Prepared by Dr. John E. Marshall
Eph. 4:14 Introduction
Verse 13 sets the target before us. Verse 14 gives a critical reason to pursue this goal. Believers who do not grow are more susceptible to false teachers. Though this danger attends stunted growth, we tend to tarry in the cradle. Thus Paul feels compelled to say more to spur us to the goal.
Eph. 4:14a “That we henceforth be no more children,. . .”
The Apostle was not merely idealistic and utopian. Being also practical and realistic, he not only pointed toward where we ought to be, but also dealt with us where we are.
Paul had a mighty grasp on human nature. He knew us well, and helps explain ourselves to us. Never content to deal only with the superficial, Paul penetrated to the essence. He revealed what we are, exposed our innate weakness, our natural immaturity, and we acknowledge that our response to his solemn verdict can be only a sigh-filled and assenting Amen.
Our eye is ever on the goal of verse 13, but do not be deceived. Much immaturity clings to us. We all start the Christian life as children. It begins with a new birth, is a new life, a bran new beginning, an entrance into a new realm. We begin our pilgrimage as spiritual infants. Conversion is the beginning of life-long growth, a fact we forget to our own peril. The growth may seen slow at times, but should always be continual. Day after day, year after year, we should always be growing.
As time passes, we should be able to see changes in our walk before the Lord. Signs of immaturity should be visible less often, while evidences of maturity ought to become more prominent. We have not yet arrived at full maturity, but should be distancing ourselves ever further from infancy.
Unfortunately, we often find ourselves slipping back into childish behavior. Thus, we must ever watch out for the tell-tale signs of childhood.
Beware childish fickleness. For children it is natural and beautiful to be constantly changing. Ask what they want to be when grown. They have one answer on Monday, another on Tuesday, and other replies for every other day of the week. This is adorable in children, but there comes a time when fickleness is no longer cute. Eventually choices and decisions have to stick, and be carried through. Consistency has to become the norm.
In the beginning stages of the Christian life, one is inundated with new insights. Ideas swirl around the mind and certain concepts are not solidified, but the time must come when understanding penetrates the very fiber of one’s being, resulting in individual stamina. One has to become strong in resolve, robust in purpose, settled in convictions. We must soon as possible be able to say “no” with decision, “yes” with confidence, “this is wrong, this is right, this I do, this I don’t do.”
The life of Peter illustrates the metamorphosis we need to undergo. In the Gospels, he oscillates regularly from one extreme to another. One moment he walks on water, the next he is sinking (MT 14:29-30). One minute he makes a glorious confession, the next he rebukes the very Christ he just confessed (MT 16:16,22). At supper he promises to die for Jesus, before sunrise he denies Christ (JN 13:37; 18:17). After Pentecost, though, the fickleness is gone. The issue has been settled in Peter’s breast. His face is set like flint. He knows what he is about, and where he is headed.
Beware childish gullibility. Children are easily deceived, tending to believe everything they hear. They have not learned to distinguish, to discern, to be wary. The spiritually immature are also gullible, at the mercy of the latest fad in religion. They are like the people of Lystra. At first they were ready to follow their priest of Jupiter in offering sacrifices to Paul and Barnabas as gods. Soon, though, the same crowd followed Jewish instigators in stoning Paul nearly to death (AC 14:12,19). A mature believer rejects error and heresy, clutching Biblical tenets with certainty, and saying resolutely, “This is truth.”
Beware childish love for novelty. Children’s minds flit from one thing to another. Their attention span is extremely short. They like entertainment, showmanship, grandiose things, the spectacular, the gaudy. Children live life on the surface. Intrinsic value is not as important as novelty.
Immature believers also crave novelty. They are like the Athenians, who “spent their time in nothing else, but either to tell, or to hear some new thing” (AC 17:21). The childish believers, lacking desire and motivation, cannot concentrate on the essentials, the basics, the fundamentals of our faith. They prefer entertainment to exhortation, amusement is more important than a sermon, a good show is preferred over worship.
Beware fickleness, gullibility, and craving novelty. Though we do not reach absolute perfection in this life, we should experience moments when the evidence is irrefutable that we are growing away from these evidences of spiritual infancy. In one’s physical development, there come times when the realization, yea the irresistible perception, comes over a person that he or she is no longer a child. Similar experiences can also occur in one’s spiritual life. The apostles, when beaten by the Sanhedrin, rejoiced (AC 5:40-41). I believe one reason they rejoiced was because their endurance of persecution gave them proof they truly had been changed from the immature cowards they had been before Calvary. They had spinelessly scattered when Jesus was arrested, but were now bold as lions. Their endurance of persecution encouraged them, for it provided evidence they were growing from childhood into manhood.
Occasionally, it is good to take time to contemplate our progress. We need to assess how we are doing, and if we are advancing, we should be encouraged thereby. Tribulation produces patience which produces proof (KJV “experience”) which produces hope (RM 5:3-4). As we endure and overcome troubles, as we see proof of God at work in our lives, we can look to the future with confidence, for His victories bespeak our spiritual growth.
It is okay to revel in what God is doing in our lives. We must avoid pride and complacency, but an occasional celebration of His working in our lives is totally acceptable. I like the sentiment expressed by Cowper,
Sometimes a light surprises the Christian while he sings;
It is the Lord who rises with healing in his wings.
When comforts are declining, He grants the soul again
A season of clear shining, to cheer it after rain.
In other words, God sometimes grants us times when we can celebrate with sheer gladness what He has done, is doing, and will continue to do in our lives. God, the creator of the cosmos and exalted sovereign of the universe, is working on lowly us. He is taking His precious time to mature us, and we should be able to see evidences of His handiwork.
I remember vividly a Friday night some 19 years ago when a young man cried in agony in my living room. Ruth and I had just returned from a week of seminary classes, expecting to perform this very man’s wedding ceremony that weekend. He was to wed a beautiful young lady, but on the verge of marriage, this young, handsome groom had called off the wedding because his bride-to-be would not consent to being a preacher’s wife. He had already given his heart to this young lady. In his mind the deed was done. Overcome by agony he fell out of my living room chair and onto the floor, crying and writhing over his loss for the Master. It was of course pain in its worst form, but on reflection I came to see it as the turning point, the crux, of his life. I think he knew that very night he could make it in the ministry. His voluntary enduring of this much agony and self-denial was a sign of spiritual maturity. If he could endure this for the Master, he could endure anything. With a shattered heart, but a firm resolve, he set his course. He knew what he had to do. He went on to school, prepared himself for the ministry, met and married a wonderful help-meet, and serves today as a powerful preacher of the Word.
