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Ephesians Chapter 4, Part 1 (of 4 Parts)

by Karl Kemp  
7/01/2012 / Bible Studies

This paper was taken from my original paper titled, "Verse-by-Verse Studies of Ephesians Chapters 1 and 4; and Romans 8:16-39." I was able to use bold, underlining, italics, and footnotes in the original paper and in the version on my website. I will always use the New American Standard Bible (NASB), 1995 edition, unless I mention otherwise. Sometimes I will use double brackets [[ ]] and (( )) to make them more obvious.

One reason I picked this chapter is that it hasn't been discussed much in my previous writings. For one thing, this chapter contains some very important teaching regarding righteousness, holiness, and the victory over all sin (see 4:1-3, 17-32). The last two chapters in the epistle to the Ephesians, chapters 5 and 6, also contain some very important teaching regarding righteousness, holiness, and the victory over sin. In this discussion of Ephesians chapter 4, we'll consider quite a few verses from chapters 5 and 6, and I'll refer the reader to verse-by-verse discussions of those verses in my earlier writings.

Ephesians chapter 4 also contains some important teaching regarding the proper functioning of the church, the body of Christ. There's a strong emphasis on the need for unity, with each Christian fulfilling their assigned roles (by the grace of God in Christ), and there's quite a bit of emphasis placed on the importance of the five-fold ministry in the body of Christ. This chapter also contains the verses that speak of Christ's descending into the lower parts of the earth (Hades). We'll discuss all these items in some detail in this paper.

"Therefore I, the prisoner of the Lord [Compare Eph. 3:1. There's widespread agreement that the apostle Paul wrote this epistle while a prisoner at Rome.], implore [Compare Rom. 12:1; the same Greek verb was used there, translated "I urge" by the NASB.] you to walk [cf. Eph. 2:10; Col. 1:10; 2:6; and 1 Thess. 2:12] in a manner worthy of the calling with which you have been called [[The apostle spelled out much of what we have been called to in the first three chapters of this epistle. Compare Rom. 8:28-30. We have been called by God to be His born-again, holy and blameless, adopted children. We have been bought at a very great price; we have been redeemed out of the kingdom of sin, darkness, and Satan. The Spirit of God dwells within us; our bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit. When Christ returns we will be glorified and begin to reign with Him (and God the Father) in a never-ending reign. How's that for a calling?]], (2) with all humility [[Humility (which is the opposite of pride) is obviously very important for Christians. I'll quote what Harold W. Hoehner says on humility here ("Bible Knowledge Commentary," New Testament [Victor, 1983], page 632). "Believer's attitudes are...important. Paul listed three virtues that are to enhance a believer's walk. The first of these is humility. In Greek culture, humility was thought of as a vice, to be practiced only by slaves. But Paul stated that saints should be completely humble in their daily walks. This is the opposite of pride. On the other hand Christians should not promote false humility, but should recognize who they are in God's program (cf. John 3:30; Rom. 12:3). This virtue is listed first because of Paul's emphasis on unity (pride promotes disunity; humility promotes unity) and to counteract their past pride, so as to facilitate obedience to and dependence on God. Christ was the supreme example of humility (Phil. 2:6-8)."] 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. [[Love, gentleness, patience, and peace were all listed as fruit of the Spirit in Gal. 5:22, 23. Humility and the attitude of being tolerant could have been listed there too. It should be quite obvious just how important these qualities/fruit of the Spirit are to the unity and proper functioning of the body of Christ. Compare Col. 3:12-15.

I frequently hear Christians speak of the need for Christians to have the unity of the Spirit (a unity produced by the Holy Spirit) no matter what we believe (or how we live). But that's not what the apostle was saying - such unity of the Spirit is impossible. There may be some sort of unity without truth, righteousness, and holiness, but it won't be unity of the Spirit. The Bible makes it clear that it's very important for Christians to be united in love (e.g., John 17:20-23) and that the Holy Spirit will enable us to be united. We can even experience unity of the Spirit in Christ Jesus if we don't agree on every detail. We must be generous with others and make liberal allowance for their idiosyncrasies, even as they must do for us. It's not true, however, that we can have unity of the Spirit with those who are violating the new covenant through serious doctrinal error and/or through continuing to live in obvious sin (cf., e.g., Matt. 7:15-23; 18:15-18; 1 Cor. 5:1-13; 2 Cor. 11:13-15; 2 Thess. 3:6-15; 1 Tim. 1:18-20; 2 Tim. 2:14-19; 2 Pet. 2:1-22; 1 John 4:1-6; and 2 John 1:7-11). We can't have unity of the Spirit without unity in truth, righteousness, and holiness.]] (4) There is one body [[Compare Eph. 2:14-16; Rom. 12:1-13; 1 Cor. 12:4-31. Every true Christian is part of this one body, the body of Christ, the Christian church. (The body of Christ is also mentioned in Eph. 4:12, 16.) Every time the apostle uses the word "one" throughout this verse and the next two verses, he is emphasizing the need for unity. There's only one body, one Spirit, one hope of our calling, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, and one God the Father. The need for unity in the one body of Christ permeates Eph. 4:1-16.

