Now to work! No. This isn’t a line from ‘Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs’ as the dwarfs on their way to work sing, “Hi Ho Hi Ho, Its Off To Work We Go!” Rather it is what St Paul was about to stress as he moved from the theological section in Ephesians chapters 1 to 3, to the practical outworking of that teaching in the following chapters.
[This is a continuation of the series I have been doing on Praying Our Way Through Ephesians as we look at the teaching and try to formulate prayers to help us put the teaching into action in our own lives.]
A). THE UNITY OF BELIEVERS IN CHRIST IS BASED ON THE GODHEAD. 4:1-6
In this chapter 4 there is an emphasis on the fact that believers are one in Christ and they need to show that unity outwardly in expressing their faith.
i). Believers Are Called To Belong To Christ. 4:1 “I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called.”
- Believers have been individually called by the Lord to belong to Him.
- It is a privilege they share with other “called” individuals as part of God’s “called out” people [the ekklesia]. [NOTE 1]
- With privilege comes responsibility. The responsibility to show one’s appreciation for His amazing grace to us in Christ, by living in a way that pleases Him.
- It involves a Christian WALK, in a manner worthy of their calling. [NOTES 2 and 3].
ii). Believers Are Called To Belong To One Another In Christ. Eph 4:2-3. “with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, 3 eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.”
Paul tells us here in 4:1 what this Christian ‘walk’ looks like. It is characterised by godly characteristics in the lives of all those who live for Christ. They include: –
- HUMILITY. [The word in the original Greek is [tapeinophrosynē; ταπεινοφροσύνη which is made up of [tapeinos ] meaning “humble” and a derivative of [phrēn] meaning “mind.”
- It is fascinating that this same word is used in Acts 20:19 of Paul reminding the elders of this same city Ephesus, that his ministry among them was characterised as, “serving the Lord with all humility and with tears and with trials that happened to me through the plots of the Jews.” Humility had marked his whole ministry among them, in the good times and in the bad.
- Paul also used it in his letter to the Philippians to describe how true humility eschews self- promotion and self-aggrandisement in preferring to meet the needs of others above one’s own, “Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves.” Php 2:3. It takes a truly humble person to do that! Fancy having to think that I should count THAT person as more significant than me! “After all I am …. And I have done ….. .” Definitely not easy to do! But definitely absolutely necessary, if we are going to live a servant life like Jesus.
- In a similar passage in Colossians 3:11-13 where Paul describes the unity of the Spirit in terms of all being one in Christ, he adds, “Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience,13 bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive.” We see many of the same qualities here, as in our Ephesians 4 passage with the addition of the need to forgive others. [Paul adds that later in this Ephesians 4 chapter, “Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you” Eph 4:32.]
- Peter also used the same expression of “putting on” or “clothing oneself” with humility. He wrote, “Likewise, you who are younger, be subject to the elders. Clothe yourselves, all of you, with humility toward one another, for “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.” 1 Peter 5:5.
- It appears from what Paul and Peter wrote that humility does not come easily to believers and they have to actively seek to humble themselves before God and others. It means in their terms, deciding to put on humility as a garment every day instead of choosing the easily fitting garments of pride and arrogance which draw attention to the wearers, rather than to the Lord.
- GENTLENESS. [praotēs, πρᾳότης]. One dictionary describes the word as meaning, “it is a condition of mind and heart which demonstrates gentleness, not in weakness, but in power. It is a balance born in strength of character.”[CWBS Dictionary.] A derivative of the word was used to describe a strong horse which has been broken in. The horse has lost none of its power, but it is now strength under control. A blessed attribute for every believer! Appropriate strength. But under control!
- PATIENCE. [makrothymia; μακροθυμία]. As you read all these attributes Paul described, it could be possible to become impatient. But he’s got our measure. The very next necessary attribute he mentions is indeed “patience.” The Greek word gives us the meaning. It is made up of makro [makro] meaning “large” and [thumos] meaning anger or strong feelings. It can mean being slow to anger or taking a long time to get angry. Again a very blessed attribute that prevents us from getting into unnecessary conflicts. It allows us to apply reason to the situation and to become reasonable.
