From:  Busy Teacher’s Guide to Ephesians                         Return to Home 


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The Fact of the Ultimate Divine Goal

Being To Unite Faithful Jews and Gentiles

Into One Spiritual Body Had Only Been

Clearly Revealed Through the Apostles

And Contemporary Prophets




            1 For this reason I, Paul, the prisoner of Christ Jesus for the sake of you Gentiles if indeed you have heard of the stewardship of God’s grace that was given to me for you, that by revelation the mystery was made known to me, as I wrote before briefly.  When reading this, you will be able to understand my insight into the mystery of Christ (which was not disclosed to people in former generations as it has now been revealed to his holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit), namely, that through the gospel the Gentiles are fellow heirs, fellow members of the body, and fellow partakers of the promise in Christ Jesus.  --New English Translation (for comparison)



            3:1       For this reason I, Paul, the prisoner of Christ Jesus for you Gentiles—.  The “reason” Paul has in mind is that the true followers of Jehovah—whether Jew or Gentile—have now been united together in one spiritual body (2:14-22).  Paul can rightly identify himself as “the prisoner of Christ Jesus for you Gentiles” because what led to the false charges that resulted in his imprisonment grew out of his willingness to accept Gentiles as equals—and without circumcision:  False charges were laid against him that he had brought Gentiles into the area of the Temple where they were prohibited (Acts 21:27-29). 

Even within the church itself, Paul sometimes refers to Judaizers who were willing to accept Gentiles but only if they were circumcised.  In such minds was not circumcision of far greater importance than full obedience and loyalty to God Himself?

            Note the paradox in Paul’s words:  He describes himself as “the prisoner of Christ Jesus” yet it was the Romans who had jailed him and threatened his life.  However much that was true, it was even more true that he counted himself as “the prisoner of Christ Jesus” because it was due to faithful teaching about the Lord that caused the false charges that led the Romans to arrest him.  He was a loyal Roman; he was even more a loyal Christian. 

            And it was, indeed, “for you Gentiles” because his teaching the gospel to them had resulted in the false accusations that had gotten him imprisoned by the Romans in the first place.


            3:2       if indeed you have heard of the dispensation of the grace of God which was given to me for you.  Paul’s gospel message (verse 3) was “the dispensation of the grace of God” . . . it was a “dispensing” . . . a giving to Paul of the knowledge of God’s generosity that he proceeded to offer to one and all.  Indeed shared with everyone who would listen. 

Even though we can get to that intended point, the word “dispensation” is far from the word we would normally associate with what was happening—we are far more likely to use it in connection with a period of time—“the Jewish (or Christian) dispensation.”  Hence modern translations often try for a substitute for the core idea of “dispensing.”  The ESV prefers “the stewardship of God’s grace;” the CEV suggests “God’s gift of undeserved grace;” the ISV prefers “the responsibility of administering God’s grace.”

            This responsibility of teaching about access to Divine grace was given to benefit others.  Not as an intellectual treasure to be meditated upon by Paul alone for his inner pleasure and edification.  Instead it was given “for you”—to benefit by it being shared with them and with all other Gentiles willing to listen.

            Paul speaks of “if indeed you have heard” of this role of his.  That sounds like something theoretical rather than certain . . . which was an obvious absurdity.  Today we might outright, “You know full well that this is true and that this is what I’ve been doing!”  Reading his words, they would automatically recognize that his very verbal “restraint” is actually his way of stressing the point.   


            3:3       how that by revelation He made known to me the mystery (as I have briefly written already.  Paul was not a philosopher or theologian who supposedly “reasons” himself to a deeper insight into an existing truth or fact.  Rather it was Divine “revelation” that “made known to me” the truths involving the world encompassing reach of the gospel.  

            Next we learn a fundamental New Testament truth.  A Divine “mystery” is not something mysterious or obscure.  In Biblical usage it means truth previously hidden from humankind that is finally being made known to them.  The particular truth he has in mind is that “the Gentiles should be fellow heirs, of the same body, and partakers of His promise in Christ through the gospel” (3:5-6).  It was revealed “to me,” Paul, by nothing short of “revelation” and that new reality Paul has already shared with them and continues to in this epistle (verse 4).

            He had “briefly written” about part of it earlier and was now to add more.  No one epistle of Paul provides the entirety of what God had given him but only those parts most relevant and germane to their particular circumstances at the time.  In all fairness, he specifically might have in mind the elements of the Divine “mystery” that he had already touched on in this very epistle (1:9-10).  The description “briefly” would unquestionably fit the shortness of that text!  (And the one in 2:18 as well.)


            3:4       by which, when you read, you may understand my knowledge in the mystery of Christ).  You want to be “as smart as the apostle Paul?”  Then “read” what he has to say for it is that which causes us to “understand [Paul’s] knowledge in the mystery of Christ.”  He didn’t keep it hidden just for his personal enlightenment; he did as God intended and shared it . . . taught it . . . to all who were willing to listen.

            He did this with the confidence that, with reasonable effort, they could “understand” what was being said.  Hence if we do not understand the Bible, it is a failure on our part—and not on that of God or Paul. 

That does not mean that it is always easy to understand; in some cases it may take a goodly amount of work.  The apostle Peter concedes of Paul’s letters that there are “some things hard to understand” in them.  Then he stresses the danger of bending them all out of their intended meaning:  “untaught and unstable people twist to their own destruction, as they do also the rest of the Scriptures” (2 Peter 3:16).  The scriptures are given as a guide to follow and not as a toy to take apart and reassemble into a more pleasing appearance. 


            3:5       which in other ages was not made known to the sons of men, as it has now been revealed by the Spirit to His holy apostles and prophets.  Again note how the “mystery” of verses 3 and 4 was a now revealed truth.  In the past (“other ages”) it was not taught—at least not in anything but the broadest sketch such as the universal nature of God’s kingdom (Isaiah 2:1-4, especially verses 3-4).  Now there was substance—“meat and bone,” so to speak—attached to that information.  Now they could comprehend what previously had only been hinted at. 

            The Divine revealer is the Holy Spirit (as in John 16:12-15).  The Spirit provided it to both the “apostles and prophets.”  If they were speaking by Divine inspiration, it was still the Spirit who was revealing it for mortals did not know about it and it was the essential truth the human race now most needed. 

Note that both “apostles and prophets” are described by the word “holy.”  Their character was expected to be exemplary, in accordance with the moral message they taught.  They proved they genuinely believed the high ethical standards they advocated by living it where everyone could see it happening.

            3:6       that the Gentiles should be fellow heirs, of the same body, and partakers of His promise in Christ through the gospel.  Three inter-related truths were taught:  (1)  Converted Gentiles would be “fellow heirs” of the same blessings that would come to Jewish Christians.  (2)  They would be in “the same body,” with all that implies about past barriers being removed and no longer relevant.  The original small and narrow spiritual “body” of Jews alone had now been vastly expanded and access made available to all.  (3)  They were all “partakers of His promise in Christ”—the blessing of purification, salvation, and a place in heaven.  “It would have been difficult indeed to have piled together three expressions more eloquent of the absolute equality of privilege and blessing to be shared and shared alike by Jews and Gentiles in Christ.”  (James B. Coffman)

It was “the gospel” that made this new reality known and available for all to share in its blessings.  Or as Paul said in 1 Corinthians 4:15, “in Christ Jesus I have begotten you through the gospel.”  It was no longer Sinai where one went--where the Divine truths were specifically for the Jewish people alone; now the revealed truths were for the entire human race.   






