EPHESIANS Chapter 4:1-32

The fourth chapter marks the beginning of the practical section of the letter.From here on in the writer is concerned with our responses to the doctrines taught in the first three chapters.This is not to say that chapters 4‑6 do not contain doctrine, but the primary emphasis is the outworking of these truths upon Christians, both individually and corporately.

Chapter 4:1-16 Unity in Service.

Chapter 4 begins in the same way as chapter 3.But this time, Paul is using his circumstances (i.e. his imprisonment) to beseech the Ephesian church to walk worthy of the vocation with which [they were] called (v. 1).This verse makes it clear that just being born‑again is not enough if we are to please God.To please our Lord we must be useful and obedient.It is vital that Christians understand their vocation, what their function is within the Body.

The first fruit of a Christian should be lowliness and meekness (v. 2).Without these characteristics in the life of the believer, further spiritual progress is impossible.We are to be like our Master, Who was “meek and lowly in heart” (Matt. 11:29).Lowliness is the same as humility.Christians should be humble people, remembering from what terrors they have been rescued, by Whom they have been rescued, and what it took to save them (Heb. 12:3-4). Meekness or gentleness is a disposition that, although it is in control of emotions, nevertheless, does not assert itself.1To be meek is to have an excellent spirit; it is to have inner strength tempered by a humble sense of duty to God (cf. Num. 12:3).Perhaps the finest description of the combination of these two qualities is given by Solomon in Proverbs 16:32, “He that is slow to anger is better than the mighty: and he that rules his spirit than he that takes a city.”2

Humility and meekness are not qualities often found in the Lord’s people, but they are absolutely essential for healthy and constructive Christian relationships.Nobody can relate to their brother or sister in Christ in the way God wants them to relate if they are full of pride (cf. Rom. 12:3). Verse 2 continues, with longsuffering, forbearing one another in love (cf. 3:17).This we can do when we let Christ reign in our affections (cf. 1 Cor. 13:4, 5), tempering our egos and expanding our concern for others.

Endeavoring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace (v. 3).The greatest indication that we are living in a Laodicean‑type age is the disunity we see in the Body of Christ.This displeases God and blasphemes His Gospel!How can we claim to be spiritually mature if we are not striving after a bond of unity within our local congregations?And how can we function properly within the greater Church when we have a fractious spirit?Unity is uppermost in the mind of the apostle as he writes this section of Ephesians.This is comes out strongly in the next three verses.

Paul mentions seven points of unity in verses 4‑6, and he ties them together with the Trinitarian formula.Note Spirit in verse 4; Lord (Jesus) in verse 5; and Father, verse 6.

There is one body and one Spirit, even as you are called in one hope of your calling (v. 4). One Lord, one faith, one baptism (v. 5); One God and Father of all, who is above all, and through all, and in you all (v. 6).

Focusing on these unities helps one appreciate the marvel of the new birth:

One Body ‑ All believers in the universal Church. (1:23, Col. 3:15)

One Spirit ‑The indwelling Holy Spirit. (2:22, Rom. 8:9, 10; Gal. 4:6)

One Hope ‑ The hope of eternal life with Christ. (Col. 1: 12, 1 Pet. 1:4)

One Lord ‑ Our Saviour, Jesus Christ. (Jn. 13:13)

One Faith ‑ Which we take to be the Christian Faith. (v. 13, Jude 3)3

One Baptism ‑ Which we take to be Spirit‑baptism. (1 Cor. 12:13, Rom. 6:3, 4)4

One God and Father ‑ Our Heavenly Father. (1:17, 2:14)

… Who is above all, and through all, and in you all (v. 6).He is above all His creation (cf. Ps. 8:1), through all His creation (cf. Col. 1:16, 17; Acts 17:28) and in all His saints (cf. Jn. 14:23).Theologically, this is very rich, for Paul here brings together in one work the purpose behind the world and mankind – understood especially as redeemed men and women.The passage may also be taken as referring to the church, all of whom are under the Divine command, and indwelt by God’s Spirit who works through them.

Because of our vital union to the Godhead, every one of us is given grace according to the measure of the gift of Christ (v. 7).The Lord Jesus Christ bestows spiritual gifts – by the Spirit (1 Cor. 12:7-11) – to believers in order that they may contribute to the growth of His Church.Paul already said that he has been given special grace for the apostolic task (3:7-8), but all believers need to be aware that they too have a gifting to be employed in His service. 

