1st Sphere: Walking Worthy in the Assembly: Gifts & their Purposes
vv.1-16 In v.1 Paul exhorts us to walk worthy of the position, the hopes, and the relationships into which we have been called. There are three spheres that we need to “walk worthy” in, and they are taken up successively in the remaining chapters of the epistle:
- In the assembly (Eph. 4:1-16)
- In the Christian testimony (Eph. 4:17 – 5:21)
- In our natural relationships (Eph. 5:22 – 6:9)
He takes them up in the order of closeness to God himself (see vv.4-6), the closest circle being the Assembly, or “body of Christ”. In order to help us to walk worthy in the Assembly sphere, Christ has given gifts to the Church, which we need to appreciate.
- The Need to Walk Worthy, and How to Do It (vv.1-3)
- The Unity Principle: Three Concentric Spheres (vv.4-6)
- An Ascended Christ is the Source of these Gifts (vv.7-10)
- The Gifts of Christ to the Church (v.11)
- The Reasons for Giving the Gifts (vv.12-16)
- Reason #1: That the Saints might Reach Full Spiritual Maturity (v.12a)
- Reason #2: That Service would Continue and Prosper (v.12b)
- Reason #3: That the Body of Christ would be Built Up (v.12c)
- Reason #4: That the Saints might be Conformed into the Image of Christ (v.13)
- Reason #5: That the Saints might be Protected from Evil Doctrine (v.14)
- Reason #6: That the Members would Increasingly Reflect the Mind of Christ (v.15)
- Reason #7: That the Body might Edify Itself (by its Own Functioning) in Love (v.16)
The Need to Walk Worthy, and How to Do It (vv.1-3)
¶ *I*, the prisoner in the Lord, exhort you therefore to walk worthy of the calling wherewith ye have been called, v.1 Paul refers to himself as a prisoner “in the Lord”. The term “in Christ” is used in the first half of the epistle, but in the second half it almost disappears, and in its place we have the term “in the Lord” found five or six times. It is always connected with an exhortation based on the Lordship of Christ. Paul is speaking as a “prisoner”, as one who had lived out these truths and suffered for them. He exhorts us to “walk worthy” (in our practical conduct) of the “vocation” wherewith we have been called; namely, as Christians we compose both the body of Christ and the house of God (see notes from W. Kelly).
2 (1) with all lowliness and meekness, (2) with long-suffering, (3) bearing with one another in love; 3 (4) using diligence to keep the unity of the Spirit in the uniting bond of peace. vv.2-3 He doesn’t leave us wondering how to walk worthy, but gives four things that need to characterize our walk:
- Humility. Characterized by two virtues: lowliness, which is not taking offense, and meekness, which is not giving offense. Both these characters were displayed perfectly in the life of the Lord Jesus on earth (Matt. 11:29; 2 Cor. 10:1).
- Patience. Characterized by long-suffering, which is showing kindness, even when trespassed against over and over again.
- Love. As we forbear with one another, we are not to slip into a spirit of pride or contempt for our brother, but always act and live in a spirit of love.
- Unity. We are to maintain practical unity by individually submitting the mind of God as revealed in His Word. “The uniting bond of peace” is the practical fellowship that believers enjoy with one another when submitting to the Spirit of God. The bond itself also contributes to unity.
We are to “use diligence” to practically display the unity of the Body in the earth. It takes grace and a lot of effort. The flesh, the world, and the Devil are going to oppose it. The first ones to break this unity were Annanias & Saphira (Acts 5).
The Unity of the Spirit. The “therefore” in v.1 refers to what was previously mentioned. Since ch.3 was a parenthesis, the previous topic was the house of God (Eph. 2:21-22) and before that, the body of Christ (Eph. 2:13-18). There is a unity of the body and an order of the house. The body gives us the activity and ministry of the Church, and the house gives us the order and the government of the Church. The unity of the Spirit gives us the oneness in ministry and the oneness in government that ought to characterize the Church of God. It is not something we need to manufacture… the unity has already been formed on the day of Pentecost, when they were all with one accord in one place. But we need to keep or maintain it, by submitting ourselves to the Word, the revealed mind of God. The center of the unity is Christ… who else could it be (Eph. 1:10)? We cannot do anything in the name of unity if we are not recognizing the authority Christ. We endeavor to “keep” this unity by obeying the Word of God and submitting to the Lordship of Christ. Another good definition of the unity of the Spirit is: that which the Spirit of God is forming in this world to give expression to the truth of the unity of the Church. Paul exhorts us to publicly maintain this unity, not merely to content ourselves with its absence, or to treat the unity of the assembly as an abstract truth. It requires “diligence” to do this.
