Some Thoughts on Ephesians Four and the Christian Community

This week we turn to Ephesians chapter 4. Surprise surprise(!) one of Paul’s central themes in this passage is unity.  In chapter 2 Paul began to write about how God has made both Jews and Gentiles one by tearing down the dividing wall of hostility. He did this by abolishing the law of commandments, thus abolishing the one thing that made Jews distinct from the Gentiles. In Chapter 3 Paul tells the Ephesians that their unity, the unity between the Gentiles and the Jews in that church, makes the manifold wisdom of God known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places. Here in chapter 4 Paul delivers a practical encouragement to believers to abandon darkness inspired ways, which are marked by disunity, and to adopt Spirit inspired ways of living.

As you read this passage (and think about it for discussion) notice how Paul begins and how he ends. Immediately Paul jumps into a discussion of humility, gentleness, patience, bearing with one another, and love; notice how all of these things are communal activities. You can’t be humble by yourself, you can’t be gentle all alone, and you can’t bear with one another if there isn’t another person to bear with! Paul’s ethical injunctions are all communal! Which makes sense because he is encouraging them to maintain unity in the Spirit. If you drop down the end of Chapter 4 once again you see that Paul is encouraging the Ephesians towards a Spirit-inspired-communal way of life. Being kind to one another, being tenderhearted, and being forgiving, are all things that you can’t do by yourself. You can only do these things in community. Even when he talks about grieving the Holy Spirit (v.30) it is in light of a communal ethics. Corrupting talk, talk which does not build others up in grace, grieves the Holy Spirit.  So this “new life” that he talks about in the middle of chapter 4 is one that is fundamentally about living in community. But notice what Paul doesn’t do, he doesn’t simply give them a list of rules to follow. This is not a new form of the law, rather the Ephesians are to live in unity because they have been “renewed in the spirit of their minds.” A life of unity is not merely an external change, its is a change from the inside out. But even beyond the change that occurs within us, Paul grounds this new way of life in the nature of God.

Notice how Paul ends his injunction to put on the new self by reminding them that they were “created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness.” In order to grasp what it means to be created after the likeness of God we need to know what God is like. Paul tells us what God is like in Ephesians 4:4-5. He says that there is one body (a united Church), one faith, and one baptism; but all these things are grounded in the fact that there is one Spirit, one Lord, one God and Father of all. He grounds his injunction to live as a united community in the oneness of God. In other words:

Christian community ethics is grounded in monotheism. When the church lacks unity it calls into the question the proclamation of the oneness of God.

But we must remember that God’s oneness is Trinitarian. As the creeds tell us, God is three persons but one nature. The relationships between the three persons of the one Godhead provide us with a picture of the oneness of the community of believers we call the Church. This is because the Trinity is a community of love. The Father has an eternal and perfect love for the son the Son and the Son has an eternal and perfect love for the Father, and the Holy Spirit shares in the eternal and perfect love between the Father and the Son. Love and oneness are that the core of the life of God. The Church reflects the Trinitarian life of God. Sort of like the Trinity is three persons but one nature, the Church is composed of diverse elements (prophets, apostles, teachers, pastors, etc.) but it is fundamentally one. (A quick side note: how exactly we move from the nature of the Trinity to how the Church should live/be structured is a huge debate. Many books have been written about making the move from Trinitarian Theology to Ecclesiology.) So:

As the church lives in unity it serves as a witness to the Trinitarian God who is one.

Here are some questions to think about as you discuss the passage with one another this week:

  1. What sorts of things threaten unity in your Church community?
  2. How can we maintain and guard this unity we have with other believers?
  3. How can we help grow the unity we have with other believers (both locally and globally)?

Published by cwoznicki

Chris Woznicki is an Assistant Adjunct Professor of Theology at Fuller Theological Seminary. He works as the regional training associate for the Los Angeles region of Young Life.

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