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"Part of One Body in Christ"
Lesson Text: Ephesians 44:1-16
Background Scripture: Ephesians 4:1-16
Devotional Reading: Romans 12:3-8
Ephesians 4:1-16 (KJV)
1 I therefore, the prisoner of the Lord, beseech you that ye walk worthy of the vocation wherewith ye are called,
2 With all lowliness and meekness, with longsuffering, forbearing one another in love;
3 Endeavouring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.
4 There is one body, and one Spirit, even as ye are called in one hope of your calling;
5 One Lord, one faith, one baptism,
6 One God and Father of all, who is above all, and through all, and in you all.
7 But unto every one of us is given grace according to the measure of the gift of Christ.
8 Wherefore he saith, When he ascended up on high, he led captivity captive, and gave gifts unto men.
9 (Now that he ascended, what is it but that he also descended first into the lower parts of the earth?
10 He that descended is the same also that ascended up far above all heavens, that he might fill all things.)
11 And he gave some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers;
12 For the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ:
13 Till we all come in the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ:
14 That we henceforth be no more children, tossed to and fro, and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the sleight of men, and cunning craftiness, whereby they lie in wait to deceive;
15 But speaking the truth in love, may grow up into him in all things, which is the head, even Christ:
16 From whom the whole body fitly joined together and compacted by that which every joint supplieth, according to the effectual working in the measure of every part, maketh increase of the body unto the edifying of itself in love.
To understand that as believers our unique roles should be fully expressed in truth and love, which will in turn contribute positively to unify the body of Christ.
To help us examine our own unity in the body of Christ, and to make every effort to keep the unity.
Identify one's own spiritual gift(s) among the body of believers and make a commitment to unselfishly exercise your gift(s) to strengthen/unify the body of Christ.
Gift-giving is tricky because we have to watch our motives carefully as we give. Sometimes we give gifts because we gain satisfaction and pleasure from helping. Sometimes we give in order to fulfill a duty or responsibility we feel to support an organization or ministry. Sometimes we give in order to be acknowledged as a donor. While satisfaction, duty, and recognition may be effective motivations for giving, each is tinged to a degree with a “something in return” selfishness. Professional fund-raisers are aware of such motives and use them in fund appeals. Is it possible, though, to give without any hint of self-interest?
While it may be rare for us to give in a way that is completely selfless, selflessness describes the giving nature of God. He gives gifts to us without expectation of reward, for what sort of reward could we offer the king of the universe (Psalm 50:9, 10)? God does not give to coerce us into doing His will. He gives freely, for this is His nature. We are not God, but we can strive to be godly in the matter of giving. In today's lesson, we learn much about God as the perfect giver of gifts (see James 1:17).
Time: A.D. 60
Place: from Rome
As stated in our first lesson of this unit, Paul while under house arrest in Rome had the time to write numerous letters. He seems to have penned epistles to the churches in Ephesus and Colossae, as well as to Philemon of Colossae, at about the same time. Paul’s colleagues, Tychicus and Onesimus, could have dropped off one letter at Ephesus on their way to delivering the other two in Colossae (see Ephesians 6:21·22; Colossians 4:7-9; Philemon 1:1-12).
Ephesians has been called “The Heavenly Epistle” and “The Alps of the New Testament.” In it the apostle takes the reader from the depths of ruin to the heights of redemption. The letter contains two distinct, though related, parts. Chapters 1-3 remind the readers of their privileged status as members of Christ’s body, the church, which occupies an important place in God’s plan for the universe. Chapters 4-6 appeal to the readers to live in a way consistent with their godly calling rather than to conform to the ungodly society in which they lived. (Cook)
In our lesson for today, Paul chose to address the topic of “unity” by using a word he uses nowhere else. (He uses different Greek words to discuss unity in Romans 15:5, 6; 1 Corinthians 1:10; Philippians 4:2; and Colossians 3:14.) On the one hand, we acknowledge that the difference may be no more than stylistic. On the other hand, perhaps Paul uses a relatively rare word to stress to the Ephesian readers their need to pay close attention to the concept of unity.
Called to Unity (Ephesians 4:1-3)
1. Why does Paul appeal to the Ephesians to “walk worthy” by drawing their attention to his imprisonment (Ephesians 4:1)?
The apostle’s status as an evangelist imprisoned for the cause of Christ lent weight to his appeal to the Ephesians. Since Paul had been faithful to the point of being imprisoned, they (who were under less pressure) could be faithful too. Specifically, the apostle urged his readers to live a life worthy of the calling they had received (4:1). Having been given saving grace, they should do no less than respond to the Lord by living faithfully. This does not mean that believers were to earn their salvation by leading a worthy life. Rather, they conducted themselves uprightly as a result of their spiritual rebirth. Paul is urging the reader to check his or her lifestyle to see if it is worthy of the high calling of being a follower of Christ (Philippians 3:14). It is to be a life of holiness (1 Peter 1:15, 16).