- FORBEARANCE. [anechō; ἀνέχω]. From ana = up and echo = hold or stand. It is the ability to hold oneself in hand or to stand up in the face of difficult people or circumstances. All of us at times face difficulties. But by the grace of God they can be overcome. The context here is doing so in love. Love is the motivation for forbearance.
- LOVE. [agapē; ἀγάπη]. This is the famous word for Christian love, being God’s love imparted to humans, as in Romans 5:5, “and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love [agapē] has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.” It is an absolute necessity if unity among believers is going to be maintained. As Paul wrote in 1 Cor 13:7, “Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.”
iii.) Believers Are Called To Maintain The Unity Of The Spirit. 4:3
It also involves a determination on the part of the believer to actively seek “to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.”We notice that Paul doesn’t say here that this unity is to be created. Rather it is to be maintained as something that already exists. It is a present-day reality in God by His Spirit.
It means that when believers are not living in unity, they are living in a state of unreality in the eyes of the Lord. He made them one in the Spirit, but they are choosing, for whatever reason, to turn their backs on the Spirit’s uniting power and love, to live in a state of disharmony and disunity. It is a grieving of the Spirit as Paul suggests later in this chapter, “And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption.” Verse 30. He is grieved because He recognises the blessings that are being forfeited by those who refuse to remain in unity with Him and with one another.
iv). Believers Are Called To Reflect The Unity Of The Godhead In Their Unity. 4:4-6
There is a pattern for Christian unity. It is the pattern of the Godhead itself, as Paul wrote in verses 4 to 6. Here we see the unity of believers associated with the unity of the Persons of the Godhead.
- One Spirit. Eph 4:4. “There is one body and one Spirit–-just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call—.” The Holy Spirit is at work in our Christian conversion. He opens the spiritual eyes of those who turn to the Lord in repentance and faith. He also calls people to engage in Christian service as we see in Acts 13:2 ‘While they were worshiping the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, “Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.”’
- One Lord (Jesus). “5 one Lord, one faith, one baptism.” Jesus is the Lord of the universe and also of the church. It is He who baptises believers with the Holy Spirit. He is the object of faith as Paul preached, “testifying both to Jews and to Greeks of repentance toward God and of faith in our Lord Jesus Christ. Acts 20:21.
- One Father. “6 one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.” Every believer is a child of God. He is the Heavenly Father of all believers throughout the world and throughout history.
B]. HOW CAN THIS UNITY BE WORKED OUT IN PRACTICE IN OUR WORLD AND CHURCH TODAY?
We have seen that unity should be worked out in practice. However, we also know how difficult is to do so.
Having served in leadership roles as a lay person on Parish Councils and on Diocesan Council and School and Missionary Councils as an ordained minister I know just how difficult it can be. But we can do a better job by following this teaching in Ephesians and other parts of the Bible.
- We need to remember that the church is the body of Christ of which He is the head. All people are equal in status as children of God, but they may have different functions within the body. All those functions are necessary for the good health of the body.
- There is a principle of mutual submission within the body as Paul writes later in Ephesians, “Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, 16 making the best use of the time, because the days are evil. 17 Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is. 18 And do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery, but be filled with the Spirit, 19 addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart, 20 giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, 21 submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ.” Eph 5:15-21. None are spared in this mutual submission! To be filled with the Holy Spirit of God requires a willingness to submit oneself to other members in the family of God. We do it out of respect for Christ. A failure to respect fellow believers as we are commanded to do, shows an appalling lack of respect for who Christ is and for what He has done.