The Spiritual Unification Of Jew

And Gentile Was Part Of

God’s “Eternal Purpose”




            I became a servant of this gospel according to the gift of God’s grace that was given to me by the exercise of his power.  To me—less than the least of all the saints—this grace was given, to proclaim to the Gentiles the unfathomable riches of Christ and to enlighten everyone about God’s secret plan—the mystery that has been hidden for ages in God who has created all things.  10 The purpose of this enlightenment is that through the church the multifaceted wisdom of God should now be disclosed to the rulers and the authorities in the heavenly realms.  11 This was according to the eternal purpose that he accomplished in Christ Jesus our Lord, 12 in whom we have boldness and confident access to God by way of Christ’s faithfulness.  13 For this reason I ask you not to lose heart because of what I am suffering for you, which is your glory.  --New English Translation (for comparison)



            3:7  of which I became a minister according to the gift of the grace of God given to me by the effective working of His power.  Paul “became a minister” of the gospel (verse 6).  Since “minister” is colloquially equivalent today to “preacher” or “pulpit teacher” a broader term is quite appropriate and the consensus choice is unquestionably “servant.”  Weymouth prefers to stress the work aspect inherent in the language by rendering “I have been appointed to serve.”

            Just as Paul preached the redemptive power of “grace,” his being given this responsibility was counted as such an honor that he describes it as being “the gift of the grace of God.”  It was not viewed as a burdensome responsibility but as constituting a unique Divine blessing and opportunity to serve. 

That this was something to be proud of he also shows by describing the appointment as “the effective working of His power.”  A Divine decision lay behind it.  How could he count it anything but an honor and a tribute to his own potential for service when others might have been chosen instead?


            3:8       To me, who am less than the least of all the saints, this grace was given, that I should preach among the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ.  Rather than be puffed up with conceit—and this is always a human danger when granted an unusually great honor—Paul kept it in perspective.  He was all too well aware of his background as a persecutor rather than a friend of the new faith.  Compared to so many others, he was “the least of all the saints.” 

            Even so God chose him as the best man for the responsibility and provided him the “grace” of appointment to apostle and preacher.  That language shows that he views it in terms of being a blessing rather than just a responsibility.  It is very easy for preachers to become so involved in the things that go with their work that they forget that they have been given a major honor in being able to regularly preach the gospel.

            To express how vast and profound and deep are our blessings through the Messiah, Paul describes them as “the unsearchable riches of Christ.”  They are beyond our full understanding and ability to grasp how varied, numerous, and useful they can be.  We may well receive them, but fully comprehend is a far different matter. 

Other renderings translate this as a reference to the vastness of spirituality that is available through the Lord:  “the boundless riches of Christ” (NIV), “the immeasurable wealth of Christ” (GW), and “the exhaustless wealth of Christ” (Weymouth).


            3:9       and to make all see what is the fellowship of the mystery, which from the beginning of the ages has been hidden in God who created all things through Jesus Christ.  Paul’s injunction was not just to preach the profound grace of Christ (verse 8) but also to “make all see” (= comprehend, grasp) what it means to join in with others who share ready access to that grace.  He calls it the “fellowship [sharing] of the mystery” which he once again tells us means something previously hidden . . . in this case “from the beginning of the ages.”  That means carrying the origin of the plan all the way back to when God “created all things.”

Textual note:  The addition of “through Jesus Christ” is retained by only a modest few translations due to inadequate attestation in ancient manuscripts.  The truth of His involvement however is clearly indicated in texts not subject to this objection (John 1:1-3; Colossians 1:15-17).  Note how intimately involved in the work of God was Christ even at that early stage.  Developing the language a little further, one might even suggest that through God was the architect, Christ was the actual builder. 


            3:10     to the intent that now the manifold wisdom of God might be made known by the church to the principalities and powers in the heavenly places.  This long range plan of God (verse 9) had the intention of demonstrating “the manifold wisdom of God.”  When this is referred to as being “made known by the church,” the first thing that comes to mind is the preaching/teaching of the gospel being shared not only by folks like the apostle Paul but by the array of members as and where they have the opportunity. 

            Although it is their responsibility and honor to share the gospel (Matthew 28:18-20), in the current context that is not the point.  Instead it is that the existence and actions of “the church” is a demonstration and vindication “to the principalities and powers in the heavenly places” of God’s success. 

Is there the hint here that some in heaven had reservations that this would actually work?  Not that they would defy God, but that is not the same thing as quietly wondering.   Remember that the working out of this ultimate revealing of God’s plan had waited all the centuries from the original creation until the time of Paul . . . a vast period of time. 

Some see here simply a completion of the imagery begun in the previous verse:  just as “all see” the success on earth (verse 9), in heaven it is also “made known.”  In other words a rhetorical flourish to stress that everyone, everywhere can see the successful working out of God’s plans.  Not some fine theological point but simply a way of making the truth even more emphatic.

It is easy to take “manifold wisdom of God” as a way of stressing its profoundness, its depth, its insight.  But the Greek here is easily rendered as a referenced to the varied forms it can take.  Hence “multifaceted wisdom” (Holman, NET),” “wisdom in all its different forms” (GNT), or “the innumerable aspects of God’s wisdom” (Weymouth).  In other words, the uniting of Jew and Gentile in one body exhibited how God’s wisdom could be made visible in a very unexpected manner.


            3:11     according to the eternal purpose which He accomplished in Christ Jesus our Lord.  The accomplishment of these things was a demonstration of God’s “eternal purpose.”  This is an inescapable deduction from the fact that it had been hidden “from the beginning of the ages” (verse 9).  Since that was even before mankind was created, it argues that angels may have been unaware of what Jehovah’s “world creation” decision was ultimately designed to accomplish:  His purpose was ultimately to be fulfilled (“accomplished”) through the life and redemptive death of “Christ Jesus our Lord.”


            3:12     in whom we have boldness and access with confidence through faith in Him.  Christ provides us with “boldness” in resisting a world based on anti-Christian prejudices and bigotry.  “Christian boldness is revealed as being at least partially the responsibility of the Christian himself to maintain it, encourage it in others, and to manifest it openly in all places and circumstances.  It is the spiritual equivalent of the confidence displayed by a good athlete who ‘talks up a good game’ with his teammates, manifesting at all times a winning attitude.”  (James B. Coffman) 

And we have excellent reason to:  We have full “confidence [that] through faith in Him [i.e., Christ]” that we will have “access” to the help of God.  Since it is a matter of “access” to God, the idea must be that our prayers will be carefully considered rather than shunned aside like those who reject God’s authority and standards.  Christians are in a very different category.       


            3:13     Therefore I ask that you do not lose heart at my tribulations for you, which is your glory.  Since they have ready “access” to God (verse 12), they should not despair at the hardships Paul unjustly suffered (= “my tribulations”).  They should feel fully assured that they could freely pour out their concerns in prayer with the absolute confidence that God would pay attention to them.

Even though Paul’s difficulties were “for you” (= grew out of his work for them and other Christians) they should not feel guilty.  In their own way the hardships Paul suffered actually brought honor (“glory”) upon them because they were “tribulations for you,” i.e., to prove that one could remain faithful to the Lord no matter what might happen.  Hence he was determined to set the right personal example for them.  






Paul Prays For Their

Spiritual Development and Insight




            14 For this reason I kneel before the Father, 15 from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named. 16 I pray that according to the wealth of his glory he will grant you to be strengthened with power through his Spirit in the inner person, 17 that Christ will dwell in your hearts through faith, so that, because you have been rooted and grounded in love, 18 you will be able to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, 19 and thus to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, so that you will be filled up to all the fullness of God.

            20 Now to him who by the power that is working within us is able to do far beyond all that we ask or think, 21 to him be the glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations, forever and ever.  Amen.  --New English Translation (for comparison)



            3:14     For this reason I bow my knees to the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.  Because he was suffering abuse due to his loyalty to Christ, he regularly bowed in prayer to the heavenly “Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.”  Although kneeling was the customary way prayer was done (1 Kings 8:54 [Solomon]; the prophet Daniel [Daniel 6:10]; Acts 7:60 [the martyr Stephen]; Luke 22:41 [Jesus Himself]), other approaches were also embraced (Luke 5:12; 1 Timothy 2:8).  The posture is fundamentally irrelevant for God is looking at the sincerity and inner character of the person doing the praying (1 Samuel 16:7; Jeremiah 17:10; Acts 1:24; Hebrews 4:13.

