Unity in the Body of Christ (Ephesians 4:1-16)

Bible Class

Unity in the Body of Christ | A Bible Class on Ephesians 4:1-16

Paul’s epistles can almost always be divided into two sections:

  1. The teaching—theological—section. In the theological section of Ephesians Paul has used “praise” rhetoric. He praised the congregation and called on the Christians to be who God had called them to be. In the theological sections of Ephesians, the apostle has largely called upon the congregation to be unified.
  2. The exhortation—persuasive—section. In rhetoric the persuasive section of an epistle or speech is known as the exhoratio. This section runs through the rest of the epistle until Paul’s closing—called peroration (rousing conclusion) in rhetoric—at 6:10-20.

It’s no accident that the apostle divided his epistles into these two sections—theology and exhortation. The truth of Scripture—theology, doctrine, or whatever other word you wish to use—is not simply something to know. Instead, theology is to undergird the way you live. Just a quick example: Knowing God has all power should impact the way we pray.

Paul had taught the Ephesian church about unity—Jewish and Gentile Christians are one in Christ. In the rest of the epistle, Paul told the Ephesians Christians how to live based on that unity.

“I therefore, a prisoner of the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called.”

Notice that Paul began the exhortation section of the epistle with “therefore.” Everything he has written thus far was for the Ephesians to know in order that they might live appropriately. Why is it important to know God’s truth before you live God’s truth?

Once more Paul reminded his readers that he was “a prisoner of the Lord.” Paul would call upon the Ephesians to make sacrifices throughout this second part of his epistle. Any time one seeks to live according to God’s word he must make sacrifices. What are the types of sacrifices one must make in order to live according to Scripture? What are some of the sacrifices you have made to live according to Scripture?

Since the apostle would ask his readers to make sacrifices, he reminded them once more of the sacrifice he was making for the cause of Christ.

Paul urged the Ephesians. The Greek term means to exhort or to encourage. The significance of the term is that it demonstrates what the writer wanted, but it was also warm, personal, and urgent. Paul was warmly urging the Ephesians to live appropriately. He didn’t seek to “lord it over them,” although he had apostolic authority. He has subtly appealed to his apostolic authority in this sentence by reminding the Ephesians that he was in prison on account of the cause of Christ. The word shows how much Paul loved his readers.

Why does a gentle urging do more good than a rough telling? Are there lessons we can learn about how to deal with people from the way Paul wrote?

Paul gently exhorted his Christian readers “to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which [they had] been called.” How does one walk in a manner worthy of his calling? What is one’s calling? Or, to put it another way: What is the Christian’s calling? Two things:

  1. In the specific context of Ephesians, Paul likely referred to the unity between Jew and Gentile Christians.
  2. Paul referred to the Christian’s call twice in Ephesians (once before this context and once in this context): 1:4-5 (although the specific word “call” isn’t used) and 4:4.

The Ephesians were to walk “with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.”

Why should the Christian live in humility, gentleness, patience, and unity?

In short, because Jesus did! Jesus, of course, is the Christian’s example: “Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps” (1 Pet 2:21). Anytime I mention this passage, I feel compelled to mention that the context is one of suffering for the gospel—Peter was urging his readers to suffer for the gospel because Jesus had left them an example. However, Jesus is the Christian’s example in every single aspect of life. Jesus’s call to follow him and be a disciple (lit, a “learner”) is a call to live by his example.

The word “Christian” itself means to be a follower of Christ. Can anyone who claims to be a Christian but does not seek to follow Jesus in every single aspect of his life be a true Christian? Saying that you’re a Christian doesn’t make you a Christian!

Jesus lived with humility. “And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross” (Phil 2:8). In what way(s) did the death on the cross require humility? What are some other examples of the humility of Christ?

Jesus lived with gentleness. “Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart” (Matt 11:29). What are some examples of the gentleness of Christ?

Jesus lived with patience. What are some examples of the patience of Christ?

Jesus lived with love. “Now before the Feast of the Passover, when Jesus knew that his hour had come to depart out of this world to the Father, having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end” (Jn 13:1). “I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me” (Gal 2:20). “By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers” (1 Jn 3:16). What are some examples of the love of Christ?

Jesus lived with unity. What are some examples of the way Jesus lived with unity with his fellow man while he was in the flesh? During his earthly ministry and even now, Jesus is one with the Father. “I and the Father are one” (Jn 10:30). “Whoever has seen me has seen the Father” (Jn 14:9). “Holy Father, keep [the apostles] in your name, which you have given me, that they may be one, even as we are one” (Jn 17:11). What are some examples of the unity of Christ with the Father?

“There is one body and one Spirit—just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call—one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.”

Some Jewish texts in Paul’s day suggested that since God is one, Israel was unified. However, no Jewish text would ever in a million years have ascribed that sort of unity to the Gentiles and Jews. Such was simply unthinkable. Yet, in Christ, the unthinkable becomes reality.

