HONOR GOD IN HIS CHURCH

 

Week of October 23, 2005

 

Bible Passage:Ephesians 3:14-4:16

Biblical Truth: God designed the church so that believers might be empowered and equipped to honor Him as they work together.

 

Be Empowered by Godís Spirit (3:14-19)

 

14 For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, 15 from whom every family in heaven and on earth derives its name, 16 that He would grant you, according to the riches of His glory, to be strengthened with power through His Spirit in the inner man, 17 so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith; and that you, being rooted and grounded in love, 18 may be able to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, 19 and to know the love of Christ which surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled up to all the fullness of God. [NASU]

 

For this reason harks back to verse 1, where the phrase refers to the preceding exposition of the unity of Jews and Gentiles in one body through the cross [2:11-22]. Once again, Paul follows teaching by prayer. The thought of the new relations into which the Ephesians had been brought by grace toward God and toward the Jews Ė the reconciliation of the Cross, peace effected where once there was only enmity, the place given them in the household of God Ė gave Paul cause for prayer in their behalf. There are several different ways of unpacking this prayer. But I will follow John Stott who focuses on four main words: strength, love, knowledge and fullness.

 

1. Strengthened with might [16b-17a]. These two petitions clearly belong together. Both refer to the Christianís innermost being, his Ďinner maní on the one hand and his Ďheartí on the other. Although one specifies the strength of the Spirit and the other the indwelling of Christ, both surely refer to the same experience. For Paul never separates the second and third persons of the Trinity. To have Christ dwelling in us and to have the Spirit dwelling in us are the same thing. Indeed, it is precisely by the Spirit that Christ dwells in our hearts, and it is strength which he gives us when he dwells there. Some are puzzled by this first petition when they remember that Paul is praying for Christians. How can Paul ask here that Christ may dwell in their hearts? Was Christ not already within them? Indeed every Christian is indwelt by Christ and is the temple of the Holy Spirit. Nevertheless, the indwelling of Christ is a thing of degrees. So also is the inward strengthening of the Holy Spirit. What Paul asks for his readers is that they may be fortified and invigorated, that they may know the strength of the Spiritís inner reinforcement, and may lay hold ever more firmly by faith of this divine strength, this divine indwelling. There are two Greek verbs for Ďdwellí. One means to inhabit as a stranger which Paul used in 2:19 for an alien who is living away from his home. The other word means to settle down somewhere. It refers to a permanent as opposed to a temporary abode, and is used metaphorically both for the fullness of the Godhead abiding in Christ [Col. 2.9] and for Christís abiding in the believerís heart here in verse 17. Thus Paul prays to the Father that Christ by his Spirit will be allowed to settle down in their hearts, and from his throne there both control and strengthen them. For the fourth time in the letter one is struck by the natural Trinitarian structure of the apostleís thought [1.3, 17; 2:18].

 

2. Rooted and grounded in love [17b]. In the new and reconciled humanity which Christ is creating love is the pre-eminent virtue. They need the power of the Spiritís might and of Christís indwelling to enable them to love each other, especially across the deep racial and cultural divide which previously had separated them. Paul joins two metaphors both of which emphasize depth as opposed to superficiality. Paul likens them first to a well-rooted tree, and then to a well-built house. In both cases the unseen cause of their stability will be the same: love. Love is to be the soil in which their life is to be rooted; love is to be the foundation on which their life is built.

 

3. Knowing Christís love [18-19a]. Paul now passes from our love to Christís love which he prays we may know. Indeed he acknowledges that we need strength or power for both, strength to love and power to comprehend Christís love. This love surpasses knowledge. Paul has already used this Ďsurpassingí word of Godís power [1.19] and grace [2.7]; now he uses it of his love. Christís love is as unknowable as his riches are unsearchable [8]. Doubtless we shall spend eternity exploring his inexhaustible riches of grace and love.

 

4. Filled up to Godís fullness [19b]. Growth in fullness is the theme of Paulís fourth and last petition for his readers. We are to be filled not Ďwithí so much as Ďuntoí the fullness of God. Godís fullness or perfection becomes the standard to which we pray to be filled. The aspiration is the same in principle as that implied by the commands to be holy as God is holy, and to be perfect as our heavenly Father is perfect. God expects us to be growing daily towards that final fullness, as we are being transformed by the Holy Spirit into Christís image from one degree of glory to another.