Union ≠ uniformity ≠ unity. You could take five cats and tie their tails together… they would have union but not unity. You could purchase five identical cats… they would have uniformity but not unity. True unity requires submission of our will to the Word of God. Every Christian has union with each other because they are all in the body of Christ, but not all are walking in unity because not all are following the leading of the Spirit.
The Unity Principle: Three Concentric Spheres (vv.4-6)
vv.4-6 Why are these three concentric spheres brought in? It is to establish the unity principle: namely, God works in unity to form unity. Every time God works, whether to form the body, the public testimony, or the universal creation, there is One Mind at work with a purpose to produce an orderly, unified result… and God is always the center!
The Sphere of Reality (v.4)
4 There is one body and one Spirit, as ye have been also called in one hope of your calling; v.4 This first circle is the circle of reality. Everyone in it has genuine faith in Christ. There is only “one body“, the assembly as a living organism on the earth for the purpose of expressing the mind of Christ the head. There is only “one Spirit” indwelling each true believer and the house of God. There is only “one hope of our calling“, that is, a common prospect for every believer, the eternal enjoyment of all our blessings when we are in the glorified state (Eph. 1:18, Rom. 5:2, 8:30).
The Body of Christ. The body of Christ is a figure used in the New Testament to describe the assembly of God. The body of Christ was formed on the Day of Pentecost, when the Spirit of God was sent down to the earth, and indwelt the believers present, linking them to Christ in heaven. Believers on earth who have the Spirit indwelling them are members of the body (Rom. 12:5). Christ in heaven is the head of the body (Col. 1:18). Christ’s mind is to be displayed by His body on earth. The Holy Spirit is the one who directs the members of the body; similar to how the nervous system in the human body works. It is important to understand that the body is not a mere concept. It is a reality! Read more…
The Sphere of Profession (v.5)
5 one Lord, one faith, one baptism; v.5 This second circle is the circle of profession. All in it make an outward profession of Christ. There is only “one Lord”, that is, only one Christian profession, even though it is outwardly divided. All of Christendom marches under the same banner; the professed Lordship of Christ, although not all are real (Matt. 25:11). There is only “one faith”, one common Christian faith (not individual faith). And there is only “one baptism“ which is the door of entrance into the Christian profession. This is why it doesn’t matter who baptized you, when it was done, or what denomination you were affiliated with… there is only one baptism and it doesn’t need to be repeated twice.
The Sphere of Creation (v.6)
6 one God and Father of all, who is over all, and through all, and in us all. v.6 This third circle is the broadest of all, it is the circle of creation. All people, regardless of their religious associations, are in this circle. There is only “one God and Father of all”. This is not “Father” in the Christian sense, but in the sense of creation (Acts 17:28). God the Father has many types of paternity, but His being the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, that is, His eternal intra-Trinitarian relationship is why he is called “the Father”. But here is His being the progenitor of all creation that is in view. Only Christians have been brought to share the Son’s relationship with His Father. God is “over all“ in that He has control over all circumstances. His will is done “through all” circumstances. In the last phrase of the verse Paul comes back to the indwelling Spirit in believers (Circle #1), by saying God is “in us all”!
An Ascended Christ is the Source of these Gifts (vv.7-10)
Christ is the Source of these Gifts (vv.7-8)
7 But to each one of us has been given grace according to the measure of the gift of the Christ. v.7 In order for us to walk worthy of our vocation in the assembly, we will need special gifts from the Lord to help us. Accordingly, each one of us has been given “grace”, which is a reference to ministerial gift, but it is called grace here because it is regarded as a gift from One who loves His Church and cares for each member. In this verse “each of us” has been given “grace” which refers to the way every member is a joint of supply (v.16) in the body. This is similar to Rom. 12:3, the “measure of faith” being different in the case of every believer. For example, three individuals might have the gift of an evangelist, but one speaks to large crowds, another distributes gospel literature door-to-door, and a third speaks to neighbors and co-workers. All have the same gift, but different measures of it. We see this with Andrew and Peter. Both were evangelists, but one is only found working with individuals, the other often preached to large crowds.
