in the Body of Christ – Lessons from Ephesians Chapter 4
Christians unite around Jesus Christ and engage in His work together,
doing it His way, the church will be better equipped and focused to
reach the world with the Great Commission and achieve God’s
plan and purpose for our generation.
New Testament epistle, or book, of Ephesians was written by the
Apostle Paul to the church community that he and his Christian
colleagues had planted in the Graeco-Roman city of Ephesus around 62
was the commercial, political and religious centre of what was then
called Western Asia and is now part of Turkey. At the time the
epistle was sent it had a population of roughly a quarter of a
million; this figure was in constant flux because Ephesus was located
at the crossroads of the Roman Empire.
more than seven hundred years people from other parts of the empire
had flocked to Ephesus to pay homage to the fertility goddess Artemis
(her Greek name) or Diana (her Latin title). The Temple of Diana was
four times the size of the Parthenon in Athens and was identified as
one of the seven wonders of the ancient world. Ephesian merchants
sold miniatures of the Temple of Diana to pilgrims and tourists.
Income from these sales enriched the city and gave employment to the
the Gospel spread, collisions with the existing religious systems
were inevitable. The ancient pagan cults were no match for the
message of Jesus Christ and great numbers of followers of Diana
became Christians (read the full account in Acts 19). Many were set
free from the power of occult. Social barriers among them were
dismantled. The power of sin was broken, giving them hope beyond
their political, social and economic circumstances. So many were
converted to Christ that, on one occasion, a great bonfire took
place, in which books and other artefacts of the occult were
destroyed. The church in Ephesus went on to become the strongest
church in the first century.
forces opposed to the growing Christian community were bound to
react. The proclamation of the Gospel was first denounced in the
synagogue, by followers of the Jewish religion who refused to
recognise Jesus as the Messiah. So, for two years, the work
continued in a nearby hall. The flash point came when the shrine
artisans lost so much business that they went on strike, led by one
Demetrius, who led crowds of angry people into the city’s
24,000 seat arena. As the stands filled, Scripture tells us that
most people did not even know why they were there, but they clamoured
on Diana’s behalf when stirred up to do so. By the end of the
day, the opposition fell silent and the preaching of the Gospel
expanded. From across the entire region people heard the message of
salvation. The church grew progressively stronger. As Paul
travelled he kept in touch with the congregations he helped plant.
Often arrested by his enemies, he did not cease to proclaim the
message. In chains, he wrote to the church in Ephesus, declaring the
greatness of the salvation they enjoyed. (Because of his
incarceration he was sometimes forced to use the services of an
or scribe, to take down his words.)
time, the church in Ephesus became a mature congregation, a
multicultural church with a sophisticated understanding of the depth
of the message they had embraced. Chapters 1-3 of Paul’s
letter describes in vivid detail our calling as believers, the
privileges and blessings that are ours to enjoy in Christ, our new
relationship with God and His purpose and plan for us, as individuals
and as part of the broader Christian community. We often focus on
the “weeds”, the minutiae of our day-to-day lives and
struggles; God sees the future and acts in line with His “bigger
of the epistles written by Paul (and others, such as Peter and John)
are about issues faced by their recipients. However, for the
Ephesian church, it is not until Chapter 4 that we start to get some
hints as to what was going on. The first matter addressed is “unity”
within the local community of faith.
Ephesian Christians lived in an environment conflicted by a panoply
of gods, a vast array of religions, differing social histories and
schools of philosophical thought. Jewish converts to Christianity
often separated themselves from Gentile (or non-Jewish) converts,
because the latter had not come to Christ through adherence to Moses
and the Laws contained in the Old Testament, and tried to introduce
legalism that was foreign to those from Graeco-Roman or local
cultural backgrounds. Masters and slaves were difficult to unite.
There was incredible spiritual opposition. The church needed to know
how to handle the emerging differences and live the life God had
called to practice.
4-6 therefore provide advice and instructions as to practical
outworking of the Christian faith. This was where the “rubber
hit the road”. As a prisoner of the Roman authorities Paul was
not in position to demand compliance. His life was on a knife edge.
But world evangelism and the Body of Christ were never about Paul;
they were about Christ. Christianity should never be about its
leaders, denominations or styles. “Christ is all and in all”
of the above is relevant to understanding the plea for unity
contained in Chapter 4 of Ephesians.
his last visit to the city, Paul warned that false prophets
(including some from their own midst) would arise like “wolves”
to destroy the church (Ac 20:29-31). They would attempt to break it
up, or bring its members into their own folds. The biggest enemies
of the Ephesian church were not persecution, the followers of Diana,
political opposition, or heresy, but “white ants”.