We have already mentioned the unity Christ has with his Father (e.g., Jn 10:30; 14:9; 17:11). It is important to note that the basis for unity in the church is the unity within the Triune God: “Holy Father, keep [the apostles] in your name, which you have given me, that they may be one, even as we are one” (Jn 17:11). Thus, the church is unified because God is, and the Christian seeks unity with his brothers and sisters because God himself is unified.

There is one body. The body obviously is the church (cf. Eph 1:22-23; 5:25-33). In what practical way(s) does the church demonstrate that she is one? Do you think members of the world as a whole would see the church as “one body?” Why or why not? In what practical way(s) can each individual Christian work for the unity of the church? What are you doing to work for the unity of the church? What specific steps can an individual Christian take to harm the unity of the church? In what practical way(s) are you working to harm the unity of the church?

There is one Spirit. The Spirit mentioned here is surely the Holy Spirit. How does the Holy Spirit aid the unity of the church?

The Holy Spirit is active in the baptism of each Christian (1 Cor 12:12-13). The Holy Spirit dwells in the assembled church (1 Cor 3:16-17). The pronoun “you” is plural in this passage; thus, Paul was speaking of the church, not the individual Christian. Many have used 1 Corinthians 3:17 to condemn victims of suicide to hell since Paul said that God will destroy the one who destroys God’s temple. While I would never in a hundred trillion years do anything but condemn suicide, using this passage to discuss suicide greatly takes it out of context.

The Holy Spirit dwells in the individual Christian (1 Cor 6:19-20). Paul informed the Corinthians that they could not engage in sexual promiscuity, for the Holy Spirit dwelt in their bodies. Part of ancient pagan worship was often using prostitutes at the temple of a pagan god. Since many of the Corinthians came from paganism, they may very well have been tempted to go back to such temples. This is another passage often taken out of context. The passage is used by many to say, for example, that a Christian should eat healthy, for his body is the temple of the Holy Spirit. It’s a great idea to eat healthy, but in the context of 1 Corinthians 6, as long as one isn’t committing fornication, he is honoring his body as God’s temple.

There is one hope of the Christian’s calling. Every Christian shares the same hope. What is the Christian’s hope? How do Christians share this hope?

This one hope “belongs to your call.” The King James Version is a tad more literal than either the English Standard Version or the New International Version: “even as ye are called in one hope of your calling.” “Your calling” is a genitive in Greek, so adding “of” is the most literal translation. However, both the English Standard Version and the New International Version get the translation right. In Greek grammar, “your calling” is referred to as a “genitive of source.” One’s calling is the the source of one’s hope; one’s hope comes from one’s call. What is the Christian’s call? How does the Christian’s hope come from that call?

There is one Lord. For Jews, such as Paul, Lord became synonymous with God. Because God had commanded his name—Yahweh (Jehovah came into English from a German transliteration of Yahweh)—not to be taken in vain, Jews would not pronounce the name of God when reading from the Hebrew Bible. Instead, they would substitute “Lord” for Yahweh (in fact, no one is certain how to pronounce Yahweh because of that). Most English translations continue that tradition by using LORD (“ord” with small caps) instead of Yahweh.

Thus, Paul might have been using “one Lord” here to say there is only one God contra the paganism from which some of the Ephesians came. However, the fact that he referred to “one God and Father of all” seems to suggests that he referred to the Lord Jesus Christ here. Yet, the fact that “Lord” was a divine term in Jewish circles is important. Calling Jesus “Lord,” for a Jew at least, was tantamount to calling him “God.” In what way(s) is Jesus God? How did he establish the fact that he is divine in his earthly ministry? How has he established the fact that he is divine in his current heavenly ministry?

“Lord,” of course, also meant a couple other things.

One: The word was used in polite address, something akin to our saying “sir.”

When Jesus called to Saul from heaven, the persecutor said, “Who are you, Lord?” (Acts 9:5). Since Saul did not believe in either the deity or lordship of Jesus, it’s highly unlikely he used “Lord” here in any sense of faith. Saul, after all, was a devout Jew who rightly believed in only one God, and the idea that he would have thought of any other God is highly suspect. Rather, Saul was being respectful to an unknown voice.

“This is how the holy women who hoped in God used to adorn themselves, by submitting to their own husbands, as Sarah obeyed Abraham, calling him lord” (1 Pet 3:5-6). The context in 1 Peter 3 is how wives should respect their husbands. “Lord” here should be understood as a term of respect, perhaps almost endearment. Anytime a wife respects her husband today, she is, in essence, calling him “lord.”

Although this is certainly not the most salient point in referring to Jesus as “Lord,” I do believe there may be an important lesson embedded here: Jesus Christ is worthy of respect. Why is Jesus Christ worthy of respect? How can modern Christians demonstrate respect for Jesus Christ? On the other hand, what are some ways that people—including modern Christians—show disrespect to Jesus Christ? What are some biblical examples of people who showed respect to Jesus Christ?

Two: The word was used to mean “master” or “sovereign.”