8 Wherefore he says, “Having ascended up on high, he has led captivity captive, and has given gifts to men.” [Psa. 68:18] v.8 It was not on earth, but as an ascended, glorified Christ that He gave gifts to men. Paul quotes from Psa. 68:18, which is prophetic of what Christ will do for Israel in the Millennium. Paul takes the principle of it and applies it here. When a great conqueror is returning home after a victory, before he displays his glory personally, he parades the spoils among his people as evidence that the victory has been won. Christ, having died and been raised and ascended to God’s right hand, now, before His day of glory, has taken those who were Satan’s captives and made them His own captives (willingly), and made them into gifts for the Church. Paul himself is a perfect example of this. He was barreling down the road to Damascus when he was struck down by a voice from heaven, and turned around into perhaps the greatest gift Christ ever gave His Church!
What had to Occur for Christ to become the Giver of Gifts? (vv.9-10)
9 But that he ascended, what is it but that he also descended into the lower parts of the earth? v.9 Point #1: He had to descend before He could ascend. Christ “descended” from being alive on the earth into the grave (death) to complete the atoning work (Rom. 4:25) and put away the sins that once bound us.
10 He that descended is the same who has also ascended up above all the heavens, that he might fill all things; v.10 Point #2: He had to ascend in order to be in a position to give gifts. When it says He “ascended” it includes the resurrection and ascension of Christ. He rose out of the condition of death into life. Through death He vanquished Satan, Heb. 2:14. Now as an ascended, victorious Christ He is the source of the gifts. The source is not an earthly organization! He is now “above all, etc.” in His place at the head of a new creation. He “fills all things” in that all things in new creation bear His image (Col. 3:11b).
The Gifts of Christ to the Church (v.11)
11 and *he* has given some (1) apostles, and some (2) prophets, and some (3) evangelists, and some (4a) shepherds and (4b) teachers, v.11 Now we get the actual gifts that Christ has given to the assembly. It says “he gave some” which is a limited quantity. Not every Christian is a gift to the Church, but every Christian has a gift. It is interesting that you get all five of these gifts in action in Acts 11:19-29.
- Apostles are those who were commissioned by an ascended Christ. This does not refer to the twelve apostles, because they received an earthly commission (Matt. 10, Matt. 28, Acts 1) to witness the resurrection, baptize and build up the kingdom. The twelve were commissioned by a Christ on earth, but the “apostles” mentioned here are of a heavenly order, because they were commissioned by an ascended Christ. Paul would have been perhaps the first of this order. They were “sent” by the risen Lord to edify the Church. Read more…
- Prophets are those who received inspired revelations from God (see note). There are no more of these “New Testament” prophets today, because the canon of scripture is complete. We do have prophetic gift and ministry today, but that is different (see 1 Cor. 12). Instead we have the writings of the New Testament prophets as part of the completed canon of scripture! Read more…
- Evangelists are those who preach the gospel and bring in converts (Acts 21:8). There is only one person in the New Testament called an “evangelist”, although we know there were others. His name was Philip (Acts 21:8), and we get a beautiful example of the activity of an evangelist in Acts 8, where the conversion of the Ethiopian eunuch is recorded. Evangelists are not mentioned in 1 Corinthians because the context there is the functioning of gift in the local assembly, and evangelism is never connected with the local assembly.
- Pastors and teachers are linked because they are often found in the same person. Pastors or shepherds are those who discern and minister to spiritual needs of believers. Teachers are those who can intelligently and clearly set forth the truth of God’s Word. It doesn’t refer to one with merely a lot of knowledge, but rather to one who can effectively communicate that knowledge to others; “the word of knowledge” (1 Cor. 12:8). Apollos was one with the gift of teaching, but he himself needed to be instructed “more exactly” (Acts 18:24-28).
