Study # 1: Introduction
Paul’s letter to the church at Ephesus is comprised of two main sections. The first half (Chapters 1-3) indicates what God the Father has done for believers by the work of His Son through the ministry of the Holy Spirit. The second half (Chapters 4-6) exhorts believers in the ways that are most imperative to live in light of what God has done.
“Walk” is the key word that ties together the first unit (4:1-6:9) of the second half of the book. The imagery of walking emphasizes the direction and conduct that should characterize believers. Disciples are called to walk: in unity (4:1-16); in holiness (4:17-5:1); in love (5:2-7); in the light (5:8-14); and in wisdom (5:15-21). Then the manner of walking is applied to particular relationship roles and responsibilities (5:22-6:9).
The controlling metaphor changes for the second unit (6:9-24) of the second half of the book to the idea of “stand.” The believer’s walk—in the manner just described (4:1-5:21) and in the relationships just applied (5:22-6:9)—is likened to a battle. The sustaining strength needed for the war to walk comes by standing in the resources that the Gospel supplies. Walking fruitfully before the Lord occurs through standing firmly in the Lord.
So, with the context for the second half of the book in mind, Ephesians 4:1-16 is a call to walk in unity. God’s will is for His followers to be: “eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.” Being eager means making it a top priority, sparing no effort. But the appeal in 4:1-16 is not just to pursue unity, but also maturity. While the initial call is for unity, there is a direct linkage between unity and maturity: “until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ” (v. 13). Christian maturity and unity are inseparable: maturity is tied to unity while unity is tethered to maturity. True maturity occurs as believers strive together toward unity.
But the call to pursue unity and maturity does not start with mere human resolve. Divine grace must undergird human resolve. Paul indicates such need for grace when he begins the second half of his letter by joining the two halves of the book together: “I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called.” The call to strive toward their unity and maturity is rooted in and builds upon the great foundational truths concerning the glorious redemption that God has graciously provided. Without a clear understanding of the initiatives God has undertaken, believers will languish in their pursuit of unity and maturity.
After a few customary greetings, Paul opens the first half of his letter with an explosion of praise: “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places.” This opening expression of worship, in which he directs his readers to join him, explains the gentle tone of 4:1. Paul merely invites believers to live in a way that is decidedly consistent with their redemption. Paul knew that if his readers would grasp all that God graciously had done for and provided to them, they too would be drawn into a kind of praise that would overflow into a way of life. Even the closing lines to the first half of the book are expressions of praise, “Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever” (3:20-21).
The first half of Ephesians describes why Paul is so full of praise as he explains “the calling to which you have been called.” In 1:3-14 Paul depicts the redemption that believers enjoy by examining the role that each member of the Godhead played in their calling. The Father’s role goes all the way back to His eternal love for them; the Son’s role is displayed through His sacrificial death on their behalf; and the Spirit’s role is experienced in how He has sealed believers in their redemption until they reach their final inheritance. The rehearsal of the ways God calls believers into their redemption is to draw believers into a responsive exclamation: “to the praise of His glorious grace.”
Chapter 1 ends as Paul goes from prayerfully explaining what the Godhead has done, to explicitly praying. Paul prays for his readers to fully grasp what God has done for them by asking God to give them the spiritual ability to recognize, “the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints” (1:18).
While chapter 1 explains a believer’s redemption from the perspective of the eternal plans of the Triune God, chapter 2 describes the same work from the perspective of the believer’s status and experiences both individually and corporately. First, each believer’s calling goes from being, “dead in the trespasses and sins,” and, “by nature children of wrath,” to being, “made us alive together with Christ,” and, “seated…with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus.” These powerful changes occurred so, “that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus.” A believer’s calling entails being an eternal trophy of grace!
The second way that Paul describes a believer’s calling involves a corporate dimension. The cultural barriers that alienated the Jews and the Gentiles who comprised the fellowship of believers had been torn down through Christ: “So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God.” Their calling included being established in a peace and unity creating, “in himself one new man in place of the two.” While chapter 3 starts out with an explanation of Paul’s ministry to the Gentiles, it closes with an description of how Jewish and Gentile believers have been called together so that they would corporately experience even more of Christ’s love. Thus, Paul prays that in experiencing their being called together, collectively they would: “have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ.”
After explaining all that God had done for them in their calling, chapter 4 will turn to encourage living a life consistent with that calling—a life that would require much effort.