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Unity in the Body of Christ


I therefore, the prisoner in the Lord, beg you to lead a life worthy of the calling to which you have been called, 2with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, 3making every effort to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. 4There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to the one hope of your calling, 5one Lord, one faith, one baptism, 6one God and Father of all, who is above all and through all and in all.

7 But each of us was given grace according to the measure of Christ’s gift. 8Therefore it is said,

“When he ascended on high he made captivity itself a captive;

he gave gifts to his people.”

9 (When it says, “He ascended,” what does it mean but that he had also descended into the lower parts of the earth? 10He who descended is the same one who ascended far above all the heavens, so that he might fill all things.) 11The gifts he gave were that some would be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers, 12to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, 13until all of us come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to maturity, to the measure of the full stature of Christ. 14We must no longer be children, tossed to and fro and blown about by every wind of doctrine, by people’s trickery, by their craftiness in deceitful scheming. 15But speaking the truth in love, we must grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, 16from whom the whole body, joined and knit together by every ligament with which it is equipped, as each part is working properly, promotes the body’s growth in building itself up in love.

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Eph 4:1-32. Exhortations to Christian Duties Resting on Our Christian Privileges, as United in One Body, though Varying in the Graces Given to the Several Members, that We May Come unto a Perfect Man in Christ.

1. Translate, according to the Greek order, "I beseech you, therefore (seeing that such is your calling of grace, the first through third chapters) I the prisoner in the Lord (that is, imprisoned in the Lord's cause)." What the world counted ignominy, he counts the highest honor, and he glories in his bonds for Christ, more than a king in his diadem [Theodoret]. His bonds, too, are an argument which should enforce his exhortation.

vocation—Translate, "calling" to accord, as the Greek does, with "called" (Eph 4:4; Eph 1:18; Ro 8:28, 30). Col 3:15 similarly grounds Christian duties on our Christian "calling." The exhortations of this part of the Epistle are built on the conscious enjoyment of the privileges mentioned in the former part. Compare Eph 4:32, with Eph 1:7; Eph 5:1 with Eph 1:5; Eph 4:30, with Eph 1:13; Eph 5:15, with Eph 1:8.

2, 3. lowliness—In classic Greek, the meaning is meanness of spirit: the Gospel has elevated the word to express a Christian grace, namely, the esteeming of ourselves small, inasmuch as we are so; the thinking truly, and because truly, therefore lowlily, of ourselves [Trench].

meekness—that spirit in which we accept God's dealings with us without disputing and resisting; and also the accepting patiently of the injuries done us by men, out of the thought that they are permitted by God for the chastening and purifying of His people (2Sa 16:11; compare Ga 6:1; 2Ti 2:25; Tit 3:2). It is only the lowly, humble heart that is also meek (Col 3:12). As "lowliness and meekness" answer to "forbearing one another in love" (compare "love," Eph 4:15, 16), so "long-suffering" answers to (Eph 4:4) "endeavoring (Greek, 'earnestly' or 'zealously giving diligence') to keep (maintain) the unity of the Spirit (the unity between men of different tempers, which flows from the presence of the Spirit, who is Himself 'one,' Eph 4:4) in (united in) the bond of peace" (the "bond" by which "peace" is maintained, namely, "love," Col 3:14, 15 [Bengel]; or, "peace" itself is the "bond" meant, uniting the members of the Church [Alford]).

4. In the apostle's creed, the article as to THE Church properly follows that as to THE Holy Ghost. To the Trinity naturally is annexed the Church, as the house to its tenant, to God His temple, the state to its founder [Augustine, Enchiridion, c. 15]. There is yet to be a Church, not merely potentially, but actually catholic or world-wide; then the Church and the world will be co-extensive. Rome falls into inextricable error by setting up a mere man as a visible head, antedating that consummation which Christ, the true visible Head, at His appearing shall first realize. As the "SPIRIT" is mentioned here, so the "Lord" (Jesus), Eph 4:5, and "God the Father," Eph 4:6. Thus the Trinity is again set forth.

