“Anyone whose life is not holy will never see the Lord” (Hebrews 12.14, NCV). The apostle Paul was acutely aware of just how vital holiness is for Christians. Already in chapter 5 of Ephesians he has exhorted his readers to purity in their lifestyle (vs.1-7). Now, pulling on the rich heritage of light and darkness familiar to him through the Old Testament, Paul unpacks the need for a holy life, a separate walk from the world with Christ (v.8-14).
A Holy Walk (5.8-14)
As children of light, Christians walk separated from darkness.
8for at one time you were darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Walk as children of light
For at…darkness: Before Christ, they practiced these sins and were identified by darkness.
But now…the Lord: A sharp contrast is drawn from where they once were and where they are now. Now they are in the Lord which carries with it certain ethical charges and changes.
God is light (1 Jn 1.5). God dwells in unapproachable light (1 Tim 6.16). His truth is light (Psa 43.3). Light expresses His perfection & glory & majesty & truth. Darkness, on the other hand, is every in opposition to His perfection & glory & majesty & truth. It is in this darkness the world gropes and in which we once made our abode. But not anymore. In Christ, we are “children of light.”
Walk as children of light: Here is the obligation of those rescued out of darkness. “The life lived as children of light is characterized by goodness, righteousness, truth, and whatever is pleasing to the Lord” (Patzia 258).
9(for the fruit of light is found in all that is good and right and true),
For the fruit of [the] light: Fruit is “a figurative term for the moral results of the lights, its products as a whole” (Nicoll 356). The earliest manuscripts read the light making “the Spirit” (NKJV, KJV) a transcription error intended to harmonize this verse with Galatians 5.22.
Found…and true: This triad summarizes living in light. “All goodness” is a disposition inclined toward good works (cf. 2.10); “righteousness” is moral integrity by obedience to God’s word; “truth” is what corresponds to reality, esp. relating to God.
This could serve as a commentary of sorts for what Jesus says in Matthew 5.14-16. Letting our light shine so that others may see it means we pursue goodness (a disposition seeking to engage in good works), righteousness (moral integrity & rectitude), and truth (freedom from falsehood and embracing, loving, and speaking moral truth). Sometimes there is a yawning chasm between what we know how we live. My brethren, these things ought not be so!
try to discern what is pleasing to the Lord.
try to discern…the Lord: To live (“walk,” v.8) as children of light means Christians will “find out” (NIV) what is acceptable to the Lord, He Himself being light. The present tense indicates that this is the lifelong, habitual practice of light-children. Keep discerning what pleases the Lord.
Like Yoda said, “No try. Do or do not.” To “discern” is “to ascertain by test and experiment. Our whole walk should be directed to finding out what things are pleasing to Christ, rejecting at once everything that is not so, and clinging to all that is…The supreme practical rule of the Christian’s life must be to please Christ” (PC 209). The way to discern what pleases Him is accurate & diligent study of His word. Further, through careful practice we can please our Lord. “Discern” & “pleasing/acceptable” are both found in Rom 12.2. This has led some scholars to see here (Eph 5.10) sacrificial language, i.e. our entire, every action is a sacrifice unto God as we are ever laid upon the altar.
Implied in this is that there is a lifestyle which is displeasing to God, i.e. a life lived in darkness, a life stubbornly refusing the light. Wickedness, unrighteousness, and falsehood would characterize that kind of life.
Pause for a moment and notice the progression of these verses:
- Transformation (v.8): We have been changed from darkness to light. Hence, we abandon immorality and pursue holiness; we put off ignorance and put on knowledge; we are no longer but now have joy.
- Obligation (v.8, 10): We are called to walk as children of light and live so as to discern what pleases God. Don’t go back to the darkness and engage what is not pleasing to God; walk farther into the day where God-pleasing activities are.
- Demonstration (v.9): We will demonstrate 1) divine beneficence/benevolence – doing good to all men; 2) divine righteousness – rendering to men what is theirs and to God what is His; 3) divine reality – the way things ought to be with God in control.
11Take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness, but instead expose them.
Take no part…darkness: The works of darkness are barren, having no life in them. They only produce death (see Rom 6.21). The Christian is to “have no fellowship” (NKJV) with the evil so prevalent in the world. That is old self behavior; the new self accentuates light, especially…
Instead expose them: Expose here means to convict through words and actions. By living the life excellently Christians convict and even condemn the world (see Noah, Hebrews 11.7). By speaking the word engagingly we can convince them of the truth.
Christians must never be content with passivity toward darkness. We are light and must shine forth into darkness (Matt 5.14-16; Phil 2.15). Now when people’s darkness is exposed it is traumatic so expect a reaction (see John 3.19-21).
12For it is shameful even to speak of the things that they do in secret.
For it is shameful…in secret: Clarke says this is a reference to the mystery cults of Ephesus which we engaged in extreme levels of debauchery as recorded by Livy. However, it need not be limited to those cultic practices performed at night. It certainly could be the secret vices of engaged in the home. Either way, it is shameful for those who practice them to talk about, but Christians must speak out and shed light into the dark corners of culture & society. Paul has done that throughout these two chapters as he contrasted the old self with the new self.
The degradation & depravity of man knows no bounds today. We’ve got an entire internet full of corruption and foulness. Parades are held in celebration of debauchery. Sin has crawled out of the shadows of hiding and is now all over the TV & silver screen. It is still darkness; it just seems the darkness is advancing. Fast falls the night. And it is still shameful, disgraceful. Deep down inside those who practice know this is the case. Yet, they have seared their conscience, walled it off in an attempt to silence that still small voice which tells them, “This is not right.”
13But when anything is exposed by the light, it becomes visible,
But when…the light: When Christians identify those evil, barren works of darkness to those who practice them, “people will come to see the true nature of evil and, it is hoped, turn to the light” (Patzia 261).
It becomes visible: Or they are seen for what they are, i.e. shameful, evil, darkness.
We, Christians, are enlightened (1.18; 5.8) and we are enlightening others. “Christians are to be God’s light in the midst of darkness” (Boice). We’re like Motel 6 – “We’ll leave the light on for the you.” Brethren, let us hold forth the light of the gospel in the midst of a “crooked and perverse generation.”
14for anything that becomes visible is light. Therefore it says, “Awake, O sleeper, and arise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you.”
For anything…is light: Here is the transformative effect of the light of the gospel. Once enlightened, what was darkness is light (verse 8).
Therefore it says: or “He says” (KJV, NKJV). Either is an acceptable translation.
“Awake, O sleeper…on you”: Three metaphors for turning to God are linked in this statement: 1) Awakening from sleep; 2) Being raised from the dead; 3) Christ shining light into darkness. This may have been a song sung when a person was baptized (Patzia 262; see also Special Study).
Paul seems to present a three-fold progression from darkness to light:
- Exposure (v.11): Their sin(s) are revealed to them either through conversation with or conduct of Christians. They are found out.
- Disclosure (v.13): A crisis of judgment occurs – either they avoid the light (because they love evil) or they allow their deeds to be made manifest (John 3.19-21). But if they disclose their sins to God…
- Erasure (v.14): The light erases the darkness. They come to the serenity and tranquility of being So darkness is transformed into light by Christ (who is Himself the Light).
Special Study—What Is Paul Quoting in Ephesians 5.14?
Most scholars believe that Isaiah 60.1 is in view, though other Old Testament passages are cited as well (Isaiah 9.2; 26.19; 52.1). However, there is not an exact match with any OT text. So what is Paul quoting? Foulkes says, “The most likely explanation is that we have here another little fragment of an early Christian hymn” (155). Patzia goes further and says “it may have been used by the church at a baptismal service as part of a hymn that was recited or sung” (262). If it is a hymn, Isaiah 60.1 (et al) surely inspired it.
