Bible Study Series: Ephesians - The Third Heaven Epistle
Ephesians 4:1-6 Bible Study - Walking in His footsteps
by I Gordon
Alright... you've been sitting for a while in this series so it's time to go for a walk! We are in chapter 4 of Ephesians and come now to really the first appeal in the book for how the believer should respond to God's grace in their daily walk. Now you can only walk once you have first learned to sit, so, as we have seen, Paul spent three whole chapters telling them to SIT and listen to their position in Christ before he gives any mention of how they should now WALK. But, as mentioned, we've been sitting up until now through this series, so come on lazy bones... it's time to get up on your feet and go for a stroll!
In this study we are not going to bite off too many verses (like I have been doing!) We'll focus on verses 1-6 which is a very important passage concerning the believer's walk and relationship, especially with other believers. In these verses we'll see that it is a walk that:
- Is based on a specifically placed 'therefore'
- Is contrasted to the ways of the world (and the separation is only increasing)
- Is very very very much like the walk of the most important man in history
- Is often tested in our unity and relationships with other believers (which is sometimes easier said than done!)
Motivation for the worthy walk
Eph 4:1 Therefore I, the prisoner of the Lord, implore you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling with which you have been called
So our passage starts with a 'therefore'... and hopefully you know the simple golden rule anytime you see a 'therefore' in scripture. If not, here it is - 'When you see a therefore, ask yourself what it is there for.' So what is this 'therefore', there for? It is there because what Paul says now is totally based on everything that he has just said. He is going to talk about how we respond to all that God has done. Many preachers and Pastors make this 'walk' aspect of the Christian life both the starting and finishing line for their focus. They concentrate their time and energy telling people what they should do and not do. Now obviously there is a place for that, but as we see, it comes AFTER the believer has a firm grasp on their rock solid position in Christ.1 In other words your DO comes from living in His DONE. You can only WALK after you have learned to SIT. Never forget that.
So Paul now implores (which is a strong word) the believers to walk in a manner that is worthy of their calling and the position that the Lord has placed them in. We are going to focus on what this means as we continue but for now I want to just add a few simple words about some common motivations for our walk. Think about what motivates you to live for the Lord and to walk in a worthy manner. At a basic level it could be broken down in law, love and life.
- Law - And with that comes it's good friends fear and guilt. Some think that God operates on the 'shape up or ship out' principle and if they don't tidy up their act they could lose their salvation or something bad will happen to them. While a reverential fear (that is reverence for God) is critical in the Christian life, fear in terms of being afraid of God doesn't provide a platform to grow as a Christian. The guilt that comes from failing to live up to the demands of the law also isn't a good basis or motivation for living the Christian life either. That just becomes a roller coaster, taking it's toll and not sustainable.
- Love - some are motivated by God's love. And so we should be. We saw in the previous study that 'the love of Christ controls us' (2 Cor 5:14). Paul's direction to walk worthy in this verse is based on their calling by God and His love for them. But is the love motivation alone enough? Is it enough to overcome your fleshly nature that doesn't like walking in God's ways? While it is very important and provides a key part of a godly motivation, by itself 'love' is still not enough. We may be motivated to do something because of what Jesus did for us but don't underestimate the strength of the unchanging nature within you that wants to do things your own way!
- Life - some are motivated by God's love and empowered by His life! That is, they have 'died to self' in the true sense of dying to their ability to even live the Christian life... without Him. They are motivated by what He did and strengthened by who He is! They know that even a God given command to walk in a godly manner will fail without God Himself being the source of their strength to carry out what He asks.
So with that in mind...
What does a walking worthy look like?
Eph 4:2 With all humility and gentleness, with patience, showing tolerance for one another in love
So the first things mentioned concerning a walk worthy of your calling are the following attributes - 'humility, gentleness, patience, tolerance'. So what does walking worthy of our calling look like? Or better, who does this walk look like? Well, it looks a lot like Jesus... which shouldn't be a surprise! It is walking in His footsteps, in the path and way that He walked. He specifically told us to 'learn from Me' - But can you remember what the context of that statement was? Learn from Him in what way? Can you remember? He said this2
Mat 11:28-30 Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light."
I love what Walter Wright says about this verse;
What an astonishingly wonderful statement! The One who made the worlds, who flung the stars into space and calls them by name, who preserves the innumerable constellations in their courses, who weighs the mountains in scales and the hills in a balance, who takes up the isles as a very little thing, who holds the waters of the ocean in the hollow of His hand, before whom the inhabitants of the earth are as grasshoppers, when He comes into human life finds Himself as essentially meek and lowly in heart. It is not that He erected a perfect human ideal and accommodated Himself to it; He was that.