As Lord, Jesus Christ is the master of our lives. “Let all the house of Israel therefore know for certain that God has made him both Lord and Christ, this Jesus whom you crucified” (Acts 2:36). For some Jews there might have been some inherent idea of Jesus as divine in that statement; however, Jesus was not made God, for he always has been and always will be God. The idea here is that Jesus is the sovereign of one’s life. In a context of paganism, Paul wrote, “For us there is one God, the Father, from whom are all things and for whom we exist, and one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom are all things and through whom we exist” (1 Cor 8:6).

How does the Christian demonstrate that Jesus Christ is the sovereign of his life? Does Jesus have sovereignty over the lives of those who are not in him? Notice that in Acts 2:36, Peter told non-Christians that God had made Jesus “both Lord and Christ.” How does Jesus demonstrate his sovereignty over the lives of those who are not in him?

Notice also that Paul said there is “one Lord.” Remember Paul has been writing about the unity of Jews and Gentiles throughout Ephesians. The Gentiles and Jews did not have different Lords, but they all had the same Lord—Jesus Christ. How is having one Lord the basis for Christian unity today? What are the implications of everyone’s having only one Lord?

There is “one faith.” What is faith? “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen” (Heb 11:1). The author of Hebrews didn’t so much define faith as he described it. In other words, faith acts in assurance and conviction. What are some examples where people acted in faith with assurance and conviction? What are some examples where people today have acted in faith with assurance and conviction? What must you do do live a life of faith with assurance and conviction?

We can define faith in two major ways.

One: Faith is a mental assent of some statement.

For example: “I believe there is a God.” This faith is essential if one is to come to Jesus. “Without faith it is impossible to please him, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him” (Heb 11:6). Why is that sort of faith essential to come to Jesus?

Two: Faith is trust, i.e., taking God at his word.

“No unbelief made him waver concerning the promise of God, but he grew strong in his faith as he gave glory to God, full convinced that God was able to do what he had promised” (Rom 4:20-21). Abraham and Sarah were both old and Sarah was barren, yet Abraham knew that Sarah would conceive a son, for that’s what God had said. This faith accepts whatever God has said at face value and knows that to be the truth.

This is saving faith. Obviously, this faith encompasses a mental assent, for you are not only believing there is a God, but you are taking him at his word. This is a faith that will do every single thing God has said to do.

Unfortunately, many in the religious world ignore this faith when talking to others about salvation. Many assume that all one needs to do is to believe there is a God to be “okay.” Thus, they might encourage one on his deathbed to pray a prayer and accept Jesus into his heart. Believing there is a God isn’t going to do me much good unless I’m willing to trust every single word he has said.

What role does a trusting faith play in the Christian’s life? Why is a trusting faith so important for the Christian’s life? Why is a trusting faith so important for salvation?

What role does one’s faith play in his/her salvation? Why is faith so important in the salvation process? Why does God want us to have faith in him?

Paul in this context was writing about unity in Christ between Jewish and Gentile believers. How does one’s faith in Jesus bring unity between ethnic groups? How does our faith in Jesus bring unity in this congregation?

However, “faith” in the New Testament often stands for the body of what is believed, for doctrine. Examples: “They [the churches in Judea] only were hearing it said, ‘He who used to persecute us is now preaching the faith he once tried to destroy’” (Gal 1:23). “Beloved, although I was very eager to write to you about our common salvation, I found it necessary to write appealing to you to contend for the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints” (Jude 3).

This likely the meaning of “faith” in Ephesians 4:5. How is the doctrine we believe one? Why is it important that there is only one doctrine? What does that one doctrine have to do with the unity of the church?

There is “one baptism.” It is rather unfortunate that the word “baptism” has been transliterated from the Greek baptisma (the cognate of the word used in Ephesians 4:4). Several other Greek terms have been transliterated in our English Bibles (e.g., apostle, Amen, Satan, blaspheme).

The fact that baptism has been transliterated instead of translated has permitted a great deal of error to be promulgated. There is a persistent rumor that baptisma was transliterated into English because the translators of the King James didn’t want to offend the king who had been sprinkled. A quick Google search even listed several websites where authors were saying the origin of the English “baptism” was to keep from offending people in the Church of England. However, that rumor is false. The word “baptism” came into English around 400 years before the King James Version. The word “baptism” actually came into English around 1250-1300. It’s possible, but impossible to prove that the word “baptism” was used instead of “immersion” to keep from offending some religious people in the Middle Ages. But any such statement would be pure conjecture.

The term means “immersion.” Before the time of Jesus, ancient Greeks used the word to mean:

  • “To be drowned”
  • Of ships: “to sink”
  • Metaphorically of the Jews who flocked to Jerusalem at the time of the siege: “to flood” a city
  • “To be drenched”
  • “To be soaked in wine”
  • “To be over head and ears in debt”
  • “To be getting into deep water”
  • “To draw wine by dipping the cup in the bowl”
  • “To dip oneself”
  • “To dye clothing”

In the New Testament, there can be absolutely no doubt but that full immersion is intended in the word “baptize.” “John also was baptizing at Aenon near Salim, because water was plentiful there, and people were coming and being baptized” (Jn 3:23). Why would John feel a need to baptize in a place where “water was plentiful” were he not immersing?