Paul continues to expound upon the new kingdom ethic which should be normative for Christians. There are certain behaviors, actions, & attitudes which should be avoided at all cost by Christians. At the beginning of chapter 5 Paul’s practical guidance reaches from those sins which some consider “light” offenses to those which are very “heavy.” Make no mistake – all of them are sins. Kingdom citizens seek to rid themselves of all impurity.
A Pure Walk (5.1-7)
Living with Christ requires abstaining from impure & immoral behavior.
1 Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children.
Therefore: Seeing that “God in Christ forgave you”…
Be imitators of God: Be (present imperative) or “become” indicates a process with progress. Paul exhorts these Christians to “become” imitators (Gk mimêtai, from which we get “mimic”) of God. Imitate God in His forgiving love specifically, but also in holiness generally.
The call to follow Christ is a call to imitate God is a call to holiness. We have been made children of God by the grace of God. Since He has saved us by grace through faith (2.8) we have an obligation to live according to His holy calling with which He called us (2.10; 4.1). Of course it begs the question “How is it possible to imitate One who infinitely above us, the Sovereign God of the universe?”
As beloved children: Children should look like their Father who loves them.
2 And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.
Walk in love: “Let every act of life be dictated by love to God and man” (Clarke).
As Christ…for us: Christ is our example & model of love. His steadfast love was the impetus for Him giving Himself up to death on our behalf.
This is similar to Hebrews where Jesus is both our great High Priest (4.15) and the better sacrifice (9.23) offered outside the city (13.12).
A fragrant offering…to God: The Offerer and offering are one and the same. Fragrant or “sweet-smelling” is language harkening to the burnt (Lev 1.13), grain (Lev 2.2), & peace (Lev 3.5) offerings. Sacrifice points to Christ’s death as a sin offering acceptable to God to reconcile us. “Christ is not merely one kind of offering, or sacrifice, but every kind” (Coffman).
Christ’s life was a whole burnt offering to God and His death was a sin offering. He fulfilled all the various offerings and sacrifices. In a similar way, when we “live a life of love” (NIV), we unite in Christ’s offering, which is to say our life becomes a sweet savor unto God.
3 But sexual immorality and all impurity or covetousness must not even be named among you, as is proper among saints.
But [fornication]: Gk porneia. This is illicit sexual intercourse of all kinds—heterosexual, homosexual, etc. Marriage is the proper place for sex.
All impurity or covetousness: Or indicates that these are the same but different, the difference being impurity is more general whereas covetousness is specific. The former seems to be “sexual perversions of all kinds” whereas the latter is engaging those activities for selfish reasons (Patzia 257).
Notice the sharp contrast between Christ’s self-denying sacrifice and sin’s self-satisfying indulgence. The Jewish idea of idolatry being the root of all sins is present here. There is always the struggle concerning who we will worship and pledge alligence to: God (Father, Son, Holy Spirit) or something else (in particular here, sex outside of marriage – be it physical or fantasy).
Must not…among saints: Engaging this this type of behavior is a contradiction of those who claim to be called by God. Saints are to be holy & these sins must not exist among us.
Our culture is so sexually charged that we need this instruction badly. “Sex sells” and companies such as Carl’s Jr. and Victoria’s Secret know it. In this hyper-sexualized culture, the clarion call of God through this epistle is unmistakable: this kind of behavior is not proper for the saints of God. Like these Christians, we are surrounded by a culture of sex. Yet Christians are not to adopt the lax sexual standards of our surrounding society. Rather, we must uphold the standard of God: the beauty of sex expressed in marriage and the ugliness of sexual sin.
4 Let there be no filthiness nor foolish talk nor crude joking, which are out of place, but instead let there be thanksgiving.
Let…crude joking: Filthiness or “vulgar speech” (NET) is the kind of behavior that a morally sensitive person should be ashamed of. Foolish talk is the kind of talk uttered by a drunkard which is senseless and unprofitable. Crude joking or “coarse jesting” (NASB) is the kind of joking which includes double entendres and obscene references.
Note that this is not forbidding all humor. One can be humorous without being crude, filthy, or vulgar. What is condemned here and should be rejected by saints of God is that which is morally and spiritual perverse, the use of humor as a way to play with sin.
Which are out of place: There is no place for these things in the life of the Christian.
Not only are we not to engage in these immoral practices; we shouldn’t even talk about them. What comes out of the mouth is a reflection of the heart. (Matt 12.34) The three categories covered by Paul deal with everything from vulgarity/obscenity to defiance toward God to innuendos (Snodgrass 276). A quick way to determine if a person is conformed to the world or transformed after Christ is by what they say and how they feel about it. Use of this kind of language which God prohibits and lack of remorse for it is an indication that the heart & mind have been darkened.
But instead…thanksgiving: Gk eucharistia at the heart of which is charis (grace). The three (3) modes of speech preceding are graceless speech. Hearts captured by God’s grace will issue forth with praise & thanksgiving to God with the mouth.
5 For you may be sure of this, that everyone who is sexually immoral or impure, or who is covetous (that is, an idolater), has no inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and God.
For you…is covetous: “For this you know with certainty” (NASB). These Christians knew without a doubt that continuation in certain practices led to forfeiting one’s eternal inheritance. These include 1) Fornication, 2) Impurity, & 3) Greed. These connect right back to verse 3, with the caveat that at the heart of covetousness is idolatry. Whatever one covets—be it money, power, pleasure— becomes their god with their affections & devotion going to that rather than God.
Has no…and God: There are not two rival Kings with rival kingdoms; “God’s kingdom is Christ’s kingdom.” (Foulkes 151). Those who practice the above mentioned sins have rejected the rule/reign of God & Christ in their life. Hence, they have renounced their inheritance.
At the heart of the gospel is a changed life. One cannot be saved by God’s grace and remain the same. The old self is put off; the new self is put on. The man who once exploited his fellow man no longer does so because he has become a new man. And a woman becomes a new woman. “The hope of the world is not new programs but new people” (Boice).
6 Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of these things the wrath of God comes upon the sons of disobedience.
Let no…empty words: Surely there were those in the 1st century who were saying that these various practices were not sinful and that these were not offensive to God. Such preaching is patently misleading & erroneous. Further, it is void of purpose & meaning.
Jesus’ words also ring in my head as I read Paul here: Matthew 5.19. “The greatest disservice that any man can do to a fellow man is to make him think lightly of sin. Any teaching which belittles the horror and the terror of sin is poisonous teaching” (Barclay 194).
For…sons of disobedience: Sons of disobedience (cf. 2.2) is not a phrase describing the saved. These are the faithless ones who engage in said practices and hasten God’s coming fury & rage.
“There were then, as there always are, those who made light of sin, and scoffed at the thought of its consequences” (Foulkes 150). This may have been a similar group to those Paul addressed in his Roman epistle (Rom 6.1-2). They had perverted the grace of God into license to keep on sinning and still enter the kingdom of heaven. Paul emphasizes that Christians are no longer “sons of disobedience” but are now “children of light.” Grace is not an occasion to sin; it brings with it responsibility and obligation. Since God has been so gracious, we ought to seek a holy life.
7 Therefore do not become partners with them;
Therefore…with them: Since these various actions are incompatible with the nature of those the Father has forgiven; and since the full force of the Father’s fury is to be unleashed on the faithless, Christians are not to share or partake with them in their practices.