Many commentators have wondered about verses 8 and 9.First, what does it mean by He led captivity captive (v. 8)?In context, we believe the application to be “Christ, [Who] having captivated sinful people by redeeming them (they are His), is Victor and gives them as gifts to the Church.” (Hoehner, BKC, 634).Every believer has a gift, and if he or she uses it with humility and meekness, they become themselves a gift to the Church.

Now this, ‘He ascended,’ what does it mean but that He also descended first into the lower parts of the earth? (v. 9). Every one believes that Christ ascended to the Father after His Passion.But not everyone believes that He descended into the lower parts of the earth—even though He said He would (Matt. 12:40).Peter, in his Pentecost sermon, quoting Psalm 16:10, states that Christ’s soul was not left in hades (cf. Acts 2:27, 31).What are we to make of this?Are we, like Calvin and many expositors, to take it as a figurative expression of Christ’s humiliation upon earth? (cf. J. Calvin, 275).I confess that I am left unsatisfied by the explanations, whether literal or figurative, which I have encountered.In light of such OT references as Ezekiel 31:16, Amos 9:2, and Isaiah 14:15 we should not dismiss the possibility of a literal fulfillment out of hand.Was not Christ made sin for us? (Jn. 3:14)Could He not have left our sins in hell and spent three days and three nights in Abraham’s bosom? (Lk. 16:22, 25—with the thief on the cross, Lk. 23:43).5It is beyond our ability to say anything for sure.We enter the realms of speculation here and I do not feel qualified to decide the issue.

In verse 10, Paul shows that the same One who descended, also ascended up far above all heavens, that He might fill all things (cf. 1:23).Now this risen and ascended Sovereign Lord gives certain people to the Church for its nurturing.There are four offices in the list in verse 11.The first two: apostles and prophets, were foundational offices (cf. 2:20); and as foundations only begin a building, and are not seen once the building is in progress, so these offices were only given in the 1st century AD.There are no more apostles and prophets!6There were not many to begin with!On the other hand, the next two offices, those of evangelists and pastor-teachers, are very much needed in the present day.An evangelist is a man who moves from place to place spreading the Gospel.He does not preach to the converted.Paul was, for the most part, an evangelist (as well as being an apostle).Much for what passes as evangelist work today is nothing more than tickling the ears of the unlearned in the churches.7

A pastor is an undershepherd who feeds the flock. This is his principle duty (Acts 20:28).How can he do this if he is not a teacher?Pastors must be able to teach their congregations (1 Tim. 3:2, 4:13‑16, 5:17, Tit. 1:9, etc.).These two aspects of the same office reveal the great responsibility that rests upon the shoulders of those who take the oversight of a local church (cf. Heb. 13:17).They must guide and care for their people, but they must also feed them, in order that they may grow (cf. v. 14, 2 Pet. 2:2).The great purpose to be kept in mind is unity.But this is not to be understood as “unity at any price.”Too many evangelical Christians, following the lead of misguided and (we must say it) unfaithful church celebrities, will have ecumenical unity by blurring distinctions between the historic faith, and the doctrinally suspect (e.g. Romanism, Neo‑Orthodoxy, Open theism, the Apostolic Movement, Emergent, etc.).Unlike those mentioned the apostle Paul is not about to throw away the doctrinal teaching of the previous chapters, and these truths provide the underpinning for his applications.

Evangelists and pastor-teachers are to work for the building of the Body of Christ.This work must continue to be faithfully done till we all come in the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, and to a perfect man (cf. 2:15, Col. 3:10, 11) unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ (v. 13).What Paul means is that when every saint is perfectly conformed to the will of his Lord, the Church will be a perfect reflection of the One who called it out (Cf. 2:20, 21; Tit. 2:14).This is not possible in this life, in these bodies. Nevertheless, every believer is responsible to be the best Christian he can be.If this admonition is ever taken seriously, the Church will shine brightly as a powerful witness in this dark world.