“When Jesus was baptized, immediately he went up from the water” (Matt 3:16). Why did Jesus come up out of the water were he not immersed?

When the eunuch asked about baptism, “he commanded the chariot to stop, and they both went down into the water, Philip and the eunuch, and he baptized him. And when they came up out of the water, the Spirit of the Lord carried Philip away, and the eunuch saw him no more, and went on his way rejoicing” (Acts 8:38-39). Again, why the going down in and coming up out of the water if there was no immersion? Why did the eunuch get excited when they came to came to some water and why did he say, “See, here is water! What prevents me from being baptized” (Acts 8:36), were he not going to be immersed?

“Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life” (Rom 6:3-4). The metaphor of being “buried” into Jesus’s death and being “raised” to “walk in newness of life” makes little sense if baptism is not immersion.

“Having been buried with him in baptism, in which you were also raised with him through faith in the powerful working of God, who raised him from the dead” (Col 2:12). Again, burying and raising makes little sense unless baptism is full immersion.

Paul said that there is “one baptism.” That is, however, not precisely true. There are several baptisms in the New Testament:

  • There is John’s baptism which is no longer valid (cf. Acts 19:1-7).
  • Jesus would baptize with the Holy Spirit (Mk 1:8; cf. Acts 1:5).
  • Jesus would also baptize with fire (Matt 3:11).
  • Jesus had a baptism with which he would be baptized; James and John would share in that baptism (Mk 10:38-39; cf. Lk 12:50).
  • The Jews in the wilderness “all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea” (1 Cor 10:2).
  • Some were baptized for the dead (1 Cor 15:29).
  • “Let us leave the elementary doctrine of Christ and go on to maturity, not laying again a foundation of repentance from dead works and of faith toward God, and of instruction about washings [baptisms]” (Heb 6:1-2). The Greek term for “washings” is “baptisms.” Notice the plural, not singular.

With all these different baptisms in the New Testament, how could Paul have ever said that there is “one baptism?” The purpose of Paul’s statement that there is “one baptism” is to point to the unity between Jew and Gentile. Whether one is a Jew or Gentile, he comes to Christ through the “one baptism.” “In one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and all were made to drink of one Spirit” (1 Cor 12:13). “As many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Gal 3:27-28). Baptism is a unifying act for all Christians. In what way(s) does baptism unify Christians?

Why should one be baptized?

  • Jesus had no sin; for Jesus baptism was to fulfill all righteousness (Matt 3:15). We may deduce from Jesus’s statement that baptism is the right thing to do—the act fulfilled righteousness in his case. In what way(s) is baptism the right thing to do? Also, we may say that baptism is following Jesus’s example.
  • Baptism is commanded (Acts 10:48; Matt 28:19). By whom is baptism commanded?
  • Baptism is the answer of a good conscience (1 Pet 3:20-21). The wording here follows the King James Version, and the Greek is admittedly difficult to translate. The best idea seems to be that through baptism the sinner is asking God for a clean conscience. One’s conscience is cleansed through baptism. The blood of Jesus, which one contacts through proper baptism, purifies the conscience (Heb 9:14). When one’s body has been “washed with pure water,” he can have his heart “sprinkled clean from an evil conscience” (Heb 10:22). What is the conscience? Why does one need a clean conscience? What happens if one has a dirty conscience?
  • Baptism allows one to rejoice (Acts 8:39; 16:33-34). Why does baptism lead to rejoicing? Why did the eunuch and Cornelius’ household rejoice after their baptisms?
  • Baptism allows one to get into Christ (Gal 3:27). What other acts allow one to get into Christ? What is so special about baptism that it allows one to get into Christ?
  • Baptism allows one to get into Christ’s death (Rom 6:23). Why does one need to get into Christ’s death?
  • Baptism allows one to be raised with Christ (Col 2:12). Why does a person need to be raised with Christ?
  • Baptism allows one to walk in newness of life (Rom 6:4). Why does one need newness in his life? What is the difference between oldness and newness of life?
  • Baptism allows one to enter the kingdom of God (Jn 3:5). Why does one need in the kingdom of God?
  • Baptism washes away sins (Acts 22:16). Does baptism by itself wash away one’s sins? Why or why not?
  • Baptism saves (1 Pet 3:21). A charge often leveled against us is that we believe in water salvation. Is that charge fair? Is there anything in this verse which speaks of water salvation? Is there anything in this verse which might refute the idea of water salvation?
  • Baptism is for the remission of sins (Acts 2:38). What is the remission of sins? Is one saved before or after he is baptized? Hint: Neither!

There is “one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.” The truth that God is one is an important truth in the Judeo-Christian faith. When Moses asked the Lord’s name, God said, “I AM WHO I AM.” God further said to Moses, “Say this to the people of Israel: ‘I AM has sent me to you’” (Ex. 3:14). Notice the singular here. God didn’t say, “We are who we are.” He said, “I AM.”

