Christian Unity – Ephesians 4:1–10
Read the Passage: Ephesians 4:1-10
It was Paul’s custom in his epistles to begin with doctrinal teaching and then move on to practical application. Said differently, Paul always transitions from theology to ethics in his letters, which makes sense, since ethics is applied theology. When Paul moves from doctrine to application in his writings he oftentimes does so with a personal appeal and a transitional “therefore,” just as he does at Eph. 4:1 (cf. Rom. 12:1; Gal. 5:1–2; Phil. 2:1–2; Col. 3:5). Such transitional words are equivalent to Paul saying, in effect, “In light of all that I have written to this point . . . . ” In the context of Ephesians, then, Paul roots his application section (cf. Eph. 4–6) in the fact that believers are now in Christ—that is, elected, adopted, and part of the church (cf. Eph. 1–3). Note, too, that for the second time in this letter, Paul reminds the Ephesian church that he is a prisoner of Christ (cf. Eph. 3:1; 4:1).
Paul’s encouragement in Eph. 4:1–3 is that Christians “walk worthy of the calling with which you were called” (Eph. 4:1). In the midst of this exhortation, Paul reiterates the fact that he was writing as a prisoner—likely to remind his readers that following Jesus can be costly (cf. Matt. 10:38–39). Note the characteristics of a worthy walk that Paul cites in this passage: humility, gentleness, long-suffering, love, unity, and peace. These characteristics resemble the beatitudes (cf. Matt. 5:3–10), as well as the fruit of the Spirit (cf. Gal. 5:22–23). The similarities in these lists is not a coincidence, as each list is describing the Christ-likeness that necessarily manifests itself in lives of followers of Jesus who are Spirit-indwelt. Indeed, these qualities are family traits. Observe Paul does not encourage the church to create unity, but to “keep the unity of the Spirit” (Eph. 4:3).
After calling for unity in Eph. 4:1–3, Paul gives several examples of unity in the Christian faith in Eph. 4:4–6. In this passage Paul’s argument is not that because of various examples of oneness related to the Christian faith believers ought to individually manifest unity. Rather, Paul’s argument is that since followers of Jesus are one, therefore they ought to manifest their unity in their corporate pursuit of Christ. The unity that Christians have is an essential reality to be embraced, not a theoretical goal to be established (cf. 1 Cor. 12:12–14; Phil. 1:27). Said differently, when there is disunity in the church is it because we have worked to erode the unity that was already present. Things that promote disunity include: pride, gossip, jealousy, selfish ambition, hatred, envy, etc. All sin destroys unity, whereas unity in the church authenticates the gospel.
In Eph. 4:4–6, as he describes the unity produced by the gospel, Paul lists seven areas of oneness that are essential to the Christian faith. These include the fact that believers share in one body, one Spirit, one hope, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, and one God. Note the Trinitarian reference in this passage, as here Paul explicitly refers to the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. This is important, for Jesus taught that the unity between the Persons of the Godhead is the model for the church (cf. John 17:20–22). Furthermore, observe the corporate nature of the areas of oneness that Paul cites: the body is the church, the hope is believers’ mutual desire of Jesus’ return, the faith is the gospel message to all, and the baptism cited here refers to the church ordinance of believers’ baptism. Christian unity will be manifest when believers’ focus is on God and on each other (cf. Matt. 22:34–40).
Perhaps as a safeguard against his readers losing their sense of individuality as he taught about their unity, in Eph. 4:7 Paul makes reference to “each one of you.” In the wider context, Paul transitions from a discussion about the unity of the church to teaching about the uniqueness of individual believers. Here Paul begins to teach about individual spiritual gifts. While he mentions “Christ’s gift” at Eph. 4:7, Paul does not give details about the gift(s) in question until Eph. 4:11–16. In the meantime, in Eph. 4:8–10, Paul digresses into a brief discussion of what made Jesus’ grace gifts possible—that is, His death on the cross. At Eph. 4:8 Paul quotes Ps. 68:18, commenting on it in Eph. 4:9–10. Although this passage, and others like it (cf. Rom. 10:7; 1 Pet. 3:18–20), have caused much discussion in the church about Jesus’ time in the grave, it seems Paul’s purpose here is merely to refer to Christ’s substitutionary atonement.
- How important is Christian unity (cf. John 17:20–23)? What is the difference between unity and uniformity? What causes disunity in the church?
- For Christians, is it possible to do ethics apart from theology? Why does Paul remind the Ephesian believers, two times (cf. Eph. 3:1; 4:1), that he is in prison?
- Which of the characteristics of the worthy walk, which Paul lists in Eph. 4:1–3, do you personally find most difficult to manifest?
- If the greatest commands are to love God and to love others (cf. Matt. 22:34–40), why does Scripture speak positively about loving oneself (cf. Matt. 19:19)?
- What does Paul mean at Eph. 4:9–10 in referring to Jesus’ descent into the lower parts of the earth (cf. Rom. 10:7; Col. 2:14–15; 1 Pet. 3:18–19)?