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Wednesday, July 24th, 2024
the Week of Proper 11 / Ordinary 16
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Ephesians 4

Kretzmann's Popular Commentary of the BibleKretzmann's Commentary

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Verses 1-6

Apostolic Admonitions to Unity, to Perfection in Knowledge, to Holiness, and to Peace. Ephesians 4:1-32

Paul exhorts to unity:

v. 1. I, therefore, the prisoner of the Lord, beseech you that ye walk worthy of the vocation wherewith ye are called,

v. 2. with all lowliness and meekness, with long-suffering, for bearing one another in love;

v. 3. endeavoring to keep the unity of the spirit in the bond of peace.

v. 4. There is one body and one Spirit, even as ye are called in one hope of your calling;

v. 5. one Lord, one faith, one Baptism,

v. 6. one God and father of all, who is above all and through all and in you all.

Having brought the doctrinal section of his letter to a close, the apostle bases his admonitions to holiness of life upon the foundation of Christian knowledge thus laid. He opens the second part of his letter just as he did Romans 12:1: I beseech you, therefore, I, the prisoner in the Lord, to live your life worthy of the calling wherewith you were called. As the apostle of the Gentiles he was very much concerned about his charges' remaining in faith and leading a holy life. Emphatically he speaks of himself as the prisoner in the Lord, thus reminding them of the reason for his present state. He was a prisoner because of his connection with Christ, the Lord, in behalf of the Gentiles. As such he exhorts or entreats his readers to conduct themselves at all times so, to lead their entire life in such a manner, as to be worthy of their calling as Christians, to prove themselves true members of the Christian congregation. It was God that had called them to the fellowship of His Son, Jesus Christ; as children of God they could not afford to bring disgrace upon the name of their heavenly Father.

They should walk and conduct themselves, therefore: With all lowliness and meekness, with long-suffering, bearing one another in love. These Christian virtues, according to God's will, are to attend the Christians, to be their constant companions and associates. All possible lowliness they should use in their fellowship toward one another, as fellow-members of the same body of the Church. That very disposition of mind which was despised by the heathen as unworthy of a man, the deep sense of one's own smallness in insignificance, the Christians are to cultivate. And this is to be accompanied by gentleness, loving submissiveness, patient yielding to others even under provocation, willingness to serve and share rather than to demand. The apostle, moreover, expects from the Christians long-suffering, in this connection not so much the endurance of tribulations from without as patience under provocations on the part of friends and brethren, as Paul himself adds, in explanation, that we should forbear one another in love, that we should endure even the unpleasant peculiarities of our Christian brethren without a hint of impatience. The apostle here paints an ideal of the relation that should obtain among the members of the Christian Church, which may well provoke all Christians to eager emulation.

With these virtues as a basis, the next admonition expands the idea of the relation among Christians: Giving diligence to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. While the believers strive after the virtues indicated above, they should incidentally make use of all energy, work with all zeal, to hold fast with watchful care the glorious possession of the oneness of the Spirit, the unity in feeling, interest, and purpose which accompanies the unity in doctrine. It is the unity of the Spirit, wrought by the Spirit of God, the unity in the truth. This splendid gift and possession is to be kept in the bond of peace, this being the tie that binds the hearts together. By striving after the virtues named by the apostle: love, peace, meekness, humility, long-suffering, patience, the Christians maintain the unity of the Spirit given to them in the Word. As soon as these virtues are disregarded, the result is dissension and disagreement, division and sectarianism.

That the apostle, however, by no means advocates or sanctions the modern perversion of his words which the spirit of unionism, now rampant, shows, he indicates in the next words: One body and one Spirit, just as you also are called in one hope of your calling. This is not an admonition referring to the future, but one which calls upon the Christians to hold fast that which they have. They are one body, as closely connected and joined together as the members of one body. They are united and kept in the union of Christ's body by the one Spirit who lives in them, the Holy Ghost being, as it were, the soul of this body, of the Christian Church, who directs and governs the entire body. They are all looking forward to the same goal, for they are all called in or with the one hope of their calling. When the call of the Lord was realized in them, the hope of eternal salvation was held before them all, and this hope holds them together, emphasizes their unity.

The Christians, moreover, have in common: One Lord, one faith, one Baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all, and through all, and in all. The Lord of the Christians to whom they belong, who has redeemed them with His holy, precious blood, is Christ. In Him they believe, Him they recognize and acknowledge as their Lord; for Him they have put on in Baptism. So they all have the same faith, which united them with their one Lord by means of the same Sacrament. But the climax is reached in the words: One God and Father of us all. Through Christ's vicarious work God is our Father, the Father of all Christians without exception. He is over them all, He rules over them, He exercises His gracious parental authority over them as His dear children, He is their Guardian and Guide. He is through them all, through them, as through the instruments of His mercy, He carries out many of His intentions; all the good works which the Christians perform, especially such as serve the Church, they do by the power of God which works in them. He is in them all, He has deigned to dwell in them; they are His temple, His constant abode. Thus the Christians, in and through the Triune God, in whom they live, and move, and have their being, are most intimately connected with one another; they are bound together by the strongest ties that can be conceived of.

