Ephesians 4: 17-24

After spending the first part of Ephesians dealing with the nature of the church, spiritual gifts and Christian maturity, Paul now addresses the issue of living as a Christian in an unbelieving world.

“So I say this, and insist in the Lord, that you no longer live as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their thinking. They are darkened in their understanding, being alienated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them due to the hardness of their hearts. Because they are callous, they have given themselves over to indecency for the practice of every kind of impurity with greediness”.

The recipients of this letter are Gentile converts to the Christian faith. The pagan gods of the Greek and Roman world provided the background and worldview of everyday life for these new believers. Sexual immorality and violence permeated the supernatural in that culture. These stories, while they were religious and very entertaining, they lacked any moral content or basis. Paul is instructing these new believers to completely abandon their “pagan thinking”. Paul describes the pagan worldview as futile, meaning that it is incapable of producing any useful result, it is pointless.

Paul further describes their thinking as “darkened in their understanding”, because they are alienated from God because of their ignorance due to the hardness of their hearts. The hardness of their hearts is the result of the idolatrous conditioning of their minds. They have lost all moral sensitivity; they have become insensitive to God and His ways.

Paul describes this process in Romans 1:21-23. “For although they knew God, they did not glorify him as God or give him thanks, but they became futile in their thoughts and their senseless hearts were darkened. Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for an image resembling mortal human beings or birds or four-footed animals or reptiles”.

Paul reasons “Because they are callous, they have given themselves over to indecency for the practice of every kind of impurity with greediness”. Greediness refers to an increasing desire for more and more, the practice of self-gratification (no matter the sin) without regard for others. The argument Paul makes is that sinful passions and desires are never satisfied.

From Romans Paul reveals what happens with this wrong thinking, “And just as they did not see fit to acknowledge God, God gave them over to a depraved mind, to do what should not be done”, they are filled with every kind of unrighteousness. This concept that “God gave them over to a depraved mind” is difficult to understand. This paraphrase from The Message helps to clarify. “Since they didn’t bother to acknowledge God, God quit bothering them and let them run loose. And then all hell broke loose: rampant evil, grabbing and grasping, vicious backstabbing. They made life hell on earth with their envy, wanton killing, bickering, and cheating. Look at them: mean-spirited, venomous, fork-tongued God-bashers. Bullies, swaggerers, insufferable windbags! They keep inventing new ways of wrecking lives. They ditch their parents when they get in the way. Stupid, slimy, cruel, cold-blooded. And it’s not as if they don’t know better. They know perfectly well they’re spitting in God’s face. And they don’t care—worse, they hand out prizes to those who do the worst things best!”

This spiral of sin is common in our culture today, we immediately think of addiction to drugs, alcohol or pornography, but be very aware of the spiral of sin connected to comparison of your life to others, which leads to sin, critiquing of others or to the need to assert your opinion on every subject that comes up. Whatever our sin Paul gives the antidote to this corrosive disease in Romans 12:2. “Do not be conformed to this present world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may test and approve what is the will of God—what is good and well-pleasing and perfect.”

Once again The Message helps me to understand, “Don’t become so well-adjusted to your culture that you fit into it without even thinking. Instead, fix your attention on God. You’ll be changed from the inside out. Readily recognize what he wants from you, and quickly respond to it. Unlike the culture around you, always dragging you down to its level of immaturity, God brings the best out of you, develops well-formed maturity in you.”

Paul reminds the Ephesians about what they learned about Christ, you must not live like the Gentiles, because in Christ you have a different way of thinking and living. “Christ, in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge”. Jesus said, “I am the light of the world! The one who follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” We have the Truth; we can test and judge all ideas, concepts, philosophies and claims against what God has revealed about himself in Scripture and in his Son Jesus.

