Prepared by Dr. John E. Marshall
Eph. 4:1a “I therefore,. . .”
Here begins the second major division of Ephesians. The first section (EP 1-3), capsulized in the word “sit” (2:6), has emphasized who we believers are, whose we are, and the benefits contained in our spiritual birthright. We enjoy all spiritual blessings in heavenly places (1:3). Chosen before the foundation of the world (1:4), we were predestinated, adopted (1:5), and made accepted (1:6). We have redemption, forgiveness of sins (1:7), and obtained an inheritance (1:11). Believers are sealed with the Holy Spirit (1:13) and enlightened (1:18). The exceeding greatness of God’s power is to us-ward (1:19). We were dead, but have been quickened (2:1) and raised up (2:6). We were without Christ, aliens, strangers, having no hope, without God in the world (2:12), but now are made nigh (2:13), and with the middle wall of partition broken down (2:14), are no more strangers and foreigners, but fellow-citizens, and of the household of God (2:19), Jesus being the chief corner stone (2:20). We have bold access (3:12), can be strengthened with might in the inner man (3:16), can know the love of Christ which passeth knowledge (3:19), and be filled with all the fullness of God (3:19), who is able to do exceeding abundantly above all that we ask or think (3:20).
We yearn to stay forever on the joyful height of Ephesians 1-3, but work needs to be done below, down in the valley of everyday living. Thus, Paul presses ahead to the natural sequel and manifestation of our blessed state. The second division of Ephesians will emphasize our “walk” (4:1d), our daily conduct. In the valley of life, broken sinners whisk around us every day. These hurting masses can see and know Jesus only in us, as we mingle with them. Thus we must come down into the valley and “walk.”
Christianity is, before God, essentially sitting, an inner life. Christianity is, before men, essentially walking, an outer life. Toward God the emphasis is a clean heart; toward men the emphasis is a clean lifestyle. Both aspects are vital. Each supplements the other. Neither exists alone.
The “therefore” of our text forever ties them together. Christian living ever begins with sitting, assessing and mustering our assets, but should never end there. It must proceed to effective walking. On the other hand, do not hasten to walk without first taking time to sit. The secret of effective Christian walking is effective Christian sitting. The power to act is derived from our God-given position and possessions in Christ.
Eph. 4:1b “. . .the prisoner of the Lord,. . .”
In Christianity, behavior matters–it matters enough to go to jail for it. Paul’s words are not a plea for sympathy, but rather a gentle reminder. He is now going to talk about living the Christian life in the midst of a lost, unregenerate world. He knows whereof he speaks. There is a price to pay. Paul well knows the cost and ramifications of living a godly life. He has paid dearly. His faithfulness having been proved by imprisonment, Paul is justified in challenging others to be true, whatever the cost.
Our text implies Paul’s present physical circumstance, but also infers his longtime spiritual condition. His words literally read, “the prisoner in the Lord.” Paul was a prisoner of Rome only secondarily. He was first and foremost a prisoner of Jesus. The true sphere of his captivity was the Lord. Whether in jail or not, Paul was “the prisoner of the Lord.” At the present, physical stone walls inhibited his bodily movements, but his essence had long been restricted by spiritual parameters. On the road to Damascus, he accepted certain restraints which had henceforth stayed forever with him.
The Christian life is the life of a prisoner. We do not decide what we do or where we go. We are not in charge of ourselves. Enslaved by love, we adore Jesus and are loyal to His every desire. We sing with Philip Doddridge, “We count it our supreme delight to hear His dictates and obey.”
Eph. 4:1c “. . .beseech you. . .”
Paul begged and pleaded for people to comply. Paul was never ho-hum, and never had a take-it-or-leave-it attitude. Do not resent a preacher when he becomes emotional or impassioned. Would you have us approach our ministry with detachment or indifference? We touch souls and battle sin. These are ultimate and urgent realities. Would you have us act bored?
We lift up nothing less than God’s standard of conduct. Paul believed this standard by which we should live was worth pleading for. If these thoughts on living were Paul’s or ours, they would not be very important. However, they are God’s ideals. Paul will not offer suggestions or options. He will not prepare a smorgasbord from which we can leisurely select items deemed most satisfactory. The standard is set and fixed, already established in heaven by God. Thus, the appeal is a passionate one.