“Be no more children.” The question is, how can we mature? We know the standard answers, prayer, Bible reading, meditation, regular church attendance. The context of our verse points in another equally valid direction. The stabilizing, maturing force is performing within the body the spiritual gift which God has given you. Is it not true, the people in a church who learn the most are the ones who teach, and the best leaders are those who serve best? Plunge into the work at hand and there will be less opportunity for the dire consequences from false teachers which Paul goes on to enumerate in the latter part of this verse 14.
Eph. 4:14b “. . .tossed to and fro,. . .”
If a believer does not grow, if mind and body are not focused on increased maturity, one becomes susceptible to the destructive influence of false teachers. “Tossed to and fro” translates a single Greek word, a nautical term which literally means “billowed,” tossed by waves. This would have been a vivid metaphor to Paul. He had recently experienced this very sensation on his trip to Rome for imprisonment (AC 27:27). He knew what it meant to be in a ship totally at the mercy of dashing and surging waves.
Whereas mature believers are marked by stability, and proceed steadily on a prescribed course, the immature suffer instability, mental agitation, and are unsteady as the waves of a storm-tossed sea. Guided by neither compass nor rudder, having no fixed course, they are led by the violence of the tempest. Instead of being headed in one, right direction, the immature turn every which way, sometimes going one direction, sometimes another.
Be sure to remember this verse’s context. To keep an even keel, Christians have to mature, and a major part of successful spiritual growth lies in finding one’s place of service within the body. Generally, those who serve are the ones who grow. The others risk becoming like ships without ballast in a storm-tossed world bent on sinking straight to perdition.
Eph. 4:14c “. . .and carried about with every wind of doctrine,. .”
“Carried about” (Greek, periphero) refers to violent, circular motion which makes one dizzy. “Whirled about” (NEB) is a good translation. If “billowed” enough, a boat begins to ride the tops of boisterous waves, and can, like a feather or leaf in the breeze, be blown about by the wind at will.
Similarly, the “billowed” immature believer is endangered by “every wind of doctrine.” Every breath of heresy, each gust of false teaching, is a peril which might tip the floundering believer. This danger is ever-present, because there is never a shortage of false teachers. They seem to come from every direction. As in a squall or gale at sea, the wind seems to blow at the same time from the north, the south, the east, the west, from every point of the compass. We are literally surrounded by heresies. The ship of Zion is ever encrusted with barnacles seeking to penetrate her hull.
Notice, these false teachings of men are but “wind,” fleeting breaths. They howl, but have no solidity. Their teachings lack substance. Holy Writ alone has sure and steady words. Stay anchored in the Bible. Otherwise, we are subject to every sort of counterfeit truth–humanistic, cultural, pagan, superstitious, demonic, etc.–dangers worse than the wildest hurricane.
Eph. 4:14d “. . .by the sleight of men, and cunning craftiness,. . .”
“Sleight” translates “kubeia,” from which we derive our word “cube.” It refers to dice-playing. People who professionally play with dice are notorious for practicing arts of deception through dice weighted and loaded to their advantage. Thus, “kubeia” became synonymous with dishonesty and trickery. Just as skill can be used to manipulate dice, even so immature believers are vulnerable and subject to being manipulated by heretics. “False teachers deal with truth and men as players with dice” (Luther).
A part of their deception is “cunning craftiness,” the clever ability to make error look like truth. There will always be adroit and dexterous impostors who possess the slyness to make ugly error look attractive and true.
Eph. 4:14e “. . .whereby they lie in wait to deceive;. . .”
“Lie in wait” translates “methodia,” root of our word “method.” It denotes a well-laid plan, a deliberate, organized scheme of action, something not happening by accident. The word was used of the systematic way a predator stalks its prey. The hunter is methodical, stopping at intervals to let its game think the danger is past. Once the victim has been lulled into a false sense of security, the predator strikes mercilessly.
Teachers of error are also orderly and deliberate. One reason these charlatans are amazingly successful is because they, like believers, have a well organized spiritual power source behind them. They are aided and abetted by Lucifer, the Father of lies, and his demons. These spiritual forces keep track of us, remembering what caused us to fall in the past. To ensnare us, they watch our conduct, yearning to see signs of weakness or carelessness. When we do not grow, we tempt evil forces to tempt us, and make of ourselves attractive targets. When we give evidence of spiritual laxness, demons prompt false teachers to hound and pound on our weaknesses, as in an ambush, in order to deceive and destroy us.
The ministers of error know where to focus their attack. It always centers on some portion of the Bible, especially the creation and the Person of our Lord. In our culture, they subtly push God out of creation, replacing Him with a lifeless force known as evolution. They also craftily remove God out of the incarnation. Too clever to deny Jesus altogether, they say kind things about Him, but deny His absolute divinity. Jehovah’s Witnesses say He is a manifestation of Michael the Archangel. Mormons say He is god, but a lesser god below many superiors. Moslems deem Him a prophet, Eastern Orientals a great teacher, New Agers a worthy example. The Devil hates Jesus above all else, and seeks to detract from His glory as God.
These forces of evil are organized and formidable, but not invincible. They can be defeated and totally thwarted in our individual lives, but only in the way prescribed. Again, I point us to the context of our verse. We base our lives on truth written by apostles and prophets, spread by evangelists, and taught by pastor-teachers. We then allow ourselves to be perfected for the work of ministry to edify the body of Christ. The old adage is true, an idle mind is the devil’s workshop, idle hands are his tools. He is thwarted in minds filled with truth, and hands put to the task of ministry.
Eph. 4:15a “. . .but speaking the truth in love,. . .”
No better motto for Christian living can be found than the words of this text. They deal with two of the most prevalent dangers believers ever face: compromise with error and lack of compassion.
“Speaking the truth” translates “aletheuontes,” which literally means “truthing.” It denotes every phase of life–being, thinking, doing, speaking. Lips can be truthful only to the extent lives are authentic to the core.
“In love” is the element, the atmosphere, in which truth must operate. Arrogance is disallowed, as are bitterness, sarcasm, rudeness, and holier-than-thou smugness.
