong to the order of creation ( Eph_5:22-33 ; Eph_6:1-9 ).
(V. 1). On account of his testimony to the grace of God to the Gentiles, and to the great truth of the Mystery - Jewish and Gentile believers formed into one body, and united to Christ as Head - the apostle had suffered persecution and imprisonment. He uses his sufferings on account of the truth as a motive to exhort believers to walk worthy of their great privileges. Our walk is to be consistent with our calling. In order, then, to profit by these exhortations we need to have a clear understanding of our calling. In the first chapter of the Epistle we have the calling presented according to the counsels of God before the beginning of the world, without reference to how far it has actually been fulfilled in time or realised in our souls. It is God's purpose that believers should be “holy and without blame before Him in love” for His good pleasure and glory. In Ephesians 2 we see how God has wrought to bring this calling into actual existence in this world in view of its complete fulfilment in the ages to come.
Two great truths are implied in the calling of God: firstly, that believers are formed into one body of which Christ is the Head; secondly, that they “are builded together for an habitation of God through the Spirit.” Further, we learn in the Epistle God's present purpose in these two great truths. In connection with the church, viewed as the body of Christ, we read that His body is “the fulness of Him that filleth all in all” ( Eph_1:23 ). Again, in verse 13 of this chapter, we read of “the fulness of Christ”; and in Eph_3:19 we read of “the fulness of God”. It is, then, the purpose of God that, as the body of Christ, the church should set forth all the moral excellencies that form the beautiful character of Christ as Man - His fulness. Then, as the house of God, the church is to set forth the holiness, grace and love of God - His fulness.
This, then, is the high privilege to which we are called - to represent Christ by setting forth His excellence, and to make God known in the fulness of His grace.
In Ephesians 3 we learn that the suited condition of soul for realising the greatness of our calling is only possible as Christ dwells in the heart by faith, and as God “worketh in us.” If Christ has His place in our hearts we shall esteem it a great privilege to be here to set forth His character. If God works in us, we shall delight to witness to the glory of His grace.
Christ is in heaven as a glorified Man, our risen Head, and the Holy Spirit, a divine Person, is on earth dwelling in the midst of believers. As realising the glory of Christ and the greatness of the Person that is dwelling in us, it becomes us to walk in a worthy way.
(Vv. 2, 3). In verses two and three the apostle sums up the walk that is worthy of our calling. If walking in the realisation of our privileges to represent Christ, and as being in the presence of the Spirit, we should be marked by these seven qualities - lowliness, meekness, long-suffering, forbearance, love, unity and peace.
The conscious sense of being before the Lord and in the presence of the Spirit must of necessity lead to lowliness and meekness. If we have our brethren before us, we may seek to make something of ourselves, but with God before us we realise our nothingness. In His presence we should be marked by lowliness that does not think of self, and by meekness that gives place to others.
The lowliness and meekness that make nothing of self lead to long-suffering and forbearance with others. We may find at times that others are not always lowly and meek, and this will call for long-suffering. We may have to suffer rebuffs and insults, and have to bear with those who act in this way. But we are warned that the forbearance is to be exercised in love. It is possible to bear with much in the spirit of pride that treats an offending brother with contempt. If we have to be silent, let it be with love that grieves over unworthy conduct.
Furthermore, we are to use diligence to keep the unity of the Spirit in the uniting bond of peace. It is important to distinguish between the unity of the body and the unity of the Spirit. The unity of the body is formed by the Holy Spirit uniting believers to Christ and to one another as members of one body. This unity cannot be touched. There is also “one Spirit” who is the source of every right thought, word and act, so that, in the body, one mind should prevail - the mind of the Spirit.
It is this unity of the Spirit that we are to use diligence to keep. It has been truly said, “Walking according to the Spirit can be done individually; but for the unity of the Spirit there must be walking with others.”
Realising that we are members of “one body” we shall see that we are not to walk merely as isolated individuals, but as related to one another in one body, and, as such, we are to use diligence that we may be controlled with one mind - the mind of the Spirit. This unity of the Spirit is not simply uniformity of thought, nor a unity arrived at by agreement, or by mutual concessions. Such unities may entirely miss the mind of the Spirit.