John R.W. Stott [as quoted by Boice] says we are God’s new society:
Their theme [the theme of these chapters] is the integration of Christian experience (what we are), Christian theology (what we believe) and Christian ethics (how we behave). They emphasize that being, thought and action belong together and must never be separated. For what we are governs how we think, and how we think determines how we act. We are God’s new society, a people who have put off the old life and put on the new; that is what he has made us. So we need to recall this by the daily renewal of our minds, remembering how we ‘learned Christ … as the truth is in Jesus,’ and thinking Christianly about ourselves and our new status. Then we must actively cultivate a Christian life.
Paul established (see 4.17-24) that the Christian life is putting off/putting on (baptism) and renewal (daily). In the following verses (4.25-32), he will get intensely practical concerning how this new life is to manifest in the believer. This is Christianity; this is a walk worthy of our calling!
A Different Walk
Living with Christ means Christians walk different than the world.
25Therefore, having put away falsehood, let each one of you speak the truth with his neighbor, for we are members one of another.
Therefore…falsehood: Since Christians put away once-for-all the old self including falsehood…
Let each…his neighbor: See Zechariah 8.16. Our present habitual practice must be to speak truth to our brethren (v.15). Here neighbor is understood as brother due to the next clause.
For we…of another: The motivation for dealing truthfully with our brother is the body bond. Our fellowship is undergirded by love and truth; lying is detrimental to that bond of peace & unity.
For starters, a Christian should not lie. Lying is harmful to Christ’s church. “Without openness and truth, there can only be disunity, disorder and trouble in human community” (Foulkes 140). So the Christian is to reject what would destroy the body and promote what edifies the body.
26Be angry and do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger,
Be angry and do not sin: See Psalm 4.4. “Paul’s concern is the prevention of sin, not the obligation of anger” (Snodgrass 250). In fact, believers do not handle anger well so get rid of it (v.31).
Do not…your anger: So if & when the Christian gets angry, deal with it quickly.
27and give no opportunity to the devil.
Give no opportunity to the devil: An imperative with the force “Stop giving the devil opportunity,” implying they were. Given the chance Satan will destroy the church with anger.
What begins as “righteous indignation” (anger against sin) can fester and simmer and grow to bitterness, resentment, pride, and whole host of other things directed toward the church (anger toward brethren). Carrying anger into the next day only allows further opportunity for the devil to tempt us to sin. So handle it while it is still day, for night is coming. Read Psalm 4.4 – how are we going to silently ponder in our beds when we are full of anger? Answer: you can’t. You’ll toss and turn, unable to sleep because of this thing in your brain. There is an old Latin proverb: “He who goes angry to bed has the devil for a bedfellow.”
Someone might say, “Well, Jesus got angry!” Sure He did; and He handled His business that day too! Solomon knew that “anger lodges in the bosom of fools” (Ecc 7.9). “We are not to harbor resentment or keep it rankling in our bosom, lest it should change into downright hatred or revenge” (PC 170).
28Let the thief no longer steal, but rather let him labor, doing honest work with his own hands, so that he may have something to share with anyone in need.
Let the thief no longer steal: Another imperative indicating that some of the recipients were 1) from this background formerly or 2) still engaged in this behavior though a Christian. That is old self behavior and must be abandoned. No longer links this with the preceding section (v.17).
But rather…his own hands: New self behavior is honest work with [one’s] own hands. Indeed, hard work is the duty of all Christians (2 Thessalonians 3.10-11).
So that…anyone in need: The motivation for abandoning a lifestyle of theft and adopting a lifestyle of honest work is not merely to provide one oneself or one’s own, but to share with the needy.
Notice the progression: It is good not to steal; it is better to engage in honest work. What is best to no longer steal and work so that we might have something to share with someone in need. Or unnatural behavior is to steal; natural behavior is to not steal and work. But supernatural behavior is to not steal, work, and share with those in need.
29Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear.
Let no…your mouths: Corrupting carries the idea of “rotten, putrid” like fruit or fish. This is the kind of talk that is moral garbage. “All empty, shallow, thoughtless talk” (Lenski).
But only…the occasion: The opposite of corrupting talk are good or “helpful” (NIV) words. Good words edify others which is the aim of the Christian. Cf. Prov 15.23 for a fit word.
That [He]…who hear: Through our words, God is able to impart grace. Like our Lord, Christians should be people who have “gracious words” on their lips (Luke 4.22; Col 4.6).
The words which come out of our mouths are a clear indicator of what is in our hearts. This is what Jesus said: “Out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks” (Matt 12.34). Corrupt speech out of the mouth indicates a corrupt heart. Rotten talk indicates a rotten heart. No, Christians have been revived, refreshed and so our speech should be “good” and pure. Our speech should be life-giving, enlivening others to higher, nobler goals.
Christians should major in communication. That is, we need to be lifelong learners of what to say and how to say it. This will enable us to impart grace in our speech to those who hear. “The Christian should never lose sight of the sad fact of a world lost in sin, without the Lord, needing some word, some ray of light, some word of grace that will point to the Lamb of God that takes away sin” (Coffman).
30And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption.
Do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God: See Isa 63.10. Christians grieve the Holy Spirit when, like the people of Israel of old, they rebel & refuse to obey the word of the Lord. Contextually, when we express anger wrongly or do not deal with it appropriately; return to behavior characteristic of the old self or avoid behavior of the new self; use corrupt language or fail to use gracious words; or are unkind and fail to forgive (v.32), we offend God’s Holy Spirit.
All sin grieves God. Not just those listed here in Ephesians 4, but every sin is cause for God to sorrow. Specifically, when it comes to the Holy Spirit, we can resist Him (Acts 7.51), lie to Him (Acts 5.3), blaspheme against Him (Mark 3.29), and a host of other sins. All of it saddens God.
By Whom…redemption: cf. 1.13. The sealing takes place at baptism (aorist tense). When a person hears and obeys the gospel, God gives him/her some of Himself in the person of the Holy Spirit. This anticipates the coming day of final redemption when we are fully delivered from sin.
31Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice.
Let all…from you: The impetus for obeying this command is the presence of the Holy Spirit in the believer. Bitterness is “sharpness of temper” fueled by resentment; wrath is outbursts of anger whereas anger is the lingering, simmering feelings; clamor (“brawling” NIV) is face-to-face heated confrontation whereas slander is harmful speech spoken behind someone’s back. Put away all these; that is, make a clean sweep of the house. Pick all these up and take them out to the trash!
Along with all malice: Several commentators see malice as the root of all the foregoing. This is a settled disposition “always looking out for opportunities to revenge itself by the destruction of the object of its indignation” (Clarke).
From Jamison, Fausset, Brown adapted from Chrysostom: “Bitterness” begets “wrath”; “wrath,” “anger”; “anger,” “clamor”; and “clamor,” the more chronic “evil-speaking,” slander, insinuations, and surmises of evil. “Malice” is the secret root of all: “fires fed within, and not appearing to by-standers from without, are the most formidable”
32Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.
Be kind…tender-hearted: We must never seek to bring needless pain to others & should have a heart of pity and compassion toward each other.
Forgiving…forgave you: How did God forgive us in Christ? To the uttermost! Totally!
“If we are to attain to the kingdom of Heaven, it is not enough to abandon wickedness, but there must be abundant practice of that which is good also. To be delivered indeed from hell we must abstain from wickedness; but to attain to the kingdom we must cleave fast to virtue” (Chrysostom).
