Prepared by Dr. John E. Marshall
Eph. 4:4a “There is. . .”
These words, added by our English translators, introduce Paul’s reply to the question, in what sense are Christians one? The answer is seven-fold. In verses 4-6, Paul will repeat the word “one” seven times. By using the perfect number, seven, Paul pictures the fact our oneness is perfect.
The seven “ones” are clustered into three groups. The first cluster (4:4) centers three “ones” around God the Holy Spirit. The second group (4:5) converges three “ones” on God the Son. The third cluster (4:6) contains one of the “ones” and focuses on God the Father, the Author of all.
Unity in the church is a reflection and manifestation of the blessed Trinity. The church is to picture for the world our triune God. No wonder we are to walk in lowliness, meekness, long-suffering, and forbearance in love. It truly is important to endeavor “to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace,” for the lost can best see the Trinity in a united church.
Eph. 4:4b “. . .one body,. . ”
“Body” is Paul’s favorite way of describing the church. This is understandable. It clearly pictures a unity which funnels energies into cooperative effort. Unity is essential to coordinated action. Division paralyses.
Notice, the body already exists as one. We are not called on to create this oneness. It is given by the Holy Spirit. Our task is to keep this sacred trust from being maligned. The body is one, consisting of all believers from beginning to end, from pole to pole, and continent to continent.
By the new birth, believers are joined to their Head, Jesus, and thus become members one of another. We are attached to one another whether we like it or not. We are made for one another, and cannot thrive without each other. To picture this and teach us this at the first of our Christian walk, God has made it impossible for a person to be saved without someone previously in the body doing something to make it happen. All who become believers do so by means of another believer. This forces us to see from the first that we belong. Even Saul was saved only after he saw the testimony of Stephen. Also, when Saul was blind and helpless in Damascus, God sent a member of the body, Ananias, to minister to him. The body is one.
I hasten to add, the body is one in love, life and purpose, not form. We are not called to an ecumenical movement which seeks ecclesiastical or organizational unity. Southern Baptists wisely declined to be part of the World Council of Churches, a group which has become an embarrassment to the name Christian. The body’s oneness is not a mechanical oneness of administration. When Paul wrote our text, there were already throughout the Mediterranean world churches, each separate and distinct from the others. They each had their own polity, and maintained their own discipline, with no bureaucracy or hierarchy over them. Corinthian Christians handled problems in Corinth only. Ephesian believers took care of business in the church at Ephesus. Each local fellowship was responsible for itself.
Efforts to put all Christians under one denominational umbrella are exercises in futility. Do not try to create body-oneness. It already exists.
Eph. 4:4c “. . .and one Spirit,. . .”
The church can never be viewed primarily as an organization, for the Holy Spirit’s presence constitutes life, as in an organism. The Spirit indwells every believer and thus creates vital union between them. He is the unifying force in the “one body.” The same Spirit who came down in power on Jews at Pentecost is the same who fell on Gentiles in the house of Cornelius and the same who indwells every believer today.
Even as every human life is traced to Adam, every believer can trace his spiritual life to the Spirit who worked through ones already in the body. No Christian enters the faith with an independent existence. Each life can be traced to the body in one way or another, and all are drawn to the body by the Spirit, the unifying essence which makes us all one. He is the uniter. “All sins against unity are sins against the Holy Spirit” (Hodge).
A body can have only one inhabitant, one essence to which all else submits. No body could function properly with a dualism of intelligence. A body has to be permeated by one living principle, not a double consciousness. Two essences in one body would constitute a monster.
A human body functions in coordination because it is pervaded by a spirit which is one. The church is also successful when totally controlled by One. The Spirit indwells, animates, and means to rule the “one body.” His voice alone should be obeyed in every church decision. Leaders choose, or members vote, but their verdict should reflect the Spirit’s will, not theirs.
Eph. 4:4d “. . .even as ye are called in one hope of your calling;”
Believers are united by a common “hope” God set before us when He called us. We “are called” to share someday eternal Christlike perfection. Think of it! At this moment, one billion people of earth share an identical hope. Though from various backgrounds, we proceed toward the same goal.
God meant for our thoughts of the future to be a unifier among us, but we have devised ways for it to divide us. Our depravity is vast. We invent ways to fragment ourselves. We have pre-, post-, or a-, millennialists sorted into subcategories based on whether one is pre-, post-, or mid-, Tribulation. I hold three end-time essentials: resurrection of the dead, bodily return of Christ to earth to reign as King of Kings and Lord of Lords, and Judgment Day. Dogmatism over other details invites discord. Fighting over nonessentials undermines any joy we are to find in having “one hope.”
We need to be able to dwell on the future with delight, because emphasizing the past or present highlights differences. Looking to the past accents ethnic and national divisions. Looking only at the present emphasizes denominations and social status. Eyeing the future, all these distinctions fade. Knowing that the things which now divide us will someday fade away should help us view them today in proper perspective. We do not deny differences, nor ignore them. We simply do not overemphasize them.
Believers differ in much, but in this we all agree–we yearn for the homeland, for a life free from sin, the great divider. As the wise men followed one star to the culmination of their journey to Bethlehem, so Christians have “one hope” guiding them to their Promised Land. We will someday be like Jesus. With this as our common hope, let us walk in such a united and joyous way that we attract others to travel the journey with us.
Eph. 4:5a “. . .one Lord, . . .”
The earliest basic Christian confession was, “Jesus is Lord.” Without Christ, there is no Christianity. Christ is Christianity, Christianity is Christ. Christianity is not a body of teachings or a collection of philosophies. It is the Lord Himself and our relationship to Him.
The word “Lord” bespoke a master who owned slaves, served as the official term of reverence when speaking of the Roman Emperor, identified a teacher who had disciples, and was substituted over 5000 times for the name of YHWH in the Greek Old Testament. These four uses of the term “Lord” affected our primitive confession.