In the early days of the church we see the blessed result of believers having the mind of the Spirit. Of these saints we read that they were filled with the Spirit, the result being that they were of “one heart” and “one soul”. It is evident that this unity of the Spirit has not been kept. Nevertheless, the Spirit is still here, and the mind of the Spirit is still one, therefore the exhortation still remains that, in the realisation of our membership of the one body, we should endeavour to keep the unity of the Spirit. The only way to maintain this unity of the Spirit is for each one to judge the flesh. If we allow the flesh in our thoughts, words and ways, it will at once bring in a jarring element. It has been said, “The principle of the flesh is every man for himself. That does not bring in unity. In the unity of the Spirit it is every man for others.”
Moreover, we are to use diligence to keep the unity of the Spirit “in the uniting bond of peace”. The flesh is ever self-assertive and ready to quarrel with others with whom it may not agree. If we cannot agree as to the mind of the Spirit, let us patiently search the Word of God under the guidance of the Spirit in the spirit of peace. If two believers are not of the same mind it is evident that one, or both, have missed the mind of the Spirit, and the danger is that they may fall to quarrelling. How necessary then that the endeavour to keep the unity of the Spirit should be carried out in the spirit of peace that binds us together. Another has said, “What comes from the Spirit is always one. Why are we not always agreed? Because our own minds work. If we had only what we learned from Scripture, we should all be the same.” (J.N.D.)
(Vv. 4-6). The important question naturally arises, What is the one mind of the Spirit that we are to endeavour to keep? It comes before us in verses four to six. The one mind of the Spirit is set forth in these seven unities, the one body, one Spirit, one hope, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, and one God and Father of all. These are the great truths that the Spirit is here to make true to our souls and to maintain. Walking with one another in the light of these truths, we shall keep the unity of the Spirit, while any practical denial of them, or departure from them, will be a breach in the unity of the Spirit. Thus there come before us in these verses the different spheres in which a walk according to the Spirit is to be expressed. This walk is seen in connection with the one body, the one Spirit, and the one hope, in the circle of life, in connection with the Lord in the circle of Christian profession, and in connection with God in the circle of creation.
It is of the first importance to have our thoughts so formed by the word of God that we discern these three circles of unity that actually exist under the eye of God, and thus not only have before us what God has before Him, but also be able to form a just estimate of the solemn departure of Christendom from the truth.
Firstly, the apostle says, “There is one body, and one Spirit, even as ye are called in one hope of your calling.” Here all is real and vital; it is the circle of life. The one body is formed by one Spirit and moves on to the one end - the glory. This unity is in God's keeping. It cannot be kept by our endeavour, or broken by our failure, but we may miss the one mind of the Spirit by a denial of these great truths in practice. This, alas, has been done in the Christian profession, for in the light of the great truth that “there is one body” - not many - all the different bodies of believers formed in Christendom stand condemned, while the “one Spirit” condemns all human arrangements by which the Spirit is set aside. Moreover, the professing church has settled down in the world and become the world, and thus is a denial of the heavenly hope of our calling.
Secondly, there is a wider circle that includes all who profess Christ as Lord (whether real or unreal in their profession). This is the circle of profession marked by one authority, the Lord, one profession of belief, the faith, and into which we are introduced by one baptism. With the Lord is connected authority and administration. The recognition that there is one Lord would shut out the authority of man, and exclude all independent action. If we admit that there is “one Lord” we cannot admit that it is right for an assembly to ignore discipline truly exercised in the Name of the Lord in another assembly. Thus again, by independency, we may miss the one mind of the Spirit by the practical denial of there being “one Lord”.
Thirdly, there is the widest circle of all - the creation circle. There is one God who is the Father, the source “of all”. Moreover it is good for us to know that, whatever the power of created things or beings, God is “above all”. Furthermore, God is working out His plans “through all”, so God can say, “When thou passest through the waters, I will be with thee; and through the rivers, they shall not overflow thee: when thou walkest through the fire, thou shalt not be burned; neither shall the flame kindle upon thee” ( Isa_43:2 ). Lastly, God works in the believer to effect His purpose for the believer. The recognition of these great truths would not only lead us to reject the infidel evolutionary theories of men, but encourage us to act rightly in all circumstances and relationships of life which are connected with the creation order.
Alas! in the great Christian profession today we see the practical denial of each of these circles. The Spirit is set aside by human arrangements, the one Lord is set aside by independency, and the one God is set aside by infidel reasonings.
In the verses that follow, the exhortations appear to have special reference to each of these circles. Firstly, we are exhorted as members of the one body in verses 7 to 16; secondly, we are exhorted as to our conduct as owning one Lord in verses 17 to 32; lastly, we are exhorted as to the relationships of life in connection with the circle of creation in Ephesians 5 to Eph_6:9 .
