We move on this morning (some might say, “Finally!”) to the latter half of Paul’s letter “to the saints who are in Ephesus, and are faithful in Christ Jesus,” where he teaches concerning the overflow of the Gospel, the outworking of our faith in Christ Jesus, the TRANSFORMATION that should be increasingly evident in the lives of believers. The first sentence (Chapter 4:1-3) can be seen as an introduction to the whole of the “so what” section of the letter, but we can also take verses 1-16, as an introductory passage. We’ll begin this week looking at Paul’s call to “Unity in the Spirit” in verses 1-6, and then continue with his discussion of “Diversity in Gifts; for Unity in the Faith” in verses 7-16 next week. Don’t miss the ‘unity’ of the whole letter and of this particular passage, however. Here, Paul is moving from Unity in the Spirit, to Diversity of Gifts and back to Unity in Christ Jesus.
Paul begins with an emphatic call: “I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called” (4:1). The “therefore” indicates that all that will follow is intimately linked to that which has preceded this point. Our “walk,” our manner of life, should flow from that theological foundation that has been laid in Chapters 1-3. He has touched on this connection in Chapter 2, verse 10, where Paul wrote that “We are [God’s] workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them.”
Is it possible, or is it healthy to try to separate what we think, say and do from what we believe? Not at all! As the commentators in the ESV Study Bible point out, there is “a common format” in Paul’s letters, “in which doctrinal truths are stated first (here, chs. 1-3), then application to life is built on that doctrine (chs. 4-6). [But there is a crucial truth to that order, to the importance of laying the foundation.] The exhortations of Scripture become empty moralism without this gospel foundation” [English Standard Version Study Bible, Crossway, 2008, p.2267]. As we consider what is happening in our comfortable, post-Christian, western society, where secularism has become “king,” we can see the effects of disconnecting life from the Creator of life.
Secularism is defined by Thomas Brewer as
“an ideology that promotes the absence of any binding theistic authority or belief. It is a way of viewing the world that recognizes only the here and now. … It doesn’t always demand that we declare ‘there is no God.’ It simply implies God isn’t relevant to the discussion – ever. And, in its most pernicious strands, secularism even implies that God is destructive to society” [Thomas Brewer, “Secularism Everywhere,” in Tabletalk, Ligonier Ministries, March 2017, p.7].
When we lose the foundation laid by God Himself, the Creator and Ruler of all things, then anything goes! We can change the rules, the definitions at any time, and according to our whims, according to “what seems right” to man, even as the book of Judges describes (“In those days there was no king in Israel. Everyone did what was right in his own eyes” Judges 17:6; 21:25). And so the Biblical definition of marriage has been abandoned, there is no respect for life, nor for He Who is “the Author of life” (Acts 3:15) as abortion and euthanasia are seen increasingly as moral “goods.”
Paul, moved by Holy Spirit, urges us towards a “walk” that is firmly grounded in our SALVATION in Christ Jesus, in our complete dependence upon God for life and for eternity. In verses 2-3, he urges us to “walk” with three graces or attitudes, “with all humility, gentleness and with patience,” to “bear with one another in” another attitude, “love,” all moving us toward the goal of “unity of the Spirit.” That “unity,” as we have said, is not unity for the sake of unity. It is not “tolerance” as the world around us thinks of tolerance – not simply ignoring others, or enduring others, as each does what is right in their own eyes, but embracing and celebrating other people’s right to do whatever they want to do as long as it doesn’t impact other’s rights to do the same. No, this is “unity of the Spirit.” This is being “united in Christ Jesus, in the Spirit, in God. You may not have noticed just how very often Paul has pointed to that union of believers, together, in Christ Jesus to this point in Ephesians, but the phrase “in Christ” occurs 13 times, and “in Him” 8 times in Chapters 1-3. Our whole identity, as ones who have been chosen by God’s grace from “before the foundation of the world” (1:4) is wrapped up in Christ. It is “in Him [that] we have obtained an inheritance,” that we “were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit” (1:11-14). If that is our identity, if that identity is “not [our] own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast,” then let us be “eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace … with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love” (4:2-3).
That this “unity of the Spirit” is not something that is to be achieved at any price, by an abandonment of theological truths for the sake of smoothing over differences, is emphasized by Paul’s listing of fundament truths in verses 4-6. Here Paul insists that “unity of the Spirit” comes from agreement that there is:
one body and one Spirit – just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call- 5 one Lord, one faith, one baptism, 6 one God and Father of all, Who is over all and through all and in all.
One body – the church. The Church universal, of which “each congregation is a local manifestation of this heavenly entity.” One hope – the Gospel of rescue from the just wrath of God for our sins, of salvation in Christ Jesus. One faith and one baptism – two “entry experiences” in the life of a Christian; faith as the internal, subjective trusting in Christ Jesus’ accomplished work on the cross as applying to you; and baptism, probably here as baptism into Christ Jesus, baptism of the Holy Spirit when He comes to indwell the believer.
And one God, described in TRINITY, one Spirit, one Lord, and one God and Father of all, Who is over all and through all and in all. Here Paul moves from the unity of believers in Christ Jesus, in Holy Spirit, to the unity of absolutely everything in God the Father of all. “Paul is affirming that God is supremely transcendent ‘over everything’ and that his immanence is all-pervasive: he works ‘through all and in all’” (O’Brien, p.285). These are the foundational truths of the Christian faith, the beliefs in which we are united, that bind us together with believers from “every tribe and language and people and nation” (Rev 5:9) and from every age. As we are united in these truths, we are united in Holy Spirit, and as we are united in Holy Spirit, the whole world sees the glory of God. This is the unity that is ours, that we are called to, “in Christ Jesus,” and in His own words:
John 13:34-35 34 A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. 35 By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”
To more easily download or print these notes, please click the link below for a PDF version.
Pastor’s Notes PDF March 12th, 2017