A Healthy Body


A Healthy Body

93A Healthy Body

Ephesians 4:1-16

Main Idea: Paul exhorts the Ephesian church to maintain unity, to use their gifts, and to grow in spiritual maturity.

  1. A Healthy Church Is Marked by Spiritual Unity (4:1-6).
    1. United by divine calling (4:1)
    2. United by Christlike conduct (4:2-3)
    3. United by gospel confession (4:4-6)
  2. A Healthy Church Is Marked by Spiritual Diversity (4:7-12).
    1. We have diverse gifts (4:7-10).
    2. We have diverse responsibilities (4:11-12).
  3. A Healthy Church Is Marked by Spiritual Maturity (4:13-16).
    1. Maturity involves Christlikeness (4:13).
    2. Maturity involves doctrinal stability (4:13-14).
    3. Maturity involves truth joined with love (4:15-16).
    4. Maturity involves contribution (4:16).

If your church is like ours, you have a lot of health-conscious individuals in the community. We have nurses, pharmacists, and fitness center coaches, just to name a few. Some have disciplined eating habits. Many of them exercise daily (even running marathons!). I am also interested in health and enjoy exercising (I used to teach health class in high school). Recently my wife was told to drink "parsley water" to help an ailment. I decided to have a few glasses myself. There is nothing like a mouthful of grass water at 9:00 p.m.! (Well, not really.)

In Ephesians 4 Paul describes another body, the body of Christ. We should be even more interested in its health. We should listen closely to Paul, for we are part of this body as Christians. And we should pay attention because, unlike a lot of changing health opinions, this is eternal truth. I am not sure about the benefit of parsley water, but I am sure about the apostle's instruction. This plan will do a body good.

So, what is the nature of a healthy body of Christ, and how should it function? This essential passage helps us answer this question. Snodgrass says, "No passage is more descriptive of the church in action" than this 94passage (Ephesians, 194). We can trace Paul's teaching by noting three marks of a healthy church.

A Healthy Church Is Marked by Spiritual Unity

A Healthy Church Is Marked by Spiritual Unity

Ephesians 4:1-6

United by Divine Calling (4:1)

Paul says, "Therefore I, the prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk worthy of the calling you have received." The word walk is important. You will see it appear a lot in the following sections. It essentially means "to conduct one's life." After Paul has expounded the gospel in the first three chapters, he now wants his readers to know how they are to conduct their lives in a way that is in keeping with the gospel.

Realize that there is no sharp divide between the sacred and the secular. Our whole lives are to be lived in light of the gospel. Jesus Christ is Lord of all, and as believers we are to walk in step with Him, under His lordship.

This idea of "calling" goes back to the beginning of the book. God has called us to Himself by His grace. He has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavens (1:3). Now we are to live worthy of that privileged calling. Paul says this calling is for every Christian, not just professional clergy or the elite. Christians are "little Christs." There is nothing more noble and great than this. Remember who you are as you live this life.

Paul illustrates what a worthy walk looks like in his own situation. He is a "prisoner for the Lord" (4:1; cf. 3:1). He does not consider himself a prisoner of Rome but rather of Christ. He has surrendered his life to the lordship of Christ, and it has taken him to prison. While you may not be sent to prison for obeying Jesus, you, as a redeemed believer, are called to sacrificial obedience.

This common calling unites us. Recognize its divine nature. God called us. We share a common experience of His grace.

United by Christlike Conduct (4:2-3)

Paul now explains what it looks like to "walk worthy." In short, it looks like Jesus! Paul mentions the following character qualities we must pursue as Christians: "With all humility and gentleness, with patience, 95accepting one another in love, diligently keeping the unity of the Spirit with the peace that binds us."

No one exemplified these virtues better than Jesus, who was the supreme example of humility (Phil 2:5-11). As for gentleness, Jesus said, "Come to Me ... because I am gentle" (Matt 11:28-29). His patience is unparalleled (1 Tim 1:16). As for love, Christ demonstrated it in manifold ways and most vividly at the cross (Rom 5:8). As for being eager to maintain peace, He was the Peacemaker (Eph 2:14). Therefore, the more we look like Jesus individually, and the more we live like Christ relationally, the more united we will become.

