Walking with the Lord
The apostle Paul wrote Ephesians to the churches around Ephesus (Acts 19) to display the scope of God’s eternal plan for all humanity—for Jews and Gentiles alike. This is the mystery of God, hidden for ages but now made known in Jesus Christ. The first three chapters focus on what Christians should believe, unfolding the glorious riches of God’s grace in Christ. Dead sinners are made alive and gain eternal salvation “by grace … through faith” (2:8). The last three chapters explain the implications of God’s grace for the church, for individuals, and for families. This second section comes to a climax with a command to stand with the armor of God against the devil. Paul wrote this letter while in prison, probably in Rome about A.D. 60.
a. Maintaining the unity (4:1–6)
1. As is often the case in Paul’s letters, the doxology marks the end of a section. The doxology at the end of chapter 3 marks the close of the part of the letter that is predominantly doctrinal. Chapters 4–6 are to show in practical detail how glory is to be rendered to God now in the church (3:21). The apostle begins here as he did in chapter 3, by referring to himself as a prisoner (see on 3:1), but here ‘the prisoner in the Lord’ (RV) is the most precise translation of what is written. The chains of his imprisonment limited his bodily movement, but his life was most truly controlled by the fact that it was ‘in the Lord’. The fact that his life in and for Christ had led to imprisonment did not mean that he requested the sympathy of his readers, but it added intensity to his appeal, as now he wished to speak to them concerning the whole manner of their life. He has set before them the great purpose of God in Christ for his church. He has prayed that they may know the wonder of his plan, his love, his power, and every spiritual blessing that he offers. But now in these remaining chapters he is going to write about the quality and kind of life that is demanded of them individually and in the fellowship of Christ’s church.
It is no mere teaching of the Christian ethic that the apostle seeks to give. He whose greatest concern in life has become to ‘present every man mature in Christ’ (Col. 1:28; cf. Acts 20:27, 31) makes earnest entreaty. The word parakalō can mean ‘exhort’, but obviously in this context has its stronger meaning, beg (cf. 2 Cor. 5:20). The link with what precedes is given by the word therefore as in Romans 12:1, indicating that Christian conduct follows from Christian doctrine, that the duty of Christians derives directly from the unspeakable debt of gratitude that they owe for all that they have received in Christ. In the most general terms, that duty is that they should lead a life worthy of their calling. We are back to three great Pauline words (cf. 1 Thess. 2:12). Step by step they are to walk (see on 2:2) in a direction that corresponds to their call (1:18). That call to know the grace of God in Christ, to be the children of God, and to serve him as his ‘dedicated ones’ and messengers of his gospel, should transform every part of life. It involves the obligation to live in a manner that is in accordance with the name of him whose they are and whom they serve (Phil. 1:29), pleasing him in all things (Col. 1:10). ‘Those who have been chosen by God to sit with Christ in the heavenly places must remember that the honour of Christ is involved in their daily lives.’ So Bruce (EE) comments, adding that this first far-reaching instruction is ‘a principle to guide in every situation’.
2. Four particular aspects of such a life are now named, and they are more than personal qualities. For the life worthy of the calling of God is a life in the fellowship of the people of God; and if this is to be maintained these four virtues are vital. The first, emphasized by the characteristic all (cf. 1:8; 4:19, 31; 5:3, 9; 6:18), is lowliness. Very significantly, the Greek noun tapeinophrosynē does not seem to have been used before New Testament times, and the corresponding adjective tapeinos nearly always had a bad meaning, and was associated with words having the sense of slavish, mean, ignoble. Lessons of humility had been taught in the Old Testament, and such a passage as Isaiah 66:2 in the Septuagint is a notable exception to the general pre-Christian use of tapeinos, but to the Greeks humility was not a virtue. To them, as indeed to most non-Christian people in any generation, the concept of ‘the fulness of life … left no room for humility’ (Robinson). In Christ lowliness became a virtue. His life and death were service and sacrifice without thought of reputation (Phil. 2:6–7). Because the Christian is called to follow in his steps, humility has an irreplaceable part in the Christian character (cf. Acts 20:19), and also for the reason that he has been brought to see the greatness and glory and holiness of God, so that he cannot but be overwhelmed by the realization of his own weakness and sinfulness.