We are servants of one Master. Jesus bought us with His own blood. We no longer belong to ourselves. Jesus owns us. He is not only the Savior through whom we are saved, but also the Lord to whom we submit. We are not our own masters. All believers pledge allegiance, “Jesus is Lord.”
Since Jesus is Lord, and we serve only “one Lord,” no one else can be our master. Thus, we declined to say, even only once a year, “Caesar is Lord.” For this refusal, many of our forbears shed their lifeblood. We must confess, though Rome was a conquering, totalitarian regime, it was extremely tolerant of the divergent faiths which came under its far-flung umbrella.
To honor all the gods worshipped throughout the Roman Empire, Hadrian built the Pantheon, one of the most beautiful buildings ever devised by man. Every known god was given a niche in the edifice, but Christians, who serve a God invisible and spiritual, had no idols to contribute to the Pantheon. We would not have our Jesus’ name mentioned in the same breath, or a likeness of His image be seen in the same glance, with Jupiter, Venus, and others. Christians acknowledge only “one Lord.” Jesus is Lord.
Since Jesus is Lord, believers accept Him as the ultimate teacher, the final spiritual authority. Understood aright, Christianity is the most tolerant and intolerant of all faiths. We are to be tolerant, in that our belief must be forced on no one. Servants under a Master can certainly make no claim to be masters over any one else. Jesus, not His servants, is Lord.
Christians are to be intolerant. We do not force others to give up their faith, but we deem them wrong. Comparative religion classes often imply one religion is as good as the others. This is true of all faiths but one. All the others are on equal footing, but Jesus stands alone. We need to learn about other religions, but we do not need to learn from them, for in Jesus “are hid all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge” (CL 2:3). Jesus, our “one Lord,” is a Master-teacher who needs no assistant.
When Paul and other early Jewish believers called Jesus “Lord,” they knew exactly what implication would be drawn from their claim. Lord was a title the Jews reserved for YHWH Himself. For fear of mentioning the holy name of God, the Jews had substituted for it the word “Lord” in their Greek translation of the Old Testament. For a Jew to call Jesus “Lord” was tantamount to calling Him God. Jesus is God incarnate. There had never been anyone else like Him, and there never will be. He stands alone.
Eph. 4:5b “. . .one faith,. . .”
We respond to “one Lord” with “one faith.” Believers share this in common: we have all completely surrendered our lives to Jesus, thereby expressing our own weakness and our total trust in His strength. Paul says nothing here about works or deeds of merit. Faith, the outgoing of one’s whole self toward Christ, is the one and only means of contact with Jesus.
Eph. 4:5c “. . .one baptism,. . .”
“One baptism” is the initial outward sign of “one faith” placed in “one Lord.” The order in our text is significant. Baptism follows faith. Baptism is not the means of salvation, but a public confession of faith. A soldier is inducted into the service only after he chooses to join. His public oath of allegiance is based on a personal decision made previously. Similarly, baptism does not save. It is rather a public disclosure of prior, private faith.
The early church knew nothing of unbaptized believers. Secret discipleship was disallowed. When baptized, we unashamedly declare we are followers of Jesus. Allegiance played an important role in Jesus’ own baptism. In submitting to immersion at the hand of John, Jesus identified Himself with a preacher scorned by the religious establishment of His day.
The Lord’s Supper, not mentioned here by Paul, is usually repeated often by each believer, but baptism, when all elements which make it valid are present, is not to be repeated. What, then, makes it valid? New Testament baptism is the immersion in water of a believer as a symbol of faith placed solely in the finished work of Christ for salvation. Analyzing the details of this definition may help us understand its meaning better.
Immersion in water is based on the fact the Greek word “baptizo” only means immersion. Sprinkling and pouring have no Biblical basis.
We are to immerse only believers, ones who on their own have made the choice to trust in Jesus. The baptism of infants is not Scriptural. The act is a conscious, volitional, outward expression of allegiance to Christ.
All who sprinkle, pour, or baptize babies admit our Baptist position on baptism is Biblically correct. They, however, have their own reasons for pressing past the Biblical precedents, and instituting their own practices.
Regarding baptism, the most intense criticism we Southern Baptists usually face is when we refuse to accept another denomination’s immersion of a believer. The reason we do this is because we believe baptism must be a symbol of faith placed solely in the finished work of Christ for salvation. The very act itself pictures the event which made salvation possible. Standing in the water, one identifies with Christ on the cross; immersion pictures the burial of Christ–the ultimate proof He actually died; coming up from the water pictures the resurrection of Christ; walking out of the water pictures the new life one has found based solely on the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus. We do not accept the immersion of believers when this imagery is not portrayed in the baptism itself. For instance, we do not accept the immersion of believers who were baptized in churches which believe in falling from grace. Theirs is a baptism which pictures salvation as requiring works in addition to faith in Christ’s death, burial, and resurrection. In our opinion, immersion which pictures salvation based on grace plus works negates the very symbolism intended in the event.
Eph. 4:6a “. . .one God and Father of all, who is above all,. . .”
The Church is one because its life and leadership can be traced to One who is paramount. Our text refers to God’s spiritual government over His own people. The phrase intermingles majesty and affection. It begins with splendor (“God”), softens into tenderness (“Father”), and then hastens to absolute authority (“above all”).
Here is the remedy of all worry–our “one God” who is “Father” is also “above all.” Often, the one who controls does not care, or the one who cares does not control. However, in the leadership of the Church, grandeur is tempered with paternity and crowned with power. God who loves us most and wants to help us is fully able to carry out His desires in our behalf.
Eph. 4:6b “. . .and through all,. . .”
The preposition suggests movement and instrumentality. God is working through us, guiding our footsteps, directing our circumstances, sustaining our hearts, and upholding our lives. He operates through us all. His providence is active and energetic. He is not a remote, disinterested deity, nor an isolated recluse in outer space. He is active in our affairs.