“Forgiving” (present tense) is the habitual practice of the Christian toward his/her brethren. In kindness and from a heart full of compassion we keep on forgiving one another. The standard for our forgiving one another is none other than God Himself: “as God in Christ forgave [aorist] you [emphatic pl.].” And how has God forgiven us in Christ? As Albert Barnes puts it:
(1) “freely” – without merit on your part – when we were confessedly in the wrong.
(2) “fully;” he has forgiven “every” offence. [Even those we don’t even know about]
(3) “Liberally;” he has forgiven “many” offences, for our sins have been innumerable
To borrow the Golden Rule: Do unto others as God has done unto to you!
The church is the perfect bride of Christ composed of imperfect people. Sometimes old self behavior crops up in brethren. This may have been what was happening with these Christians. How we react when this happens is important. Let us be gracious people, patiently forbearing with one another, mindful that we too are imperfect with our flaws, forgiving as God in Christ forgave us.
Paul continues to expound upon the Church’s responsibilities as together Christians strive to walk with Christ. Verses 17-24 of chapter 4 contrasts the old or former life with the new life that Christians have in Christ. We see immediately that Christianity is not a “When in Rome…” religion. We are not to be conformed to this world. Conforming to the world is a fatal error for the Christian. Rather, Christians are to stand out – “shine like stars” as Paul says in Philippians 2. We are to live holy lives as we are transformed into the image of Christ.
A New Walk (17-24)
Living with & for Christ means Christians have a new lifestyle vastly different than their former one.
17Now this I say and testify in the Lord, that you must no longer walk as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their minds.
Now this…in the Lord: Now shows Paul is now addressing the intensely practical aspects of Christian living. Focus (I say) & intensity (I testify) are implied. This is a solemn charge (in the Lord).
You must…Gentiles do: These Christians, a majority of which are surely Gentiles, are surrounded by “other” (KJV) Gentiles who live their lives “in the darkness of their godlessness” (Foulkes 133). Paul tells them that Christians do not live like they used to, like the rest of the world. How so?
The futility of their minds: Here is the 1st distinction—useless thinking & thoughts which produce “frivolous, empty aims in life” (PC 151).
We are still surrounded by a culture & society which has largely abandoned God and any semblance of godliness. America has loosed itself from the moorings of its founding upon Christian principles and is now drifting further & further onto the sea of secularism. So much of the thinking today is useless: TMZ, supermarket tabloids, celebrity gossip, fantasy football, etc. And so we have people whose minds are full of content void of meaning.
18They are darkened in their understanding, alienated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them, due to their hardness of heart.
They are…understanding: Here is the 2nd distinction—lack of spiritual discernment. Perfect tense participle indicates that darkness came in the past (when sin came) & they are still in darkness.
Alienated from the life of God: Here is the 3rd distinction—exclusion from God. Another perfect participle—they lost life (when sin came) & life still eludes them.
Because…hardness of heart: This is an explanation as to the Gentiles spiritual condition. Hardness of heart means they stubbornly refuse and are insensitive to spiritual influences. So they remain ignorant, neither knowing God nor known by Him.
So many today stubbornly refuse or are insensitive to God’s word. Why? It begins in the mind as they 1) pursue meaningless thoughts [futility of mind] and 2) refusal to consider God [darkened understanding]. Their mind is already full; there’s no room for God. This leads to exclusion from the divine presence, privileges, and promises [alienated from life of God].
As Ed Ames sang:
If the soul is darkened
By a fear it cannot name,
If the mind is baffled
When the rules don’t fit the game,
Who will answer? Who will answer? Who will answer?
Hallelujah! Hallelujah!, Hallelujah!
People act as they think. God knows this which is why He invites us to have our thinking transformed, our minds renewed. Thinking rightly should lead to acting rightly.
19They have become callous and have given themselves up to sensuality, greedy to practice every kind of impurity.
They have become callous: or “being past feeling” (NKJV). Habitual sin has left them shameless
Given themselves up…impurity: Here is the 4th distinction—moral depravity. This is the climax: full blown hedonism (lack of moral restraint). Given themselves up (aorist) indicates they threw in the towel on being good. Greedy indicates they want more impurity. See Rom 6.19b.
Our society “parades their sin like Sodom” without regard to offending sensibilities, without shame, no fear of God, and no idea of the degradation of sin. We live in a callous culture! And they are greedy for more of “every kind of impurity.” The dirtier, the better. Is it any wonder marijuana is called a gateway drug; it leads to the harder stuff. Having a beer or two in the evening to unwind typically leads to alcoholism. Stealing glances at one’s porn stash will lead to viewing videos on the internet. When that does not satisfy, one must live out those fantasies in real life, typically through solicitation of a prostitute. Folks, the research is in and it indicates exactly what I’m telling you which is exactly what Paul says here: sin is greedy. “lawlessness leads to more lawlessness.”
20But that is not the way you learned Christ!—
But…Christ: You is emphatic. Learned is aorist tense, pointing back to their conversion. Since they came to know Christ, their lives are radically changed looking nothing like it was before.
When a person learns Christ, that is, they come to know Him in all His beauty and glory, they cannot continue to live like they used. Hence, the “no longer” in this section. Our thinking is no longer futile, we are no longer in spiritual darkness, we are no longer alienated from life with God, we are no longer greedy for immorality. Stated positively…
- Futility of mind: Christians are now to think God’s thoughts after Him
- Darkened understanding: Christians have been illuminated by the light of God’s truth
- Alienated from life with God: Christians have been brought into life with God
- Given over to depravity: Christians are in pursuit of holiness
21assuming that you have heard about him and were taught in him, as the truth is in Jesus,
Assuming…about Him: Paul calls on these Christians to affirm they had heard (aor.) about Christ, that is, heard Him preached whether by Paul or some other.
Were taught…in Jesus: Since they heard they likewise were taught (aor.). Both events (hearing & teaching) point back to their conversion. They heard about & were taught in Christ in the past. However, the present reality is that the truth is in Jesus. Truth is always in Jesus; indeed, He is truth.
The voice of Christ is still heard through the apostolic word contained in the NT. Those who “have ears to hear, let him hear” and when they do, they come to learn Him. By the way, Christ is in the emphatic position in both statements (i.e. “Him you heard, Him you learned”). That means that Christ is the sum total of the gospel message, He is at the heart of the Christian message. Hence, the final phrase that “the truth is in Jesus.” Only in Jesus is there truth. Indeed, He is “the truth” (John 14.6). And truth still is in Jesus (present reality).
22to put off your old self, which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires,
To put off the old self: the old self is the hedonistic pagan lifestyle these Christians came out of (v.17). When they heard and learned Christ, they put off (aor. Mid.) that former life. The tense of this verb indicates a snapshot event, esp. baptism. Patzia says the language is “baptismal instruction.”
Which belongs…of life: “As past sins are dealt with by the grace of forgiveness, and as repentance determines to abandonthem completely, all that belongs to the old way of life, the way of the heathen that has been described in verses 17-19, is to be set aside decisively” (Foulkes 137).
Is corrupt…desires: Our “lusts” (NKJV) are deceitful because they promise more than they can deliver. In fact, they only disappoint causing more & more corruption leading to destruction.
23and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds,
And to be renewed…your minds: present passive indicates this is the ongoing, continual reality for the Christian. Further, this is the work of God on the Christian (pass.), made possible no doubt by the indwelling of the Holy Spirit in conjunction with the word.
24and to put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness.
And to put on the new self: to put off (aor. Mid.) is connected with “to put off” in v.22. Both occur at the same time: baptism. The old self is put off when the new self is put on.
Created…of God: Cf. Col 3.9-10. Surely reticent for Paul is Genesis 1.26. Just as the creation of men was God’s work, so the new self is the work of God since He creates it.
