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11. The Calling and the Conduct of the Christian (Ephesians 4:1-16)

1 I, therefore, the prisoner of the Lord, entreat you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling with which you have been called, 2 with all humility and gentleness, with patience, showing forbearance to one another in love, 3 being diligent to preserve the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. 4 There is one body and one Spirit, just as also you were called in one hope of your calling; 5 one Lord, one faith, one baptism, 6 one God and Father of all who is over all and through all and in all. 7 But to each one of us grace was given according to the measure of Christ’s gift. 8 Therefore it says, “When He ascended on high, He led captive a host of captives, And He gave gifts to men.” 9 (Now this expression, “He ascended,” what does it mean except that He also had descended into the lower parts of the earth? 10 He who descended is Himself also He who ascended far above all the heavens, that He might fill all things.) 11 And He gave some as apostles, and some as prophets, and some as evangelists, and some as pastors and teachers, 12 for the equipping of the saints for the work of service, to the building up of the body of Christ; 13 until we all attain to the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a mature man, to the measure of the stature which belongs to the fulness of Christ. 14 As a result, we are no longer to be children, tossed here and there by waves, and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, by craftiness in deceitful scheming; 15 but speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in all aspects into Him, who is the head, even Christ, 16 from whom the whole body, being fitted and held together by that which every joint supplies, according to the proper working of each individual part, causes the growth of the body for the building up of itself in love.


One of my favorite “healings” of our Lord, is recorded in the fifth chapter of the Gospel of John. For 38 years a man had been waiting near the pool of Bethesda, waiting for a miracle. The text tells us he was waiting for an angel to come and trouble the waters. If he could get into the pool first, this man believed, he could be healed.

One day Jesus came to that pool. Without being asked, Jesus approached the man and asked him if he wanted to be healed. The man responded that he did want to be healed, but there was no one who would carry him and put him in the pool. Jesus gave this man a simple command, “Arise, take up your pallet, and walk” (John 5:8).

It mattered not to the Jews that a man who had suffered for 38 years had been healed. What troubled them was that this man violated the Sabbath. He was carrying his bed. They were incensed and scolded the man for breaking their rules. I love his response. His defense was this: “He who made me well was the one who said to me, ‘Take up your pallet and walk’” (John 5:11).

So far as I can tell, this man did not come to trust in the Lord Jesus as his Messiah. When the man learned who it was who had healed him, he went to the Jewish leaders and reported His identity to them. Nevertheless, this man had one thing right. If Jesus was able to make his body whole, He also had the authority to command him to break the legalistic rules of the Jewish religious leaders.

There was a sequence to the command that Jesus gave this man. First, he was to stand up. Then he was to take up his bed. And finally he was to walk. Perhaps at the moment Jesus spoke this man felt life and power in his limbs. Sensing that he had the strength, he arose. From here on it was all down hill. There was no need to stay by this pool any longer. He was going home. And so he very naturally took up his bed and walked away.

As we arrive at the fourth chapter of Ephesians in our study of this great epistle, we move (as many inform us) from the “doctrinal” portion of the epistle to the “practical” part. This may be true, but the connection between chapters 1-3 and 4-6 should be as natural to us as is was to the crippled man to arise and take up his bed.

The instructions which Paul lays down in chapters 4-6 are not just duties, which the Christian is required to perform, they are to be understood as the outworking of the marvelous salvation which God has accomplished in Jesus Christ. Our obedience to His commands are the “good works which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them” (Ephesians 2:10). They are the actions which God’s grace and power has enabled us to perform, and which we gladly do, out of gratitude, to His glory.

This lesson is the first of a number of studies concerning our conduct as Christians, of the conduct which is befitting to our calling. Before we consider these final three chapters in detail, I want to pause long enough to reflect on the implications of our text. Before we begin to study the individual trees of these three chapters, let us pause to consider the forest.

Observations on the
Relationship of Chapters 1-3 to Chapters 4-6

(1) Chapters 1-3 are doctrinal and chapters 4-6 are applicational. Most students of Ephesians would agree to this two-fold division of the epistle. The first half of the book focuses on the doctrines which define the Christian’s calling, the second half has many instructions concerning the Christian conduct.

(2) Chapters 1-3 precede chapters 4-6.

(3) Chapters 1-3 are foundational to chapters 4-6. Chapters 1-3 provide the doctrinal basis for the application called for in chapters 4-6.

These observations may appear to be elementary, but even if this is true they are vital and they are often neglected in Christian thinking and practice. For this reason I want to explore some of the ways in which chapters 1-3 of Paul’s epistle to chapters 4-6.

