Church is grounded and built in Christ’s love

Church is grounded and built in Christ’s love (3:14-4:16)

Pray for saints (3:14-21)

I bow my knees unto the Father (3:14)

I personally saw some Christian brothers and sisters in a large church in Shanghai of China arriving earlier before the worship service started. They bowed their knees before the pulpit and prayed silently until the service was about to start. This pious posture really showed their reverence and humility out of their sincere hearts, not like the Pharisees in Jesus times who were rebuked by Jesus as hypocrites. Jesus said in Matthew 6:5 about the motivation of prayer: “And when thou prayest, thou shalt not be as the hypocrites are: for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and in the corners of the streets, that they may be seen of men. Verily I say unto you, They have their reward.”

The whole family in heaven and earth is “named” (3:15)

We all have a new name when we go to heaven and become one family one day. In Rev. 2:17, our Lord promises: “To him that overcometh will I give to eat of the hidden manna, and will give him a white stone, and in the stone a new name written, which no man knoweth saving he that receiveth it.”

There are 3 petitions that Paul makes in this prayer on behalf of the church of the Ephesians:

1. To be strengthened with might by his Spirit in the inner man (3:16)

We need to be strong inwardly. Paul says in II Cor 4:16, “though our outward man perish, yet the inward man is renewed day by day.” The outward man of course refers to our physical body, whereas the inward man refers to our spiritual body. In Chap. 4 of Ephesians, Paul describes that the moment we are converted as believers, we put off our old man and put on the new man by being “renewed in the spirit of your mind.” (Ephe. 4:23) Our spiritual strength is gained by the Holy Spirit. We need to keep asking God to grant us spiritual strength to face our daily tasks.

2. Christ may dwell in your hearts…being rooted and grounded in love (3:17)

“Rooted” is used in plants as plants by nature extend their roots to the soil underground as deep as they can so that they can stand firm on the soil. “Grounded”, on the other hand, refers to the structure of a building being established on solid ground. Paul is asking that Christ’s love deepen into our hearts.

3. To comprehend with all saints what is the “breadth, and length, and depth, and height”; and to know the love of Christ, which passth knowledge (3:18 & 19a)

Dimensions such as “breadth, length, depth, and height” obviously refer to the love of Christ. The more we understand Christ’s love, the more we discover His love is indeed beyond all dimensions. Some Bible commentary states that “by enumerating these dimensions, the apostle designs to signify the exceeding greatness of the love of Christ, the unsearchable riches of his love, which is higher than heaven, deeper than hell, longer than the earth, and broader than the sea.” It is referring to the Book of Job in the Bible where these four dimensions are used. Job’s friend describes God’s wisdom in Job 11:6-9 as saying:

11:6 "And that he would shew thee the secrets of wisdom, that they are double to that which is!...

11:7 Canst thou by searching find out God? canst thou find out the Almighty unto perfection?

11:8 It is as high as heaven; what canst thou do? deeper than hell; what canst thou know?

11:9 The measure thereof is longer than the earth, and broader than the sea."

Paul here uses these 4 dimensions to describe Christ’s love instead of God’s wisdom. The love of Christ, like God’s wisdom, is beyond our understanding.

4. Ye might be filled with all the fulness of God (3:19b)

In the commentary on Ephe 1:23, we have stated that “fullness” appears 4 times in this letter. We conclude that “fullness of Christ is what God plans to achieve in the fullness of time. That is indeed an expression of the fullness of God himself in a state of completion or perfection.” (refer to commentary on Ephe 1:23)

Since God is love (I John 4:8 “He that loveth not knoweth not God; for God is love”), we have the fullness of God when we have the full love of Christ.

Now unto him…be glory in the church by Christ Jesus… Amen (3:20-21)

This is the end of Paul’s brief prayer. It is a benediction of ascribing all the glory to God. Everything that operates in the church of Christ is to glorify God. The end purpose of our being as believers is to glorify God.

In this verse, Paul describes God’s power as one who “is able to do exceeding abundantly above all that we ask or think.” Paul expects his prayer for the Ephesians will be answered. Not only that, God will do more than what he prays for—things that are limited by his human mind.

