Walk Together, in Unity: Ephesians 4.1-16

Every teacher knows it: students don’t really understand a truth until they’ve applied it. Take teaching math, for example. Sure, it’s good to sit in a classroom and solve equations. But, real learning is proved when the homemaker adds fractions in the kitchen, the carpenter measures angles before cutting, or the pipe-fitter works his formula under the city streets.

Principles must be applied, and truth must be lived out.

That’s the way Ephesians works, as well. Paul has spent chapters 1-3 laying out some of the greatest doctrines of the Christian faith about the new people who are the Church of Jesus. Now, in chapters 4-6, he’ll teach us to “walk” in these truths.

But, how do we do this?

First, we must be united, in the Spirit (:1-6). We need to know what unity looks like. I … urge you in a manner worthy of the calling to which you’ve been called … (:1, ESV).

Our life together needs to reflect who we are as God’s called ones. “Worthy” has about it the idea of bringing equilibrium. Truth requires an equal-weighted emphasis on application. Great Christian truths will be answered by great, Christian living carried out with humility … gentleness … patience. Life together will, further, involve carrying one another along, … bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace (:3).

A major take-away here is that our unity exists because of the peace Christ has made for us. We don’t make peace in the church, we maintain (and, sometimes, restore) the peace that already exists.

This is dear to God’s heart as we see in verses 4-6, where, seven times, the word “one” appears: one body … one Spirit … one hope … one Lord … one faith … one baptism … one God and Father of all. Our unity as churches is based in the very essence and purpose of the Triune God. Deep stuff!

Second, we’re to be diverse, growing in Christ (:7-16). Curiously, almost all 21st century organizations are straining for diversity—from schools to corporations, to the Olympics, to whole countries. But, take notice! The Church of Jesus is the most diverse entity anywhere—and is becoming more so with each people-group embracing Christ.

One way God brings about this diversity is through the giving of gifts (:7-10), But grace was given to each one of us according to the measure of Christ’s gift … Important to recognize here is that everyone who has trusted Christ has received an enablement for the common good. These gifts are not the same, and they aren’t in equal measure. And, it doesn’t seem necessary to regard them as static either: God could gift extraordinarily at certain times for certain purposes … More deep stuff!

The gifts listed in verse 11 (apostles … prophets … evangelists … shepherds and teachers) are not all the gifts available, but are those foundational for the church. Also, they don’t describe office or jobs in the church. They describe the gifts God gives certain individuals for the building up of the church … to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ (:12).

When any church responds to God’s gifting through this diversity of gifts, that church will become mature (:13); it’s members won’t believe lies (:14); it’s people will grow up in Jesus (:15); and, the many will build one another up in love (:16). Unity will be maintained through its diversity.

So, how about your church? Or, how about Woodland, if you’re with us in the Northwoods? Are we walking worthy of our calling? 

We are, if we’re united in dependence on the Spirit. And, we are, if we’re responding to one another’s giftedness, while growing in Christ.


Here’s a few questions to help your small group think about Ephesians 4.1-16:

Whom has God gifted in your local church? 

How do you see God maintain the unity of your local church fellowship through the diversity of gifts? (How does God serve you through other people?)

How is it true that your gift is really not your gift at all, since it’s been given for the benefit of everybody else? 

Read back through verses 12-16 and note the different results God brings about through the gifting of His people. What master illustration emerges, and how is this helpful? 

What does this passage encourage you to do? How should you respond as you learn to walk together with others? 

Prayer for Strengthened Love: Ephesians 3.14-21

What should you ask God for so that YOUR church might move forward?

Paul’s letter to the Ephesians is all about the church. Make no mistake here. He’s not taking about a building or an association with a membership list. The great Apostle is talking about a people who have been transformed by faith in Jesus and set apart to serve the living God.

Now, as Paul moves from the deep theological truths of chapters 1-3 and prepares, in chapters 4-6, to help the Ephesians walk in these truths, he prays that they’d move forward.

