Unity Amid Diversity

November 12, 2005

Read: Eph 4:1-16

Comments on Eph 4:1-16: With this passage Paul’s letter makes a transition from exposition to exhortation, from theology to practical application. This two part form and type of content actually has its roots in O.T. covenant speeches. First comes a section of theology or salvation history. Then comes a section of exhortation based on the theology. It is rooted in O.T. covenant theology of God’s provision of salvation followed by Israel’s obligations to live accordingly. Theology and ethics are inextricably intertwined in both Testaments, so closely that how one lives and treats one’s neighbor’s provides a fairly good indicator of how one relates to God. A clear example is found in Joshua’s speech in Joshua 24:2-15: first a salvation history is outlined (Josh 24:2-13), then an exhortation follows introduced by “Now therefore…” (24:14-15). Even the book of Deuteronomy can be broadly divided into two such sections.

Here in Eph 4:1 Paul similarly uses “therefore” to connect with the entire preceding section of theology. Also, he once more connects with the covenant concept of election expressed by the repeated references to the addressees’ “calling,” four times in all (4:1-6). The exhortation is to lead a life worthy of this calling. This is first spelled out in terms of the virtues of humility, gentleness, patience, and supportive love, then in terms of unity both in church fellowship (“one body”), in theological affirmation (“one hope…one faith”), and loyalty of adherence to the triune God (“one Spirit,…one Lord,…one God and Father”). There are seven “ones” in all!

In 4:7-16 the focus is on those gifts given by Christ which serve to build unity in the body of Christ, i.e. the church. In 4:8 Paul seems to quote Ps 68:18 where God is described as a returning victorious warrior who leads captives in triumphal procession and who receives gifts from people, even the rebellious ones. He changes the text, however, to say that he “gives” gifts instead! Then in his comments on the quotation the triumphal imagery continues with references to Christ descending into “the lower parts of the earth,” not to take captives but to make “captivity itself a captive,” and ascending on high, even above all the heavens.” This has been interpreted variously as referring simply to his incarnation and death followed by his ascension and exaltation, or to his descent into hell at the time of his death followed by his ascension and exaltation, or to his ascent and exaltation followed by his descent at Pentecost through the Holy Spirit.

The way this quotation is introduced is curious. Paul usually introduces quotations from Scripture with such expressions as “As it is written in…,” etc. There are only two explicit quotations in the whole of Ephesians, both here and in 5:14 which is not from the O.T., but is most likely a early Christian hymn. Both these quotations are simply introduced by “Wherefore it says.” I just may be that in 4:8 Paul is referring not directly to Ps 68:18, but to an early Christian hymn that would most naturally have been sung at Easter. This may explain the change from “receiving gifts” to “giving gifts,” as something that was already in the hymn.

The work of up-building for which the gifts equip Christians is to be done “in love” (4:2, 15, 16). Besides this work of “building up” (4:12, 16), other terms of maturity and growth are also used (4:13, 15, 16). In fact, the word teleion translated as perfect in the KJV is rendered as “mature” as in the NRSV and other modern translations. At the end of this whole passage once again Christ is referred to as the “Head” (cf. 1:10, 22), only here it is specifically in reference to his body, the church.

Questions to think about: In 4:6 God the Father is described as being “above all and through all and in all.” What could this possibly mean? What sort of biblical ideological framework excludes taking these expressions as representing some sort of pantheism?

In 4:7 Paul states that each one is “given grace according to the measure of Christ’s gift.” Do some people get more grace than others? What does “grace” mean here? What does “measure” mean? Proportion? What is the proportion of Christ’s gift?

Which interpretation of Christ’s descent/ascent mentioned above do you prefer? On what basis? How does Jesus’ ascension make “captivity itself a captive”?

In 4:11 the gifts given included apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors, and teachers. These are all the described as equipping one for the “work of ministry.” The Greek word is diakonia which refers in various ways to “service.” How is it that so often such positions of servant hood and facilitation are transformed into positions of power and control? How can this be prevented? How can it be dismantled once it is in place institutionally?

What would be the difference between “maturity” and “perfection” with regard to Christian life? Can one achieve unity without some level of uniformity? Is there such a thing as uniformity in any Christian or other religious community?

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