Scientists tell us that the most dangerous animals are the smallest,
including invisible disease-carrying microbes, anopheles mosquitoes,
other minute insects and the like. It is the same in the church.
The principal enemies are not political systems or atheistic social
theories, but small viruses that enter the community and wreak havoc.
me exemplify what I mean. I recall meeting a group of Romanian
Christians in Munich during the Olympic Games in that city in 1972.
For the first time, Eastern bloc governments had agreed to allow
tourists (as distinct from teams, coaches and officials) to visit the
West, to observe the games. After a group of us shared that we
prayed for the church behind the Iron Curtain, we were surprised by
their response: “We know where we stand, either we are
followers of Christ, or we are not. In fact, we pray for you, in the
West, because there are so many factors that erode you morally, so
many temptations to compromise your faith and values”.
is often the little things that undermine. The Christian community
in Ephesus faced threats of disunity, the churn of false doctrine and
the danger of being morally hollowed out without realising it. Some
felt rudderless in the face of spurious doctrine; they had no answers
to false teachers (the New Testament did not even exist at this
point); others were carried away without realizing it. The challenge
was to recognise the very real threats, submit to the leadership God
had placed in church, strive for unity and adopt attitudes to make
the Christian life and community work and support the weak among
look more closely at verse 14 of Chapter 4.
of the church in Ephesus felt and acted as though they had no
anchors; they were like ships tossed at sea. The Mediterranean Sea
was central to governance and communication in the Roman Empire.
Roads linked Italica in the far west with the remnants of the old
Persian and Greek Empires in the east and stretched far away to the
north to Gaul and throughout the southern half of Britannia; others
snaked across the deserts of north Africa. However overland journeys
were tedious and dangerous, due to conflicts, brigands and other
threats. It was often easier to travel by sea.
in winter the Mediterranean is treacherous. I lived in Beirut for
several years and my abiding memory of the Mediterranean during the
winter months was how rough it became, with high waves driven by
strong winds crashing over the Corniche along the water’s edge
and causing flooding in lower lying places. Sailors often refused to
travel during winter. The Apostle Paul was shipwrecked several
today have stabilisers, but even then can be tossed like toys in
dangerous weather. I recall crossing the Irish Sea from Ireland to
Holyhead, in Wales, with my family in winter, during a force 10 gale.
Rogue waves crashed with sickening thuds against the side of the
vessel. Nearly everyone was sea sick. Those who were not ill lay
prone on the deck and the ferry lurched from side to side; up and
down with the waves; on top on the mountain one second, in the depths
the next. The ferry that followed listed at 46 degrees, trucks and
cars on the parking level were damaged, people were removed with
broken limbs and an official enquiry was launched. The ferries had
stabilisers. By comparison, ships in the first century were small,
flimsy affairs. Every winter fortunes were lost; archaeologists and
fortune hunters are still retrieving wealth from the sea bed.
Ephesian church, like many Christian communities of the era, faced
tremendous winds that buffeted its members. Lives were shipwrecked.
(Read some of the other letters, such as Colossians, and consider the
waves and winds of doctrine that made people dizzy and swept them
away, first in this direction, and then in the other.) They were
“carried about” (the Greek suggests a violent swinging).
People today are out to shipwreck the faith of Christians. If we are
not strong, it is easy to be tossed dizzyingly, out of control. God
wants you to have stability.
uses a second analogy in Ephesians 4, one related to gambling. He
describes enemies of the Christian faith “lying in wait to
deceive” (from the Greek concept of kubia,
or playing with dice, gambling). There are cunning people and false
agendas at work in our societies, waiting to catch us off-guard by
manipulating the dice, so to speak. It is easy to be trapped, unable
to discern what is going on. If you are not watching, they will play
tricks with your eyes. Happily, the Holy Spirit is available and
waiting to come alongside to advise and guide us.
church in Ephesus ended up with a reputation for standing up to false
doctrine (Rev 2:3, 6). The tragedy was that, in the process, they
left their first love for Christ; they became so caught up in the
issues of the day that they lost the spontaneity and authenticity of
genuine Christian believers. How can we prevent that? By recognising
and submitting to leadership placed in the Body of Christ by Jesus
Christ the head, by learning, engaging, cooperating and being open to
God and focussed on Him. This does not stop winds blowing, or waves
crashing against our lives, but it ensures us that we will be able to
navigate safely and with stability.