In 1653 Bulstrod Whitlock was appointed ambassador to Sweden. On the stormy night before his departure, he was suffering insomnia from concentrating on the strife within his own country. A nearby servant, detecting his master’s inability to sleep and knowing the burden on his mind, asked, “Sir, don’t you think God governed the world very well before you came into it?” “Undoubtedly.” “Sir, don’t you think God will govern it quite well when you are gone out of it?” “Certainly.” “Then, sir, don’t you think you may trust Him to govern it properly as long as you live?” To this last question Whitlock made no reply, and soon fell fast asleep.
Eph. 4:6c “. . .and in you all.”
Here is the most amazing thing of all. God who is transcendent, is also immanent. He does not come and go to accomplish His providence in our lives. He abides. He indwells us. He works through us, and His base of operations, His home, remains within us.
This is not pantheism. God remains a distinct Personality. He is not a principle, or a force, but a Person who resides within us. No longer do men need to visit a distant shrine in order to find God. Each Christian is a temple. In days of yore, men journeyed great distances to be near God. Christ reversed this process. God travelled far to be with and in us.
Based on verse 6, my former Sunday School teacher, Chad Colley, gave some excellent advice, “Since our God is Father of all, above all, through all, and in us all, let Him be all.” Rest in God, love God, serve God, trust God. Let Him be our all in all.
Eph. 4:7a “But. . .”
Paul uses this conjunction in the sense of “on the other hand,” contrasting what he has said with what he will say. The Apostle will now turn his attention from the universal to the individual. He has spoken of “all,” will now talk about “every one,” and in verse 11 will speak of “some.”
Paul’s emphasis now shifts from similarity to diversity. The Church’s seven-fold unity is not uniformity. Christian unity exists in the midst of infinite variety. Believers are not identical, mass-produced, assembly-line look-alikes. We are united, unique ones. God never quenches individuality, and does not want us to be boring replicas of each other. God loves variety–a fact verified by even the most casual glance at His creation.
The Church is a perfect mix of collectivism and individualism. We share unity of purpose, loyalty, and affection, yet show variety of function, position, and personality. By being ourselves we blend our various skills to make the Church more successful. Radiant, white light is produced when all other colors blend together, not when each tries to be the other.
Eph. 4:7b “. . .unto every one of us. . .”
Many Bible scholars deem this and the following verses as the heart of Ephesians. These passages tell us how the Church, the most important society in the world, is to function. The Church is primarily an organism, a unity permeated by one life, which is required to accomplish certain God-given tasks. To do this most efficiently, the organism requires organization.
Tasks required of the body must be assigned to, and performed by, individual members. To make sure everything which ought to be done can be done, God dispenses “unto every one of us” gifts, special abilities. Herein lies the key to having an effective local church. The organism must operate as an organization based on gifts given by God “unto every one of us.”
Every Christian has a three-pronged responsibility: to commune with God, to win the lost, and to use a God-given gift to benefit the church. Our foremost task is ever to maintain close and intimate fellowship with God. To please Him is ever the essence of our existence.
Each believer is to witness constantly to the lost. “Christians should be channels connecting eternal reservoirs with the desert-like conditions of a dying world” (Powell). Many err at this point. Occasionally someone will say, “I do not have the gift of evangelism.” This shows lack of understanding. Evangelism is not a gift given to some, but an assignment given to all. Also, evangelism is for the lost, but spiritual gifts are for the Church.
Each believer is given a gift which is to be used for the benefit of the Church. This is the theme emphasized here in verse 7. The four principal portions of Scripture which deal with spiritual gifts are Romans 12:3-8, 1 Corinthians 12-14, Ephesians 4:7-16, and 1 Peter 4:7-11. All four of these sections emphasize the fact that every believer has a grace-gift (the words “every man” occur in RM 12:3, 1 C 12:11, and 1 P 4:10; “every one of us” is used here in EP 4:7).
The purpose of these grace-gifts is for believers to help each other. “As every man hath received the gift, even so minister the same one to another” (1 P 4:10). “To each one is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good” (1 C 12:7). However feeble or unknown, each believer has received something from Jesus for the help of all other believers.
We need one another. No believer is an island. An important part of body-life is the principle of mutual dependence among its members. In His infinite wisdom, God encourages unity in the church by making each of us dependent on the others. He has given all of us not only gifts, but also various needs. God allows no member to be self-sufficient, above needing help from others in the body. By giving all of us needs and gifts, God has made us all mutually dependent on each other. Each member needs the others, each member can help the others. All depend, all contribute.
No Christian ever has the right to be merely a spectator. We are all called to be on the firing line, team-players on the field, each using unique skills and abilities to help a church do its very best for the honor of Jesus.
The exercise of every one’s gift is essential for a church to have maximum efficiency. No gift should be unused. Statisticians say, in the average local church 80% of the work is done by 20% of the people. This means we cripple along with a 20% efficiency rating, and often the 20% we do is done by very tired people. Too often, a local church is like a football game–22 players on the field desperately in need of rest, 2200 fans in the stands desperately in need of exercise. For the sake of Christ’s Church, let us find our place of service, our gift. Research Scripture to learn what the gifts are, pray for wisdom, and accept jobs in the church till we find our niche.
Eph. 4:7c “. . .is given grace according to the measure of the gift
No boasting is allowed. Our assigned tasks are a “gift” from Christ. Elsewhere they are called “graces.” The specific empowerment for their use is “given” and even called “grace.” Whatever our gifts, be not proud. We neither earn them, nor beg for them in prayer. We merely seek out which one is ours, and then yield our bodies as lowly vessels for its fruition. We only give what we are given. The disciples were able to feed the multitude only with bread received from Jesus’ hand. All is traced to grace.
