All or nothing, part 1: Ephesians 4:1-29

Ephesians 4 contains life verses that I review at least every year, especially the last half of the chapter. For me, it’s a handy guide to maturity in Christ.

Paul begins by identifying himself as “the prisoner of the Lord,” and appealing to the Ephesians “to walk in a manner worthy of the calling with which you have been called.” Our motivation is to be worthy of our calling, and Paul explains how to do this in verses 2-3: “with all humility and gentleness, with patience, showing forbearance to one another in love, being diligent to preserve the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.” The word for humility is tapeinophrosyne and means, “the having a humble opinion of one’s self; a deep sense of one’s (moral) littleness; modesty, humility, lowliness of mind.” This biblically healthy self-esteem is also translated as a “loneliness of mind.” Rather than the unhealthful practice the world encourages of weighing against and proving ourselves superior to others on social media and the like, we are to cultivate a deep sense of our own moral littleness and an even deeper sense of our loving Father’s unfathomable greatness in all areas.

“All” (pas) is a big theme in this passage and in the Christian life. Individually, pas means “each, every, any, all, the whole, everyone, all things, everything.” Collectively, pas means, “some of all types.” In this passage, it sets the bar for a difficult standard that I keep turning to Ephesians for the instruction and inspiration to achieve.

The word for forbearance in verse 2 is makrothymia, which also means “patience, endurance, constancy, steadfastness, perseverance; longsuffering, slowness in avenging wrongs.” “Patience” is repeated in the definition and can also be repeated in the verse: “with all humility and gentleness, with patience, showing patience to one another in love.” As you might guess, the word for love is agape, that “affection, good will, love, benevolence, brotherly love” exemplified in “love feasts” and best modeled and enabled by God.

While we keep all this foremost in our mind and actions, we must diligently strive “to preserve the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.” Unity is the rather surprising goal, and Paul defines this unity in verses 4-6, stressing its rather surprising exclusivity: “There is one body and one Spirit, just as also you were called in one hope of your calling; 5 one Lord, one faith, one baptism, 6 one God and Father of all who is over all and through all and in all.” There’s pas again: four times in verse 6 alone. But while the Lord shows much love for diversity in His creation, he admits none in salvation: there is one way to Him in Christ alone, which makes us one body (the Church) filled with one Spirit (who is Holy), called in one hope of our calling by “one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all”–at this point the verse expands gloriously again–“who is over all and through all and in all”(or “in you all” as translated in the King James Version [KJV]).

Progressing to the personal, Paul continues in verse 7,”But to each one of us grace was given according to the measure of Christ’s gift.” Paul discusses how this individual gifting meted out by Christ was given to each of us to equip us in our various roles and vocations to the end of “the building up of the body of Christ;” (verse 12). “Building up” is oikodome, which also means, “edifying,” i.e. “the act of one who promotes another’s growth in Christian wisdom, piety, happiness, holiness.” Verse 10 contains 2 more pas‘s: “He who descended is Himself also He who ascended far above all the heavens, so that He might fill all things.” 

We’re back to unity and another pas in verse 13: “until we all attain to the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a mature man, to the measure of the stature which belongs to the fullness of Christ.” The word for mature is teleios, meaning “brought to its end, finished; wanting nothing necessary to completeness; perfect;” i.e. “consummate human integrity and virtue, of men (full grown, adult, of full age, mature).” That’s the maturity I’m after and which we’re all supposed to attain. Paul contrasts it with childish inconstancy and immaturity in verse 14. The antidote leads us once again to Christ in verses 15-16: ” but speaking the truth in love (agape), we are to grow up in all (pas) aspects into Him who is the head, even Christ, 16 from whom the whole (pas) body, being fitted and held together by what every (pas) joint supplies, according to the proper working of each individual part, causes the growth of the body for the building up of itself in love (agape).” As we speak truth in love, we’re to grow in Christ, who actually is causing the growth by agape.