Paul calls on the Ephesians to put off their old self, to lay aside the old man. “Our old way of life before we believed in Christ is completely in the past. We should put it behind us like old clothes to be thrown away. When we decide to accept Christ’s gift of salvation (2:8-10), it is both a one-time decision, as well as a daily conscious commitment. We are not to be driven by desire and impulse. We must put on the new nature, head in the new direction, and have the new way of thinking that the Holy Spirit gives.” Life Application commentary

We must shed our old ways of thinking and start over with new principles and expectations, which come from God himself. We do this by, renewing our minds and putting on the new man created in God’s image. Paul reminds us that we have been taught to lay aside our old life without Christ, and be transformed into the new man who has been created in God’s image –“in righteousness and holiness that comes from truth.”

We have a choice. Put off, put on – that is the choice we must make. Reject our old way of thinking which leads into sin, and accept the new way of thinking, filled with the spirit that transforms us to be like Christ. Knowing that God has given us everything we need to live a godly life.

Ephesians 4: 7-16

After discussing the basis of our unity in Christ, Paul now explores how we preserve our unity in the church by using the various gifts Christ gives the church. “But to each one of us grace was given according to the measure of Christ’s gift”; note that “each one” means that every believer is given spiritual ability bestowed by Christ to be used to build up the church. No one is left out and this is not limited to clergy; every member of the body of Christ is to use their gifts to build up the body.

“But to each one of us grace has been given as Christ apportioned it. This is why it says: ‘When he ascended on high, he took many captives and gave gifts to his people.’(What does ‘he ascended’ mean except that he also descended to the lower, earthly regions? He who descended is the very one who ascended higher than all the heavens, in order to fill the whole universe”.) Ephesians 4:7-10 NIV

Paul quotes Psalm 68:18 where God is pictured as a conqueror marching to the gates and taking tribute from the fallen city. Paul uses this image to teach that Christ, in his crucifixion and resurrection was victorious over Satan. When Christ ascended to heaven, he gave gifts to the church, some of which Paul discusses in the following verses.

Notice the parenthesis in the above verses. This indicates a word, clause, or sentence inserted as an explanation or afterthought into a passage. Paul explains that by “he ascended” it logically follows that Christ also descended. This phrase has been interpreted in three ways:
1. The traditional view, that this is a reference to Jesus descent into hell for the three days between his death and resurrection.
2. This descent is a reference to the incarnation, when Christ was born and became God with us on earth.
3. This refers to the descent of the Spirit at Pentecost after Christ ascended.

Sometimes we get distracted by the different analysis and fail to comprehend the big picture that these verses reveal. The Apostle John records Jesus speaking to his disciples stating, “I came from the Father and entered the world; now I am leaving the world and going back to the Father”. And in 1 John he writes, “And we have seen and testify that the Father has sent his Son to be the Savior of the world”. Jesus Christ is Lord of the whole universe, past, present and future. Nothing or no one is hidden from Him. The Lord of all came to earth and faced death to rescue people. No one is beyond His reach.

Paul returns to the topic of Spiritual gifts, gracefully given to the church. “And he himself gave some as apostles, some as prophets, some as evangelists and some as pastors and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, that is, to build up the body of Christ”. The apostle Peter explains “Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms. If anyone speaks, they should do so as one who speaks the very words of God. If anyone serves, they should do so with the strength God provides, so that in all things God may be praised through Jesus Christ. To him be the glory and the power for ever and ever. Amen”. (1 Peter 4:10-11)

The gifts of the Holy Spirit are to be used to build up the body of Christ and we are to continue to use our gifts “until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God – a mature person, attaining to the measure of Christ’s full stature”. Paul calls us to be mature Christians and compares the immature to “children, tossed back and forth by the waves and carried about by every wind of teaching by the trickery of people who craftily carry out their deceitful schemes”. Paul is emphasizing “body” growth; each believer contributes to this unified growth as he allows his particular gifts to function. This unity builds the body, strengthens the body together.