Interestingly, the Hebrew word for God (“El”) often occurs in the plural (“Elohim”) when speaking of the true God. This is called the “divine plural” (you will sometimes see it called the “majestic plural”). Kings and queens from antiquity have used the “royal we” when describing themselves. Today, British monarchs use the plural to describe themselves in official documents. The idea is that monarchs are so great and powerful that they cannot be described by the singular “I.” The same idea seems to have been throughout the Old Testament. God is so great and powerful (far more great and powerful than some human ruler), and he cannot be described by singular nouns. A singular noun just cannot contain all who God is.

“Let us make man in our image, after our likeness” (Gen 1:26). The most common Christian interpretation here is that God the Father was speaking to God the Son and God the Spirit. I personally reject that interpretation. It seems to read too much of a New Testament understanding into an Old Testament text (granted, there are places that’s absolutely necessary).

There are two far more attractive interpretations in my view:

One: God speaks to the heavenly court.

He is often pictured with the heavenly host in the Old Testament. For example, in the Book of Job, Satan came ‘when the sons of God came to present themselves before the LORD” (Job 1:6; 2:1). However, the major flaw with that interpretation is that God said to make man “in our image” (Gen 1:26), and Genesis 1:27 says that “God created man in his own image.” Man is made in the image of God, not the image of those in the heavenly court. Furthermore, the heavenly court was not active in creation; in other words, God did not make this world through angels.

Two: God speaks in the divine plural.

This is the interpretation I prefer. I believe it fits the Old Testament context. A God who is so great as to create the cosmos and make man from dust and make that man in his own image is too great to be rendered by a singular noun.

“Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one” (Deut 6:4). The Hebrews needed to hear that the LORD is one God, for they had just come from Egypt where a plurality of gods ruled the day. The people would repeatedly be tempted to turn to other gods besides the LORD. In fact, both captivities occurred as punishment for the people’s idolatry. The Northern Kingdom was lost, but once the Southern Kingdom returned from Babylonian Captivity, idolatry was never again a problem for the Jews.

In the New Testament, the apostles emphasized the truthfulness of the existence of one God. “As to the eating of food offered to idols, we know that ‘an idol has no real existence,’ and that ‘there is no God but one’” (1 Cor 8:4). “There is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus” (1 Tim 2:5).

Why did the Ephesians need to hear that there is only one God? Why do we today need to hear that there is only one God?

This one God is also “Father of all.” The Scriptures often refer to God as the “Father” of everyone. “Have we not all one Father? Has not one God created us? Why then are we faithless to one another, profaning the covenant of our fathers?” (Mal 2:10). “And call no man your father on earth, for you have one Father, who is in heaven” (Matt 23:9). “Besides this, we have had earthly fathers who disciplined us and we respected them. Shall we not much more be subject to the Father of spirits and live?” (Heb 12:9).

How is God a Father? How is God the “Father of all?” In other words, how is God the Father of people who aren’t even Christians (“his children”)? Although God is the “Father of all,” is he the Father of Christians in a different way than he is the Father of non-Christians?

The God and Father of all mankind “is over all.” How does God demonstrate that he “is over all?” Is God over someone who rejects his truth? Why? How? How do men demonstrate that God is over them?

The God and Father of all mankind “through all and in all.”

“Grace was given to each one of us according to the measure of Christ’s gift.”

“Grace” in this context has nothing to do with a saving grace. The Greek term’s basic meaning is “gift” or “favor.” That is obviously the perfect term to describe God’s saving grace, for it is a “gift” or “favor” we do not deserve. In this passage, the context has to do with the gifts God gave the church for its “building up.” However, I’m convinced we can think of grace even in this passage as unmerited favor. The church doesn’t deserve the gifts God gives, but he graciously has granted to the church, apostles, prophets, evangelists, and teaching-shepherds.

Notice that this grace “was given to each one of us.” The gifts Paul specifically mentioned in this passage were, in one sense, not available to everyone. No one alive today can be an apostle or prophet (not everyone in the first century could be an apostle or prophet). While the other two gifts mentioned—evangelists and teaching-pastors—are still available, not everyone receives one of those gifts.

However, as Paul made abundantly clear these gifts were “given to each one of us.”

  • Each person benefits from the fact there were apostles. What was an apostle? How do we benefit today from the apostles?
  • Each person befits from the fact there were prophets. In context, these would be prophets in the New Testament era (e.g., Agabus—Acts 11:28; 21:10). What was a prophet? How do we benefit from the fact there were prophets in the early church?
  • Each person benefits from the fact there are evangelists. What is an evangelist? How do we benefit from evangelists?
  • Each person benefits from teaching-pastors. We’ll discuss this more in detail later, but the Greek grammar shows that “shepherds and teachers” refer to the same office. The English Standard Version even has a footnote that reads, “Or shepherd-teachers.” This passage was integral to my dissertation, and one author called them “teaching-pastors” (with the hyphen); I’ve called them that ever since. What is a teaching-pastor?