            Manuscript note:  Although “of our Lord Jesus Christ” is unquestionably found after the word “Father” in Ephesians 1:3, the manuscript evidence for its inclusion here is so modest that the bulk of translations omit it. 


            3:15     from whom the whole family in heaven and earth is named.  All that is in heaven and earth was “named” by God.  Some see here an implied distinction between what we call things and what God, through His vast perception and wisdom, calls them.  Hence we read of “receives its true name” (GNT).  Others regard it as a euphemism for life:  “receive their life from Him” (CEV). 

It might be tempting to say it refers to the “new name” believers receive in heaven (Revelation 2:17; cf. 3:12), but the next verse seems to clearly have in mind the currently existing cosmos. 

John Wesley considered this a reference to God’s people wherever they are in this world or the next, i.e., “The whole family of angels in heaven, saints in Paradise, and believers on earth is named (of the Father), being ‘the children of God,’ a more honorable title than children of Abraham, and depending on Him as the Father of the family.”  (As quoted by Coffman.)  They are “named” as part of the saved not because of their physical location but because of their obedience.


            3:16     that He would grant you, according to the riches of His glory, to be strengthened with might through His Spirit in the inner man.  “The riches of His glory” (= its vast and overwhelming nature and resources) could be used by God to benefit Christians and it is His wish that this will be the case.  Specifically it can “strengthen” them the way they need to be—strengthen their determination to do right, to understand truth better, to be more resistant to the power of criticisms they receive for being faithful to the gospel.

            Where they would be “strengthened” is identified as “the inner man;” “inner being” has been used as substitute (ESV, NIV).  The human soul or spirit seems the frame of reference; that part of us that clearly exists but is not part of our flesh and blood.

            The tool accomplishing this result is identified as “His Spirit.”  It does so not to convert us—for we have already been by this point—but to make us spiritually stronger.  That hinges upon our utilizing the additional emotional reserves God has provided.  He provides “gas” for our “gas tank,” so to speak; but it is up to us whether we step on the gas pedal.

Compare the language of God in Isaiah describing the inner power He is willing to give to His people:  40:29-31; 41:10.  Then there is Paul’s own reassurance in Philippians 4:13, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.”          


3:17     that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith; that you, being rooted and grounded in love.   The purpose of the inner strengthening we receive (verse 16) is three-fold with only the first two mentioned in the current verse.  First is “that Christ may dwell in your hearts”—His teaching, His principles, His attitude . . . anything and everything that shapes our behavior.  He dwells there “through [your] faith.”  Not just “faith”—past tense, from sometime years ago . . . but faith that is present now as well.  As we meditate and consider the principles He has advocated and encouraged, our inner “faith” causes us to try to put them to work the best we humanly can.

Our inner strengthening is to help us to be well “rooted and grounded in love.”  Love not as in emotion anywhere near as much as in constructive and beneficial behavior toward others.  The image alluded to is that of a living entity such as a tree or bush being planted firmly and soundly in good soil.  But in our case as human beings, it is placed and “planted” firmly in the soil of “love” where the virtues can grow ever stronger, larger, and more beneficial to ourselves and others.          


3:18     may be able to comprehend with all the saints what is the width and length and depth and height—.  The third reason for our inner strengthening (verse 16) is explained here and the next verse:  to be able to truly “comprehend” the vast degree of Christ’s love toward us.  To “comprehend” is to “grasp” (NIV); “have the power to understand” (GNT).

He did not wish only a select minority to understand these matters; He wished “all the saints”--all those set apart to God’s service--to be able to do so.  It was an  understanding that would benefit them all.

The “size” or “dimensions” of Christ’s love is so vast that it can only be described vaguely:  note the scope implied by “the width and length and depth and height” . . . surely carrying the inevitable implication of huge amounts in all directions!  When the Psalmist (103:11-18)) similarly tries to find a way to meaningfully convey the depth and inter-generational availability of the Father’s love, he writes in these terms:


11 For as the heavens are high above the earth,
So great is His mercy toward those who fear Him;
12 As far as the east is from the west,
So far has He removed our transgressions from us.
13 As a father pities his children,
So the Lord pities those who fear Him.
14 For He knows our frame;
He remembers that we are dust.


15 As for man, his days are like grass;
As a flower of the field, so he flourishes.
16 For the wind passes over it, and it is gone,
And its place remembers it no more.
17 But the mercy of the Lord is from everlasting to everlasting
On those who fear Him,
And His righteousness to children’s children,
18 To such as keep His covenant,
And to those who remember His commandments to do them.


Unquestionably Paul would have readily embraced that last remark:  the profoundness and thoroughness of God’s love is readily available to every single human being . . . who is His loyal servant.  Oddly a good number wonder what is the subject matter of our current Ephesian verse.  In light of the reference to “being rooted and grounded in love” in the preceding one (verse 17) and the reference to “know[ing] the love of Christ” in the next (verse 19), it strikes me that the Divine love toward God’s people surely must be in mind.  


3:19     to know the love of Christ which passes knowledge; that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.  Note the paradox:  He wishes them to “know” (= understand, grasp) a love that “passes knowledge.”  Since he is asking that they understand a love that can’t be (fully) grasped, he must be referring to a lesser degree of knowledge . . . one that recognizes that all our efforts to ponder it can only gain a respect for how profound it is and how we can only grip and comprehend the “edges” of it.  The closest Biblical parallel would likely be when Moses wanted to see Jehovah and He explained that a full sighting of Him would literally kill him—it would be too much for the human mind to handle (Exodus 33:18-23; for the lasting physical side-effects of what was seen, see 34:29-35). 

By their understanding of “the love of Christ”—that which He has toward His people and which He perfectly exhibited in life—we can be “filled with all the fullness of God” . . . see it perfectly reflected in His Son’s nature and actions.  By imitating these things we, in turn, are filled with God’s moral nature and intents . . . His passionate love and loyalty.   


3:20     Now to Him who is able to do exceedingly abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that works in us.  We would like to have God do many things for us.  But that does not always mean that He does so in place of ourselves.  What we easily forget is that God can also provide us with the opportunity and talents that are far beyond our imagination—to do “exceedingly abundantly above all that we ask or think.”  How more emphatically could he make the point of how profound is the scope of what He can do—both personally and through human agents?

It is God’s “power that works in us” and not our own power by itself:  He gives us the strength, the energy, the motivation, to do that which far exceeds what we would normally expect was even possible.  And if that doesn’t do it, He has other ways of intervening on our behalf as well.      


3:21     to Him be glory in the church by Christ Jesus to all generations, forever and ever.  Amen.  What God expects in “exchange” for what He does for us (verse 20) is ongoing “glory”—recognition, respect, and praise.  That glory is exhibited among God’s people (“the church”) through (= “by”) their loyalty to “Christ Jesus.”  Perhaps that is why Christ is also attributed the power to help us do anything and everything we need to do:  “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me” (Philippians 4:13).  The Greek reading most contemporary translations adopt in Philippians 4 substitutes “Him” for Christ; the context would make it reasonably applicable to either.

The promise of glorifying God for His assistance (verse 20) applied not just to those currently alive but “to all generations forever and ever” . . . this aid would be permanently available to all whether then living or yet unborn.  That last fact should be carefully noted.  Many times those passages that speak as if the final coming of Christ might be in their near future are magnified and those, like this one, that refer to the fact that “generations” could (or would!) pass are ignored.  The truth is that the timing was unknown to the first century apostles and prophets so it is natural that they speak in language embracing both possibilities since they didn’t have the foggiest when the Lord would act (Matthew 24:36, 44; 25:13; Acts 1:7).                            