The nervous system of this passage is found in verse 16. … that … he may grant you to be strengthened with power through his Spirit in your inner being (ESV).

Sounds mysteries, doesn’t it? Paul prays on his knees that God would grant the Ephesian church a gift in keeping with all God has (His “riches”) and with the summation of all God is (His “glory”). This gift will be given “through his Spirit” whom we already know calls the elect to Christ (1.4) and seals them, indicating they belong to God (1.13). But, apparently there is more—a work of God available to churches!

This gift will be given to believers in their “inner being” (check out Rm 7.22-23; 12.2; 2 Cor 4.16). This refers to that part of us that is renewed to know God in this life. It’s also where Christ meets us through the Spirit. This meeting, Paul prays, will take place “with power”.  Ah, but not power to heal from disease or make us successful or solve personal problems. Look what is prayed for: … so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith … (:17a). The gift Paul prays for is that the risen Christ will so be at the heart of the Ephesian church that they’d be totally characterized by His work through the Spirit.

Now, our own church here in the Northwoods is separated from the Ephesians by at least one ocean and by 1,958 years, give or take a year. But, we have the same needs and are no different in God’s eyes. Many of us, doubtlessly like the Ephesians, have been disappointed by church at different times in our lives. We’ve been in churches where Christ didn’t rule, where new creations in Christ drilled down into issues and found their own “flesh”—that term Paul uses elsewhere (like Romans 8) to describe our way of solving problems apart from Christ. This was disappointing, because this passage shows us what is available when we really trust God together.

All this takes us back to verse 16. Do you notice the verb? … that … he MAY give you to be strengthened with power through his Spirit in your inner being. This verb is in what’s called the subjunctive mood. It’s the mood of possibility. (Like saying it MIGHT rain, not that it IS raining.) This indicates to us that it is possible to have a church filled with those who are saved by grace through faith in Christ, but who are not being met with power by the Spirit.

Scary, isn’t it! I don’t want to be in a church like that. And, I don’t want Woodland to go that way. Rather, I want our encounter with the living God to be like that described in the next few verses:

… that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth … to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge … that you may be filled with all the fulness of God (:17b-19b).

Now, that’s the way to move forward! And, in Paul’s closing doxology, before he turns to practical matters in the next chapter, he tells us this is possible: Now to him who is able … [be] glory …

Yes, God is able, to meet us with power and strengthen our inner selves with the strong love of Christ for one another.

That’s how we move forward!


Consider a few questions to get a better handle on Ephesians 3.14-21

Have you ever been hurt by a church? Why was this so disappointing?

Was this church praying for power from the Spirit to love each other with the strong love of Jesus? How might such confidence in God have changed the situation? 

According to what you gather from this passage, what is the deciding factor in whether or not God really does gift your church with His power? 

Why is it so important to understand that God’s power described in this passage is all about being characterized by Christ? What happens when we get this wrong? 

What practical things does this passage encourage you to do? 




Mystery of the Church Revealed: Ephesians 3.1-13

Some years ago (when the kids were small, actually), Amanda and I got into watching mysteries. We started with Monk, then moved to the British variety—Foyle’s War being our favorite. Sometimes, we’d stop the disk to ask each other, “Who done it?” But, funny thing, we’d find that we could almost never predict the ending.

You see, good mysteries have unforeseen twists. Great mysteries, we came to find out, have twists that are also organic to character and plot development: looking forward, you can’t see what’s coming; looking back, it’s believable. And then, when the mystery is revealed, everything comes to light, and all the labor and toil of the mystery screen writer pays off.

In Ephesians 3.1-13, Paul describes the Church of Jesus—the new people, created in Christ, in whom God takes up His dwelling (2.11-22). This new people results from the Gospel and is the mystery nobody before Christ could foresee. The effort and toil and tribulation of bringing about the growth of the Church is worth it, because the Gospel results in glory!

