Prayer and fasting 21 days – Ephesians 4
The exciting and gripping vision for God’s ultimate purposes (in chapters 1-3) is now earthed in the reality of how we live, day by day. On the basis of all God is and has planned, live (‘walk’ through life) in manner worthy of your calling. This means acting with humility, gentleness, patience and above all love. They are not virtues the Greek or Roman cultures dominant in Ephesus would have valued.
Much of this chapter focuses on love, shown in unity among Christians. The ministry gifts Jesus gives his church (v11) are active not to do all the work but to equip us all to do the work, until we “speak the truth in love” and grow up into a mature body and measure up to Christ Himself!
Lord, inspire us with revelation of your plans and purposes for us, together with all your people, and fill us with such love that we will become more like Jesus in how we live, and so grow up until we measure up to Jesus Himself.
As so often in Paul’s letters, he begins a theme (living in manner worthy of our calling) but becomes really excited about an aspect of it (love and unity in the church) so that he returns to the Big Picture vision of where God is taking us: knowledge of Jesus and maturity, becoming fully like Him. We cannot achieve this as individuals, partly because no one individual can be filled with all the fulness of God (Eph 3:19) but mainly because it has always been God’s intention to create a community of people that reflect His glory and worship Him.
God Himself is community – one God in three persons – co-eternal, co-existant, inter-dependent. ……. language breaks down as theologians try to find words to describe what this might mean! God is complete in Himself and did not need to create people but He has created us in His image to join with Him in stewarding the world and functioning as family. The whole sweep of scripture is about God’s dealing with families, tribes, ethnic groups and above all His people.
The descendants of Abraham were commissioned to be His special people and the tribes of Israel were given the Law that showed what this meant in practice, so they could be a “light to the Gentiles.” Peter in Acts 3:23 makes clear that everyone who rejects the Messiah, even if they are ethnic Jews, will be cut off from the people of God. Paul spells this out in Romans 2:28-29 and Gal 3:7-9. Now, since Jesus’ death and resurrection, the descendants of Abraham include all who trust in Jesus – we are included in the people of God whatever our ethnic background if we are ‘in Christ.’ Paul explains this in Romans 3 and 4.
In his letter to the Ephesians Paul is concerned to make sure all the Jewish and Gentile believers are united. It is faith in Jesus that brings them salvation. It is being filled with the Holy Spirit that transforms their lives and forms them into church. So Paul emphasises the oneness of God’s people in this chapter, especially in verses 3-7.
The fivefold ministry gifts are important to equipping the church. Apostles and prophets provide a foundation (Eph 2:20). Apostles are first (1 Cor 12:28) because they both break new ground and also provide the essential function of a father to a church family. But all the gifts are needed to equip God’s people so that ALL the people are involved in serving and building up one another. The key word is the small word “until” – this goes on happening until we all achieve true unity and the whole Body of Christ becomes mature.
The second half of the chapter from verse 17 is down to earth. But it is not just a list of practicalities, working out the implications of the vision earlier in the letter. It is not just a list of instructions or laws. It is like the Old Covenant law in one way – it defines the people of God by showing us the sort of character we have when we are truly His people. But Paul is calling us not to follow rules but to be what God is making us by His power at work in us.
It is very spiritual (God-like) to be like this and therefore it is both counter-cultural and very practical. For example, speaking the truth in love is a key to maturity (verse 15) so we need to check ourselves before speaking. Is it loving? Is it motivated by wanting the best for this person or do I just want to be seen as right? Is it humble and gentle? Is it necessary? If it passes all these tests then let’s speak truth “because we are members of one another.” (Verse 25)