(V. 7). Having in these introductory verses laid the ground for a walk worthy of the calling, the apostle proceeds to speak of the provision that has been made in order that the believer may walk rightly in relation to the first circle, the one body, and grow in likeness to Christ the Head.
Firstly, the apostle speaks of the gift of grace: “Unto every one of us is given grace according to the measure of the gift of Christ.” In contrast with that which is common to all, of which the apostle has been speaking, there is that which is given to “every one”. The one Spirit of verse 4, and the one Lord of verse 5, shut out independency; “every one” of verse 7 maintains our individuality. While every member has its special function, all serve the unity and good of the whole body. In the natural body the functions of the eye and the hand are different, yet both act in common for the good and unity of the body. The “grace” is the special service with which each one has been favoured. It is not necessarily a distinct gift, but to all a measure of grace is given that each may serve others in love. This grace is according to the measure in which Christ has given it.
(V. 8). Secondly, to promote spiritual progress and growth, the apostle refers to distinct gifts. The subject is introduced by presenting Christ as ascended on high, for these gifts come from the triumphant and exalted Christ. An allusion is made to the history of Barak to illustrate the sovereign power of Christ in bestowing gifts ( Jdg_5:12 ). When Barak delivered Israel from captivity, he led captive those by whom they had been led captive. So Christ has triumphed over all the power of Satan, and, having delivered His people from the power of the enemy, He is exalted on high and gives gifts to His people.
(Vv. 9, 10). Two parenthetical verses are introduced to set forth the greatness of Christ's victory. At the cross He went into the lowest place in which sin can put a man. From the lowest place where, as our Substitute, He was made sin, He ascended to the highest place in which a man can be set - the right hand of God.
(V. 11). Having led captivity captive by breaking the power of the enemy that held us in bondage, Christ acts in power and makes others the instruments of His power. It is not simply that He gives gifts and leaves us to apportion the gifts among ourselves, but He gives certain men to exercise the gifts. It is not that He gives apostleship, but He gives apostles, and so with all the gifts. Here, then, it is no longer the grace given to “every one”, but “some” given to exercise gifts. Firstly, He gave apostles and prophets, and the church is built upon the foundation of apostles and prophets. The foundation has been laid and they have passed away, though we still have the benefit of these gifts in the writings of the New Testament.
The remaining gifts, evangelists, pastors and teachers, are for the building up of the church when the foundation has been laid. These gifts continue during the whole period of the church's history on earth. The evangelist comes first as the gift by which souls are drawn into the circle of blessing. Being brought into the church, believers come under the gifts of the pastor and teacher. The evangelist brings Christ before the world: the pastor and the teacher bring Christ before the believer. The pastor deals with individual souls: the teacher expounds Scripture. It has been said, “A person may teach without being a pastor, but you can hardly be a pastor without teaching in a certain sense. The two are closely connected, but you could not say they are the same thing. The pastor does not merely give food as the teacher; he pastors, or shepherds, the sheep, leads them here and there, and takes care of them.”
It will be noticed that there are no miraculous gifts mentioned in this passage. They would hardly be in place in a portion that speaks of the Lord's provision for the church. Miracles and signs were given at the commencement to call the attention of the Jews to the glory and exaltation of Christ and the power of His Name. The Jews rejected this testimony and the signs and miracles ceased. The Lord's love to His church, however, can never cease, and the gifts that bear witness to His love continue, as it is written, “No man ever yet hated his own flesh; but nourisheth and cherisheth it, even as the Lord the church” ( Eph_5:29 ).
(V. 12). Having spoken of gifts, the apostle now brings before us the three great objects for which the gifts have been given. They are given, first, for the perfecting of the saints, or the establishing of each individual believer in the truth. Secondly, they are given for the work of the ministry, which would include every form of service. Thirdly, they are given “for the edifying of the body of Christ”. The blessing of individuals and the work of the ministry have in view the edifying of the body of Christ. Every gift, whether it be evangelist, pastor or teacher, is only rightly exercised as the edification of the body of Christ is kept in view.
(V. 13). In the verses that follow, we learn more precisely what the apostle means by the perfecting of the saints. He is not speaking of the perfection that will be the believer's portion in resurrection glory, but of that spiritual progress in the truth, and the knowledge of the Son of God, which lead to unity and to our becoming fully developed Christians down here.