They Have The Duty Of

Treating Each Other Constructively




            1 I, therefore, the prisoner for the Lord, urge you to live worthily of the calling with which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, putting up with one another in love, making every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit, just as you too were called to the one hope of your calling, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.  --New English Translation (for comparison)



            4:1       I, therefore, the prisoner of the Lord, beseech you to walk worthy of the calling with which you were called.  Although Paul is actually a prisoner of the Romans, anti-Christian agitators were behind his arrest and the Romans landed up dragged into the situation (Acts 21:27-33).  Hence he prefers to call himself “the prisoner of the Lord” since it is because of serving the Lord that he had been imprisoned.  It wasn’t because of any genuine crime or misdeed of his own. 

            If he has paid so much for loyalty to God’s cause, he is obviously in a position to rightly urge them (“beseech you”) to live in a manner “worthy” of being Christians.  This Divine “calling” to obedience and loyalty continued to exist just as much as the day when they were first converted.  The admonition carries with it the idea of a consistent and persistent honorable lifestyle worthy of their convictions. 

            References in other passages:  Paul describes this dedicated loyalty to Christ as “conduct . . . worthy of the gospel of Christ” (Philippians 1:27), “walk[ing] worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing Him, being fruitful in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God” (Colossians 1:10), and “walk[ing] worthy of God who calls you into His own kingdom and glory” (1 Thessalonians 2:12).


            4:2       with all lowliness and gentleness, with longsuffering, bearing with one another in love.  Their behavior was to be marked by a lack of being overbearing and needlessly annoying to others.  To recognize their own strengths and virtues was one thing (Romans 12:3), but to become arrogant because of them was something else entirely!  They were going to make their own share of mistakes and misjudgments.  Hence they needed to be humble in their relationships with others (= have “lowliness”) rather than domineering. 

This was to be accompanied with a “gentleness” in dealing with others.  (The Douay-Rheims has a good reading in its use of “mildness.”)  In our interactions with others, conflicts and tensions inevitably arise but we should go out of our way not to make them worse. 

Although minimalist revisions of the KJV often still retain “meekness”—as did the “mainstream” Revised Standard Version as recently as 1952—vernacular usage reads into the term the element of timidity and perhaps even of weakness . . . neither of which is intended by Paul.  The “gentle” person isn’t displaying his or her weakness but revealing their self-control even when annoyed.

Hence they needed to be “longsuffering” rather than demanding that things be rectified to their preferences right this minute.  Likewise they were to “bear with one another in love” rather than flying off the handle and responding to annoyances—even genuine and legitimate ones—by demanding an immediate correction.  Some things simply take time to work out to a satisfactory solution.


            4:3       endeavoring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.  The willingness to take time to work things out with others (verse 2) is a practical means of trying to preserve two important things.

            The first is “to keep the unity of the Spirit.”  If this is the Holy Spirit (note the capitalization), then the idea is the unity of Christians taught by and demanded by the Divine Spirit.  (Remember the Spirit’s role of providing the Divine will to the apostles and prophets?  In light of the next two verses this is the most probable frame of reference.) 

If the language refers to the human spirit, it refers to the preservation of a shared framework of thought and action rather than dividing the congregation into divisive cliques.  Remember Paul’s criticism of the Corinthian church for such?  Today we might call “keep[ing] the unity of the spirit” as equivalent to “being on the same wave length.”  In either approach to the meaning of “spirit” in our text, if there is to be division in the Lord’s church it should not be at our hands (cf. 1 Corinthians 1:10-13).  

            The second value to allowing time to work out tensions with others is that it enables the preservation of “the bond of peace” that should exist between Christians.  Needless annoyances and the escalation of tensions can easily produce mini-wars between believers.  In turn that encourages further escalation and efforts to recruit other members for one faction or the other.  This is neither good for the individuals involved nor for the unity of the congregation.  There will be enough real problems rather than creating needless additional ones!   


            4:4       There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called in one hope of your calling.  All of God’s people are in the same Divine institution, the church.  He calls it “one body” because it is supposed to be united and working toward the same goals.  Likewise there is only one “[Holy] Spirit;” that understanding of the meaning seems required because in the next two verses he emphasizes how there is only one Christ and one God.  Otherwise the idea would be that there is supposed to be one shared “spirit”—as in disposition, attitude, commitment to work together in regard to the same goals.  The divisive mentality is to be absent.

            Finally, all Christians were “called” to the Lord in the shared conviction (= “one hope”) of what “your calling” would produce—i.e., eternal salvation.    


            4:5       one Lord, one faith, one baptism.  There would be varied people claiming to be the Messiah in the first century—some still pop up today!--but there was only one who was truly such . . . Jesus of Nazareth, our mutually shared “Lord.”  There is only one system of religious conviction recognized by God (= “one faith”), the description coming from the fact that everyone is supposed to be sharing the same set of convictions . . . the same set of things they believe in.  There is only “one baptism” to get into the Lord’s church:  it is a one time event and not one periodically repeated.  It has the same intent and purpose for everyone—redemptive (Acts 2:38).

            A virtually synonymous way of approaching this:  we have here a concise description of how we gain salvation:  There is “one Lord” and when we accept Him we share “one [= the same] faith” as everyone else, resulting in the “one [and only] baptism” we ever need.  A conceptual parallel can easily be found in Mark 16:15-16 where hearing the message about our one Lord (Christ), produces faith, and a one time only baptism.  The three, obviously, are intimately tied together.  


            4:6       one God and Father of all, who is above all, and through all, and in you all.  The Old Testament defiantly cried out to all competitors that there was only “one God” and that remained just as much true as it had centuries before.  That “one God” is the physical (so to speak) “Father of all” because He created the entire universe; He was the spiritual “Father of all” because He was the one who prescribed what Jesus was to preach and teach and expect His earthly followers to imitate (John 16:13-15). 

He is “above all” because He truly exists; He isn’t a “pretend god” like His competitors.  He is “above all” because as Creator of the universe He has—and has exercised—full authority over all of creation.  He is “through all”—universally present and able to accomplish anything He wants in the created universe.  His power is applicable everywhere.  And, finally, He is “in you all” through how His word brought them salvation and drastically reshaped their lives. 

(It is hard to resist adding this remark:  people often speak of the “personal indwelling of the Holy Spirit” but, oddly, they never seem to go to passages like this to argue “the personal indwelling of the Father Himself” as well.  Could it be that the indwelling of neither takes the form that is assumed when talking about the Divine Spirit but that both do it through the inspired message?)     







Christ Gives Individuals Different

Abilities and Responsibilities In The Church

To Assure Its Spiritual Development




            But to each one of us grace was given according to the measure of Christ’s gift.  Therefore it says, “When he ascended on high he captured captiveshe gave gifts to men.”  Now what is the meaning of “he ascended,” except that he also descended to the lower regions, namely, the earth?  10 He, the very one who descended, is also the one who ascended above all the heavens, in order to fill all things.  11 And he himself gave some as apostles, some as prophets, some as evangelists, and some as pastors and teachers, 12 to equip the saints for the work of ministry, that is, to build up the body of Christ, 13 until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God—a mature person, attaining to the measure of Christ’s full stature.  --New English Translation (for comparison)



            4:7       But to each one of us grace was given according to the measure of Christ’s gift.  What Divine “grace” we have received is identical with that of every other Christian—unlimited . . . for how could a mere “droplet” of grace (so to speak) have possibly been enough to remove our sin?  We were, so to speak, “baptized in grace”—the Divine favor we receive through penitent baptism (Acts 2:38) removing all our sin.

            The standard for this was “the [unlimited] measure of Christ’s gift.”  He gave everything He had, His very physical life in order to obtain us salvation.  Furthermore that “gift” of His life purchased everything we needed in order to obtain permanent eternal life.  In addition, it provides us with everything we need in the current life.  All our spiritual needs.

            A fair number of people believe that Paul is discussing the giving of supernatural gifts of the Holy Spirit—speaking in tongues, etc.  If so, it is an incredibly indirect method of doing so since in this verse it is specified that what is received are gifts of “grace” rather than the Holy Spirit.  


