Being the Body of Christ

 

Sunday School Lesson for April 21, 2002

 

Ephesians 4:1-16

 

Introduction

 

Chapter four begins a new section of the book of Ephesians.  This change of thought is indicated by the word “then” in verse one.  Paul moves from a doctrinal theme to a section dealing with the application of Christian doctrine in every-day life.  That is, Paul moves from discussing the indicatives of the Christian faith (what God has done for us) to the imperatives of the Christian faith (what we do in response to the grace of God).  This structure is typical of Paul’s style as a comparison with Romans 12:1 and Colossians 3:5 will evidence.

 

The main theme of this chapter is set forth in the first verse with the command to “live a life worthy of the calling you have received.”  In other words, Paul makes the point that the grace of God produces fundamental changes in our lives, changes that reflect the truth and saving power of the gospel.  Thus, when God saves a person, that person begins to change and grow and commences a journey to maturity in Christ that involves both the work of the Holy Spirit and the cooperation of the believer.  Note the way he expresses this thought in verse thirteen where he speaks of becoming a “mature” believer and in verse fifteen where he declares that we are to “grow up into Him.” 

 

As we carefully examine the contents of this section of Ephesians we will find marks or indicators of Christian maturity.  These represent the specific changes God initiates in our lives as we grow in Christ.  These indicators become, then, our aiming points or areas of focus to which we must give diligent attention.

 

Indicator One:  Mature Christians are Characterized by Their Pursuit of Unity (4:2-6)

 

Verse three introduces the theme of unity where Paul speaks of  the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace.”  This experience of Christian unity is founded upon the general posture that a believer is to assume before God and his fellow-believers. Note Paul’s initial exhortation in verse 2—“Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love.” The four central components of this sentence—humility, gentleness, patience, and love—are each essential to unity among brothers and sisters in Christ. It is important to remember that unity and uniformity are not the same in meaning.  Unity is oneness based upon a common commitment to a common faith.  This becomes clear when we examine Paul’s words in verses four through six. 

 

 

 

 

It is clear from this passage that true Christian unity relates to the apprehension of and commitment to the major doctrines of the faith.  Thus, authentic unity is based upon a common set of beliefs about the essentials of Christianity.  Paul’s hope and prayer, then, is that God’s people will come to continually experience the “unity in the faith” as they go about living for their Lord (see 4:13). 

 

At this point it is important to note that unity is not to be built upon any other foundation.  Many contemporary Christians have sought to create unity based upon ethics, political positions, “family values,” emotionalism, or experience.  Yet, as we have discovered, none of these can provide an adequate basis for Christian unity.

 

In the light of these verses we can confidently declare that Christian maturity is characterized by a desire for unity among brothers and sisters in Christ.  Additionally, it is obvious that such unity pleases the Lord and brings glory to His name.

 

 

Indicator Two:  Mature Believers are Characterized by a  Desire to Serve (4:7-13)

 

Verse seven sets forth the fact that Christ Himself has “graced” all believers with both the privilege and equipment for service to His Church.  Note that “each one” within the covenant community has received a special dispensation of “grace” directly from the wellspring of Christ’s incomprehensible love (3:18-19).  The gifts of the Spirit are in view here and it is no small thing that they are attributed to the will of Christ—“as Christ apportioned it.” This passage should be carefully compared to 1 Corinthians 12:11 where Paul makes a similar claim for the Holy Spirit’s intention in distributing the various gifts. We can see, then, that every member of Christ’s body has been endowed with the necessary gifts for ministry, service, and witness. There are no passive spectators in the Lord’s church!

 

Verses eight through ten reveal Christ’s sovereign authority and power to grant gifts to His bride. Quoting from Psalm 68:18, Paul maintains that the One who took on human flesh—“descended to the lower, earthly regions”—is the very One who “ascended on high” to the right hand of the Father having provided deliverance and salvation to His people—“he led captives in his train.”

 

In verse eleven Paul focuses upon the gifts of the Holy Spirit that are given to believers in order to serve the body of Christ.  In this verse five representative gifts/offices are listed as examples of how Christ has equipped His people for service:

 

 

 

 

 

 

The purpose for the gifts of the Spirit is presented in verse twelve where Paul declares that the leaders of the church are to “prepare God’s people for works of service.”  

 

 

 

The result of the saints’ service and the faithful employment of their gifts is that the “the body of Christ” will be thoroughly “built up” (v.12) That is, Christ’s church is brought to a greater degree of spiritual growth, health, and maturity as Christians use their gifts in His service.  The standard of measurement for each believer’s maturity is nothing less than the “whole measure of the fullness of Christ” (v.13). Thus, “the glorified Christ provides the standard at which his people are to aim” as they are, on a day-by-day basis, conformed to His image (Bruce, 350).

 

 

Indicator Three:   Mature Christians are Characterized by Doctrinal Stability  (4:14)

 

In verse fourteen Paul describes the mature believer as one who is not “tossed back and forth by waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching.”  In other words, they have their feet firmly on the ground in regard to the teachings of Christ and the essentials of the Christian faith.  Such a posture is in direct contrast to “infants” who are quickly and easily led astray to false and destructive heresies.

 

Verse fourteen also provides a graphic description of the spiritually immature believer who has no roots and is easily blown around by anything new and exciting.  Note the following:

 

 

 

 

Rather than being blown around by each new wind, the wise believer will anchor himself to the Word of God.  For further study on this point note the following passages which speak of the importance of sound doctrine:  1 Tim. 1:10; 4:1,6,13; 2 Tim. 4:3,13; Titus 1:9; 2:10.

Indicator Four:  Mature Believers Speak Truthfully in the Atmosphere of Christian Love (4:15)

 

One of Paul’s more famous statements is found in verse fifteen where he says that Christians are to be “speaking the truth in love” as they conduct their lives to the glory of God. 

 

There are at least two aspects or dimensions of this exhortation.  First, Christians are to declare the truth of God in the spirit of self-giving love.  Secondly, believers are to consistently speak truthfully as motivated by Christ-like love.

 

 

 

It is in this specific way, the use of the tongue, that the believer demonstrates the Lordship of Christ.  For further study note James 3:1-12.

 

 

                                     Questions for Discussion and Application

 

 

One: What are some ways Christians can aid their growth in maturity?  Can you list any Scripture passages that support these?

 

Two: In the light of Ephesians 4:11-13 what would you say is the main task of pastoral leaders in the church?

 

Three: If unity is based upon doctrine, what then are the essential doctrines of the faith that we are to stand upon?

 

Four: What is the biblical term for Christian growth?  Can you list passages where this word is used in either its verb or noun form?