The doctrine of chapters 1-3 articulates the goal of our conduct, which is specified in chapters 4-6. Contrary to some popular teaching, the goal of our conduct is not primarily our own success or happiness or fulfillment. I hear very few Bible teachers urging husbands to love their wives like Christ loved the church because marriage is a picture of Christ and the church. Instead we are told that when we obey Ephesians chapter 5 our marriages will be exciting and fulfilling and we will be the happier for our obedience. While there is an element of truth here, this is simply not the focus which Paul gives us in Ephesians. Marriage, like the church, is an institution created by God to portray a spiritual relationship, to the glory of God. The simple reality (as is implied in 1 Corinthians chapter 7) is that being a godly husband or wife may result in a divorce, precipitated by an ungodly and unbelieving wife or husband. When Paul carried out his calling, he ended up in prison. Ephesians 1-3 emphasize the eternal purposes of God and the fact that He has provided salvation in Christ for the praise of the glory of His grace. The fact that He has also provided for our blessing is also stated, but this is not God’s primary purpose. God’s primary purpose is to display His splendor and glory, to His own praise. Our primary purpose is to seek to bring glory to God, in what we do and in what we avoid. As Paul writes elsewhere, Whether, then, you eat or drink or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God (1 Corinthians 10:31).62

The doctrine of chapters 1-3 defines a new identity which every saint receives in Christ, which is the basis for his behavior as described in chapters 4-6. Chapters 1-3 lay down doctrine pertaining to what we formerly were, apart from Christ, and now what we are in Him. Chapters 1-3 describe the Gentiles as formerly separated from Israel, and now united with true Israelites in the new creation of God, the church. Our change in identity will necessitate and bring about a certain alienation with the world. Chapters 4-6 spell out some of the changes which are required by our new identity. Our identity (chapters 1-3) is the basis for our conduct (chapters 4-6).

The doctrine of chapters 1-3 prescribes the standard for our conduct, as is defined in chapters 4-6. All of our blessings have been brought about in Christ. The church is the body of Christ, the temple in which Christ dwells. As Christ is the means by which God has provided for our salvation and blessing, He is also the standard for our spirituality and conduct.

In the days when we were apart from Christ, dead in our transgressions and sins, the world, the flesh, and the devil prescribed and enforced our value system and our conduct. When we were lost in our sins we were at home with the world and strangers to the people and purposes of God. When we came to faith in Christ we ceased to be strangers, alienated from the promises and blessings of God, and we became strangers and pilgrims in this world. Our identity in Adam is exchanged for an identity in Christ. Our close identification with the world has been exchanged for a union with the church, the body of Christ. The teaching of Ephesians 1-3 provides not only a new identity, but a new standard of conduct, one to which the world is opposed.

The doctrine of chapters 1-3 describes the means for our conduct, as defined in chapters 4-6. The Christian life is impossible. The standards are too high, to forces which act upon our flesh are too great. All of this can be seen in the description Paul gives in Romans chapter 7 of his own failure and frustration in trying to live a godly life by his own strength. In Ephesians 1-3 we are given not only the goal and the standard for our conduct, but also the means to live up to these standards.

The power to serve God is not found in us, in our own striving or strength. It is the power which God Himself provides in Christ and by means of His Spirit. Chapters 1-3 speak much of God’s power, which is at work in us, enabling us to serve Him in a way that brings Him glory (see Ephesians 1:19-21; 3:16-21).

The doctrine of chapters 1-3 provides the motivation for our conduct. The doctrine of chapters 1-3 contrasts what we once were, apart from Christ and what we now are and hope for in Him. Chapters 1-3 are all about the grace of God and this grace produces gratitude. Gratitude for God’s grace is one of the motivations for our service. Another is the hope and assurance we have of the fulfillment of God’s future promises. Another strong motivation is the knowledge of our eternal security (Ephesians 1:13), and that God has not only provided the grace to be saved, but also to serve Him, to His glory.

Chapters 1-3 describe those things which are unseen and unknown to us, while chapters 4-6 prescribe that conduct which is seen. We would never have known God’s eternal purposes, as Paul describes them in Ephesians 1-3 apart from divine revelation. We would not be aware of the fact that God is carrying out His work in the church for the instruction of the angelic beings, apart from divine revelation. Chapters 1-3 of Ephesians declare to us those things which we would not and could not otherwise know, because of our limitations as human beings. These unseen and unknowable truths become the basis for the behavior which Paul calls for in chapters 4-6.

