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Bible Commentaries

L. M. Grant's Commentary on the Bible
Ephesians 4

 

 

Other Authors
Verses 1-32

RESPONSE IN PRACTICAL UNITY

(vs.1-6)

In this letter to the Ephesian saints, Paul first presented the basic truth so essential for individual saints (Ch.1:1- 2:10) and for the Church, the body of Christ (Ch.2:11-3:13). He then emphasized at the end of Chapter 3 the appropriate state of soul for the proper reception and enjoyment of the truth. Now we are to consider the practical results of the truth in connection with the unity of the Assembly. The apostle entreats the Ephesians to walk worthy of the calling that is theirs. This is "the heavenly calling" (Hebrews 3:1) which embraces the saints of God -- Jews and Gentiles in one body -- giving them an eternal inheritance in Christ. Paul was a prisoner of the Lord because he declared such truth. Since he was willing to suffer for it, we should be gladly willing to act on it.

First, such action on our part will require self-discipline or self-judgment, in the measure in which we are concerned for the good of others. Lowliness (v.2) is the willingness to be thought little of, not natural or easy for the flesh, but normal for the one who truly delights in Christ, the meek and lowly One. Meekness is the character that is willing to sacrifice personal rights for the Lord's sake with no selfish resistance. Thus, lowliness gives no offense and meekness takes no offense. Longsuffering continues patiently to bear hard things -- misunderstandings, injustices, even insults -- without frustration or anger. Forbearing. is more than bearing, for it implies no resentful reaction whatever, even inwardly, for it is motivated by genuine love.

There must be diligence in regard to the virtues of verse 2 if we are to "keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace" (v.3). This unity is formed by the Spirit of God by the very fact of His dwelling in the Church of God corporately: the baptism of the Holy Spirit has united all believers in one, whatever their contrasting backgrounds, spheres and conditions (1 Corinthians 12:13). But we are to maintain this unity, which requires true self-judgment and consideration of others. For the unity of the Spirit is not uniformity of opinion nor merely having the same sentiments. It is unity formed on, the basis of the pure truth of God, which therefore excludes all that is in opposition to it, such as wrong doctrine and sinful moral practice. Some examples of things that tend to hinder the unity of the Spirit are personal pride and selfishness, sectarianism, the doctrine or practice of the clergy as distinct from the common people, the doctrine of independence, refusal of scriptural roles and practices for men and women. All of these tend to divide rather than to unite, so are foreign to true scriptural unity. God cannot bear with people forming doctrines to displace His standard found in His Word, though He bears long with weakness, failure and inconsistency among His saints. In many things we shall have differences where Scripture only gives general principles. Yet may still maintain the unity of the Spirit if our hearts are truly united in affection toward the Lord Jesus in lowly consideration for each other. Precious indeed is this "uniting bond of peace" (JND).

The solid basis of this unity is seen in verses 4 to 6. Seven absolute facts of unity are emphasized, in three distinct spheres:

First sphere (v.4) has to do with the Assembly, the Church of God. It is one body, not in any way divided, but involving a world-wide unity of all the saints of God. One Spirit indwells the Church, He who is the living power for unity. He may work diversely in the functioning of every member, but never contrarily and always in harmony with the Word of God. This is consistent with the saints having been called with one hope in view -- the coming of the Lord for all His saints. None of His own can be excluded from this hope for it is only "one hope." Hope in scripture always has the thought of something future but certain, never mere wishful thinking.

Second sphere (v.5) is a wider one and has to do with the public profession of Christianity. It includes the Church, but it also includes those who claim the place of Christians, though they are not born again. It is the sphere of the kingdom of heaven (Matthew 13:24-30). Here the one Lord -- the Lordship of Christ -- is the one true authority, and everyone who claims Him as Lord is therefore responsible to Him. "One faith is the one deposit of the truth of God once delivered to the saints (Judges 1:3). People may speak of various "faiths," but God does not. All are responsible to obey the one faith of God as revealed in Holy Scripture: there is no other. "One baptism" is water baptism "unto Christ," which is the public profession of Christianity, the outward acknowledgement of Christ's Lordship. These two (the teaching of the truth of God's Word and baptism, are "the keys of the kingdom of heaven" (Matthew 28:19-20) which Peter used so effectively on the day of Pentecost (Acts 2:16-40).