“But,” a conjunction of contrast, highlights the fact “speaking the truth in love” is the antithesis of the roguery and chicanery described in verse 14. Christians are not to use the dishonorable methods of devious men. Every phase of our lives should be in absolute contrast to those mentioned in verse 14. Avoid error; act truthfully in all things. Avoid deceit; be open, above board. Avoid selfishness; be self-less. Our standard is, be real and loving–real as opposed to phony, loving as opposed to selfish.
Truth and love are wonderful things, and each is its most wonderful when coupled with the other. They are wed together forever in God’s own Person. The Father “is light, and in him is no darkness at all” (1 J 1:5), and His children “walk in the light, as he is in the light” (1 J 1:7). God “is love,” also, and His children abide “in love” (1 J 4:16). “Grace and truth came by Jesus” (JN 1:17) the Son. The third Person of the Trinity is the “Comforter” and “the Spirit of truth” (JN 14:16-17). Truth and love belong together by divine right. Never separate them.
Beware love without truth. Truth is intertwined with the essence of being a Christian. Each believer is a repository of truth. Truth is so much a part of our being that we all are expected to become teachers of it in some way. There comes a time when we all “ought to be teachers” (HB 5:12). Every Christian is expected to be able to explain the basics of the faith, whether they have the spiritual gift of teaching or not.
Truth is us, our very life-blood. “The Christian message is precise truth” (Lloyd-Jones). Holy Writ contains truths about the Father, the Son, the Holy Spirit, about Heaven, Hell, death, and about how to live on earth the best life possible. These truths must never be down-played. If truth were unimportant, why have apostles, prophets, evangelists, and pastor-teachers to secure it? The very purpose of these offices was to protect from error. We dare not toss their labors aside.
Love without truth slips into a mere sentimentality which spinelessly smiles at everything and shows itself overly indulgent. A parent who never disciplines a child is cruel indeed, as is a pastor who never speaks against particular sins. Ever guard against cowardly appearing to acquiesce in wrong for fear of giving offence. To sin, never give consent, vocal or silent.
Perceived error in another has to be dealt with, for love desires what is best for others. Initially, love sees others as they are and accepts them that way, but this acceptance is a beginning, not the end. Love envisions what the beloved can become, and yearns for this potential to be realized. The Pharisees welcomed sinners “after” they became better; Jesus accepted them “before” they improved, but then helped them become all they could be. Love challenges others to be the spiritual best they can possibly be.
Love without truth is anemic, but when coupled with truth, love is tough as well as pure. Paul spoke sharply to the Galatians and then asked, “Am I therefore become your enemy, because I tell you the truth?” (GL 4:16). He once publicly withstood Peter face to face (GL 2:11,14).
Love often has to be rough in order to be kind. Our Father taught us this by His own example. “Whom the Lord loveth he chasteneth; and scourgeth every son whom he receiveth” (HB 12:6). When bolstered by truth, love seeks to safeguard the beloved from sin. This is often difficult work, but must be done, for love is not to be tolerated without truth.
Beware truth without love. Apart from love, truth freezes into harsh orthodoxy. “It is an important thing to stand for the fundamentals, but as we seek to bear witness to the great fundamental truths, let us never forget that the greatest fundamental of all is love” (Ironside). We are servants of God only to the extent we speak truth “in love.” When our motives become something else, we become the servants of Lucifer.
May God keep us from speaking His truths with the devil’s tone in our voices, or with Satan’s motives in our hearts. We are to speak truth “in love,” but the Evil One ever tempts us to speak truth for other reasons.
Some speak truth in deceit. The Pharisees said of Jesus, “This man receiveth sinners.” True words, but they implied Jesus condoned sin.
Some speak truth in envy. Jesus went home with Zaccheus. Pharisees said He “was gone to be guest with a man that is a sinner.” True words, but showing envy that a lowly tax collector was treated with respect.
Some speak truth in sheer meanness. They seek to give pain, and boast of speaking their mind, which usually consists of blurting out whatever they think, regardless of the pain their words may cause. There is no virtue in a truth which leaves its hearer bleeding and shattered. Truth spoken in love has redemption as its goal. If your words are not meant to help the listener, do not speak them.
Some speak truth in selfishness. We who prize truth and try to hold it as dear as life itself are ever in danger of making our advocacy of truth a selfish matter–a means of exalting self, and feeding our own egos. We are ever in jeopardy of yielding to vanity, and giving the impression our sole concern is to prove we, as pompous and smug kings-of-the-hill, are right while everyone else is wrong. We must somehow convey the sense that our ultimate aim is to win people for Jesus, not to win arguments for our egos.
Some speak truth in fear. Sometimes we are overly vociferous in our crusades for truth because we are insecure in our position, and fear being contradicted or out-debated. We are afraid of being proved wrong, embarrassed, or losing face. “Speaking the truth in love” frees us from this anxiety and allows us to lose sight of all concerns other than knowing and promoting the unadulterated, absolute truth of God.
Always remember, Holy Writ is infallible, but we are fallible. The Bible is true, but we can misinterpret it at times. It thus behooves us to speak humbly, and to deal gently with one another. A well-known principle first enunciated in the early days of Church history still says it well, “In essentials, unity; in nonessentials, liberty; in all things, love.”
Our own personal interpretations of Scripture may be wrong, and when this is shown to be the case, we must alter them because our objective is to hold nothing but authentic truth. If we have a genuine love for the Bible, the Holy Spirit will guide us into truth. Thus, we must ever be asking ourselves, do we love the Word, or do we love to use it as an aid to help us win arguments? Is it our light and guide, or is it our war club?
Some speak truth in harshness. Our anger over sin must not be allowed to overwhelm a sense of sorrow we sense for sinners. Denounce sin, but do so only after we have prayed to the point we can do it “in love.”
In standing for the truth, we must be fearless, and at the same time gentle and kind, never harsh or bitter. Our effectiveness for God often depends on the spirit with which we speak. What we say and the way we say it are both vital. In fact, the spirit in which the truth is spoken may be as important as the utterance of truth itself. Truth can be proclaimed in such an unpleasant way that it fails to win anybody. Cold truth is a blunt sledge hammer, a stern hard thing, like the bare branches of winter. Love softens and beautifies, like the green foliage on a summer tree.
