Ephesians 1-3 climaxes with a glimpse of God’s vision for the future: His love and glory expressed supremely in Christ and the Church forever. The rest of the epistle guides us into the principles of behavior (“walk” 4:1,17; 5:1,8,15) suited to such a calling. The first section (vv 1-16) of the chapter emphasizes the relationships (vv 1-6) and resources (vv 7-16) that we have as members of His Body. The second section (vv 17-32) challenges us to change from the old corrupted patterns of life into godly behavior.
4:1-16 “Walk Worthy”
Called To Unity & Usefulness In The Body
Paul’s appeal as the prisoner of the Lord (v 1) reveals two essential principles of this new life in His love: self-sacrificing service and suffering for others, and submission to Christ as Head and Lord of our lives. We should instinctively value other saints who share the same calling and life in Him. “Lowliness and meekness” (v 2) express a heart with no self-aggrandizement and no aggression toward others. His love will also enable longsuffering and forbearance, the gracious patience so necessary as we seek to protect the harmonious closeness created by the Spirit (v 3). Redemption has united Jew and Gentile together, formed by the Spirit into one body in union with Christ, experiencing life in one Spirit, and sharing one great prospect (v 4). We acknowledge the same sovereign Lord, and hold the same faith, identified in baptism as His followers (v 5). The crowning blessing of grace shared in Christ is a secure relationship with God as our Father (v 6).
“But to each one of us” (v 7), shifts the emphasis from grace in salvation shared equally by all, to individual grace given for service and usefulness in His Body. Verses 7-10 emphasize the rich bestowal of gifts by the triumphant Conqueror Who, through His descent into death on our behalf, overthrew our oppressor, shattering his power (Heb 2:14; Col 2:15), and ascended gloriously through all realms to supremacy in the heavens – “that He might fill all things” (v 10), dominating, influencing, controlling.
The risen Head initiated the foundation for the building of the Church through apostles and prophets; the ongoing work is being perpetuated and guided through evangelists, shepherds, and teachers until the Church is complete (vv 11-14). These particular gifts provide the overall means by which people are being saved, fitted, and equipped to fulfil their individual ministries to one another in helping to build up His Body (v 12). Christ and His Body will be manifested one day as God’s masterpiece, “a perfect man” (v 13), with complete correspondence of character and qualities. Godly shepherding and teaching is also essential in delivering saints from immaturity, instability, and susceptibility to the devious errors propagated by deliberate deceivers (v 14). Truth and love enable healthy spiritual growth into His likeness. Christ is both the goal of spiritual growth, and its source. Yet it is also precious to recognize the intended part each believer has in fulfilling His gracious ministry toward His saints (vv 15-16).
4:17-32 “Walk Not”
A Challenge To Change Behavior
It is imperative for us to reject the pagan lifestyle that surrounds us as empty, senseless, and cut off from God, because of wilful blindness. Evil practiced desensitizes the conscience, and hardens the heart, till there is unrestrained addiction to immoral behavior (vv 17-19). In contrast, Christ and His teaching displayed truth and holiness. Every moral principle is derived from Him, and learning from Him leads into the realm of reality and truth (vv 20-21).
Are verses 22-24 exhortation or explanation? Other translations, consistent with Colossians 3:9-10, give “having put off the old man … having put on the new man,” as what took place within ourselves at conversion. All the progressive corruption of verses 17-19 is attributable to “the deceitful lusts” (v 22) derived from Adam, “our old man” (Rom 6:6). But that man was judged at Calvary through the death of Christ, and at conversion was cast off and discarded as an old garment, and exchanged for a new garment, “the new man,” derived from the risen Christ, the Head of the new creation. We now share His “righteousness and true holiness” (v 24), and our identity is forever linked with Him, not the condemned and corrupted man, Adam. “Being renewed” (v 23) refers to the ongoing work of the Spirit within our spirits, sustaining and developing character corresponding to the image of God, resulting in transformed attitudes, reasoning, and reactions. Exhortation follows, beginning with transparent honesty instead of falsehood, as a foundational necessity of lasting relationships. However, this leads to the challenge of confronting evil when it arises, and controlling anger (v 26), so that it does not compound the problem. We first must discern whether we have a right to be angry: if not, judge it rather than express it. Then, we need to consciously defer to God, bringing the issue to Him, acknowledging our feelings, and asking for grace to resolve the issue wisely. Some tend to avoid conflict, and risk storing up resentment or frustration which may eventually become bitterness, malice, and evil speaking – favorite tools of the devil (vv 27, 31). Grace goes beyond issues of righteousness, in working honestly, with a desire to give to others in need (v 28).
How can we control our tongues, so that nothing corrupting or destructive is conveyed? Only when our hearts are controlled by His grace: then our words will encourage, strengthen, build up others (v 29). “Grieve not”(v 30) presents a key concept: the Holy Spirit is God’s seal that we are His forever, and His pledge that He will fulfil all the blessedness that He has promised to us in Christ. The Spirit longs for the progress and perfection of each one in the Body of Christ. Any behavior that violates His care for each member, brings intense sorrow to Him. Rather than being overcome by evil, we are challenged to overcome evil with His grace and show kindness, compassion, and forgiveness, as He has to us in Christ (vv 31-32).