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Ephesians 4:1-16 - Homilies By R. Finlayson


I. TRANSITION FROM THE DOCTRINAL TO THE PRACTICAL . "I therefore, the prisoner in the Lord, beseech you." There is a similar transition at Romans 12:1 , "I beseech you therefore." In both cases the " therefore " is the link of connection between doctrine and duty . In both cases the apostle follows up his exposition of doctrine by an affectionate enforcement of duty. In the other case his affectionate tone is caught from a consideration of the mercies of God . In the present case it is caught from a consideration of his own sufferings . He has already prayed for them as the prisoner of Christ Jesus . Now, he beseeches them as the prisoner in the Lord . If in the former expression the idea is more that the imprisonment was "caused" by Christ, in the latter it is more that it came to him, not as a wrong-doer, but as moving in the Christian sphere. Either way, he refers it to Christ. He might have commanded them as their apostle, who had received the mystery relating to them by revelation, but he rather besought them as the Lord's prisoner. It is well when the "official" can be lost sight in the " personal ." Paul thought that he might urge those from whom he had had an affectionate parting to the performance of duty by the consideration of his chains (in their relation to Christ).

II. GENERAL EXHORTATION . "Walk worthily of the calling wherewith ye were called." They were called, according to the foregoing part of the Epistle, to be sons, or members of the Christian family. Another aspect of it was that they were called to be citizens, or members of the Christian commonwealth. They were thus called when they accepted of Christ. But whether they were called to be sons or citizens, it was a " high " calling wherewith they were called. They had a great "Head" placed over them. It was in the working out of a great scheme that they were called. And the apostle's thought is that they were to bring their "walk" into some worthy correspondence with their "calling." "It is," said a Roman writer, "useful for cities that valiant men should (although it be false) believe themselves born of the gods, that their minds, thence bearing a confidence of their divine extraction, may more boldly undertake great enterprises, pursue them more earnestly, and hence accomplish them more happily, from the security the conceit produceth." It is by no conceit, but in sober truth, that as Christian believers we belong to a family, to a commonwealth of which God is the Head. And should not such a connection draw us away from what is mean and base, inspire us with noble thoughts, and incite us to noble actions?


1. Disposition leading up to Christian unity . It is viewed as what should "attend" us in our Christian walk. That is to say, if we walk worthily of our calling, this is the disposition which we shall manifest "With all lowliness." This is of prime Importance with the apostle, for m the twelfth of the Romans, having set forth our duty toward God under the aspects of consecration to his service and separation from the world, he immediately says, "For I say, through the grace that was given me, to every man that is among you, not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think; but so think as to think soberly, according as God hath dealt to each man a measure of faith." We have reason to be lowly before God . Even Christ, we know, cherished the spirit of lowliness, and commended it to us by his own example. He was lowly in respect of his creaturely nature. He was also content, as the Representative of mankind, to take whatever place the Father assigned him. He did not need to humble himself for sin, unless representatively (if it is proper to think of him as humbling himself for the sin with which he identified himself). We have reason to be lowly, because of having been personally involved in sin, and because of much remaining evil in our nature. And it is only in the way of faith, or in fellowship with Christ, that we have any Christian worth. And if we have thus reason to be lowly before God, shall we be arrogant toward others? Shall we not rather keep self in the background, in accordance with the precept, also in the twelfth of the Romans, "In honor preferring one another"? Let us, then, have all lowliness, such as becomes us as sinners before God, and such as becomes us in the various positions in life in which we are placed. "And meekness." With lowliness the apostle couples meekness ; and we need not wonder at his doing it when the Master had done it before, with this difference, that meekness came first to his thought—"Learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart." Sleekness points to sufferings which have to be endured; we need not wonder, therefore, at it having a prominence in the Savior's thought. There are sufferings sent upon us with which others have not had to do. We are to bear ourselves meekly under them before God. We are not to be as though we challenged God's sovereignty, or wisdom, or goodness in sending them. And even when others have had to do with our sufferings, we can look past them to God, as David did when he said, "Let him curse, for the Lord hath bidden him." "With long-suffering." This has reference to provocation received . There is provocation in the ordinary course of life. We suffer from the infirmities and faults of others. We may have to do, as Paul had, with "unreasonable and evil men." But we are to think specially here of there being provocation within the Church circle. There is provocation if we are ardent in a good cause and are associated with the apathetic, or if we see clearly the proper course to be pursued and are overborne by the ignorance of others, or if we are bearing our fair share of the common burdens while others are shirking them. There is provocation in a more positive form if we have to do with those who advance views or engage in movements which we must strongly condemn, or who are given to misrepresentation and abuse, or who in malice do not scruple to stir up strife. "Forbearing one another in love." The inward feeling with which we are to meet provocation is long-suffering; its outward manifestation is described as forbearing one another . The latter form of expression indicates that we have all our faults, and all need to be borne with. Forbearance is good for ourselves. "He that is slow to anger is better than the mighty; and he that ruleth his spirit than he that taketh a city." Forbearance is good for those who give provocation. It gives them time for reflection. It is also a likely means by which they may be won to reason. It is heaping coals of fire on their heads. It is overcoming evil with good. Forbearance is good for the ends of a Christian society, in preventing unnecessary division, in promoting unity.

