The unity of the Spirit. 4:1-16
The "mystery", once hidden now revealed, namely, "the unsearchable riches of Christ", is central to Paul's letter to the Ephesians. In Chapter 1 he introduces the subject, in Chapter 2 he relates the mystery to the church, in Chapter 3 he explains his part in the mystery, and in chapters 4-6 he deals with the practical application of the mystery. In the section before us, Paul deals with the substantial issue of how the Spirit-empowered ministries promote unity in Christ.
v1-3. Paul begins by encouraging his readers to maintain fellowship in their congregation. From his prison (somewhere in Rome between 56-60AD) he urges his readers to live a life worthy of their standing as followers of Christ. He gives practical expression to this exhortation in v2. He calls for humility, gentleness, patience, forbearance and tolerance, Cf. Col.3:12-13. So, in v3, Paul encourages his readers to strive to live in unity with one another in the Christian fellowship, and in so doing, maintain the integral union they have with God through the Spirit of Christ.
v4-6. Having called for a practical expression of the unity (oneness, fellowship, love) that brothers and sisters in Christ should have toward each other in the church, Paul goes on to establish the substantial basis of that unity. Unity is intrinsic for the brotherhood, for we are all members of the one body, having the same Lord, faith, baptism and God.
v7. Paul has made the point that there is an integral unity in the Christian fellowship. This is based on the commonality of our faith - the same God, etc. He now introduces the idea of unity in diversity. The diversity has to do with the diverse gifts of the Spirit.
v8-10. The quotation from Psalm 68:18 was, at the time, understood to refer to Moses going up Mount Sinai, receiving the law, descending the mountain, giving the law to the people of Israel and then leading them to the promised land. Paul now applies this thinking to Jesus. Jesus ascended on high, to the very throne of the living God (his ascension), received glory and power, descended as the Spirit of Christ upon his church, and now pours out his ministry-gifts upon his people.
v11. Still with the idea of Moses bearing the Word of God to the gathered people at Mount Sinai, Paul lists the gifts of ministries which make known the Word of God: apostles, prophets, evangelists and pastor-teachers.
v12-13. Ministries of the Word prepare and train God's people for service within the church, and in so doing, strengthen the fellowship, such that the individual members are shaped into the image of Christ.
v14-15. The ministry of the Word of God, in all its diversity, produces maturity in the believer. It helps us stand firm in our faith against the constant tide of popular thought. It shapes us into the image of Christ.
v16. Paul concludes by using his "body" image to restate how mutual ministry serves to make real our oneness in Christ. Each member, with their different gifts, is like the different parts of a body, each serving the whole. We minister to each other out of the compelling love of Christ, and thus, all are strengthened, trained, built up, as disciples of Christ.
In our passage, Paul has told us that all believers have spiritual gifts. We all have natural abilities which are energized, empowered by the Spirit of Christ. We may be united together in our common relationship with God through Christ, but we are all different, in that we all have a different range of abilities. We are all touched differently by the Spirit of God, but touched we are. And these abilities in each one of us can be welded together into a gift of ministry - a capacity to serve our brothers and sisters in Christ. Paul is particularly focused on Word-ministries, but there are many others: prayer, encouragement, generosity, faith, kindliness, hospitality, welcoming, a practical helping hand............. As each one of us comes to understand our gifts (spiritual abilities), shapes them into a ministry, applies them for building up the brotherhood and uses them to reach out to the lost, it is then that our church grows. We become Christ to each other and to the world.
This Biblical ideal of mutual ministry leads us to consider two issues:
1. Funnel Ministry
The life of the church can be constricted by the capacity of the minister. It has often been assumed that the minister will do everything, control everything, be everything to everyone - be Christ to the congregation; prophet, priest and king. Yet, the clergyman is not the only minister. We are all ministers to each other.
2. Prophetic Ministry
As part of our egalitarian nature, we in the West have tended to demystify the professions. It's no longer possible for a doctor to write out his script in Latin and simply say, "Take this prescription and I will see you in a week." We want to know the ins and outs of our complaint. Yet, as we demystify the clergy we can also "build tombs for the prophets and decorate the graves of the righteous", Math.23:29-32. It is essential that we give due recognition to the ministries of the Word.
So then, let us all serve as ministers of Christ, and let us respect the ministry of others, particularly a ministry of the Word.
1. Discuss the different functions of the ministries of the Word, v11. How would you discern such gifts of ministry?
2. What is their purpose? v12-15
3. In what ways are the Word ministries being undermined today?
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