This is a high calling indeed, and elsewhere Paul himself says that he strives for it (Phil. 3:14ff).But knowing the indolence of many, Paul incites us to be henceforth…no more children, tossed to and fro, and carried about with every wind of doctrine (v. 14).It is characteristic of children to be unsettled in their minds and feelings about things, but this innocence, which is so charming in youth, also means that their minds can be impressed by falsehood and cunning craftiness.We should not be childlike in our approach to the teachings of the Bible (cf. 1 Cor. 13:11, 14:20).Even new Christians are instructed by Peter to “desire the sincere milk of the Word,” which will be the cause of their spiritual growth (1 Pet. 2:2).It is doctrine that is needed to train our minds in truth.To think biblically we must think theologically.The inference is obvious.Christians would not be carried about with every wind of doctrine if they understood (and were taught!) right doctrine.Sadly, many pastors today seldom include sound doctrine in their sermons and Bible studies.Small wonder then that so many believers are not where they should be in their comprehension of the Word and in the knowledge of God and His Christ.

In verses 15 and 16, we are given the characteristics of maturity.The first is speaking the truth in love.Elsewhere, we are reminded that “love…rejoices in the truth” (1 Cor. 13:6).It is a great shame that even speaking the truth in love is sometimes more likely to turn people against us (cf. Gal. 4:16) than to bring them closer to us.But notice how the importance of speaking the truth in love one to another is brought out by what follows.We quote verse 15 in full:But speaking the truth in love, may grow up in all things into Him who is the Head, even Christ.Love and truth are the building materials of spiritual growth.They must be blended together in the Christian’s life.Without them the whole Body cannot be joined and knit together by what every joint (i.e. every saint in the Body) supplies.Weak Christians make a weak Church.The problem starts in the local church and spreads to the Church in general.The fault is not in Christ, who supplies us with the strength and ability to do His will; the fault is in us, and in our pastors and teachers.We should all contribute our energies, our best energies, toward the increase of the Body and to the edifying of itself in love (v. 16).

Chapter 4:17-32  The Renewed Life.

The Gentile world of the Ephesians was filled with worldly wisdom and worldly forms of worship.  When combined, these have a huge impact upon the thinking of any community.  But now in Christ, Paul charges the Ephesian Christians not to walk as others walk, in the vanity of their mind (v. 17).  To have a head full of worldly thoughts is to have it empty of proper knowledge (cf. Prov. 9:10).  The world has its understanding darkened (v. 18).  People are blinded to the truth ‘by the devil’s black hand held before their eyes.” (John Trapp, 595)  The problem with an unbeliever is natural, inbred ignorance of spiritual truth…because of the blindness of their heart (cf. 2 Cor. 4:4).  They are characterized as being past feeling (v. 19).  They are hardened in their sin, and, as Paul expressed it to the Romans, “…they did not like to retain God in their knowledge…” (Rom. 1:28)  A darkened understanding and a blind heart make the conscience dull, therefore, man’s wicked heart (cf. Jer. 17:9) will indulge itself to work all uncleanness with greediness.  That is the world!  The Christian has been liberated from such thinking; he has been given the light of understanding, a sharp conscience, and a new world view.  So Paul can say, but you have not so learned Christ (v. 20).

Because the truth is in Jesus (v. 21) those who have both heard Him, and have been taught by Him (not in person, but through His ministers), ought to proclaim their new birth by their new walk.  They should put off concerning the former conversation (life‑style) the old man, which is corrupted according to the deceitful lusts (v. 22); And be renewed in the spirit of your mind (v. 23, cf. Rom. 12:2, 1 Cor. 2:16).

The new mindset, which every Christian is to adopt and maintain, is described in verse 24 as a putting on of the new man.  This is not to be confused with chapter 2:15.  There, the “one new man’ is the Body of Christ, whereas, here, it is the regenerate self.  This new man is Christ formed in the believer (cf. Col. 1:27).  The “one new man” of chapter 2:15, is every believer in Christ’s Body, the Church.  Christ in us produces righteousness and true holiness in our lives.  As this is a present fact for each Christian, they must stop lying to each other and speak every man truth with his neighbour (v. 25).  A main reason being we are members one of another.

Be angry, and sin not (v. 26).  It is all right to be angry if there is a cause (cf. Matt. 23:13ff), all too often, though, we get angry “without a cause” (Matt. 5:22).  It is possible to be angry and not to sin.  On the other hand, anger may leave the door wide open for sinful thoughts, so Paul adds:  let not the sun go down upon your wrath.  A meek spirit will ensure obedience to this precept.

