Devotional: Ephesians 4:1-6 & Psalm 133:1-3
Ephesians 4:1 – Three words that caught my eye immediately: prisoner, worthy and calling.
prisoner – a captive (as bound). According to my Greek to English Bible, Paul is speaking of himself as a prisoner in Christ [not for Christ]. While it may be true that this letter was written while Paul was incarcerated, the wording here makes a difference. We are bound to Him by being “in” Him, being a part of His body; this is the work of the Holy Spirit when we are first saved by putting our trust in His sacrifice for our sin(s) on the cross. We are also bound to Christ (think engaged), waiting for the wedding ceremony to take place. Looking at it this way, we are “captivated” by Christ. Being a prisoner “in” Christ in this way is the motivation for our living “worthy” of our calling; being a prisoner “for” Christ is a potential result of how we live our life before the world.
worthy – appropriately, worthily of the calling (in regard to the “walk” or manner of life of the believers). Why should we be attentive to our manner of life? Because we are living out our gratitude for what God in Christ has done for us, and that “worthship” done in front of the members of this world system displays to them that God exists and is worthy of obedience.
calling – an invitation, used especially of God’s invitation to man to accept the benefits of salvation. Remember, not only is this a reminder of our own salvation, but we are representing God, extending His invitation to the residents of this world system on His behalf.
I also noticed the word “then”. It is kind of like a “therefore”; if you follow the “thens” and “therefores” all the way back to where Paul began, you start this section with Ephesians 2:1, which concisely tells us that we are ALL in the same boat. Since the cross is the great “leveler”, it is true that He destroyed not only the barrier between Jews and Gentiles (the written commandments, as stated in Ephesians 2:14-16), but ALL barriers that might stand between ANY persons that live by trusting in the finished work of Christ on the cross.
Verses 2 and 3 contain several other words that we are familiar with, but I wondered if I really knew the definitions. So I looked up these words in my Strong’s concordance. This is a list of the words and their definitions:
humility – lowliness of mind; Exists when a person through most genuine self-evaluation deems himself worthless. It involves evaluating ourselves as small because we are so. The humble person is not stressing his or her sinfulness, but their absolute dependence on God for all things.
meekness – gentleness
longsuffering – forbearance or refraining from the enforcement of something that is due; fortitude or strength of mind that enables a person to encounter danger or bear pain or adversity with courage, patience
bearing with – putting up with one another
eager – to make effort, be prompt or earnest; to hasten to do a thing, to exert oneself, endeavor, give diligence
keep – to guard (from loss or injury), to watch over, preserve, watch
bond – a joint tie, i.e. ligament, (fig. uniting principle, control)
peace – to join; describes harmonious relationships between men, nations; friendliness; freedom from molestation; the sense of rest; order, quietness and contentment consequent thereon.
Reading over those definitions, it becomes clear to me that we cannot be humble, meek, longsuffering, bear with one another, eagerly keep unity amongst ourselves, or be joined in the body in harmony without the work of the Holy Spirit in our hearts and minds! I especially like the mental picture I get of His being the “ligament” that connects all of us together as parts of His body.
Notice also that “peace” describes the “sense of rest, order, quietness and contentment” that is the consequence of harmony between Christ-followers. Think of it this way: does Christ have broken limbs or aches in His body? No, His body is perfect and intact. As verse 4 goes on to say, there is only One body. He is peace personified, and by the Spirit’s enabling, we exemplify both His peace and His Oneness through harmony in His Body to the world around us!
Verses 4-6: This section of Scripture makes me think of Deuteronomy 6:4, “Hear, O Israel, Jehovah our God is one Jehovah.” The word “one” is translated from a word that stresses unity/oneness but recognizes diversity within that oneness”. The Trinity, made up of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. All are unified in purpose, but each has their own unique “job description”. I think that Paul speaks more of followers of Christ being the body of Christ than our being the “church”. While it is easy to break a “church” into smaller, separate parts, a living body is not so easily divided! Christ only has one body, and we are it here on this earth! This also flies in the face of what so many worldly people chose to believe, that there are many “truths” and many ways to heaven. God specifically tells us that there is only One God, One Truth and One way to heaven, through His Son Jesus Christ.
Combining what we learned about the Holy Spirit’s work in our hearts (in the Heart Matters), and what we learned last week (in Psalm 133), I think we can come away with at least this application. We are God’s representatives in this world. Since He is “One”, we need to be representing that “oneness”. Think of it this way, we who believe on Christ are all on a pilgrimage in a sense as we live in this world. We are on our way into the presence of God. Our job on this journey is to represent God to those who still need saving. We do that by our focus on Him, our obedience to Him and our worship of Him. And by remembering God’s longsuffering and bearing with us (His grace towards us). That is key to our then extending that grace to our brothers and sisters in Christ. Only when we acknowledge our utter dependence upon God’s grace, and are willing (cooperating with the Spirit) to extend that grace to others in the body of Christ can we both experience and display a unity that draws lost souls in. God’s unity is not found in the world system. They only know unity as “sameness” and conformity. What a refreshing idea that they should see in us: diversity and “oneness” at the same time! God calls them through us to become part of His body, as unique individuals. He celebrates that diversity with unique jobs for them to accomplish for Him. This reminds me of the song, “they will know we are Christians by our love”. John 17:23, “I am in them and you are in me. May they experience such perfect unity that the world will know that you sent me and that you love them as much as you love me.” Our unity of focus, obedience and worship is the “calling card” that tells the world that we belong to Christ and is the invitation to them to join us.