hope—here associated with "the Spirit," which is the "earnest of our inheritance" (Eph 1:13, 14). As "faith" is mentioned, Eph 4:5, so "hope" here, and "love," Eph 4:2. The Holy Spirit, as the common higher principle of life (Eph 2:18, 22), gives to the Church its true unity. Outward uniformity is as yet unattainable; but beginning by having one mind, we shall hereafter end by having "one body." The true "body" of Christ (all believers of every age) is already "one," as joined to the one Head. But its unity is as yet not visible, even as the Head is not visible; but it shall appear when He shall appear (Joh 17:21-23; Col 3:4). Meanwhile the rule is, "In essentials, unity; in doubtful questions, liberty; in all things, charity." There is more real unity where both go to heaven under different names than when with the same name one goes to heaven, the other to hell. Truth is the first thing: those who reach it, will at last reach unity, because truth is one; while those who seek unity as the first thing, may purchase it at the sacrifice of truth, and so of the soul itself.

of your calling—the one "hope" flowing from our "calling," is the element "IN" which we are "called" to live. Instead of privileged classes, as the Jews under the law, a unity of dispensation was henceforth to be the common privilege of Jew and Gentile alike. Spirituality, universality, and unity, were designed to characterize the Church; and it shall be so at last (Isa 2:2-4; 11:9, 13; Zep 3:9; Zec 14:9).

5. Similarly "faith" and "baptism" (the sacramental seal of faith) are connected (Mr 16:16; Col 2:12). Compare 1Co 12:13, "Faith" is not here that which we believe, but the act of believing, the mean by which we apprehend the "one Lord." "Baptism" is specified, being the sacrament whereby we are incorporated into the "one body." Not the Lord's Supper, which is an act of matured communion on the part of those already incorporate, "a symbol of union, not of unity" [Ellicott]. In 1Co 10:17, where a breach of union was in question, it forms the rallying point [Alford]. There is not added, "One pope, one council, one form of government" [Cautions for Times]. The Church is one in unity of faith (Eph 4:5; Jude 3); unity of origination (Eph 2:19-21): unity of sacraments (Eph 4:5; 1Co 10:17; 12:13): unity of "hope" (Eph 4:4; Tit 1:2); unity of charity (Eph 4:3): unity (not uniformity) of discipline and government: for where there is no order, no ministry with Christ as the Head, there is no Church [Pearson, Exposition of the Creed, Article IX].

6. above—"over all." The "one God over all" (in His sovereignty and by His grace) is the grand source and crowning apex of unity (Eph 2:19, end).

through all—by means of Christ "who filleth all things" (Eph 4:10; 2:20, 21), and is "a propitiation" for all men (1Jo 2:2).

in you all—The oldest manuscripts omit "you." Many of the oldest versions and Fathers and old manuscripts read, "in us all." Whether the pronoun be read or not, it must be understood (either from the "ye," Eph 4:4, or from the "us," Eph 4:7); for other parts of Scripture prove that the Spirit is not "in all" men, but only in believers (Ro 8:9, 14). God is "Father" both by generation (as Creator) and regeneration (Eph 2:10; Jas 1:17, 18; 1Jo 5:1).

7. But—Though "one" in our common connection with "one Lord, one faith, &c., one God," yet "each one of us" has assigned to him his own particular gift, to be used for the good of the whole: none is overlooked; none therefore can be dispensed with for the edifying of the Church (Eph 4:12). A motive to unity (Eph 4:3). Translate, "Unto each one of us was the grace (which was bestowed by Christ at His ascension, Eph 4:8) given according to," &c.

the measurethe amount "of the gift of Christ" (Ro 12:3, 6).

8. Wherefore—"For which reason," namely, in order to intimate that Christ, the Head of the Church, is the author of all these different gifts, and that giving of them is an act of His "grace" [Estius].

he saith—God, whose word the Scripture is (Ps 68:18).

When he ascendedGod is meant in the Psalm, represented by the ark, which was being brought up to Zion in triumph by David, after that "the Lord had given him rest round about from all his enemies" (2Sa 6:1-7:1; 1Ch 15:1-29). Paul quotes it of Christ ascending to heaven, who is therefore God.

captivity—that is, a band of captives. In the Psalm, the captive foes of David. In the antitypical meaning, the foes of Christ the Son of David, the devil, death, the curse, and sin (Col 2:15; 2Pe 2:4), led as it were in triumphal procession as a sign of the destruction of the foe.