2. What four virtues did Paul mention? How do they establish "unity of the Spirit" (vs. 2-3)?
So that the Ephesians would know what he meant by a life worthy of their calling, Paul mentioned four virtues that ought to be theirs (and ours as Christians): lowliness, meekness, longsuffering, and forebreaing (v. 2). Each of these terms is worth considering further. The Greek noun lowliness translated “humble” was adapted by Christians to describe all attitude of lowliness. The noun meekness rendered “gentle” refers not to weakness but to submission to others for the sake of Christ. The noun longsuffering translated “patient” indicates the refusal to avenge wrongs committed against oneself. Finally, the phrase “forebearing one another” refers to putting up with others’ faults and peculiarities.
The four virtues Paul cited can all contribute to the church’s harmony. This goal was uppermost in the apostle’s mind. In his day, Jewish and Gentile believers sometimes did not understand one another. Also, Gentile Christians from different backgrounds or with different temperaments sometimes did not get along. “Paul wanted to see all believers united and harmonious. Nonetheless, unity is something we must work at. As the apostle noted in verse 3, we are to “make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace,” Here we see that Christians are united through the Spirit, but our unity can be damaged if we allow our relations to become hostile rather than peaceful. That is why it is sensible to add peacemaking to the list of virtues believers ought to possess.
Common Aspects of the Believer’s Faith (Ephesians 4:4-6)
3. How does Paul describe the unity of believers based on biblical truth (vs. 4-6)?
Unity built on anything other than Bible truth is standing on a very shaky foundation. Paul names here the seven basic spiritual realities (“the seven great ones”) that unite all true Christians.
One body. This is, of course, the body of Christ in which each believer is a member, placed there at conversion by the Spirit of God (1 Cor. 12:12-31). The one body is the model for the many local bodies that God has established across the world. The fact that a person is a member of the one body does not excuse him from belonging to a local body, for it is there that he exercises his spiritual gifts and helps others to grow.
One Spirit. The same Holy Spirit indwells each believer, so that we belong to each other in the Lord. There are perhaps a dozen references to the Holy Spirit in Ephesians, because He is important to us in the living of the Christian life.
One hope of your calling. This refers to the return of the Lord to take His church to heaven. The Holy Spirit within is the assurance of this great promise (Eph. 1:13-14). Paul is suggesting here that the believer who realizes the existence of the one body, who walks in the Spirit, and who looks for the Lord's return, is going to be a peacemaker and not a troublemaker.
One Lord. This is our Lord Jesus Christ who died for us, lives for us, and one day will come for us. It is difficult to believe that two believers can claim to obey the same Lord, and yet not be able to walk together in unity. Someone asked Ghandi, the spiritual leader of India, "What is the greatest hindrance to Christianity in India?" He replied, "Christians." Acknowledging the lordship of Christ is a giant step toward spiritual unity among His people.
One faith. There is one settled body of truth deposited by Christ in His church, and this is "the faith." Jude calls it "the faith which was once delivered unto the saints " (Jude 3). Jesus is the source of the church's hope and the focus of the church's one faith. Paul's call for unity draws the readers back to this simple fact. We have one faith because we have one Lord. As Christians this truth should supersede our denominational distinctives and our historic church traditions (distinguished though they might be). While we are free to choose the local church that we want to join, we are not supposed to emphasize its distinctives over what God has revealed in His Word. When we do otherwise, we end up fracturing the spiritual body of Christ.
One baptism. Since Paul is here discussing the one body, this "one baptism" is probably the baptism of the Spirit, that act of the Spirit when He places the believing sinner into the body of Christ at conversion (1 Cor. 12:13). But as far as local bodies of believers are concerned, there are two baptisms: the baptism of the Spirit, and water baptism (Matt. 28:19).
One God and Father. Paul likes to emphasize God as Father (Eph. 1:3, 17; 2:18; 3:14; 5:20). The marvelous oneness of believers in the family of God is evident here, for God is over all, and working through all, and in all. We are children in the same family, loving and serving the same Father, so we ought to be able to walk together in unity. Just as in an earthly family, the various members have to give and take in order to keep a loving unity in the home, so God's heavenly family must do the same. The "Lord's Prayer" opens with "Our Father"—not "My Father."