Christian maturity does not depend on your physical age or on how long you have been a Christian. From Hebrews we learn, the immature (infant) Christian is not acquainted with the teaching about righteousness and the mature Christian becomes mature by constant use and training themselves to be able to distinguish between good and evil. The image we see here is like an athlete or musician who practices daily, building muscle memory that results in a flawless performance because of her training.

Paul warns the Ephesians about “the trickery of men, by craftiness with the scheme of deceit” by which immature believers are being “tossed back and forth by waves” of false teachings. Paul writes in Colossians 2: 4-8 “I tell you this so that no one may deceive you by fine-sounding arguments. For though I am absent from you in body, I am present with you in spirit and delight to see how disciplined you are and how firm your faith in Christ is. So then, just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live your lives in him, rooted and built up in him, strengthened in the faith as you were taught, and overflowing with thankfulness. See to it that no one takes you captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy, which depends on human tradition and the elemental spiritual forces of this world rather than on Christ”.

Paul repeats these warnings in other letters, in Galatians he warns about people who “preach a different gospel, which is no gospel at all”. To Timothy he warns “the time will come when people will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear”. To the Corinthians he warns of “false apostles, deceitful workers, masquerading as apostles of Christ. And no wonder, for Satan himself masquerades as an angel of light. It is not surprising, then, if his servants also masquerade as servants of righteousness”.

Paul continues teaching about how we become the spiritually mature, “by practicing the truth in love, we will in all things grow up into Christ, who is the head”. In contrast to the preceding description of the false apostles who practice deceit, we learn that the spiritually mature preach the truth in both word and deed. Believers’ conduct should be transparent, revealing the true state of their heart as opposed to those who preach one thing and act differently.

Paul returns to the depiction of the body of Christ, “from Him the whole body grows, fitted and held together through every supporting ligament. As each one does its part, the body builds itself up in love”. It is interesting that Paul uses the descriptive phrase “supporting ligament”. Here is a definition of how ligaments work: “Ligaments surround joints and bind them together. They help strengthen and stabilize joints, permitting movement only in certain directions”. What a beautiful portrait of the body of Christ, the church, as we use the gifts God gave us we are held together strengthened and stabilized. We are enabled to move together in God’s will to proclaim Christ, disciple new believers and to uphold each other in love.

“Christ forms us into a body – into a group of individuals who are united in their purpose and in their love for one another and for the Lord. If an individual stumbles, the rest of the group is there to pick that person up and help him or her walk with God again. If a person sins, he or she can find restoration through the church even as the rest of the body continues to witness to God’s truth”.

Ephesians 4: 1-6

Paul again states that he is “the prisoner for the Lord”, then urges the Ephesians to live a life that is worthy of the calling with which you have been called. Paul is secure in his calling to be “the prisoner for the Lord”, his imprisonment is not something to be ashamed of; it is a high calling, he is living just as God planned.

Remember when Jesus was presented before Pilate and falsely accused of treason, Jesus kept silent refusing to engage in his own defense. An exasperated Pilate claimed, “Don’t you know I have the authority to release you and to crucify you?” This when Jesus replied, “You would have no authority over me at all, unless it was given to you from above. Therefore the one who handed me over to you is guilty of greater sin”. Jesus was put into the hands of the greatest power known at that time, who claimed the power and authority over the entire world. Pilate was the administrator of that great power and Jesus tells him that you have no authority except what God has allowed you to have. This must have irked Pilate greatly!

Paul writes in Romans clearly, “Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except by God’s appointment, and the authorities that exist have been instituted by God”. He also urges the Ephesians in 1 Timothy to pray for kings and all who are in authority, offering requests, intercession and thanks on behalf of all people. Consider who these governing authorities that Paul is speaking of, it is Nero, the ruthless and deceptive Caesar who will eventually put Paul to death in Rome. Paul is praying for his oppressor.

Paul urges the church to “to live a life that is worthy”; the conduct of their lives should conform to their status as believers before God. The word “worthy” means “equal weight” giving us the sense that our lives (our conduct), how we live in our day to day life should be in balance, equal weight, with our spiritual lives.