Humility. Paul holds up humility throughout his letters as an essential characteristic of believers. He also speaks of humility in relation to unity (Rom 12:3-8; Phil 2:1-11; Col 3:12-15). For unity to exist, humble, selfless people must be living for the good of others. Interestingly, the term humility was uncommon in first-century Greek literature; when it did appear, it was used with a negative connotation (Thielman, Ephesians, 253). Pride was more highly valued. Christians were ridiculed for humility (ibid.). However, this virtue is valued throughout the Old Testament Scriptures (Prov 3:34; 11:2; Isa 66:2).

We live in a similar day. The opposite of humility is "self-exaltation." Our culture says, "Exalt yourself," "Pamper yourself," "Think about yourself first." That is the problem! You only think of yourself! Pride means being filled with self. Conversely, humility is being filled with God (Eph 3:19). Paul describes humility in Philippians 2:3 within the context of considering others more important than ourselves and not being conceited or having rivalry. Keller puts it this way: "The essence of gospel-humility is not thinking more of myself or thinking less of myself, it is thinking of myself less" (Freedom, Kindle, 32).

Gentleness. This does not mean timidity. It involves being "mild spirited" or "self-controlled." Moses was described as the meekest man on the face of the earth (Num 12:3). Yet he was a dynamic leader who challenged the power of the throne of Egypt. His strength stood under God's control (albeit imperfectly). Pastors, who are to exemplify Christlikeness, are required to be "not a bully but gentle" (1 Tim 3:3). Gentleness is a fruit of the Spirit, and it is the way we are to care for one another (Gal 5:23; 6:1).

Patience. How are you doing with this virtue? For some of us the microwave is too slow! "O Lord, give me patience, and hurry!" is our prayer. Lack of patience displays a lack of humility and a lack of love.96 Paul says, "Love is patient" (1 Cor 13:4). To have patient love, we must endure annoyances and challenges over a period of time. How do you cultivate patience? By relying on the Spirit! And by meditating on the patience that Christ has shown you (cf. 1 Tim 1:15ff; 2 Pet 3:9). It is easy to learn facts; it is difficult to be patient with people.

Accepting one another in love. This means "to put up with each other in love." Peter says, "Love covers a multitude of sins" (1 Pet 4:8). This is the only way a marriage works. If I had to put up with me, one of us would have to die. But my wife puts up with me. This is the way relationships in the body of Christ work, as well.

Diligently keeping unity. Unity is active, not passive. We should be zealous to maintain unity. Notice we do not work to create unity but to keep unity! God unites us, and we are to seek to maintain unity by the Spirit's help.

In order to pursue these qualities, we must be willing to renounce the opposite of each (Snodgrass, Ephesians, 218). We must renounce self-centeredness in order to walk in humility. We must renounce harshness in order to walk with gentleness. We must renounce the tyranny of our own agendas in order to walk with patience. We must renounce idealistic expectations in order to walk in forbearing love. We must renounce indifference and passivity in order to be eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. The church is unified and God is glorified when we live with such Christlike conduct.

United by Gospel Confession (4:4-6)

Paul cites what was probably an early Christian creed. Paul points out seven "one" statements to emphasize the oneness we share in the gospel. It is important to note that Ephesians 4 is not teaching unity at any cost. It is a unity in Christ.

One body. We share a common existence in Christ's church. We are diverse in background and gifting, but we are united as one.

One Spirit. We share a common origin in the Holy Spirit's work. The Spirit is the One who creates unity and empowers us to maintain it.

One hope. We share a common hope in Christ. Formerly, we were "without hope" (2:12) until we were called to Christ. Now we have hope, and we must live in a manner worthy of our calling.

One Lord. Believers confess and proclaim, "Jesus Christ as Lord" (2 Cor 4:5). When the early Christians said, "Jesus is Lord," they were saying, "Caesar is not lord." When Jewish Christians said this, they were97 boldly identifying Jesus with the God of the Hebrew Scriptures (cf. Deut 6:4). So this was not merely an empty creedal affirmation for early believers. This confession could cause you to lose your head.

One faith. The creed reminds us that we embrace the essential truths together, for "faith" here seems to refer to the body of truth we believe.