The faith of which the apostle speaks is the whole system of Christian truth. The unity is not a unity of common agreement as in a creed, or an alliance formed by the expedients of men, but a unity of mind and heart produced by the apprehension of the truth as taught by God in His word. Connected with the faith is the knowledge of the Son of God, for in Him God is fully made known and the truth livingly set forth. Anything that touches the faith, or in any way belittles the glory of the Son of God, will hinder the perfecting of the saints. The knowledge of the faith as revealed in the word, and set forth in the Son of God, leads to the full-grown man as set forth in all fulness and perfection in Christ as Man. The figure sets forth the idea of Christians fully developed and in full vigour. The passage appears to have in view all saints, for it does not speak of full-grown men, but “the full- grown man”, conveying the thought of all Christians setting forth in unity an entirely new man. The measure of the stature of the full-grown man is nothing less than the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ. “The fulness” presents the thought of completeness. “The full-grown man” is nothing less than the display in believers of all the moral excellencies of Christ. The whole passage contemplates believers as a corporate body to set forth the fulness of Christ. Moreover, the standard set before us is not only that every trait of Christ should be seen in the saints, but that they should be seen in perfection. It may be said that this will never be attained in the saints down here. Actually this is so, but God cannot set before us a standard that is short of the perfection seen in Christ. We do well to beware of seeking to evade what God sets before us, and excuse our shortcomings by saying that God's standard is impossible of attainment.
(V. 14). The effect of this full growth would be that we should no longer be babes in Christian knowledge, liable through ignorance to be “tossed and carried about by every wind of that teaching which is in the sleight of men, in unprincipled cunning with a view to systematized error.” Alas! there are those in the Christian profession who, with sleight and cunning craftiness, are ready to deceive the unestablished in the truth, and behind their wrong doctrine there is generally “systematised error”. Whenever in the history of God's people there is a definite denial of any great truth, or any special error put forth concerning the Person of Christ, it will generally be found that behind the particular wrong doctrine there is a whole system of error.
(V. 15). In times of conflict there is a great danger of being “tossed to and fro” by listening to this one and the other. All around we see a mixed and lifeless Christianity powerless against delusion. Our only safeguard against all error will be found, not in the knowledge of error, but in “holding the truth in love”, and having a living Christ before our souls. If Christ is the Object of our affections, every truth as to Christ will be held in love, with the result that we shall grow up to Him in all things, and we shall become morally like the One who holds our affections.
Further, the One in whose likeness and knowledge we grow is the Head of the body. All wisdom, power and faithfulness are in the Head. All may be in disorder in the scene around us, but if we know Christ as the Head we shall realise that no power of the enemy, and no failure of the saints, can touch the wisdom and power of the Head.
(V. 16). In the sixteenth verse we pass from what the Lord is graciously doing through the gifts to learn what He Himself is doing as the Head of the body. That which every joint supplieth is not the exercise of gift, for the gifts are not given to everyone, but every true Christian has something given from the Head to contribute to fellow members of the body. In the human body, if every member is under the direct control of the head all the members will function together for the good of the whole. In like manner, if every member of the body of Christ were under the direct control of Christ the body would make increase and edify itself in love.
Thus, in the course of the passage, there is grace given to every one (verse 7), there are special gifts (verse 11), and there is that which is supplied from the Head to every member for the blessing of the whole body (verse 16).
We may also notice the large place that love has in the Christian circle. We are to show forbearance to one another in love (verse 2), we are to hold the truth in love (verse 15), and the edifying of the body is to be in love (verse 16).
The whole passage presents a beautiful picture of what the church should be down here according to the mind of the Lord. We can form no true conception of Christianity, or of the church, by looking at Christendom, or by what passes under the Name of Christ upon earth. To get any true thought of the church, according to the mind of the Lord, we must abstract our thoughts from all around, and have before us the truth as presented in the word and set forth in the Son of God.
The Believer's Walk as Confessing The Lord
(Vv. 17-19). The apostle has exhorted us to a walk that becomes believers in relation to the assembly. He now exhorts us to the individual walk that is becoming to those who confess the Lord in an evil world. He testifies to us in the Lord, whose Name we have professed, that henceforth we should no longer walk as other Gentiles. This leads the apostle to give a brief but vivid picture of the condition of the unconverted Gentile world. Such walk in a vain show and follow vain things. Their minds are darkened, being wholly ignorant of God and of the life that is according to God. They are ignorant of God because their hearts are hardened by the evil lives they live, for such have given themselves over to lasciviousness. We thus learn that it is the evil lives men live that hardens the heart; that the hardened heart darkens the understanding; and that the darkened understanding leaves men a prey to every vanity.