gave gifts unto men—in the Psalm, "received gifts for men," Hebrew, "among men," that is, "thou hast received gifts" to distribute among men. As a conqueror distributes in token of his triumph the spoils of foes as gifts among his people. The impartation of the gifts and graces of the Spirit depended on Christ's ascension (Joh 7:39; 14:12). Paul stops short in the middle of the verse, and does not quote "that the Lord God might dwell among them." This, it is true, is partly fulfilled in Christians being an "habitation of God through the Spirit" (Eph 2:22). But the Psalm (Ps 68:16) refers to "the Lord dwelling in Zion for ever"; the ascension amidst attendant angels, having as its counterpart the second advent amidst "thousands of angels" (Ps 68:17), accompanied by the restoration of Israel (Ps 68:22), the destruction of God's enemies and the resurrection (Ps 68:20, 21, 23), the conversion of the kingdoms of the world to the Lord at Jerusalem (Ps 68:29-34).

9. Paul reasons that (assuming Him to be God) His ascent implies a previous descent; and that the language of the Psalm can only refer to Christ, who first descended, then ascended. For God the Father does not ascend or descend. Yet the Psalm plainly refers to God (Eph 4:8, 17, 18). It must therefore be God the Son (Joh 6:33, 62). As He declares (Joh 3:13), "No man hath ascended up to heaven, but He that came down from heaven." Others, though they did not previously descend, have ascended; but none save Christ can be referred to in the Psalm as having done so; for it is of God it speaks.

lower parts of the earth—The antithesis or contrast to "far above all heavens," is the argument of Alford and others, to show that this phrase means more than simply the earth, namely, the regions beneath it, even as He ascended not merely to the visible heavens, but "far above" them. Moreover, His design "that He might fill all things" (Eph 4:10, Greek, "the whole universe of things") may imply the same. But see on Eph 4:10 on those words. Also the leading "captive" of the "captive hand" ("captivity") of satanic powers, may imply that the warfare reached to their habitation itself (Ps 63:9). Christ, as Lord of all, took possession first of the earth the unseen world beneath it (some conjecture that the region of the lost is in the central parts of our globe), then of heaven (Ac 2:27, 28). However, all we surely know is, that His soul at death descended to Hades, that is, underwent the ordinary condition of departed spirits of men. The leading captive of satanic powers here, is not said to be at His descent, but at His ascension; so that no argument can be drawn from it for a descent to the abodes of Satan. Ac 2:27, 28, and Ro 10:7, favor the view of the reference being simply to His descent to Hades. So Pearson in Exposition of the Creed (Php 2:10).

10. all heavensGreek, "all the heavens" (Heb 7:26; 4:14), Greek, "passed through the heavens" to the throne of God itself.

might fill—In Greek, the action is continued to the present time, both "might" and "may fill," namely, with His divine presence and Spirit, not with His glorified body. "Christ, as God, is present everywhere; as glorified man, He can be present anywhere" [Ellicott].

11. Greek, emphatical. "Himself" by His supreme power. "It is He that gave," &c.

gave some, apostles—Translate, "some to be apostles, and some to be prophets," &c. The men who filled the office, no less than the office itself, were a divine gift [Eadie]. Ministers did not give themselves. Compare with the list here, 1Co 12:10, 28. As the apostles, prophets, and evangelists were special and extraordinary ministers, so "pastors and teachers" are the ordinary stated ministers of a particular flock, including, probably, the bishops, presbyters, and deacons. Evangelists were itinerant preachers like our missionaries, as Philip the deacon (Ac 21:8); as contrasted with stationary "pastors and teachers" (2Ti 4:5). The evangelist founded the Church; the teacher built it up in the faith already received. The "pastor" had the outward rule and guidance of the Church: the bishop. As to revelation, the "evangelist" testified infallibly of the past; the "prophet," infallibly of the future. The prophet derived all from the Spirit; the evangelist, in the special case of the Four, recorded matter of fact, cognizable to the senses, under the Spirit's guidance. No one form of Church polity as permanently unalterable is laid down in the New Testament though the apostolical order of bishops, or presbyters, and deacons, superintended by higher overseers (called bishops after the apostolic times), has the highest sanction of primitive usage. In the case of the Jews, a fixed model of hierarchy and ceremonial unalterably bound the people, most minutely detailed in the law. In the New Testament, the absence of minute directions for Church government and ceremonies, shows that a fixed model was not designed; the general rule is obligatory as to ceremonies, "Let all things be done decently and in order" (compare Article XXXIV, Church of England); and that a succession of ministers be provided, not self-called, but "called to the work by men who have public authority given unto them in the congregation, to call and send ministers into the Lord's vineyard" [Article XXIII]. That the "pastors" here were the bishops and presbyters of the Church, is evident from Ac 20:28; 1Pe 5:1, 2, where the bishops' and presbyters' office is said to be "to feed" the flock. The term, "shepherd" or "pastor," is used of guiding and governing and not merely instructing, whence it is applied to kings, rather than prophets or priests (Eze 34:23; Jer 23:4). Compare the names of princes compounded of "pharnas," Hebrew, "pastor," Holophernes, Tis-saphernes (compare Isa 44:28).