Whether we like it or not, all the members of the body are affected by one another, and we need one another, according to the plan of God. It's terribly inappropriate for true Christians to fight one another, to envy one another, to compete with one another, etc. According to God's plan, we really do need one another; each Christian really does have important roles to fulfill. That is, we really do need one another to the extent that each of us is submitted to God in truth, living in His will, and making our proper contribution to the functioning of the body of Christ (by the grace/Spirit of God through faith).

Note the use of the word "unity" in Eph. 4:13; note the use of the word "love" in Eph. 4:15, 16; and note that Eph. 4:16 shows that the whole body is fitted and held together through every joint of the supply and that it speaks of the need for each Christian to work for the good of the body according to their assigned measure. Divine order requires unity in the family of God. Where we don't have unity, it's because God's will isn't being done and, one way or another, we have left some room/place for sin, fleshiness, worldliness, and the devil with his evil hosts (cf. Eph. 4:27).]] and one Spirit [Compare Eph. 2:18. Every true Christian has been born of the one Spirit, the Holy Spirit (e.g., John 3:3-8), is indwelled by the one Spirit (e.g., Rom. 8:9), and is enabled, and required, and privileged to walk by/after/in the one Spirit (e.g., Gal. 5:16-18; 6:7, 8).], just as also you were called in one hope of your calling [See under Eph. 1:18 in Part 3 of the paper on Ephesians chapter 1 on this Christian article site. Christians have been called to glory. This enables us all to have the same (super-solid, Bible-based) hope that we will be caught up into the eternal glory of God when Christ returns.]; (5) one Lord [Compare 1 Cor. 8:6. This refers to the Lord Jesus Christ. Ephesians 4:4-6 mention God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit.], one faith [The one faith is the Christian faith, Christianity; our faith is in God, His Son, and the gospel, with some emphasis on what we believe, what we are committed to (the basic, non-negotiable doctrines of the Christian faith).], one baptism [Paul is speaking of water baptism here. (For one thing, the apostle has already mentioned the Holy Spirit in Eph. 4:4.) A study of what the New Testament teaches about water baptism demonstrates that the apostolic Christian church considered water baptism to be quite important. It certainly wasn't optional for Christians. On water baptism see Part 1 of my study on 1 Corinthians chapter 15, under verse 29.], (6) one God and Father of all who is over all and through all and in all. [Cf., e.g., Rom. 11:36; 16:27; and Jude 1:25.] (7) But [or, And] to each one of us grace was given according to the measure of Christ's gift. [[Here in Eph. 4:7 the apostle uses the word "grace" in a somewhat limited, special sense. (Our full salvation, including forgiveness, the new birth, our righteousness and holiness, our place in heaven, etc. is all of grace.) He is speaking here, at least for the most part, of the measure of grace (including the charismatic gifts, not limited to the nine gifts listed in 1 Corinthians chapter 12) given to each Christian (see under Eph. 4:16) - and especially to those in the ministry (he goes on to speak of the five-fold ministry) - that enables us to make our required contribution to the unity and proper functioning of the body of Christ. We are responsible before God to do our part (our measure), in accordance with His plan, by His grace. God's grace is sufficient for the body of Christ to be united and to function properly.

The fact that Christ gives different measures of grace (including charismatic gifts) to us makes us different from one another in some ways; Paul discusses such differences in 1 Corinthians chapter 12. Here in Eph. 4:1-16 Paul puts some emphasis on the fact that each measure of grace given to each Christian (whether in the five-fold ministry, or not) is given to promote the unity and proper functioning of the body of Christ (not so we can compete with one another, or have superiority or inferiority complexes, etc.). All Christians must fulfill their assignments/service/ministries. All Christians are gifted to serve/minister in the body of Christ (we can think, for example, of some being gifted for special service/ministries in areas like intercessory prayer, helps [1 Cor. 12:28], administrations [1 Cor. 12:28], special giving [Rom. 12:8], showing mercy [Rom. 12:8], or hospitality and generosity), but especially those who are called into the five-fold ministry (cf. Rom. 12:3-8; 1 Cor. 12:4-31).