            4:8       Therefore He says:  “When He ascended on high, / He led captivity captive, / And gave gifts to men.”  Paul quotes here Psalm 68:18 as one example of the prophetic Old Testament texts Jesus brought to fulfillment.  However he alters it from having “received gifts” to having given gifts.  Unless working from a different textual tradition, Paul’s point would be that just as in the Old Testament He took “gifts” from humanity, He now gives them instead.  (Even in the traditional Old Testament text, however, what Paul describes would be expected to happen as well:  the rewarding of loyal supporters.  Paul makes explicit what they would have taken for granted.) 

            At His resurrection from the dead Christ definitively broke the power of death and took it, so to speak, as His defeated foe back to heaven.  He had demonstrated that the power of death could be broken on His behalf and that, trusting in Him, created a rational confidence that He could free others as well from those chains of enslavement.  In doing this, He vindicated His ability to “give gifts to men”—some of which are church offices and duties and are discussed in verse 11.  Only one of them (“prophets”) can rightly be considered as involving an action(s) by the Holy Spirit, but all of them can be considered generous gifts of “grace” (Divine favor) as specified in the preceding verse.

            4:9       (Now this, “He ascended”—what does it mean but that He also first descended into the lower parts of the earth?  For Jesus to have “ascended” to heaven, it is quite reasonable to argue that this was after He had first “descended” into the earth—i.e., had died and been buried.  There are only two people we read of who ascend into heaven without first being buried:  Enoch (Genesis 5:24; Hebrews 11:5) and Elijah (2 Kings 2:11).  Hence burial preceding heaven is a natural and expected pattern.

            However the wording is not “descended into the earth” but “descended into the lower parts of the earth.”  This  could refer to His coming to the earth in the first place, emphasizing the huge gap in nature between the two.  The NET seems to take it in this sense:  He “also descended to the lower regions, namely, the earth” itself.  Compared to heaven we surely are “the lower regions!”       

            Some find here a reference to preaching “to the [disobedient] imprisoned spirits” in the unseen world (Hades) after His death (1 Peter 3:18-20).  That would naturally be pictured as “further” from heaven than even the surface of the earth or graves built into it. 

            Of these three options the second strikes me as the strongest.


            4:10     He who descended is also the One who ascended far above all the heavens, that He might fill all things.)  The same Person who came to earth from heaven also returned to heaven after His ministry on the earth.  He had not been somehow transformed into an entity that repudiated the essential essence He had while in heaven.  There was a continuum of inner nature.  (Cf. John 1:10, 14-15, 17-18, 29-31.)  Hence He was entitled to Divine honors even while earthbound.  This was done so that “He might fill all things”—be the same Divine Person whether on earth or in heaven.       


            4:11     And He Himself gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers.  “He Himself”—i.e., Jesus Himself and not some intermediary—decided that the church needed a number of types of leaders to meet its needs and assure its growth and preservation.  Hence He “gave” (= created, commissioned) different types of leadership to assure the spiritual development of the church (verse 12).

            First were the “apostles”—set apart to be the top authority figures.  Cf. Matthew 16:19, “whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.”

            Second, there were inspired teachers.  Although called “prophets” (implying in modern usage being predictors of future events), the office involved--far more often--Divinely guided teaching rather than predictions of the future.

            Third, there were “evangelists”—ones who would proclaim the good news of what Christ had done and continued to do . . . bringing the opportunity of salvation to all who are willing to obey His will.  If you take this in terms of doing this with outsiders then the term would describe “missionaries” (CEV, GW).  But does an “evangelist” really stop being an “evangelist” when the bulk of his work is with existing church members?  In that case the “missionary” gloss needlessly narrows the scope of the term.    

Fourthly, there were “pastors.”  The term implies offering leadership to church members and is distinguished from the other offices.  The implicit leadership function in the term is recognized by those who translate it as “shepherds” (ESV, WEB), i.e., elders.  If elders performed the role of teachers they were worthy of doubt respect:  “Let the elders who rule well be counted worthy of double honor, especially those who labor in the word and doctrine” (1 Timothy 5:17).   

He might perform in the supplemental role of teacher, but the “skill set” that makes one a good leader is far less often combined with those that make one a fine “teacher” as well.  (Or vice versa!)  Probably that is why Paul argues that the one who is able to successfully carry out both responsibilities is “worthy of double honor.”

That is why I am uncomfortable with the idea that we find here the reference to only four rather than five distinct church offices.  The required skills are typically so uncommon in the same person, it would seem illogical to do so.  If you did, you could not function as a pastor-teacher without unusual skill level in both.

Which leads us to the final entry, that of “teachers”--those who could instruct others in a way that they could learn and apply more spiritual truth.  A challenging position since it requires both a grounding in the actual text as well as the skill of being able to make its meaning understandable to others as well.            


            4:12     for the equipping of the saints for the work of ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ.  The purpose for the church having the “positions” Paul has just listed is to secure its spiritual development.  That is described as “equipping of the saints.”  We “equip” ourselves if we are going to go camping or mountain climbing; they require special preparation. 

Likewise “the saints”—not some but all Christians—need to be equipped for “the work of ministry” (= ministering / developing their spirituality to its fullest possible degree . . . as seen in the results of such successful ministering given in the next verse).  Since the Biblical meaning of “saints” far less comes to immediate mind rather than the Medieval one, some translations prefer to render with its actual meaning, “His people” (CEV, NIV, Weymouth) or “God’s people” (GNT, GW).  

            Walking hand-in-hand with this is the spiritual building up (“edifying”) of the entire congregation (= “the body of Christ” in their city).  Since “edifying” is another Biblical expression whose meaning is little understood, a number of translations prefer to substitute its meaning, “build up the body of Christ” (Holman).  The result of a successful “ministry/ministering” is this kind of spiritual upbuilding . . . the hard work has born its hoped for fruit.        


            4:13     till we all come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a perfect man, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ.  The instructional function that has just been stressed in verse 12 has four goals that serve as virtual synonyms.  They all amount to the complete spiritual development of Christ’s people.

            It is first described as “com[ing] to the unity of the faith.”  As the result we have “unity in the faith” (Holman); “oneness in faith” (Weymouth).  Hence we become “united by our faith” (CEV).  Remember the divisiveness Paul rebukes in First Corinthians?

            It’s second purpose is to provide a well developed understanding of Christ’s nature and teaching—“the knowledge of the Son of God.”  If you wish to make the intent of the idea more complete, we could well word it “our understanding of the knowledge of the Son of God” (CEV).  Not a “little of this” and a “little of that,” but an over all, comprehensive development of the entire spectrum of data about the Lord.

            Then there is to be the development of each of us into a “perfect man.”  Not “sinless,” but in the proper sense of fully developed.  This obviously requires that we become “a full grown man” (WEB) and that we “become mature” (GW, NIV) . . . “mature people” (GNT) . . . we achieve “mature manhood” (ESV, Weymouth).  We act like adults rather than rash children.  Or as Paul reminded the Corinthians, “When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put the ways of childhood behind me” (13:11).

            Fourthly there is to be an understanding of His will so comprehensive that it can be fairly described as “the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ.”  We allow the gospel to develop us into as Christ like in mind and behavior as it possibly can.  We settle for no less.  Although we may never fully reach that point, we never cease trying to.  That persistence keeps us from collapsing into something far less while never stopping our spiritual growth attempt.  







By Being Spiritually Mature,

They Will Be Religiously Stable Rather Than

Constantly Changing Their Convictions




            14 So we are no longer to be children, tossed back and forth by waves and carried about by every wind of teaching by the trickery of people who craftily carry out their deceitful schemes.  15 But practicing the truth in love, we will in all things grow up into Christ, who is the head.  16 From him the whole body grows, fitted and held together through every supporting ligament.  As each one does its part, the body builds itself up in love.  --New English Translation (for comparison)



            4:14     that we should no longer be children, tossed to and fro and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, in the cunning craftiness of deceitful plotting.  The plea for a full spiritual development of Christ’s people (verse 13) is designed to assure their spiritual stability.  They “should no longer be children”—the state when one’s ideas can be quickly shifted from one direction to another.  I recall back in 1952 when I was in elementary school and drawing (badly!) a car on a piece of paper.  I was writing “Stevenson” on it since he was one of the candidates, but as soon as I learned Eisenhower was winning I drew a new one writing “Eisenhower” instead.  Who I was “supporting” shifted like a flash.