Note: This passage describes, in a wonderfully clear and brief way, the holy Christian Church, the communion of saints. "Here St. Paul says and teaches what the true Christian Church is and by what signs one can recognize it, namely, that there is no more than one single Church or people of God on earth, that has one faith, Baptism, one confession of God the Father and of Christ, etc. , and therein holds and remains together in complete harmony. In this Church every one that wants to be saved and come to God, must be found and be embodied, and outside of her no one is saved. Therefore this unity of the Church does not consist in various forms of outside government, law, and precept, nor in having and observing church customs,... but is found where this harmony of the one faith, Baptism, etc. , is. Therefore it is called one holy Catholic or Christian Church."

Verses 7-10

Christ's gifts to the individual Christians:

v. 7. But unto every one of us is given grace according to the measure of the gift of Christ.

v. 8. Wherefore He saith, when He ascended up on high, He led captivity captive, and gave gifts unto men.

v. 9. (Now that He ascended, what is it but that he also descended first into the lower parts of the earth?

v. 10. He that descended is the same also that ascended up far above all heavens that He might fill all things.)

This bit of information very properly follows the instruction concerning the union of all believers in the holy Christian Church, for it throws the responsibility upon the individual as a member of the whole: But to every single one of us is given the grace according to the measure of the gift of Christ. The union of all believers in Christ does not exclude the fact of their having received various and distinctive gifts of grace. With emphasis the apostle states that every single Christian has received special gifts or some special gift from God, which he should apply in the interest of the Church, for the benefit of the brethren. He is speaking of gifts of grace, evidence of which is to be seen in the various talents of preaching, teaching, organizing, governing, mission-work, tact in charity, etc. Every Christian, by reason of the grace which he has received, through the special spiritual talent which Christ distributes from His boundless hoard, is pledged to do his part toward the maintenance of unity and peace, as well as toward the further growth of the Church.

For the fact that Christ bestows such gifts of grace in the measure which He considers best, the apostle quotes a passage of the Old Testament, Psalms 68:18, calling upon the witness of God for the truth of his statement: Ascending up on high, He led captivity captive, He gave gifts to men. Psalms 68:1-35, in spite of all its references to the history of the Jews, is a Messianic psalm and speaks of the triumph of the Lord Jehovah, the promised Messiah, which was fully realized by His ascension to heaven, by His entering into the unlimited use of the authority and power which was transmitted to his human nature at the time of His incarnation. Of this exalted Christ Paul now says, no longer in the form of a direct quotation, but in a free use of the passage in the quoted psalm, that He bestows gifts upon men, various gifts of His grace, of which the apostle speaks also in other places, Romans 12:6.

Paul now adds an explanation of the passage quoted by him: But this, "He ascended," what is it but that He also descended first into the lower parts of the earth? The apostle does not mean to say that these two events are always correlated, but refers to the case of Jesus in particular. To His ascension to the right hand of Power in the heavenly places corresponds His descent and victorious entrance into the kingdom of Satan. Christ, having been made alive in the grave, as transfigured God-man, according to body and soul, descended into hell; and the same God-man then, before the eyes of His astounded disciples, ascended up into heaven bodily. See 1 Peter 3:19-20. Thus Christ, by returning to life in the grave, had actually destroyed the power of death and of the prince of death, and His ascension was the triumphant entry of the Victor into the palace of heaven. In order to bring home this thought, Paul repeats it: He that descended, He it is that also ascended above all heavens, that Re might fill all things. The greatest height is here contrasted with the greatest depth. Above all created heavens Christ ascended, the height which He reached is the sitting at the right hand of His heavenly Father. And the object of the ascension was that He might fill all things. The exalted Christ now fills the universe with His almighty omnipresence, which fact assures us also of His gracious presence in His Church, to whose members He gives the gifts of His grace and mercy. Although the enemies of the Church, the devil and his angels, are not definitely and everlastingly bound and confined in their kingdom of darkness as yet, they are conquered, they are in Christ's power, they cannot hinder the growth of the Church, And the final triumph of the Church with Christ, made possible by the victory of Christ, is merely a matter of time. With the conversion of the last of God's elect the day of salvation in the endless joy of heaven will dawn.

Verses 11-16

The organization and work of the ministry of the Church:

v. 11. And he gave some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers,

v. 12. for the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ;

v. 13. till we all come in the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ;

v. 14. that we henceforth be no more children, tossed to and fro, and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the sleight of men and cunning craftiness whereby they lie in wait to deceive;

v. 15. but, speaking the truth in love, may grow up into Him in all things, which is the Head, even Christ,

v. 16. from whom the whole body, fitly joined and compacted by that which every joint supplieth, according to the effectual working in the measure of every part, maketh increase of the body unto the edifying of itself in love.