2. The nature of Christian unity . "Giving diligence to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace." In accordance with what has been said, this unity of the Spirit is, on the one side, a disinclination to obtrude self, and, on the other side, the power of bearing with others. In accordance with what is said of it here, as produced by the Spirit, this unity is the disposition to be guided by the Spirit, and to advance the end which the Spirit has in view in relation to the cause of Christ. This unity of the Spirit is to find expression in the bond of peace . The Roman Catholic Church claims to present this bond of peace in its entirety. For, first, it claims to be the unbroken organization of Christians all over the world, and shuts out from the Church of Christ all who do not enter its communion. We Protestants are not Christians; and therefore there is no break so far as we are concerned. And, secondly, it claims to have also the bond of peace, in freedom from internal division. We as Protestants refuse to acknowledge this claim. For, first, we differ from the Roman Catholic Church, in spite of its historic position, as to the essentials of salvation. And, secondly, its uniformity is not freely wrought of the Spirit, but results from unreasoning conformity to the law of the priest. It is suggested here that it may only be possible to attain to an imperfect realization of the bond of peace. We are to give diligence in this matter; but it does not entirely depend on ourselves. When we have done our best, the bond may be broken independently of us. Who are the breakers of the bond of peace?

3. Grounds of Christian unity .

(a) The Church itself is constituted a unity . "There is one body." Believers are not detached units, but, whatever they are by human denomination, by Divine constitution they are made a unity. They are not two or more organizations, between which there might be rivalry; they are only one organization. And how fitting that there should be sympathy between the various members of the body—that the eye should not say to the hand, "I have no need of thee," or, again, the head to the feet, "I have no need of you"? "And one Spirit." We are not merely constituted one body, but are animated by one Spirit. It is not as though we had a double or treble consciousness, hut being dwelt in by the one Spirit, we should be kept from divergence and led in the same direction. There is here ground, if we could get to it, for that unity described in John 17:20 , "That they all may be one." "Even as also ye were called in one hope of your calling." The consummation is the same in essence to all. It is glory, or full and blessed fellowship with Christ. And how fitting that those who are to live with Christ throughout eternity should meantime as brethren "dwell together in unity"!

(b) How this unity is brought out . "One Lord." "In whatsoever notion we take the word 'Lord,' either as a prince over subjects, or as a master over servants, or as an owner of goods, or as a preceptor and president over disciples, or as a leader and captain to followers, or as a person singularly eminent above inferiors, he is according to all such notions truly our Lord." A body implies a head, and as our dependence on Christ is that of responsibility, he is truly our Lord. As united to the same Head, it becomes us to be in good brotherhood. This is his law (common it is), "Hereby shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another." "One faith." We have all the same uniting bond to Christ, the same subjective disposition toward him. We all rely upon the atoning merits of his sacrifice. We all confide in him for what is needed to complete our salvation. We can all use the same language of trust; we can sing the same hymns; we can offer the same prayers. Being thus alike in the essential element of character, it is fitting that we should exhibit catholicity, that we should be free from all sectarian feeling. "One baptism." It is this which symbolizes our union by faith to Christ. Our unity has received visible manifestation. We have all been baptized into Christ. It is fitting, then, that we should live in good fellowship one with another.

(c) How this unity is sustained . "One God and Father of all." As the apostle has been speaking of Christians, we must not extend the range of this language beyond them. We can all say, "Our God," and "Our Father." "Who is over all." In his sovereignty he has an absolute right to dispose of all. This a father has to a limited extent over his children. "And through all." In his fatherly love he goes out to all, and pervades all with his gracious influences. So a father wishes to pervade his children with those sentiments of which he approves. "And in all." With the revelation of his fatherhood he blesses all. So a father would have his children to live in the sunshine of his love. In love of the brethren, then, we should be tenderly affectioned (or have natural affection) one to another. We must think of God as rejoicing in the peace of his Church, as a father rejoices to see good feeling maintained between those whom he has begotten.