In true righteousness and holiness: lit. in righteousness & holiness of the truth. This stands juxtaposed with the “deceitful desire” of the former life (v.22). See also Luke 1.75; Acts 3.14.
“Baptism is the beginning of a new ethical way of life” (Patzia 250). There is a definite and permanent break from the former life and Paul’s use of the aorist tense makes this all the more clear. The continued struggle against the old self is capture in the constant, continual renewal which must take place (v.23). We must allow God to renew our minds if we would keep off the old self and live the new self in righteousness & holiness. Someone has posited that righteousness is our duty to man (neighbor, v.25) and holiness is our duty to God. Indeed, these two characteristics are linked several times in Scripture (Luke 1.75; Acts 3.14; 1 Thess 2.10). So constantly learning of Christ is essential. We came to learn Christ and continue to learn Christ.
Grace and maturity. There is a need for both in this fallen world. The need for a mature body has not gone away; the world needs to see authentic, mature Christianity in the lives of Christ’s follower. There is the ever-present need to mature the body; every member of the church must strive for and be moved toward maturity. Thus, we still need the grace of Christ, spiritual gifts, in order to attain unity, maturity, even the full measure of Christ. In verses 7-16 of Ephesians 4 Paul unpacks the grace Christ has given His body that it might be moved toward maturity.
A Mature Walk (7-16)
Christ gives gifts to His church so that she matures and grows up into Him.
7But grace was given to each one of us according to the measure of Christ’s gift.
But grace…each one of us: The church is unified by the preceding seven (7) ones (4-6), but she is not uniform. Each one of us has a unique contribution to the body due to the grace…given us by Christ. In view is not saving grace but spiritual gifts Christ gives His church.
Saving grace is the same for all; this grace given according to Christ is measured and different for each Christian. Each member has received his measure from Christ. But no one member has all the various spiritual gifts. This is by design so that we are dependent upon one another.
According to…Christ’s gift: Measure (Gk metron) indicates that some get a larger measure, others a smaller measure. But everyone gets some amount. Cf. Matthew 25.14-30. The gifts come from Christ and are for the same purpose—building up & maturing the body (v.12-16).
Each Christian has received grace (a spiritual gift) to build up the church of Christ. Therefore, every member of the body is vital to the healthy function of the body. There are no spare or unimportant parts. Christ doesn’t come to the end of building his church and have extra parts like we sometimes do when we put together a piece of furniture.
8Therefore it says, “When he ascended on high he led a host of captives, and he gave gifts to men.”
Therefore it says: or “He says” (KJV, NKJV). Either is an acceptable translation.
“When He ascended…to men”: Universally, scholars identify this as a quote or allusion to Psalm 68.18. However, it differs slightly from the Hebrew text (2nd person changed to 3rd person; different last phrase). Why? See “Special Study” below. Paul says that was written in Psalm 68 was ultimately speaking of Christ, the triumphant King, leading principalities & powers captive (1.21-22).
While there are those who would seek to destroy faith by pointing to texts such as this and saying there is a contradiction, there are good answers as to why there is a difference in readings here and in the Psalms…
Special Study—Did Paul Misquote Psalm 68?
Even a cursory comparison of Ephesians 4.8 and Psalm 68.18 show that they differ somewhat. In the Psalm, the nouns are in 2nd person; in Ephesians, the nouns are 3rd person. Also, does the subject “receive” gifts (Psalms) or “give” gifts (Ephesians)? Various suggestions have been offered to explain these differences. There are those who say Paul made a mistake and misquoted (intentionally or unintentionally) the verse. This simply will not do since the Holy Spirit is ultimately the author of both texts. John Stott says the two passages are essentially the same with no contradiction (since one would “receive “ in order to “give”). Others say this is a rabbinic exegesis. The explanation which several point to is a Targum (Aramaic paraphrase) which is virtually identical to how Ephesians reads. In the Targum, it is Moses who gives gifts, specifically the Law, from Mount Sinai. So Jesus, the second and greater Moses, gives gifts. Thus, Psalm 68.18 is Messianic and finds fulfillment in Jesus Christ. Also, this could be an early Christian hymn using the language of Psalm 68. Either way, neither Paul nor the Holy Spirit have made a mistake.
9(In saying, “He ascended,” what does it mean but that he had also descended into the lower regions, the earth?
In saying, “He…the earth: Paul begins to explain the quotation from Psalms. The key to understanding it is in the phrase the lower regions, the earth. Does it mean “the lower parts of the earth” (NKJV, NASB) or the earth itself (ESV, NIV)? If the former, it means Hades. If the latter, three possibilities: 1) the Incarnation, 2) Christ’s death on the cross, or 3) Christ giving the Spirit at Pentecost. Due to Paul’s usage of a similar phrase elsewhere (Rom 10.7), it seems he has Christ’s death in view (cf. Psalm 69.15, “the deep” & “the pit” being poetic for death/the grave).
10He who descended is the one who also ascended far above all the heavens, that he might fill all things.)
He Who…also ascended: After His death, burial, & resurrection, Christ ascended back to the Father’s right hand (Acts 1.9; 2.33). This is “the highest honor and glory possible” (Foulkes 124). Having attained that lofty position, He gave (spiritual) gifts to men, specifically, the church (v.12).
Far above all the heavens: The Hebrew idea was that there were three (3) heavens (cf. 2 Cor 12.2). Ancient cosmology thought there were seven (7) heavens. However many there are, Christ has been exalted above “all the heavens” to the very throne of the Father.
That He might fill all things: “That he might be the fountain whence all blessings might flow” (Clarke). Christ fills “the whole universe” (NIV) with His glory.
11And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers,
And He gave…: The triumphant King disperses gifts to His citizens.
[some] apostles: typically we think of the Twelve, however, generally, those “sent ones” of the church. Barnabas is an example of the latter (Acts 14.14).
[some] prophets: not so much foretellers of the future but forth-tellers of the Word of God to the people of God.
[some] evangelists: good news tellers. While some may be esp. gifted in this, every Christian is an evangelist (Acts 8.4).
[some teaching-shepherds]: those given to the church to feed, bind, nourish, heal through teaching ministry.
By no means exhaustive, we get a glimpse of the diversity/variety of the gifts Christ gives His church. Christ qualifies the Christian and gives him/her to His church. So all members of the church, in their respective ministries, are God’s gift to the church.
12to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ,
To equip…work of ministry: The aim of Christ giving gifts to the church is that the saints would have the equipment they need for ministry (Gk diakonias). Since it is the work of ministry it will require zeal, labor, & effort.
For building…body of Christ: The figures of building and body are combined here. Here is the target at which we are aiming: body building—quantitatively, qualitatively, and structurally.
Can you imagine a football team showing up to the game without helmets and pads? Or what about a baseball team showing up without bats and gloves? To play the game you need the necessary equipment. Christ has graciously provided the equipment we need to get on the field and play ball. Further, every member must participate in the process or else the body will be deficient in spiritual and numeric growth.
13until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ,
Until we…the Son of God: In v.3 we “maintain the unity of the Spirit;” here Christians attain (reach for with the goal of arriving at) unity in two areas: 1) faith & 2) knowledge. The goal of unity of the faith is that Christians believe the same thing about the Son of God (cf.v.5). The goal of unity…of the knowledge is that Christians enjoy the deepest levels of fellowship with the Son of God (cf. Phil 3.10).
There are no spiritual Rambos or Chuck Norrises in the church. We are together to work toward unity in faith & knowledge. Together we work toward spiritual growth and maturity rather than just individually doing our own thing, striving for spiritual growth apart from the body.