One baptism. We share a common experience of being spiritually baptized into Christ. We are united with Him. The act of baptism into water pictures this reality. This ordinance may be in view here.

One God and Father. As His adopted children, we share the same Father (cf. Eph 1:5). He is the God over all and the Father of all His children—regardless of their ethnicities. We are one big, adopted family.

Notice also the Trinity here in this creed. The triune God not only creates the unity we have as believers but also serves as the ultimate picture of unity. Jesus prayed for unity, reflecting on His relationship with the Father: "May they all be one, as You, Father, are in Me and I am in You. May they also be one in Us, so that the world may believe that You sent Me" (John 17:21). A healthy church is characterized by such unity, and it is a marvelous testimony to the watching world.

A Healthy Church Is Marked by Spiritual Diversity

A Healthy Church Is Marked by Spiritual Diversity

Ephesians 4:7-12

Unity does not mean sameness. Our diverse roles and abilities enrich and bless the church. In the following verses Paul shows us how the church, with all of its glorious diversity, functions in a healthy way.

We Have Diverse Gifts (4:7-10)

Here Paul provides one of the key passages on spiritual gifts in the New Testament (cf. Rom 12:4-8; 1 Cor 12-14). He says every believer has received a gift, or "grace" (v. 7). This is not "saving grace" but "ministry grace." It is grace to serve and build up the body. In 3:8 Paul said, "Grace was given" that he might preach to the Gentiles. Here grace is given to every believer to do ministry.

Perhaps what is most distinctive about this text, compared to the other texts on gifts, is its exalted, Christ-centered focus. Paul highlights Christ's generosity and authority. Christ Jesus died, rose, and ascended into heaven as the victorious King with all authority and gave gifts to His people, displaying extravagant generosity (v. 8).

98Here is another example of how Jesus is portrayed as a giver! In turn, we are to be givers. We are to be generous with the gifts and resources we have received.

These gifts are ways in which we extend the ministry of Jesus on this earth. When you see gifts at work, you should adore Jesus who gave them. When someone's gifts bless you, you should see that as Jesus blessing you.

In verse 8 Paul cites Psalm 68 and relates it to Christ's triumph and authority. Instead of directly quoting Psalm 68:18, Paul apparently gave a general summary of the entire psalm.

Psalm 68 is a victory hymn. Historically it was typical to bring back the spoils of war after a king won a significant military victory (Num 31:7-9; 2 Sam 12:29-31; see also Exod 3:19-22). Here, having triumphed over sin, death, hell, and the grave, our Savior gave His congregation spiritually gifted people that they might minister to His church.

In verses 9-10, which function like a parenthesis, Paul speaks of Christ's descent and ascent. Paul sees the incarnation (descent) and ascension of Christ as evidence that Christ is Savior and King. Therefore, Christ is our ascended Lord. He came all the way down (Phil 2:5-8) and has now gone all the way up (Phil 2:9-11). Christ is above all. Christ fills all. Christ gives gifts to all. Marvel at His generosity and authority!

We Have Diverse Responsibilities (4:11-12)

Christ gave us gifts so that we would use them (cf. 1 Pet 4:10-11). These responsibilities are different for different believers. Here Paul notes the leaders and the members. Each of them has the same value to God, but they share different roles. In baseball pitchers are not known for hitting, and hitters are not known for pitching. In football you usually do not want the nose guard playing quarterback! In basketball you do not want five seven-footers on the floor at one time! Likewise, the church needs people playing different positions to be a unified and effective team. Some have gifts of encouragement, some have gifts of administration, some have gifts of hospitality, and so on.

The leaders equip the saints (4:11). Paul mentions those in unique positions of leadership in the church: apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors, and teachers. He focuses on those gifted in articulating the gospel, teaching the Word, and shepherding God's people.

The titles apostle and prophet have a broad range of meaning. In one sense the apostles and prophets were foundational to the church99 (2:20; 3:5). Apostle, in a technical sense, refers to the Twelve (defined in this way, we do not have apostles anymore). In a general sense it can refer to a "sent one." Prophets were forth-tellers even more than future-tellers. We see prophets throughout the Old Testament and also mentioned in the early church in the New Testament (Acts 11:27-28; 13:1; 15:32; 21:9; 1 Cor 14:32). Used in a technical sense, as with apostles, we do not have biblical prophets any longer. In a general sense prophets are those who apply God's Word to God's people.

