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Bible: What Does Ephesians 3-4 Teach Us About Christian Doctrine, Character, and Conduct?

Updated on November 13, 2016

The Apostle Paul


The "Mystery" of the Church

Paul’s opening phrase in chapter three (“For this reason”) returns the reader to the preceding context in which he made the point that God is building His church to include the Ephesians and other Gentiles.

Since such "construction" is evidently underway, Paul, incarcerated for preaching the gospel to the Gentiles, is about to tell them that he prays that God would strengthen them spiritually through His Spirit (vv. 1, 14, 16).

Perhaps prompted by his use of the word “Gentiles,” Paul interrupts what would have been the beginning content of this prayer with a long, parenthetical explanation of his call to Gentile apostleship (vv. 2-13).

He refers to this calling as “the dispensation of the grace of God” (v. 2).

In other words, by the Spirit’s revelation Paul, to whom God had entrusted great knowledge of “the mystery of Christ,” also came to understand the “mystery” of Gentile equality with Jews in the body of Christ—a doctrine unrevealed to all prior generations of holy men (vv. 3-6).

At that point, God commissioned him as a steward (manager) and powerfully gifted him to proclaim the good news of this new teaching to the Ephesians (v. 7).

Paul reiterates that God “graced” him—according to the apostle’s opinion, “the very least of all the saints” (NASB)—to preach Christ among the nations, so that everyone could understand this divine mystery hidden in the Creator from all eternity (vv. 8-9).

The apostles will not be the only ones to communicate this truth to all humanity, but the Church through its evangelistic outreach will also reveal the many-sided wisdom of God’s plan to all angelic authorities (v. 10).

God will complete His purpose, accomplishing it through Christ Whom all believers can confidently draw upon for strength (vv. 11-12).

Prayer and Praise


The Apostle's Prayer

Before disclosing his prayer for them, Paul asks the Ephesians that, in light of this information about his ministry to the Gentiles, they would not lose their nerve because of his sufferings for them—difficulties which the apostle regards as their glory (v. 13).

The second “for this reason” returns Paul to his original thought: his prayer to “the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ” (cf. 1:3, 17) [v. 14].

All true believers everywhere derive their name (reputation, character) from Him (v. 15).

The apostle asks God to strengthen the “inner man” of believers through the power of His Spirit (v. 16).

[The Lord daily renews this “inner man” (the regenerated nature) in knowledge according to the image of Christ (cf. II Cor. 4:16; Col. 3:10).]

When God reinvigorates them with a fresh insertion of grace, several wonderful things happen:

(1) Christ can make His home in their hearts;

(2) Believers can appreciate His multidimensional love to some meaningful extent, if not fully; and

(3) They can substantially experience the Holy Spirit’s controlling power (“filled with all the fullness of God”) [vv. 17-19].

Paul completes the doctrinal section of this book (chapters 1-3) twice directing praise (“now to Him”; “to Him be glory”) toward his omnipotent God—the One who can accomplish infinitely more than believers can ever ask from Him— because of the work He continually does in the Church through Christ (vv. 20-21).

Walk Worthy of Your Calling

Ephesians 4 begins the practical section of this epistle and finds the imprisoned apostle encouraging the Ephesian believers to conduct their lives as befits their salvation (v. 1).

He lists several moral character qualities that they should manifest in their relationships with other believers: lowliness (humility) and gentleness, longsuffering (patience), and persevering love (v. 2).

They should work to maintain the spiritual unity that already exists because of the Spirit’s ministry, applying the “glue” of reconciliation (v. 3).

Focusing on the former point, Paul emphasizes the various aspects of this unity: one universal body of Christ, one Holy Spirit, one hope of their calling (heaven), one Lord (Jesus Christ), one faith, one baptism, one transcendent, immanent, and indwelling God and Father of all believers (vv. 4-6).

[Ryrie thinks this reference to God’s Fatherhood speaks of His relationship as Creator (New Testament Study Bible, 346); he does not explain why.]

The Triumph of the Cross


The apostle draws an analogy between the generosity of military victors and Christ’s triumph at the Cross.

As conquerors gave gifts to their followers after confiscating booty from their prisoners, so the ascended Christ gave spiritual gifts to believers after defeating Satan (vv. 7-8; cf. Ps. 68:18).

Paul inserts an ipso facto parenthetical explanation that describes the purpose of Christ’s round-trip from His throne to earth at His incarnation, and then back to the Throne at His ascension: to fill all things (vv. 9-10).

[What does “fill all things” signify?