The thought here expressed is connected with that of v. 7. but Paul now speaks in detail of the gifts of God to the Church: He gave some as apostles, some as prophets, some as evangelists, and some as pastors and teachers. The ministers of the Church at all times are gifts of the exalted Christ. "The apostles were and are the infallible teachers of all Christendom, their doctrine is authoritative for the doctrine of the Christian teachers of all times. Prophets and evangelists were special gifts of the primitive Church. The prophets, in this connection the New Testament prophets, received special revelations for special purposes, which they then in inspired speech declaimed to the Christian assembly. See Romans 12:6. The evangelists, to whom, for example, Philip, Acts 21:8, belonged, proclaimed the Gospel in missionary activity,... spread the apostolic word in places where the apostles themselves had not come; to their calling corresponds probably the service of our present missionaries. With 'pastors and teachers' the apostle describes the regular ministry of the Word, which in all periods of the Church has been and remained the same, the public office of preaching. The expression 'teachers' probably refers chiefly to the public activity as preachers, the other, 'pastors,' to the pastoral activity which applies the Word to the individual members of the congregation. " In speaking of all these ministers as gifts of Christ, the apostle does not exclude specific preparation for the ministerial office. But it is the exalted Christ that makes these persons willing, that works in their hearts the resolution to serve the Church, that blesses their study, that adds spiritual enlightenment to intellectual gifts, that distributes gifts for individual stations and special circumstances.

Of the immediate aim of the ministerial activity St. Paul writes: With a view to the perfecting of the saints for the work of ministration, for the edification of the body of Christ. All the servants of the Church in their various offices have been given by Christ to be active in ministering to the spiritual needs of the congregation; through their work the Church is to be built up, edified. The apostle uses the figure of the growth of a healthy body, which must be supplied with proper food in sufficient quantity. In this way the ultimate object of Christ is gained, the full equipment, the final perfection of the saints. Whatever is still incomplete in their spiritual condition and makeup, due to the attacks of the enemy and their own natural weakness, is to be supplied by the ministers of the Gospel through the preaching of sin and grace.

This goal of all ministerial work must be held before our eyes as the ideal: Until we all attain to the unity of the faith and the understanding of the Son of God, to a perfect man, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ. The apostle here has in mind the congregation of the elect in heaven, and he refers to the time at which the great end in view is to be realized. At the present time many of these chosen children of Christ are still without the knowledge of their Savior. But when these all, through the preaching of the Gospel, have become one with the present believers, one in faith and in the knowledge of their Savior, the Son of God, then the object of the ministry of the Word will have been realized, then the assembly of the believers will stand there as a mature, full-grown man. Then the Church will have entered upon its majority, will have reached the age and the maturity of Christ, the First-born of the Father; the perfection of His graces and virtues will rest upon the believers. This aim will indeed never be realized fully in the present temporal life, but only in that to come. For all that, however, the teachers of the Church will ever be mindful of the external and internal growth of the Church and, in particular, of their own congregations; they will not cease to add new members to the flock entrusted to them, and to strengthen their people in faith and in all Christian virtues.

The results of such faithful labor cannot fail to materialize, first of all in overcoming defects: To the end that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro and carried about by every wind of teaching, in the sleight of men, in craftiness tending toward the system of error. The work of perfecting the saints, carried on through the Word of the Gospel, should effect so much that the believers are no longer infants, minors, immature, and untaught in the knowledge of sin and grace, of the holy will of God. As children in spiritual knowledge they enter the Church; but the Lord wants spiritual growth and progress, He wants them to reach the maturity and stature of Christ. So long as a person is weak in Christian knowledge, having no thorough understanding of Christian doctrine, so long he is apt to be tossed to and fro, driven back and forth, like a rudderless ship in a storm. Every new temptation from within, every new attack from without, makes some new inroad upon such a person's firmness. Every new wind of false doctrine takes such a person along, because the ship of his faith is not anchored firmly enough in the knowledge of Christ. The false teachers that attack the weak Christians deal with the Scriptures and with the truth and with the men whom they try to beguile with their oily voice, just as gamblers play with dice. One never knows what new trick is coming next, what new doctrine will be invented to deceive the souls of men. Their entire behavior tends to treacherous tricks, they practice carefully planned deceitful devices. The Christian, therefore, that is not yet firmly grounded in all the doctrines of the Bible as they pertain to man's salvation, is apt to stray from the way, to wander hither and yonder, and thus to be lost forever. Thus the deceitful schemes of the false teachers and seducers lead to the false way of life that strays fatally from the truth. Note: It belongs to the business of the pastors and teachers whom Christ has given to His Church that they point out the dangers threatening on the part of false teachers, that they refute their arguments, that they expose the tricks and the jugglery which false prophets practice upon the Word of Grace, that they continue the instruction of all the church-members by means of doctrinal sermons and discussions, so that all the Christians in their care are furthered in the knowledge of truth and learn to distinguish between falsehood and truth and to try the spirits.