These gifts were given to the individuals who possessed (or possess) them and to the church at large “according to the measure of Christ’s gift.” Since Jesus’s gift is limitless, the benefits of his gifts for the church are limitless.

“Therefore it says, ‘When he ascended on high he led a host of captives, and he gave gifts to men.”

“Therefore it says” refers to the Old Testament quote Paul is about to give. This is the first time in Ephesians Paul has directly quoted the Old Testament. The significant truth is to notice the reverence Paul gave the Old Testament. The Old Testament is not the law under which we now live. Paul made that point in Ephesians: “. . . abolishing the law of commandments expressed in ordinances. . . .” (Eph 2:15). However, the Old Testament continues to have value for the people of God. If the Old Testament is no longer the law under which we live, why do some attempt to live under the law? What do some people do that the Old Testament required that the New Testament does not? If the Old Testament has been abolished why would Paul give it reverence? If the Old Testament has been abolished, what value can it have for God’s people today?

Paul quoted from Psalm 68:18. Psalm 68, a psalm of David, pictures God’s rising up against his enemies and defeating them. Verse 18 pictures God’s ascending in triumph on the “mountain of Bashan,” leading captives (prisoners of war) in victory, and receiving spoil from those he has vanquished.

Paul adapted Psalm 68:18 to his purpose. Paul applied the passage in a way David did not intend when he first wrote it. This is not a license to take a passage and apply it however we wish. You absolutely must remember that Paul was inspired by the Holy Spirit of God to apply this passage as he did; you will not be inspired by the Holy Spirit of God to apply a text the way you wish!

Jesus led a host of captives when he ascended on high. At what point in his ministry did Jesus ascend on high? It seems (key word!) to me that Paul spoke of Jesus’s ascending on high in two ways here.

The ascension to the right hand of God is clearly in view.

Jesus “ascended far above all the heavens, that he might fill all things” (Eph 4:10). The ascension to God’s right hand was the ultimate triumph for the Lord Jesus. How was the ascension to God’s right hand the ultimate triumph for Jesus Christ?

However, I strongly suspect that Paul also had the resurrection in view here.

“In saying, ‘He ascended,’ what does it mean but that he had also descended into the lower regions, the earth?” Paul did not simply say that Jesus descended to the earth but that the Lord descended into the earth. The resurrection was not only a literal ascension from the realm of the dead but was a moment of great victory for the Lord. How was the resurrection a moment of great victory for the Lord?

When Jesus “ascended on high he led a host of captives.” Since Paul was quoting a psalm, we shouldn’t be surprised to find poetic language here. The image is that the Lord Jesus was leading a host of prisoners of war after his victory. What enemies did Jesus defeat?

When he ascended on high, Jesus “gave gifts to men.” The gifts in view here are pictures as spoil taken from battle. It was customary for the conquering commander to share the spoil from battle with his soldiers.

“(In saying, “He ascended,” what does it mean but that he also descended into the lower regions, the earth? He who descended is the one who also ascended far above all the heavens, that he might fill all things.)”

In quoting the text, I intentionally left in parentheses, for this is a parenthetical statement. Paul often used parenthetical statements in his writings. He would be on a train of thought, get another thought, write down the new thought, and return to the original thought. Paul was a highly educated man and seems to have had so much in his brain it was hard for him to keep a train of thought without “chasing a rabbit.” I don’t understand all the ins and outs of inspiration, but God allowed the individual writers a great deal of freedom to write in their own styles. But the Holy Spirit guided the writers and the finished product was precisely what God wanted and man needed.

Jesus ascended on high. The wording comes from Psalm 68:18 where God is metaphorically pictured ascending a mountain in triumph. Paul adapted the language of Psalm 68 to apply to the ascension of Jesus Christ. After Jesus rose from the dead, “he presented himself alive to [the apostles] after his suffering by man proofs, appearing to them during forty days and speaking about the kingdom of God” (Acts 1:3). At the end of those forty days, Jesus led the disciples “out as far as Bethany,” and blessed the disciples (Lk 24:50). “While he blessed them, he parted from them and was carried up into heaven” (Acts 24:51). The apostles watched Jesus ascend into heaven: “As they were looking on, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight” (Act 1:9).

What is the significance of the ascension of Jesus?

The significance of the ascension for Jesus:

  • He was at that time exalted to the right hand of God (Acts 2:32; 7:56).
  • He is exalted as Lord (Acts 2:36; Phil 2:9-11).
  • He is exalted as head of the church (Eph 1:20-22).
  • He is exalted as high priest (Heb 8:1).
  • He is exalted as savior Acts 5:31).

The significance of the ascension for the modern church:

  • We have a high priest who has made atonement for sin (Heb 1:3).
  • We now have a mediator (1 Tim 2:5).
  • We now have an intercessor (Rom 8:34).
  • We now have an advocate (1 Jn 2:1).

The significance of the ascension for the early church:

  • It was the end of the resurrection appearances.
  • It let them know where Jesus had gone.
  • It made possible the coming of the Holy Spirit (Jn 16:7; Acts 2:33).

