- The Explore the Bible lesson for Oct. 13 focuses on Ephesians 4:1-10.
We’ve all heard about it, and some of us have lived it—churches dividing over sometimes ridiculous reasons. The carpet color, the stained glass and facial hair on staff members are just a few well-known topics of debate that have led people to leave the church. I can’t say whether such disputes are primary issues on why the secular world has such low regard for the church, but I can say such attitudes are not pleasing to our Lord.
Jesus prayed that his church would be one (John 17:20-23). And while there may be reasons significant and deep enough to cause us to go our separate ways at times, Paul’s exhortations in the latter half of Ephesians make it clear that from his perspective, division is a sign that believers are not living in Christ the way the first part of his letter encouraged them to.
As we transition into the last three chapters of Ephesians, we find a slight shift from theologically concentrated teaching to ethically motivated instruction. I say slight because both sections contain both types of teaching. Indeed, one can never truly do biblical ethics separated from biblical theology. Still, in Ephesians 4–6 we get some of Paul’s clearest teachings on what church life ought to look like. And like many of his letters, the centerpiece of that life is our life together in unity (cf. Colossians 3:16; 1 Corinthians 1:10; Romans 15:5-6; Philippians 2:1-5).
Walking Worthy (Ephesians 4:1-3)
Paul begins his discourse on unity with what is almost a heading describing where he is going. He exhorts his readers to live a life worthy of their calling. Whereas the NIV renders the passage, “a life worthy of the calling they have received,” Paul actually uses the word election twice in the clause, “a life worthy of the calling with which you have been called.” His emphasis is on the grace that God has granted to believers and the consequence that should grow out of that grace—obedience.
The order of those two biblical teachings is vital. To demand obedience before grace is to leave the believer impotent and prone to failure. To present grace as a result of obedience is to deny the very definition of grace and to make salvation built on the shaky foundation of human effort.
With grace in place, however, Paul can call on believers to find the unity of the Spirit and realistically expect them to be able to maintain it. Indeed, apart from the Spirit, how else would we be able to express the characteristics of humility, gentleness, patience, mutual support and love (cf. Galatians 5:22-23)?
Why is it so hard to walk in unity? How does understanding the scope of God’s grace as outlined in chapters 1-3 move us toward the unity Paul is emphasizing in chapters4-6?
Living Unified (Ephesians 4:4-6)
Having presented the link between salvation and ethics in the first three verses, Paul now buttresses his argument with almost a creedal list of realities that are one in nature. Paul uses a series of three stanzas of objects that all believers share in common in order to challenge believers to see that these seven objects create the impetus for unity in other spheres, as well.
Paul’s first three objects are body, Spirit and hope. In chapter 2, Paul highlighted the destruction of the barrier that used to divide humanity and moved us into a citizenship among the people of God by the work of the Spirit. Furthermore, the oneness created by the Spirit builds us into a temple within which the Lord dwells and guides us toward a future hope beyond anything that we could have imagined (Ephesians 2:14-22). Now he brings those three elements together again as a consequence of our election to tell us we are walking in the same direction.
The second group of three objects Paul lists is Lord, faith and baptism. Whereas the Roman population of Ephesus had become quite used to the concept of a variety of lords, Christians profess that Jesus alone is Lord. Because we have one sovereign, we have one set of marching orders that will again have us moving in the same direction. This one Lord has given us one faith or gospel to believe and follow that results in our joint proclamation made through the shared experience of baptism. Therefore, if we are all following the same Master, believing the same faith and sharing the same pivotal activities, how can we not be unified?
Paul’s final grouping centers on the nature of the one God that we follow and serve. He is “over all, through all and in all.” This shouldn’t be understood as a pantheistic or even panentheistic expression, but rather highlighting God as the creator of all things who therefore has imbued all of his creation with one purpose—to glorify him (cf. 1 Corinthians 8:6). Such a purpose is elevated and emphasized for the believer, who is the one part of his creation that has, at least in part, enjoyed the transformation that all creation will one day enjoy.
How does Paul’s list of ones encourage you to see beyond yourself to the greater work that God has called us to? What are some other activities that believers share in that can build unity?
Enjoying Victory (Ephesians 4:7-10)
Many times in life, division results from fear of what is going to happen if we pursue a certain course of action. Fears of losing our power or influence or fear of losing something that is precious to us can often cause us to take stances against people we really love dearly.
Paul concludes this section with a reflection on God’s victorious mounting of Zion in Psalm 68. The image, along with the parenthetical explanation that links Christ’s victory in the incarnation and ascension are intended to create a sense of blessed outcome for our own experiences. With such assurances in place, our ability to walk together is then assured in that there is nothing to fear from humbling ourselves and giving ourselves over to our Lord’s commands.
When has fear of an outcome caused you to go a direction you previously thought you would never go? How can our knowledge of the life to come feed into directing our life right now?
Timothy Pierce, Ph.D., is assistant professor of religion at East Texas Baptist University.