This point is brought out by the apostle in the next verse: But (that we) holding fast the truth in love, may grow up into Him in all things, who is the Head, Christ. For that purpose Christ has given teachers to His Church, that they might enable the believers themselves to confess and defend the truth of the Scriptures, and not only for the purpose of upholding the truth, but in love, that their testimony of the truth may be of service to others; for that is always the sphere of the true Christian's activity. The result will be that we Christians will grow up into Christ, the Head of the Church, in all things. It is not intellectual growth, but spiritual growth that is of the greatest value in the Church. By growing in the knowledge of Christ, by understanding the truth more perfectly day by day, by gaining in Christian faith and life, we enter into ever more intimate fellowship with Christ. Our spiritual growth is always directed to Him, to the perfection of His stature. In all things that belong to our growth this will be true, all the circumstances of our growth will be controlled by it.

The apostle now concludes his sentence: From whom the whole body, being firmly connected and compactly joined together by means or' every joint of the supply, in keeping with the efficiency in the measure of each individual part, effects the growth of the body to its building up in love. The entire body, of which St. Paul here speaks, brings about, causes, the growth of the body itself. The directing and effecting power for this growth goes forth from Christ, the Head. The growth is expressed by the fact that the joints and ligaments are connected ever more firmly, framed together more fitly, put together more compactly. This is clone by means of the cords of the ligaments and the sinews of the muscles. The whole body, when it acts and moves, is served by the muscles and sinews, as they are contracted; every individual cord thus performing its duty, the members of the body are enabled to act and operate conjointly. Each individual member and part supplies its measure of energy and working force, and the better they all act together, the better will be the opportunity for even development and steady growth. The application of the figure does not offer unusual difficulties. If every Christian uses the special gift of grace which he has received of the Lord in the right way, the entire congregation and Church will thereby be benefited, since there will be a closer connection between the various organs. Just as soon as every Christian performs the service for which the grace of Christ has fitted him, the consciousness of union in the Christians will be strengthened, all the members will be joined in a closer union and will further the work of the Lord with their combined strength. The growth of the entire body of the Church takes place in proportion to the energy and willingness with which each member exercises Christ's gift of grace. Thus the Church, internally and externally, grows toward perfection. Note that the apostle makes the growth of the Church dependent upon the willing cooperation of each individual member of the Church, that He ascribes to everyone some gift of grace. But mark also that the determining and directing power is that of Christ alone.

Verses 15-23

Paul's exhortation and supplication for the Church as the body of Christ:

v. 15. Wherefore I also, after I heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus and love unto all the saints,

v. 16. cease not to give thanks for you, making mention of you in my prayers,

v. 17. that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the father of glory, may give unto you the Spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of Him,

v. 18. the eyes of your understanding being enlightened that ye may know what is the hope of His calling, and what the riches of the glory of His inheritance in the saints,

v. 19. and what is the exceeding greatness of His power to us-ward who believe, according to the working of His mighty power,

v. 20. which He wrought in Christ when he raised Him from the dead, and set Him at His own right hand in the heavenly places,

v. 21. far above all principality, and power, and might, and dominion, and every name that is named, not only in this world, but also in that which is to come;

v. 22. and hath put all things under His feet, and gave Him to be the Head over all things to the Church,

v. 23. which is His body, the fullness of Him that filleth all in all.

A long and remarkable sentence, presenting the loftiest conception, both of Christ's own supremacy and of the grandeur of that Church of His, of which the Ephesians have been made members. The distinction between Jews and Gentiles is no longer mentioned; Paul addresses his readers as a body: For this reason I, too, having heard of the faith among you in the Lord Jesus and of the love toward all the saints, do not cease to give thanks for you, making mention of you in my prayers. For this cause, by reason of all the wonderful blessings which he had enumerated in the preceding section, because all these benefits have come upon us Christians in such rich measure, the apostle is constrained to give thanks. For he knew that his readers were believers, having had abundant evidence to satisfy himself upon that point when he was present with them, and having received additional information to the same effect since. They were in a state of faith, of which fact they also gave proof by their love toward all the saints. That was the first and immediate manifestation of their faith: they were united with all the believers, both Jews and Gentiles, by the bond of true brotherly love. This encouraging circumstance caused Paul to continue his practice of making continual grateful mention of them in his prayers. On their behalf he sent up ceaseless prayers of thanksgiving to the throne of grace; he never failed to remember them in his prayers. The reports which were reaching Paul concerning the gratifying prosperity of the Ephesian congregation in spiritual matters were such a source of cheer to him that he was constrained to continue his intercession for them.