I love that. So we note here that Paul expressed the same character that should be in the believer expressing it as 'lowliness', 'gentleness', 'bearing with one another in love'. How opposite this is of the world today! How opposite it is of what the younger generation in the West especially are being taught! Sometimes a verse can be grasped by looking at the opposite of what it says so let's try that. Imagine if Paul had said this:
'I ask you then to walk with all pride and aggressiveness, impatient and intolerant of the short comings of those around you, calling out their faults.'
What would that look like? Something like Twitter, Facebook and other social media sites where people often think that a person's strength of character is shown in their ability to take offense quickly, return fire and pull one another down.
The Bible speaks about 'terrible times' coming in the last days. Another version calls it 'perilous days'. The thought came to me the other night that when you hear that you might think of 'the Antichrist', 'persecution', 'martyrdom' etc. While those things will come, the specific description of the 'terrible and perilous days' is something far closer to home. Something here now. Paul said the last days would be 'perilous' because of what is going on in people's hearts.
2Ti 3:1-4 But mark this: There will be terrible (perilous) times in the last days. People will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boastful, proud, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, without love, unforgiving, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not lovers of the good, treacherous, rash, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God--
So instead of how we are meant to walk, we have the opposite happening. Instead of 'lowly' or 'humility' we have 'boastful' and 'proud'. Instead of 'gentle' we have 'abusive' and 'brutal'. Instead of 'patient' or 'long suffering' we have 'rash' and 'without self-control'. What makes such times 'perilous'? Because when individuals are poisoned by such things, it affects all around them. And then families are affected. And eventually society as a whole, fall apart. Time to get out of this dark alley!
So the Christian then is called to 'walk' in an entirely different manner to that of the prevailing culture in the world. Jesus didn't come blowing His own trumpet but in humility, from lowly beginnings. He didn't come acting like a King demanding people do what He says, but as a servant, helping others. And we are to walk as He did. In contrast to modern day mantra of 'self-esteem' we are to walk with Christ-esteem and others-esteem. In contrast to the thoughts of the world, the Bible tells us to consider others better than ourselves (Phil 2:3). Instead of the worlds thoughts of 'fighting for your rights' and being quick to 'tell people what you think' we are to be longsuffering, bearing with one another. What a contrast!
Let's look at the last part our our verse which the NASB translates 'showing tolerance for one another in love'. It says we are to be tolerant. If ever there was a word that the world loves to throw around while at the same time being completely intolerant of any others that don't agree with them, this is it! But Biblically, tolerance is important. In context it is speaking here about bearing with one another in the family of God. It isn't talking here about unbelievers. It isn't talking about having to approve of any and every lifestyle that the world adopts as flavor of the month. It is speaking about getting along with your brothers and sisters in Christ... even those that you may not agree 100% with!
Now that sounds easy enough... and yet we've probably all been through Church splits or home group Bible study disagreements or even bust-ups! Or there is that one person that you really struggle with and kind of wish didn't come along! I recently visited a friend (who is a wise, mature believer) who had started a Bible study group in another town. When I asked him how it was going, he honestly said that he had to close it because he found himself getting too angry over disagreements and didn't like what he saw in himself, or what was happening in the group! It reminded me of the little ditty:
To dwell above with saints we love,
O how that will be glory
But to dwell below with saints we know,
Well, that's another story!
Paul knows all this. It was an issue in his day as it is in ours. And hence, why he wrote the next part to 'preserve the unity of the Spirit'.
Preserving the unity of the Spirit
Eph 4:3 Being diligent to preserve the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.
Differences arose in Paul's day and have ever since. He knows that even within the body we are all different. We have different personalities. Different gifts and attributes. Different ideas. This is where the rubber hits the road as dealing with these differences is all part of the 'walk' together. And yet we have this incredibly binding agent of being saved, restored, and placed within the same family!
You will note that in this verse Paul doesn't say to 'make or obtain the unity of Spirit' but to 'preserve, keep or guard' it. That is, as believers we have unity already in the essentials in Christ. But we need to keep it. Especially when you have other believers that, well, grate a little! I like what William MacDonald says on this verse:
A common reaction when differences arise is to divide and start another party. The spiritual reaction is this: “In essentials, unity. In doubtful questions, liberty. In all things, charity.” There is enough of the flesh in every one of us to wreck any local church or any other work of God. Therefore, we must submerge our own petty, personal whims and attitudes, and work together in peace for the glory of God and for common blessing.