“God has chosen us to be Christ’s representatives on earth. In light of this truth, Paul challenges us to live lives worthy of the calling we have received—the awesome privilege of being called Christ’s very own. This includes being humble, gentle, patient, understanding, and peaceful. People are watching your life. Can they see Christ in you? How well are you doing as his representative?” LIFE Application Bible

What are some things God has called us to do or be? From Romans we learn we are called according to His purpose, that He has predestined us to be conformed to the image of Christ. From 1 Peter we learn that we are called to be a royal priesthood, a holy nation and to be His chosen people. From Matthew we learn that we are to be a light that shines for all people, “so that they can see your good deeds and give honor to your Father in heaven. Additionally, we are to “go and make disciples of all nations”, baptizing them in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit and teaching them to obey God’s commands.

We are to live this worthy life “with all humility and gentleness, with patience, putting up with one another in love”. Some translations use the world “meekness” instead of gentleness, this is a much misunderstood in our generation. Many misinterpret “meekness” to mean “weakness”; but the truth is that meekness is the opposite of weakness. The Greek word for meekness literally means “strength under control”. Reflect back to our previous discussion of Jesus before Pilate, Jesus had the power to strike back against His enemies, but He exhibited “strength under control” and He did not retaliate against injustice, instead “He humbled himself by becoming obedient to death– even death on a cross!”

From Colossians, in the same mailbag as the letter to the Ephesus, “live a life worthy of the Lord and please him in every way: bearing fruit in every good work, growing in the knowledge of God, being strengthened with all power according to his glorious might so that you may have a great endurance and patience, and giving joyful thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of his holy people in the kingdom of light”.

This is was a worthy life encompasses, we are growing in knowledge of God, being strengthened by the Holy Spirit, demonstrating endurance and patience and giving joyful thanks and making “every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace”. Unity is oneness –not sameness, our unity in Christ is found in a few core essentials. “There is one body and one Spirit, just as you too were called to the one hope of your calling, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, on God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all”.

As believers we are to “keep” Christian unity not “make” Christian unity. We are a diverse group of people, men and women of all ages, races and cultures. We may look different on the outside, but we are one in Christ in the Spirit. We worship in different styles, some with loud music, some with demonstrations of emotion and others with solemn classical hymns; we are different in style but united in Christ by the Holy Spirit. We maintain this unity that Christ gave us by practicing love, acceptance and forgiveness toward others in the body of Christ.

Paul writes in Galatians saying, “For in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God through faith. For all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female – for all of you are one in Christ Jesus”.

Ephesians 3:14-21

Paul resumes to his prayer for the Ephesians saying, “For this reason I kneel before the Father”. Paul is referring to his former statement that he is a prisoner of Christ Jesus for the sake of the Gentiles. Paul prays that the church will be strong to overcome resistance, why? Because they are becoming discouraged, Paul does not want the Ephesians to “lose heart” because of his sufferings.

Paul paints a picture for us; he is prostrating himself before God, on his knees with his head bowed to the ground, as one making obeisance and bringing a matter of utmost urgency to a powerful king. The usual position for Jewish prayer was standing; Paul wanted to convey the impression of God’s power by describing his position in prayer.

Paul’s writing to the church is turning their conventional wisdom on its head. Customarily a person in prison was a great disgrace to their family and community, Paul states clearly that it is not Rome that has control over his life, it is Christ Jesus who controls his situation. Plus the truth that is contrary to common thinking is that Paul’s suffering brings glory not shame to the church, specifically the glory of new believers being added to God’s family every day. Paul is conveying a voluntary act of obedience, he is in full submission to the will of God, knowing this could end in his death, with a reverence for the power of the LORD, allowing God’s will to work in his life whatever the consequences.