The doctrine of chapters 1-3 defines our conduct in time in terms of God’s eternal purposes. Ephesians 1-3 reveals the general plan and purpose which God has for His church. This was formerly a mystery, but now has been revealed by the Spirit to the apostles. Paul’s stewardship was to declare this mystery, especially to the Gentiles. The purposes of God which shaped Paul’s preaching and his prayers is revealed to us so that our lives may conform to God’s will for His creation, and especially His church. The plan of God for the church corporately goes a long way in prescribing God’s will for our lives personally and individually.

The doctrine of chapters 1-3, related to our salvation, is applied by chapters 4-6 to our sanctification. The way we “work out our salvation” is consistent with the way we are saved:

As you therefore have received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in Him, having been firmly rooted and now being built up in Him and established in your faith, just as you were instructed, and overflowing with gratitude (Colossians 2:6-7; see also Philippians 2:12-13).

Our heavenly calling (salvation) is the basis for our earthly conduct (sanctification):

If then you have been raised up with Christ, keep seeking the things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your mind on the things above, not on the things that are on earth. For you have died and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ, who is our life, is revealed, then you also will be revealed with Him in glory. Therefore consider the members of your earthly body as dead to immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and greed, which amounts to idolatry. For it is on account of these things that the wrath of God will come, and in them you also once walked, when you were living in them. But now you also, put them all aside: anger, wrath, malice, slander, and abusive speech from your mouth. Do not lie to one another, since you laid aside the old self with its evil practices, and have put on the new self who is being renewed to a true knowledge according to the image of the One who created him—a renewal in which there is no distinction between Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave and freeman, but Christ is all, and in all (Colossians 3:1-11).

Chapters 1-3 of Ephesians speak of the Christian’s birth; chapters 4-6 speak of the Christian’s walk. In the first three chapters of Ephesians, Paul has reminded us of our spiritual birth. He has contrasted what we once were, apart from Christ, to what we now are in Him, and the hope of the blessings which are yet to come. Now, in Ephesians chapter 4, Paul speaks to us about learning how to walk. In the first 16 verses, Paul speaks positively of our walk. Our walk is to be conformed to our calling. In verses 17 and following, Paul contrasts our new “walk” with the way we formerly “walked” as lost sinners.

In this lesson we will consider the “new” way of walking which we are to learn and to practice as believers in Jesus Christ. May God grant that we would understand Paul’s instructions and that our walk would be consistent with our high calling in Christ.

Our Conduct and Our Calling

I, therefore, the prisoner of the Lord, entreat you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling with which you have been called.

Verse 1 is founded upon a principle which underlies the entire epistle: A person’s calling sets the standard for their conduct. The higher one’s calling, the higher one’s conduct must be. The law of the land sets a minimal standard of conduct, which all are obliged to obey. Certain occupations in life set the standard of conduct at this minimal level. But when a nominee for the position of Supreme Court Justice is being considered, he is expected to maintain a higher standard of conduct. Inappropriate behavior toward the opposite sex, or racially prejudiced comments would be cause for serious investigation, as we have recently witnessed.

There is no higher calling than to become a part of the church, over which Christ is the Head and through which God brings glory to Himself. Consequently, we find many exhortations in the Bible to live in a way that is consistent with our faith (see Exodus 19:1-6; 20:1-17; Deuteronomy 4:32-40; Philippians 1:27; Colossians 1:10; 1 Thessalonians 2:12).63 As Paul has depicted our high calling in chapters 1-3, he now sets out to challenge us to that conduct which befits our calling in the remainder of this epistle.

Attitudes Befitting our Calling

With all humility and gentleness, with patience, showing forbearance to one another in love, being diligent to preserve the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.

A high calling does not justify a haughty attitude. We have been called to a position of blessing and privilege, but this must not be distorted in any way promote pride. We are not any better than those who are lost. We, in our former condition as lost sinners are just like the rest of mankind. We, in our new condition in Christ are righteous and forgiven only because of what He has done. Our salvation by grace should produce humility and gratitude, but never pride. Thus, Paul spells out the attitudes which befit the Christian.

These attitudes which Paul calls for in verses 2 and 3 are necessary because they are the attitudes of our Lord Himself (see Philippians 2:5-8). If we are to reflect Jesus Christ to the world in which we live, then we must manifest His attitudes. Furthermore, these attitudes are those which promote Christian harmony and unity.

Verses 2 and 3 depict attitudes, not techniques or methods. In world, and even in evangelical circles, people are more interested in techniques than in attitudes. They buy books written by people who appear successful, and who tell them how to be successful, too. The Bible has little to say about techniques and methods. It has much to say about obedience and about the attitudes which are conducive to godly conduct. It was Simon Magus, you will recall, who was interested in techniques (read Acts 8:1-24).

The inference of these verses is that the church is not perfect, nor will it be, until the Lord Himself comes and transforms us completely into His own image.