The content of Paul's intercessory prayer was: That the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, give you the Spirit of wisdom and revelation in the full understanding of Him. With all the progress which Christians make in this world they do not reach the state of perfection which is held out before them as the desirable goal. It is God that must continue the work of sanctification and bring it to the point agreeable to His will. This God is the God of Jesus Christ, the singular state of Godhood and Fatherhood being combined in His essence. But Jesus Christ is our Lord, and so the God of Jesus Christ, through Christ, is also our Father, of whom we may confidently expect everything that pertains to our salvation and sanctification. He is the Father of glory, for glory is His essential attribute, Acts 7:2; 1 Corinthians 2:8. Perfection, magnificence, divine majesty and excellence is found in Him. The God thus characterized can give to the believers of all times the Spirit of wisdom and revelation. The Holy Ghost, who comes into the hearts of men when they come to faith, teaches them to understand the heavenly, divine things, He reveals to them the mysteries which would otherwise be hidden from them, the chief part of His work in this respect consisting in this, that the Christians obtain an ever clearer and sharper understanding of God. They advance from truth to truth, from knowledge to knowledge.

The apostle continues in his description of his prayer: (That God may give you) the eyes of your heart as enlightened, that you may know what is the hope of His calling, and what is the wealth of the glory of His inheritance in the saints. The heart, in Biblical language, is the center, not only of feeling, but also of thinking, willing, and understanding. Through His Holy Spirit God must enlighten the understanding of the Christians; for then only will they know what the hope of God's calling is. Not only faith and love are wrought in the heart by God in conversion, but also hope. This hope, planted into the heart of the Christian by the call of the Lord, grows and becomes more fervent with his increase in spiritual life. The believers always have before the eyes of their mind the wonderful blessing which has been promised to them, the riches of the glory of God's inheritance among the saints. The apostle piles up the nouns in order to bring home to the Christians, in some measure at least, the glory which is awaiting them by the promise of God. The perfected blessedness which shall be ours in heaven is a rich and magnificent inheritance; it is heavenly joy, bliss, and salvation, the reflection of the divine majesty and glory. We Christians are all too apt, while sojourning in this world, to have our attention distracted by the fool's gold of this world, and therefore it is necessary to be trained to think of the inheritance of the saints in light.

Christians must furthermore learn to understand, as Paul here prays: And what is the exceeding greatness of His power to us, namely, to those that believe according to the operation of the strength of His might. Stronger expressions could hardly be found in human language to bring out the absolute inability of man to do anything toward his conversion and salvation. Our conversion was made possible by the surpassing greatness of God's power alone, as it was manifested toward us, exerted itself in our hearts and minds. That we believe in Jesus Christ as our Savior was made possible only by the operative power which expressed His almighty strength, by which the Lord overcame the resistance of natural man, made us obedient to the Gospel, and now keeps us in the state of faith.

There is only one adequate measure of the exceeding greatness of God's power, namely, the resurrection of Christ, as Paul writes: Which He wrought in Christ when He raised Him from the dead and set Him at His right hand in the heavens. Christ, in His state of exaltation, is the Mediator of the effective power of God, as it is shown in our conversion. By His resurrection and subsequent ascension to the right hand of power Christ was declared to be the Son of God with power, of the same degree of might and honor with the Father. Our state of faith is a work of power, a miracle of the Triune God. Note: The same Christ who as a true human being died, and through His blood earned the forgiveness of sins for all men, has been raised from the dead by God and placed at His right hand in the heavenly places. We therefore confess that Christ, through His resurrection and ascension, entered into the full possession and use of the divine majesty also according to the human nature which He adopted, a majesty which, however, he possessed during the entire state of humiliation.

This reference to Christ's state of exaltation now causes the apostle to expand this thought, almost in doxological form: Far above all rule, and authority, and power, and lordship, and every name that is named, not only in this world, but also in the coming one, and has placed all things under His feet. So much the exaltation of the despised Son of Man comprises. By setting Christ at His right hand in the heavens, God has put all things under His feet, has given Him, also according to His human nature, the free and unbounded dominion, not only over all power and authority in the physical world, but also over all the spirits of heaven, over the angels with their superhuman strength and power. No matter what the name and importance of any created being in this world and in the world to come may be, the power and authority of Christ, being that of omnipotence, is greater. Christ is the supreme Lord, to whom all creatures must yield obedience, Psalms 8:1-9.

But far more important than this supreme position in the Kingdom of Power is Christ's position in the Kingdom of Grace, of which Paul sags: And (God) gave Him the Head over all to the Church, which is His body, the fullness of Him that fills all in all. In His capacity as Head over all things God has given Christ as a present to the Church, which is His body. All the believers, whether of Jews or of Gentiles, are here expressly placed together and designated with the collective name "Church," which is the fellowship of all saints, of the elect children of God on earth. God has now made this arrangement, that Christ is the Head of this Church, and the Church is His body. Not the entire creation, hut the Church, the communion of the believing, chosen children of God, is the body of Christ. See Colossians 1:18. It is a wonderful and most intimate union which thus obtains between Christ and the believers, for it results in making the Church like a vessel which is filled to the top, brimful with blessings. "The conception is that, the plenitude of the divine powers and qualities in Christ having been imparted by Him to His Church, the latter is now pervaded by His presence, animated with His life, filled with His gifts and energies and graces-a true vessel of His mercy. " All in all He fills, the Head of the universe is also the Head of the Church.