(a) That we have all grace for which to be thankful. No one has been overlooked in the distribution. The humblest Christian has his grace as well as the greatest apostle.

(b) That the diversities of grace have not been arbitrarily appointed. They have been measured out (to a nicety, it is suggested by the language) by the great Distributer.

(c) That all the diversities are necessary to the grand unity which Christ has in his mind. It was on his ascension that he became Donor, or Distributer to men. "Wherefore he saith, When he ascended on high, he led captivity captive, and gave gifts unto men." The conception is that he ascended as a conqueror. Satan, sin, and. death were in his triumphant train. On his victory over these, he gave "gifts" to men. These were the spoils of the battle-field, as it were, which he distributed among his followers. We are to think of them, in their special association with the Ascension, as the gift of the Holy Spirit, the gift of a finished redemption, the gift of a completed Bible, the gift of the Christian style of character, and, as we shall see presently, the gift of the gospel ministry. It was because he descended that he could do so much when he ascended. "Now this, he ascended, what is it but that he also descended into the lower parts of the earth? He that descended is the same also that ascended far above all the heavens, that he might flit all things." His descending into the lower parts of the earth points emphatically to the reality of his death. His body was not merely on the earth, but was received within the earth. His soul was not merely a dweller in an earthly body, but was received into Hades. He thus had the extremes in his experience, and therefore can fill all things, from the lowest depth to the highest height. He can especially, out of his own experience, be with his people in the grave and in Hades, and. thence carry them with him to the heights.

(a) What these were . "And he gave some to be apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers." Apostles . These were the highest functionaries in the Church. Functions were combined in them which were separated in others. They also possessed extraordinary qualifications.

( α ) They had extraordinary administrative power . They had the care of the Churches generally (or widely), and. were a gift to the early Church in being a supreme authority in all matters of administration. Many questions would come up at the first about the right working of the Church, and they were there on the spot as though Christ had been there to settle them decisively.

( β ) They had extraordinary teaching power . There were developments of doctrine without which the Church could not be established, and for a time the Church had in the apostles the gift of infallible exposition . It was thus exceptionally helped through the most critical period. It was especially in connection with the founding of Churches that the apostolate was exercised. And] in connection with this, ors its teaching side , the apostolate was separated into two offices.

There are added, in conjunction, pastors and teachers .

(b) For what end given . "For the perfecting of the saints, unto the work of ministering, unto the building up of the body of Christ."

( α ) The ultimate end of the gifts is the perfecting of the saints . This is placed first, though we might have expected it last. For it is well to remember that all that is done in the Church or gifted for the Church is to be judged by this—how far it serves the perfecting of the saints. There is a perfect form after which nature strives; so there is a perfect form to which the saints are designed to come, and it is most emphatically the province of the Church to help saints toward their perfection. What that perfection is we shall see more particularly in the following verses.

( β ) The gifts specified agree in being connected with a work of ministering . The apostolate, we know, was not a sinecure; it meant work, and to Paul it meant hard work and suffering. What Christ still continues to the Church implies the work of ministering to the souls of others, a work than which none should be more arduous.

( γ ) The way in which the work of ministering is to reach the perfecting of the saints is by the building up of the body of Christ . To do the work of an evangelist is not enough. Men, after they have been converted, must be looked after. They must be brought into connection with the Church. And the Church must be thoroughly organized, must have all suitable institutions, must be strong and vigorous in its working, in order that the perfecting of the saints may go on. It follow

(c) Goal up to which the gospel ministry has been given .

( α ) Goal characterized as the unity of the faith , and of the knowledge of the Son of God . "Till we all attain unto the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God" There is a difficulty with which we are confronted here. It has already been said in this paragraph ( John 17:4 ) that Christians have "one faith." We must have some "beginning" of faith in us, else we cannot be numbered among the "all" here. How, then, can it be said that we are to have "the unity of the faith" as our goal? It is not that we are to attain unto the same "degree" of faith. For in our ultimate state there will be differences in the degree of faith, which is only to say that there will be differences in character (no factor therein being more important than faith). But, at the same time, it is true that all will come to a full-orbed faith, that all will have clearly brought out the grand characteristics of faith which are only dimly seen now. Again, it is true that all Christians have, to begin with, "one knowledge," the one practical knowledge of the Son of God. In our ultimate state, too, we shall vary in our capacity of knowing the love of Christ and appreciating the bearings of his work. But there is a full , rounded , satisfying knowledge to which we shall all come. In our present advancement our faith is not sufficient to exclude unbelief. We can only say, "Lord, I believe; help thou mine unbelief." But our ultimate will be the expulsion of all unbelief. Our knowledge, too, is not so much one as to exclude all differences of opinion. But the unity with which we shall end will be one in which we shall see eye to eye, from which all difference of opinion will be excluded.