8 Love never fails; but if there are gifts of prophecy, they will be done away; if there are tongues, they will cease; if there is knowledge, it will be done away. 9 For we know in part, and we prophesy in part; 10 but when the perfect comes, the partial will be done away. 11 When I was a child, I used to speak as a child, think as a child, reason as a child; when I became a man, I did away with childish things. 12 For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face; now I know in part, but then I shall know fully just as I also have been fully known (1 Corinthians 13:8-12).

8 If we say that we have no sin, we are deceiving ourselves, and the truth is not in us (1 John 1:8).

2 Beloved, now we are children of God, and it has not appeared as yet what we shall be. We know that, when He appears, we shall be like Him, because we shall see Him just as He is (1 John 3:2).

The descriptions of the church in Acts, the epistles, and in Revelation 2 and 3 all bear witness to the present imperfection of the church. One does not need to be patient with perfect people, nor to be forbearing. We need the attitudes Paul calls for because the saints are not yet perfect, and grace is required for us to live in peace and unity.

The attitudes listed in verses 2 and 3 are the outgrowth of our perception of how we compare with others in the church. The opposite of the attitudes Paul calls for (pride, impatience, pushiness, intolerance) are evidence of the fact that we think ourselves better than others. We read in Proverbs, “The poor man utters supplications, But the rich man answers roughly” (Proverbs 18:23). Why is this true? Because the poor man sees himself as dependent upon others, while the rich man thinks others need him. It is only when we take the place of the servant, like our Lord (see John 13; Philippians 2:1-8) that we can evidence the attitudes Paul requires of us.

Paul’s words in these verses remind us that Christian unity does not come naturally or automatically. Christian unity must be diligently preserved and promoted. We must be committed to the preservation and practice of Christian unity if it is ever going to be evident to the world about us. It is one of the sure signs that God is at work in and through us:

34 “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, even as I have loved you, that you also love one another. 35 “By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:34-35).

20 “I do not ask in behalf of these alone, but for those also who believe in Me through their word; 21 that they may all be one; even as Thou, Father, art in Me, and I in Thee, that they also may be in Us; that the world may believe that Thou didst send Me. 22 “And the glory which Thou hast given Me I have given to them; that they may be one, just as We are one; 23 I in them, and Thou in Me, that they may be perfected in unity, that the world may know that Thou didst send Me, and didst love them, even as Thou didst love Me (John 17:20-23).

Another comment should be made concerning the attitudes which Paul has listed in these verses. While they are the virtues which our Lord manifested in His earthly life, and which we should evidence as well, they are not regarded as virtues by the world, but as weaknesses which should be set aside or overcome. The world does not offer seminars on humility, but on self-esteem and self-confidence. The world does not teach gentleness, but does give instruction in assertiveness. The attitudes which Paul proposes are those which the world opposes.

Finally, as regards the attitudes which befit our calling and which promote Christian unity, these are attitudes which will not be found in the flesh, but are the manifestation of the Holy Spirit. These attitudes are the fruit of the Spirit:

19 Now the deeds of the flesh are evident, which are: immorality, impurity, sensuality, 20 idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, outbursts of anger, disputes, dissensions, factions, 21 envying, drunkenness, carousing, and things like these, of which I forewarn you just as I have forewarned you that those who practice such things shall not inherit the kingdom of God. 22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law (Galatians 5:19-23).

The Basis of Christian Unity

There is one body and one Spirit, just as also you were called in one hope of your calling; one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all who is over all and through all and in all.

The unity of which Paul speaks is not that which we should strive to create, but rather than which we should strive to preserve.64 The unity is one that exists by divine design and by divine creation. It is that unity of which Paul has already spoken in chapter 2:

For He Himself is our peace, who made both groups into one, and broke down the barrier of the dividing wall, by abolishing in His flesh the enmity, which is the Law of commandments contained in ordinances, that in Himself He might make the two into one new man, thus establishing peace, and might reconcile them both in one body to God through the cross, by it having put to death the enmity. And He came and preached peace to you who were far away, and peace to those who were near; for through Him we both have our access in one Spirit to the Father. So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints, and are of God’s household, having been built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus Himself being the corner stone, in whom the whole building, being fitted together is growing into a holy temple in the Lord; in whom you also are being built together into a dwelling of God in the Spirit (Ephesians 2:14-22).

There is “one body,” the body of Christ, the church. It is in this “one new man” that all who are saved, Jew or Gentile, are reconciled to God and to each other. There is “one Spirit,” the Holy Spirit, who has sealed us (Ephesians 1:13) and who enables us to grasp the hope of His calling, the riches of the glory of His inheritance, and the surpassing greatness of His power (1:17-19). It is through the Spirit that the church is made the dwelling place of God (2:22).