New Testament Apostles and Prophets. New Testament Apostles and Prophets are the “foundation gifts” (Eph. 2:20). Not all the New Testament writers were apostles, and yet some of their words and writings were just as much inspired as the apostles’ writings. These speakers and writers were called prophets. This gift was not limited to writing, because much of what they spoke by inspiration was not written down (1 Cor. 2:13). They were prophets in the sense of:  forth-telling the revealed mind of God (like Judas and Silas; Acts 15:32),  foretelling the future (like Agabus; Acts 11:28; 21:10), or  receiving divine inspiration (like Mark, James, etc.) to pass on orally or in written form (Romans 16:25-26). We don’t have New Testament apostles & prophets with us in person, but we do have their writings. The reason we don’t have them in person is that they were the foundation (Eph. 2:20), which is already complete. Thankfully, what God saw fit to give us was written down and canonized, so we have these gifts with us “till we all come” (at the rapture). Read more…
Prophets. There are no more New Testament prophets, but there is still prophetic ministry, and still those who have a gift of prophecy (1 Cor. 14). God gives a word to these ones “for the time” whether it be for edification, exhortation, or comfort. However, God may do a prophetic work, as He did in the mid-1800’s. Kelly thought that the recovery of the truth was similar in character to what the New Testament prophets were used for, although he hesitated to call any used in the work “a prophet”.
Three great spheres of Christian activity. There are really three different spheres of Christian activity. As a student of the Word of God, I am responsible to “rightly divide the Word of Truth”, and not lump these three spheres together. The first sphere is Christian Priesthood (Man offering something to God), the second sphere is Christian Ministry (God given something to man), and the third sphere is Christian Office (Man giving something to man). In this portion we are reading about ministry. Notice that it is Christ giving gifts to man. Whenever the flow is from God toward man the sphere is ministerial. Christians often mix up these three spheres, but in the Word of God they are always carefully distinguished. Many believers think that the greatest thing we can do for God is to minister, but ministry is really God working through His servants, although we are to serve “heartily as unto the Lord”. But really, the greatest think we can do is worship, which is a priestly function. Getting service before worship is a common mistake. Christian office is always limited to the local sphere, but gift is universal (for the whole body). Mixing up gift with office results in Popery; officials in the Church having jurisdiction over large geographical regions.
What are spiritual gifts? Christians have been given special gifts to aid us in our service for the Lord, and to benefit the whole body of Christ. These spiritual gifts are special abilities given to a believer to aid in the service of the Lord. These abilities are supernatural, although they do not always appear to be “miraculous” in the conventional sense of the word. Spiritual gifts are “spiritual”, in that they do not come from man, although they could be given by apostolic power as in the case of Timothy (2 Tim. 1:6). People are not born with spiritual gifts, nor can they be gained by study or theological training. They are conveyed to a believer by the Holy Spirit upon salvation; hence they are “gifts”. You cannot purchase a gift of God with money (Acts 8:20). God can use “unlearned and ignorant men” like Peter and John the fishermen, or He can use a well-educated man like the Apostle Paul, who learned at Gamaliel’s feet. The Spirit uses “whom He will” (1 Cor. 12:11). I do not believe the lists of gifts in scripture are exhaustive, but does give us generally the spheres of Christian ministry. Read more…
Three mentions of gifts. These spiritual gifts are mentioned in a number of different contexts, and it is helpful to keep in mind the distinctions between gifts mentioned in Ephesians 4, 1 Corinthians 12, and Romans 12, etc. Read more…
Sign gifts. In 1 Corinthians 12 we have a number of “sign gifts” mentioned; prophecy, tongues, healings, etc. Those sign gifts are only given for a limited period of time, and 1 Cor. 13:8 says that “prophecies shall fail” and “tongues shall cease”. But in Ephesians 4 the gifts are permanent; i.e. we still have them either in person or in writing, because it says “till we all come” (v.13) which means we will have them until the rapture. The sign gifts were for a witness to the nation of Israel (1 Cor. 1:22), but the other gifts are for the building up of the body of Christ (Eph. 4:12).
The Reasons for Giving the Gifts (vv.12-16)
Reason #1: That the Saints might Reach Full Spiritual Maturity (v.12a)
12a for the perfecting of the saints; v.12a The first reason for Christ’s gifts to the Church is that the saints might individually be perfected. Perfection is scripture most often refers to spiritual maturity, not the state of being free from sin. It refers to full growth; when a believer is sealed with the Spirit, walking in the Spirit, intelligent about their standing in Christ, and the truths characteristic of this dispensation, and looking for the Lord to come. But it is more than just growth in intelligence. It covers growth in the aspect of moral transformation into the image of Christ. This is why the Church is on earth; to reflect Christ to the world.
Reason #2: That Service would Continue and Prosper (v.12b)
12b with a view to the work of the ministry,v.12b The second reason is that the saints might be engaged in the work of the ministry. Ultimately, gifts allow Christians to be useful in the service of Christ; whether in evangelism, teaching, shepherding, or practical help. Knowledge is not an end in itself. God doesn’t want me to be a well-taught couch potato!