The significance of the ascension for us:

  • We need to recognize Jesus as King, Christ, and head of the church.
  • We need to be sharing the gospel, for Jesus gave the Great Commission immediately before his ascension (Acts 1:8).
  • The Christian life is affected and impacted (Col 3:1-2).
  • There is eternal life and hope.
  • Jesus is coming again (Acts 1:11).

In order for Jesus to ascend, he had to descend. It’s almost as though Paul was saying, “Whatever goes up must have come down.” Jesus “descended into the lower regions, the earth.” As previously mentioned, I take the lower regions to refer to Jesus’s burial. While Jesus was placed in a cave, he was placed into the earth. While I don’t know that we need to take “lower regions” all that literally, it is worthy to note even graves made out of caves required someone to stoop down into order to enter. When John arrived at the tomb before Peter, he stooped to look in (Jn 20:5). It is possible that this refers to the incarnation.

“And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ.”

Jesus gave these roles as gifts for the church. The image is that Jesus has conquered death (he descended into the lower regions of the earth and then “ascended far above all the heavens”), and, like any good commander, is sharing spoil with his soldiers. These four roles are gifts to the entire church. The image in this context isn’t that Jesus gave the gift of being an apostle or a prophet to an individual. Rather, Jesus gave apostles, prophets, evangelists, and teaching-shepherds to the entire church for the church’s benefit. How do these roles benefit the entire church?

One of the most interesting thing about this list is that two of the gifts require the miraculous measure of the Spirit no longer available (apostles and prophets) and two do not (evangelists and teaching-shepherds). However, the two non-miraculous roles correspond almost perfectly to the two miraculous gifts. An apostles went about preaching the word of the Lord to new areas; evangelists go about today preaching the word of the Lord to new areas (at least new hearts). Prophets spoke for the word of the Lord (primarily to the church); teaching-shepherds speak the word of the Lord to the church.

What I find most amazing is that the Lord gave two miraculous gifts which benefited the early church and continue to benefit us this very moment, and he gave two non-miraculous gifts to replace the miraculous gifts to continue to bless his people until his return. This Lord cares for his body and will provide for her. In what other ways does the Lord Jesus show his care and provision for his body, the church?

I’m going to get a tad technical here, and I “somewhat” apologize; The Greek uses the personal pronoun here. Pronouns are actually not necessary to make a sentence in Greek; the pronoun is actually part of the verb. The word for “gave” means “he gave.” However, pronouns were used to make an emphasis. The New International Version does a really good job here: “Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers.” When the pronoun is used in Greek, the author is emphasizing the one who acted. In other words, Paul emphasized that Jesus gave the gifts, and no one else. Because Jesus had conquered death and sin, he—and he alone—had the right to give these gifts to the church. That’s Paul’s point.

Jesus gave the apostles to the church. How did the apostles serve in the early church? How do the apostles serve the modern church long after they have died?

Jesus gave the prophets to the church. How did the prophets serve in the early church? How do the prophets serve the modern church long after they have died?

Jesus gave the evangelists to the church. How did the evangelists serve in the early church? How do evangelists serve in the modern church?

Jesus gave the teaching-shepherds to the church. The definite article was important in ancient Greek. The article pointed to a very specific object; instead of “a chair,” the definite article pointed to a very specific chair. In this list of gifts, the definite article only occurs four, not five, times. What that means is the teacher and shepherd refers to the same office, not two different roles.

In the New Testament, the pastors—elders—are viewed as teachers. A bishop (or overseer)—bishop, elder, and pastor are used synonymously in Acts 20 where Paul spoke with the Ephesians elders/bishops/pastors—must be “able to teach” (1 Tim 3:2). An elder “must hold firm to the trustworthy word as taught, so that he may be able to give instruction in sound [i.e., healthy] doctrine and also to rebuke those who contradict it” (Tit 1:9). Why must a shepherd be a teacher? How should shepherds teach?

The Lord gave these roles in and to the church to equip the saints for the work of ministry. Why does the church need to be equipped for ministry?

How did apostles equip the early church for the work of ministry? How do the apostles equip the modern church for the work of ministry?

How did the prophets equip the early church for the work of ministry? How do prophets equip the modern church for the work of ministry?

How did evangelists equip the early church for the work of ministry? How do evangelists equip the modern church for the work of ministry?

How did teaching-shepherds equip the early church for the work of ministry? How do teaching-shepherds equip the early church for the work of ministry?

What is a saint? The word in Greek, of course, means “holy one.” How is this different from how the world sees “saint?” Saint throughout the Scriptures is simply another name for Christian. “To all the saints in Christ Jesus who are at Philippi, with the overseers and deacons” (Phil 1:1). “To the saints and faithful brothers in Christ at Colossae: Grace to you and peace from God our Father” (Col 1:2).

Since Christ’s apostles through God’s Spirit chose to refer to Christians as saints, might there be an implication about the way Christians must live?