Grow into maturity in love (4:1-16)

I therefore, the “prisoner” of the Lord (4:1a)

Paul mentioned 3 times in the Book regarding his situation at that time—a prisoner (3:1, 4:1, 6:20). However, he manifested being a prisoner is not without mission. In Ephe. 6:20a he claimed himself “an ambassador in bonds,” meaning he was sent by the Lord with some specific mission. The mission was stated clearly in the same verse “…that therein I may speak boldly, as I ought to speak.” (6:20b) He saw his imprisonment an assignment by the Lord for the purpose of preaching in Rome. Hearing of someone being a prisoner, we have the impression that the person must have committed crime. Being a prisoner is thus a shame to avoid mentioning. But Paul is not ashamed of telling the church people of his being a prisoner. Rather, he was to make sure they understand why he became a prisoner—not because of any unlawful act against the Roman authority but a mission given by the Lord.

Ye “walk” worthy of the vocation wherewith ye are called (4:1b)

So much has been talked of the doctrinal issues concerning the believer and the church he/she belongs to in the first 3 chapters. Now Paul is going to touch upon the practical side of the faith. At the beginning of the Book, Paul said that we have been “chosen” or called to be “holy and without blame.” (1:4) Now Paul is going to be more specific in telling us how to live a holy and blameless life. To walk worthy of the vocation (or calling), we are required to keep our integrity. Psalm 41:12 says, “As for me, thou upholdest me in mine integrity, and settest me before thy face for ever.” Integrity means somewhat like “what you say is what you get.” If you claim yourself to be something, you’d better walk as you claim to be (to maintain integrity). When we say we are the children of God—chosen and adopted by Him, we are to tell people by our walk. The only way the outsiders can tell whether we are His children is by our walk. A black man was handed a tract at one time. He could neither read nor write. So he asked the person, “What is this?” When he was told it was a tract, he said, “Well I can’t read it; so I’ll watch your tracks.” When we preach gospel, we should also live like what we are supposed to be, because people do not just read our tracts but are more interested in watching our tracks. 

With all lowliness and meekness, with longsuffering, forbearing one another in love (4:2)

“Lowliness” is a mind brought low; it is the opposite of pride. In Phil 2:3b says, “In lowliness of mind let each esteem other better than themselves.” (NRSV reads “in humility regard others as better than yourselves.”) Lowliness has to do with humility.

“Meekness” is close to gentleness, not easily provoked or offended; it is the opposite of angry resentment. Peter exhorts the wife of a husband to decorate herself with “a meek and quiet spirit” (“a gentle and quiet spirit” NRSV) as her inner beauty instead of putting on all the jewel ornaments to show off her outward beauty--that’s the manner of the “holy women.” (I Peter 3:3-5) Meekness does not mean weakness. In Matt 21:5 says, “Behold, thy King cometh unto thee, meek, and sitting upon an ass, and a colt the foal of an ass.” Even though Jesus was riding an ass (not a lion) to the Holy city, he still received great honour by the crowd and was applauded as their King.

Jesus rightfully says in Matt 11:29-30, “Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart; and ye shall find rest unto your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” If we are willing to learn to be meek and lowly from the Lord, we will be able to feel his burden so light that it is not heavy for us to take at all in any tough circumstance. Adversely, being proud and resentful will burden ourselves with heavy load all the time.

“Longsuffering” means being patient in suffering. One Bible commentary says: “longsuffering means a long temper.” With a long temper (not quick temper), we can “forbear one another.” “Forbearing” is bearing with each other’s weakness. As such, we can be at peace with one another. Otherwise, conflict will always arise.

Endeavoring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace (4:3)

We are bound together with peace. Peace with God and peace with each other (Jews and Gentiles) are the greatest accomplishments of Christ, as said in Chapter 2. Now we are to maintain the unity of peace since we are united into one body. In order to maintain peace, we have to be lowly and meek, patient and bearing with one another.

One body, and one Spirit…one hope of your calling, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all (4:4-6a)

Here are 7 “ones” mentioned all at once:

  1. One body—Christ reconciled us “unto God in one body by the cross” (2:16). And that is the Church as a whole.

  2. One Spirit—We have “access by one Spirit unto the Father” (2:18). Only the Spirit of God can bring us to God and hold us together in the unity of peace. The apostle John teaches us how to distinguish the Spirit of God: “Hereby know ye the Spirit of God: Every spirit that confessth that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh is of God” (I John 4:2). If we truly can submit to the same Spirit, it shouldn’t be difficult for us to maintain the unity of peace in Christ’s love.