- All Christian service and ministry is servant ministry. Jesus set the example. He said of His own ministry as the Son of God, and as the promised Messiah, when He saw that some disciples were wanting to become greater in importance than others, “And Jesus called them to him and said to them, “You know that those who are considered rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. 43 But it shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, 44 and whoever would be first among you must be slave of all. 45 For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” Mark 10:42-45. The Creator of the universe was willing to humble Himself in serving His creatures. It involved His death for them on the cross, even as He was mocked by so many of them. Now that is really what submission looks like!
Unity involves agreement for a way forward. Having witnessed as a layman some very difficult Parish Annual Meetings I felt there must be a better way. These are some of the things I learned subsequently.
- Changes cannot successfully be imposed from above. There needs to be general agreement among those involved in the decisions, for any significant lasting change to take place. Leaders have to sell their vision and to encourage others to run with the vision as they learn to understand it, support it and promote it.
- I soon understood that in chairing Parish Council [and other] meetings that to have a narrow majority decision was counter-productive. Where the voting was close, I reasoned that we had not reached a decision. Rather we had reached a DIVISION. Division is not unity. If parish councillors are divided, so too will be the whole parish.
- A senior lay person once suggested to a Parish Council I chaired, that all decisions should be unanimous. With a Council numbering over 25 from 7 different centres [if they all turned up], that was not accepted as being feasible. Eventually we adopted the following strategy that worked very well. If someone disagreed with any motion, then if he or she could get another person to support them, then that motion lapsed until the next meeting. In the meantime, we would all pray for wisdom and guidance for the next meeting. It meant sometimes that it took a little longer to get something through but when it was passed [normally at the next meeting] everyone was behind the proposed action and became willing sharers of the vision to other parishioners. It helped keep all parishioners united and allowed for much valuable discussion between meetings.
- The value of the above system became obvious in unusual circumstances. The parish had begun a Preschool in the parish hall decades earlier. However it had gotten out of parish control. Our parish hall was not available for our own functions. One parish councillor moved that we advise the Preschool to look for other accommodation. We were all shocked by the suggestion knowing what adverse publicity that would bring on the parish. I asked with some trepidation whether anyone was willing to support the motion. To the surprise of all of us, another councillor stated that he thought we should consider the motion before the next meeting. When we met next month the whole Council [including me] had changed their minds and voted unanimously in favour of the motion. The lone individual had been right. It was indeed the time to act in this way. We actually helped the Preschool find alternative accommodation and assisted them generously in making their move seamlessly to new premises. We were able to expand our ministry significantly from that time on. Sometimes the individual seen previously as an “irritant,” gets it right! None of us has all the truth all the time. We need the insights and wisdom of others to get the best overall perspective. The church is a body composed of many people. It is just not one brain!
A SUGGESTED PRAYER BASED ON EPHESIANS 4:1-6
“Dear Lord. Thank You for calling me to belong to You. Enable me by Your Spirit, to live for You in such a way that You are glorified in my life. As I offer every part of my life to You, please fill me with Your Holy Spirit so that I can show in my life, true humility. In my dealings with other people, enable me to be gentle, patient and forbearing as You fill me with Your love for them.
Please help me to maintain the unity which exists between us all as believers and where it doesn’t seem to exist, help me to play my part is bringing that unity to fruition in every relationship I have. I ask all these things in Jesus’ name. AMEN.
1.] The word ‘church’ in the Greek is [ekklēsia; ἐκκλησία]. It is derived from [ek] meaning out of and [kaleo] to call. So the church is composed of those whom God has called out of the world to belong to Himself. “Ecclesiastical” is a word in common English use.
2.] “Walk” is [peripateō, περιπατέω] meaning to walk around or to conduct one’s life. It is the basis of our English word ‘peripatetic.’
3.] “Worthy”. [axiōs; ἀξίως]. This adverb can mean “as becomes” or “as befits” or “suitably”. If God has called us in His grace [and He has] then it is befitting that we live in such a way that demonstrates that we are worthy of His grace. An English derivative “axiomatic” meaning ‘self-evident’ conveys much the same meaning.
Blog No.320. Posted on email@example.com on Sunday 21stJuly 2019