William Barclay's Daily Study Bible

Ephesians 4:1-32 Introduction (Ephesians 4:1-32)

With this chapter the second part of the letter begins. In Ephesians 1:1-23 ; Ephesians 2:1-22 ; Ephesians 3:1-21 Paul has dealt with the great and eternal truths of the Christian faith, and with the function of the Church in the plan of God. Now he begins to sketch what each member of the Church must be if the Church is to carry out her part in that plan.

Before we begin this chapter, let us again remind ourselves that the central thought of the letter is that Jesus has brought to a disunited world the way to unity. This way is through faith in him and it is the Church's task to proclaim this message to all the world. And now Paul turns to the character the Christian must have if the Church is to fulfil her great task of being Christ's instrument of universal reconciliation between man and man, and man and God within the world.

- William Barclay's Daily Study Bible

Worthy Of Our Calling (Ephesians 4:1-10)

4:1-10 So then, I, the prisoner in the Lord, urge you to behave yourselves in a way that is worthy of the calling with which you are called. I urge you to behave with all humility, and gentleness, and patience. I urge you to bear with one another in love. I urge you eagerly to preserve that unity which the Holy Spirit can bring by binding things together in peace. There is one body and one Spirit, just as you have been called with one hope of your calling. There is one Lord, one faith, one baptism. one God and Father of all, who is above all, and through all, and in all. To each one of you grace has been given, as it has been measured out to you by the free gift of Christ. Therefore scripture says, "He ascended into the height, and brought his captive band of prisoners, and gave gifts to men." (When it says that "he ascended." what else can it mean than that he also descended into the lower parts of the earth? He who descended is the same person as he who ascended above all the heavens, that he might fill all things with his presence.)

The Christian Virtues ( Ephesians 4:1-3 )

4:1-3 So then, I, the prisoner in the Lord, urge you to behave yourselves in a way that is worthy of the calling with which you are called. I urge you to behave with all humility, and gentleness, and patience. I urge you to bear with one another in love. I urge you eagerly to preserve that unity which the Holy Spirit can bring by binding things together in peace.

When a man enters into any society, he takes upon himself the obligation to live a certain kind of life; and if he fails in that obligation, he hinders the aims of his society and brings discredit on its name. Here Paul paints the picture of the kind of life that a man must live when he enters the fellowship of the Christian Church.

The first three verses shine like jewels. Here we have five of the great basic words of the Christian faith.

(i) First, and foremost, there is humility. The Greek is tapeinophrosune ( Greek #5012 ), and this is actually a word which the Christian faith coined. In Greek there is no word for humility which has not some suggestion of meanness attaching to it. Later Basil was to describe it as "the gem casket of all the virtues"; but before Christianity humility was not counted as a virtue at all. The ancient world looked on humility as a thing to be despised.

The Greek had an adjective for humble, which is closely connected with this noun--the adjective tapeinos ( Greek #5011 ). A word is always known by the company it keeps and this word keeps ignoble company. It is used in company with the Greek adjectives which mean slavish (andrapododes, doulikos, douloprepes), ignoble (agennes), of no repute (adoxos), cringing (chamaizelos, which is the adjective which describes a plant which trails along the ground). In the days before Jesus humility was looked on as a cowering, cringing, servile, ignoble quality; and yet Christianity sets it in the very forefront of the virtues. Whence then comes this Christian humility, and what does it involve?

(a) Christian humility comes from self-knowledge. Bernard said of it, "It is the virtue by which a man becomes conscious of his own unworthiness. in consequence of the truest knowledge of himself."

To face oneself is the most humiliating thing in the world. Most of us dramatize ourselves. Somewhere there is a story of a man who before he went to sleep at night dreamed his waking dreams. He would see himself as the hero of some thrilling rescue from the sea or from the flames; he would see himself as an orator holding a vast audience spell-bound; he would see himself walking to the wicket in a Test Match at Lord's and scoring a century; he would see himself in some international football match dazzling the crowd with his skill; always he was the centre of the picture. Most of us are essentially like that. And true humility comes when we face ourselves and see our weakness, our selfishness, our failure in work and in personal relationships and in achievement.

(b) Christian humility comes from setting life beside the life of Christ and in the light of the demands of God.

