Ephesians 4 through 6
This is one of those weeks when I feel guilty that I will write only 1500 or so words on these three chapters. That is not nearly enough for any one of the sections to follow, let alone all three chapters. Be that as it may, here are some thoughts on Ephesians 4-6 that will hopefully pique your interest and spur you to greater study and self-reflection.
Live Worthy of Christ (Ephesians 4:1-6)
Whether or not we are living our lives in a manner that is worthy of Christ ought to be a primary focus of every Christian. In fact, I would go so far as to say that all Christians ought to be a little obsessive about pleasing God. OK, so maybe obsessive is too strong a word. Living a life that pleases God ought to be the top priority for all Christians. The presumption that Paul makes, of course, is that not all ways of life are pleasing to God. He lists a few characteristics of a worthy life: humility, gentleness, patience, tolerance, diligence, and love. This is not an exhaustive list since Paul includes other virtues in other letters (e.g. Galatians 5:22-23; Colossians 3:12). We also have to be careful about reading our understanding into the Scripture rather than letting the Scripture speak to us. Such is the case with the word tolerance. The Greek word, anechomai, can mean to endure, bear with, be patient with, to accept. In our current North American understanding of tolerance, we tend to understand the word to mean “live and let live.” However, this is not Paul’s understanding of the word. If it were, this whole passage would be self-contradictory. Paul would never agree to “live and let live” those who identify as Christians yet are living a life unworthy of Christ.
The goal of the lifestyle that Paul is calling us to is unity and peace, which is a theme he picks up on in the next paragraph.
Take a minute to ask God whether or not you are living a life worthy of your calling? What did God say?
What is your role in witnessing to a life worthy of Christ?
In what ways are we to “endure, bear with, be patient with, to accept” other believers? Have you had your tolerance tested? What was the outcome?
Ministry Roles in the Church (Ephesians 4:11-16)
Paul points out that in the church there are certain roles to which God has called His followers: Apostles, Prophets, Evangelists, Pastors, Teachers (or pastor/teacher, depending on how you interpret the Greek). The following definitions come from Allen Hirsch in his book The Forgotten Ways (which I highly recommend). Apostles extend the gospel into new areas and from one generation to the next. The are very forward thinking. Prophets know God’s will. They are good at challenging cultural assumptions with the truth of God’s word and will. Evangelists are extraordinary communicators of the gospel and recruiters of people to the cause of Christ. Shepherds nurture and protect the Christian community. Teachers understand and explain God’s truth and wisdom found in God’s word. While Hirsch separates the last two roles, some argue that these two roles are, biblically speaking, inseparable.
We could go into a great deal more depth with regard to those 4/5 roles (as opposed to spiritual gifts), but let’s move on the purpose of the roles. They all share common purposes:
- Equipping of the saints (i.e. all believers in Jesus) for service
- Building up the body of Christ
- Unity of the faith
- Knowledge of the Son of God
- Maturity in Christ
Every believer is to be contributing to all of these purposes. Every believer uses her or his spiritual gifts (Romans 12; 1 Corinthians 12) to fill one of these roles in order to fulfill these purposes.
Paul goes into greater depth about what Christian maturity means. He says that the mature Christian has a doctrinal core, a set of core beliefs, that stands firm when buffeted by doubts and challenged by religious hucksters. Mature Christians speak the truth in love. Mature Christians are always in the process of becoming more and more like Christ. A mature Christian sees him or herself as a part of the body of Christ, and seeks not only to mature in Christ personally, but to build up the body of believers.
What are your spiritual gifts? How do you use your gifts to fulfill one of the roles discussed in this passage?
How do you contribute to one or more of the purposes Paul mentions?
How does your life demonstrate Christian maturity? What are you doing to pursue maturity in Christ?
New life in Christ (Ephesians 4:7-24)
As opposed to believers in Jesus who walk in a manner worthy of Christ, non-Christians, or preferably, not-yet-Christians, walk in the futility of their mind, lack understanding, and are excluded from the life of God. Why? Paul says they are ignorant, hard-hearted, calloused, have given themselves to immoral behavior, sexual immorality in particular, and greed.