            It can get a lot worse than that even in religious matters.  There’s a famous exchange from Alice in Wonderland when Alice insists that “one can’t believe impossible things.”  The Queen promptly responds, “I daresay you haven’t had much practice.  When I was younger, I always did it for half an hour a day.  Why, sometimes I’ve believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast.”  When you get into the mystic exoticisms of ancient Gnosticism, the Queen does sound like she could have made a good Gnostic herself!

            As children we get “tossed to and fro and carried about” with things that aren’t really important.  But when we mature and become Christians we had best have repressed that mentality.  Otherwise our spiritual “convictions” become subject to radical and irresponsible change.  “Every [new] wind of doctrine” may enchant us.  Since it is new surely it must represent an increased insight!  

It can just as easily be wasted time.  If you ever do a “deep dive” into the intricate theorizing of PhD scholars when they are in need of new publishing credits, you can discover how many “intellectually mature words” can be moved around and produce little of real insight.  And it is fascinating to see how often when something “new” is produced it represents a denial of what various Biblical texts actually meant in the first place! 

            The type of people I’m describing are usually quite sincere, but there is another class of religious innovator who is centered on advancing his or her own stature, reputation, and authority.  The shenanigans of such individuals are furthered by “the trickery of men” and is developed through the “cunning craftiness of deceitful plotting”--intended to deceive us into eventually supporting them.  That word “plotting” is more usefully translated by a term that makes their dishonorable intentions even more emphatic:  terms as “schemes” (ESV) or “scheming” (NIV). 

However the language could also suggest that such people are quite capable of using a “two track” deception scheme according to who they are dealing with.  “Trickery,” if taken by itself, could suggest some relatively simple and direct method to spiritually seduce us.  In contrast, “cunning craftiness of deceitful plotting” would argue for a longer term strategy to eventually accomplish the same end.  In that case it would convey the idea of “clever strategies that would lead us astray” (ISV) or “making use of every shifting device to mislead” (Weymouth). 

The imagery Christ gave fits them well:  “Behold, I send you out as sheep in the midst of wolves. Therefore be wise as serpents and harmless as doves” (Matthew 10:16).  Paul describes them as “savage wolves [who] will come in among you, not sparing the flock” (Acts 20:29).


              4:15     but, speaking the truth in love, may grow up in all things into Him who is the head—Christ—.  The faithful Christian’s strategy is far different from that of the self-promoter.  Instead of following (credulously even) the most recent religious innovation, they are to stand firm in the truth . . . “speaking the truth in love” to other church members—even those who are being mesmerized by the newest speculation and innovation.

Appearing in this context, the instruction clearly encourages Christians to retain “love” in what and how they speak not only to faithful Christians but also to those being tempted by the “new thinking.”  First it does no good to growlingly antagonize those we are trying to change.  It won’t encourage them to change and will only drive them further away from reconsidering their path.  Secondly, how would we want to be treated if we were the ones stumbling into foolish error?  Shouldn’t we remember the words in the Sermon on the Mount?  Whatever you want men to do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets” (Matthew 7:12).    

            By using love as our lodestone for behavior we become more and more Christ-like (= “grow up in all things into Him who is the head—Christ”).  “It has been well said that some men find love the easier precept, some truth; but that the Gospel enjoins the harmony of both.”  (A. E. Humphreys, Cambridge Bible)


            4:16     from whom the whole body, joined and knit together by what every joint supplies, according to the effective working by which every part does its share, causes growth of the body for the edifying of itself in love.  Christ set the example of love in coming to earth, dying for us, and forgiving our sins.  Our responsibility is to cultivate that example of love in our behavior and that covers behavior toward everyone in the congregation--from the “most important” to the “least important” member. 

Indeed all of us have a role to play in this growth and not just the preacher or elders:  note the reference to “knit together by what every joint provides.  Every joint supplies” (or should!)  love and benefit to the rest.  Because “every part [of the church] does its share,” there is spiritual “growth of the [entire church] body” . . . as it strengthens itself by “edifying of itself” in and through “love.”  We received love and we are to share it with each other. 

The mindframe is clearly the opposite of domineering and intimidation.  In such a congregation, there may indeed be conformity and agreement but only because no one dares present a question that may make others uncomfortable.  And that lamentable situation is most likely to exist when a conformity by silence rather than by shared knowledge has been imposed.






They Must Not Act As Gentiles Typically Did,

Making Sensuality the God

They Followed Everywhere




            17 So I say this, and insist in the Lord, that you no longer live as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their thinking.  18 They are darkened in their understanding, being alienated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them due to the hardness of their hearts.  19 Because they are callous, they have given themselves over to indecency for the practice of every kind of impurity with greediness.  --New English Translation (for comparison)



            4:17  This I say, therefore, and testify in the Lord, that you should no longer walk as the rest of the Gentiles walk, in the futility of their mind.  “Therefore” tells us that this is a conclusion based on what he has already said and that, initially, sounds a bit strange a connection.  However in verses 14-16 he had pled that they be spiritually mature and stable rather than easily changing their convictions in various exotic directions.  The “therefore” should be taken as implying that spiritual instability had been characteristic of Gentile society and that this led to intellectual blindness in pursuit of some supposed alternative “truth” (verse 18).  This also caused their sense of personal responsibility to be removed in the quest for some new sexual thrill (verse 19).

            To “testify in the Lord” means to speak His will . . . assuring them that what he is saying is exactly what the Lord wants said.  If you wish, “affirm together with the Lord” (NASB)—again my words match what the Lord wants said.

            That they “should no longer walk” as other Gentiles currently live carries a recognition that because their adopted lifestyle is so different from that favored by the strong majority, there will be an ongoing temptation to return to it.  They are a modest sized minority facing a vastly larger society rooted in self-indulgence.  What these people do is legal, smiled upon, and even encouraged while they are looked upon as ignorant prudes.

            No matter how large their number, current society represents people living (“walk[ing]”) in ways that produce no genuine good for their souls (= “in the futility of their mind”).  “Their minds are set on worthless things” (GW) or “thinking worthless thoughts” (ISV).  How can that do anything else than produce a lifestyle equally destitute?


            4:18     having their understanding darkened, being alienated from the life of God, because of the ignorance that is in them, because of the blindness of their heart.  The reason that their moral thinking is worthless (verse 17) is because they are unable to rightly grasp how to think about such matters:  “their understanding [is] darkened” rather than being enlightened.

            Due to a constant lifestyle of moral self-indulgence, they have become habitually “alienated from the life of God” . . . the kind of life God demands we have.  Note how “alienated” implies hostility and rejection and not mere ignorance.  Even when they know the moral principles of Christianity they reject them.

            The reason they are in such a shape is “because of the [spiritual and moral] ignorance that is in them.”  They have either not sought enlightenment or, having heard it, rejected it because it is so contrary to their preferences.

            Being physically blind we can’t see where we are walking or what the results could be from our next step.  Similarly “the blindness of their heart” hides the eternal consequences of their conduct--“surely God can’t do that if He is truly loving!”—as well as the more immediate catastrophic results that can unexpectedly overwhelm us.  You can almost say, “You can justify any sin . . . it’s just that some may take a little longer.”  But human rationalization is far from synonymous with Divine approval.

            Some find here a reference to what is said in Romans 1:18-32 about how God washed His hands of earliest society because of its deeply embedded evils and refusal to change.  What Paul says here in Ephesians certainly implies that the same Divine revulsion that existed in antiquity, is still in existence.  And it emphatically applies to contemporary society. 