“A word fitly spoken is like apples of gold in pictures of silver” (PR 25:11). However, “apples of gold” taken from “pictures of silver” and thrown at one’s head become instruments of pain, harm, and devastation. Words not “fitly spoken” may in themselves be good and true enough, but if uttered in a rude, insolent, arrogant way they result in bad rather than good.
Some people are absolutely honest, but speak truth in such a way that they actually harm more than they help. How much better it is to be like those who speak truth in such a tender and gracious way that even when they find fault or seriously reprove another they are able to gain a friend for life and make the recipient feel grateful for the correction.
Be winsome. Piercing words, when winged with love, by their own sweetness heal the wound they strike. Speak with caution in your words, and with concern in your tone. Convey the spirit displayed by the shepherd of King Admetus, whose
Words were simple words enough,
And yet he used them so,
That what in other mouths was rough,
In his seemed musical and low.
We are not at liberty to speak truth at all hazard, but rather discreetly and kindly. We are never entitled to act in an un-Christlike way, no matter what the provocation. This thought pierces me to the quick. All of us are hourly conscious of how unlike Jesus we are. Much about us would never have been seen in Jesus. Every night we all need to bow the knee, acknowledge our failure, and pray for grace to be more like Him.
“Speaking the truth in love” is a most difficult thing to do, but Christians are never excused from doing their duty because it is difficult. Our God has promised us strength equal to any task He requires of us.
Eph. 4:15b “. . .may grow up into him. . .”
The proper state of a healthy Christian is an eagerness to grow “into” (more literally “unto”) Christ. This should ever be the passion of each believer. “We must make progress until death” (Calvin). Ever be seeking ways to make more headway. Self-satisfaction is unhealthy and curtails progress. I fear many of us see ourselves as more mature than we actually are. We may say with our own lips we are spiritually immature, but if someone agrees with us, it makes us furious. Honestly confessing our need for never ending growth unto Jesus is the believer’s only healthy choice.
Eph. 4:15c “. . .in all things,. . .”
Our growth “into him” is not to be limited to certain areas of our lives, but should occur “in all things.” We should grow unto Jesus in every way we can grow–in love, faith, knowledge, hope, etc. We are to spend our lives yielding to Jesus every facet of our being. No particle of our essence should be allowed to loiter in sin.
So shall no part of day or night
from sacredness be free,
But all my life, in every step,
be fellowship with thee. (Horatius Bonar)
Open every ounce of your being, every inch of your fiber, to intimacy with Jesus. Withhold no part. Let your total essence be knit with Him. This condition should be the norm in our lives. “The moment I make of myself and Christ two, I am all wrong. But when I see that we are one, all is rest and peace” (Luther).
Eph. 4:15d “. . .which is the head, even Christ:. . .”
As the head, Christ is the focal point of the body. The head is the most prominent and noticeable feature of a body. The head contains the face, the seat of identity and beauty. A part of “growing up into Him” is to detract less and less from the head’s beauty. God spare us from being an ugly embarrassment to our beautiful Head.
Eph. 4:16a “From whom the whole body. . .”
Verse 15 spoke of Christ our head as the object of growth. Paul now speaks of Christ our head as the source of growth. We grow “into” Jesus and “from” Him. As head, Christ is the beauty, the loveliness to which we aspire and from which we seek never to detract. As head, Jesus is also the authority, the leader, the controlling power, the source “from whom” all life and power in the body is derived. Christ provides all influence and nourishment. The body exists and acts because of Him.
Eph. 4:16b “. . .fitly joined together. . .”
This refers to the head’s ability to make all the body parts work together harmoniously. “Fitly joined together” translates one Greek word, a present participle. This process is ever going on. The Head is always helping each member of the body acquire a deeper and truer working relationship with other members of the body. They are working together ever more “fitly,” more harmoniously, with ever increasing poise and grace.
The Church is not a clumsy mechanical robot which lumbers along, yielding itself to happenstance. Its actions are controlled by a central nervous center, a command station, which directs every member to work with every other member in harmonious response to the Head.
“Many today think about the Church as one more organization in an overorganized society” (Blackwood). This is a bogus comparison, for church members are knit by a common life force which flows from God Himself.
Eph. 4:16c “. . .and compacted. . .”
This is another present participle and thus also denotes continuous action. The word refers to muscles being toned and tightened, all flab being trimmed away. Being “compacted” involves the removal from individual muscles everything which keeps the body from accomplishing the tasks assigned it. The head is ever compacting body members together, removing everything extraneous and superfluous. All fluff is being cut off the individual parts, resulting in an efficient, well-organized body.
At one time I was a member of the St. Louis African Violet Society. I love African Violets, but have always failed in my efforts to raise them because I never could figure out what a sucker was. My plants would have big leaves and be lusciously green, but few flowers ever blossomed. My failure to discern suckers allowed them to drain away vital nourishment which should have been going to the production of flowers.
God, though, knows the “suckers” in our lives. To make us ever more solid and stronger, to make us efficiently compact and help us flower for His glory, God works on us to remove the extraneous. For many the “suckers” are not what we commonly term sins, but rather clutter. We are often too busy doing good things to have time to do the best things.
We need to yield ourselves regularly to the Pruner’s hand. There is very little to gather in a garden but for the dresser’s knife. If growing into Jesus means anything, it certainly means to grow out of self. Pruning is worthwhile, for it is amazing how high we can fly once we escape from ourselves. Let the fluff be taken out. Let go the superfluous. Then in heart, mind, body, and spirit we can be closely blended to one another, be “compacted” as one efficient body.
Eph. 4:16d “. . .by that which every joint supplieth, according to
the effectual working in the measure of every part,. . .”
In other words, God is fitly joining us together and compacting us, increasing our harmony and efficiency, by nourishment which He supplies to the body through “every joint,” which refers to each member’s spiritual union with Christ. “Every part,” every individual believer, receives “effectual working,” operative energy. This is done according to “measure,” each part receives exactly what it needs to accomplish the task, the spiritual gift, God has assigned it (see 4:7). What God calls each member to do, He empowers to do. Find your ministry, your place of service. “Place yourself where the showers fall” (Vaughan, in B.I.), and for the believer, the showers fall primarily on his or her particular area of spiritual gifting.