Another important note is that these are goals we are to reach for (“attain”), striving together for them. It is ideal that we believe everything alike. But do we? Not on everything. But in the essentials, it is imperative that we agree. We can have liberty in non-essentials. And in everything, we need to love one another. Further, it is not just knowing about Christ, but (relationally) knowing Christ which is the emphasis of faith & knowledge.
To mature manhood: the body is to move from spiritual infancy to a full grown man.
To the measure…fullness of Christ: Even as we are to be flooded by God Himself (3.19), so we are to flooded by Christ and ultimately look like Him in measure & stature, i.e. in every way.
Even as children are not intended to be babies forever, so babes in Christ are to grow up into Christ. Members of the church who are equipped and continually edified have attained the measure of adulthood. Does that mean there is no room for improvement? No, it means your no longer an infant being tossed about by various & contrary winds. You fill up what is lacking and attain the measure of the stature that belongs to Christ
14so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes.
So that…children: Children here is juxtaposed with the “mature man” of v.13. While we are to be “infants in evil,” but mature in our thinking (1 Cor 14.20).
Tossed…by every wind of doctrine: Maturity in our thinking will keep us from being like storm tossed ships, following after ear-tickling speakers and listening to dangerous doctrines.
By human…schemes: human cunning of “trickery of men” (Gk kubeia, from which we get our word “cube”) has to do with dice playing. The metaphor is that these men are deceptive since dice players sometimes cheat to win. Their craftiness was merely specious wisdom wrapped in lies (deceitful schemes). There must have been some scheming heretics Paul had in mind, though he decided to leave them unnamed. His original audience would have known them.
We still have scheming heretics today, don’t we? Men who are rolling the dice on their own spiritual well-being and causing others to roll the dice on their spiritual lives. Mature and stable churches, no longer children, allow the wind (Spirit) of God to fill their sails. Those who love truth and speak truth to one another (v.15) are able when error rears its ugly head to identify it for what it is.
15Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ,
Rather, speaking the truth in love: Lit. “truthing in love.” The word for speaking the truth implies both being honest, following truth, & telling the truth. “But truth must be inseparably married to love” (Pulpit Commentary 150). Good news spoken in a harsh manner is not good news. The winsomeness of truth can be adversely affected by a negative spirit. Furthermore, in love stands in juxtaposition with the craftiness in deceitful schemes of the preceding verse.
Notice two things – 1) Truth must be spoken. This is the way to avoid error, and this is the way to preserve others from error. In opposition to all trick, and art, and cunning, and fraud, and deception, Christians are to speak the simple truth, and nothing but the truth. & 2) Truth must be spoken in love. There are other ways of speaking truth. It is sometimes spoken in a harsh, crabby, sour manner, which does nothing but disgust and offend. When we state truth to others, it should he with love to their souls, and with a sincere desire to do them good. When we admonish a brother of his faults, it should not be in a harsh and unfeeling manner, but in love. Where a minister pronounces the awful truth of God about depravity, death, the judgment, and future woe, it should be in love. It should not be done in a harsh and repulsive manner; it should not he done as if he rejoiced that people were in danger of hell, or as if he would like to pass the final sentence; it should not be with indifference, or in a tone of superiority (Albert Barnes).
Some congregations have “all truth” but are lacking in love; others may have a loving spirit but are deficient in truth. Both are needed otherwise we end up with harsh legalism or soft liberalism.
We are to grow up…into Christ: Notice that the primary audience of truth is we, i.e. Christians. We are to speak truth to one another in love for edification. Truth will enable the body to grow up in every way into the Head. In fact, the aim of growth is that we draw closer to Christ.
16from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love.
From whom the whole body: i.e from Christ the whole church grows. Growth is directly connected to our relation to Christ. Severed from the Head, the body will die.
Consider the human body since that is the figure Paul uses to address functional unity in Christ’s church. We have the various bones – arms, legs, head, ribs, etc. – which are held together by connective tissue – muscles, ligaments, nerves, etc. Every member of the church should contribute something to the prosperity of the whole. He should no more be idle and unemployed than a nerve or a blood-vessel should be in the human system. What would be the effect if the minutest nerves and arteries of the body should refuse to perform their office?. Langour, disease, and death. So it is in the church. The obscurest member may do “something” to destroy the healthful action of the church, and to make its piety languish and die. (Barnes)
Joined and held together: Joined and held together are present tense verbs indicating that this is a continual process. The individual members are fit exactly together in their respective places (joined) and are united together (held together or “knit together”) Harmony and solidarity are pictured. In addition, these words are passive voice which means that the various members are acted upon to bring about this cohesion in the body. Though unnamed, no doubt the agent of this is Christ.
By every joint…equipped: The means by which Christ accomplishes this functional unity is every joint with which it is equipped (or “what every joint supplies” [NKJV]). What seems in view are the various gifts Christ gives His church (v.11) which are the equipment of the saints (v.12). Through the several ministries of the gifts, especially teaching, Christ joins and holds together His body.
When each part is working properly: Every member is dependent upon the other members. No one member can write-off another member as useless. Every part has a role to perform in the body of Christ. Each member has their respective ministry and must labor in it for the Lord.
Makes the body…in love: Makes…itself is the verb and indicates that the growth is from within while dependent upon the energy of Christ. The atmosphere for growth is one of love wherein each member will seek the edification of all.
Spiritual increase is the primary focus of Paul in this section. If & when the church engages the process of fostering an atmosphere of love, depending upon the strength & power (energy) of God, relying upon Christ to unite and bind us to one another, and speaking the truth in love to one another, she will grow in faith, knowledge, and love. No doubt where there is a loving community of believers, numeric increase is sure to follow.
Ephesians can be divided into two main parts: the first three chapters explicate Christian doctrine while the latter three chapters explain Christian duty. Chapters 1-3 put forth our riches in Christ; chapter 4-6 point to our responsibilities in Christ. Beginning in chapter 4, Paul begins to unpack the normal Christian life.
A United Walk (1-6)
Christians are to walk together with Christ in unity and peace.
1 I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called,
I…prisoner for the Lord: see 3.1. Literally “the prisoner,” as if there is no other. Therefore points back to all that Paul has written concerning the rich salvation provided in Christ (chs. 1-3).
I…urge you…have been called: Paul earnestly requests his brethren to soberly consider their calling from God in Christ and walk accordingly. To walk in the NT typically has reference to the whole lifestyle of the person. So a worthy walk would be one in keeping with appropriate Christian behavior. This is similar to what Paul told the Corinthians: “Consider your calling” (1 Cor 1.26). Think about the “holy calling” (2 Tim 1.9) you have received of God. Earlier in Ephesians (1.18) we get a glimpse of this calling: the confident expectation that we are the glorious inheritance of God. Since this is such a high/holy calling, live a life fitting or proper in regards to that calling. “True grace in the heart must show itself by true godliness in the life” (PC 146).
“Obedience is always a response to grace” (Snodgrass 194). God acts first; we respond. God calls us through the gospel; we align our walk accordingly. Since God has acted in history through Christ (chs.1-3), we have an obligation to live a holy lifestyle (chs.4-6). The orthodoxy (right theology) and orthopraxy (right practice) are inseparable and in fact are closely tied together throughout this epistle. The problem with some Christians is that we have a million dollar salvation and a five-cent response. They seem unimpressed with God’s salvation or bored of it or just really don’t care. If any of us has held a low view of God’s calling, repent.
