Ephesians 4:1-6: The Unity of the Body
We have reached the half way point in the letter to the Ephesians and Paul does a typical thing that happens in most of his writings. In chapters 1-3 he laid out the doctrine of the church, now in 4-6 he lays out the proper practice flowing from these truths. This pattern is gospel shaped, it starts with what God has done, and then focuses on what we should do. In technical terms we say that the imperative is rooted in the indicative. Our doing is only possible because of God’s doing.
Paul begins the exhortational part of the epistle by reminding the Ephesians of who he is, v1, ‘I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord.’ There is a double reference here. Paul speaks firstly as an apostle, this implies his authority and that they should listen. But he also speaks as a prisoner, a prisoner for God, and in particular for the church. Here is a man who has proven his worth in suffering for the message he preaches, if anyone deserves a hearing it is him. He is not pulling rank and commanding obedience because of his office but asking people to follow his example. Now he starts with a ‘therefore.’ This means that in light of what he has just written he is going to ‘urge’ or exhort them. One commentator summarises the letter up to this point in this way: ‘Through Jesus Christ, who died for sinners and was raised from death, God is creating something entirely new, not just new life for individuals for a new society. Paul sees an alienated humanity being reconciled, a fractured humanity being united, even a new humanity being created.’1 In light of these truths there is a way in which we must now live.
In Christianity doctrine must translate into godly living otherwise it is useless. It is easy to spend a lifetime storing up knowledge, to spend our lives dividing against those who do not see things exactly the way that we do, and not applying the truth we know. The purpose of knowing the truth is that we might do it. In other words, all the wonderful doctrine that we have covered si useless if it does not issue in the life Paul is about to outline.
Paul puts it this way, ‘I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called.’ We have been called by God into fellowship with Himself and with the body of Christ through Christ, and now we need to live in light of this fact. This is no small thing that Paul is asking the Ephesians to consider. We are to think about where we have been called from, we were willing slaves to sin selling ourselves for cheap thrills, paying in soul and body but God came and saved us. We were called when we were enemies working against God and not for Him but His mercy intervened for our good. We should consider the price that secured our call, the eternal plan of God that ordained it, the blood price of Christ’s death that secured it, and the power of the Holy Spirit that applied it. We should consider what we have been called to, we are called to be part of God’s family, with other sinners from all nations, to be a holy temple of praise to God.
The primary way in which Paul sees us living up to what we are called into is by maintaining the unity, v1-16 and purity, v17ff that we have by the Spirit. Unity is the main theme of this section. V1-3 calls for unity and tells us how; v4-6 explores the theological reality behind our unity and tells us why.