Giving to Equip the Church (Ephesians 4:7-13)
4. Describe the term "given" grace in relation to equipping the church (v. 7).
Having laid out the grand vision of the basis for the unity of the church, Paul now moves to practical ways by which this may be achieved. The apostle noted that Jesus supplies His followers with grace. Grace, at its heart, is the expression of a free gift. God's gifts to the church are universal in scope (unto every one of us), but the gifts are not identical. They are given according to the judgment of Christ, the Lord of the church. He knows both what we should be given and what the church needs (see 1Corinthians 12:4-6).
God has given each believer at least one spiritual gift (1 Cor. 12:1-12), and this gift is to be used for the unifying and edifying (building up) of the body of Christ. Paul draws on Psalm 68:18 written by David, to show that God's giving nature is not a new thing for Him. Paul grabs the attention of any Jewish reader familiar with psalm 68. In so doing, Paul turns the attention to his point that God is a giving God.
5. Who does Paul describe as ascending and descending? What scene does this depict (vs. 8-10)?
To support what he had said about Jesus giving grace, Paul’s picture here is of a military conqueror leading his captives and sharing the spoil with his followers. Only in this case, the "captives" are not His enemies, but His own. Sinners who once were held captives by sin and Satan have now been taken captive by Christ. Lest anyone doubt that the one who “ascended up on high” was the Lord Jesus, Paul added a parenthetical explanation in verses 9 and 10. Here the apostle noted that the person who ascended had previously descended “to the lower parts of the earth." The main emphasis is that Jesus completely conquered sin, death, and Satan through His resurrection and ascension. The purpose and plan of Christ is to fill all with His presence and His Spirit (John 3:16).
6. How did Paul describe the roles of leaders in our churches (vs. 11-13)?
Some students think that Paul's focus here is on individual spiritual gifts. A better idea is that Paul is teaching that Christ gives apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers to the church. To be sure, these specialized servants are first given the capacity (spiritual gifts) to minister in extraordinary ways. But Paul's emphasis throughout this section is on the God-given and God-protected unity of the church, not the spiritual fulfillment of individual believers.
Apostles are those commissioned by Jesus himself and given unique authority in matters of teaching. Prophets are those in the first-century church who speak the powerful Word of God as given to them by the Lord and as needed by the church. Both are necessary functions to guide the church in faith and practice before the New Testament is finished. While some churches still recognize one or both of these roles today, no one should be seen to have authority to supersede or add to the Bible (Revelation 22:18, 19).
Evangelists preach the gospel. They are considered to be close associates of the apostles as they preach in coordination with the apostolic ministry (see Acts 21:8; 2 Timothy 4:5). Today, evangelists are those who share the gospel with the unsaved.
Focused on a local congregation, pastors are the shepherds of the church, those who look after the spiritual needs of the flock. This is equated with the office of elder in 1 Peter 5:1, 2. An overlapping office is that of teacher (see 1Timothy 3:2), one who explains the facts and implications of the gospel. Some students think that the overlap should cause us to think of a singular pastor-teacher.
The categories of church leaders named in Ephesians 4:11 have a single, unified purpose: preparing the members of the church (the saints) with the necessary education, competencies, and attitudes to be confident in their own ministries. All Christians are called to be ministers. Each is to contribute to the work of the church. The result should be the edifying of the body of Christ, meaning that believers are to serve in ways that make the church stronger and more effective. This equipping ministry should produce new generations of church leaders who will equip others in turn (2 Timothy. 3:17). The entire body benefits when each of its members is mature, fully grown in the Lord, and measuring up to the full stature of Christ.
What Do You Think?
Who has been most responsible for helping equip you to serve Christ? How will you help equip others to serve?
Talking Points for Your Discussion
Through teaching |Through encouraging | Through example | Through invitations to use talents and spiritual gifts
Growing in Unity (Ephesians 4:14-16)
7. What contrast did Paul use in describing spiritual maturation (v. 14)?
Paul now contrasts the maturity of believers with the immaturity of a child. Children tend to be gullible, vulnerable, and easily victimized. This is true both in the physical and spiritual realms (see Acts 20:29-30; Col. 2:8). As long as believers remain immature, they will be like a ship tossed on a stormy sea. As the winds of opinion blow in one direction, some Christians are easily swayed by it. Then as another gust of ideas blasts across their bow, they change their mind about what they believe. Christians should not be whirled around in circles by every shifting wind of false doctrine. If not anchored in Christ, Christians are at the mercy of these ever-changing winds which blow unstable souls in every direction. According to Ephesians 4:14, Jesus’ followers are not to be characterized by spiritual immaturity and ignorance. Paul’s frequent sea voyages, including his harrowing trip to Rome (see Acts 27:1-28:14), may have prompted the seafaring metaphor he used in Ephesians 4:14.