We all share a common (one) hope, the hope of His calling (1:18), the full enjoyment of the blessings which God has brought about in Christ (1:3). We have one Lord, the Lord Jesus Christ, who redeemed us by His blood and who is the head of the church (1:7, 22). We all share a common faith, all of us being saved in exactly the same way (see Romans 3:19-30; 4:1-16; Galatians 2:16). We all, whether Jews or Gentiles have but one baptism (1 Corinthians 12:13; see Romans 6:1-11). And as such, we all have one God and Father, the Father of the Lord Jesus Christ. With so much in common, we can see why Paul would speak of something which already exists in fact, and which needs to be preserved and promoted. The unity which we share in terms of our position, is also to be shown in our practice.

Spiritual Gifts: Unity in Diversity

But to each one of us grace was given according to the measure of Christ’s gift. Therefore it says, “When He ascended on high, He led captive a host of captives, And He gave gifts to men.” (Now this expression, “He ascended,” what does it mean except that He also had descended into the lower parts of the earth? He who descended is Himself also He who ascended far above all the heavens, that He might fill all things.) And He gave some as apostles, and some as prophets, and some as evangelists, and some as pastors and teachers, for the equipping of the saints for the work of service, to the building up of the body of Christ; until we all attain to the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a mature man, to the measure of the stature which belongs to the fulness of Christ. As a result, we are no longer to be children, tossed here and there by waves, and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, by craftiness in deceitful scheming; but speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in all aspects into Him, who is the head, even Christ, from whom the whole body, being fitted and held together by that which every joint supplies, according to the proper working of each individual part, causes the growth of the body for the building up of itself in love.

The “But” of verse 7 seems to indicate some kind of change of subject. Verses 1-6 speak of what all Christians possess in common, which is the basis of their unity. Verses 7-16 speak of that which Christians individually possess uniquely, which is another contributing factor to Christian unity.

How can diversity contribute to unity? Let me turn your attention to Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden. In what way would Adam and Eve better become one flesh, by being created exactly alike, or by being made very different from each other, but in a way they caused them to correspond to each other? The answer is obvious, isn’t it? The differences between Adam and Eve were by divine design, so that their unity would be complete. Apart from each other, they were not complete. This is why God said, “It is not good for the man to be alone; I will make him a helper suitable [literally, corresponding to] for him” (Genesis 2:18).

The same is true of the unity which God has purposed for His body, the church. We share in common all of the things mentioned in verses 4-6. Nevertheless, we also are distinct in that God has given each one of us different spiritual gifts and different spheres of service. But when each believer finds his place of service and plays out his or her part, the whole body grows and fulfills its mission and ministry (4:16).

There are other texts which also teach us about spiritual gifts (Romans 12:3-8; 1 Corinthians 12-14; 1 Peter 4:10-11). Our text in Ephesians 4 has some unique areas of emphasis. Let me identity these for your consideration.

First, The emphasis in our text is not on the Holy Spirit, who is the means by which Spiritual gifts are given and employed (see 1 Corinthians 12:1-11), but rather on the Lord Jesus Christ, who is the giver of these gifts. Spiritual gifts are gifts “of the Spirit,” but they are also gifts “from Christ.” It is as a result of our Lord’s victory, climaxing in His ascension (see 1:20-21), that spiritual gifts are bestowed upon believers. He, as the victor, has gotten the spoils of war. He, as the head of the church, distributes these “spoils” (gifts) to His body for the on-going ministry of the church.

Second, Paul here links spiritual gifts with the descent and ascension of our Lord. It is not easy to see how Paul’s use of some of the words of Psalm 68:18 here squares with the meaning of the psalm itself. We will not attempt to solve this problem. What we will do is to concentrate on why Paul uses these words.

In the context, Paul has been speaking of the attitudes which reflect Christ, and which facilitate Christian unity. The fundamental attitude is that of humility. I believe that Paul’s reference to Psalm 68 has a two-fold purpose. The first purpose is to show that spiritual gifts have their origin in the victory of Christ over the death, the grave, and His enemies. The second purpose is to demonstrate that spiritual gifts are intimately related to humility.

Did Christ give spiritual gifts to His church because of His ascension? Yes, He did. And how, Paul challenges us, did Jesus come to ascend? He ascended only because He first descended. Without His descension (so to speak) His ascension would have been impossible. I believe that this link between ascension and decension is the point of Paul’s words in verses 9 and 10. What Paul is showing us is that even in our Lord’s life and ministry the way “up” was “down.” Christ descended in order to ascend. So, too, as our Lord taught His disciples, the way to greatness is through service. If we are to employ spiritual gifts in a way that is consistent with the way our Lord obtained them for us we must humble ourselves as He humbled Himself.