( β ) Goal characterized as the full-grown man . "Till we all attain .. unto a full-grown man." In apposition with the foregoing, it is said (changing from the abstract to the concrete), "till we all attain .. unto a full-grown man." We have just seen that there is a unity with which we begin and another unity with which we end. Here it is implied that there is a state of infancy with which we begin and a state of manhood with which we end. And the goal here, too, is purposely viewed as a unity; for it is not said, "full-grown men," but "a full-grown man." We must, however, in order to this unity being attained, become individually full-grown men. And that suggests how much there is before Christians rise from the babe state up to the state of manhood. What a disparity in bulk, stature, strength, and generally in development, between the babe and a man in his prime! We can mark the increase that takes place from year to year. And so there is a goal of spiritual manhood, far away from the point where a man first believes in Christ. There are possibilities of attainment before us which we are slow to realize. God shows us in the lily how rapidly we may grow, and in the cedars of Lebanon how deep-rooted we may grow; in the plane tree he shows us how widespreading we may become, and in the olive tree how productive; in the lily and olive, too, how beautiful we may become, and in the pine forests what a healthfulness and pleasantness there may be about us. Here he teaches us the lesson of growth from the human body. When we see how a child is growing up, let us think how there should be a parallel to that in our spiritual life.'

( γ ) Goal set before us in Christ . "Till we all attain … unto the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ." If it was the abstract first, and then the concrete , it is now particularly the historical , it is a matter of infinite consequence that the goal for humanity has been reached by the representative Man. He has carried us, representatively, forward from our infantile state to our state of manhood. We can see before the throne, or on it, a representation of what by the inworking of Divine grace we are to become. Let us think of the character which he wrought out for us on earth, and as love is so much introduced by the apostle, let us think of that character as formed into its beauty under the formative principle of love . There is in Christ the representation of contemplative love . He contemplated whatever the Father showed him in nature, in human life, in the Holy Scriptures. In the stillness of his soul he communed with God through these, and these melted into him, they swallowed up his being. And as a consequence, what the world showed him was exposed to his mind, and could not pollute him. And if we are to attain to full stature in Christ, we must keep sabbath in our souls, we must keep out the distraction of the world, we must look upon and appreciate those glorious truths which, through the ages, God by his servants and his own Son has been setting before us. There is in Christ the representation of active love . He was more than the perfect man of the mystics; he presented also the side of activity . He felt that he had a blessing to impart to men; and all his energies must be strained that the blessing should not be withheld. "I must work the works of him that sent me, while it is day: the night cometh, when no man can work." And if we are to be of full stature in Christ, our inertness must be rebuked, our holy energies must be called forth. We must know what it is to "work," and, while working, let us take care that our works are " wrought in God ." There is in Christ the representation of suffering love . If Christ could be said to excel in one class of virtues more than in another, it was in the passive virtues. He suffered what was appointed him. He drank the cup which his heavenly Father put into his hand. He suffered sublimely for those whom he came to save. And if we are to attain unto the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, we must be ready to suffer, to bear the contradiction of sinners, to shed tears over sinners. For if there is anything which betokens the Christian style of character , it is sympathizing with men as lying under sin, so that we can suffer for them and from them, if so be that we may compass their good.

(d) Gospel ministry needed up to goat . The teaching here is that the gospel ministry is the means by which the final unity is to be brought about, by which spiritual manhood is to be reached. It is true of the teacher that he makes his work superfluous . The child grows up to be able to do without his help. And so with the "gift" of the teacher in the Church; his work is to make himself unnecessary. The time is coming when no man shall need to teach his brother, saying, "Know the Lord;" for all shall know him, from the least to the greatest. But, until the goal is reached, the gospel ministry will be needed. And nothing could set forth its position more strongly than that. It is not to be supposed that it does everything. It rather comes in as a supplement to what Christians can do by themselves. Even when the person sitting in the pew has a better understanding than the person occupying the pulpit, he may reap benefit, if only truth (however imperfectly) is presented to his mind. Let no one say that he has got beyond the help of the Christian ministry. If it is earnest, it may be expected to have Divine power with it. We know that Christ, who did not come to his manhood till the last (albeit that even while he was coming to manhood he left every other immeasurably behind), did not dispense with the teaching of the sanctuary. For he went , as his custom was, into the synagogue on the sabbath day. And shall we say of even the greatest literary man of the day who has a soul to care for, that he is better at home than sitting in church?

