Practical: Prophets, Pastors, Perfecting, 4. 1-16

The first three chapters, which deal more particularly with doctrine, cannot be separated from the practical repercussions of that doctrine. For faith is not only a matter of the heart and of knowledge, but it has to be worked out by believers in local assemblies. There are, in fact, serious objectives placed before the saints. Following the doctrinal chapters, Paul writes, “I therefore … beseech you”, as previously he had written “I beseech you therefore”, Rom. 12. 1, in consequence of the eleven preceding doctrinal chapters in Romans.

For many years, Paul had walked in the truth to be developed in verses 2-16. Such faithfulness had placed the apostle on a collision course with the Jews, which in turn had led to his imprisonment, for faithfulness may lead to a lonely separated life in many of its aspects. Whatever the consequences, a worthy walk is necessary, namely a walk that is consistent with one’s standing in Christ-not as formerly, but now as doing His will from the heart. For this calling is a high calling, Phil. 3. 14; a holy calling, 2 Tim. 1. 9, and a heavenly calling, Heb. 3. 1.

This worthy walk is seen in (i) one’s personal character, (ii) one’s attitude to others, and (iii) one’s earnestness and diligence in keeping the unity of the Spirit.

(i) “Lowliness” involves no boastful pride that always seeks the top, as the Lord was “lowly in heart”, Matt. 11. 29, and as Paul served the Lord with “all humility of mind” in Ephesus, Acts 20. 19. Again, the Lord exhibited “meekness”, Matt. 11. 29: this was not weakness, but the power to walk in meekness even when correcting others who opposed the truth, 2 Tim. 2. 25. For this spirit was necessary when considering the false elders who would arise in Ephesus.

(ii) “Longsuffering, forbearing one another in love” is the attitude that deals with others that are awkward, perverse and showing opposition to the truth. There is no compromise with such men, yet God showed longsuffering in the days of Noah, 1 Pet. 3. 20, as He shows to all sinners, 2 Pet. 3. 9, while Christ showed this to Paul, 1 Tim. 1. 16.

(iii) To keep “the unity of the Spirit” is not to manufacture it, but to keep the unity that the Spirit has already formed. This involves a diligent effort to walk in the truth, allowing no compromise that the world would introduce to initiate or preserve unity. The spirit of interdenominationalism usually involves compromise, so this cannot promote the unity that Paul is describing here. Today, there is much that is in direct opposition to the concept of scriptural unity, but as we walk in the light “as he is in the light”, then we have fellowship “one with another”, 1 John 1. 7. Moreover, this unity is “in the bond of peace” between parties that had once been opposed the one to the other. Over the centuries, some have sought to impose their own brand of religious ideology upon others by warfare and by intrigue, but these are merely Satan’s devices.

Paul then describes a sevenfold unity that characterizes this overall unity. The “one body” is the subject about which he has been occupied: the church is His body, 1. 23; the one body is formed through two reconciled parties, 2. 16; the Gentiles are members of “the same body”, 3. 6. We keep this by walking in the light of it; we do not make it, but practice is consistent with doctrine. Locally, none should introduce devisive tactics in an assembly, so as to draw away disciples to form splinter groups that disrupt local unity, as Paul foresaw would happen in Ephesus, Acts 20. 30, and as he knew had already happened in Corinth, 1 Cor. 1. 12-13.

There is “one Spirit”. Note that the three Persons of the Trinity are named in verses 4-6, In every aspect of doctrine and service, there is one Spirit. In matters of doctrine, Paul knew that there might be “another spirit”, 2 Cor. 11.4, while John wrote that we must not believe every spirit, 1 John 4. 1, for other spirits are the spirit of antichrist. Likewise in matters of service, Paul stresses “the same Spirit”, and “one Spirit”, 1 Cor. 12. 4, 8, 9, 11, 13.

Paul prayed that they might “know what is the hope of his calling”, but we must keep the hope of our calling. We must know and we must keep: in other words, we must work out in service the doctrine of the future hope held in the heart by faith. For we are blessed when we keep, and we purify ourselves when this hope is within our hearts.

"One Lord” implies the unique authority of Christ over His members. There had been “other lords”, Isa. 26. 13; “another Jesus”, 2 Cor. 11.4, and “lords many”, 1 Cor. 8. 5; the same applies today when the authority of Scripture is rejected. But “to us there is … one Lord Jesus Christ”, v. 6. Again, in place of “one faith”, men would preach “another gospel”, 2 Cor. 11. 4; Gal. 1. 6, and even “damnable heresies”, 2 Pet. 2. 1. By contrast, the Lord’s people should recognize “the faith which was once delivered to the saints”, for which we should contend, Jude 3. Again, Paul stresses “one baptism”, for there had been two kinds of baptisms in Ephesus. Some had been baptized “unto John’s baptism”, Acts 19. 3, extending to the present day when there are several modern deviants. Under Paul’s correction, these men were then baptized “in the name of the Lord Jesus”, vv. 4-5; the apostle would recognize none other.

