4:1-6 Oneness of the church as a body
In Romans the "therefore" (Romans 12:1) marks the transition from eleven chapters explaining how God works (Romans 1:1-11:32, ending with the doxology of Romans 11:33-36). Paul then goes on to set out the practical implications of believing this (see Romans 12:1-15:12). Similarly in this Epistle the "therefore"(Ephesians 4:1) marks the end of three chapters describing the mystery of what God has done (also ending with the doxology of 3:20-21). And Paul then proceeds to set out how this is to be worked out in practice.
The first requirement is that the internal unity of a church be maintained. We have seen that Paul thinks of one church in each city and its surrounding countryside. And this church which is scattered in many locations (house groups as in Romans 16:3-15) is to function as one body (4:4) which is given life by the Holy Spirit. In the previous chapter we noted the huge problem of uniting fun-loving Greeks with serious-minded Jews (2:14-16). Later Paul will outline the social differences that also need to be kept in mutual submission (5:21-6:9). Humility, gentleness, patience, putting up with the faults and frailties of others (4:2) are essential for this. He then describes a sevenfold oneness of the body, the Spirit, hope, the Lord, faith, baptism, and the Father.
4:1 Having realized the wonder of what God has done for them, there is a way of life that is "therefore" appropriate to their calling to be members of the church as the Lord's body in their own city.
4:2-3 Humility, gentleness, patience, coping with the faults of others, are not to be viewed as legalistic duties that are required of us, and make us guilty if we fail.. They are the essential means for maintaining the oneness of the body. Similarly the qualities required of high wire trapeze artists, special service units behind enemy lines, or symphony players, are not rules made for everyone, but specific to that particular kind of activity.
4:4 In each city Paul has planted a church of the Spirit which consists of many members each with their own function (as in 1 Corinthians 12:12-13). First they need to recognize that in spite of social differences and problems of distance, they are members of one body, which is animated by the Holy Spirit, and they all have the same hope in what the Messiah is doing. Without this commitment to oneness, the body would disintegrate.
4:5-6 They soon discover that the Messiah Son of God is the head of this body (as in Colossians 1:18). As opposed to the many gods of Greece and Rome, all churches of the Spirit have the same good news of forgiveness and empowering by the Spirit. And instead of the repeated lustrations (ceremonial washings of Greek, Pharisee, Manichee, and Hindu religion), all Christian churches in every place accept the one baptism that enrols them as disciples to begin learning from the Messiah (Matthew 28:19, John 4:1). Baptism gives them the right to acceptance and communion in churches wherever they go - there are no further enrolment requirements or fees to pay. They also discover that God is a family unit of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, eternally held together by love, and they are adopted as children into this family (see 1:3, John 1:12, Romans 8:15-17). It is the Father's love that is "above all and through all and in all."
4:7-16 Diversity in the church as a body
A hundred years ago Christians in most denominations assumed that a local congregation was to be run by a one man (male) minister who taught the assembled flock, and led them out in service under his direction. The first signs of change occured among the Plymouth Brethren (founded in 1830 by J.N.Darby, 1800-82). They recognized the different functions of evangelists, Bible teachers, elders, and those engaged in works of mercy. Further distinctions appeared in the Pentecostal Movement from about 1906. But the idea of a local congregation with a rich variety of gifts flowered in the mainline denominations through the Charismatic movement (see The Church: An Organic Picture, Eerdmans, 1968, web edition, 1996).
The idea that every Christian is to exercise one or more charismata (gifts of the Spirit) in the church as an organic body is now generally accepted in theory. But most parish ministers are by no means clear as to how this could be permitted without losing control.
4:7 We noted some definitions of grace in the first chapter (see under 1:2). Here in God's astonishing plan for the church Paul says every Christian is given a function in the body of the Messiah (1 Peter 4:10). As he explained to the Corinthians, "To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good" (1 Corinthians 12:7). In our human body the liver must find the backbone, or heart, or eye, hard to understand, but it serves them. So in a church community we find other members of the body difficult to understand, but we can listen to them and work with them.