God is perfection and to satisfy perfection is impossible. So long as we compare ourselves with second bests, we may come out of the comparison well. It is when we compare ourselves with perfection that we see our failure. A girl may think herself a very fine pianist until she hears one of the world's outstanding performers. A man may think himself a good golfer until he sees one of the world's masters in action. A man may think himself something of a scholar until he picks up one of the books of the great old scholars of encylopaedic knowledge. A man may think himself a fine preacher until he listens to one of the princes of the pulpit.

Self-satisfaction depends on the standard with which we compare ourselves. If we compare ourselves with our neighbour, we may well emerge very satisfactorily from the comparison. But the Christian standard is Jesus Christ and the demands of God's perfection--and against that standard there is no room for pride.

(c) There is another way of putting this. R. C. Trench said that humility comes from the constant sense of our own creatureliness. We are in absolute dependence on God. As the hymn has it:

"'Tis Thou preservest me from death

And dangers every hour;

I cannot draw another breath

Unless Thou give me power.

My health, my friends, and parents dear

To me by God are given;

I have not any blessing here

But what is sent from heaven."

We are creatures, and for the creature there can be nothing but humility in the presence of the creator.

Christian humility is based on the sight of self, the vision of Christ, and the realization of God.

The Christian Gentleman ( Ephesians 4:1-3 Continued)

(ii) The second of the great Christian virtues is what the King James Version calls meekness and what we have translated gentleness. The Greek noun is praotes ( Greek #4236 ), the adjective praus ( Greek #4239 ), and these are beyond translation by any single English word. Praus has two main lines of meanings.

(a) Aristotle, the great Greek thinker and teacher, has much to say about praotes ( Greek #4236 ). It was his custom to define every virtue as the mean between two extremes. On one side there was excess of some quality, on the other defect; and in between there was exactly its right proportion. Aristotle defines praotes ( Greek #4236 ) as the mean between being too angry and never being angry at all. The man who is praus ( Greek #4239 ) is the man who is always angry at the right time and never angry at the wrong time. To put that in another way, the man who is praus ( Greek #4239 ) is the man who is kindled by indignation at the wrongs and the sufferings of others, but is never moved to anger by the wrongs and the insults he himself has to bear. So, then, the man who is (as in the King James Version), meek is the man who is always angry at the right time but never angry at the wrong time.

(b) There is another fact which will illumine the meaning of this word. Praus ( Greek #4239 ) is the Greek for an animal which has been trained and domesticated until it is completely under control. Therefore the man who is praus ( Greek #4239 ) is the man who has every instinct and every passion under perfect control. It would not be right to say that such a man is entirely self-controlled, for such self-control is beyond human power, but it would be right to say that such a man is God-controlled.

Here then is the second great characteristic of the true member of the Church. He is the man who is so God-controlled that he is always angry at the right time but never angry at the wrong time.

The Undefeatable Patience ( Ephesians 4:1-3 Continued)

(iii) The third great quality of the Christian is what the King James Version calls long-suffering. The Greek is makrothumia ( Greek #3115 ). This word has two main directions of meaning.

(a) It describes the spirit which will never give in and which, because it endures to the end, will reap the reward. Its meaning can best be seen from the fact that a Jewish writer used it to describe what he called "the Roman persistency which would never make peace under defeat." In their great days the Romans were unconquerable; they might lose a battle, they might even lose a campaign, but they could not conceive of losing a war. In the greatest disaster it never occurred to them to admit defeat. Christian patience is the spirit which never admits defeat, which will not be broken by any misfortune or suffering, by any disappointment or discouragement, but which persists to the end.

(b) But makrothumia ( Greek #3115 ) has an even more characteristic meaning than that. It is the characteristic Greek word for patience with men. Chrysostom defined it as the spirit which has the power to take revenge but never does so. Lightfoot defined it as the spirit which refuses to retaliate. To take a very imperfect analogy--it is often possible to see a puppy and a very large dog together. The puppy yaps at the big dog, worries him, bites him, and all the time the big dog, who could annihilate the puppy with one snap of his teeth, bears the puppy's impertinence with a forbearing dignity. Makrothumia ( Greek #3115 ) is the spirit which bears insult and injury without bitterness and without complaint. It is the spirit which can suffer unpleasant people with graciousness and fools without irritation.