The emphasis on grace is heightened by the word “measure,” which implies concern for details. God “who is above all” relates to “every one.” He who works “through all” takes time to determine a gift for each one. In the distribution of gifts, Jesus oversees all and overlooks none.
Jesus takes time to “measure,” to mete out the gifts, singling out each of us for unique usefulness. Each allocation is administered by Christ Himself, who takes time to examine our situation, and to dispense to each of us the gift He deems essential. No one ever receives too much to do, or too little power to perform. We are precisely enabled for an assigned task.
To be saved is to be gifted–this statement in and of itself is nothing less than a declaration of Christ’s great love and His minute watchful care. Our only adequate response to this love is to give what we have been given. Since Christ took time to give us a gift, we must take time to exercise it. Anything less dishonors Christ and harms His beloved bride, the Church.
Eph. 4:8a “Wherefore he saith, When he ascended up on high,. . .”
Paul now takes time to state what right Jesus has to give gifts to all in the Church. It is a prerogative He earned. The Apostle quotes Psalm 68:18, which honors YHWH as the victorious God of battles. The verse pictures YHWH triumphing over His and Israel’s enemies, and then ascending His throne in a victory procession. Paul believed this verse prefigured the Ascension of Jesus, which was a triumphal parade for the conquering Christ. The Ascension publicly manifest Christ’s victory over evil. . . .
Eph. 4:8b “. . .He led captivity captive,. . .”
This denotes victory over enemies who had previously held the new captors captive. Jesus took captive all those things which had held us captive. His Ascension publicly displayed His conquest of death, sin, the world, demons, and Satan. Death bound Him, but He broke its chains; the stone, the watch, the seal, they were all in vain. Death is dead! Sin assailed Him furiously, but never defiled Him. He passed through the world without being corrupted. He entered it as the spotless Lamb of God without blemish. When He left the world He was still the spotless Lamb of God without blemish. Having “spoiled principalities and powers” (CL 2:15a), He reduced the demons to impotence. At Calvary they brought forth their best troops, but in vain, for Jesus “made a show of them openly” (CL 2:15b). Jesus made a mockery of the demons and their leader, Lucifer. Satan bruised Jesus’ heel, but our Conqueror mounted aloft, crushing the dragon’s head beneath His feet, and chaining Lucifer to His victory chariot.
Eph. 4:8c “. . .and gave gifts unto men.”
Psalm 68:18 reads, “received gifts from men.” Paul interprets the verse in light of Christ’s final intent. Jesus received gifts in order to give them to His people. This whole verse from the Psalms is best explained by an illustration from the ancient world. In olden days, war victories were grandly celebrated. The conqueror would ride a triumphal chariot into town. Having received an abundance of spoils of war, the victor would share his bounty by casting prizes into the throng of cheering supporters.
By quoting from Psalm 68:18 and playing upon a scene common in his day, Paul draws a poignant picture of our Savior and His present relationship to the Church. Having vanquished His and the Church’s enemies in battle, Jesus has received spoils of war to distribute among His people.
Jesus is the Victor. He has earned the authority of a conqueror, and has the right to delegate and convey spoils of war to His people as He pleases. Jesus said, “All power is given unto me” (MT 28:18). He then said, “therefore” go (MT 28:19). He earned authority, and shares it.
At Pentecost Peter preached, “Having received of the Father the promise of the Holy Ghost, he (Jesus) hath shed forth this, which ye now see and hear” (AC 2:33). Interestingly, Psalm 68 was associated with Pentecost in the synagogue lectionary (Bruce). Jesus has the promise of the Spirit, and shares Him with every believer.
Also, in our present context, Jesus has earned the right to give spiritual gifts to each, individual believer, and does so. No one is overlooked. Each is given a victor’s prize, a trophy, a part of the bounty. Our spiritual gifts are spoils of war from our conquering king. He expects us to use these gifts to help His Church carry on His victory march through the ages.
Eph. 4:9 “(Now that he ascended, what is it but that he also
descended first into the lower parts of the earth?”
The ascent of Christ implies a former descent. The Ascension was a return to Heaven by One who had come from there originally. The glory of Christ’s victory can be appreciated only by fathoming the depth Christ descended to wage war in our behalf. In His incarnation, Jesus descended to the earth; in His burial, into the earth. He “led captivity captive” only after He came down to wrestle the captors in their own foul realm. Jesus fetched spoils of war in our sinful world. He came down to win the victory.
Eph. 4:10a “He that descended is the same also that ascended up”
He who descended “is the same” who ascended. The One who reigns earned the right to do so. When Jesus descended, He gave up everything, and could return to Heaven only if He achieved His mission of ransom and redemption. There was “no way back into the place of power and fellowship with God had He failed to fulfill the Divine purpose” (Morgan). Failure was impossible, but this does not negate the fact, when Jesus came to earth He risked everything. The honor, glory, and dignity of God hinged upon His mission. He had to bear sin, enter death, fight Satan, ransom a race, and bring it into submission. All this He had to do without stain and loss.
By a victory won by Himself, Jesus earned the right to return to His former throne. The Ascension was God’s eternal seal stamped on the victory Christ won in His descent.
Eph. 4:10b “. . .far above all heavens, that he might fill all things.)”
In His Ascension, Jesus regained everything He gave up, and more. He gained the added right to rule His Church and to distribute to each of its members the spoils of war as He pleases.
Having returned to the palace whence He came, having risen from deepest depths to highest heights, He is enshrined above all the created order. From this highest possible exaltation, He fills “all things,” which in this context refers to the Church. Holding kingly sway, He fills the Church with His Spirit. From His regal position He saturates the Church with spiritual gifts at His prerogative. He fills the organism with the life of His Spirit. He fills the organization with empowered gifts of the Spirit.
The Ascension means the Church is Christ-filled, not Christ-deserted. He did not ascend to leave us. Jesus did not forsake us. He did not lose the battle and quit the field. It is actually better for us that Jesus has ascended. He said, “It is expedient for you that I go away” (JN 16:7).