2 with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love,
With all humility and gentleness: Humility is thinking of self in a right or true way in relation to 1) God & 2) fellow man. Don’t think to highly or too lowly of yourself. Think rightly & live accordingly . Gentleness or “meekness” (KJV) is a gift of the Spirit (Galatians 5.23) cultivated in Christians to maintain unity. It is a disposition of submissiveness & consideration toward others.
With patience…in love: Patience has to do with endurance of injury & perseverance. “A long holding out of the mind before it gives room to action or passion” (Trench). Paul says we need this with one another,”i.e. with brothers/sisters in Christ. We are patient and bear with one another in love. We are seeking the highest purpose and greater good of one another. The highest purpose and greatest good for all of us is of course to see Christ in one another.
This verse is about our relationship to one another. Christianity is relational by nature. We are not spiritual Rambos/Chuck Norris’; we are part of the community of the redeemed which means we must interact with others. So we humility, gentleness, patience, love. We need to get rid of self-centeredness, hostility, our own agendas and hobby horses, even our own self interests if are going to properly demonstrates these Christian virtues. We should recognize that all of us at times have been a burden and a pain to others. It happens; we’re human. But we are bound to our brothers in Christ and we must determine not to let them go. “Oh, love that will not let me go…” While that is talking about God’s love, it is certainly appropriate for our love to one another.
3 eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.
Eager…the Spirit: These Christians have this unity; they got it from the Spirit. The Holy Spirit is the Author of this unity. Christians are continually pursuing or guarding this unity, ready and willing to exert energy and effort in order to maintain the unity of the Spirit.
In the bond of peace: Peace is wrought by Christ (2.14-17). Whatever hostility there may have been between men before Christ saved them is eliminated. Combativeness & carelessness have no place in the church. What remains is the cord of peace tied with the knot of Christ’s blood.
The proper practice of verse 2 feeds into verse 3. In their day, Jews & Gentiles together sought to maintain what God had procured in Christ: the unity of the Spirit. Today, we have an obligation to do the same. To fulfill this obligation requires the obliteration of self. “Self kills peace” (Barclay 165). When we deny self and crucify self, Christ can live in and through us. The church then can fully maintain the unity and oneness God has achieved.
4 There is one body and one Spirit—just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call—
There is one body: throughout the Ephesian epistle, Paul uses this image for the church and of which Christ is the Head (e.g. 5.23).
One Spirit: the Holy Spirit of God through whom we have access to the Father (2.18). He animates the body. Soma cannot live without pnuema.
Just as…to your call: The Christian’s hope is the glorious enjoyment awaiting us in heaven. To this we have been called (1.18, 4.1). It’s personal – you were called to this.
5 one Lord, one faith,one baptism,
One Lord: Jesus Christ
One faith: in Christ. Debate exists about whether this is the body of truth or one’s belief in Christ.
One [immersion]: into the possession of the Father, Son, & Holy Spirit (see Matthew 28.19).
6 one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.
One God…in all: the supreme Being of all, the Father, who is the fountain of all being. the unity of the Spirit which we the church “maintains” is centered on seven (7) ones. Paul paints, stroke by stroke, the basis of unity upon which the admonition rests. Pictured here is a God who is actively involved in His world. He is supremely sovereign over all things and yet He is “through all” providentially at work in the world. No person is beyond His reach. He is “in all” as He sustains everything. Barclay puts it succinctly: “It is the Christian belief that we live in a God-created, God-controlled, God-sustained, God-filled world” (168).
These seven (7) ones show us that Paul is not talking about unity at any cost. Unity is founded upon Christ – our faith in Him and knowledge of Him. So there are limits to unity. Should someone deny one of these seven “ones” then there is an interruption in unity. For example,
- Body: Should someone say “one church is as good another,” we should respond that there is but one body, the church, not a multiplicity of rival societies.
- Spirit: Should someone claim that the Holy Spirit is not a person but a force, like electricity, we should respond that like the Father or Son the Spirit is a person of the Godhead.
- Hope: Should someone say all the righteous will just end up on a renovated earth, we should reply that we will be with the Lord where He is someday.
- Lord: should someone “deny our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ” (Jude 4), then of course we should take issue as Jude did in his day.
- Faith: Should someone claim that all faiths are just different roads up the same mountain, we should respond by pointing out that only faith in the one Lord will suffice.
- Immersion: should someone deny that baptism is essential for salvation, then we should likewise take issue.
- God: If someone claims that there is a plurality of gods or no God at all…
Having explained what the mystery of God is (3.6) and his role as well as the church’s role with regards to that mystery (3.7-13), Paul offers prayer on behalf of these Christians, closing the first half of this epistle.
The Appreciation of the Mystery (3.14-21)
Paul prays for Christians to be filled with the fullness of God in their inner being.
Ephesians 3:14–21 (ESV)
14For this reason I bow my knees before the Father,
For this reason: Paul resumes his previous train of thought to conclude what he began in 3.1. Since the Gentiles are partakers of grace with the Jews according to the manifold wisdom of God, Paul lifts his voice in prayer. There is a similarity here to 1.15; there he prayed for knowledge, now he prays for love. Love is the supernatural expression of knowledge of the divine.
Paul prays to God that his brethren not only know (1.15ff), but that they live out what they know. Our knowledge is the basis for life. We need to live out what we know. Love is the supernatural expression of knowledge of the divine. When you know God, you will love God’s family, the church.
I bow my knees before the Father: Knelling is a typical posture for prayer (Luke 22.41). Father is a term used often in the NT to describe God. No doubt it derives from Jesus who taught His disciples to pray “Our Father in heaven” (Matt 6.9) and Himself prayed “Abba, Father” (Mark 14.36).
Posture in prayer: Kneeling is typical (Luke 22.41; Acts 20.36; 21.5), but not the only posture for prayer; standing (Mark 11.25), sitting (1 Chronicles 17.16), and prostration (Matthew 26.39) are also found in Scripture. “One may pray in any position, even with only a groan or in silence; but the positions noted have come to mean much in the church and for the individual. Careless, thoughtless attitudes of body are not good. Formalism is no more to be feared than the thoughtlessness of meaningless attitudes.” (Lenski 490)
15from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named,
From whom…is named: There are a couple of ways to understand this phrase. 1) God’s Fatherhood is over saints (on earth) and angels (in heaven); 2) God’s Fatherhood is over everything, everybody in heaven or on earth (cf. Eph 4.6). He is the Creator and Progenitor (Originator) of all things. Hence, He is Father of all, over all, through all, and in all. The former seems to be in view; God is Father of His Fatherhood or Family (esp. the church) which bears His name. Paul has presented the cosmic Christ (1.22-23) & the cosmic role of the church (3.10-11); now he presents God as the cosmic Father.
Deism is merely a theology of atheism. It is atheism with a god. The notion that a god set in motion the universe, got it off the ground, then stepped away to focus on…whatever it is a deity like that focuses on is simply another brand of atheism. Further, that kind of god is not worthy of reverence or respect (i.e. worship). Why would I want to know a god who does not seek to know me? In fact, the God of the Bible is closely involved in His creation. It is true that God is with us, Christians; Matthew’s gospel makes this clear (1.23; 28.20). It is equally true that all humans live, move, and have their being because of God’s involvement in the world (see Acts 17.26-28). So in a general sense, God is the Father of all; however, in a specific sense, only His family (i.e. church) derives its name from Him.
16that according to the riches of his glory he may grant you to be strengthened with power through his Spirit in your inner being,
That according to the riches of His glory: Paul is not asking that God give from or out of His glory, but according to His glory, which is His essence. Thus, there is no limit to His giving.