The thing which best of all gives its meaning is that the New Testament repeatedly uses it of God. Paul asks the impenitent sinner if he despises the patience of God ( Romans 2:4 ). Paul speaks of the perfect patience of Jesus to him ( 1 Timothy 1:16 ). Peter speaks of God's patience waiting in the days of Noah ( 1 Peter 3:20 ). He says that the forbearance of our Lord is our salvation ( 2 Peter 3:15 ). If God had been a man, he would long since in sheer irritation have wiped the world out for its disobedience. The Christian must have the patience towards his fellow men which God has shown to him.

The Christian Love ( Ephesians 4:1-3 Continued)

(iv) The fourth great Christian quality is love. Christian love was something so new that the Christian writers had to invent a new word for it; or, at least, they had to employ a very unusual Greek word--agape ( Greek #26 ).

In Greek there are four words for love. There is eros (compare Greek #2037 ), which is the love between a man and a maid and which involves sexual passion. There is philia ( Greek #5373 ) which is the warm affection which exists between those who are very near and very dear to each other. There is storge (compare Greek #794 ) which is characteristically the word for family affection. And there is agape ( Greek #26 ), which the King James Version translates sometimes love and sometimes charity.

The real meaning of agape ( Greek #26 ) is unconquerable benevolence. If we regard a person with agape ( Greek #26 ), it means that nothing that he can do will make us seek anything but his highest good. Though he injure us and insult us, we will never feel anything but kindness towards him. That quite clearly means that this Christian love is not an emotional thing. This agape ( Greek #26 ) is a thing, not only of the emotions, but also of the will. It is the ability to retain unconquerable good will to the unlovely and the unlovable, towards those who do not love us, and even towards those whom we do not like. Agape ( Greek #26 ) is that quality of mind and heart which compels a Christian never to feel any bitterness, never to feel any desire for revenge, but always to seek the highest good of every man no matter what he may be.

(v) These four great virtues of the Christian life--humility, gentleness, patience, love--issue in a fifth, peace. It is Paul's advice and urgent request that the people to whom he is writing should eagerly preserve "the sacred oneness" which should characterize the true Church.

Peace may be defined as right relationships between man and man. This oneness, this peace, these right relationships can be preserved only in one way. Every one of the four great Christian virtues depends on the obliteration of self. So long as self is at the centre of things, this oneness can never fully exist. In a society where self predominates, men cannot be other than a disintegrated collection of individualistic and warring units. But when self dies and Christ springs to life within our hearts. then comes the peace, the oneness, which is the great hall-mark of the true Church.

The Basis Of Unity ( Ephesians 4:4-6 )

4:4-6 There is one body and one Spirit, just as you have been called with one hope of your calling. There is one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is above all, and through all, and in all.

Paul goes on to set down the basis on which Christian unity is founded.

(i) There is one body. Christ is the head and the Church is the body. No brain can work through a body which is split into fragments. Unless there is a coordinated oneness in the body, the designs of the head are frustrated. The oneness of the Church is essential for the work of Christ. That does not need to be a mechanical oneness of administration and of human organization; but it does need to be a oneness founded on a common love of Christ and of every part for the other.

(ii) There is one Spirit. The word pneuma ( Greek #4151 ) in Greek means both spirit and breath; it is in fact the usual word for breath. Unless the breath be in the body, the body is dead; and the vitalizing breath of the body of the Church is the Spirit of Christ. There can be no Church without the Spirit; and there can be no receiving of the Spirit without prayerful waiting for him.

(iii) There is one hope in our calling. We are all proceeding towards the same goal. This is the great secret of the unity of Christians. Our methods, our organization, even some of our beliefs may be different; but we are all striving towards the one goal of a world redeemed in Christ.

(iv) There is one Lord. The nearest approach to a creed which the early Church possessed was the short sentence: "Jesus Christ is Lord" ( Philippians 2:11 ). As Paul saw it, it was God's dream that there should come a day when all men would make this confession. The word used for Lord is kurios ( Greek #2962 ). Its two usages in ordinary Greek show us something of what Paul meant. It was used for master in contra-distinction to servant or slave; and it was the regular designation of the Roman Emperor. Christians are joined together because they are all in the possession and in the service of the one Master and King.

(v) There is one faith. Paul did not mean that there is one creed. Very seldom indeed does the word faith mean a creed in the New Testament. By faith the New Testament nearly always means the complete commitment of the Christian to Jesus Christ. Paul means that all Christians are bound together because they have made a common act of complete surrender to the love of Jesus Christ. They may describe their act of surrender in different terms; but, however they describe it, that surrender is the one thing common to all of them.