Mystery of the Church made known (:1-6). In this most autobiographical of all passages in Ephesians, Paul reminds his Ephesian readers of his suffering on their behalf. Then, the Spirit of God (we believe) redirects him into a long digression on the mystery of the Church. Only in verse 13 does he reconnect with his original thought.

A lot is going on in Paul’s jail cell, as he awaits trial in Rome. Acts 21-28 gives the background. Originally, shortly after Paul and Silas’ return from their 3rd Missionary Journey, Paul is arrested in Jerusalem for turning Jews against the Law of Moses and (allegedly) bringing an Ephesian (it so happens) into the Temple (Acts 21.27-29). Now, some years later, the appeal process runs on, and Paul writes his Prison Epistles from Rome.

I’m suffering for you, he wants the Ephesians to know. But, wait! Here’s what’s really going on … You are a part of a mystery (something hidden in the past, but now made known) that God has revealed by revelation. This mystery, that the saints of old couldn’t see has now been revealed to Apostles and prophets—this mystery is, in fact, the truth that Gentiles who have trusted in Jesus are knit together into one, new people with believing Jews. All this take place because of the Gospel.

Mystery of the Church ministered in the Gospel (:7-12). The wonder of it, Paul continues, is that I have been made a minister of the Gospel, charged with explaining this mystery of the Church revealed. Because of this Gospel, the wisdom of God is made known to angelic rulers through the Church (:10); God’s plan of salvation is shown to have been accomplished in Christ (:11); and, access is made to God by the work of Christ and received by faith (:12). That’s a pretty great twist that “solves” our need for redemption! But, is it worth it?

Mystery of the Church made glorious! (:13). So, I ask you not to lose heart over what I am suffering for you … Paul asks of the Ephesians. And, why? Because, it is ” … your glory”.

The mystery of the Church revealed is glory! For God, for the Ephesian believers, for us today …

You see, in his personal appeal to his Ephesian believers, Paul is moving toward the practical. He understands that while the creation of one, new people in Christ is the result of God’s resurrection power received by grace, there is trouble involved. There’s pain in bringing the Gospel to those who were “far off” from God (2.13). And, after the fact, it’s hard for unlike people to live as one people.

Consider our local expressions of the Church of Jesus—your church. Imagine your church is joined by a family living the American Dream—2.4 kids, parents happily married, new cars, nice vacations. But, they’re lost. Then, by God’s grace, they get it: your new family understands that God doesn’t care about the American Dream, and the different members of your new, church family trust Christ. Another family joins, third marriages for both parents, kids on drugs, relationships deteriorating. But, they, likewise, trust in Jesus. Now, members of both families are “in Christ”.

Both families come to God the same way. But, will it be easy? Sure, there’s grace, and they will both grow as members of your local church, but that’s it, really: they will have to GROW. And, that growth requires the spiritual living Paul will now begin to describe in next week’s passage.

Ah, but it’s ” … your glory”!

This is the good stuff in the local church. Seeing different kinds of people come together in God’s new people, the Body of Church, the one-another membership of His new creation. And, like Paul told the Ephesians, we must not “lose heart”. It’s worth the toil, because God is all about bringing Himself glory in His plan of redemption. And this, in the end, is our glory.


Here’s a few questions to keep us thinking about the mystery of the Church revealed:

What about your local church do you find unlikely? If you have trouble with this, think first about the aims and goals of a business or community organization. Then, think about how your church is different.

How do we share Paul’s responsibility to make the revelation of the mystery of the Church known? Sure, there aren’t any capitol-A apostles going around anymore, but the Church hasn’t changed, and God’s purposes (:10-12) haven’t changed.

The big issue in the Early Church was Jew and Gentile relations. What issues does your church face? Think: socio-economic status, levels of family functionality, racism, “insiders” verses “outsiders,” if you’re a place with a strong, local history.

What exciting things are going on in your church as people trust Christ and are knit into one, new people? 

New People, United in Christ: Ephesians 2.11-22

Is the church relevant to your life? It wasn’t always to me, not quite.