The operative energy flowing from Christ to His Church is most effective when all the parts are in their proper place, doing what they are supposed to be doing. Then, and only then, does the church have what it ought to have–energized coordination.
In any body, the key to successful activity is operative energy flowing from the head through every part, every joint. Success hinges on the joints. Ask anyone who has arthritis if joints are unimportant. In a human body, when anything gets “out of joint” all goes awry. Joints make it possible for us to walk, eat, sing, kneel, move in any way.
Properly functioning joints are so essential to a body that they are ever a danger, ever a possible source of many disfigurements. I admonish each “joint” in our fellowship, each member, let the supply flow from Jesus through you to help our church achieve the tasks God has given us to do. If anyone cuts off the supply flowing through his or her individual life, the work of the whole church is hampered. A church’s members can be its own cripplers. The individuals can choke the group to sleep. Our church can function only by a supply which pulsates from Jesus to each part directly.
The body as a whole works harmoniously and efficiently only to the extent impulses from the Head are being received and implemented by individual members. Our personal connections with Jesus are meant to be a “joint” through which vitality is conveyed to help accomplish the deeds assigned to the whole body. The ceaseless circulation of life and power and energy within the body as a whole is dependent on ongoing intimate union of each part with the Head. Each member is a canal through which nourishment is conveyed to the body for particular functions. Each member is a channel through which the supply flows from the Head to the body.
Whenever a task has to be accomplished, the brain does not send one big signal to the body as a whole. It rather simultaneously sends scores of little signals to all parts involved. For instance, when a soldier sees a superior officer approaching, the brain does not shout, “Salute.” Instead, messages are sent to the shoulder region, the biceps area, the elbow, the forearm, the wrist, the fingers, the thumb. Each little part receives a message, and then working together they accomplish a salute.
Let us be in tune with Christ individually in order that the body may press forward collectively. The power for a church’s success lies not in interesting preachers, smart leaders, or in impressive organizational structure, but in vital union with Christ. Victory in a church is not the result of clever methods, but of every member being filled with the Spirit for the empowerment of their own spiritual gifts. The whole is dependent on the parts.
Eph. 4:16e “. . .maketh increase of the body unto the edifying of
itself. . .”
As we have been learning, the Christian life inherently involves Christian activity. In the Church everyone has something to do. Now we learn that as everyone finds and performs their God-given ministry, the result is growth. Every church is meant to be a growing body, with each member growing, and the whole growing. Herein is pictured the ideal, the standard of perfection to which every pastor and congregation must strive.
Eph. 4:16f “. . .in love.”
“In love” is added to remove any hint of selfishness. What we receive as individuals is given to help the whole body. Love determines that each member will seek growth not only for self, but also for every other member of the body. In a body, growth must be symmetrical, common to all parts.
We are not to seek our own personal growth only. We do need to grow individually. A dwarfed arm hinders the whole. The Head never wants to find a shrinking member. Each part is gifted and useful, and intended to grow. A church’s growth is seriously impaired by members which refuse to grow. We do need to grow individually, but not selfishly seek only our own separate growth. If one part of the body grows huge, it is monstrous and useless. A ten-feet-long arm would help no one. It would be ugly and unwieldy. We do not seek a growth which is disproportional.
We Baptists, in stressing individual liberty, are always in danger of undervaluing the importance of our corporate existence. Our objective is not to breed thoroughbreds, but to develop well-harnessed teams of horses. One balking and independent horse, determined to branch out on its own, can spoil a team. Our aspiration is not so much individual heroes, but rather well-functioning battalions, moving and fighting as units. Each individual needs the group, and the group needs each individual.
Eph. 4:17a “This I say therefore, and testify in the Lord,. . .”
We are members of Christ’s body, “therefore” we are expected to behave a certain way, and not bring embarrassment to Jesus or His Church. Conduct was no minor matter to Paul. He writes here with intense emotion. Paul is not making small talk, nor casually stating his own opinion. He speaks “in the Lord,” daring to say he knows the mind of Jesus in this matter. Claiming to say exactly what Jesus would say, Paul speaks with apostolic authority, and expects his readers to heed his solemn appeal.
Eph. 4:17b “. .that ye henceforth walk not as other Gentiles walk,”
“Walk” refers to life-style, to one’s whole life and conversation. Saved people must not act as unsaved people do. To be a Christian involves commitment to a new life totally different from the old life. Temptations from the old life surround us, but we must never go back to our old pagan ways.
“Walk” takes us back to the thought begun in 4:1. Paul is reminding us again of his emphasis in this section of Ephesians. The first three chapters highlighted the word “sit”–who we are, whose we are, what spiritual resources we have available to us. At 4:1 Paul turned his emphasis to our “walk,” the everyday conduct of believers. Regarding our “walk,” Paul dealt first with each individual believer’s relationship to the Church (4:2-16). These first verses of chapter four have been eye-openers for me. I did not hold the body in as high esteem as I should have.
A worthy walk (4:1) begins with being in step with believers, and also manifests itself by being out of step with unbelievers. We “walk” in harmony with the body, in disharmony with society; in concert with Christians, in contrast with the lost. By displaying behavior different from the world’s, we prove to them we truly belong to Christ’s body. Only through “conduct by contrast” can we capture their attention. “We have not merely been saved that we might escape hell; we have been saved in order that God may present a people which will astonish the whole world” (Lloyd-Jones). The world is sinking. It needs an alternative, not more of the same.
Eph. 4:17c “. . .in the vanity. . .”
Paul now describes those to whom our lives are to contrast. He be -gins not by enumerating a list of lost people’s outward deeds, but by going “behind the scenes” to deal with motives which impel them. Rather than dealing first with how lost people live, the Apostle presses inward to discuss why they live the way they do. He provides a psychological analysis, exposing the source and fount of all their behavior.
Paul’s analysis emphasizes the intellectual error of the lost. The world’s wrong doing is the result of wrong thinking. People act as they think. Ideas become a mold which fashions human conduct. What a person thinks channels energy into certain furrows of activity.
I am indebted to John MacArthur for his analysis of the two-volume book The Criminal Personality by Samuel Yochelson and Stanton Samenow. They contend criminal behavior results from warped thinking. “Sociological explanations have been unsatisfactory.” Criminals hail from all environments. Of people from any given background, “some are violators and most are not.” What makes a criminal? “A series of choices that he makes starting at a very early age.” The criminal mind eventually decides everything is worthless. The researchers conclude, “His thinking is illogical.”