(vi) There is one baptism. In the early Church baptism was usually adult baptism, because men and women were coming direct from heathenism into the Christian faith. Therefore, before anything else, baptism was a public confession of faith. There was only one way for a Roman soldier to join the army; he had to take the oath that he would be true for ever to his emperor. Similarly, there was only one way to enter the Christian Church--the way of public confession of Jesus Christ.

(vii) There is one God. See what Paul says about the God in whom we believe.

He is the Father of all; in that phrase is enshrined the love of God. The greatest thing about the Christian God, is not that he is king, not that he is judge, but that he is Father. The Christian idea of God begins in love.

He is above all; in that phrase is enshrined the control of God. No matter what things may look like God is in control. There may be floods; but "The Lord sits enthroned over the flood" ( Psalms 29:10 ).

He is through all; in that phrase is enshrined the providence of God. God did not create the world and set it going as a man might wind up a clockwork toy and leave it to run down. God is all through his world, guiding, sustaining, loving.

He is in all; in that phrase is enshrined the presence of God in all life. It may be that Paul took the germ of this idea from, the Stoics. The Stoics believed that God was a fire purer than any earthly fire; and they believed that what gave a man life was that a spark of that fire which was God came and dwelt in his body. It was Paul's belief that in everything there is God.

It is the Christian belief that we live in a God-created, God-controlled, God-sustained, God-filled world.

The Gifts Of Grace ( Ephesians 4:7-10 )

4:7-10 To each one of you grace has been given, as it has been measured out to you by the free gift of Christ. Therefore scripture says, "He ascended into the height and brought his captive band of prisoners, and gave gifts to men." (When it says that "he ascended," what else can it mean than that he also descended into the lower parts of the earth? He who descended is the same person as he who ascended above all the heavens, that he might fill all things with his presence.)

Paul turns to another aspect of his subject. He has been talking about the qualities of the members of Christ's Church; now he is going to talk of their functions in the Church. He begins by laying down what was for him an essential truth--that every good thing a man has is the gift of the grace of Christ.

"And every virtue we possess,

And every victory won,

And every thought of holiness,

Are His alone."

To make his point about Christ the giver of gifts, Paul quotes, with a very significant difference, from Psalms 68:18 . This Psalm describes a king's conquering return. He ascends on high; that is to say, he climbs the steep road of Mount Zion into the streets of the Holy City. He brings in his captive band of prisoners; that is to say, he marches through the streets with his prisoners in chains behind him to demonstrate his conquering power. Now comes the difference. The Psalm speaks next about the conqueror receiving gifts. Paul changes it to read, "gave gifts to men."

In the Old Testament the conquering king demanded and received gifts from men: in the New Testament the conqueror Christ offers and gives gifts to men. That is the essential difference between the two Testaments. In the Old Testament a jealous God insists on tribute from men; in the New Testament a loving God pours out his love to men. That indeed is the good news.

Then, as so often, Paul's mind goes off at a word. He has used the word ascended, and that makes him think of Jesus. And it makes him say a very wonderful thing. Jesus descended into this world when he entered it as a man; Jesus ascended from this world when he left it to return to his glory. Paul's great thought is that the Christ who ascended and the Christ who descended are one and the same person. What does that mean? It means that the Christ of glory is the same as the Jesus who trod this earth; still he loves all men; still he seeks the sinner; still he heals the sufferer; still he comforts the sorrowing; still he is the friend of outcast men and women. As the Scottish paraphrase has it:

"Though now ascended up on high,

He bends on earth a brother's eye;

Partaker of the human name,

He knows the frailty of our frame.

Our fellow suff'rer yet retains

A fellow-feeling of our pains;

And still remembers in the skies

His tears, His agonies and cries.

In every pang that rends the heart

The Man of sorrows has a part:

He sympathizes with our grief,

And to the suff'rer sends relief."

The ascended Christ is still the lover of the souls of men.

Still another thought strikes Paul. Jesus ascended up on high. But he did not ascend up on high to leave the world; he ascended up on high to fill the world with his presence. When Jesus was here in the flesh, he could only be in one place at one time; he was under all the limitations of the body; but when he laid this body aside and returned to glory, he was liberated from the limitations of the body and was able then to be everywhere in all the world through his Spirit. To Paul the ascension of Jesus meant not a Christ-deserted but a Christ-filled world.

- William Barclay's Daily Study Bible