Evangelists are those gifted in proclaiming the gospel (Acts 21:8; 2 Tim 4:5). Everyone is called to evangelize, but some are uniquely gifted in this area.

The term pastor is used here to refer to a ministry in the church, though the related verb shepherd appears elsewhere (e.g., 1 Pet 5:2; Acts 20:28; John 21:16). Pastor is to be understood alongside the terms elder and overseer. I take them as the same office and use the terms interchangeably at our local church (cf. Acts 14:23; 20:17, 28; 1 Tim 4:14; 5:17, 19; Titus 1:5, 7; 1 Pet 5:1-4). The noun flock refers to the church (Acts 20:28-29; 1 Pet 5:2-3). In addition to the important role of teaching, pastors are to oversee the flock (1 Thess 5:12; Heb 13:17). They nurture, defend, protect, know, and sacrifice for the flock. In turn the New Testament says they should be honored and respected (1 Tim 5:17; 1 Thess 5:12-13).

The imagery of the shepherd applied to God in the Old Testament; He is the ultimate Shepherd who cared for and protected His people (Gen 49:24; Pss 23:1; 80:1; Isa 40:11). Leaders in the Old Testament were also referred to at times as "shepherds" (e.g., 2 Sam 5:2; Ps 78:71-72; Jer 23:2; Ezek 34:10). In the New Testament Jesus is the good shepherd (John 10:11-18), the great Shepherd (Heb 13:20), and the chief Shepherd (1 Pet 5:4). He is "the ultimate Senior Pastor," and pastors today are undershepherds.

Some take teacher as the same office as pastors, translating them "pastor-teacher." O'Brien provides a helpful conclusion:

The pastors and teachers are linked here by a single definite article in the Greek, which suggests a close association of functions between two kinds of ministers who operate within the one congregation (cf. 2:20). Although it has often been held that the two groups are identical (i.e., "pastors who teach"), it is more likely that the terms describe overlapping functions (cf. 1 Cor 12:28-29 and Gal 6:6, where "teachers"100 are a distinct group). All pastors teach (since teaching is an essential part of pastoral ministry), but not all teachers are also pastors. The latter exercise their leadership role by feeding God's flock with his word. (Ephesians, 300)

While we wrestle with these distinctive positions and gifts, one thing is abundantly clear: God has blessed His people throughout redemptive history with gifted proclaimers of His Word. The author of Hebrews tells us, "Remember your leaders who have spoken God's word to you. As you carefully observe the outcome of their lives, imitate their faith" (Heb 13:7). Such leaders are instruments in the Redeemer's hands, used for our sanctification. Their teaching strengthens us and, as Paul says next, equips us for ministry.

The saints do the work of ministry (4:12). Church leaders prepare, complete, train, and equip God's people for ministry. We all have a work of ministry because we all have spiritual gifts given by Christ (1 Cor 12:7, 11; 1 Pet 4:10).

This is not the first time Paul has mentioned "work." Earlier, he said that God saved us for good works (Eph 2:10). Later he will tell us to imitate God (5:1). God works, and we imitate God by working. The pastor works and the people work. The church is to have an "every-member ministry."

What are you doing with what God has given you? The church will be enriched in worship and mission when everyone is serving. When members give, work in child care, visit those in need, make meals for new parents, and minister to one another in groups, the body is edified, blessed, and built up (4:12).

Every member should grow up and use a towel, not wear a bib. They should not be immature consumers but eager servants. This is how Paul Tripp puts it:

Your life is much bigger than a good job, an understanding spouse, and non-delinquent kids. It is bigger than beautiful gardens, nice vacations, and fashionable clothes. In reality, you are part of something immense, something that began before you were born and will continue after you die. God is rescuing fallen humanity, transporting them into his kingdom, and progressively changing them into his likeness—and he wants you to be part of it. (Instruments, 20)

101There is nothing greater to do with your life than to spend it for the glory of our Redeemer-King and the advancement of His kingdom.