This reminds me of Paul’s writing about Christ in Philippians 2:5-11, “You should have the same attitude toward one another that Christ Jesus had, who though he existed in the form of God did not regard equality with God as something to be grasped, but emptied himself by taking on the form of a slave, by looking like other men, and by sharing in human nature. He humbled himself, by becoming obedient to the point of death—even death on a cross! As a result God highly exalted him and gave him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee will bow —in heaven and on earth and under the earth—and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord to the glory of God the Father”.

Paul describes God as “the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named”. God is the Creator of all groups of living beings and as the one who sovereignly gives each its individual ‘shape’ and role. In Hebrew tradition, for God to give creatures their names is not merely to provide them with a label, but to determine what they are.

All people are God’s creation but not all people are God’s children. John 1:12-13 affirms this saying, “But to all who have received him—those who believe in his name —he has given the right to become God’s children —children not born by human parents or by human desire or a husband’s decision, but by God”. Romans 8:15 emphasizes the love, security, acceptance and provisions from our Heavenly Father to each of us. “For those who are led by the Spirit of God are the children of God. The Spirit you received does not make you slaves, so that you live in fear again; rather, the Spirit you received brought about your adoption to sonship. And by him we cry, ‘Abba, Father’”. Led by the Spirit we are firstborn children of God, with full rights of inheritance, we are not slaves and we don’t live in fear. We can approach the throne of the King of Heaven with confidence and address Him as “Daddy”; this verse conveys a close personal relationship with our Creator.

“I pray that according to the wealth of his glory he will grant you to be strengthened with power through his Spirit in the inner person”. Paul was praying for the believers in Ephesus and surrounding areas to be strong in the power of the Holy Spirit. Most students think of the “inner person” as the life of our soul, our heart or our inner thoughts. Some commentators suggest this phrase “inner man” should be render as a title, “Inner Man” as a title for Jesus the Messiah who dwells in our heart. Through faith, Christ Jesus dwells in believers’ heart, that is He takes up residence in our lives, we invite Him to be “at home” in every area of our life, not just a frequent visitor, but living daily with us as our King.

Paul writes often about the importance of prayer. In 1 Thessalonians 5:16-17 he writes, “Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus”. He often wrote that He was praying for the church and he also asked for the believers to pray for him as well. From his prison cell Paul encourages the church to pray for kings and all those in authority, with petitions, intercession and thanksgiving. He instructs us that we are to confess our sins in prayer and know that even when we cannot pray, because of our circumstances, that Spirit intercedes for us with words we cannot express in our grief and sufferings.

Paul prayed for the Ephesians “to be strengthened with power through His Spirit”. Paul wrote often about God’s power. In 2 Corinthians 12:9 Paul records what Christ told him, “‘My grace is enough for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness’. So then, I will boast most gladly about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may reside in me”. In Philippians 4 he explains how he applied this truth in his life, “I have experienced times of need and times of abundance. In any and every circumstance I have learned the secret of contentment, whether I go satisfied or hungry, have plenty or nothing. I am able to do all things through the one who strengthens me”.

Paul continues explaining, that through the indwelling of Christ through faith you will be able to comprehend “what is the breadth and length and height and depth and thus know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, so that you will be filled up to all the fullness of God”. This amazing sentence is stated in the perfect tense, indicating past action and continuing results. Paul restates this same thought in Romans 8:35-39 “Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will trouble, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? As it is written, “For your sake we encounter death all day long; we were considered as sheep to be slaughtered.” No, in all these things we have complete victory through him who loved us! For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor heavenly rulers, nor things that are present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in creation will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord”.

Paul wants the Ephesians to understand and experience God’s love and to be “filled up to all the fullness of God”. He echoes this same thought in Colossians 2:9-10, “For in him all the fullness of deity lives in bodily form, and you have been filled in him, who is the head over every ruler and authority”. Paul concludes his prayer by praising God, “Now to Him who by the power that is working within us is able to do far beyond all that we ask or think, to him be the glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations, forever and ever. Amen”.