Even the Romans passage ends with the warning:  knowing the righteous judgment of God, that those who practice such things are deserving of death, not only do the same but also approve of those who practice them (verse 32).  In other words, even there he is describing the reason for Divine rejection of the bulk of society . . . not just in the far earlier world but in his own as well.  “History repeats itself”—in a societally destructive manner.              


            4:19     who, being past feeling, have given themselves over to lewdness, to work all uncleanness with greediness.  Constant indulgence creates a dullness of the soul.  It becomes “past feeling”—guilt, sorrow, anything that might indict us as fools if not worse.  “Having become callous” (WEB); “lost all sensitivity” (NIV); “have lost all feeling of shame” (GNT).  They may once have had some, but whatever there may have been is now lost.  

This is the result of overindulgence in evil (“hav[ing] given themselves over to lewdness”).  It has become so repeated that any minor inklings of impropriety are fully repressed.  They “have abandoned themselves to sensuality” (ISV).  Nothing stops or hinders them.  Note that it is their action; no one has coerced them into it.

As the result, they carry out every evil with enthusiasm no matter how extreme it may be:  “work all uncleanness with greediness.”  “With a desire for more and more” (Holman); “without restraint” (GNT).    






When They Converted,

They Learned And Adopted

A New Lifestyle




            20 But you did not learn about Christ like this, 21 if indeed you heard about him and were taught in him, just as the truth is in Jesus.  22 You were taught with reference to your former way of life to lay aside the old man who is being corrupted in accordance with deceitful desires, 23 to be renewed in the spirit of your mind, 24 and to put on the new man who has been created in God’s image—in righteousness and holiness that comes from truth.  --New English Translation (for comparison)



            4:20     But you have not so learned Christ.  In their new Christian faith they had not “learned” to act in the irresponsible manner they often had before becoming believers.  What “Christ” taught them—directly through His own words and indirectly through the inspired lips of Paul—was to live in a far different manner.  Or as he worded a similar idea in 1 Thessalonians 4:7, “For God did not call us to be impure, but to live a holy life” (NIV). 


            4:21     if indeed you have heard Him and have been taught by Him, as the truth is in Jesus.  The life change Paul is advocating is not optional.  If they had truly “heard Him and . . . been taught by Him” . . . and accepted the “truth” taught by Him, they would know the change in lifestyle was both essential and inevitable.  The “if” is clearly theoretical:  Both he and they know full well what they had heard in Christ’s message was quite definitive:  “You certainly heard about Him” (GNT); “you have certainly heard His message” (GW).

It is hard to see why he hits so hard on this unless he has heard a report that some were being tempted back into their old style of living.  Either that or a recognition that even after a few years of exposure to Christianity, the moral norms of their society would still remain in their memory.  “It hadn’t really done me that much harm back then, did it?  How could an occasional aberration today be dangerous?  Especially if other church members are not aware of it!”       


            4:22     that you put off, concerning your former conduct, the old man which grows corrupt according to the deceitful lusts.  There are two competing roads that are available into the future.  One is the relatively new one of restraint and responsibility.  The other is one of behavior restrained only by opportunity and personal convenience.  Our life before Christianity—their “former conduct,” which surely emphasizes that it is supposed to remain such—represented a distinctive style of living.  It can be described as “the old man” that they once were.  “Your old self” (NIV); “your old way of life” (CEV).

            That person was not stagnant:  it “grows [more and more] corrupt” because they were motivated by “the deceitful lusts” that were being unleashed.  Those desires (“lusts”) are deceitful because they look pleasant and desirable but result in the disaster of personal alienation from the Redeemer who wishes them to enter heaven when they die.  Not to mention living an honorable life in the current world!    


            4:23     and be renewed in the spirit of your mind.  What predominates in the mind, the underlying attitude and essence—“the spirit of your mind”--needed to be “renewed” and maintained in its original pure settings in order to continue the transformation of their manner of life.  There has to be a conformity between what we want to do (our minds) and our actual behavior.  The NIV sums up the point well, “be made new in the attitude of your minds.” 


            4:24     and that you put on the new man which was created according to God, in true righteousness and holiness.  Just as the “old man” of verse 22 had a distinctive (and self-destructive) lifestyle, their new nature (“the new man”) was “created according to God[’s]” intents and purposes.  Just as the original physical Adam was created according to the “blueprint” of God, the new spiritual one was created likewise.  Hence “true righteousness and holiness” are created rather than a veneer that actually governs only the exterior rather than the heart.

            Indeed “created according to God” is often translated with something along the lines of “created to be like God” (CEV, NIV); “has been created in God’s image” (NET) . . . to imitate His moral essence.  The pagan gods were unholy and vile; those humans imitating the only true God’s image were pure and virtuous.   






Their New Lifestyle Centered On

Honesty And Self-Restraint 




            25 Therefore, having laid aside falsehoodeach one of you speak the truth with his neighbor, because we are members of one another.  26 Be angry and do not sin; do not let the sun go down on the cause of your anger.  27 Do not give the devil an opportunity.  28 The one who steals must steal no longer; instead he must labor, doing good with his own hands, so that he will have something to share with the one who has need. 

            29 You must let no unwholesome word come out of your mouth, but only what is beneficial for the building up of the one in need, that it would give grace to those who hear.  30 And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption.  31 You must put away all bitterness, anger, wrath, quarreling, and slanderous talk—indeed all malice.  32 Instead, be kind to one another, compassionate, forgiving one another, just as God in Christ also forgave you.  --New English Translation (for comparison)



            4:25     Therefore, putting away lying, Let each one of you speak truth with his neighbor,” for we are members of one another.  It can be tempting to lie out of self-interest or annoyance, but the guideline should still be that of “putting away lying”—totally.  Even one cynic once remarked to the effect that he followed that guideline because it gave him far, far less to try to remember!

Again the personal emphasis, “let each one of you speak truth with his neighbor.”  Fundamental moral standards are absolute; they are for all members of the spiritual community and not just some.  Although logically applicable to everyone we come into contact with, in this context “neighbor” is spiritualized as a synonym for all fellow Christians since Paul proceeds to justify the expression on the grounds that “we are members of one another.”  That fits fellow church members far better than mere next door residents.  With the former we share deep spiritual concerns together and meet at least once weekly (Acts 20:7).  Obviously we have come into a close contact and bond and have regular interaction.

The words make full sense as a Pauline statement but if one regards it as a quotation—and the NKJV translation (by quotation marks) and some others (by different means of emphasis) do so as well—the most likely Old Testament reference would be Zechariah 7:16, “Speak each man truth to his neighbor.”  This is especially true because the following words (and next verse as well) emphatically continue the emphasis.

            “We are members of one another” conveys the image of our being “part” of each other because of our joint membership within the Lord’s church—we are individual parts of that collectivity.  It is a unique family; we are spiritual kin of each other.  Of course the truth telling demand and other moral injunctions also apply in dealing with those who are our physical “next door” neighbors as well, but if it is to exist anywhere surely it must be within this group of our spiritual kin . . . where the linkage is—or should be—the closest of all.        


            4:26     “Be angry, and do not sin”:  do not let the sun go down on your wrath.  Even when we have the policy of not lying or misrepresenting things to our “neighbor,” that does not mean that tensions will not sometimes arise:  People . . . even friends . . . can get on each other’s nerves by what is done or said without any ill intent.  (Even more so those who pay little attention to what they say!) 

Paul clearly implies that “be[ing] angry” is inevitable.  We will be given occasion to get seriously annoyed by others.  So it is imperative that we keep that annoyance on a tight leash and not allow it to make the situation even worse.  Hence what we respond, how we say it . . . and what we do in reaction must be kept under tight rein lest we ourselves become guilty of sin.  Nor are we to brood on it day after day:  “do not let the sun go down on your wrath.”  It only embitters us and lays the groundwork for long term conflict.