8. What are some positive evidences of spiritual unity and maturity (vs. 15-16)?
Paul did not want God’s people to be fooled by the cleverly worded lies of religious imposters. Instead, the apostle urged believers to hold to the truth in love (Eph. 4:15). Expressed differently, honesty, veracity, and compassion should characterize all that believers say and do. Evidence of maturity is truth joined with love: "Speaking the truth in love" (v. 15). It has well been said that truth without love is brutality, but love without truth is hypocrisy. Little children do not know how to blend truth and love. They think that if you love someone, you must shield him from the truth if knowing the truth will hurt him. It is a mark of maturity when we are able to share the truth with our fellow Christians, and do it in love. "Faithful are the wounds of a friend, but the kisses of an enemy are deceitful" (Prov. 27:6).
One more evidence of maturity is cooperation (Eph. 4:16). We realize that, as members of the one body and a local body, we belong to each other, we affect each other, and we need each other. Each believer, no matter how insignificant he may appear, has a ministry to other believers. The body grows as the individual members grow, and they grow as they feed on the Word and minister to each other. Note once again the emphasis on love: "forbearing one another in love" (Eph. 4:2); "speaking the truth in love" (Eph. 4:15); "the edifying of itself in love" (4:16). Love is the circulatory system of the body. It has been discovered that isolated, unloved babies do not grow properly and are especially susceptible to disease, while babies who are loved and handled grow normally and are stronger. So it is with the children of God. An isolated Christian cannot minister to others, nor can others minister to him, and it is impossible for the gifts to be ministered either way.
So, then, spiritual unity is not something we manufacture. It is something we already have in Christ, and we must protect and maintain it. Truth unites, but lies divide. Love unites, but selfishness divides. Therefore, "speaking the truth in love," let us equip one another and edify one another, that all of us may grow up to be more like Christ.
A buzzword of our overcommitted society is multitasking, which refers to trying to do more than one thing at a time. There are plenty of funny YouTube® videos of people getting into difficulty as they multitask. The serious side of this problem presents itself when drivers crash their cars because they're distracted by cell phone usage, etc.
Multitasking presents dangers, even in the Christian arena (see Luke 10:38-42). Yet there is one area where Paul says we must multitask: speaking the truth in love. Plenty of people are more than willing to tell us the truth, no matter how hurtful or unwelcome. Others express what they intend as unconditional love no matter what sin the other person commits. Rare may be the friend who speaks truth from loving motives and in loving ways.
On two occasions I have been on the receiving end of loving correction from a minister at our church because of misunderstandings with others. Both times he spoke with me privately, allowed me to tell my side of the story, affirmed my worth and his friendship, then suggested a different way to look at these situations and a better way to handle them. While no one likes to be corrected, his gentle but forthright manner not only helped me restore relationships, but also gave me a model for confronting others lovingly when they need to hear uncomfortable truth. —A. W.
POINTS TO PONDER
1. Let us examine whether or not we are displaying the characteristics of a Christlike life (Ephesians 4:1-3).
2. If you’re missing one of “the seven great ones” you could end up with zero (Ephesians 4:4-6).
3. Christ gave a lot, and expects us to work together by sharing our spiritual gifts (Ephesians 4:7-13).
4. The maturing Christian is not tossed about by every religious novelty, or distracted by the enemy by wasting energy on fighting—but rather works harmoniously with other believers in love, while keeping their eyes on Jesus! (Ephesians 4:14-16.)
CONCLUSION (Giving Ourselves)
Christina Rossetti was a Christian poet of the nineteenth century. Life experiences of loneliness and disappointment often gave a melancholy (sad and gloomy) aspect to her poetry. We see this in her poem “In the Bleak Midwinter,” which has become a Christmas song. Here Rossetti sees life as hard and cold. We too may experience life this way. Even so, Rossetti shows us the hope that was the saving grace of her life: God's gift of a Savior. At the end of the poem, she speaks to the deep needs of our lives:
What can I give Him, poor as I am?
If I were a shepherd, I would bring a lamb;
If I were a wise man, I would do my part;
Yet what I can I give Him—Give my heart.
God has given us His Son so that we might be saved. God has given the church the necessary gifts to bring it unity and peace. God has blessed us with His precious Holy Spirit. Even in—or especially in—the winters of life, may we submit to Him in humility and gentleness, giving Him our hearts in the unity of the Spirit.
Father God, may You work through us to make Your church one so that the world may see this unity and be drawn to Your Son Jesus. In His name, amen.
THOUGHT TO REMEMBER
Serve Christ by serving others in ministry.