Bible Passage: Ephesians 4:1-16

4:1 As a prisoner for the Lord, then, I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received.

 2 Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love.

 3 Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace.

 4 There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to one hope when you were called;

 5 one Lord, one faith, one baptism;

 6 one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.

 7 But to each one of us grace has been given as Christ apportioned it.

 8 This is why it says: 'When he ascended on high, he took many captives and gave gifts to his people.'

 9 (What does 'he ascended' mean except that he also descended to the lower, earthly regions?

 10 He who descended is the very one who ascended higher than all the heavens, in order to fill the whole universe.)

 11 So Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers,

 12 to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up

 13 until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.

 14 Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of people in their deceitful scheming.

 15 Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will grow to become in every respect the mature body of him who is the head, that is, Christ.

 16 From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work. (Eph. 4:1-16 NIB)


Key OT/NT passages on how this passage fits within the Bible story as a whole

The word for ‘church’ essentially means a gathering or assembly – in Acts 19 (above) the word ‘ekklesia’ (underlined above in translation) refers equally well to a riot or a courtcase. In Bible terms, though, it means people gathered to God. In that regard, Adam and Eve represent a proto-church as they walk with God in the garden. Following the Fall, Adam and Eve are scattered East of Eden. Beginning with Abraham in Genesis 12, God promises to regather a people to himself (Gen 12, 15). This finds expression as God’s people are assembled at Sinai. It is here that the people are gathered as Moses goes up the mountain to meet with God (Exodus 19:1-6 – described by Stephen as an assembly, or ‘church’, in Acts 7:38). This gathering of God’s people was marked by God’s presence, his words of promise and direction, and the establishment of God’s people as his own possession.

 Jesus, in choosing 12 disciples, is re-establishing the people of God. By faith, they become God’s new kingdom people, having come to him (Heb 12:18-24), and being seated with him (Eph 2:6). This New Testament assembly or church is centred on Jesus as its head (Eph 4:15), indwelt by the Spirit (1 Cor 3:16), serving one another (Gal 5:13), united by him (Phil 1:27), and awaiting the day of Christ’s return (Rev 22:17).


Brief note on key themes of series

The series aims to build our understanding of the church, and our commitment to it, by exploring the doctrine of the church from four angles. The church centred on Christ, belonging to and loved by him. The church focussed on the future, awaiting the final day and inviting others to the banquet. The church working as one, united in Christ and showing mutual grace. And the church is gathered around God’s word, informed by and addressed by the true God through his living word.


Structure of this week’s sermon

As God’s church…

1) Our unity is a given reality

God’s church is a gathered people or assembled people, who are one body, indwelt by the one Spirit, called to one hope, with one Lord Jesus, one faith and one baptism, one God and Father (Eph 4:4-6). In other words, there is one gospel at the heart of the church which must necessarily unite us. The ‘unity of the Spirit’ (Eph 4:3) is something we maintain not create, as we are humble, gentle, and bear with one another (Ephesians 4:2). People who believe in a different gospel are not united with us, however much they might claim to be Christians.

In fact, this ‘given’ unity goes deeper still. In John 17:20-26 Jesus prays for future believers (17:20), and asks that the unity that exists within the Trinity would be present between believers. The unity of the church is as ‘given’ as the unity of the Father and Son – we are completely united. That’s why we find that we have a pre-existing affinity with other Christians that we meet, more so (for instance) than with an unbelieving biological family. We’re to enjoy the unity that we are given, and not work against it.

2) Our unity is a whole church activity

In Ephesians 4:7-16, Paul sets out the picture of a whole church working. As Jesus himself descended in the incarnation then descended to death, then was raised in the resurrection and ascension, so he gave a diversity of word gifts to members of God’s church (Eph 4:7-11). The result is a church joined to him (Eph 4:16) where every member does their work. The diversity of people engaged in word ministry are not an end in themselves, but equip the saints for works of service (lit. the work of service). The impact is extraordinary: the church is built up, reaches unity, becomes mature, and is stabilised (Eph 4:14). Church is not a theatre but a workshop.

Such every-member ministry is also expressed in other forms of practical activity. In Acts 4:32-37, preaching about the resurrection brings an outpouring of radical generosity. The unity of heart and mind (Acts 4:32) leads to a practical sharing of lives and possessions.


Suggestions for any tricky bits?

What does Paul do with the quote from Psalm 68:18 in Eph 4:8?

Paul appears to misquote the Psalm – the gifts seem to be going to the king’s people, rather than being received from them. In fact, the quote probably ends with the words “led captives in his train”, and the ‘giving gifts to men’ is added by Paul to highlight the gracious generosity of the heavenly king, Jesus.

Are we meant to share all our possessions like the do in Acts 4?

The rest of the New Testament makes it clear that there are many ways to ‘do’ Christian community. The principle is that Christians are radically generous, not that they hold everything in common, as they seem to here and Acts 2:42-47.


Summary of author’s main point

As God’s church, express the unity that you already have.

Aim/purpose for original audience

Express the unity which is already yours in the gospel by being humble, equipped to serve, and generous.

Aim/purpose for us today

Express the unity which is already yours in the gospel by being humble, equipped to serve, and generous.

Key area of application

Do you come to church just to receive, or to pass on God’s word to others? Church is a workshop not a theatre. When the ‘service’ ends, the work of every church member begins.