  3. One hope of your calling—In 1:18, Paul prays for us to have the spirit of wisdom and revelation, so that “ye may know what is the hope of his calling, and what the riches of the glory of his inheritance in the saints.” We are all called to bear the same hope—to receive God’s heavenly inheritance destined for His adopted children.

  4. One Lord—Jesus warned in Matt 24:5, “For many shall come in my name, saying, I am Christ; and shall deceive many.” Our Lord is the only chief cornerstone of the church, which is “built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ himself being the chief cornerstone; in whom all the building fitly framed together growth unto an holy temple in the Lord.” (2:20-21) Let the church not replace its cornerstone with another “Lord”! Christ is also the head of the church. (1:22) 

  5. One faith—One and the same gospel by which we are saved: “For by grace are ye saved through faith.” (2:8) In Gal 1:6-7, Paul was shocked to hear that some Galatian church people accepted “another gospel,” which “pervert the gospel of Christ.” 

  6. One baptism--I Cor 12:13 says, “For by one Spirit are we all baptized into one body, whether we be Jews or Gentiles, whether we be bond or free.” This one baptism refers to the baptism of the Holy Spirit. Water baptism (in whatever form) is a symbol of this real baptism. The real baptism of the Holy Spirit should have occurred in the believer before the ritual is performed. As long as we focus on the same real baptism of the Holy Spirit, there exists no argument of whether one is truly baptized or not regardless of the form of baptism the person takes.

  7. One God and Father of all—God is the God of all creation, but Father is only the Father of all His children who are born by “grace through faith”

Who is above all, and through all, and in you all (4:6b)

“Above all” implies God’s power of having dominion and control over all his creation and especially his children. God has put all things under Christ’s feet. (1:22)

“Through all” implies the transcendence of God. God can be present everywhere. Not only that, He can manage the behavior of everything.

“In you all” implies God’s indwelling in our hearts by the presence of the Holy Spirit. We, the church, are “builded together for an habitation of God through the Spirit.” (2:22)

Unto every one of us is given grace according to the measure of the gift of Christ (4:7)

Paul begins to talk about gifts. Down in 4:11, we are told that we have various kinds of gifts. Here in 4:7, Paul tells us two things about gifts:

  1. Gifts are God’s grace. It means that we are gifted not because of our own talents but our spiritual gifts are given freely by God as He desires, just like the gift of salvation.

  2. Concerning the richness of our spiritual gifts, each is given different kind(s) and amount as measured by the Lord. There is no need for comparison. Paul in I Cor 12 says, "Now concerning spiritual gifts...there are diversities of gifts, but the same Spirit...all these worketh that one and the selfsame Spirit, dividing to every man severally as he will (這一切都是這位聖靈所運行、隨己意分給各人的)." (I Cor 12:1,4,11) 

When he ascended up on high, he led captivity captive, and gave gifts unto men (4:8)

This verse is quoted from Psalm 68:18. However, there is some difference between the two. In Psalm 68:18, it says “thou hast received gifts for men” but in Ephe 4:7 says “gave gifts unto men.” One says “received” and the other says “gave”---with opposite meanings! How come? Some Bible commentary explains that in Psalm, Jesus was said to rise to heaven and receive gifts from the Father; whereas in Ephesians, Jesus had the gifts by now and with those gifts he gave to the disciples through the Holy Spirit. Paul simply wants to emphasize that our spiritual gifts are given by our Lord—a grace.

“He led captivity captive” is not quite easy to understand. Some say that Jesus took the believers who died before Jesus’ ascension from the paradise to the Father as he rose to heaven.

4:9 & 4:10 have nothing to do with gifts. Paul only clarified that “he” was the incarnated Christ who came down to earth in the form of man before he rose to heaven. So, the verse he quoted from the O.T.—Psalm 68:18—has the prophetic meaning of pointing to Jesus. And the point that Jesus grants us spiritual gifts as stated in 4:7 is also prophesied in this verse. Paul quoted the O.T. to support his point that it is the incarnated Christ who gives us the spiritual gifts.

4:10 says “that he might fill all things.” This is a message Paul has said in 1:22-23--Everything is going to be subject to Christ. God has put all things under his feet and made him the head of the church, “which is his body, the fullness of him that filleth all in all.” (1:22-23) We don’t see everything subject to Christ yet, as said in Hebrews 2:8, “For in that he put all in subjection under him, he left nothing that is not put under him. But now we see not yet all things put under him.” When Christ fills our hearts, we will naturally submit to his sovereignty. One day when Christ fills everything, everything will naturally submit to his sovereignty. Now, sin is still in the way of everything, including the church. In a sense, offering gifts to his people is part of his plan to fill more people’s hearts.