4:8-10 Paul is reminded of Psalm 68:18, which originally referred to the Old Testament Lord King Messiah returning from an intervention against enemies. Paul connects this with Jesus, the Messiah's descent into sheol (the abode of the dead). As Jesus had predicted : "The hour is coming when all who in their graves will hear his voice and will come out" (John 5:28-29, see 1 Peter 3:19, which occured when Jesus'corpse was still hanging on the cross, Matthew 27:50-53). The ascension was forty days later, and then on the Day of Pentecost the Messiah sent the Holy Spirit to found and animate his church in each place as a body with many different gifts. Paul notes an important difference, a victorious king was given gifts by his subjects, but when the Messiah triumphed over sin and death he gave us gifts of the Spirit.
4:11 Paul was himself an apostle (see the definition in 1:1). As the leader of a mission team, he had already planted churches in half a dozen major cities (see Roman 15:19). On occasion prophets would speak to warn about the future (Acts 21:9-11), but they had a much wider function to "speak to other people for their upbuilding and encouragement and consolation" (1 Corinthians 14:3). There were also false apostles and prophets (2 Corinthians 11:13, Mark 13:22, 1 John 4:1), which is why people who claim to have gifts of the Spirit must be checked and evaluated by the congregation (1 Corinthians 14:29).
Evangelists were those who went out from a city church to announce the good news of the Messiah. Those who wanted to learn more were enrolled by baptism, and a church was then formed for the disciples to be taught by the Holy Spirit (as in Acts 8:5, 12, 11:26 - here the definition of a Christian is a disciple or learner). The word pastor means a shepherd caring for a flock, and he or she knows them each by name (John 10:3). Teachers are those who can explain the Bible in a way that people can understand (Acts 11:26, 18:27-28). In some cases a minister may be both a teacher and a shepherd. But an apostle engaged in church planting would need several charismata (gifts of the Spirit, a five talent person as in Matthew 25:15). There is a clear distinction between those who have a local church ministry and those who move around, as Paul and his team did, in the bloodstream of the world-wide church.
4:12 These are gifts imparted by the Spirit to "equip the saints for ministry" and build up the local church. Others gifts in the body of the Messiah are listed in Romans 12:4-8, 1 Corinthians 12:4-11. Most of us have one or two gifts to contribute, but what we must not do is to hide our talent in the ground due to fear or false humility (Matthew 25:25-27).
4:13 The gift or gifts of the Spirit that we receive are not just for our own edification, but for all of us to grow into maturity (a bud growing into a flower) and the "full stature of the Messiah" (see 4:15, Philippians 3:10). In each place he needs hands to do his work, feet to go for him, mouths to speak, eyes to see, ears to listen to people's heart concerns.
4:14 As individuals we begin as little children in the family of God, but as Paul explains, "When I was a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child; but when I became an adult, I put an end to childish ways" (1 Corinthians 13:11). But here Paul is thinking of a whole community growing in maturity (4:13). And that means being aware of people who try to turn a church aside by every kind of new doctrine, trickery, and clever schemes. Peter gives a similar warning (1 Peter 2:1-2).
4:15-16 These temptations to turn aside are exposed by focusing on the Messiah who is the head of the body (as in Colossians 1:18) and the contribution of every member of that body in the church in our city (for the vital importance of the less noticeable members, see 1 Corinthians 12:22-25). That requires respecting the difference of every other member, and accepting one's own special contribution. When "each part is working properly" the body is healthy. And what makes the body grow is the love that unites every part and derives from the boundless love of God.
4:17-24 Renewal in the church as a body
Paul has no doubt that Greeks and people of other nations are to be full members of the body of the Messiah in each city (2:11-21). But the church is not to be influenced by the previous futility, darkness, ignorance, hardness of heart, licentiousness, and immorality of the society from which they came.
4:17 The word futility includes the ideas of emptiness, transitoriness, and purposelessness. In our day there is a similar claim that life is pointless. "Nobody understands me. I might as well be dead." Existentialists say we must begin with the assumption that life is absurd and death is the end, so there is no meaning to anything.