(e) Gospel ministry needed to deliver from the dangers incident to childhood . "That we may be no longer children, tossed to and fro and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the sleight of men, in craftiness, after the wiles of error." There are some who are necessarily in spiritual childhood from their recent spiritual birth. There are others upon whom it is a reflection that they are in their childhood, seeing that they might have got beyond it with the opportunities that they have had. It is the latter rather that are described here. They are at the mercy of false teachers, or the opinionative. They are like waves tossed to and fro, and carried about with every wind. In their simplicity and inexperience they are made a handle of by those who are practiced in the wiles of error. A certain sleight of hand is practiced on them. The word "sleight" is literally" dice-playing." The dice-player can by trickery (loading the dice is part of the trickery) throw them so that the numbers turn up which suit his purpose. So there are religious tricksters who can turn texts of Scripture to suit their purpose. For instance , it is said by those who advocate the indiscriminate ministry of all that a stated ministry was only a temporary arrangement. And they get the simple—those whom the apostle here calls children—to believe that. This indiscriminate ministry is very much a playing upon men so that they are tossed to and fro and carried about, now believing this and now believing that, as the crafty influence them. A stated ministry is meant to deliver from the evils of such a condition, to carry the inexperienced past instability into a certain established state.

(f) Process of development toward the goal described .

( α ) What we have to do in the determination of the development . "But speaking truth in love." It is not certain that "speaking truth" is the right translation. If it had been the intention of the apostle to convey this idea, we should have expected the same form of expression which is used in the twenty-fifth verse, where two words are used, and not the one word here, which primarily is truthing it. What is certain is that the apostle means to convey the idea that, instead of having to do with the wiles of error, we are to have to do with truth. We must be guided by truth if we would come to the goal set before us. We are to have to do with the truth in love . It is implied that there is an intimate connection between truth and love. If truth directs, love impels. Love is the highest law of being, and therefore we must have our being bathed in it if we would understand the truth of things, and speak and act the truth.

( β ) Christ has a principal part in the development . "May grow up in all things into him which is the Head, even Christ." It is from the head that the regulation of the body, in all its movements, proceeds. So it is from Christ as the Head that the whole regulation of the Church proceeds. What we do is not to regulate ourselves, but rather to put ourselves into accord with Christ in his regulating of us. The head communicates with all the parts of the body; it can send commands to them. And thus it is in the Church. In all things we are commanded from Christ as from the brain or center of the whole system. And so we grow up into him in all things. The whole development takes a distinctively Christian form.

( γ ) Particularly , the development proceeds round Christ . "From whom all the body fitly framed and knit together." In the body round one center the different parts are harmoniously related to each other, and so related as mutually to support each other. So the idea is that in the Church Christ, as from the center, is putting each into his proper posit ion—a position in which he will harmonize with other parts and add strength to them.

( δ ) The development proceeds by a supply from Christ according to the need of every part . "Through that which every joint supplieth, according to the working in due measure of each several are, maketh the increase of the body." A tree grows by the vital juices which are supplied to every part. In a tree there is a connecting, as by joints, where the supplies pass off to the various points. The joints in the body are where the supplies of nourishment pass off to the various members. So the Church is so jointed that it can all be supplied from Christ. There is a due apportionment to every part. There is no part forgotten, so that there is nothing like atrophy. And no part is supplied contrary to its nature, so that there is no abnormal development, as though the hand were enlarged to the size of the foot, or the foot dwarfed to the size of the hand.

( ε ) The result which is being produced is described ( the figure being dropped ) as the building up of itself in love . "Unto the building up of itself in love." While the Church may be endlessly growing, it will come to a state of fixedness, of establishment. It will be built up like a strong compacted building which cannot be broken down. It is in love that this result is produced; and in love it will remain an eternal reality. This then, finally, is the way which the apostle takes to show the foundation that there has been laid for Christian unity. Thus at length has he supported his particular exhortation that we are to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.—R.F.

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