God-given ministries to countervail the elements and provide
are easily led. Jesus said that he would not leave the church as
orphans, or without guidance, stumbling, second-guessing, making up
the rules as we go, changing values and relativities to meet the
circumstances. He has the equipped the church with gifts of
leadership, whose objectives are to recognise winds of false doctrine
and deceitful ploys of the enemy, teach, train, identify areas of
service, develop, release, encourage, correct and task us, while
working together to construct the Body of Christ.
teaches us in his letter to the Ephesians that Jesus gave [literally
“supplied, furnished”] some to be apostles
[“commissioned, sent out, delegated”], some to be
prophets [“those who speak out, announce, under inspiration”],
some to be evangelists [“bringers of good news”] and some
to be pastors [“shepherds, protectors, overseers] and teachers,
to prepare [completely equip] God's people for good works [business,
enterprise, undertaking] of service, so that the body of Christ may
be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the
knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole
measure of the fullness [completeness; like a ship full
of sailors, rowers and soldiers, and ready to set sail] of Christ”
this happens the results will be maturity, growth, security and unity
and we will know God better. Jesus is building one Body (Eph 4:16).
There is one head (there can only be one). Some gods in Paul’s
day had numerous heads. I recall visiting ancient underground
cisterns in Istanbul, not far from Ephesus, where large blocks of
stone hewn in the shape of Medusa lay in the water. Early pagan
worshippers would have been confused as to which head to face, which
idol to worship. In the Christian life there is only one source of
life, one way to God. The word “equip” used here is the
same as “repairing” (nets, for example in Mt 4:21).
There are other ministries mentioned in the New Testament (cf 1 Cor
12:28 and Rom 12), in addition to those mentioned in this passage;
the purpose of them all is to unite, to connect and build. They have
been put in place by Jesus Christ to develop the entire church, to
enable us to fulfil the works to which God has called us (read
Ephesians 2:10), works that make divine poetry out of our lives and
circumstances. Their role is to release and mentor people with
abilities to minister (“serve”) and work together under
God to ensure that every gift and calling are maximised. For this to
happen, unity is paramount. “Can two walk together unless they
are agreed?” asked the prophet Amos (Amos 3:3).
is unity anyway?
is oneness. It is as simple as that.
are many points of disunity in our society: political division,
wealth disparities, ethnic differences, different status suburbs,
varying treatment of newcomers. TIME magazine recently ran an
article about young Australians clothing themselves with the
Australian flag and attacking tourists and migrants from different
backgrounds. It was titled “Get
is a miracle. For nearly the whole of human history mankind has been
divided (cf Gen 11:7). It is not “natural” to be united,
to speak with one voice, to have one attitude. (We are called to
have the attitude of Christ - read Phil 2:5). Look at the combative
nature of our parliamentary system (and consider that many countries
do not enjoy democracy); the number of wars being fought at any one
time, the widespread breakdown in family values, the level of
self-importance and self-centredness that make even smallest baby
demand to be the centre of attention and reign in his or her home.
prayed that we would be united (Jn 17:20-23). We need to protect the
miracle of Christian unity when and where we find it. The epistle
Paul wrote to the Ephesians states that we have been made alive
together; raised up together; are sitting together in heavenly places
in Christ; are being built together; are part of one new man; one
body; by one Spirit; forming one temple; one dwelling place for God;
one household. We are no longer strangers or foreigners, divided
along ethnic or gender lines; kept apart by occupational
demarcations, masters versus slave relationships, Latin versus Greek
speakers (or whatever languages we use). We have one identity, one
common citizenship in heaven (Eph 2:19, cf Phil 3:20).
the Bible exhorts us to “keep the unity”, it means to
“keep watch over it”; guard it; expect it to be under
attack; value it as precious commodity; as God promises His blessing
as a result of such a relationship (Ps 133). Jesus stated that the
sign of our authenticity as Christians would be our unity; “they
will know you my disciples by your love for one another” (Jn
13:35). It doesn’t really matter if there are differences; no
two flowers are alike, no two snowflakes are the same, human DNA is
different for every individual. We are not the same, but we are able
to complement one another.
of Christian unity
are seven areas of unity identified in Ephesians 4:3-6.
God & Father of all –
There are three great world religions that emphasise the oneness of
God. They are Judaism, Christianity and Islam. “Hear O
Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is One” (Deut 6:4). Before
they became Christians the ancient Ephesians worshipped many gods.
The Greeks mocked and taunted their gods and made up stories
depicting the follies of the deities. If the gods came to earth,
they did silly things; they acted like people and got into trouble.