He could not have as effectively filled the Church had He remained on earth in body. Speaking more accurately, He could have due to His divinity, but His corporeal presence would so tend to overwhelm us creatures of sense that we would find it difficult to fathom His presence elsewhere in Spirit. Being near His physical presence would be deemed an advantage over being far away. Rather than seeking to be indwelt by His Spirit, our primary emphasis would be to dwell by His body.
Due to His physical absence, we better sense that the Church, in every nook and cranny, in every joint, vessel, and member, in every word and deed, is filled with Christ the Giver. As perfect God, He is active every where among us. “Lo, I am with you always” (MT 28:20). As glorified man, we are able to perceive He is present any where. “Where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst” (MT 18:20).
Instead of standing here gazing up into Heaven as the disciples did, let us sit in quiet contemplation, dwell on the truth He fills us, and see what we can profit from this great thing which has come to pass. Let us march forward with His authority, let us be filled with His Spirit, let us each find and use our spiritual gift for the honor of our conquering Christ.
Eph. 4:11a “And he gave some,. . .”
Paul emphasized “all” (4:6) believers, each “one” of us (4:7), but now highlights “some” believers, those who hold leadership offices in the church. The Church is first and foremost an organism enlivened by God’s indwelling Spirit. To accomplish assigned tasks, this organism takes the shape of an organization which, to function at peak efficiency, must operate under leaders. Ordained of God, this pattern for church administration is not trivial.
Eph. 4:11b “. . .apostles;. . .”
The term “apostles,” meaning “ones sent forth,” was used by the early church to describe the original messengers of Jesus. At least two things were required to be called an apostle: having seen the resurrected Lord (1 C 9:1; AC 1:21-22), and verification of one’s ministry by “signs and wonders, and mighty deeds” (2 C 12:12). Though used of several in a general sense, including Barnabas (AC 14:14) and James the Lord’s brother (GL 1:19), the term was used technically of a church office filled by only the Twelve plus Paul. These followers of Jesus became unique leaders of His Church.
Jesus put the Twelve in a unique category, saying they would “sit upon twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel” (MT 19:28). John saw the wall of New Jerusalem sitting on “twelve foundations, and in them the names of the twelve apostles of the Lamb” (RV 21:14). Paul, “one born out of due time” (1 C 15:8), was later added to this illustrious group.
Eph. 4:11c “. . .and some, prophets:. . .”
As best we can tell, based on the scant evidence available to us, the prophets were itinerants who journeyed from church to church. Their ministry was to edify the saints. Among their number were Agabus (AC 11:28), Judas and Silas (AC 15:32), and Philip’s four virgin daughters (AC 21:10).
In the early days of the Church, people were coming into Christianity straight from heathenism. Gentiles especially knew nothing about the ways of God. In those interim days, when the New Testament was not yet written, as problems arose and decisions had to be made, someone had to speak with authority. Prophets, who worked closely with the apostles (2:20; 3:5), helped come to the rescue. Basing their work not on study, but rather on direct inspiration from the Holy Spirit, they told people how to live wisely.
The offices of apostle and prophet have been closed forever. All believers “are built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets” (2:20). Being “foundation,” by definition their work is once done and then completed. The charter-witnesses of Christ’s resurrection, and their close associates, gave to us the sacred oracles. They alone penned infallible writ, the great repository from which the church in all future ages would receive divine truth. Through the New Testament they left us, apostles and prophets still speak, but their offices are closed forever.
Judas was replaced with Matthias, but when James died (AC 12:2), he was not replaced. John, who wrote after all the other apostles had died, says nothing about any of them being replaced. We often call a powerful preacher a prophet, but we do not use the word in a technical sense.
The offices of apostle and prophet are closed forever. Failure to understand this one truth has caused countless troubles, heartaches, disputes, heresies, and splits within the Church. A proper understanding of apostles and prophets would have spared the Church having to deal with the errors of Islam, Mormonism, Christian Scientists, Jehovah’s Witnesses, plus the excesses of Roman Catholicism and Quakerism. “The essence of wisdom is to reject altogether the term “revelation,” as far as we are concerned, and speak only of “illumination.” The revelation has been given once and for all, and what we need and what by the grace of God we can have, and do have, is illumination by the Spirit to understand the Word. The preacher should not enter his pulpit claiming to have received a revelation; his claim should be that he is a man who reads the Word and prays and believes that the Holy Spirit illumines and enlightens his understanding, with the result that he has a message for the people” (Lloyd-Jones).
Eph. 4:11d “. . .and some, evangelists;. . .”
Do not be confused. This is not the gift of personal evangelism. There is no such thing in the New Testament. All Christians are required to evangelize. “Evangelists,” meaning “ones who preach good news,” refers to those who have the extraordinary gift of public speaking to the lost.
Evangelists went from city to city, preaching the good news to the lost. Their office, still open today, carries on the vital task of penetrating a lost and dying world. Many foreign and home missionaries who infiltrate regions dominated by unbelievers fill this office. The evangelist preaches to the world outside, breaks new soil, has the missionary spirit, brings the good news. When he rises to speak, his heart is filled with a fervent love for the lost which helps him speak the gospel freshly and with power.
Philip the deacon is a Biblical prototype for evangelists (AC 8:5-40; 21:8). While the Twelve were dragging their feet in fulfilling their world-wide commission from Christ, “Philip went down to the city of Samaria, and preached Christ unto them” (AC 8:5). When ordered to speak to the Ethiopian Eunuch, Simon “ran” to him (AC 8:30). Philip then surfaced at the old Philistine city of Ashdod (NT Azotus, AC 8:40a), and preached “in all the cities” (AC 8:40b) along a fifty mile stretch of the Mediterranean coast.