12. Forwith a view to; the ultimate aim. "Unto."

perfecting—The Greek implies correcting in all that is deficient, instructing and completing in number and all parts.

for—a different Greek word; the immediate object. Compare Ro 15:2, "Let every one … please his neighbor for his good unto edification."

the ministryGreek, "ministration"; without the article. The office of the ministry is stated in this verse. The good aimed at in respect to the Church (Eph 4:13). The way of growth (Eph 4:14-16).

edifying—that is, building up as the temple of the Holy Ghost.

13. come in—rather, "attain unto." Alford expresses the Greek order, "Until we arrive all of us at the unity," &c.

faith and … knowledge—Full unity of faith is then found, when all alike thoroughly know Christ, the object of faith, and that in His highest dignity as "the Son of God" [De Wette] (Eph 3:17, 19; 2Pe 1:5). Not even Paul counted himself to have fully "attained" (Php 3:12-14). Amidst the variety of the gifts and the multitude of the Church's members, its "faith" is to be ONE: as contrasted with the state of "children carried about with EVERY WIND OF DOCTRINE." (Eph 4:14).

perfect man—unto the full-grown man (1Co 2:6; Php 3:15; Heb 5:14); the maturity of an adult; contrasted with children (Eph 4:14). Not "perfect men"; for the many members constitute but one Church joined to the one Christ.

stature, &c.—The standard of spiritual "stature" is "the fulness of Christ," that is, which Christ has (Eph 1:23; 3:19; compare Ga 4:19); that the body should be worthy of the Head, the perfect Christ.

14. Translate, "To the end that"; the aim of the bestowal of gifts stated negatively, as in Eph 4:13 it is stated positively.

tossed to and froinwardly, even without wind; like billows of the sea. So the Greek. Compare Jas 1:6.

carried about—with every wind from without.

doctrine—"teaching." The various teachings are the "winds" which keep them tossed on a sea of doubts (Heb 13:9; compare Mt 11:7).

byGreek, "in"; expressing "the evil atmosphere in which the varying currents of doctrine exert their force" [Ellicott].

sleight—literally, "dice playing." The player frames his throws of the dice so that the numbers may turn up which best suit his purpose.

of men—contrasted with Christ (Eph 4:13).

andGreek, "in."

cunning craftiness, whereby they lie in wait to deceive—Translate as Greek, "craftiness tending to the methodized system of deceit" ("the schemes of error") [Alford]. Bengel takes "deceit," or "error," to stand for "the parent of error," Satan (compare Eph 6:11); referring to his concealed mode of acting.

15. speaking the truth—Translate, "holding the truth"; "following the truth"; opposed to "error" or "deceit" (Eph 4:14).

in love—"Truth" is never to be sacrificed to so-called "charity"; yet it is to be maintained in charity. Truth in word and act, love in manner and spirit, are the Christian's rule (compare Eph 4:21, 24).

grow up—from the state of "children" to that of "full-grown men." There is growth only in the spiritually alive, not in the dead.

into him—so as to be more and more incorporated with Him, and become one with Him.

the head—(Eph 1:22).

16. (Col 2:19).

fitly joined together—"being fitly framed together," as in Eph 2:21; all the parts being in their proper position, and in mutual relation.

compacted—implying firm consolidation.

by that which every joint suppliethGreek, "by means of every joint of the supply"; joined with "maketh increase of the body," not with "compacted." "By every ministering (supplying) joint." The joints are the points of union where the supply passes to the different members, furnishing the body with the materials of its growth.

effectual working—(Eph 1:19; 3:7). According to the effectual working of grace in each member (or else, rather, "according to each several member's working"), proportioned to the measure of its need of supply.

every partGreek, "each one part"; each individual part.

maketh increase—Translate, as the Greek is the same as Eph 4:15, "maketh (carrieth on) the growth of the body."