And he gave some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers (4:11)

Apostles were Jesus’ followers in his days who have seen him and are directly commissioned by Jesus for specific tasks.

Prophets had insights from the Holy Spirit on the doctrines of faith in early church period.

Evangelists were traveling missionaries in Paul’s times.

Pastors shepherd the sheep in churches.

Teachers give instructions to the believers.

Spiritual gifts can be classified into ordinary and extraordinary gifts. Both are God-given by His grace. Ordinary gifts are trainable, such as evangelists, pastors and teachers. In Romans 12:7-8, Paul mentioned some of these trainable gifts such as ministering, teaching, exhorting, giving, ruling, showing mercy, etc. Extraordinary gifts are untrainable, such as apostles, prophets. The gifts of apostles and prophets are probably found only in early church period, during which the teachings of Christ are laid as a foundation by them (“built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets” 2:20). In I Cor 12:28-30, Paul mentioned some of these untrainable gifts such as miracles, healings and tongues. Both types of gifts are for edifying and body growing.

What Paul means here is that Christ distributed spiritual gifts to different people accordingly. Some are gifted to be shaped as apostles; some are gifted as prophets, and so forth. Christ gave the above 5 different types of gifts to different people for the purpose stated in the following verses.

For the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ…unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ (4:12-13)

The 5 gifted servants of God are to carry 3 primary tasks:

  1. To make the believers perfect. Jesus says in Matt 5:48, “Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect.” In Ephe 1:4, Paul says we are chosen to be “holy and without blame before him (God) in love.”

  2. To train believers to take up God’s ministry. We are to go out and be witnesses of Jesus Christ.

  3. To edify the body of Christ. That is, to build up the church. How is the body edified, or how is the church built? Paul is going to explain in the following verses.

The church has to grow into maturity, into a perfect man (“perfecting of the saints”). We have to become as mature as Christ himself. Only when we all become mature can we attain “the unity of the faith.” (v13) Even though we profess the same Christian faith, we have different levels of faith. We can have arguments due to the difference in our faith. By the same token, even though we have the Holy Spirit dwelling in each believer, we do not all subject to the guidance of the Holy Spirit. We sometimes have disputes with each other. Only until we are able to “keep the unity of the Spirit” can we have “the bond of peace”—a spiritual goal that Paul tells us to work hard for (4:3).

Not only do we need to have the unity of the faith, Paul desires us to have the unity of “the knowledge of the Son of God.” (v13) Even though we all believe in the same Lord, we have different understanding of our Lord and His will. That’s why we have arguments over spiritual matters. If we all know our Lord well enough, we will know to get along with each other in Christ’s love since we all have a submissive spirit to our head.

Christ does not have the full stature yet, since the church is still growing and does not have a mature body. When every saint is perfect, the whole church will become a perfect body, or the body of “a perfect man.” That’s when the body has “the stature of the fullness of Christ.” (v13)

We…be no more children, tossed to and fro, and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the sleight (“trickery” NAS; 技巧, 詭計) of men, and cunning craftiness, whereby they lie in wait to deceive. (4:14)

In 5:6, Paul repeats the same message, but as a warning: “Let no man deceive you with vain words.” Children’s minds are of course immature and can easily believe in adults’ saying because they lack the ability to make judgment on their own. We have to grow to possess a mature spiritual mind to distinguish the right “biblical” doctrines from the wrong ones. Corinthians are judged by Paul as “babes in Christ” or “baby believers” because they are still in a very immature state. (I Cor 3:3)

Speaking the truth in love (4:15a)

Truth is opposite to lying, as what the crafty men usually do to deceive believers in 4:14. Paul keeps mentioning that we speak the truth (4:25) because “the truth is in Jesus” (4:21).

Grow up into him…from whom the whole body fitly joined together and compacted by that which every joint supplieth (4:15b-16a)

The church is now compared with our human body. These are the characteristics of the human body: the body consists of different joints assembling together.

According to the “effectual” working in the measure of every part, maketh increase of the body unto the edifying of itself in love (4:16b)

Each part of the body operates properly to make the whole body function properly. When the body functions properly, it will naturally grow into maturity. Likewise, for the church to grow and have the stature of Christ, each member must serve and edify each other in Christ’s love.