I decided to focus on just one verse of this passage, and then realized that verse 4:1 has a “therefore” that made me go back to read chapter three, to see what the therefore was there for. And then I needed to read the whole letter to the Ephesians, and several commentaries and word studies of “peace” and “bond” and “unity”– all of which the rest of you have probably done. Which brought me back to the simplicity of considering just one thing out of these many exhortations and glorious teachings about God’s love and saving grace.
The verse that spoke out to me in neon letters, glowing in the dark, is verse 4:3. “Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.” NIV “Make every effort to keep yourselves united in the Spirit, binding yourselves together with peace.” NLT
Two of the books I looked at said that the visible church has never managed to do this. The church on earth has always been divided by human prejudice, pride, theological disagreement, and all the things we see today that divide and discourage us. The Jewish believers did not receive the gentile Christians in the early church. Paul wrote this letter to encourage unity among all believers. Gender, race, nation, and tribe caused disunity then and continue today to separate the Body of Christ.
What would it look like if we made every effort to keep ourselves united in the Spirit? If every disagreement, every opinion, every selfish action was held up to the light of God’s word and His truth?
Halley’s Bible Handbook, in considering this passage, says, “ONE BODY (verses 1-16) A complex organism, with many functions, each in its own place, working in harmony, its basic principle love, Christ himself its head and directive force.
Being composed of many members of diverse talents and tempers, the fundamental requisite to its proper functioning is a spirit of humility and mutual forbearance on the part of the members one toward another.”
Of course this is impossible for us as mere human beings, but with the power of the Holy Spirit living in and through us, we can endeavor- we can make every effort!- to bind ourselves together with peace.
To bind means to fasten together, as with bands or strings or ligaments. (I thought of rubber bands– there’s a little stretchiness. We need that, a little wiggle room in our togetherness.) Bind us together Lord, bind us together with cords that cannot be broken, says the old chorus. Bind us together with love. There is only one God, there is only one King, there is only one Body– that is why we sing.
Heavenly Father, that is my prayer today. Let us make every effort to stay together in the bond of Your peace, the peace that comes when we live and move and have our being in unity in Your Spirit.
So many nuggets to unearth in this passage! First, I so appreciate the gifted communicator Paul is! This letter to the believers in Ephesus is yet another example. In verse 1, after humbly identifying himself as “a prisoner for the Lord,” he writes, “I urge you…” That, to me, says, “Listen up! This is important!” He goes on to address several key questions: What did Christ do? Who are we now? How are we to respond? Why?
The What (God did for us): Before addressing the important topic of unity within the church, Paul spends the first 3 chapters of Ephesians spelling out all that God did for us—freely, out of love, and by His grace—while we were still rebelling sinners! Even though chapters 1-3 aren’t part of this week’s study, they are so worth revisiting! My list includes: God chose me, adopted me as His daughter, lavished His grace on me, forgave me, exchanged my dead-in-sin nature for a saved-by-grace nature, deposited the Holy Spirit within me, and gave me a purpose to live out and a testimony to share!
The Call to Action: To walk worthy (i.e., live rightly) as ambassadors for Christ. After all, we are being watched by the world. I’m challenged to ask myself: What message is my life relaying? Can people see Christ in me? How well am I doing as His representative? On a side note, I love the fact that we aren’t to walk worthy so that God will love us, but because He loves us—i.e., we walk worthy out of gratitude, not out of a need to earn his favor! Another aspect of walking rightly in unity is realizing that it’s as much about others putting up with us as it is about us putting up with others! I appreciate Thomas Merton’s quote in the “Come Together” series notes. He said, “I cannot discover God in myself and myself in Him unless I have the courage to face myself exactly as I am, with all my limitations, and to accept others as they are, with all their limitations.”
The Who (we are): I don’t know about you, but I was struck yet again by how amazing and undeserved our new identity is! Understanding who we are as believers in Christ is so important! We are part of a family that shares a common goal: the unity of the Spirit. We are indwelt by that Holy Spirit. And we have one God who is over all, in all, and through all!
The How (to pursue unity): It is the indwelling Holy Spirit who enables us to walk worthy! We don’t create this unity—God does. Our job is to maintain it! Verse 3 says, “Make every effort to keep the unity.” Since we have an adversary, the devil, who is relentless about derailing our faith and unity, we need to be intentional and vigilant about guarding it. Aren’t you thankful that we are not alone in this journey? What a blessing that we can encourage and build each other up in love! And what a blessing that we have the Holy Spirit to guide us to cultivate unity. Some of the characteristics the Holy Spirit manifests in us: lowliness and gentleness (as opposed to pushing/defending our own rights and agendas); longsuffering/bearing with one another, i.e. having a forgiving, generous heart (as opposed to holding onto resentment/seeking revenge); the bond of peace, i.e. having a humble, forgiving attitude towards each other.
The Why: Since we have accepted the calling to be ambassadors for Christ, we have a new identity! When I think of the wonder of what we “surrender” (self-absorbed living, sin and shame, an eternity in hell) versus what we receive (hope, the Holy Spirit, peace, God’s grace, forgiveness, an eternity in heaven), how can I not respond with grateful obedience?!! We now have the means to stand firm for what’s right and resist becoming entangled in this world! We definitely stand out as we choose to die to self and reject a lifestyle of self-centeredness, yes? We definitely pique the curiosity of those around us as we choose to be known as Christ-followers. What a wonderful Savior to follow! What a calling— to make Him known!