Third, the gifts which are named are a small and distinct group. This list of spiritual gifts is very different from any other list. I believe that other lists encompass a broad variety of gifts, while this list of four or five gifts65 encompasses just one category of gift. All of the gifts Paul names here are what we might call “foundational gifts.” These gifts are those which are necessary and essential for all other gifts and ministries. The apostles and prophets have laid the foundation for the church and ministry by inscripturating the teaching and doctrine of our Lord (see Ephesians 2:20; 3:5). Evangelists proclaim the gospel defined by the apostles and prophets. They are the obstetricians of the faith. And pastor-teachers are the pediatricians. All Christian ministry is dependent upon the operation of these gifts. The first two gifts I would understand to have been fulfilled by the apostles and prophets of the New Testament era. The latter two gifts continue to function in the church today.

Fourth, the spiritual gifts are viewed as given to the whole church, not just to one local church.66 This realization has come to me slowly in the case of the last gift(s) mentioned, that of pastor-teacher. Usually, we think of this gift as functioning in the context of a particular local church. Usually, we would hope to find a pastor-teacher on the staff of a local church.

I am now beginning to wonder why pastor-teachers should not be considered a gift given to the church at large, and not just to one local church alone. We do not usually expect evangelists to restrict their ministry to one local church. Why, then, do we expect pastor-teachers to do so exclusively? I am inclined to think that each of the four gifts named in verse 11 are given to the church at large, and not just to a particular local church, which possesses them in a manner of speaking.

If you look at the Book of Acts and the epistles of the New Testament, you will find that teachers were not limited to one place of service, where they stayed for a long period of time. Paul sent Timothy to Ephesus, and to many other cities as well. Apollos also traveled from one place to another (see Acts 18:24-28), as did Paul. Never do you see a teacher in the New Testament staying on permanently in a local church as its pastor. This is an office which the Scriptures do not teach or require.

I think I am beginning to understand myself better as a result of my study of this text in Ephesians. I enjoy ministry in my local church, but I also find a strong inclination to exercise my gift of teaching in other contexts, outside the church. And so I minister in prisons, and have had the opportunity to teach overseas as well.

A few years ago, a godly Christian leader from India, Theo Williams, visited with the elders of our church. The elders asked him why it was worth the expense to send me all that distance to teach in India when they had godly Indian teachers there already. He responded that Christians in the West have certain strengths and perspectives which are needed by the church in India. He also quickly added that Indian saints have some perspectives very much needed in the West.67 The ministry of pastor-teachers ought not to be hoarded, but should be shared in such a way as to benefit the body of Christ at large.

The epistle of Paul to the Ephesians, and especially his teaching here in chapter 4, raise some real questions about the doctrine of the “autonomy of the local church.” In the past I have been associated with churches and denominations which hold to the “autonomy of the local church” as one of the fundamental tenants of their doctrine. And yet, having heard this said repeatedly, I cannot think of a single biblical text which teaches this at all, let alone repeatedly or emphatically.

I suspect that this “doctrine” is a leftover reaction from the reformers to the abuses of the Catholic Church. If we mean by this that no man or no body is able to dictate truth and divine directives to the church at large, then I agree. But when we use this teaching to justify the independence of individual churches, rather than inter-dependence, we have gone too far. We have too little communion and cooperation among and between individual “autonomous” local churches. Paul’s teaching on the church should challenge our thinking about the church and about our practice as a local church.

I think that the term “church” is used more broadly in the New Testament than it is understood by Christians today. We generally think of the church in one of two ways: (1) the church universal—all believers of all the ages, living and dead; and (2) the church local—the believers who gather in a particular local church. Paul seemed to think more broadly. The “church” at Ephesus or at Philippi or Rome was not just one local congregation but all of the saints in that particular city. We should be thinking not only of our church, but of all the saints, in our city, in our nation, in the world. It was with this broader view that the predominantly Gentile saints in the newly born church at Antioch took up a collection for the needy Jewish saints in Judea (Acts 11:27-30). Let us think beyond our own individual growth and well-being, and even beyond that of our local church, but of the growth and maturity of the church at large, around the world.

One final comment about the larger dimensions of the church, as Paul speaks of it. We often agonize when someone leaves “our church” to go to another. There are times when we should be concerned. We should be concerned if we have failed as a church. We should be concerned if our church has failed to live up to its calling, and especially up to the Scriptures. We should be concerned if people have left for the wrong reasons, or have gone to a church that departs from sound doctrine and practice. But we should not agonize over everyone who leaves our church to serve elsewhere. The “church” is bigger than “our church” and God may wish to use the gifts of some of our former members there. They have not deserted Christ who have left our congregation to serve Christ in another.