Interestingly, Philip’s family illustrates two of these first three offices. He was an evangelist, traveling from place to place preaching to the lost. His four virgin daughters, unmarried and thus probably still living with him, were prophets, people who traveled from place to place preaching to the saved. Evidently, Philip would win people to Jesus and his daughters would then instruct them in the right path to walk in their newfound faith.
The title “evangelist” has oft been besmirched, but the greatest man of our era, as best we can determine, has been Billy Graham, an evangelist. The name is borne with honor by others also, including Luis Palau and my old friend, Hyman Appelman. Where would the Church be without men like Whitefield, Moody, Finney, and Sunday? It’s a thought too horrid to think.
Eph. 4:11e “. . .and some, pastors and teachers;”
Referring to one office, these two words are often hyphenated as pastor-teacher. Emphasis is hereby placed on the pastor’s ministry of teaching.
“Pastors” translates the Greek word for “shepherds,” which in itself implies a particular flock to be tended. As the only non-itinerant officers listed in this verse, pastors have the day-to-day responsibility of building up a local church. Holding its highest office, the pastor is a leader, but a leader who cares, who carries God’s people on his heart. “Shepherd” denotes nurturing, and also prodding. It entails resolute strength and protection of a flock. A pastor is not a tea-sipping sissy, but a guardian who fights wolves. He must have the heart of a lamb, and the hide of a rhinoceros.
Barclay calls the pastorate “the most important task in the whole church.” It is a high honor. Pope, prelate, cardinal, vicar–none of these will find their job mentioned in Holy Writ. However, the humblest pastor of the smallest country church can find the name of his office in the Bible.
The pastorate is an honor, but our verse highlights the duty assigned to it. The sheep, ever in danger of infection from a heathen world, must be protected via good teaching. Sound doctrine must be maintained. Teaching is the duty of all pastors. In I Timothy 3:1-7 all the qualifications of a pastor deal with character, except “apt to teach.” In Titus 1:5-9 all the qualifications listed again have to do with character, except that he should “be able by sound doctrine both to exhort and to convince the gainsayers.”
All four offices mentioned in this verse highlight the importance of teaching. The main ongoing, in-house, corporate work of the Church is the task of teaching. Nothing is more necessary for the building up of believers. Teaching is the primary means of discipling. We will not love God and each other, pray, or evangelize as we ought for very long without proper teaching.
I fear we often lose sight of this truth, and thus have preacherettes preaching sermonettes producing Christianettes. God deliver us from men who with poor sermons fill the pulpit and empty the pews, who stuff themselves but starve the sheep. A seminary president once told Kent Hughes, “I would get on my knees and crawl across America to find someone who will teach my students to preach the text of the Bible.”
A danger in our capitalistic and business-oriented society is to overemphasize the administrative side of the pastorate. The latter is important, but some stress it to the point of taking care of teaching only as an afterthought. They wait till late in the week, and then hurriedly put thoughts together for a Sunday sermon. Over an extended period of time, this produces starving sheep. Ironically, often the starving sheep themselves are the very ones clamoring for more administrative time from their pastors. I fear we preachers sometimes under-emphasize teaching because our people undervalue it. When one stands to preach or teach from God’s word, do not fall asleep or let your mind wander. Lean forward, take notes, stay alert, learn all you can. Remember, teaching is the pastor’s main public activity.
Eph. 4:12 INTRODUCTION
Before beginning our exposition of this passage, we need to discuss its prepositions and punctuation. Our King James Version, my favorite translation and the one I use in all my preaching and teaching, misleads us here.
The translators rendered two different Greek prepositions with the same English word (“for”), and inserted two commas which interfere with the Apostle’s intent and break his train of thought. The KJV rendering of verse 12 makes it look like the four officers mentioned in verse 11 have three things to do: perfect saints, work the ministry, and edify the body. We must remember the King James translators were Church of England clerics, men who held a certain bias toward hierarchical church polity.
When we delete the commas, as most translations do, and distinguish the prepositions, the verse takes on a totally different meaning, “For (pros) the perfecting of the saints unto (eis) the work of the ministry unto (eis) the edifying of the body of Christ.” Church officers are not to do everything. They have a task to perform, the congregation has another, and both groups strive toward a third, common objective. We can now begin our exposition.
Eph. 4:12a “For the perfecting of the saints,. . .”
This is the task assigned to the four officers (4:11). “Perfecting” translates “katartismon,” from which we derive “artisan.” The term, entailing right ordering and arrangement, referred to a craftsman who fashioned something into what it was meant to be. In the creation, God perfected (KJV framed) the worlds (HB 11:3). When Jesus called James and John, they were in a ship perfecting (KJV mending) their nets (MT 4:21). In the medical realm, “perfecting” referred to setting a dislocated bone. Pastors are spiritual surgeons, sent to set things right. Our task is not primarily to please, entertain, or administrate. Our main role is to teach with a mind to making proper adjustments. We are to help fix what’s wrong in people.
A preacher’s most basic assumption is that something is lacking in his every listener. Each hearer has a need to be met–a sadness to touch, a hurt to heal, an emptiness to fill, a bitterness to uproot, an anger to soothe, a complacency to rouse, a sin to condemn, or a question to answer. The people’s ongoing presence at preaching implies felt needs which must be met by the preacher. His ministry to them helps prepare them for their work.
Eph. 4:12b “. . .for the work of the ministry,. . .”
A pastor’s role is to perfect, to adjust, to fix the saints that they might thereby be able to do “the work of the ministry.” This phrase translates two Greek words, “ergon,” meaning work, and “diakonias,” meaning service. The first word excludes idleness, the second excludes pomposity. Laziness and arrogance are out of place in the church of Jesus. Every member has “work” to do, a spiritual gift to manifest, a ministry to perform. The church must be a training-house for working, humble servants. Pastors must humbly work hard at serving their people, who in turn are thereby enabled to humbly work hard at serving others.