Did He not fill all things before His incarnation and ascension?]

The Place Where the Church Meets for Worship


Spiritual Leaders

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Gifted Men

Christ supplied the Church with gifted men, so that believers might have the spiritual and intellectual wherewithal to serve humanity and to grow together into a powerful spiritual organism (vv. 11-12).

[Apostles acted as ambassadors whom the Lord sent with the gospel; prophets received direct revelation from God, and proclaimed His infallible message; evangelists preach the gospel; and pastor-teachers care for the flock’s spiritual needs primarily through the application of God’s word.]

These men must continue their work until all believers attain to an experiential spiritual unity (having one heart and one mind), full experiential knowledge of the Person of Christ, and spiritual maturity that bears a definite resemblance to that of Jesus (v. 13).

[After the completion of the Scriptures, the Lord no longer calls apostles or prophets.]

Through the special ministries of these leaders, believers should come to possess enough stability in Christian truth that they do not vacillate in their faith when charlatans endeavor to dissuade them; rather, they should be able to defend the faith effectively and develop comprehensive spiritual growth (vv. 14-15).

Ideally, every “part” of the Body of Christ, drawing sustenance from the Head and cooperating with all the other parts, will contribute to the overall spiritual welfare of the whole (v. 16).

Character of the Church

Do you think the conduct of the Church differs substantially from the unsaved world?

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Spiritual and Moral Differences Between Unsaved and Saved

Since the Ephesians belong to the body of Christ, Paul asserts and testifies solemnly that their moral conduct should no longer resemble that of the rest of the Gentiles, who manifest sensuality leading to insatiable, impure practices.

This typical, abominable Gentile lifestyle stems from their spiritually lost condition; that is, their lack of a saving relationship with God.

Paul writes that they possess the following characteristics:

(1) a futile mind;

(2) a darkened understanding;

(3) alienation from the life of God;

(4) an innate ignorance;

(5) a blinded heart; and

(6) a calloused conscience (vv. 17-19).

[A futile or empty mind suggests thinking bereft of spiritual knowledge that would give their lives purpose and meaning.

A darkened understanding, caused by alienation from God through sin, produces this futile mind.

An innate ignorance (depravity?) and a blinded heart (caused by willful disobedience) result in their exclusion from God’s life.

Lack of repentance from their sinful lifestyle eventually hardens their conscience and makes them insensitive to the prodding of God’s Spirit].

Instead, the apostle instructs the Ephesian believers (to whom Christ has taught the truth through His Spirit) to repudiate and separate themselves from the lifestyle of the unregenerate, a lifestyle that becomes progressively more corrupt as sinful desires continue to promise more and deliver less (vv. 20-22).

In order to turn from sin, they must choose to change their thought patterns and learn to appropriate the righteous and holy mindset of the new nature that they have received from God (vv. 23-24).

Having taught them about the power source from which they must draw to live a holy life, Paul now lists a series of exhortations toward the attainment of that righteous conduct (vv. 25-32).

First, he focuses on the bilateralism of truthtelling: one must reject the habit of lying before one can speak truth.

Paul offers them a logical motive for developing this new pattern: they belong to the same body (v. 25; cf. Zech. 8:16).

[You only hurt yourself when you lie to a brother. Interestingly, Paul cites a millennial passage when an abundance of verses dealing with truth telling exist in more conventional places (for example, Proverbs)].

Second, the apostle quotes Psalm 4:4 to encourage the Ephesians to curb their righteous anger, so that it does not provide an opportunity for Satanic forces to use it for destructive purposes (vv. 26-27).

Third, Paul exhorts “thieves” to stop “stealing” from others; rather, they should earn a living through manual labor so that they can give to those truly in need (v. 28).

[The apostle considers sponging off others a form of stealing].

Fourth, when exhorting someone for any reason, one should not allow oneself to speak “rotten” language toward him; instead, one should aim to build up this individual with one’s speech, enabling him to make positive changes (v. 29).

[Perhaps a connection exists between the various exhortations.

For example, people who live off the means of others sometimes cause righteous anger that leads to lying and “corrupt communication”].

Unrighteous speech among believers “grieves” the Holy Spirit, Whom God has given to them as a down payment until their bodily resurrection (v. 30).

Fifth, Paul again presents a bilateral picture of what the Ephesians should do to modify their speech: remove all of the various forms of sinful communication (v. 31), and imitate God in Christ in His attitudes of kindness, sensitivity, and forgiveness (v. 32).

© 2013 glynch1


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