Reason #3: That the Body of Christ would be Built Up (v.12c)
12c with a view to the edifying of the body of Christ; v.12c The third reason the gifts are given is for the building up of the “body of Christ”, the universal assembly. Notice that the gifts are not restricted to the local assembly. If someone is a pastor in a local gathering, they still function as a pastor when travelling abroad! God’s purpose is that all of the gifts would work together to build up the body in a number of ways. New converts need to be brought into Christianity. Young believers need to be instructed in the truth pertaining to the Church. Discouraged souls need to be restored to the Lord. Prophets need to stir the Church up about the dangers that lurk around us. The Church needs to be reminded of her calling, purpose, and destiny. All these things and many more are included in the “edification of the body of Christ”.
Reason #4: That the Saints might be Conformed into the Image of Christ (v.13)
13 until we all arrive at the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, at the full-grown man, at the measure of the stature of the fulness of the Christ; v.13 The fourth reason in that all believers would be brought into conformance with the image of Christ. In v.12a we read about perfection or maturity that ought to characterize us now, but v.13 speaks about a perfection that has begun to be worked in us now, but will be completed at the rapture (1 John 3:2-3). The main objective of the whole body of Christian truth (“the unity of the faith”) and all that the believer’s association with the Person of Christ (“the knowledge of the Son of God”) is that we might be conformed to His image. It is God’s desire that we might all be a “full-grown man” in contrast with being immature. He wants us to grow up to the “measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ”, at which time Christ’s features will be fully reflected in us: stability, strength, grace, holiness, etc.
Reason #5: That the Saints might be Protected from Evil Doctrine (v.14)
14 in order that we may be no longer babes, tossed and carried about by every wind of *that* teaching which is in the sleight of men, in unprincipled cunning with a view to systematized error; v.14 The fifth reason is that we would be preserved from spiritual babyhood; a condition of weakness and exposure to all the trickery of men, and their shifting, calculating strategies of error. We live in a dangerous environment, where there is a force, or current (“wind of teaching”), if we are not careful we can be swept away. There are men in Christendom that are purposefully trying to trip up believers. They are equipped with “unprincipled cunning” , which means they are clever and willing to stop at nothing. Furthermore, these winds of doctrine are not isolated teachings. They are wrapped up in “systematized error”. These systems of error all make sense on the outside. For example covenant theology is a system that makes sense externally, but when you start asking hard questions it becomes evident that it is error. The good way to guard against being taken with these systems is to avail yourself of the gifts (e.g. sound written ministry). Often those who say “I don’t need ministry” are the first to become indoctrinated with a system of error.
Reason #6: That the Members would Increasingly Reflect the Mind of Christ (v.15)
15 but, holding the truth in love, we may grow up to him in all things, who is the head, the Christ: v.15 The sixth reason for the gifts is that they contribute to the connectedness of the body with the Head. The idea of growing “up to him who is the head” is that the members would more and more reflect the mind of Christ. The purpose of the body is to demonstrate the thoughts of the head. So the Church is on earth to work out in practice the mind and will of Christ the head. This is similar to how physical coordination improves in the human body through exercise and diet. For the gifts to have this effect on the body, we must be “holding the truth in love”. The holding place of the truth is to be our affections, our hearts. It cannot be merely a head knowledge. It is when the truth gets down into our hearts that it can make its way out through our feet! This growth is “in all things”; i.e. it touches every aspect of life.
Reason #7: That the Body might Edify Itself (by its Own Functioning) in Love (v.16)
16 from whom the whole body, fitted together, and connected by every joint of supply, according to the working in its measure of each one part, works for itself the increase of the body to its self-building up in love. v.16 The seventh and final reason for the gifts is that the body can function properly, every member contributing together, resulting in the building up of itself. Notice that the “whole body” is involved… all are needed for the body to function properly. The members are “fitted together” and need to function together harmoniously. Each one of us functions as a “joint of supply” or a vessel to help those members we come in contact with. The growth will be according to “the measure of each one”. We can’t expect corporate blessing if we are unwilling to make an individual contribution! The result will be the “increase of the body”. Not necessarily a growth in numbers, but an increase in spiritual maturity. The building up of the body is done “in love” toward one another. Any ministry that does not spring from a heart of love is useless at best, and often detrimental.