In verses 17-18, Paul contrasts how the world walks: in the futility (mataiotes: what is devoid of truth and appropriateness; perverseness, depravity; frailty, want of vigour) of their mind, with darkened understanding, alienated (apallotrioo: estrange, to be shut out from one’s fellowship and intimacy) from the life of God through ignorance (agnoia: lack of knowledge; especially of divine things, of moral blindness) because of the blindness (porosis: the covering with a callus; obtrusiveness of mental discernment, dulled perception.” In verse 19 Paul makes a shocking summation: “Who being past feeling (apalgeo) have given themselves over unto lasciviousness (aselgeia: unbridled lust, excess, licentiousness, wantonness, outrageousness, shamelessness, insolence), to work all (pas) uncleanness (akatharsia: both in a physical and moral sense i.e. the impurity of lustful, luxurious, profligate living; of impure motives) with greediness” (KJV). Apalgeo is used only this once in the entire Bible, and means, “to cease to feel pain or grief, i.e. to bear troubles with greater equanimity, cease to feel pain at; to become callous, insensible to pain, apathetic.”

It’s a terrible fate, but having delivered this sobering diagnosis of the world, Paul relieves us, conditionally, before prescribing our treatment. He assures Christians only, defining Christianity as hearing and being taught in Jesus, the source of truth. He expects a Christian’s conduct to be so different from the world’s that it demonstrates two selves: the old, corrupt, worldly self which Christians must remove, and the new, renewed self we must put on. Learning about Christ (manthano) in verse 20 means an education involving information, knowledge, hearing (heeding, understanding) and the use, practice, and accustomization of this education so it becomes habit. A Christian’s new self is created in God’s likeness and in “righteousness” (verse 24) translated from dikaiosyne which includes a state of being as we “ought to be, the condition acceptable to God.” Along with righteousness, “holiness” is the second characteristic of truth in this verse, translated from hosiotes which can also mean “piety towards God” or “fidelity.”

His careful foundation laid, Paul offers instruction coupled with its rationale. In verse 25, he says, “Therefore, laying aside falsehood, speak truth every one of you with his neighbor, for we are members of one another.” Next in verses 26-28, we’re permitted to be angry but not to sin in anger or hold a grudge, since this gives “the devil an opportunity.” Anger is orgizo, which implies a fierce wrath; sin is hamartano, which embraces mild to serious fault such as “to miss the mark, to err, be mistaken, to miss or wander from the path of uprightness and honour, to do or go wrong, to wander from the law of God, violate God’s law.” Two related words for anger are used in these verses; the second, parorgismos, appears only this once in the Bible. It’s translated “wrath” in the KJV and contains the additional characteristics of “indignation and exasperation.” Paul forbids us to sin in our anger and thus “give place to the devil” in the KJV; with “place” (topos) meaning a literal space or metaphorically, “the condition or station held by one in any company or assembly or opportunity, power, occasion for acting.”

Verse 28 warns us not to steal but rather (mallon: more, to a greater degree, sooner, more willingly, more readily) work, that instead of taking we may do good and give to someone who has need. This work, translated “labor” from kopiao, involves some sweat and means, “to grow weary, tired, exhausted (with toil or burdens or grief); to labour with wearisome effort.”

Verse 29 is why I wrote this post: “Let no unwholesome word proceed from your mouth, but only such a word as is good for edification according to the need of the moment, that it may give grace to those who hear.” Paul is emphatic: the KJV reads, “let no corrupt communication proceed out of your mouth.” This is pas negated. As your dear granny might warn, “not one word.” We’re to speak only “that which is good to the use of edifying,” so “that it may minister grace unto the hearers” (KJV). Note the opposites: corrupt (sapros) and good (agathos). Agathos also means “of good constitution or nature; useful, salutary; pleasant, agreeable, joyful, happy; excellent, distinguished; upright, honourable.” Paul uses sapros only in this verse; it means, “rotten, putrefied; corrupted by one and no longer fit for use, worn out; of poor quality, bad, unfit for use, worthless.”

Instead of spewing garbage when I speak, I want to minister grace that edifies (oikodome, also in verse 12 above). Grace (charis) includes “that which affords joy, pleasure, delight, sweetness, charm, loveliness: grace of speech.” In conjunction with God, it means, “good will, loving-kindness, favour, i.e. of the merciful kindness by which God, exerting his holy influence upon souls, turns them to Christ, keeps, strengthens, increases them in Christian faith, knowledge, affection, and kindles them to the exercise of the Christian virtues.”

Lord willing, more on how to edify with grace and walk in maturity will be in part 2, coming asap.

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Greek translations and lexicon are from the KJV (King James Version) of The Blue Letter Bible
Unless specified, Scripture quotations are taken from the NASB (New American Standard Bible) Copyright by The Lockman Foundation http://www.lockman.org

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