After opening his letter with an inspiring doxology in praise of the eternal election of grace and its blessings, the apostle states the content of his prayer for the Ephesians to be that they might come to the knowledge of the glory of their future inheritance, of the power of God in working and preserving saving faith in their hearts, and of the position of the exalted Christ as the Head of the Church.

Verses 17-24

An admonition to spiritual renewal:

v. 17. This I say, therefore, and testify in the Lord, that ye henceforth walk not as other Gentiles walk, in the vanity of their mind,

v. 18. having the understanding darkened, being alienated from the life of God through the ignorance that is in them, because of the blindness of their he art;

v. 19. who, being past feeling, have given themselves over unto lasciviousness, to work all uncleanness with greediness.

v. 20. But ye have not so learned Christ,

v. 21. if so be that ye have heard Him and have been taught by Him, as the truth is in Jesus;

v. 22. that ye put off, concerning the former conversation, the old man, which is corrupt according to the deceitful lusts,

v. 23. and be renewed in the spirit of your mind,

v. 24. and that ye put on the new man, which after God is created in righteousness and true holiness.

The apostle here takes up the thought of v. 1 again, which contains the fundamental admonition for the entire second part of the letter, namely, that the Christians should lead a life worthy of the calling wherewith they were called. He here brings out the contrast between the moral purity of the Christians and the social impurity of the Gentiles: This, then, I say and testify in the Lord, that you no longer lead your lives just as the Gentiles live theirs, in the vanity of their minds. It is a solemn protest and warning that Paul here issues in the Lord, for his exhortation was made in the interest of Christ and the Church, an earnest declaration and injunction in the nature of an appeal to God. As members of Christ's body the Ephesian Christians should no longer have anything in common with their former companions, the members of their own race and nationality. For that is the characteristic of the unbelievers, the heathen of all times, that they walk in, that their entire conduct reveals, the vanity of their minds. The inner life of natural man, his thinking, willing, desiring, is vain, useless, purposeless, altogether without reality and worth before God. No unbeliever can have a conception of real moral values, for his mind is centered in nothingness.

This idea is now unfolded more completely: Being darkened in their understanding, estranged from the life of God by reason of the ignorance that is in them, by reason of the hardening of their hearts. The terms used by Paul presuppose a former, more enlightened condition of man. As God created man, his reason and mind were highly enlightened, especially also in their understanding of God and of things divine. Moreover, man, as created by God, had a blessed knowledge of God as of the heavenly Father. All this has been changed by sin. It is true of the Gentiles, as of natural man in general, that their minds, their thinking, their judgments, are darkened. Their understanding, their feeling, their desiring, is in such a condition as to make the distinction between good and evil impossible to them. And as far as their will is concerned, they have become alienated, estranged, from the life in God. They have no idea of the life which is from God, in and with God. Not a spark of fear, love, and trust in God is found in natural man. This condition is due to the inherited depravity of mankind; it is found in men because of the ignorance which is in them by birth and nature, because of the hardening of their hearts. They have been mentally and morally hardened against every influence for good, they have become blind, callous, insensible to everything that is truly noble and divine. This depraved condition of mind becomes evident in the lives of the Gentiles: Who, as men past feeling, have given themselves to lasciviousness, to the working of all uncleanness with greediness. They are no longer sensible to any higher moral influence, they have become abandoned to a state of heart without conscience. They have willingly yielded themselves, by their own guilty choice, to wantonness, to shameless, outrageous sensuality, to a reckless, unbridled behavior. So completely have they surrendered themselves in this respect that they make it their business to indulge in every form of uncleanness, together with greed or covetousness; for both vices are self-seeking. Paul purposely paints a picture from which the converted Gentile will turn with horror.

With this fact in mind the apostle now turns again to his readers: You, however, have not so learned Christ, if indeed you heard Him and in Him were instructed, as the truth is in Jesus, that you should put off, as regards your former way of life, the old man. There is a clear-cut, irreconcilable difference between the unregenerate and the regenerate person. The Ephesian Christians did not study the glorious news of their salvation through Christ in such a way as to suppose that they could continue in the sins which characterized the Gentiles. With delicate tact the apostle adds: If, as I assume it to be the case, as I take it to be a fact, Christ was indeed the subject, the sum and substance, of the preaching which you beard. As a matter of fact, they not only had heard Christ in the preaching of the Gospel, but had also been instructed in Him; as they received the instruction and progressed in the knowledge of their Savior, their union with Christ became ever more intimate, in their fellowship with Christ their knowledge of Him increased, as the truth, sound morality, and righteousness is in Christ. Jesus, holy and righteous in His person, gives to His disciples both the example and the proper instruction in holy life. He that has entered into the sphere of Jesus as His disciple is thereby under obligation to conduct himself in his entire life as Jesus walked.