So the best thing for the gods was to stay in the mountains and not
come anywhere near human civilisation. The shocking thing about the
Gospel is that God came down to us (Eph 4:8-10). That is what the
“incarnation” is all about.
my Muslim friends God coming to earth would be inconceivable. Islam
leaves God far off, unpredictable, unknowable, capricious, incapable
of being loved, or of having relationships with people. Christians
know God as “Father”. He told us that we see Him we also
see the Father. He and the Father are one. He tears down walls
between people; He pursues us with a spirit of reconciliation; He
offers hope, makes poetry of our lives, fills us with His presence.
Our unity is to be modelled on God’s unity. Just as God the
Father and the Son are One, we are called to be one.
Self-centredness, pride, ambition, negative attitudes, individualism,
sulkiness, grumpiness, poor attitudes and lack of forgiveness have no
place in this economy. God is our Father; we are His children; the
relationship between us as Christians is closer than our family ties.
So we need to put aside things that divide us but are not germane to
our faith, like wine on the dinner table at a conference I attended
in Spain, where foreign missionaries could not sit with local pastors
as a consequence of their divergent opinion about what Christians
were permitted to touch, taste and handle (Col 2:21).
is our unity achieved?
do not achieve unity as Christians just because we say it exists.
Ironically, Christians are often divided over whether or not they are
united. That does not make sense. There are some clues in Chapter
4, verses 1 and 2.
– this attitude is the opposite of self-centredness and pride.
Our natural ambition is to exalt self ahead of being submitted to
the real Head, Jesus Christ. In the Old Testament, lowliness was
seen as being slavish, which was not a virtue. Christ made a virtue
out of humility. What can be more humbling than the incarnation,
the Creator becoming like the created? He emptied Himself of all
the glory He shared with the Father from the beginning of time.
Lowliness means not thinking more highly of ourselves than we should
(Rom 12:3), letting go of pride, knowing ourselves, accepting who we
are, rather than who we are not.
- meekness is like the attitude of a strong animal that is
disciplined and controlled. By nature we are self-important.
Australians at the moment are debating whether we should have a Bill
of Rights. We present lists of demands. We proclaim that ”No
one is going to ride roughshod over me”. I have rights.
Meekness is the opposite of these attitudes. However, it is not
weakness; meekness is power and strength under control, like water
that sits quietly in a dam but can be harnessed and fed through
great turbines to produce hydroelectric power.
- this attitude is the opposite of stubbornness, and resistance; it
means being slow to return evil for evil. God is patient with us,
so we should have the same attitude towards others. It implies
giving, even if we are not hopeful of receiving anything in return.
– agape, the love of God motivates and directs us (see
Ephesians 3:17). It is not soppy or sentimental, running hot and
cold depending on our feelings or circumstances, but strong,
determined, capable, rugged and unshakable (Col 3:14). Without the
Holy Spirit we find it impossible to love this way. If we have
experienced the love of God (Jn 3:16), we need to be able to put
that love into action; the Bible says we should be prepared to lay
down our lives for one another, in the same way Jesus did for us (1
Jn 3:16) God’s love demands a response.
– this word means
“remaining on guard, protecting, being diligent”.
Loving and relating to the church and the world in God’s way
is not an accident of providence, but is very much in our control.
We choose to make choices God’s way.
the right choices
we will engage with the challenges inherent in these verses, we will
be able to break down walls and relate to the world in the way Jesus
did. The choice is ours. One group engenders division, separates
people by attitudes, actions and words, and promotes disunity and
churn. The other promotes unity, Christ-likeness and hope. I am
optimistic that it is possible to experience the unity that Christ
brings. As I have travelled over the years, I have often marvelled
at the miraculous, supernatural way in which Christians from all
cultures can come together as one body because of their common
relationship with Jesus Christ. I have met men and women for the
first time and bonded instantly because of Him.
construct walls. I have in my possession a piece of the famous
Berlin Wall, constructed in 1961 as a barrier between East and West
Berlin. It was finally pulled down in 1989 during the spectacular
collapse of communism that led to the reunification of Germany. The
thing that strikes me about the Berlin Wall is that it is only
concrete, poor quality concrete at that. The things that separate
Christians are poor quality conglomerates of attitudes, experiences,
memories, traditions, opinions and allegiances that should not be
enough to separate members of God’s family. It is time to tear
down the walls. Jesus has “broken the middle wall of partition
between us” (Eph 2:14). He has broken down the barriers of
hostility. The challenge for each and every one of us is to grasp
the opportunity and the promise that the Holy Spirit will give us
power to turn Jesus’ prayer for unity among His followers into
our daily reality.