Alternately, Paul says that Christ-followers lay aside (literally, take off, as in clothing) our old self and that we put on (“redress in”) our new self. Our old self was defined by corruption and deception. But our new self is characterized by righteousness, holiness, and truth. Our lives as Christians are to be different than non-Christians. The target of intervention in the process of change is our minds. In order to understand who we are in Christ, it requires learning. It requires effort. As we gain insight into our new self, we can start to “live into” that new self. This process of becoming is a lifelong process. It requires daily commitment to becoming and doing, as we will see in the next section.
If you went through a spiritual x-ray machine, like at the airport except that it could reveal what was in our souls rather than our pockets or carry-on luggage, would it reveal any differences between you and the non-Christian who was screened right before or after you?
Have you ever had a conversation with a not-yet-believer and thought to yourself, “Wow! You just don’t get it?” Share your story with the group.
Are you friends with not-yet-believers? What does the fact that they are “excluded from the life of God” motivate you to do?
Some people do not have a dramatic “conversion” story; other’s life change when placing their faith in Christ is very dramatic. For everyone, growth in godliness is a slow, sometimes imperceptible process. But over time, we see changes in our character. How has God changed you in your journey toward maturity in Christ?
What do you do in order to move toward maturity in Christ?
Christian Ethics (Ephesians 4:25 to 5:5)
Paul gives us some ethical guidance in this section. He tells us to be truthful. In commanding us to be truthful, he gives us a very interesting justification. He says that “we are members of one another.” Paul does not see Christians entirely as individuals, but a necessary part of the Christian community (see 1 Corinthians 12 for a similar discussion).
He tells us to be angry and not sin. This command opens that possibility that it is possible to be angry and not sin. Jesus demonstrated righteous anger when he turned the tables over in the temple (Matthew 21:12-17). If Jesus experienced all that we experienced and yet was without sin (Hebrews 2:18), then we cannot claim that anger is necessarily sinful. Anger at injustice, as in the case of Jesus, was and is justified and a great motivator to correct that injustice. Perhaps, sinful anger is an anger that becomes directed at retaliating against some perceived wrong. Anger that leads us to disobey Jesus’ command to turn the other cheek is sinful (Matthew 5:39).
Rather than stealing, one must be industrious.
We must use our words to build up rather than tear down.
Paul lists several more characteristics of our old self that we are to jettison: bitterness, wrath, anger, clamor (public contentions), slander, and malice. Alternately, Christians are to be kind, tender-hearted, and forgiving. Again, the justification is significant. We do this because Christ is our example.
Beginning the chapter 5, Paul commands us to imitate Christ. How do we learn to imitate someone? By observing them closely. How do we observe Jesus closely? By getting into the word of God regularly, purposefully, conscientiously, prayerfully, and setting Christ before us as our model for living.
Paul repeats in 5:3 what he has already said in 4:19. It must be pretty important.
Verse 5 of chapter five is one of the most frequently disobeyed set of commands in the New Testament. Paul forbids cursing (vulgarity), anything provocation that you know will lead to an argument, and sarcasm. This type of language is not worthy of Christ (see Ephesians 4:1).
For the rest of this section, Paul goes into greater detail about the differences between a life worthy of Christ and a life that is not worthy of Christ. He describes a life unworthy of Christ as deserving God’s wrath, disgraceful, and unwise.
In the interest of time and space, I’ll forgo the details, but you get the idea: the Christian life is a life set apart. The differences between an authentic Christian and the average heathen are stark.
Of this checklist of ethical do’s and don’ts, which do you most frequently struggle with.
How have you experienced the destructive power of anger?
How have you seen the constructive power of anger?
How closely do you observe Jesus?
Language: how’s yours?
How is your life different than it was 5 years ago? 10 year ago? Are you more like Christ today than you were 5 years ago? 10 years ago?
