Today we begin a short two week series covering what I think is one of the most relevant sections of the New Testament for us today. It gives a very concise, clear picture of how the church and the family are to operate according to God’s design. So please join me as we read Ephesians chapter 4 and chapter 5 to verse 21.
What is the “therefore” at the beginning of Eph chapter 4? Paul is suffering in prison primarily for preaching the manifold wisdom of God, he says in chapter 3 (apparently not a very popular wisdom not unlike today). He opens both chapters 3 and 4 saying he is a prisoner for God.
So because of this (therefore), he urges us to the point of begging that we will walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which we have been called. In Colossians 1 he expands on this saying that he hopes we would “be filled with the knowledge of God’s will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, so as to walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to Him, bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God. May you be strengthened with all power, according to his glorious might, for all endurance and patience with joy, giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of the saints in light”.
There are a couple things we have to get straight right off the bat. Paul equates this ability to walk according to our call, with knowledge of God and his will as laid out in the Scriptures. And as we see in Colossians and here in Ephesians, that it is under the power and grace of God. He gives us the gifts and abilities to do this.
Why is that important? Well he tells us that we must walk this walk with all humility, gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. It’s easy to just skip through that verse, but it’s so important. If we are going about this under our own power, by our own desires alone, it is so easy for the ego to get involved and we can become critical, divisive, and act as if we are more knowledgeable and spiritually mature than others.
And why does he go into this thing about there being one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father and so on? The most important there is that there is one body and one Spirit. Do you understand that most of the disunity in the body of Christ comes from people living their Christianity under their own power with their own thoughts and desires about how church should be done and how they should live? Paul is emphasizing that this should not be so. We are to maintain the unity of the one Spirit. The Holy Spirit is God and he is to lead us in all truth.
If all Christians were in the Spirit and following the one Spirit, we would all know what Scripture is saying, and we would easily submit to it. All agreeing that this is how we do things because God says so and the church belongs to Jesus of whom we said we would be willing prisoners or slaves because of his gracious act of redemption.
But instead, even back in Paul’s day we get people who don’t even really know what the Bible says trying to do church and their spiritual lives according to unbiblical traditions, personal agendas and desires, and cultural influences. That’s all sin.
Now starting in verse 8 he begins to talk about gifts and how they are given in the church. First of all they are given according to the measure Christ doles them out. We can’t claim our own gifts. They are to be discerned by us and the body of Christ as they have been given. And they will be given according to His will and the degree that we are submitting to our call.
“When he ascended he led a host of captives”. Do you know who those captives are? You and I. We are prisoners and captives who will follow Jesus in his ascension, which is just another way of saying we are children of God and have an inheritance with Jesus. But we are also willing captives because as his inheritance He wants us to be pure and holy people so that we can be with Him for eternity. His love for us makes us want to be His, and our love for him makes us want to obey, John chapter 14 tells us.
So Paul goes on in verse 9 to make sure we understand who Christ is as the ultimate authority in the universe. And then he says, OK here’s what he has given you to make the church perfect. Please listen carefully to this part.
Nobody chooses to be an Apostle, prophet, evangelist, or shepherd/teacher. Too many people leading in the church have chosen to be there for the wrong reasons, and we for the most part have accepted this practice. These are given, these people are called, and they are in this order for a reason. The apostles and prophets earlier in Ephesians are called the foundation of the church with Christ as the cornerstone. So these are extinct offices in the church that were already filled at the beginning of the church with apostles building on the prophets teaching, all leading to the cornerstone Christ. That is not to say that the gifts of the apostle and prophet are extinct necessarily, but the office is, and that’s what this passage refers to.
Then comes evangelist, because without the evangelist no churches are started, they are the carriers of the good news that saves people. And then comes the pastor or shepherd teacher, the more permanent fixtures in the local church. Most believe this is the same role, and these are the people who protect and maintain the church once started. God says in Jeremiah 3:15 that He will give you shepherds after his own heart, who will feed you with knowledge and understanding.
Now because we read in 1 Peter 5 that the elders are to shepherd the flock of God, I believe that this passage we are in today refers not just to pastors but to elders in general who are gifted to teach, which if we read in 1 Timothy 3 is a qualification for all elders.
So it would seem from this passage that the active offices in the church today are evangelists and shepherd/teachers, or what 1 Timothy refers to as overseers, elders or even bishops, all seemingly meaning the same office. The rest of the people in the church are to be equipped by all these offices, especially by the teachings of the apostles and prophets (the Bible) for the work of ministry. Literally the work of the diakonia or the deacon, which means to serve.
And what is the purpose of all this? To build up the body of Christ (the church) until we all attain to the unity of the faith, and the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature personhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ. That we may 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 (a little reference to the devil there I think).
Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into Him who is the head, into Christ, from whom 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.” No person other than Christ is the head of the church, but there are leaders who have been gifted and given to the church to equip others.
So you see what we have here in Ephesians 4 is the biblical model for church leadership, and the purpose of the church as it lives by the model that its head Christ has laid out. You really should read Ephesians with the letters to Timothy who is apparently the pastor or lead teaching elder at the church of Ephesus. In those letters he goes into much greater detail about church leadership, but we don’t have time to go there today.
Two questions to ask ourselves though. Is this the model we are using in this church, and is this the purpose that we are striving toward. And if so, are we walking in the way that is prescribed here to accomplish that purpose?
Now many in the church would say, well that was for the early church. We have a couple thousand years of experience and innovation. And the culture is so different now. Actually it’s not, Ephesus would have been very much like our society today without the technology. Very affluent, very diverse and extremely idolatrous, worshipping everything but the one true God.
And as far as experience and innovation? Well you can be the judge of how God has blessed all our man made traditions and innovations in the church. Do we see a growing mature unified church of Christ in our culture and in the world?