Neither give place to the devil (v. 27).  “For he knows how fine is the line between righteous and unrighteous anger, and how hard human beings find it to handle their anger responsibly.  So he loves to lurk round angry people, hoping to be able to exploit the situation to his own advantage by provoking them into hatred or violence or a breach of fellowship.” (Stott, 187)

Christians, of course, are not to steal.  They are not to be thieves.  The apostle approves of work as a thing which is good, not only because ‘idle hands aid the devil’s plans’ but also, that he may have to give to him in need (v. 28).8  Giving gifts of money or goods to needy brethren is a ministry that many saints miss out on.  They give their “tithe” to the church (that is where the money goes) and often see it spent in a wasteful and unseemly manner (which is done in many a church), when it could be used to show proof of God’s love toward others.

In line with what he has said about the edifying of the Body, the writer continues:  Let no corrupt communication (rotten, injurious, worldly speech) proceed out of your mouth (cf. Luke 6:45) but that which is good to the use of edifying, that it may minister grace to the hearers (v. 29).  “That is, that it may spiritually benefit them.” (Hendriksen, 221; see also, Col. 4:6.)

And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God (v. 30).  As we are “builded together for an habitation of God through the Spirit” (2:22) and it is the Spirit Himself who has made us new creatures in Christ (2 Cor. 5:17) we grieve Him by our substandard lives.  We are safe in Him, He has sealed [us] unto the day of redemption (cf. 1:13, 2 Cor. 1:21, 22; Phil. 1:6, Rom. 8:23).  Our response should be joyful and spontaneous obedience to the cause of Christ.  Old and sinful character traits such as bitterness, and wrath, and anger (unrighteous anger) and clamour (wild and improper vocalizing) and evil speaking [should] be put away from [us] with all malice (v. 31).  This last attitude particularly is most unbecoming of a follower of Christ!  In view of what has been said in verse 17ff, we are not surprised to read in the concluding verse of the chapter, And be kind one to another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another (cf. Matt. 18:21, 22) even as God [the Father] for Christ’s sake has forgiven you (v. 32).  If God in Christ has overlooked our mountain of sins against Him, we in turn, if we are animated by the same Spirit, should find no difficulty at all in complying not only with this verse, but also with all the admonitions contained in the epistle.  Or, at least, attempting to comply with them.


1Meekness has been well described as “a virtue whereby we are rendered tractable and easy to be conversed with.”(J. Fergusson, The Epistles of Paul, 193.)

2Matthew Henry’s words on this verse are worth reproducing.“The conquest of ourselves, and our own unruly passions, requires more true wisdom, and a more steady, constant, and regular management, than the obtaining of a victory over the forces of an enemy.A rational conquest is more honourable to a rational creature than a brutal one.”(M. Henry, Commentary, Vol. III, 886.)

3A few writers take it to mean the grace of faith that all God’s children exercise toward Him.

4Some take this to mean water baptism (e.g. H. C. G. Moule, Ephesian Studies, 183).But water baptism is only a figure of our Spirit baptism (1 Pet. 4:21).It is the baptism with the Spirit that places us into Christ.Besides, Paul is not dealing with an admission rite which puts us into a local church.

5We recall that Christ, when He was upon Earth, predicted that He would be “three days and three nights in the heart of the earth” (Matt. 12:40).

6Here the words of John Stott are apposite.“There is another view, however, popularized by ‘pentecostal’ and ‘charismatic’ Christians, namely that God is again raising up prophets and prophetesses today, who speak His word in His name and by His direct inspiration.I have to confess my own grave hesitation about this claim.Those who make it seldom seem to recognize either the uniqueness of the original apostles and prophets or the superfluity of successors once the New Testament Scriptures became available to the church.Besides, there have been many similar claims in the history of the church, which do not encourage one’s confidence in the modern phenomenon.”(J. R. W. Stott, The Message of Ephesians,162)

– We forcefully echo such sentiments!

7See the fine comments in L. S. Chafer, True Evangelism, 15ff.

8  This plainly shows that Christians are to give money to needy brethren as well as to their local church.

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