Finally, “one God and Father of all” stands in contrast to “gods many”, 1 Cor. 8. 5. The first commandment forbad this idolatrous multiplication, though the nation of Israel was often guilty in this respect. The Lord Jesus taught this spiritual relationship with the one Father, when He said, “my Father, and your Father”, John 20. 17; Paul similarly wrote, “to us there is but one God, the Father”, 1 Cor. 8. 6. Today, men often speak as if God is the Father of all mankind, but this providential sense in no way matches up with that implied by the Lord Jesus and by Paul. This Father is “above all”, outside of, and independent of, His creation, and the One who exercises authority over all service. As “through all”, He works through all service, while as “in you all”, service must be consistent with His presence.

Men as Gifts to the Church. Some have great gifts, and others have lesser gifts, but all ability to serve is of grace, and this grace distributes both in measure and in variety. Thus Paul had “received grace and apostleship”, Rom. 1. 5; this word “grace” occurs three times in 1 Corinthians 15. 10, enabling him to labour abundantly as an apostle. Certainly his ability was not a natural endowment; “yet not I”. Not many can be like Paul, for the talents were distributed “to every man according to his several ability”, Matt. 25. 15.

Whether abilities or men themselves are regarded as gifts, divine Persons are always involved in providing these gifts for every believer. In Romans 12. 3, it is God who deals to every man; in 1 Corinthians 12. 7, 11, it is the Spirit who divides to every man, while here in Ephesians 4. 7 it is the Lord who gives grace to every man. See also 1 Peter 4. 10, where “every man” is again mentioned. This shows that it is useless to seek to do that for which one is not equipped, or to say, “I have no gift”. Hence a brother A should not ask a brother B to engage in an aspect of service for which B is obviously not qualified; brother A should discern the gift that B possesses, whether potential or mature, being very honest in what he discerns.

Paul now quotes from Psalm 68. 18: “When he ascended up on high”. The ark had been taken captive by the Philistines, answering to the death of Christ. It had been returned to Kirjath Jearim, speaking of the resurrection of Christ. Finally, it was taken up mount Zion by David, 1 Chron. 15-16, interpreted by Paul as corresponding to the ascension of Christ. In Psalm 68, the other “high hills” were in competition with Zion, but God had chosen Zion in which to dwell.

Divinely given gifts depend on the fact that the Lord has ascended to the Father; as exalted, He shed forth what He received from the Father, Acts 2. 33. Moreover, “he led captivity captive”, showing the triumph of the Lord at Calvary over all His enemies. The religious scene in Jerusalem was dominated by such men at that time, but all have been swept aside, with spiritually gifted men alone being available for all kinds of service in the church. In verses 9-10, the apostle stresses that both movements (descent and ascent) were necessary before gifts could be given. “He also descended” goes further than the incarnation-His descent to earth, though some expositors restrict the idiom “the lower parts of the earth” to refer only to this. But we remember that Paul wrote the Philippian Epistle at about the same time, where he viewed Christ as humbling Himself even to “the death of the cross”, Phil. 2. 8. This is the lowest position to which Paul traces the descent of Christ, after which He was highly exalted with a name above every name, v. 9. From this exalted position, He gave gifts to members of His body. As exalted, the Lord is omnipresent, not localized as was His body when on earth. Hence He fills all things-in particular, His members with gifts for their service.

Here, Paul deals with men themselves as gifts. (In 1 Cor. 12. 8-10, the gifts are the actual abilities that are given.) We often talk about “a gifted brother”, but he also himself is a gift. In Ephesians 4. 11, we have five kinds of men named. The A.V. gives a peculiar construction: “he gave some, apostles …” with a comma after “some”. What does this mean? Some have suggested that “some churches were given this or that brother as a gift”. But we prefer to read the verse as “he gave some to be apostles”, etc. Namely, there was a divine selection amongst believers, some being chosen to be this, and some to be that.

A body in unity consists of members in variety. As in 1 Corinthians 12. 28, Paul lists the foundation gifts first. By “apostles”, he obviously means the twelve and himself. (Since the word means “sent”, it also sometimes has a non-technical meaning; thus Epaphroditus is called a messenger-an apostle, Phil. 2. 25.) A prophet was a man who received direct revelation from God, prior to such revelation being enshrined in His Word. Some prophets, such as Agabus, spoke of future events.