            This principle is also true of marital relationships.  And we can do vast harm if we dare forget it.  I recall an elder once telling me, “My wife and I don’t go to sleep without telling each other ‘I love you.’   Then he added, “Of course some nights we have to stay up real late.”

            If the introductory words “Be angry and do not sin” be regarded as a quotation—as it normally is--it would surely be citing Psalms 4:4, “Be angry and do not sin.”  Paul is affirming that the wise words of the ancient king make just as good a standard of behavior today as when they were written.


            4:27     nor give place to the devil.  Lies (verse 25) and uncontrolled anger (verse 26) are not the only ways to “give place to the devil”—to let his desires and wishes be expressed to our own spiritual hurt and injury.  This is a broad principle and what Paul has said—and is about to in the next few verses—must be taken as only a sketch of a few fundamental examples.  If you understand these, you will have a good idea of the kind of behavior to avoid.  The Bible does not claim to cover every thing we run into in life; it does claim to provide the moral principles to guide our reaction to them.   


            4:28     Let him who stole steal no longer, but rather let him labor, working with his hands what is good, that he may have something to give him who has need.  Technically, theft is one way to “earn a living” but it is a dishonorable one.  Hence “let him who stole steal no longer” is a candid recognition that some of the church members had “shady” backgrounds.  But that was the past; it can’t be changed.  Only the future can be altered. 

Hence the admonition to replace it with self-support.  This involves “labor,” toil and sweat.  In that pre-technological age—and even in our own technological one!--“working with his hands” is essential to produce goods, transport goods, or otherwise provide honorable income.  The addition of “what is good” tells us that only work for an ethical and honest purpose is in mind.   

            Although the primary purpose of our labor is always for ourselves (and our families if we are married), Paul does not even bother to mention such obvious facts.  Instead he stresses the ability to provide charitable assistance to others who are unable to provide for themselves (i.e., “him who has need”).  In the Old Testament it was warned, “the poor will never cease from the land” (Deuteronomy 15:11).  Similarly Jesus taught that “you have the poor with you always” (Mark 14:7).  They never fully disappear even from a prosperous society.


            4:29     Let no corrupt word proceed out of your mouth, but what is good for necessary edification, that it may impart grace to the hearers.  The vileness of “corrupt” language that twists our speech from a means of exchanging information to one of insult and obscenity is to be avoided.  The minimalist interpretation of “corrupt” would be “unwholesome” (NASB, NIV); “harmful” (GNT); “anything that would hurt” (GW). 

The maximalist interpretation of the term would be “foul language” (Holman); “filthy talk” (ISV).  There is no particular reason that the language wasn’t intended to cover both. 

            The language we use is to be “what is good,” i.e., beneficial to the listener and honorable to the speaker.  That inference is conveyed by the two ways Paul describes the result of such words.  First comes “necessary edification.”  People need spiritual building up (“edification”) so it is naturally called “necessary edification”—something that is not only desirable but outright essential.

            The second description of our speech patterns is “that it may impart grace to the hearers.”  When applied to God, “grace” refers to His unmerited favor being given—“unmerited” because there is no way to actually deserve or earn it.  It is strictly an act of mercy.  When “grace” is used of human actions, it refers to how we “benefit” others (NIV), what “will help those who hear you” (GW).  This would include things like good advice and counsel when they stand in need of it.  Preeminently it refers to using our abilities to lead them to the Lord and to deepen the faith of those who already have that faith.  


            4:30     And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption.  A “seal” verified ownership and who something belonged to.  God used “the Holy Spirit” to put on us the seal denoting salvation since the “seal” marks us “for the day of [ultimate, eternal] redemption.”  Hence we should not upset (“grieve”) the Holy Spirit by what we say or do—the Holy Spirit who inspired Paul and the other apostles in what they had to say.  What will surely do that is the violation of the principles He has revealed through the apostles and prophets.  If we expect to continue in that heaven bound group we must act in a manner in conformity with God’s will.


            4:31     Let all bitterness, wrath, anger, clamor, and evil speaking be put away from you, with all malice.  In light of the previous verse, we “grieve the Holy Spirit of God” if we permit these evils to be part of our lifestyle.  They represent a series of characteristics that easily merge into each other and it is hard to see any of them existing in isolation—at least for very long. 

Because of their very destructive nature, they are things to be removed from our lives (“put away from you”) even if it takes strong and persistent effort.  And it might just require that since twice (in both “all bitterness” and “all malice”) he stresses that these things should be totally removed.  Does anyone seriously think that Paul meant anything less about the other attitudes?

            Six evils are singled out and each concerns how we treat other people.

            (1)  “Bitterness.”  We have gone beyond being upset . . . being annoyed . . . we are outraged at the other person.  We hold it against them and it is reflected in our language and actions.  When our attitudes have gone that far, the other things on this list are natural outgrowths of our (barely controlled?) indignation.

            (2)  “Wrath” covers our “rage” (NIV) and “hot tempers” (GW) aimed at our foe. 

            (3)  “Anger” naturally walks hand-in-hand with our rage, interacting with each other and refueling the other if it eases off.  It is far more than just “passionate feeling” (Weymouth), it is “vehement and hostile passionate feeling.”

            (4)  “Clamor” is expressed in such things as “shouting” (GNT, Holman), “yell[ing] at one another” (CEV), and “loud quarreling” (GW, ISV).  Weymouth combines this with the “evil speaking” that comes next and suggests, “loud insulting language.”  Surely this kind of mind frame is guaranteed to produce it!  At its most extreme, it produces violence and the NIV presumably has that in mind when it renders the term as “brawling.”            

            (5)  “Evil speaking” covers all the varied means by which we try to cut to ribbons the self-respect others have or gut their (legitimate) good reputation.  Many translations understandably take these feuds as resulting in “slander” (ESV, Holman, ISV, NASB, WEB) or, at the least, “insults” (GNT).  If we assume—and we all know what this is often the case—that vulgarity is commonly involved as well, then to render the term as  “cursing” (GW) or “curs[ing] each other” (CEV) also makes sense.  Even so the other substitutions seem more comprehensive and better cover all the forms that “evil speaking” may take.

            (6)  “Malice” covers “hateful feelings” (GNT) and “hatred” (GW, ISV).  It is not a mere superficial attitude.  By this time it has become deep rooted and been brewed into contemptuous “malice.” 


            4:32     And be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God in Christ forgave you.  True personal Christianity is not defined simply by what we don’t do; it is also characterized by the positive virtues our lives reflect.  Three are singled out for attention.

            (1)  “Be kind to one another.”  Negatively presented, this means “don’t have the outlook of always seeking something to complain about.”  From the positive standpoint, it means always being on the alert to find some way to help others who need assistance.  It can be something as simple as not having a convenient way to church.  I’ve been on the receiving end of such assistance for months at a time; likewise I’ve had the opportunity to provide months of rides to help others who have faced such difficulties.  “Earth shaking” it certainly isn’t; but it is down to earth needed helpfulness.   

            (2)  “Be[ing] tenderhearted” includes recognizing “low intensity needs” that occur but which are not so dramatic that they cry out for immediate attention.  They are there and the person(s) are not going to go for so long without things getting worse.  So you act to help deal with it while it is still on a manageable level.  Some translations prefer the rendering of “sympathetic” (GW), but it strikes me as far better to speak in terms of being “merciful” (CEV) or “compassionate” (Holman, ISV, NIV).  These convey better the lesson that not only do you feel “tenderhearted” but that you do something about it . . . act “tenderhearted” . . . as well.

            (3)  “Forgiving one another:  not holding grudges.  When the attempt has been made to resolve a breach we accept the attempt rather than rejecting it.  In doing such we are reflecting the example Deity has set for us.  After all “God in Christ forgave you” and there was absolutely no one else who had the ability.  We should never forget Jesus’ forceful lesson given in the parable of the unforgiving servant (Matthew 18:21-35):  We generously forgive or we ourselves will not receive mercy either.