This is a dramatic illustration of what Paul says is true of all the lost. Their ills are traceable to their minds. This is ironic, because the mental aspect of man is an area lost people often take most pride in. For instance, die-hard proponents of evolution pride themselves in their “understanding” of the cosmos and disdain believers in creation as ignorant red-necks. Another example is people who deny God exists. They often glory in this intellectual accomplishment and see themselves as having cast off an ancient vestige of error deep seated in the ignorance of primordial man.
Despite their pride of knowledge, the Apostle flatly states the lost have an intellectual problem. The element in which they walk is “vanity” of mind. “Vanity” translates a word which refers to that which does not lead to the goal. It denotes things which are pointless, lacking worthwhile direction. Paul is saying a lost person’s thoughts are skewed away from a worthwhile point of view. Unbelievers waste rational faculties on pettiness, things not profitable to the soul of self or to the soul of others. Thus their efforts are expended on empty things which ultimately do not matter.
As the Judeo-Christian ethic continues to lose sway in our culture, souls, like rats deserting a sinking ship, are scurrying in every direction to find significance. Many are turning toward environmental causes as their Mecca. We do need to be careful about our environment. Mankind has a stewardship to perform and must answer to Almighty God. However, it is wrong to elevate animals or nature to an equal status with human beings. There is now a movement afoot to end using animals in laboratories to test new medical procedures which would help people. Some are saying it is no more wrong for a human to die than for an animal to die. “Vanity.”
People who do not know God cannot think aright about God’s world. When God is absent from a man’s mind, the result is a mental fog, the focus is gone. When it comes to spiritual and moral matters, unbelievers find it hard to think straight. We are facing the most deadly disease in the history of our nation–AIDS. Everyone in America knows how we could stop it dead in its tracks overnight–sexual abstinence outside monogamous heterosexual marriages. But this idea is pooh-poohed by our culture, which offers many other solutions. Sex is now the cultural god of America and the reigning hysteria is, better dead than celibate. “Vanity.”
In the USA, a bald eagle in the egg is protected by the government, but a human baby in the womb is not. “Vanity.” In a public setting, taking God’s name in vain is deemed a civil liberty, but invoking His name in prayer is uncivil. Profanity is tolerable, prayer is taboo. “Vanity.”
Eph. 4:17d “. . .of their mind,. . .”
Their “vanity” results from being led solely by “their mind” instead of Christ’s. They plan and do on the basis of their own thinking, serving as judge and jury of the value of their own thoughts. The whims of the individual are all that matter. Each becomes his or her own ultimate authority. I am reminded of the actress Shirley MacLaine, a New Age devotee, who stood one night on a Malibu beach with her arms flung open to the cosmos, shouting, “I am God! I am God! I am God!”
Guided solely by their own misunderstandings of what matters, the lost give themselves to mirages, things deemed to be of substance, but illusions. As Lloyd-Jones points out, their lives become like a bubble, wonderful and beautiful to look at, perfectly round and filled with rainbow colors–but suddenly it disappears, having been full of air and nothing else. Their lives seem filled with excitement and charm, but once the bubble bursts, they are left empty-handed after all. They give themselves totally to the temporary, and once it is all said and done, have lived life “in an arena of ultimate trivia” (MacArthur). Only in Jesus can we live lives of substance.
Eph. 4:18a “Having the understanding darkened,. . .”
Paul here continues his psychological profile of unbelievers. Any who enjoy psychology will find the Apostle’s evaluation fascinating. This is masterly, God-inspired, psychoanalysis. Its indisputable accuracy makes it terribly frightening. Verse 18 “is a great nocturne, it is a picture struck out of a cloud, it is a statue hewn out of sevenfold midnight” (Parker).
“Having the understanding darkened” presents the tragedy, the pathos, of lostness. However brilliant, scholarly, or learned a lost person may be, he or she can not apprehend spiritual truths. The unsaved are unable to get a firm grip on what truly matters. H. G. Wells devoted his life to intellectual pursuits, but along the way rejected the Bible. When his life was coming to a close, he did not know where he stood, had no grasp of life’s meaning, and was at an absolute loss to understand the purpose of his own existence. His last book was entitled Mind at the End of its Tether. The brilliant German poet and philosopher Goethe spent a lifetime thinking, analyzing, and discussing, but rejected the living God. At the end he recognized he stood in darkness. His dying words were, “More light!”
Unbelievers see “no beauty in Divine things, no preciousness in Divine promises, no excellence in the Divine image” (Pulpit Commentary). Holiness means nothing to them. Just this week, Ruth and I went to see a movie which depicted virginity as a terrible thing, something to be ashamed of.
Unbelievers often take pride in their intellect–for some, it is a worse insult to be called an ignoramus than to be called a sinner–but their ability to reason, which they suppose to be a trustworthy guide, is itself in darkness. They not only dwell in darkness, darkness dwells in them, in their understanding. They fail to comprehend the things which need to be understood.
Eph. 4:18b “. . .being alienated from the life of God. . .”
The lost “walk” wrong because they order their steps by “vanity” of mind and by a darkened understanding. This “vanity” and darkness result from “being alienated from the life of God,” a life He lives in His people.
God originally planned to reside in every human being. He meant for all of us to find ultimate joy and fulfillment through the communicating of His own life into our spirits. The Fall in Eden altered everything. This life of God which was meant for all is now available only to those who are born again, who receive a new birth generated from above. What was intended to be ours by nature can now be ours solely by choice.
When an unbeliever becomes a believer, spiritual vitality flows to him or her directly from God. This new life, imparted from God and implanted in the individual, is able to grow spiritually. Only this God-life transplanted from Heaven can mature in holiness, in love, in spirituality, in true knowledge. Only the life of God can aspire unto, and relate to, the God of life.
This is why unbelievers cannot understand the things of God, or develop in spiritual matters. Where the God-life should be, the lost have only a huge vacuum. “Being alienated from the life of God,” they have nothing in them to enlighten, to instruct, to grow. When the God-life is not there, there is nothing to work with. Unbelievers have no God-light in the mind because they have no God-life in the heart. “The natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned” (1 C 2:14).