The other men as gifts deal with the subsequent growth of the church. They are like gardeners-the evangelists sow the seeds, the teachers water the plants, while the pastors tend to the growing plants (tying them up for safety, and clearing the weeds). Thus evangelists preach the gospel and gain converts, ensuring their baptism and initial growth in the faith, which is vital so as to prevent stunted growth. “Pastors and teachers” may or may not represent the same person. The pastor or shepherd (the Lord Jesus is seen as a Shepherd in Hebrews 13. 20) leads, cares for, and meets the need of the flock, applying the word of the teacher who instructs the flock. Such a brother is not equivalent to the modern so-called pastor (usually with a stipend) who exercises authority, control and leadership in churches, chapels, and sometimes in assemblies which profess the N.T. pattern. Both pastors and teachers are to be distinguished from the elders or overseers, who have a local charge. Elders also possess gifts, of course, and may well be pastors and teachers also. Certainly in Acts 20. 28, the elders are seen as pastors and teachers, taking heed to the flock and feeding the church of God; cf. 1 Pet. 5. 1-2. False elders, “not sparing the flock” and “speaking perverse things” were, no doubt, in Paul’s mind when he wrote to the Ephesians.

The Object of all Service. There are three immediate objectives, v. 12, and four ultimate objectives, v. 13. True ministry will preserve the saints from false teachers, v. 14, while there is growth into, v. 15, and growth from, v. 16.

The “perfecting” of the saints is derived from the verb used for “mending” nets, Matt. 4. 21. Here we find a practical joining together of the Lord’s people in a genuine spiritual harmony; prior to conversion, they may have been poles apart by nationality, culture, and opposing religions, but after conversion they must be “perfectly joined together”, 1 Cor. 1. 10. Gifts are given for “the work of the ministry’, namely, for every form of service put forth in the Lord’s Name; no other service can be of value. Again, gifts are for “the edifying of the body of Christ”. In Ephesians 2. 21-22, the church as a building is seen as growing. Paul refers to the practical side of body-building, as he wrote elsewhere, “Let all things be done unto edifying”, 1 Cor. 14. 26, leaving no room for any so-called service that satisfies the mind of the flesh with mere entertainment.

"The unity of the faith” is one of God’s ongoing objectives for His people. Here is no multiplicity of interpretations or denominational divergencies. We attain to this objective only by adhering closely to the Word of God, and by avoiding the mere teachings and practices of men. The knowledge of “the Son of God” is vital, for if this is lacking, then weakness and even heresy may set in. (The titles Christ and Lord are often used in this Epistle, but this is the only time when the title “Son” occurs.) The “perfect man” refers to a fullgrown man, as distinct from a child that would refer to a state of initial conversion. By this means, the body of Christ develops so that the individual’s state may correspond to his standing. Again, “the stature of the fulness of the Christ” refers to height or age, and hence it is another metaphor for the ultimate growth of members of the body practically in experience.

But dangers may be at hand, for if the ministry of such truth is neglected, some believers may still be as children without protective care. These children are not children of disobedience (namely, unbelievers), Eph. 2. 2, but believers in an undeveloped state through not feeding upon the Word. Their state does not then correspond to their standing. They are at the mercy of all kinds of doctrine, not knowing what to agree with, always debating with uncertainty. Men expected John the Baptist to be like this, a reed shaken with the wind, Matt. 11.7, but instead they found him to be strong in the faith and with a powerful consistent message.

Perhaps Paul had in mind the false elders foreseen in Acts 20. 29-30, named “apostles, and are not… liars”, Rev. 2. 2. These would be “certain men (who) crept in unawares”, Jude 4. The cunning that they use is “the sleight of men” {lit., “the dice-playing of men"), indicating differing teachings to match the popular doctrines of the day. We are exhorted, “from such withdraw thyself, 1 Tim. 6. 3-5. For they wait to gain an advantage, should they find some chink in the doctrinal armour of a believer. For there are many deceivers: evil men and seducers, 2 Tim. 3. 13; the spirit of antichrist, 2 John 7; false teachers in the future, Matt. 24. 5, 24; Satan who deceives the nations, Rev. 20. 3, and we may even deceive ourselves, 1 Cor. 3. 18; James 1. 22; 1 John 1. 8.

In spite of all opposition, even in a local assembly, truth must be held, Eph. 4. 15. This must be the work and effort of all, not just that of the teachers. We must “earnestly contend for the faith”, Jude 3. And this must be done in an atmosphere of love and not of hate; of peace and not of warfare. Thus growth into the Head will be promoted when all false doctrines are rejected; the Head will then have more practical control over the members. Certainly ministry should lead to this end.

Verse 16 is similar to Colossians 2. 19. The body is being described. “Fitly joined together’ is used here of the members united in one body, just as the parts of the temple are united together, Eph. 2. 21-22. Nothing in the structure is haphazard; all is according to the divine plan (as in all structures of the animal and plant kingdoms). Thus there must be no schism in the body, as if the eye discards the ear, and so on, 1 Cor. 12. 25. Moreover, the members are “compacted” (knit together, r.v., as Col. 2. 2), suggesting a deeper union involving activity and not passivity. Life is transferred from the Head through every joint of supply. Every part works to this end; none is exempt, and there are no such things as “freelance” members. Thus the body makes increase of the body-all life is self-developing (unlike machines made by man). It is built up by its own spiritual mechanism under the control of the Head. It needs no natural man-made workmanship as in the theological schools of Christendom. An example of such development is seen in the assembly at Antioch, Acts 11. 20-26.


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