It is clear that the fruit of the Spirit (Gal. 5:22, 23), which are part of the full salvation package that comes to us through the grace of God in Christ, are totally necessary for the unity and proper functioning of the body of Christ, but we don't typically think of the fruit of the Spirit being given to Christians by measure. They are made available in full measure to every Christian as part of the full salvation package. However, it seems that God does give special manifestations of some fruit of the Spirit to some Christians, enabling them to produce a superabundance of that fruit for the good of the body of Christ. Some manifest superabundance of love, or joy, or kindness, etc., which is a significant blessing to the body of Christ.

Romans 12:1-8 is a very important cross-reference for Eph. 4:7. Romans 12:3, 6 (especially 12:6) use the word grace in a limited, special sense, which has much in common with Eph. 4:7. (I had a footnote: Some other verses that speak of the grace that enables Christians to minister in the body of Christ are Rom. 1:5; 1 Cor. 3:10; 1 Cor. 15:10; Gal. 1:15; 2:9; Eph. 3:2, 7, 8; and 1 Pet. 4:10. If we didn't minister by the grace/Spirit of God, we would have to minister in the flesh.) Furthermore, Rom. 12:3 uses the word measure. (I had a footnote: Some other verses that use the word measure in a comparable way are Eph. 4:16 [discussed below]; 2 Cor. 10:12-16 [especially 10:13]; also see John 3:34.)

In Rom. 12:3-8 the apostle Paul puts much emphasis on the need for each Christian (and especially for those in the ministry) to stay within their measure assigned by God. This staying within one's assigned measure is very important to the proper functioning and unity of the body of Christ. I urge the reader to see the discussion of Rom. 12:1-8 in my "A Paper on Faith." 1 Corinthians 12:4-31 (with all of 1 Corinthians chapters 12-14), which is another important cross-reference, is discussed verse-by-verse in articles on this Christian article site (to see all of my articles, click on my name at any of my articles).

"Christ's gift" (Eph. 4:7; literally "the gift of Christ"), speaking of the gift that comes from Christ to each one of us, obviously comes by God's "grace." In other words, it is freely given, totally unearned, and God must receive all the glory for what is accomplished by His grace. But God's grace isn't effective in our lives unless we cooperate with His grace by (cf., e.g., 1 Cor. 15:10). This doesn't make grace any less grace, or rob God of any glory. God is glorified when we complete our assignments by His grace/Spirit, and we will be rewarded for faithfulness, not that God owes us anything (cf., e.g., 1 Cor. 3:14).

Christ, the head of the church, determines what the measure of each Christian should be. (Thank God for that! We would have a hard time trusting one another to determine our measure.) We all have important contributions to make to the proper functioning of the body of Christ. Christ determines what our assignments/ministries are to be in the body of Christ, and He distributes to us the gifts/grace required to fulfill those assignments/ministries. We can trust Him, and we dare not rebel against His plan for our lives. We must make it a top priority to cooperate with Him as He guides us into, and keeps us in, His plan for our lives. Also, as we are faithful He may increase our measure.

I believe one major problem we have in the body of Christ is that many Christians are determining what their measure should be, instead of Christ. (We must submit to the will of God in this area, as in every other area, or we're going to have chaos to one degree or another. His ways are always right and good!) There hasn't been much good teaching in the body of Christ on what the Bible says on this topic. For one thing, many ministers don't think in terms of limiting themselves to the measure assigned by God. (When ministers are not functioning in the measure assigned by God, it causes gigantic problems. For one thing, they will be "ministering" to some significant extent in the flesh, which leads to all sorts of big problems, including doctrinal errors and strife.) As I mentioned, the need to limit ourselves to our assigned measure is a major point that the apostle Paul made in Rom. 12:3-8.

Many ministers (and the problem isn't limited to ministers) think they can do just about everything (this mentality permeates our culture) and that they don't have much need for the other ministries; but this isn't God's plan. (Many of us, and not just ministers, have picked up the idea that "I can do anything; in fact, anything you can do I can do better." Christians, if they aren't careful, can still be motivated by pride and stupidity. It's easy to be fleshly.) When Christians, and especially ministers, don't stay within their measure assigned by God, it leads to confusion and fleshly competition, and the body of Christ is out of divine order. For the body of Christ to function as it should, every Christian, and especially every minister, must make their proper contribution (in accordance with the plan and grace of God). Of course it's also true that we should always be open for God to use us anyway He sees fit to meet a need.