I have highlighted part of that for a reason. Listen to it again - 'there is enough of the flesh in every one of us to wreck any local church or any other work of God.' That is unfortunately, scarily, true. I have seen that. I've led Church home groups for over 20 years. I've been in both home groups and churches where you hear of people gossiping and causing division behind the scenes. Always behind the scenes. Never forget that we have an enemy that loves to stir up trouble. He loves to divide. As Charles Spurgeon writes:
Satan always hates Christian fellowship; it is his policy to keep Christians apart. Anything which can divide saints from one another he delights in. He attaches far more importance to godly intercourse than we do. Since union is strength, he does his best to promote separation.
We see this right from the fall in the garden of Eden where is wasn't long before Adam was blaming Eve... and, indirectly, God Himself! (Gen3:12). Conflicts and division come in all areas of life - home, family, with friends, work, church. You might remember that during the exodus, Moses would sit from morning to evening judging between disputes that the Israelites were having! (Exodus 18) In Acts 15:36-41, Paul and Barnabas had a ding-dong disagreement over whether to take Mark on their missionary journey3. The Bible says 'the contention became so sharp that they parted from one another'. Or what about Euodia and Syntyche. Who you say? These woman had both helped Paul and worked for the cause of the gospel. Godly women no doubt. Yet they weren't getting along with each other! It caused Paul to plead with them in his letter to the Philippians saying:
Php 4:2-3 I urge Euodia and I urge Syntyche to live in harmony in the Lord. (3) Indeed, true companion, I ask you also to help these women who have shared my struggle in the cause of the gospel, together with Clement also and the rest of my fellow workers, whose names are in the book of life.
As a personal example, during the time I was studying this passage a funny (though not humorous) thing happened. I got into a wee disagreement of opinion with a family member! Though we don't seek or want these things to occur, sometimes they happen. But the timing of this disagreement couldn't have been better. Why? Because with 'make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit' swirling around in my mind because of this study, I could easily recognize the evil that was in my heart. After the disagreement I found myself lying in bed, thinking of things I could say and most were, though subtle, a little snarky and not exactly designed to keep unity or build a brother up! In fact, even after recognizing that and determining not to say or do another that would cause problems, I still had the thoughts of 'he has done you wrong!' popping up. But when you see that there is a corrupted nature within you, all you can do is go to the Lord and say 'Look at me Lord. Look at my heart. It is so wrong and deceitful even while pretending it's in the right! I need your life Lord. I need you. May you control my mind, will and emotions. May you bring good out of this situation!' So to keep a short story even shorted, that is what I did and from a situation that could have gone south, it all turned around and went well!
So remember to bring the Lord into these times of disagreement recognizing the deceitfulness of your own heart. That is what walking humbly and gently is all about4. And it is who HE is. It is what He desires to be, through you, as we look to Him.
1Pe 3:8-11 Finally, all of you, live in harmony with one another; be sympathetic, love as brothers, be compassionate and humble. (9) Do not repay evil with evil or insult with insult, but with blessing, because to this you were called so that you may inherit a blessing. (10) For, "Whoever would love life and see good days must keep his tongue from evil and his lips from deceitful speech. (11) He must turn from evil and do good; he must seek peace and pursue it.
The true and false unity
Eph 4:4-6 There is one body and one Spirit-- just as you were called to one hope when you were called-- one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.
Now it should be noted that when it comes to unity on a spiritual level, it is in the essentials. In this passage Paul speaks of these essentials emphasizing seven key points that we should be united on. J.Vernon McGee writes:
1. "One body" refers to the total number of believers from Pentecost to the Rapture.
2. "One Spirit" refers to the Holy Spirit who baptizes each believer into the body of Christ. The work of the Holy Spirit is to unify believers in Christ. This is the unity that the believer is instructed to keep.
3. "One hope of your calling" refers to the goal set before all believers. They will be taken out of this world into the presence of Christ. This is the blessed hope (see Tit_2:13).
4. "One Lord" refers to the Lord Jesus Christ. His lordship over believers brings into existence the unity of the church.
5. "One faith" refers to the body of truth called the apostles' doctrine (see Act_2:42). When this is denied, there are divisions. There must be substance to form an adhesion of believers. This substance is correct doctrine.