The apostle now specifies a few points in the instruction which the Ephesians received: That you put off, as regards your former way of life, the old man, which becomes corrupt according to the lusts of deceit. The Ephesian Christians, at the time of their conversion, had renounced the devil and all his works and all his pomp. Still, the admonition is necessary that they, so far as their former manner of living is concerned, in order that their old heathenish conduct might definitely be put behind them, should put off the old man, the natural sinful corruption, the inherited evil inclination. As man is born into this world, not only are there a few objectionable traits in him, but his whole nature is absolutely and entirely perverted and corrupt, all his thoughts, imaginations, desires being directed against God and upon the vain things of this world. This old evil nature is found even in the regenerated Christians, for which reason it is necessary to exert eternal vigilance and to put off the old man, like a filthy garment, whenever he attempts to perform evil. The sinful words which rise to the tongue, the evil thoughts and intentions that desire to break forth out of the corrupt heart, must be brought into subjection and crucified before they find gratification. This is all the more a matter of necessity, since, if the old evil nature continues to rule in the heart of a person, the entire man, with body and soul, will share the fate of the old Adam, that of eternal damnation. For the lusts and desires of the old man are deceitful; they seem to promise happiness, joy, life, while in reality they ruin a person that follows their guidance, both in body and spirit, until he is lost forever.

The other side of the picture drawn by the apostle is more cheerful: That, on the other hand, you be renewed in the spirit of your mind, and that you put on the new man, who after God has been created in righteousness and holiness of the truth. The putting off of the old man and the putting on of the new is done at the same time; the two events are simultaneous. In and by his conversion a person begins an entirely new life; he enters into a new existence so far as his spirit and mind are concerned. This regeneration must be continuous and steady, lest the old sinful nature once more gain the ascendency. It is a necessary part of Christian sanctification for a Christian always to begin anew, always to renew his spiritual youth, with every new day to withdraw with his heart and mind from the vain matters of this world. At the same time, therefore, he is also daily clothed anew with the new man, that state of mind, that moral habit which accords with the will of God. The new man is the sum total of all Christian virtues, the entire number of God's moral demands in realization. To put on this summary of virtues, like a new, splendid garment, to be clothed and decorated with it at all times, to follow at all times the best thoughts and impulses of the new man, that must be the aim of every Christian. And this is possible for him, because the new man, in conversion, is created after God, in the image of God, Colossians 3:10, in the righteousness and holiness which are characteristic of true morality. In the same proportion as the Christian puts on the new man, gives evidence of his power in his entire life, in that measure the image of Christ, the image of God, makes its appearance in him.

Verses 25-28

An instruction regarding individual sins:

v. 25. Wherefore, putting away lying, speak every man truth with his neighbor; for we are members one of another.

v. 26. Be ye angry, and sin not; let not the sun go down upon your wrath.

v. 27. Neither give place to the devil.

v. 28. Let him that stole steal no more, but rather let him labor, working with his hands the thing which is good, that he may have to give to him that needeth.

It is true indeed that a Christian, by virtue of his conversion, has his thoughts and interests directed to the virtues which are well-pleasing to God. But it is equally true that the old evil nature is still present with him, causing him to wage incessant warfare against 'its attempts to lead him into sin, as the apostle pictures it Romans 7:1-25. It is for that reason that Paul here mentions individual sins by name, as among those that are most dangerous for a Christian: Wherefore, having put away falsehood, speak truth every one with his neighbor because we are members one of another. A Christian's life of sanctification, which appears in righteousness and holiness, places this obligation upon him. With the old man the Christians have put away lying; they no longer have pleasure in lying, they are no longer under the rule of falsehood, But the spirit of falsehood is continually endeavoring to regain lost ground, and, unfortunately, it will happen even in the case of Christians that they are overcome by the weakness of their flesh and become guilty of lying and deceit. Hence the admonition: Speak truth every one with his neighbor. Every Christian should diligently strive to make use of veracity over against all men at all times, over against friend and foe, unbeliever and believer. But this condition should obtain especially among Christians in their outward conduct toward one another, seeing we are members one of another. As members together of the body of Christ, under the headship of the Lord, this fellowship is more intimate than that of any physical organism. Nothing can be more disgraceful, therefore, than that Christians deliberately, maliciously, lie to one another. If they want to be true to their calling, they will walk in the truth, above all over against those that are of the household of faith.

A second admonition concerns an evil which is just as widely distributed: Be angry, and sin not; let not the sun go down upon your provocation. The apostle makes use of Psalms 4:4, according to the Greek translation. It is a warning against the sin of anger. The emphasis being on the second part of the command, the meaning can best be given by the rendering: When you become angry, do not sin. The apostle is considering the fact that even Christians, being obliged still to contend with their old Adam, are harassed with angry thoughts. There are two things which the Christian will keep in mind: First, that he does not permit angry desires to break forth in words and deeds; and secondly, that he does not cherish anger in his heart. Should your heart be agitated by anger, Paul means to say, do not permit the desire to be realized, flee from the sin of anger in terror; and at any rate do not permit anger to take root in your heart overnight, let the provocation be what it may, lest the irritation become a steady feeling of resentment and hatred. To this the warning is attached: Neither give place to the devil. The Christians should always remember that, in letting anger control them, take possession of their heart and mind, they are giving opportunity to the devil to sow dissension and many other forms of mischief in the Church.