(Vv. 20-24). In contrast with the vain and ignorant life of the Gentile world, the apostle presents the life that follows from the knowledge of the truth as it is in Jesus. It has been pointed out that the apostle does not say “as the truth is in Christ”. This would have brought in believers and their position before God in Christ. He uses the personal name, Jesus, to bring before us a right practical walk as set forth in His personal path. As one has said, “He says 'Jesus', therefore, because he is thinking, not of a place that we have in Him, or of the results of His work for us, but simply His example, and Jesus is the Name belonging to Him as here in the world.”
The truth set forth in Jesus was the truth as to the new man, for He is the perfect expression of the new man that bears the character of God Himself - “righteousness and true holiness”. The truth, then, as it is in Jesus is not the reformation of the old man, nor the changing of the flesh into the new, but the introduction of the new man, which is an entirely new creation bearing the character of God. The first man was not righteous, but innocent. He had no evil in him, and no knowledge of good and evil. The old man has the knowledge of good and evil, but chooses unrighteousness and corrupts himself according to his deceitful lusts. The new man has the knowledge of good and evil, but is righteous, and therefore refuses the evil.
The truth that we have learned in Christ has been set forth in Jesus. The truth that we have been taught and learned in Him is that, in the cross, we have put off the old man and have put on the new. In the light of this great truth we are in our daily path, as a present thing, being renewed in the spirit of our minds. Instead of the mind of the flesh, which is enmity against God, we have a renewed mind marked by righteousness and holiness, which refuses the evil and chooses the good. The new man does not mean the old man changed, but an entirely new man, and the “renewing” refers to the daily life of the new man.
The apostle does not say we are to put off the old man, but says, “having put off '85 the old man”. The old man has been dealt with at the cross, and faith accepts what Christ has done. We have not to die to sin, but to reckon ourselves as having died to sin in the Person of our Substitute.
(V. 25). In the remaining verses of the chapter the apostle applies this truth to our individual conduct. We are to put away the deeds of the old man, and put on the character of the new man. We are to put away lying and speak truth, remembering that we are members one of another. This being so, it has been truly said, “If I lie to my brother it is as if I deceived myself.” We see, too, how the great truth that believers are members of one body has a practical bearing on the smallest details of life.
(V. 26). We are to beware of sinning through anger. There is such a thing as being rightly angry, but such anger is indignation against evil, not against the evil-doer, and behind such anger there is grief on account of the evil. Thus we read of the Lord that He looked on the wicked leaders of the synagogue “with anger, being grieved for the hardness of their hearts” ( Mar_3:5 ). The anger of the flesh ever has self in view; it is not grief on account of evil, but resentment against one that has been offensive. This fleshly anger against the evildoer will only lead to bitterness that occupies the soul with thoughts of revenge. The one entertaining such thoughts finds himself continually fretting, and in this sense lets the sun go down upon his wrath. Anger against evil will lead to grief that finds its resource in turning to God, where the soul finds rest.
(V. 27). We are warned that by acting in the flesh, whether in anger or in any other way, we open the door for the devil. Peter, by his self-confidence, made room for the devil to lead him into a denial of the Lord.
(V. 28). The life of the new man is in entire contrast with the old, so that the one characterised by stealing from others becomes a contributor to him that needs.
(V. 29). In conversation we are not to speak of those things which would corrupt the minds of the hearers, but rather to speak of that which edifies and ministers to a spirit of grace in the hearers.
(Vv. 30, 31). In the first part of the chapter the exhortation to a worthy walk flows from the great truth that believers collectively are the dwelling-place of the Holy Spirit. Here we are reminded that as individuals we are sealed by the Spirit. God has marked us out as His own in view of the day of redemption by giving us the Spirit. We are to beware of grieving the Holy Spirit by allowing bitterness, the heat of passion, wrath and noisy clamour, injurious language and malice.
(V. 32). In contrast with the evil speaking and malice of the flesh, we are to be kind, tender-hearted and forgiving towards one another in the consciousness of the way God has acted towards us in forgiving us for Christ's sake.
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Smith, Hamilton. "Commentary on Ephesians 4". "Smith's Writings". https://www.studylight.org/
the Second Week after Epiphany