He may grant…in your inner being: The verb strengthened is passive voice, i.e. this is something God does. He makes us strong, healthy, vigorous. He does this “through His Spirit.” How this occurs is not addressed nor is it Paul’s point. This is spiritual strength/enrichment for it happens “in the inner being.” We must be willing/attentive souls. Where the Spirit is, there is power, life, vitality. Absent the Spirit, the Body is dead.
Paul prays for these Christians to be empowered, strengthened by the Spirit of God. But if the Spirit does this, why don’t we experience it more? Why does it seem the church is so ineffective today? Two possibilities present themselves:
1) The theology is wrong: Yes, that is what Paul said, but that is not what he meant. This reduces the Christian life to a purely humanistic striving with only our might and power to help. It is too anthropocentric, focused on me and my ability to keep the law of God perfectly. Further, this view means that God is neither able nor willing to work.
2. The theology is right, but we abort the process: Yes, the problem is with us, not with God. He said what He meant when He promised spiritual strength in the inner being, the “moral might” (as Avon Malone calls it) we need to engage in glorious battle with the spiritual forces of darkness, forces that if we attempt to face on our own will slaughter us. “The real problem is that we do not care enough. We do not have the necessary discontent within ourselves that will lead to change. We like the privileges without the bother” (Snodgrass 185). The Spirit seeks out willingness to hear and allow ourselves to be transformed. By the way, transformation is the work of God, not ours. Even as this strengthening is God’s work, so is transformation.
17so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith—that you, being rooted and grounded in love,
So that Christ…through faith: Paul prays that Christ may dwell in the hearts of these Christians. To sum up the Christian experience, we are to be absolutely soaked, permeated with Christ in our lives – inside, outside, all-around. He takes up residence in and redefines us, shaping and strengthening at the core of our being. Faith is the key to keeping Christ in us.
In the NT, we find the constant struggle to describe the Christian life. In some instances, we are called to “put on’ Christ; in other instances, the Christian is described as being “in Christ” (throughout Ephesians). Then there are those rare occasions (5 total in NT), where Christ is said to live in us. If Christ lives in us, those cherished American ideas of independence, self-determination, and self-fulfillment must be abandoned. As to independence, we are independent of everything but Jesus Christ; indeed, we are wholly dependent upon Him. As to self-determination, self has died and we are totally determined by Him. As to self-fulfillment, we seek only to fulfill Christ’s will which brings true fulfillment to us. Self is dead; Christ lives in me. See Galatians 2.20.
That you…in love: The presence of Christ in the heart of the Christian means love. Rooted is an agricultural term; like a tree, love is the soil by which Christians are nourished. Grounded is an architectural term; like a building, love is to be the foundation upon which the Christian life is built.
18may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth,
May have strength…all the saints: Knowing the love of God is not the exclusive privilege of a few enlightened ones; the whole church (all the saints) needs the strength which comes from God to understand what has previous been hidden, namely, Christ’s love (v.19).
Spiritual comprehension and the ability to spiritually discern especially the love of Christ is only realized in the context of the holy church. Outside the church, one will lack the strength and ability to apprehend Christ’s love. The reason is because it not merely intellectual but also experiential. Absent the church, the body of Christ, one will fail to experience the love of Christ expressed through His body. “God knows nothing of solitary religion” (John Wesley).
What is the…depth: Some have found different shades of meaning in these words. For example, Jerome says Christ’s love reaches up to the angels, down to even the demons and evil spirits, it’s length covers all men and the breadth covers even those who drift and wander. Some see the cross which points up, down, and toward the horizons. Some think it could stand in contrast to the temple of Diana which was one of the wonders of the world. It seems best to understand these as a unit communicating the infinite & intense love of Christ with us in the center of that love.
Picture Paul as he writes of Christ’s love in the center of an enormous sphere or cube which represents Christ’s love. He can see how high and deep and wide and long it is and yet it is unfathomable just how great the structure is. It is breathtakingly grand. And to know Christ is to know His love.
19and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.
To know…surpasses knowledge: Such a vast love surpasses knowledge and is therefore unknowable. Yet the apostle calls Christians to know Christ’s unknowable love. It exceeds our capacity for comprehension. Still Christians must be ever in pursuit of knowing Christ’s love.
On knowing the love of Christ: “To know this; to feel this; to have a lively sense of it, is one of the highest privileges of the Christian. Nothing will so excite gratitude in our hearts; nothing will promote us so much to a life of self-denial; nothing will make us so benevolent and so dead to the world” (Albert Barnes).
That you may be…of God: “Among all the great sayings in this prayer, this is the greatest” (Clarke). To be filled with God is a great thing; to be filled with the fullness of God even better; but to be filled with all the fullness of God is incredible. Paul is praying that the church would be filled and flooded by all the fullness of God Himself. Again, this is a passive voice verb, i.e. God fills His people with His fullness. This is “the richest, best gift of God to man” (Barnes).
Though we can never fully know Christ’s exceeding love, how can we come to know Christ’s love? “It must find expression in experience, in sorrows and joys, trials and sufferings, in ways too deep for the human mind to fathom, or for human language to express” (Morris 114). I would add that it is also related to our connection to the community of believers, i.e. the church. As we sing, “Sometimes we laugh together, sometimes we cry,/ sometimes we share together heartaches and sighs” (“God’s Family” chorus). When we “rejoice with those that rejoice and mourn with those who mourn” we are experiencing the surpass love of Christ.
20Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us,
Now to Him…we ask or think: This is not something yet to happen nor is it something no longer happening. He is still able to do “far more abundantly than all that we ask or think.” He is able to do “superabundantly above the greatest abundance” (Clarke). Or He is able to do “to the extent which we cannot express” (Barnes). God is able to do “beyond everything” (Lenski). Trying to describe His ability is like chasing the wind.
According to the power at work within us: These are present tense verbs, i.e. God is still able and is still working. His power is working in us. Connect this with v.16, “power through His Spirit in the inner being” (same word for “power”). To the degree we are willing/yielding to be transformed and allow that power to work is the degree to which we will mature/grow, & be the NT church as God/Christ envision.
The power to grow lies in God’s power, not ours. If the foregoing is so – the Father is over all, through all, and in all as the Father of the whole fatherhood; Christians are powerfully strengthened by the presence of the Holy Spirit, permeated with the perpetual presence of Christ, called to know the unknowable love of Christ, and are filled with fullness of God Himself; and we serve a God who can do more than we could ever ask of imagine – then how could we ever look at the plan and purpose of God for His church and call it anything but possible, achievable, wise, and right? This leads to another question…
Why don’t we experience this in the church today? Two answers can be given: 1) the theology is wrong; it sounds nice, but God is neither able to nor at work. 2) the theology is right, but we abort the process. Which leads to still another question…
Are we willing to allow God to work through and in us to accomplish His purposes?
21to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen.
To Him be glory…forever and ever: This final exclamation is emphatic – to Him and Him alone the glory! It always was, is, and will be His. In the Body as well as the Head! “The song of praise, begun upon earth, and protracted through all the generations of men, shall be continued in heaven, by all that are redeemed from the earth” (Clarke). God is glorified in Christ and the church for all eternity. Amen means so be it
Paul shows us from both this prayer and the previous prayer (1.15-23) that prayer must be intensely theocentric (centered on God) and Trinitarian (include the whole Godhead). Father (14), Son (17, 19), and Holy Spirit (16) are all mentioned in this brief prayer. This prayer begins and ends with God (14, 19) and God is mentioned throughout. It might be worthwhile to determine what Paul does not pray for (sick, safe travel, freedom from persecution, etc.) contrasted with what he does pray for (spiritual strength by the Spirit, rooted in love, knowledge of Christ’s love for His saints, etc.)