The lost alienate themselves from the only true purpose of human life–fellowship with God. Imagine a tree taking its roots from the soil and placing itself on granite. The thought is ludicrous, but no more absurd than a person who chooses to live uprooted from God. No one was meant to live without the life of God. Those who do, leave themselves in a grave, a death-state, in isolation indeed, and a desolated orphanage (Parker).
Eph. 4:18c “. . .through the ignorance that is in them, . . .”
The unsaved are “alienated from the life of God” because they refuse to know the God of life. The only way to have “the life of God” is to have a working acquaintance with God Himself. Paul is reminding us Christianity is, at its essence, intimate familiarity, vital communion, a personal one-on-one relationship between a human being and God. The Apostle is also reminding us the lost have only themselves to blame for their lostness.
Their “ignorance” of God is seated “in them,” in their own self-consciousness. Blame can be transferred to nothing external, including God, Satan, other people, or circumstances. Each is responsible for his or her own life before God. The problem resides in the individual’s own nature.
Unbelievers are ignorant of God because they, in their own heart of hearts, choose to be. Lostness is not an accident. Unbelievers refuse to know God (RM 1:28). They could find God if they sought Him. If they desired the living, holy God, He would make a way for them to receive Him. Joshua (JS 2) thought he was sending two spies into Jericho for military reasons. Not true! God already knew how to take the city. The spies were sent to find one of the elect, Rahab the harlot, who had heard of the living God, and who wanted to cast her lot with Him and His people. Cornelius (AC 10) thirsted after the living God, who plowed through deep-seated prejudices in Peter to bring salvation to the Roman soldier.
Lost people lack the desire, not the faculty, to know God. The very One whom believers cherish and receive, unbelievers dread and reject. James Boice rightly concludes, “We are not on the same team as the world. We do not have the same goals or tasks or loyalties.”
Eph. 4:18d “. . .because of the blindness of their heart:. . .”
Lost people cannot live right because they make decisions with minds clouded in vanity and darkness. This mental failure is traceable to their not having the life of God, an alienation caused by their refusal to know God Himself, and by “the blindness of their heart.”
Again, Paul is not talking about something accidental. His reference is to a “blindness” which is conscious and willful, an aggressive suppression of the truth. Paul nowhere excuses unbelief. It is a criminal act.
The word “blindness” actually means “hardening,” and literally refers to the process whereby a callus becomes, layer by layer, something hard. The term was applied to blindness because sight is often lost as the result of a process, as when a cataract grows, hardens, and finally covers an eye.
The lost do not know God “because of the blindness of their heart.” This rejection of Him is extremely dangerous. It is more than a momentary choice, it is more than a passing decision. Wilful rejection of God is a process which becomes harder and harder to undo. It is a choice which reinforces itself and entrenches itself ever deeper within one’s heart.
Each wrong decision makes it harder to make a right decision. God continues to call from the shore, but the lost ones float ever farther into stormy waters. Jesus calls them to “walk” with Him, but they continue to stumble farther and farther from God until they are oblivious to any desire for God. Losing all proper spiritual perspective, they eventually bring themselves under the curse voiced by Isaiah (5:20), “Woe unto them that call evil good, and good evil; that put darkness for light, and light for darkness; that put bitter for sweet, and sweet for bitter!”
Isaiah’s next verse (5:21) also applies to people trapped in “the blindness of their heart.” “Woe unto them that are wise in their own eyes, and prudent in their own sight!” Spiritual blindness is far worse than physical blindness, for anyone who is physically blind knows it and admits it. However, the spiritually blind can reach the point they are blind to their own blindness (JN 9:40-41). They can go so far into darkness that they no longer even recognize light. They do not know they are away from the light, or if in their heart of hearts they do know it, they refuse to admit it.
The latter tragedy is becoming all too common in our culture. Blinding and hardening are rampant. John MacArthur has accurately portrayed our dilemma. “According to an ancient Greek story, a Spartan youth stole a fox but then inadvertently came upon the man from whom he had stolen it. To keep his theft from being discovered, the boy stuck the fox inside his clothes and stood without moving a muscle while the frightened fox tore out his vital organs. Even at the cost of his own painful death he would not own up to his wrong. Our wicked society is so determined not to be discovered for what it is that it stands unflinching as its very life and vitality is ripped apart by the sins and corruption it holds so dear. It has become callous both to the reality and to the consequences of sin, and will endure any agony rather than admit that its way of “living” is the way of death.”
The blinding of a heart can be stopped by a look toward the light of the world. The hardening of a heart can be softened by a touch from the gentle nail-scarred hand. People need Jesus.
Eph. 4:19a “Who being past feeling. . .”
“There are no colors in human language dark enough wherewith to describe this state” (Rudder, in B.I.). “Being past feeling” is a participle which means to cease feeling pain, and here refers to the deadness which results when a heart ceases to respond to the stimuli of conscience (Ellicott).
The surest safeguard against moral decline is a watchful, sensitive conscience performing its God-intended duty. When inner restraint fails, outer controls serve little purpose. Unfortunately, it is possible to decimate the rightful role of one’s conscience, and thus to become “past feeling.” Over a period of time, one can decide conscience is merely a compilation of old habits and traditions, and come to believe “there is no such thing as an inward monitor placed there by God” (Lloyd-Jones). The Bible is demeaned, mores of decency are scorned, the uplifting customs of a society are deemed archaic and unnecessary, all outward restraints and influences for good are discarded. This process goes on and on until finally the cries of conscience are squelched to the point of being choked out of existence. The final result is moral insensibility, an insensitivity to all things good, a hardness “neither ministry, nor misery, nor miracle, nor mercy could possibly mollify. . . .At length they become like the smith’s dog, whom neither the hammers above him nor the sparks of fire falling round about him can awake” (Trapp).
We saw this trait portrayed en masse recently in our own capital. On one of the darkest days in American history, thousands of homosexuals marched, demanding recognition and acceptance. In what may have been the foulest stench ever to ascend to Heaven from any spot on North America, we saw people openly displaying what it means to be “past feeling.”
The intent of this “being past feeling” is to describe such events, but it also characterizes all who hear the Gospel repeatedly and yet remain in lostness. To reject again and again the simple, pure, and beautiful story of Jesus requires extraordinary hardness. Dr. Lichfield tried to win a criminal on death row who had oft heard the Gospel, but the convict abruptly ended the conversation, saying, “I can not feel, and I will not pray.” The same could be said by many moral, upstanding lost people in our neighborhoods.