Third sphere (v.6) is wider still, for it is the sphere of creation, involving all mankind. God the Father is one, not divided in purpose and actions. His very creation was made with the purpose of every part of it functioning together. Even though man has by sin violated this unity of creation, yet the fundamental, absolute fact remains that God is in perfect control of His creation, one God and Father of all, above all, and through all, and in us all.

DIVERSITY WITHIN UNITY

(vs.7-16)

With the fact of unity being established, now we see the fullest scope for diversity and true liberty within the bounds prescribed by the Word of God. To every individual believer is given grace consistent with the measure of the gift of Christ. There is difference in every gift. Here gifts are seen, not as "the manifestation of the Spirit" (1 Corinthians 12:7), but as given by the ascended Christ, who administers these in pure grace and wisdom for the benefit of His body. Paul speaks specifically in verse 11 of more public gifts, but he does not confine gift to these, for verse 7 insists that believer is given some gift.

It is as raised and ascended that Christ His given gifts to the Church. To do so, He has "led captivity captive." Captivity is the state of bondage in which, before Christ, even believers were held. Compare Hebrews 2:14-15. Satan's power (the power of death) had introduced this state through sin. Christ went into death to completely nullify this power, and His resurrection is the full proof and declaration of His triumph. Satan, sin and death no longer have any enslaving power over the believer: Christ has conquered this. In the gifts He gives there is no element of bondage, but of precious, vital liberty. The gift is given both to express this liberty as not bound by human regulations, and to minister to the united blessing of the saints of God.

The parenthesis of verses 9 and 10 is essential here to guard against any wrong thoughts as to liberty. Before Christ ascended, He voluntarily descended first, even into death and burial, the lower parts of the earth (vs.8-9). Having humbled Himself, now He is exalted above all heavens, to fill all things. This is basic truth regarding all gift. True liberty leads one to willingly take the lowest place so eternal blessing may result. No sense of obligation or of bondage moved the Lord Jesus to descend so low, but the pure love of One at liberty to gladly sacrifice Himself for the good of others. How beautiful are His words in Psalms 40:8, "I delight to do Your will, 0 my God." This is the wonderful, solid basis on which all gift is given and the proper spirit in which it is to be exercised.

Some men were given gift as apostles for the sake of establishing Christianity in the world. Theirs was a message of authority, which we have now only in the scriptures they have left us. In an original sense this establishment of Christianity is true also of prophets who communicated the direct Word of God to exercise consciences and hearts (ch.2:20). Mark and Luke were not apostles, but they were certainly prophets. Yet prophecy is a gift for today too, but never independent of the now completed Word of God. 1 Corinthians 14:3 shows its functions.

Evangelists carry the gospel of the grace of God to the world to bring people to the Lord Jesus. Yet it is evident here that evangelists are not to leave the newly-converted without further help, for all these gifts have in view the proper functioning of every member of the body of Christ in help one to another. The true evangelist never sends a new-born babe in Christ back into spiritual darkness, but sees to it that the new believer is built up and strengthened in the Word of God.

Pastors and teachers have special importance in such work, but they and the evangelists should always work in harmony together. If one is a teacher -- one who systematically teaches and applies God's Word -- he should also have a pastor's heart of concern for those he teaches, for merely enlightening the mind can be dry and unfruitful work. Applying the truth in patient grace to individual believers is vitally important, and it requires persistent labor. Yet some are more capable of this than others. In Scripture, a person with a pastor's gift cares for believers. Never does Scripture approve the thought of one being appointed as of a local church.

All of these more prominent gifts are given "for the equipping of the saints for the work of the ministry" -- to bring the saints to full growth or maturity so they (the saints) may do "the work of the ministry," each one functioning consistently with the particular gift he has, in view of building up the body of Christ. If the more prominent gifts do not encourage the saints in the use of their particular gifts, then the more prominent gifts have failed in their work.