A Healthy Church Is Marked by Spiritual Maturity

A Healthy Church Is Marked by Spiritual Maturity

Ephesians 4:13-16

The result of the church's unity and diversity is the church's maturity. Notice how this body metaphor in verse 13, "a mature man," is contrasted with "children" in verse 14. Paul wants the people to grow up. Notice also that while one is doing the work of ministry (v. 12), one grows into maturity. We tend to think that one must be totally mature to serve in the church, and while we must be careful not to appoint leaders too quickly, we need to recognize that spiritual growth is not merely cerebral. Service is a means of growth in maturity.

Paul mentions four traits of a spiritually mature person.

Maturity Involves Christlikeness (4:13)

The ultimate picture of maturity is Christ: "a stature measured by Christ's fullness." "Christ's fullness" is an expression of completion or perfection. This makes obvious sense. The goal for us is to be like Jesus. We should long for the character qualities Paul mentions in verses 2-3 to be present in our lives. We should long for maturity individually and corporately.

Maturity Involves Doctrinal Stability (4:13-14)

Paul mentions the need to grow in our "knowledge" of truth. In verse 13 he mentions growth in "unity in the faith" (the body of doctrine) and "the knowledge of God's Son" (which involves both the intellect and the heart, cf. Phil 3:10). In verse 14 he says we should no longer be "little children" thrown around by every wind of doctrine.

Children are gullible and easily deceived. False teachers can creep in and toss them around. They prey on the gullible, saying things like:

  • All religions are the same.
  • If you are a good person, you'll go to heaven.
  • The Bible is just one among many other religious books.
  • Believe in the idea of resurrection, not a bodily resurrection.

Children must be taught as they grow up. I would not say to my youngest daughter, "Hey Victoria, drive your brothers and sisters to 102corporate worship!" She is only nine years old! She has to be taught. And so do believers. We enter the Christian life as babies, but we are to grow through the Word and become disciple-making teachers (1 Pet 2:1-3; Heb 5:11-14).

Maturity Involves Truth Joined with Love (4:15-16)

God means for Christians to present the truth to others, and it should always be presented in love. We must hold the truth high (1 Tim 3:15). And Christians must remember the centrality of love (1 Cor 13). The wording in Greek in verse 15 is "truthing in love" (Stott, Ephesians, 172). Of course, "truthing" is not a word in English, but the idea is clear. Maturity involves a truth-telling, truth-maintaining, truth-doing love.

I pray that folks would say this about my church: "They teach the Bible faithfully." I hope they also say, "They love each other like family and their neighbors as themselves." If people do not agree with our doctrine, I pray they will see that we love them. Are you known for truth and love personally, and is your church known for truth and love corporately?

Maturity Involves Contribution (4:16)

Paul returns to the body metaphor, where every member is a "limb" in Christ's body. Because you are a body part, you are important! We need one another. Every member is to contribute, using what he or she has.

Our ultimate need is Christ. We grow up into Him (v. 15). We are dependent on Christ, who is the head and source of the church. But we are also members of the body, and we are dependent on one another. "[E]ach part ... working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love" (4:16 ESV). As we grow into Christ and as we use our gifts in love, the body becomes healthy. What an unspeakable privilege it is to be united to Christ and to one another!

It is wise and good to be health conscious—taking care of our physical bodies. But let us be more concerned about the health of the body of Christ. May our local church bodies be marked by spiritual unity, spiritual diversity, and an ever-increasing maturity. Paul's teaching serves as a "spiritual checkup" in these vital areas. Let us make the necessary changes with the Spirit's help.

Reflect and Discuss


Reflect and Discuss

  1. Why is unity important in a local church? Describe a typical church that models unity and one that demonstrates division.
  2. What do all believers share in common? What should all believers pursue?
  3. How can you grow in Christlike character?
  4. How are believers different? Is this good or bad?
  5. Explain the relationship between the ascension of Jesus and the distribution of gifts to the church.
  6. Explain the relationship between leaders in a local church and members of a local church.
  7. What responsibilities do you have as a member of a local church?
  8. Which of the marks of spiritual maturity (vv. 13-16) impacted you the most?
  9. Explain the importance of doctrine for growing in spiritual maturity.
  10. How would you describe the health of your local church? Stop and pray for it.