Fifth, the emphasis falls not on knowing your gift, but on finding your place of service. From Romans 12:3-8 and 1 Peter 4:10-11 is seems impossible for one to be a good steward of the grace of God without knowing what his or her spiritual gift is. Having said this, I see many Christians waiting to serve until they have discovered their gift. This text in Ephesians chapter 4 may provide a happy solution. In this text Paul does not urge the saints to “discover their gift,” but rather to find their place of service in the body of Christ. I believe that as we seek to find a place of service we will also discover the gift or gifts which God has given to us.

Finding our place of service is not really that difficult, as I understand the Scriptures. The first thing we must know is what it is that God has commanded us to do. We are, for example, to minister to the orphans and the widows (James 1:27). We are to “contribute to the needs of the saints” and “practice hospitality” (Romans 12:13). We are to “admonish the unruly, encourage the fainthearted, and help the weak” (1 Thessalonians 5:14). All we need to do is to look around us for those things which need to be done, which our Lord has commanded us to do. We should give a higher priority to those things which we do best, as good stewards of the grace of God. In so doing, we will discover not only our place of service, but those gifts which God has given us to enable us to serve. This is the emphasis which is evident in Paul’s teaching in Ephesians 4.

Sixth, the focus here is not on the individual, but on the contribution which the individual makes to the corporate body of Christ. Even though individual saints are addressed here, and each has his or her unique blending of gifts, the emphasis falls on the church. Often I hear the subject of spiritual gifts taught in such a way as to place the gifted individual in the place of prominence. Status is attached to the gift, and if not, then people are told that knowing and exercising their gift will give them a feeling of significance and fulfillment. This may well be true, but the focus is wrong. Spiritual gifts are not given to us for our benefit as much as they are given for the building up of the body of Christ.

Spiritual gifts, according to Paul’s words in verses 12-16, are given for the edification of the body, and to facilitate the ministry of the church as the body of Christ. Christ indwells the church corporately (2:21-22) and the church corporately ministers on Christ’s behalf. The church is the visible manifestation of Christ on the earth. Christ not only dwells in it, it visibly manifests Christ to the world.

So often, when the saints go to church, the go to be ministered to, not to minister. They go in order to be blessed, not in order to be a blessing. They leave, not asking whether Christ was exalted and whether others were edified, but whether or not they were blessed. Our text tells us that we are given gifts so that we may contribute something to the body of Christ, so that we may fulfill our mission to the church and through it.

Seventh, spiritual gifts are given to members of the church until that time when the church has finally reached the goal of Christlikeness (see verse 13). There are some who teach that spiritual gifts existed only in the early church of the New Testament, and that gifts are no longer needed or present in the church today. While this may be a quick and easy way to handle some of the more controversial gifts, it is throwing the baby out with the bath water. In the light of Paul’s teaching here, how can we possibly conclude that spiritual gifts no longer exist? According to Paul, spiritual gifts cease will only when the entire church has matured and has become fully like Christ. Spiritual gifts cease only when that which is perfect has come, and this will take place only when our Lord returns.68

Eighth, while every spiritual gift has its own particular function, Paul sets forth the goal of every gift functioning in the body for the corporate ministry and maturity of the body of Christ. By each and every member of the body of Christ ministering to the body of Christ, the church is built up toward the goal of Christlikeness.

Ninth, in this passage, Paul contrasts maturity and immaturity as it pertains to the church. Immaturity is to no longer be “like children” (verse 14). The early church did pass through its stage of infancy. As individual churches are established, they also must begin at the “child” state and grow to maturity. The same is true of individual believers. Children begin life totally dependent on their mother. Their identity is linked with their mother. And then (almost too quickly, it would seem), the child begins to gain his own identity, his own individuality. Now the child is only aware of himself, of his own wants and needs. But as a child grows older, he not only becomes more independent, he also becomes more able to serve others.

While this kind of child development is readily evident to us, this is not what Paul chose to emphasize. He focused on the instability and the vulnerability of children. Young children have a short attention span. They flit about, from one activity to another. They are gullible and they believe nearly anything that someone tells them. Doctrinally, an immature church is unstable, changing its doctrinal views as often as some self-serving religious huckster comes to the church.