6. "One baptism" has reference to the baptism of the Holy Spirit, which is real baptism. Ritual baptism is by water. Water baptism is a symbol of the real baptism of the Holy Spirit by which believers are actually made one.
7. "One God and Father of all" refers to God's fatherhood of believers. Since there is only one Father, He is not the Father of unbelievers. Sonship can come only through Christ. The unity of believers produces a sharp distinction between believers and unbelievers. He is Father of all who are His by regeneration.
True unity between believers is in these essentials. True believers may disagree with many things that are not salvation issues and we should do so with love and grace. You may think differently on the timing of the rapture than I do. You may think differently on whether a believer can lose their salvation than I do. You may think differently on the leadership and structure of the Church or on the Sabbath or what we can eat and drink or Jewish feasts or whether a Christian can do this or that... or.... or... There are many issues that can and should be discussed openly between believers, yet without hostility, always recognizing that they are not the essentials that bind us together in Christ.
We need not all agree, but if we disagree, let us not be disagreeable in our disagreements. - M.R. DeHaan
We should also note and say a few words about false unity. We hear a lot about unity in our day and many within the wider 'Christendom' are trying to unite with other religions. Pope Francis is leading the way in this. Prophetically speaking, we know that this is where it will end up. This is unity at the expense of truth. Revelation portrays it as a false religious system shown as a harlot and called 'Mystery Babylon'. It's not good and is not the type of unity that Paul instructs us to keep. This is the type of unity that caused Charles Spurgeon to say 'To pursue union at the expense of truth is treason to the Lord Jesus.' Or, as J.C Ryle wrote 'Unity without the gospel is a worthless unity; it is the very unity of hell.'
Be careful also with those that have the right biblical words but ascribe different meanings to those words. Cults do this. False religions often do this. We are not called to have unity there. In Pilgrims Progress, near the end of Christian's and Hopeful's journey they come across a chap called Ignorance. Ignorance initially sounds like a believer. He says that he 'has good thoughts... of God and heaven.' That his heart 'comforts him with the thought of heaven'. He even says that 'I must believe in Christ for justification.' But Christian smells a rat and enquires further...
“But what do you believe?” Christian inquired.
Ignorance asserted, “I believe that Christ died for sinners and that I shall be justified before God from the curse through His gracious acceptance of my obedience to His law. I believe that Christ makes my religious duties acceptable to His Father, by virtue of His merits, and so shall I be justified.”
“Let me discuss your confession of faith,” Christian offered. “First, you believe with a fantasy faith, for this faith is nowhere described in the Word. You also believe with a false faith that takes justification away from the personal righteousness of Christ and credits it to you. The faith you describe makes Christ a justifier of your actions, not of your person. Thus, according to this faith, you are justified by your actions, which is false. Therefore, this faith is deceitful and will leave you under God’s wrath in the Day of Judgment."
And the book ends with Ignorance arriving at the Celestial City, having been helped easily over the final river by a ferryman called 'Vain-Hope'. But, when asked at the gate for his certificate, he finds that he has none and so is taken away for judgement, never to enter the heavenly city.
So this passage has been about our walk. It is a walk with one another in Christ... a walk in humility and gentleness, bearing with one another's differences. It is where the rubber hits the road. This is the true unity amongst believers that we should strive to keep. Jesus, in His prayer to the Father, also spoke of the true unity of believers. He prayed:
Joh 17:20-23 My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, (21) that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. (22) I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one: (23) I in them and you in me. May they be brought to complete unity to let the world know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.
This unity, as you can see, is based upon a spiritual reality of the Lord's life within the believer. 'I in them and you in me'. Jesus spoke of the unity of those that are truly in Him. As we have seen, there is something that unites all true believers. It is that we share one body, one Spirit, one Lord, one faith, one baptism and one Father. Despite our differences outwardly, and possibly theologically on some points, we are one in the same family and grace of God, united on the essentials of the Christian faith. AT Pierson stated it well and I'll close with this:
To a true child of God, the invisible bond that unites all believers to Christ is far more tender, and lasting, and precious; and, as we come to recognize and realize that we are all dwelling in one sphere of life in Him, we learn to look on every believer as our brother, in a sense that is infinitely higher than all human relationships. This is the one and only way to bring disciples permanently together. All other plans for promoting the unity of the Church have failed.
- A.T. Pierson
We'll carry on next time looking at our walk in regards to our spiritual gifts and discernment as we grow in Christ.