 

In conclusion, it is important to recognize the role two other words play in Paulís prayer: according and through. It is according to the riches of His glory that determines the measure in which these blessings are given to the Ephesians. The riches of his glory are the sum of Godís manifested perfections, not merely his grace or his power, but all his attributes as these are harmoniously exercised in the salvation of his people. And it is only through faith that the Ephesians are to experience this divine power and the indwelling of the Son of God. John Calvin writes. ďBy faith we not only acknowledge that Christ suffered for us and rose from the dead for us, but we receive Him, possessing and enjoying Him as He offers Himself to us. The fellowship which we have with Christ is the effect of faith. The substance of it is that Christ is not to be viewed from afar by faith but to be received by the embrace of our minds, so that He may dwell in us, and so it is that we are filled with the Spirit of God.Ē This faith is a full surrender to God so that we expect everything from God and yield everything to him.

 

Seek Godís Glory (3:20-21)

 

20 Now to Him who is able to do far more abundantly beyond all that we ask or think, according to the power that works within us, 21 to Him be the glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations forever and ever. Amen. [NASU]

 

A Final Word of Praise. Paul has been asking God for some blessings of extraordinary value; he has been petitioning the Almighty for blessings that are immeasurably great. Now in his closing doxology, he puts these petitions in perspective by stressing two themes. (1) The God whom he petitions is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine. That is a staggering thought. To an omnipotent God, there cannot be degrees of difficulty. But surely Paul is saying something more than that about God. God is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, not only because he is powerful but also because he is generous. He loves to give good gifts to his children. To think of God in any other way is to demean him; to think of God in this way is itself tantamount to a call to pray. We simply cannot ask for good things beyond Godís power to give them; we cannot even imagine good things beyond Godís power to give them. Paulís concluding word of praise thus becomes an immensely powerful incentive to pray. (2) The ultimate purpose of Paulís prayer is that there be glory to God, in the church and in Christ Jesus. It is possible to ask for good things for bad reasons.The root sin is the kind of self-centeredness that wants to usurp Godís place. How tragic then if our prayers for good things leave us still thinking of ourselves first, still thinking of Godís will primarily in terms of its immediate effect on ourselves, still longing for blessings simply so that we will be blessed. We may have improved a little on the quality of what we ask for, but the deeper question is this: Do we bring these petitions before God both with a proximate goal (that we might receive what we ask for) and with an ultimate goal Ė that God might be glorified? For that, surely, is the deepest test: Has God become so central to all our thought and pursuits, and thus to our praying, that we cannot easily imagine asking for anything without consciously longing that the answer bring glory to God? That is Paulís vision in his concluding word of praise. He prays that there might be glory to God, both in the church, as the church progressively obeys God and pleases him and makes him the center of its existence, and also in Christ Jesus, presumably as Christ Jesus is lifted up by the church in thought, word, and deed. Here, then, is how we shall reform our praying. We shall learn to pray with the apostle not only in his petitions, but in his words of praise, in his ultimate goal, in his profound God-centeredness.

 

Live in a Worthy Manner (4:1-6)

 

1 Therefore I, the prisoner of the Lord, implore you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling with which you have been called, 2 with all humility and gentleness, with patience, showing tolerance for one another in love, 3 being diligent to preserve the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. 4 There isone body and one Spirit, just as also you were called in one hope of your calling; 5 one Lord, one faith, one baptism, 6 one God and Father of all who is over all and through all and in all. [NASU]

 

[1-2] Now the apostle moves on from the new society to the new standards which are expected of it. So he turns from exposition to exhortation, from what God has done (in the indicative) to what we must be and do (in the imperative), from doctrine to duty. Instruction, intercession and exhortation constitute a formidable trio of weapons in any Christian teacherís armory. What this life is to be like can be determined only by the nature of the divine call of which it is to be worthy. Paul immediately portrays the life worthy of our calling as being characterized by five qualities Ė humility, gentleness, patience, mutual forbearance and love. Humility is that lowliness of mind which recognizes the worth and value of other people. It is essential to unity since pride lurks behind all discord. Gentleness or meekness is the absence of the disposition to assert personal rights, either in the presence of God or of men. Patience is longsuffering towards aggravating people while forbearing one another speaks of that mutual tolerance without which no group of human beings can live together in peace. Love is the final quality, which embraces the preceding four, and is the crown and sum of all virtues. No unity is pleasing to God which is not the child of charity.