Thank God for the agony of soul you feel each time you sin. Be grateful for your sensitivity to conscience. It is evidence of spiritual life.
Eph. 4:19b “. . .have given themselves over. . .”
Once the heart becomes “past feeling,” the perverted will becomes a traitor which totally betrays its own person to treachery. The will says “yes” to every temptation, thereby destroying self. In our text sinners are described as giving “themselves over” unto evil. In Romans (1:24,26,28) it is God who gives them up to sin. This presents two sides of the same coin. Confirmation in sin is a guilty choice of man, and a judicial act of God.
To petrify self in evil is a fate worse than cancer, AIDS, or any other earthly calamity. Yet wilful sinners insist on persisting in wrong till confirmed in it by God. “Let the one who does wrong, still do wrong; and let the one who is filthy, still be filthy” (RV 22:11). Frozen, crystallized, calcified in sin by choice and by divine fiat. Nothing worse can be imagined.
Eph. 4:19c “. . .unto lasciviousness,. . .”
The root idea of “lasciviousness” is not fleshly impurity, but rebellion against restraints. A lascivious person acknowledges no limits, seeks to cast them all off, and flaunt sin. He or she is shameless. Modesty is lost, decency forgotten. One does not care how much his actions shock others. It is pictured in John Lennon’s words about sexual intimacy, “Why can’t we do it in the road?” Such lack of shame characterizes animal behavior. Even demons have enough decency to try to hide their true nature. They camouflage and cloak themselves, but wanton people flaunt their evil.
There are phases and places in history where sin comes to the fore and totally engulfs a society–before the flood, Sodom and Gomorrah, Ancient Greece, Rome under the Caesars. Even in Judah, Jeremiah the weeping prophet proclaimed the sins of his people and expressed regret, “Were they ashamed when they had committed abomination? nay, they were not at all ashamed, neither could they blush” (JR 6:15). It is good Jeremiah was there to weep. No one else was crying, and someone needed to.
As long as people can blush, feel shame, and sense modesty, there is hope. These safeguard against moral collapse, and have ever been a hallmark of genuine Christianity. In the Roman coliseum, our women worried more about modesty than life. As wild beasts tore at their bodies, rather than fend off the animals, they tried to keep tatters of their garments over their bodies. Sadly, the blush of modesty is becoming rarer in our culture.
Eph. 4:19d “. . .to work. . .”
In its noun form, the verb translated “to work” referred to one’s occupation or trade. Our text does not refer to people who yield to temptation from time to time, but to those who are “making a business of filth” (Blackwood). To them, sin is not something incidental or on the side, but the main thing. They pursue evil with the zeal of an occupation. They work at sin with all their might, clutching it with the left hand, holding it with the right, loving it, kissing it, rolling it under the tongue as a sweet morsel. They yearn to increase their skills in sin, and learn every aspect of it, as if they were born to sin–it becomes their mission, their focus in life.
Eph. 4:19e “. . .all uncleanness. . .”
They seek to master “all uncleanness,” every sin, including deeds too atrocious and monstrous to describe. Some in the most militant homosexual community even dare to say the sexual abuse of children can actually be good, for it might help a child learn his or her true sexual orientation. People of such bent have already taken up residence in the suburbs of Hell.
Eph. 4:19f “. . .with greediness.”
Here is the mindset of the wanton sinner, the motivation for everything he does. “With greediness”–all is focused on self; no fear of God, no regard for others, no concern for society. With total scorn for the rights of others, they care not who they hurt or whose innocence they besmirch.
The New English Bible translates the last part of our text well, “They stop at nothing to satisfy their foul desire.” “Stop at nothing!” How true. Though smitten with blindness by the angels, the men of Sodom continued to seek Lot’s door (GN 19:11). In Revelation 9 the wrath of God is depicted as falling on mankind. Though one-third of humanity is killed by fire, smoke, and brimstone, “the rest of the men which were not killed by these plagues yet repented not” (RV 9:20). I am reminded of an AIDS patient my friend saw dying on television. Barely able to talk, the sick one whispered, “I hope they find a cure soon, so we can have our lovers back.” Even Shakespeare realized men “stop at nothing” to have their fill. He wrote of people who seek “the bubble reputation, even in the cannon’s mouth.”
How do people plummet to this depth in life? By rejecting God. When self is elevated to number one, even God is relegated to a secondary position. If sinners changed their thinking about God, they would have to surrender to Him, and this would result in a change of thinking about life-styles. Lost people know one thing for sure–where God lives He rules–and this they do not want. Rather than change behavior, they choose not to know God. The Bible makes it very clear why people are lost. “Men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil” (JN 3:19).
Admittedly, not all lost people go as far in immorality as our verse depicts. God’s common grace allows social order to exist. Culture can be modified by moral consensus. Our nation may not be as bad as pictured by Paul here, but his words depict the direction in which it is pointing. The lost may not agree with certain acts being committed, but often see no terrible wrong in them. Unbelievers tend to “live and let live,” thereby creating a comfortable environment in which unspeakable evils are spawned.
What then must believers do? It is not enough to speak against sin. Pray for the world and try to win it for Jesus. Shun its values, but win its constituents. Reject their words, but project to them God’s Word. Denounce wrong, but pronounce right. Even to the most notorious sinner, proclaim cleansing as a possibility. “Come now, and let us reason together, saith the Lord: though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they be red like crimson, they shall be as wool” (Isaiah 1:18). “The blood of Jesus Christ his Son cleanseth us from all sin” (1 J 1:7).
Spurgeon tells of a man whose face was encased in a mask of iron and who was jailed for years in Paris’ infamous Bastille Prison. He was conjectured to be the twin brother of King Louis XIV, who committed this dastardly deed because he feared his look-alike would someday try to steal the throne. Dear listener, your flesh and spirit are twins, conceived in the same womb at the same time. To reach wantonness in evil, the jealous flesh, basest of the twins, must gain ascendancy, encase the royal spirit in an iron mask, and bury it deep in the essence. Friend, you may have masked your spirit, denied it, and forgotten it, but it exists. By grace, cast flesh off the throne, receive Jesus, and let God rule you through your spirit.