Christian Marriage (Ephesians 5:22-33)
I simply cannot do this section justice in a few hundred words, so I will keep it very short. In Paul’s day, no one would have read this section as oppressive to women as so many people (i.e. men) seem to have done in the history of the church. What would have been surprising is the role and responsibility that Paul placed on husbands. Husbands, we need to get our act together and take on the role of husband modeled on the sacrificial love of Jesus.
Husbands: are you loving your wife like Jesus loves the church?
Wives: is your husband loving you like Jesus loves the church?
Singles: how does this passage shape what you are looking for in a mate (if you are looking)?
Divorced: how might things have been different if you and your ex had followed this model for your marriage?
Christian Family (Ephesians 6:1-4)
Fathers, we also need to learn what it means to be godly fathers to our children. What does it mean to raise children in the discipline and instruction of the Lord? I’m right in the middle of this. I have six and nine-year-old daughters that I am doing all I can to get to adulthood. If I can get them to adulthood with all their teeth, two eyes, and a love for Jesus, I will consider that a success. Actually, I’ll be horribly disappointed if the first two aren’t true, but truly devastated if the last one isn’t true.
Parents: how’s it going? What are you doing to raise godly children?
Christian Authority (Ephesians 6:5-9)
We do not have slavery in the same form that was prevalent in Jesus’ time. This does not mean that slavery is not an issue in our day. Modern day slavery is a huge social justice issue that we must take every step necessary to end.
However, for most of us, the section on slavery is much more applicable to our relationships at work. While some of us are self-employed, most of us have bosses and/or employees.
What would happen if you decided to apply this passage to your workplace. What would happen if you said, “I have the worst boss in the world, but I’m going to work for them as if I were working for Jesus?”
Christian Preparation (Ephesians 6:10-17)
When we begin to take seriously Paul’s command to live worthy of Christ, to take off the old self and put on the new self, then we can expect opposition. In fact, we can expect opposition from the most nefarious of all sources: Satan himself. Let’s be honest, most North American Christians don’t experience a lot of spiritual warfare. In fact, most of us “cultured” Christians doubt that such a thing exists. The truth is that the reason that most of us don’t experience opposition from Satan is that we are no threat to his kingdom. Satan is going to protect his own and try to steal God’s. And so is God. If Satan has us wrapped around his finger, then he can leave us alone. He doesn’t need to try to steal us.
How much spiritual opposition do you experience?
What would you do differently if you decided that you were going to be a threat to Satan?
Christian Prayer (Ephesians 6:18-20)
Paul tells the Ephesians, and us, that we are to talk with God (perhaps focused on praise and gratitude) and make requests of God (perhaps for forgiveness and on behalf of others). We are to do these have these divine conversations at all times and in the Spirit. There is never a wrong time to pray. It is always right time to pray. Even if we are not in a moment of dedicated, focused prayer, we can live our lives in a Spirit of prayer. And our praying should be led by the Spirit always. We should pray and not give up, even when our prayers seem to have to effect.
Paul asks that the Ephesians pray for him. I also ask that the people of Ocoee Oaks pray these things for me. Pray these for your pastor. Pray that I will know what to say and when to say it. Pray that I will have insight into and boldly proclaim the gospel of Jesus Christ. While I pray that I am never imprisoned for my faith and ministry, pray that I will be faithful to the gospel. Pray that when I encounter opposition, that I will be faithful to Jesus.
How’s your prayer life? For whom do you pray?
What one thing would you like to do to follow Paul’s teaching in this section?
As I reflect on these chapters, the key take home message is that God has called us to holy living as faithful followers of Jesus. The claim that God has placed on us as a result of His calling us in Christ Jesus results in a life that is reflective of that call. Identifying as a Christian does not necessarily make it so (Matthew 7:21-23), so we must ensure that we are moving toward maturity in Christ every day. We must invest in our new identities as Christ-followers, so that on the day Jesus returns, we will be able to hear him say, “Well, done.”
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