 

[3-6] The word Ďoneí occurs seven times. Three of these uses allude to the three persons of the Trinity, while the remaining four allude to our Christian experience in relation to the Trinity. First, there is one body because there is only one Spirit [4]. Secondly, there is one hope belonging to our Christian calling [4] one faith and one baptism [5] because there is only one Lord. Thirdly, there is one Christian family, embracing us all [6] because there is one God and Father. How can the evident phenomenon of the disunity of the church be reconciled with the biblical insistence on the indestructibility of its unity? A necessary distinction needs to be drawn. It is between the churchís unity as an invisible reality present to the mind of God and the churchís disunity as a visible appearance. Paul himself recognizes this paradoxical combination of unity and disunity. Paul first describes the churchís unity as a unity which the Holy Spirit creates and then argues that this unity is as indestructible as God himself. Yet in the same context he also tells us that we have to maintain it! What can he mean? What is the sense of urging the maintenance of something indestructible, and of urging us to maintain it, when it is a unity of the Spirit, which he created and is therefore presumably himself responsible for preserving? There seems to be but one possible answer to these questions, namely that to maintain the churchís unity must mean to maintain it visibly. Paul tells us to be diligent to preserve the unity of the Spirit. The Greek verb for diligent is emphatic. It means that we are to spare no effort, and, being a present participle, it is a call for continuous, diligent activity. Where is this eagerness for unity to be found among evangelical Christians today? Is this an apostolic command we are guilty of largely ignoring? We should all be eager for some visible expression of Christian unity, provided always that we do not sacrifice fundamental Christian truth in order to achieve it.

 

Do the Work of Ministry (4:7, 11-15)

 

7 But to each one of us grace was given according to the measure of Christ's gift. 11 And He gave some as apostles, and some as prophets, and some asevangelists, and some as pastors and teachers, 12 for the equipping of the saints for the work of service, to the building up of the body of Christ; 13 until we all attain to the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a mature man, to the measure of the stature which belongs to the fullness of Christ. 14 As a result, we are no longer to be children, tossed here and there by waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, by craftiness in deceitful scheming; 15 but speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in all aspects into Him who is the head, even Christ, [NASU]

 

Saving grace, the grace which saves sinners, is given to all who believe; but what might be termed service grace, the grace which equips Godís people to serve, is given in differing degrees according to the measure of Christís gift. The unity of the church is due to Godís grace having reconciled us to himself; but the diversity of the church is due to Godís gifts distributed to church members. What, then, does this paragraph teach us about spiritual gifts?

 

1. The giver of spiritual gifts is the ascended Christ [7]. The unity of the body does not mean that its members are characterized by a drab uniformity, for each one was given by the exalted Christ in sovereign wisdom that measure of grace which manifests itself in their particular gift or gifts.

2. The character of spiritual gifts is extremely varied [11]. The five lists of spiritual gifts given in the New Testament mention between them at least 20 distinct gifts. Each list diverges widely from the others, and gives its selection of gifts in an apparently haphazard fashion. This suggests not only that no one list is complete, but that even all five together do not represent an exhaustive catalogue. Doubtless there are many more which are unlisted. Looking back at the list here, we observe that all five gifts relate in some way to the ministry of teaching. Nothing is more necessary for the building up of Godís church in every age than an ample supply of God-gifted teachers.