What is the work of ministry? How must Christians engage in the work of ministry?

Saints are to be equipped for the work of ministry “for the building up the body of Christ.” Why does the body of Christ need building up? Do mature congregations need building up? In what way(s) does a mature congregation need building up? How can you measure the health of a congregation?

What is the body of Christ? Why is the church often called the body of Christ? What implication(s) might there be in the appellation of “the body of Christ?”

Christ gave gifts in his church to build up the body of Christ “until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ.”

There will come a time when the Lord’s body no longer needs building up, i.e., when the church is perfectly mature.

To use Paul’s language, the body of Christ is completely built up when three things occur:

      1. “We all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God;”
      2. We all attain “to mature manhood;”
      3. We all attain “to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ.”

If one were diagraming this sentence simply in English, he might arrive at a different number (either 2 or 4); however, the Greek grammar separates these three components as separate goals God has for the church.

“We all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God.” Why is unity of the faith important? What is unity of the faith? How do we attain to the unity of the faith? Why is unity of the knowledge of the Son of God important? What is unity of the knowledge of the Son of God? How do we attaint o the unity of the knowledge of the Son of God?

We all attain “to mature manhood.” Why is mature manhood important? How do we attain to mature manhood?

We all attain “to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ.” Why is the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ important? What is the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ?

Once “we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ,” we will “no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes.”

Why is maturity often contrasted with being a child? What does a “childish” Christian look like? What danger is inherent in being a “childish” Christian? Obviously, when one comes to Christ, he is a “babe.” All of us have been there. How does one move from being a babe in Christ to being mature?

What danger is inherent in being tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine? The image calls to mind a ship whose anchor is not grounded and the captain has no control whatsoever, but the ship is solely at the mercy of the winds. A Christian needs an “anchor” for his faith. What is that anchor? How does he make that anchor securely grounded? A Christian needs to be in control of where he is going, not like the ship tossed to and fro. In order to do this, a Christian must be in control of his thoughts. How can a Christian control his thoughts? What thoughts are harmful for a Christian’s maturity?

The Christian tossed to and fro by every wind of doctrine—teaching—is on who always changes his beliefs on what sounds best or the latest fad. When should a Christian change his belief system? On what basis should a Christian change his belief system?

The danger of not being moored is that he will be carried about by human cunning and crafty, deceitful schemes. Notice the opposite of sound—i.e., healthy—doctrine is “human cunning.” In other words, whatever is opposite God’s truth is human. Yet, Paul went a step further and called this “human cunning.” What is cunning? Why does one acting cunningly not act with God’s approval?

Why is a crafty, deceitful scheme the opposite of God’s word? Notice that the opposite of the truth is being deceived. Those who do so are “crafty.”

“Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ.”

Pay careful attention to the dichotomy Paul painted—“every wind of doctrine,” “human cunning,” and “craftiness in deceitful schemes,” vs. “speaking the truth in love.” Paul listed error in three ways, but he only listed truth in one way. This may point to the fact that error comes in many shapes and sizes and from different sources (although Satan is the true author of all error), but truth comes from only one source and only comes in one shape and size. Notice once again the human nature of error; error is “human cunning” and “craftiness in deceitful schemes” (surely, being crafty and scheming are human activities). Error is what man decides. Truth is what God decides.

Instead of being shipwrecked by different doctrines or deceived by human cunning or crafty schemes, the Ephesians were to speak “the truth in love.” Why must the Christian speak truth instead of error? To whom should the Christian speak the truth? In context, it does seem that the Ephesians were to be speaking the truth to one another. If that is the case, why does a Christian need to speak truth to another Christian? Where does a Christian find the truth he should speak?

Why must the truth be spoken in love? If the truth hurts someone’s feelings, was the truth spoken in love? Did Jesus always speak the truth in love? Did he ever offend people (or even put things rather bluntly)? How could that have been in love? What is the difference between simply speaking the truth and speaking the truth in love?

By speaking the truth in love, we must “grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ.” Once more Paul urged maturity. He had said Christ gave the four gifts to the church “until we all attain . . to mature manhood” (Eph 4:13). Once we attain maturity, “we may no longer be children” (Eph 4:14). Why might Paul have been concerned about maturity in Ephesus?

How can a Christian grow? If a Christian is growing, does he help the church to grow? How do we grow up into Christ? Paul here called the Lord Jesus “the head.” What is a head? How does Jesus function as “the head?”

“From [Jesus] the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love.”

The idea that Paul spoke of the body coming from Christ may very well indicate that the apostle had “source” in mind as he spoke of “head” in this context.

The whole body is “held together by every joint with which it is equipped.” What are the joints which hold the body together? How do the joints hold the body together?

“When each part is working properly,” the body grows. What happens when a part is not working properly? What happens to bodies which do not grow? How can the Christian make sure he is working properly?

As the body grows, “it builds itself up in love.” How does the body build itself up in love? Why does the body need to build itself up in love?

This Bible class was originally taught by Dr. Justin Imel, Sr., at Church of Christ Deer Park in Deer Park, Texas.

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