4:18-19 Many people around us are groping around in the darkness rather looking to the light of God (see Acts 17:27). The word agnosticism comes from agnoia (not knowing, being ignorant). And being ignorant of God's love, people are alienated from the very purpose of life. Which often results in an insensitive manipulative pursuit of sex, rather than love and tenderness.
4:20-21 But Paul's hearers (letters were read aloud) were disciples of Jesus and what they were learning by the Spirit was a quite different lifestyle.
4:22-24 Paul uses the imagery of someone who has lived for years underground in a sewer, and decides to come out into the light. The old clothes need to be discarded, and the mind renewed to wear the new clothes suited to the image of God (Genesis 1:26-27, Colossians 3:10). If a girl has always worn dirty old jeans and scruffy sweaters, but then is given a gown to go to a ball, there has to be a huge change of mind. The Greek word dikaiosune (righteousness, uprightness) corresponds to the Old Testament picture of a tzaddiq (righteous person as in Psalm 1:6, 11:2-7, etc.) which does not mean sinless perfection, but a heart direction. The other word osiotys (devoutness, piety, holiness) refers to a heart attitude.
4:25-32 Relationships in the church as body
The moral reaching of the New Testament is not meant to give legalistic rules for people of the world. to obey. What Paul gives us here is what is involved in functioning as a member of the body of the Messiah (see 4:15-16). Notice "members of one another" (4:25), "building up" (4:29), "be kind to one another" (4:32).
4:25 The moral absolute (found among all nations) is "You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor" (Exodus 20:16). But that does not prohibit what we call white lies, lies for self-protection (camouflage) and surprise in war. But a family is soon destroyed by deceitfulness among its members. Soldiers in battle need true communications. A human body needs truthful information passing between its different organs. That is why the church as a body needs honesty (as opposed to wearing a mask), and transparent openness among its members (as in Colossians 3:9). "Confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another" (James 5:16).
4:26-27 When things go wrong it is natural to be angry with other members of the body. But before going to sleep, the Holy Spirit will help us forgive and turn the anger into compassion and love. If we hold on to the sin or failure of a brother or sister in the church, it gives an open door for Satan to tear apart the oneness of the body. That does not deny the need for consequences to be assigned in cases of criminal activity such as child abuse. Paul for example recommended the handing over of a brother to the civil magistrates for the crime of incest (1 Corinthians 5:1-5). But even when we hand over someone to the police for consequences to be assigned, we still love and forgive the person.
4:28 We can picture a pickpocket who has lived by robbing travelers landing at the docks in Ephesus. Having become a member of the body of the Messiah in the city, he changes from a thieving to a giving lifestyle. He will begin to earn his own living and even be willing to help out the needy.
4:29 The word sapros means decayed, rotten (as with fish and fruit), unwholesome. Our words should encourage, build up, be gracious, giving joy in the community.
4:30-31 Evidently the Holy Spirit is a Person who can be grieved when we break up the oneness and love that he delights in (4:2-4, 1 Corinthians 12:13). He can also be lied to (Acts 5:3), and his wisdom and power rejected. The Spirit is certainly grieved by bitter, vengeful, angry, quarrelsome, gossipy, slanderous and unkind words in our church. The day of our redemption (freeing) is the day we die, and enjoy the heaven for which we have been prepared. Meanwhile we were "marked with the seal" (1:13) when we first experienced the Holy Spirit, and this is "the pledge of our inheritance" (1:14).
4:32 But the Spirit delights in those who care about the feelings of others. And we are to forgive in the same way God forgives. Jesus told a parable about the man who was forgiven a huge sum of money, and then refused to forgive a trifling amount (Matthew 18:23-35). He was handed over to be tortured, which does not mean that the refusal to forgive results in being tortured in hell for ever. But it does mean that the inability to forgive has serious consequences for us in this life. It eats into us, and destroys our joy and peace. Here Jesus is clearly referring to a church situation : "if you do not forgive your brother or sister from your heart" (Matthew 18:35).