A church is not to be a pyramid, with a pastor presiding on top as a pope, and members underneath in inferiority; nor are we a bus in which clergymen say to slumbering parishioners, “Leave the driving to us, but do buy your ticket.” Yet this is all too often what happens. Let’s ponder two questions about the status quo. What went wrong, what can make it right?
What went wrong? First of all, history hurt us. In the middle ages, the church established a priesthood patterned after Old Testament Judaism. This in time led to a spiritual caste system similar to the one which existed in Jesus’ day. The Pharisees snarled, “This people who knoweth not the law are cursed” (JN 7:49). A massive gulf separated leaders from laity, the former deemed the latter contemptible. Imagine, Simon Peter could have never been a leader in Judaism. He was of the lowly laity, not the elite. Once the church chose to imitate Judaism, a similar caste system in Christianity was inevitable, and led to the view expressed in “Vehmenter Nos,” a 1906 Papal Encyclical, “As for the masses, they have no other right than of letting themselves be led, and of following their pastors as a docile flock.”
History hurt us, but we cannot place all the blame there. Baptists have often added to the confusion. Pastors sometimes fuel the flames by wanting to run the show and rule as dictators. We still have among us men who, like Diotrephes, love “to have the pre-eminence” (3 J 9), and want to be not only “number one,” but also “number only” at the top.
Congregations are often at fault also. Sir John Lawrence once said, “What does the layman really want? He wants a building which looks like a church; clergy dressed in the way he approves; services of the kind he’s been used to, and to be left alone.” Members often sit back and refuse to be led, or say, “Let the staff do the work. That’s what we pay them for.”
What can make it right? First, put the bad history in focus, come to grips with it, analyze its disastrous results, and then reject it.
Second, pastors must come to grips with their God-given role. We are servants, not lords. Pastors are not kingpins; the body is primary. A congregation is not called to help their pastor do God’s work; rather, a pastor is to help his congregation do God’s work. Pastors are leaders, not dictators, and the way we lead people into humble service is by going there first ourselves. Sam Rhodes shared a pearl of wisdom with me, “Delegating works when the one delegating works.” Pastors, too, are saints and thus have to be perfected and involved in ministry.
Third, congregations must come to grips with the full implications of our belief in the priesthood of believers, a Baptist hallmark. Every believer is a priest. Unfortunately, when teaching this doctrine our emphasis has been primarily, and sometimes exclusively, on each man’s direct access to God. However, the priesthood of believers involves responsibility in addition to privilege. We are priests before God, and the other side of this coin is, we are all priests to others. We have direct access to God, and God in turn has direct access through us to others.
“Do not be content to come to meeting and just be a spiritual sponge. Fill up, and then let the blessed Lord do some squeezing. Give it out to somebody else” (Ironside). Every believer should be involved in a ministry, in finding a hurt and being the instrument through which God heals it. We are not a lake without outlets, but a reservoir yielding what it receives for the health of mankind. Each individual is to be a channel of blessing.
I remember reading years ago of a church in Washington DC called “The Church of the Savior.” To become a member of this fellowship one had to be actively involved in ministry. All who joined this church were ordained to a particular ministry. I must admit I see a danger in this. We must not lose sight of the God-ordained officers of the church. Some are set aside as officers to make sure the ministries get done and to “perfect” the saints. However, the basic idea of this church is sound.
We at East Side are venturing into a similar, though less dramatic, experiment. Before I came as pastor, a Constitution and Bylaws Committee was set apart by East Side to analyze every facet of her life and work. This group began its task, soon added me and then later Bro. Pete, to devise an organization through which the organism can best do God’s work. This effort to construct a New Testament, and thus truly Baptist, model can be capsulized in a simple formula: diffuse authority; let leaders lead, in consultation with many committees, and then let the people decide and do.
An interesting example of this type of organization is found in 1 Chronicles 13:1-2. David led by first suggesting a plan, the relocation of the ark of the covenant. He “consulted” with “every leader,” and then appealed to “all the congregation” to see if they deemed it “good” and “of the Lord.”
For our East Side system to work, we all must now rise to the occasion. If the organization is going to operate in a New Testament way, then the organism, its individual members, must operate in a New Testament way. If we are all involved in the process of decision-making, then we must all be involved in the work decided on. To put it more bluntly, find your ministry. I pledge to you I will work, I will minister, I will give my all to perfecting you. Your part of the bargain is to find your spiritual gift and to use it. If we all do our part, the result will be wonderful. . .
Eph. 4:12c “. . .for the edifying of the body of Christ:. . .”
“Edifying” refers to building up, it highlights growth in numbers, and also the building up of individual saints. When we all do our part, the Church is increased and each member is improved thereby. Do not be deceived by Satan’s lies. He wants you to think doing nothing is the way to happiness. No! When Christians do not work they shrivel and atrophy. We are most fulfilled individually when making a contribution to the whole.
Notice, this service is done in the context of “the body.” Doing good deeds in other charitable settings is fine, but the believer must always have a ministry within the context of a local church. Deeds done elsewhere inevitably chart a path which eventually detracts from Jesus. We may start out giving a cup of cold water “in Jesus’ name,” but eventually give a cup of cold water. . .period. For instance, the YMCA, a fine organization, used to say, “Come play basketball and we will tell you about Jesus.” Now they say, “Come play basketball.” Our best work for Jesus is done in the church, for a head always has its greatest glory within the context of its own body.
Eph. 4:13a “Till we all come in the unity. . .”
When a pastor equips saints, and members find and exercise their spiritual gifts, the church is edified, built up. The question is, built up to what? A builder has in mind a picture of what his finished product will look like. It is important for us to consider the blueprint, the master-plan, we are to follow. One can lose sight of the forest due to the trees if day to day tasks become all encompassing, ends in themselves. Since it is easy to lose sight of the ultimate goal, pastor and people must ever remind themselves to what they are building. Verse 13 offers three construction goals.