Eph. 4:1d “. . .that ye walk worthy of the vocation wherewith ye
”Walk” is a Hebraism denoting a course of life. It points to habitual conduct, the ordering of one’s day by day living (see notes at 2:2,10). “Vocation” refers to the call, the summons from God, whereby we were called from darkness into light. “Worthy” translates a word meaning “having the weight of, weighing as much as, another thing.” For our “walk” to be “worthy” of our “vocation” means the life we actually live should weigh as much as–correspond with, compare to–the life we “are called” to live.
A great voice has summoned us to a great life. We do not enter the Christian life at our own bidding. We are “called.” We accept an invitation, a calling which is “high” (PH 3:14), “holy” (2 TM 1:9), and “heavenly” (HB 3:1). The only adequate response is a life which high, holy, and heavenly. “Love so amazing, so divine, demands my soul, my life, my all” (Watts).
Christianity entails high moral standards. Pagans worshiped idols and then went out and lived as they pleased. Believers can not do this. In Christianity, the call to belong is a call to behave.
When a person enters any society or group, he takes upon himself the obligation to do certain things and live in a particular way. To act otherwise hinders the purpose of the organization and brings discredit on its name. For instance, citizens affect the reputation of a nation. To be an American carries responsibility. When on foreign soil, we represent America. Others judge our country as a whole by what we as individuals do.
Similarly, the honor of a whole family rests in the hands of each member. Antigonus was invited to a party where a notable harlot was to be present. When he asked what he should do, Menedemus replied, “Only remember you are a king’s son.” Parents and children never act in a vacuum. The reputation of the whole is affected by the deeds of the one.
What is true of nations and families also applies to the Church. However smart and theological we are, if we fail in conduct, we embarrass Christ, and bring shame upon His holy name. It was said of cowards in Rome, “There is nothing Roman in them.” Of church members who wallow in immorality, we say, “There is nothing Christian in them.” God keep us from being like a person who, when summoned to testify and give evidence in court, utters what is contrary to what he was expected to say.
In the days of Tiberius it was a crime to carry a ring stamped with the image of Augustus into any filthy or sordid place, where it might be polluted. Be careful never to take the image of Christ into a place where it will be polluted. We must live what we are. Luther recommended we answer the temptations of Satan by simply saying, “I am a Christian.” This is similar to Mordecai’s reaction when commanded to bow before wicked Haman. Mordecai refused to comply, explaining simply, “I am a Jew.” He knew what he was, and felt compelled to act accordingly.
This is not to say Christians will be perfect in every detail of life. We sin. No Christian’s “walk” is totally “worthy” of the call in every particular. However, our lives can be “worthy” of the call in the sense of their over-riding tenor and tone being governed by Divine motives. Godliness can be the dominant trait in our lives. Remember, “walk” carries the hint of habit. It is the habit to which we refer when speaking of worthiness.
We fully realize this worthiness does not mean we earn our salvation. Merit has no place in the Christian’s salvation. All–justification, sanctification, glorification–is due to grace. However, if we dwell solely on this truth, one could adopt the philosophy, “If I can never be worthy of God’s grace, why try?” The truth presented in our text is needed to keep us balanced.
Before God, we are never worthy; before men, be ever worthy. The elders said of the centurion, “He is worthy for whom Thou shouldest do this” (LK 7:4). In contrast the centurion said of himself, “I am not worthy that Thou shouldst enter under my roof” (LK 7:6). Who was right? The elders or the centurion? Both. In the man’s deportment, in the way he bore himself before others, he was “worthy,” as the elders claimed. On the other hand, when he viewed himself before Jesus, the centurion rightly deemed himself “not worthy.” Before God we know we never live a life suitable enough, but before men we can live a life suitable to the calling.
Paul’s own life yields another illustration. He described himself as “chief” of sinners (1 TM 1:15). This same man also said, “I have kept the faith” (2 TM 4:7). The two are not contradictory, but complementary. Outward worthiness and inward unworthiness grow simultaneously. “The more we approximate to the ideal, and come closer up to it, and so see its features the better, the more we shall feel how unlike we are to it” (Maclaren).