3. The purpose of spiritual gifts is service [12]. There are two purposes Ė one immediate and the other ultimate Ė for which Christ gave gifts to his church. His immediate purpose was the equipping of the saints for the work of service, and his ultimate purpose to the building up of the body of Christ. The former expression about equipping Godís people is of far-reaching significance for any true understanding of Christian ministry. For the word service is here used not to describe the work of pastors but rather the work of all Godís people without exception. The New Testament concept of the pastor is not of a person who jealously guards all ministry in his own hands, and successfully squashes all lay initiatives, but of one who helps and encourages all Godís people to discover, develop and exercise their gifts. His teaching and training are directed to this end, to enable the people of God to be a servant people, ministering actively but humbly according to their gifts in a world of alienation and pain. Thus, instead of monopolizing all ministry himself, he actually multiplies ministries. The church is the body of Christ, every member of which has a distinctive function. So Christís immediate purpose in the giving of pastors and teachers to his church is through their ministry of the word to equip all his people for their varied ministries. And the ultimate purpose of this is to build up his body, the church. For clearly the way the whole body grows is for all its members to use their God-given gifts. All spiritual gifts, then, are service-gifts. This is their purpose.

4. Christian unity demands the maturity of our growth [13-16]. Paul goes on to elaborate what he means by building up of the body of Christ. It will evidently be a lengthy process, leading to the unity of faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a mature man, to the measure of the stature which belongs to the fullness of Christ. This is the goal to which the church will one day attain. Just as the unity needs to be maintained visibly [3], so it needs to be attained fully. And the unity to which we are to come one day is that full unity which a full faith in and knowledge of the Son of God will make possible. It is precisely the more we know and trust the Son of God that we grow in the kind of unity with one another which he desires. This full unity is also called a mature man. This maturity will be nothing less than the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, the fullness which Christ himself possesses and bestows. Immature Christians never seem to know their own mind or come to settled convictions. Instead, their opinions tend to be those of the last preacher they heard or the last book they read. In contrast to doctrinal instability, which is a mark of immaturity, we should be speaking the truth in love [15]. What we need is Ďthe truthí, provided we speak it Ďin loveí. For it is Ďin loveí that the church grows and builds itself up [16]. What Paul calls for is a balanced combination of the two which is sorely lacking in the church. Truth becomes hard if it is not softened by love; love becomes soft if it is not strengthened by truth. Thus the vertical descent of Christ's grace finds its expression in the horizontal harmony of the members. Each part of the body receives that measure of grace which determines its proper contribution to the functioning of the whole body.

CONCLUSION. Here, then, is Paulís vision for the church. Godís new society is to display charity, unity, diversity and growing maturity. These are the characteristics of a life worthy of the calling to which God has called us, and which the apostle begs us to lead [1]. We need to grasp more clearly the kind of new society God wants his church to be. Then we need to pray and work for the churchís total renewal. Paul sets before us the picture of a deepening fellowship, an eagerness to maintain visible Christian unity and to recover, if it is lost, an active every-member ministry and a steady growth into maturity by holding the truth in love. We need to keep this biblical ideal clearly before us. Only then shall we live a life that is worthy of it.

 

Questions for Discussion:

 

1.†††††† What four things does Paul pray for in vv. 14-19? Explain the importance of ďaccording toĒ and ďthroughĒ for our receiving and experiencing these four blessings.†††††

 

2.†††††† What two important truths does Paul emphasize in the doxology of vv. 20-21? Why are they a powerful incentive to pray?

 

3.†††††† Note the importance that Paul places on the unity of the church in vv. 1-6. What can we do to preserve the unity of the Spirit? Why does Paul use the word ďdiligentĒ to describe our effort?

 

4.†††††† In verse 7, who decides how much grace each believer receives? In light of this truth, what should our attitude be towards the amount of grace given to us and to our fellow believers?

 

5.†††††† Based upon verses 11-15, define spiritual maturity. How does a believer become spiritually mature? What essential character traits are necessary? What is the purpose of spiritual maturity?

 

 

References:

The Epistle to the Ephesians, John Calvin.

A Call to Spiritual Reformation, D. A. Carson, Baker Books.

Letís Study Ephesians, Sinclair Ferguson, Banner of Truth Trust.

The Message of Ephesians, John Stott, Inter-Varsity Press.

Ephesians, Geoffrey B. Wilson, Banner of Truth Trust.

The Expositorís Greek Testament, Volume 3, Eerdmans.