This is not the goal Paul holds out for the church. His goal is that due to the active involvement and ministry of every member, the church will grow up to maturity. It will be marked by doctrinal purity and stability. It will discern those who hold to a different doctrine and refuse to be turned away from the truth. The mature church will be growing in Christ-likeness, never arriving at it in this life and never being content with how far it has grown. The mature church is committed to the truth of God’s revealed Word and ever seeking to be more closely conformed to Christ, its Head.

The mature church, Paul says, is “growing up into Him who is the head” (verse 15). On the face of it, this statement seems difficult to understand. How can the body grow up into its head? We are not growing up into the Head, we are growing up to be more and more like the Head, Jesus Christ.

Let me try to illustrate what I think Paul means. Christ is the “Head” of the body in several ways. He is also the one who provides for the needs of the body, and He also guides and directs the body. He is the One who is to be preeminent in the church, to receive the glory and honor. He is also the one who created the church, who brought it into existence by His incarnation, death, burial, resurrection, and ascension. In this last sense, our Lord begat the church with the “imperishable seed,” through the Word of God (1 Peter 1:23). Maturity is becoming more Christ-like as we become more obedient to the Word of God, and as we become more like our Father. Just as a child is born with all kinds of genetic potentialities, which become more and more evident as it grows up, so we become more like we were destined to be as we grow up into Christ.


The Christian’s conduct is to be based upon and consistent with his calling in Christ. He has been called to become an active, functioning member of the body of Christ. He has been called to obedience. The church is the dwelling place of God in the Spirit, and the instrument by which God demonstrates the glory of His wisdom, power, and grace. As we obey Him and manifest His likeness, we fulfill our calling.

Christian unity is not an option, it is a mandate. It is both that which we possess and must preserve, and that for which we continue to strive. It is rooted in the origin and the life of the church. It is to be preserved by those who possess a servant’s spirit, and who respond to the grace of God by being gracious to their brothers and sisters in Christ who, like them, are not yet perfected.

I have but two questions to ask you as we conclude this lesson. The first is this: Are you in the body of Christ? I did not ask if you were a member of a certain church or denomination. I am asking if you have ever trusted in Jesus Christ as God’s only means of salvation. Have you received eternal life by trusting that He died in your place, that He suffered the punishment for your sins, and that He rose from the dead for your eternal justification? If you have been “born again” (see John 3) by personal faith in Jesus Christ then you are a member of His church, the body of Christ.

Having asked this, I must press on to ask: Are you an active and vital part of a local church? The Bible never conceives of anyone coming to faith in Christ apart from becoming associated with a local church and then finding your place of service to the body of Christ. I do not mean to say that your primary service can only be in the local church, for there are those who serve the body of Christ in the context of para-church organizations. Nevertheless, every saint should be associated and involved in a local church. Every saint should seek to find his or her place of service. Every saint should seek not only their own growth and maturity, but that of the church at large as well.

Are you in the body of Christ by faith in Him? Are you actively involved in the body of Christ? Are you serving the body, playing out your role, and thus contribution to the growth of the body and the glory of God? I pray that you are, for this is surely what our text demands of each and every Christian.

62 This instruction, in the context of 1 Corinthians 8-10, clearly indicates the necessity of subordinating our pleasure to the glory of God. The Christian liberties we might otherwise enjoy are to be sacrificed for the edification of our brother, for the sake of the gospel, and especially for the glory of God.

63 See also Romans 12:1-2; Colossians 3:1-ff., especially verses 12-17; 1 Thessalonians 4:1; Titus 2:1; Hebrews 12:1ff.; James 1:21ff.; 1 Peter 1:13ff.; 2 Peter 2:3-11.

64 Note, however, that in verse 13 unity is viewed as a goal, but not something which we create.

65 There is considerable doubt (and even debate) over the question of whether 4 or 5 spiritual gifts are named in verse 11. “Pastors and teachers” may either be “pastors” and “teachers” or “pastor-teachers.” I am inclined toward the latter option, though the significance of this is of little import to our study.

66 When you stop to think about it, even some of the epistles which were addressed to one individual (Timothy, Titus, Philemon) or to a specific local church were both circulated (Colossians 4:16) and collected as a part of the New Testament canon, so that the whole church has been blessed by them.

67 I am reminded of Paul’s words to the Roman church, where he had not yet visited: “For I long to see you in order that I may impart some spiritual gift to you, that you may be established” (Romans 1:11). It was not that this church had no other gifted teachers, but that Paul’s gift would benefit them in a unique way, in a way that the teaching of others could not.

68 In addition to this line of argument, let me suggest another. Spiritual gifts are supernatural abilities to carry out certain functions. The “functions” or ministries of evangelism, teaching, giving, exhortation, helping and administration are still necessary, and so are the gifts which supernaturally empower and enable them.

Related Topics: Basics for Christians, Election

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