Prepared by Dr. John E. Marshall
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.