In explanation of the Seventh Commandment, the apostle writes: Let the stealer steal no longer, but rather let him labor, working with his own hands that which is good, that he may have to give to him that has need. It is not only thieving that is here condemned, but every form of appropriating one's neighbor's money or goods by methods that do not conform to the law of love, all cheating and profiteering, all the methods which are considered smart by the God-forsaken business men of the world. There is always danger that these methods make an impression upon Christian business men, causing them to ignore the warnings of conscience. But Paul's call is to quit all shady methods entirely and to go to work in earnest. In this way every person will be able to obtain an honest return for his work. And he should always remember that the profit of such work is not to be kept in selfish greed, but should be shared freely with such as are really in need. The poor we always have with us, and charity need never be idle for want of suitable subjects. See Acts 20:34-35; 2 Thessalonians 3:11-13

Verses 29-32

Of sins against Christian fellowship:

v. 29. Let no corrupt communication proceed out of your mouth, but that which is good to the use of edifying, that it may minister grace unto the hearers.

v. 30. And grieve not the Holy Spirit of God, whereby ye are sealed unto the day of redemption.

v. 31. Let all bitterness, and wrath, and anger, and clamor, and evil speaking be put away from you, with all malice;

v. 32. and be ye kind one to another, tender-hearted, for giving one another, even as God for Christ's sake hath forgiven you.

The apostle here again, as in v. 25, mentions sins of the tongue: Every corrupt speech, out of your mouth let it not proceed; but such as is good for the building up of the need, that it may give grace to the hearers. Christians should not be guilty of such speech, such utterance, such talk as is worthless, bad, rotten, putrid, foul. The inclination to this sin is present also in the Christian, as the Lord says Matthew 15:19. But the believers must not permit this inclination to express itself in language of this nature. All their speech should rather have the object of serving their neighbor for good, for the edification applied to his need. As our neighbor stands in need, we should come to his aid with instruction, admonition, consolation, in order that he may be confirmed and furthered in faith and in every good thing. In this may we bring him a benefit, show him a kindness, impart a blessing to him. On the other hand, the apostle warns: And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, in whom you were sealed unto the day of redemption. With great solemnity he gives the full name of the third person of the Godhead, for the sin which he is discussing is a very serious matter. The Holy Spirit lives in the hearts of the believers as in His temple, and therefore the Christians should fear to offer Him an insult and thus to drive Him away. Foul talk of every kind is not to be thought of lightly, as a breath that the wind takes away, but it is heard by the Holy Spirit of God, who feels deeply grieved and insulted over such behavior. For in and by the Spirit we are sealed, made certain, of our salvation, and it is His intention that we reach our destination, the redemption of our souls. How can it be possible, then, for us to be so ungrateful as to inflict any insult or sorrow upon this Spirit of our salvation!

St. Paul now goes to the root of the matter when he writes: All bitterness, and wrath, and anger, and clamor, and blasphemy, let it he put away from you, with all malice. It is this condition of the heart that brings out the foul and foolish talk: bitterness, resentfulness, harshness, when a person always walks around with a chip on his shoulder, ready to break forth at the slightest provocation; wrath, the sudden burst of fury, as well as anger, the steady, continued feeling of displeasure toward one's neighbor which plans vengeance; blasphemy, scolding, maledictions. All these things should be removed from the Christian's heart, together with all malice, all wickedness, all ill will in general. Paul does not name the climax of the sin whose first steps he describes, he does not speak of actual blows; for he is writing to Christians, who surely will not forget their position as children of God to such an extent as deliberately to indulge in fisticuffs. They will rather, as Paul writes, make it a practice to be kind to one another, show themselves benignant at all times; also tender-hearted, full of fellow-feeling and hearty compassion; forgiving one another, not unwillingly or grudgingly, but graciously and willingly, each one dealing with his neighbor as with himself. And all this with the great love of God and the inexpressible sacrifice of Christ before his eyes: Even as also God in Christ has graciously forgiven you. God's grace and mercy was manifested in Christ, proved itself in Christ, who by His death accomplished the reconciliation of the world. Just as God in Christ showed us such immeasurable love, so we should show love toward our neighbor; the incomparable love of Christ toward us should be the motive and the strength of our love.

The apostle admonishes the Christians to keep the unity of the Spirit in peace, to serve one another with the gifts received from God, and thus to assist the growth of the Church, with special reference to the gifts of the ministry; he warns them to abstain from the vices of the Gentiles; he exhorts them to put down the old Adam, and to put on the new man with all Christian virtues, all for the promotion of Christian fellowship.

Bibliographical Information
Kretzmann, Paul E. Ph. D., D. D. "Commentary on Ephesians 4". "Kretzmann's Popular Commentary". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/kpc/ephesians-4.html. 1921-23.
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