Verse 13 shows that this building up of the saints has a most blessed object in view. Godly ministry is vitally needed until we all come to the unity of the faith, for the faith is one, as we have seen, and when its pure truth is taken in, it will promote unity in the understanding of that truth. Keeping the unity of the Spirit requires lowliness, meekness, long-suffering, but this is not said as to the unity of the faith, for in this unity there must be hearty agreement as to the truth of God. As the Assembly is said in chapter 1:23 to be the fullness of Christ, so the object of ministry is that she should measure up to this position. While the goal in view is "the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ," it would be vain and wrong to say that the Assembly has already attained this. The sad differences all around us as to scriptural interpretation and practice prove how far short the Church is from attaining God's goal. But nevertheless, God will not fail in fully accomplishing this in the near future when the Lord Jesus comes.

Ministry promotes growth with full maturity in view that we may not remain spiritual infants and thereby threatened by prevailing influences in the world, or tossed around by every wind of doctrine, shifting from one direction to another. There are plenty of people ready to do Satan's deceptive work -- scheming, manipulating, rationalizing, always on the watch to entrap others and undermine any honest faith in the living God. But God has made provision to preserve us from this, in the positive instructions of verse 15, "holding the truth in love, may grow up in all things into Him who is the Head -- Christ." Such growth requires firm decision to hold securely the truth God has given us both in mind and in practice, although not in a harsh, legal way but in genuine love. The growth is "into Him" or "unto Him" who is our Head, and involves a growing conformity to His character.

Christ also, being the Head of the body, is the source of all its true supply -nourishment, wisdom and understanding. He is the source and center of the unity of the body, each member being "joined and knit together by what every joint supplies" and every part functioning in its measure, by His direction, to work for the gradual building up of the entire body (v.16). Love is the motivating power for this work -- love that considers every other member of the body with as genuine care as one cares for his own bodily needs. Thus, as each member functions the body grows, not only each member individually.

THE OLD PUT OFF, THE NEW PUT ON

(vs.17-24)

Verse 17 introduces a distinct division in the Epistle to the Ephesians. This section emphasizes personal responsibility based on the solid, precious truth that has already been considered. Paul urged the Ephesians to no longer walk as the unsaved masses of Gentiles walked. Just as their new Christian condition and position was in contrast to that of the nations, so should their conduct be. The condition and walk of the ungodly is here spoken of to show that it is totally opposite to that of faith. The very attitude of the unsaved is only toward vanity -- emptiness or futility - that which results in nothing of any value.

Since the ungodly mind is set against God, the understanding is darkened so that, though naturally intelligent or even brilliant, such people are unable to discern facts that are transparently clear to a believer (v.19). "Alienated from the life of God" describes an estrangement that has in effect broken any sense of relationship of creature to Creator. It is grievous ignorance certainly, but the result of hardness of their own hearts, for ignorance is not merely lack of knowledge but ignoring facts that may be known. For example, people will carefully figure out their tax returns to their advantage, they will plan systematically to make the most of their business circumstances, they will use their minds effectively to organize the best possible situations for themselves; then at the same time tell us that the marvelous organization of all the universe required no mind at all, but just happened to come together! Such is the ignorance of a person set on ignoring God. So the unbelieving mind is set on vanity and the heart is hardened.

In such a state people cast off all feeling. They no longer have any sensitive response to those things that should properly affect them. They instead give in to the seductions of mere fleshly desire, with its moral uncleanness and greediness. This giving in may in some cases be grossly disgusting, or in other cases covered with a veneer of refinement and apparent dignity. In the latter case it is only that deceit is added to it. Think of Aids which is virtually 100% preventable with simple scriptural morality, but many people prefer lust and sin, and tens of thousands are dying a horrible death yearly as a result.