The first construction goal is “unity.” Cliques should not exist in a church. Close friendships are good and desirable, but also dangerous. They can easily become closed to outsiders. The tie that binds often becomes a wall that excludes. When you get together with church friends, include at least one new person or family in your gathering. Always do all you can to fight against exclusiveness. Remember, our construction goal is “unity.”
Eph. 4:13b “. . .of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of
God,. . .”
Here are two pillars on which “unity” can be successfully constructed. “Son of God” modifies both “faith” and “knowledge.” Thus, the “unity” we seek must be based on “the faith. . .of the Son of God” and on “the knowledge of the Son of God.” “Unity” grows from “faith” in Jesus. Pastors who try to equip the saints, and members who labor to use their spiritual gifts, feel compelled to lean ever more totally on Jesus. In the effort, in the arena, we are forced to cast ourselves ever more fully on Jesus for strength. This increasing dependence on Jesus knits us more to one another, for when all trust is put in Christ, self decreases, humility increases, resulting in expanding openness toward others. Thus, “faith” in Jesus promotes “unity.”
Our “unity” is also based on “knowledge” of Jesus, a reference to “profound and vital acquaintance” (Maclaren). Laboring in our respective situations, and increasingly exercising “faith” in our efforts to equip and serve, our familiarity with Jesus is enhanced. And as we know Him ever more intimately, we are drawn closer to one another.
“The Son of God,” not dogma, is the ultimate basis of our “unity.” “Unity” has often been misinterpreted as every one agreeing on every thing. Believing the same things is certainly helpful, but does not cement people to one another. Shared ideas can bring agreement, shared acquaintances can bring “unity.” At a gathering of Baptists, I am in basic theological agreement with everyone present, but bonding is more likely with those who introduce themselves with phrases like, “I knew your grandfather,” or “I know your dad.” Such words increase the possibility of “unity” with a person because they draw my heart into the relationship. For me to know Jesus intimately requires giving my heart to Him, for you to know Jesus intimately requires giving your heart to Him. Thus, “knowledge of the Son of God” promotes “unity,” for where two hearts meet, there truly is “unity.”
Eph. 4:13c “. . .unto a perfect man,. . .”
The second construction goal is maturity. The subject of this verse is plural, “we all,” but the object of this preposition is singular, “a perfect man.” The former refers to individual members, the latter to the church as a whole. From Jews and Gentiles, Jesus made “in Himself of twain one new man” (EP 2:15), a “new man” which He expects to be “perfect,” mature.
Spiritually speaking, a church is to be a full-grown adult consisting of members who are full-grown adults. In the church, we mature collectively and individually. The body grows only as its members grow. In its corporate personality, a church develops a level of spiritual maturity to which each member contributes by becoming a spiritual adult. Collective development is totally dependent on individual development.
A part of the purpose for our individual growth is to enhance corporate growth. This is one reason “the higher reaches of the Christian life cannot be attained in isolation from one’s fellow-believers” (Bruce). Growth in isolation would not help the group. “I” grows in order to help “us” grow. Avoid selfishness. Help the whole be mature. Every congregation should desire a mature pastor leading mature members to become a mature church.
Eph. 4:13d “. . .unto the measure of the stature of the fullness of
The third construction goal is tenacity, the refusal to cease striving for perfection. “Measure” refers to a prescribed standard of evaluation. “Fullness of Christ” means “the sum of the qualities which make Christ what He is” (Wuest). Our goal, when rightly understood, is the highest standard in the Universe. The level of maturity for which we individually and collectively strive is nothing less than all the perfections found and manifest in Christ Himself. This is why I included in the job description for our Minister of Pastoral Care that he “shall in every phase of life seek to be an example of the Great Shepherd and Pastor of the flock, Jesus Christ. He will seek to love the sheep as Jesus does.” This should be the attempted touchstone and bench-mark for us all. The sum total of what Christ is meant to be for a hurting world is to be imaged in each Church and in its every member. Jesus can do all He wants to do only when His body is a perfectly responding vehicle of action. “A perfect man” is one in which the body is yielded totally to its Head. All is coordinated, every member works properly, the whole responds to the mind.
Christ wants Christians and churches which act just like Himself. He yearns for a body through which He can live on earth again. In the Crimean War Florence Nightingale bent over the hospital bed of a badly wounded soldier who looked up at her and said, “You are Christ to me.” Oh that Fort Smith could say of East Side and its members, “You are Christ to me.”
The church and its members will attain absolute perfection only in Heaven, but can realize here and now a high degree of maturity which glorifies and pleases Jesus. Paul said, “Not as though I had already attained, either were already perfect,” yet a mere three verses later added, “Let us therefore, as many as be perfect, be thus minded” (PH 3:12,15). We cannot achieve absolute maturity on earth, but marvelous growth is attainable.
This reminds us of the sentiment in 4:1, where Paul beseeches us to “walk worthy.” This is impossible to do before the Lord. No individual has merit and inherent worth before God, but we can “walk worthy” before the world. Godliness can be the over-riding tenor, the dominant trait, of our lives. This same principle applies to churches as a whole. They cannot be absolutely perfect, but they can be “worthy” and mature before the world.
Our goal is total Christlikeness, corporately and individually. Never lower the criterion. Whenever the standard is lowered, the actual quality of Christian living is also lowered. The Bible nowhere even hints we have the right to cease striving to attain God’s ideal.
It is not enough to say Christianity tries to make men better; Christianity seeks to make men perfect. We do not arrive at “decent and respectable,” and then stop. We press on, determined to “make progress till death” (Calvin). There is always another hill to climb, another height to scale, another stream to ford. The old saying, “The grass is always greener on the other side of the fence,” is actually true if the fence is one we have not yet crossed in our spiritual pilgrimage. Ours is a life marked from first to last with aspiration–upward, onward, heavenward, Christward, is our watchword.