The second word, meekness (prautēs), was used in classical Greek in the good sense of mildness or gentleness of character. The adjective (praos), especially, found an important use in describing an animal completely disciplined and controlled. Meekness in the New Testament is used of a person’s attitude to the word of God (Jas 1:21), but more often of one’s attitude to other people (1 Cor. 4:21; 2 Tim. 2:25; Titus 3:2). It is closely connected with the spirit of submissiveness which becomes the keynote of this letter when, in 5:21, the apostle turns to speak of human relationships. Moses is aptly described in Numbers 12:3 as ‘very meek’. For, as Mitton (NCB) puts it, meekness ‘is the spirit of one who is so absorbed in seeking some worthy goal for the common good that he refuses to be deflected from it by slights, injuries or insults directed at himself personally, or indeed by personal considerations of any kind’.
Thirdly, there is patience (makrothymia), a word sometimes used of steadfast endurance of suffering or misfortune (as in Jas 5:10) but more often, as is the case here, of slowness in avenging wrong or retaliating when hurt by another. It is used of God’s patience with humanity (Rom. 2:4; 9:22; 1 Tim. 1:16; 1 Pet. 3:20; 2 Pet. 3:15), and the corresponding and consequent quality that the Christian should show towards others (1 Cor. 13:4; Gal. 5:22; Col. 3:12; 2 Tim. 4:2).
Forbearance, the fourth requirement, is also a divine quality (Rom. 2:4). It is the practical outworking of longsuffering. ‘It involves bearing with one another’s weaknesses, not ceasing to love one’s neighbours or friends because of those faults in them which perhaps offend or displease us’ (Abbott). It is ‘that mutual tolerance without which no group of human beings can live together in peace’ (Stott). Such forbearance, and indeed all these four qualities, are possible only in love. For love is the basic attitude of seeking the highest good of others, and it will therefore lead to all these qualities, and include them all (see vv. 15–16 and on 1:4). Paul has prayed that his readers may be ‘rooted and grounded in love’ (3:17), and now he exhorts them to do their part, and to go on to possess all these virtues in love.
3. All that now follows in the rest of the letter may be considered as an expansion of the appeal that has just been made. But its first particular application is to the unity of Christians. Some have taken the unity of the Spirit here to mean the spiritual unity of the church in the sense that human spirits are linked together wherever men and women are found sharing the things that they have ‘in Christ’. We have noted already (on 1:17) that it is sometimes difficult to tell exactly how we should translate and interpret this word ‘spirit’. Here, however, it is almost certain that the apostle views the unity as the gift of God. It was made possible by the cross of Christ (2:14ff.), and is made effective by the working of the Spirit of God. Human beings cannot themselves create it; it is given to them, but their responsibility is to keep it, to guard it in the face of many attempts from within and without the church to take it away. Christians are to be eager to maintain the unity. The Greek participle spoudazontes conveys the idea of zealous effort and care (cf. 1 Thess. 2:17; 2 Tim. 2:15; 2 Pet. 1:10, 15; 3:14).
But, as with his practical bent the apostle has in the previous verse added forbearance to ‘patience’, so here to the abstract ‘oneness’ (a word which in fact he hardly ever uses) he adds the means to such unity, which is maintained by keeping the bond of peace. If by love (which the parallel passage in Col. 3:14 [AV] calls ‘the bond of perfectness’) people can live in the peace that Christ has brought them, then unity will be kept indeed.
4. The apostle is aware of the endless variety of temperaments amongst his readers and the diverse racial and social backgrounds from which they have come into the Christian church; but he would have them even more aware of the spiritual realities that now unite them and that should completely transcend differences of background. Already, in 1:13–14, he has spoken of the spiritual blessings that are now shared between Jews and Gentiles, and in 2:11–22 of the barriers between them that have been broken down in Christ. All, he says, now have equal shares in the privileges of grace (3:6). Here, as in a credal summary, perhaps a fragment of an early Christian hymn (see on 5:19), he names what they have in common, a unity by the Spirit in the church, a unity in Christ acknowledged and confessed as Lord, a unity ultimately in God the Father and source of all. As Caird puts it, ‘The corporate unity of the church is not a desirable end, but a datum to which the behaviour of its members must conform
10 so as to walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him: bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God