"But you have not so learned Christ" (v.20). If our ears are opened to hear Him and there is willingness to be taught by Him, our entire character and conduct will be a, contrast to that of the unsaved. The truth "in Jesus" (v.21) is a seldom used expression in scripture. It refers to the truth exemplified in the lowly life of the Lord Jesus on earth. If I think of truth regarding character and conduct, I see it perfectly in Him as the dependent Man. "Christ" is His official title" (v.20), and as we learn more of Him exalted at God's right hand, we more rightly value and understand practical truth as we see it in His entire conduct in Manhood on earth. Learning Christ is learning Him as the Object of my adoration high above me, but "as the truth is in Jesus" is learning Him as my practical Example come down to earth.

Verse 22 is rightly translated "having put off" (JND). The old man with its former manner of life, corrupt and deceitful, has been once and for all time put off. No believer can ever again be what he was before conversion, what he was in Adam. He has been renewed in the spirit of his mind: the attitude of his mind has changed. Though the fleshly nature remains in him, this no longer dominates him. There is a new controlling factor: he has put on the new man which is consistent with God's own nature, created in righteousness and holiness of truth. Righteousness is acting rightly in consistency with whatever relationship we may be in. Holiness is the love of what is good and the hatred of evil. But it is the truth of God that decides what is good and what is evil, not merely people's consciences or opinions.

NO GRIEVING OF THE SPIRIT

(vs.25-32)

Since such is our new character, let us be true to it in practice. Lying is the common practice of the ungodly, whether to the government, to one's employer, to his friends, or even to one's spouse, but it is totally abominable to God. Let us put it away and speak positive truth and this certainly with other Christians, for we are members one of another. Will my tongue lie to my hand as to what it should do?

Anger in some cases is right (Mark 3:5), but even rightful anger may lead to bitter feeling and sin. Anger must not be nursed nor allowed to continue into another day (v.26). Misused or fleshly anger, as with many other things, could leave a door open for the devil's damaging activity, even among Christians.

If before conversion one had a habit of stealing, he must strictly judge this and then labor with his hands in honorable employment, not only for his own support, but for the help of those in need too (v.18). Thus grace known not only corrects wrong, but leads to positive good. For an employee to take small things from where he works is no less than stealing. Many do this without thinking, but a believer is to carefully avoid taking anything that does not belong to him.

The tongue too is to be curbed. Only pure, uncontaminated words are found in Scripture, although Scripture speaks plainly about every subject pertinent to mankind's life on earth. Let us be well saturated with God's Word and avoid the impure talk so common in the world. There is so much that is good for the building up of others that our tongues should be ready always to speak such things as will minister grace to those who are listening to us (James 3:2).

In our talk and conduct, we are to consider the Spirit of God. He has sealed the believer positively as God's own property in view of "the day of redemption," the redemption of the body at the coming of the Lord (v.30). Not the slightest question of the permanency of this sealing is raised. Rather, the believer's absolute security as God's possession is positively stated. This being so, improper words and conduct will certainly grieve the Holy Spirit of God, for they are contrary to His nature.

Verse 31 speaks of those things which result from the nursing of bad feeling in the heart -- bitterness, wrath, anger, clamor, and evil speaking, together with malice. These sinful attitudes and practices are to be judged unsparingly, and resolutely put away. There is no place for them among the saints of God. We must not allow ourselves the slightest excuse for the breaking out of such things, for they stem from sin, not from infirmity.

On the other hand, how precious to cultivate the contrasting virtues of verse 32. Even at a time when the feelings of a child of God are badly hurt, he has within him that blessed nature that may still be kind, tenderhearted and forgiving. Indeed, such character is thoroughly consistent for those who have known that "God in Christ" has forgiven us. It is not simply because of Christ's intercession that God has forgiven us, but rather that God is the blessed Author of the forgiving grace that has been manifested to us in the person of the Lord Jesus and in His matchless sacrifice of love. God delights to forgive as seen in the sending of His beloved Son. Let this be rightly valued and we will show similar character in that measure in which we lay hold of the grace of God to enjoy it.

 


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Bibliography Information
Grant, L. M. "Commentary on Ephesians 4:4". L.M. Grant's Commentary on the Bible. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/lmg/ephesians-4.html. 1897-1910.

Lectionary Calendar
Wednesday, December 11th, 2019
the Second Week of Advent
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