Others won’t really care. They’ll say I like church the way it is, why get so caught up in how we do things. Well, you can let Jesus know your thoughts and see if he shares that attitude about the church he suffered and died for, and left instructions for.
The key thing in all of this is the true and full teaching of Scripture and our submission to that teaching. Not necessarily submission to the pastor and elders as people per se, we are also called to mutual submission, but to the teaching of Scripture that they are hopefully completely committed to and submitted to themselves, and teaching you accurately. So they must be very biblically qualified to lead. And they must be called. I fear the church in general has not understood two things or adhered to this very well.
Now in case we don’t get it yet, in verse 17 Paul changes the tone and gives us the alternative to what he has just said. Now when you see the word Gentiles, it doesn’t really just mean non-Jewish people, but rather those who are not yet belonging to God. So he says don’t walk like them in the church of all places especially.
He rattles off all sorts of characteristics of this walk to contrast it. Futility of their minds (because they haven’t been renewed by the Spirit), their hearts are hardened against the truth of God, they are callous or don’t care, giving themselves over to sensuality, greatly desiring to practice every kind of impurity. But that is not how you learned Christ.
Now here is a very telling statement in verse 21. He is talking to church people here and he says: “Assuming that you have heard about him and were taught in him as the truth is in Jesus”. Even for Paul in his day, this was a huge assumption. Not all people in the church have been taught properly and truthfully. We must not assume that. And many in the church do not take the responsibility to check what they are being taught with Scripture.
So again he needs to clarify what that means so he goes on to say that this true teaching should have taught you: to put off your old self which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires (in other words, you have repented and been born again in the Spirit). Your mind is no longer futile because it is renewed in the Spirit and has the truth firmly planted in it. And this new self is recreated after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness.
Therefore a born again Christian puts away falsehood, and speaks the truth to their neighbor. They still get angry but they don’t sin or let that anger fester. They give no opportunity to the devil and his deceit. They don’t steal but are hard working, sharing with those in need especially in the church. They have control over their tongue and only speak things that build up rather than tear down or corrupt, as it fits the occasion. They don’t grieve the Holy Spirit by ignoring Him remembering that they were sealed by Him for the day of redemption. And they let all bitterness and wrath, and anger, and whining, and slander and malice be put away. And they are kind, tenderhearted, forgiving one another even when they disagree, as Christ forgave them.
Now we just saw all of chapter 4 with its models for the church, and chapter 5 begins again with “therefore”. Therefore all the things I just mentioned in the previous chapter, because of all that, be imitators of God as beloved children. See the motivation for being an imitator of God. Because we are his beloved children. And there’s also an assumption there that if we are walking according to the instructions, that it’s possible to be imitators of God. He wouldn’t command it if it was not possible. All of our behaviours and thoughts are a choice.
Verse two, very important. And walk in love, what kind of love? Not the fickle human kind, but the kind with which God loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God. That’s our worship folks, that’s how we imitate God, according to Paul in Romans 12, that we be a living sacrifice to God.
Then he has to slam home the point even stronger as if we haven’t got it yet. And he goes on to list a bunch more qualities and commands for God’s people. He talks about avoiding sexual immorality and idolatry, that those things should never even be mentioned in connection with us, and don’t talk crudely or tell bad jokes even if we are trying to impress the unchurched.
Thanksgiving should be at our core. And just in case you want to sluff this off and say it’s not that important how we live our Christian lives, let me (Paul) just say that no one, will have an inheritance in the kingdom if you are immoral, impure or a an idolater (which means continually putting something else above God in your life).
Don’t let anyone inside or outside the church deceive you into thinking this is not important. The wrath of God comes upon the sons of disobedience. All right you got that?
Therefore, do not become partners with the worldly for you were once one of them, but walk as children of the light (for the fruit of light is all that is good and right and true). And try to discern what is pleasing to God not man, not your culture. In fact not only do I want you to not participate in these acts of darkness, I want you to expose them. Make the truth visible in a loving way.
Finally in verse 15 of chapter 5, “look carefully then at how you walk, not as unwise but wise, making the best use of the time because the days are evil (they were then, they are now). Let me just throw in a bonus from Proverbs. What is wisdom, Paul says be wise here. Well the wisest man ever said right at the beginning of his writings that the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom. In other words the reverent desire to obey Him. The very next verse he says to heed your father’s instruction.
Remember that obeying and honoring your parents is the one commandment that has a promise. And that promise is that you will live a long time. So fear of God and obeying parents is the core of wisdom. So live as wise not unwise, and again he says understand what the will of the Lord is.
And finally don’t get your buzz from too much wine, get it from being filled with the Holy Spirit. Addressing each other with songs and hymns singing and making melody to the Lord from the heart (well that would make us look like we were all drunk wouldn’t it?).
And always give thanks to God our Father in the name or character, of our Lord Jesus Christ, submitting to one another or putting yourself under others, not out of fear or hierarchy, but out of reverence for Christ.
We’ll stop there and save more hard teaching about our home life for next time.
I don’t know how you feel after hearing this teaching from Ephesians. But I can tell you that I have wrestled with these passages for a number of weeks now. I have gone through the gamut of emotions from feeling inadequate, guilty, angry, awestruck, afraid of what this means for me and us the church. But I have landed on a feeling that still has a little fear but is more of a hope and excitement for what the church could be, if we take this teaching seriously and really put it into practice.
Will you join me in examining ourselves, in looking carefully at how we walk, and then being willing to take whatever actions necessary to be in line with this important and relevant teaching? So that we may truly glorify our Lord Jesus Christ and receive all that he has to offer us as his body as he works in and through us.
I pray that you will and that we will discover the truth together and be completely united and built up in love. Let’s do our best with the Spirit’s help, to look like the body that Jesus died for.