I'll quote part of what S. D. F. Salmond says under Eph. 4:7 ("Expositor's Greek Testament," Vol. 3 [Eerdmans, 1974 reprint], page 323). "God's gracious relation to all [referring back to Eph. 4:6] is a relation also to each individual. Not one of them was left unregarded by Him who is the God and Father of all, but each was made a partaker of Christ's gift of grace, and each, therefore, is able and stands pledged to do his part toward the maintenance of unity and peace."]] (8) Therefore it says, 'WHEN HE ASCENDED ON HIGH, HE LED CAPTIVE A HOST OF CAPTIVES, AND HE GAVE GIFTS TO MEN.' [[In verses 8-10 Paul makes an application of Psalm 68:18, which he loosely quoted here. He takes the words HE ASCENDED ON HIGH of the ascension of Christ back to glory after His atoning death and resurrection (cf. Phil. 2:9-11). Christ had to descend before He could ascend. First He descended to the earth (from heaven) to be born of the virgin (e.g., Phil. 2:6, 7). Then, after His all-important atoning death on the cross, His soul/spirit descended into Hades. (("He...descended into the lower parts of the earth" [Eph. 4:9]. Compare Acts 2:27 (NKJV "Because You will not leave my soul in Hades...."); Acts 2:31 (NKJV "...His soul was not left in Hades....") See the discussion on the meaning of Hades, Paradise, etc., in this paper after finishing verses 1-16 and before starting verse 17.)) In their original setting these words of Psalm 68:18 spoke of God's ascending Mt. Zion (cf. Psalm 68:16) after defeating His opposition.

I'll quote part of what Ralph Earle said on the meaning of "the lower parts of the earth" ("Word Meanings in the New Testament" [Baker, 1986], page 311). "This strange expression has provoked an endless amount of discussion, especially in the older commentaries. [I suppose this expression seems strange to Earle because he, in agreement with many, thinks this expression refers to Christ's coming down to the earth in the virgin birth, not of His descent into Hades.] There are two main interpretations. The first would refer it to a descent into Hades (cf. the Apostles' Creed). The second would apply it to the Incarnation. Some of the Early Church fathers, such as Irenaeus, Tertullian, Jerome, together with Erasmus, Bengel, Meyer, Alford, and others, took the former view. On the other hand, Calvin proposed the latter, and many modern commentators have followed him."

Paul takes the words HE LED CAPTIVE A HOST OF CAPTIVES of Christ's defeating sin, Satan, and spiritual death through His atoning death and resurrection (cf., e.g., John 12:31; Col. 2:15; and Heb. 2:14, 15). ((I had a footnote: There's a common view that is based on a misunderstanding of the KJV translation ("He led captivity captive"; the NASB has, HE LED CAPTIVE A HOST OF CAPTIVES). This view understands Paul to be saying that the captives were led from Hades to heaven, as if the meaning of the Greek verb used here ("aichmalotizo") were "set free" instead of "make captive/take captive." I do believe it's true, however (even though that's not what Paul said here), that since Christ defeated sin, Satan, and death in His atoning death and resurrection, He was able to take the believers from earlier days from Hades to heaven (cf. Heb. 11:39, 40; 12:23).)) Having defeated them and taken them captive, so to speak, He could now give new-covenant salvation to those who submitted to Him and the new-covenant gospel in faith. He could now give new-covenant salvation to believers, which includes forgiveness and the indwelling Spirit to give them life and make them righteous and holy, and to distribute to them the grace/gifts to fulfill their measure in the body of Christ.

Taken in their fullest possible sense, Paul would be taking the words HE GAVE GIFTS TO MEN to refer to all that we Christians receive in union with Christ Jesus. But in this context, with Eph. 4:7, the gifts could just refer to the grace/gifts that God gives to each Christian (and especially to those in the five-fold ministry), enabling them to fulfill their measure/ministry/assignments. It's also true that Paul spoke of Christ's giving the five-fold ministry to/for the church (Eph. 4:11).

In the original setting of Psalm 68, the words HE LED CAPTIVE A HOST OF CAPTIVES spoke of the opponents who were subdued. And in the original setting of Psalm 68, the words HE GAVE GIFTS TO MEN spoke of God's sharing with His people (Israel) the spoils taken from those who were subdued.]] (9) (Now this expression 'He ascended [cf. John 3:13],' what does it mean except that He also had descended into the lower parts of the earth? [See under Eph. 4:8.] (10) He who descended is Himself also He who ascended far above all the heavens [cf. Eph. 1:20-23; Heb. 4:14; and 7:26], so that He might fill all things.) [For the resurrected, glorified Christ to "fill all things" includes the idea that He has all authority everywhere. See under Eph. 1:23 in Part 3 of Ephesians chapter 1 on this site.]

This verse-by-verse study of Ephesians chapter 4 will continue, starting with verse 11 in Part 2.

Copyright by Karl Kemp Karl Kemp worked as an engineer in the space field throughout the 60s. He became a born-again Christian in 1964. He received an MA in Biblical Studies in 1972. He has been a Bible teacher for 45 years. See the website for more info on his books, papers, etc.

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