Amanda and I met in church, and we were committed. But, vocationally, we were “para” to the church. Our first ministry together was in Germany with a Russian-German immigrant Bible school. So, in the land of Luther with its glorious Christian past and the remnants of flourishing faith all around us in beautiful architecture, we set off to serve Christ. In the next few years something happened that moved me in my understanding of the relevance of the church to my life …

In Ephesians 2.11-22, Paul takes care of some Ephesian local church business. He’s going to talk about Jews and Gentiles, circumcision and covenants of promise. Sounds 1st century, doesn’t it? But, in going there, Paul is going to show us who the church is, where it came from, and why it’s relevant to our lives today.

The church is one, new people, brought near to God (:11-13). Peering back to the time before Christ, there’s two groups here. Those who were “near” to God included Abraham and his physical descendants who carried the mark of belonging to God (see Gen 17.14). That was God’s idea, at the time. Even so, there’s indication that the mark alone, ” … made in the flesh by hands …,” was not enough alone to make one right with God.

Then, there were those “far” from God. This would have been most of us … without Christ … alienated from Israel … strangers to the covenants (think: unconditional covenants, the Abrahamic, Davidic and New) … no hope … without God. These God brought near through the crosswork of Christ: “But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ” (:13).

What results is one, new people, at peace (:14-18). Jesus made the two peoples one. He did this by breaking down the hostility between them and rendering inoperative what separated them.

This is the technical part of the passage. Basically, Paul is referring to the Law of Moses, based in the Ten Commandments and including the 600-some-odd requirements of the law we find, mostly, in Exodus and Leviticus. These had special significance for Israel, since obeying this law determined whether the people would be allowed to remain in the Land of Promise. The problem: nobody kept the law, except Jesus. But (good news!), when Jesus kept the law and took our law-breaking on Himself, we ceased to be judged by whether we’ve kept the law and are now judged by whether we are “in Christ” by faith in Him. We’re saved by grace through faith (2.8-9).

Jesus did this so he might create one new humanity at peace with God and with each other. Where there was hostility, there now was peace. Where there had been division, there now was “one, new man.” Figuratively spoken, but how could Paul say it more strongly? Where there was no reconciliation, there was now a meeting place in the body of Jesus. Where no access, a way to God through the Spirit.

Now, we are one, new people, the dwelling place of God (:19-22). Today, in Christ, Gentiles like me are no longer visiting God’s people. We belong to God’s people, along with Old Testament saints, like Abraham, Moses and David. The worldwide Church of Jesus is built on the testimony of the Apostles and the Word of God, first voiced through prophets. We’re centered on Christ, the cornerstone. And, we’re growing up into a new temple where God meets with His people.

Astounding! In the Old Testament those carrying the physical mark of belonging to God could enter the Temple and meet with God. Today, anyone trusting in Christ can meet with God. But, more, we ARE the temple! This is referring collectively to the worldwide following of Jesus. But, places like Woodland, our local church are “growing up” into local expressions of this temple.

The Church is a new people, united in Christ and the dwelling place of God. 

So, returning to our story. Amanda and I cut our teeth together in Christian ministry in a Bible school that operated alongside churches. But, what churches? We attended church, to be sure. We tried the local baptist church, but found it “clannish” (kinda like a big family reunion) and completely disengaged from the community. We eventually joined a “free” (protestant, non-state church) some thirty minutes away, but found it non-serious. (The pastor’s wife would often lead us in a craft as the high point of the service.)

Eventually, we started a neighborhood Bible study in our apartment. While none of our neighbors believed in God, some did come. But, there was something missing in the whole equation. What was it? Then, one day, I had it. While we had a Bible school and a rich, Christian heritage to draw from, we were missing the Church!

The church, I’ve come to believe, is God’s great show-and-tell to the watching world. We are a people drawn near to God … a people at peace, with God and one another … a people who are the very dwelling place of God.

That’s why the church is relevant to our situation, I now know. It’s why I love Woodland and other churches I’ve served. It’s why the very cadence of my week builds toward Sunday morning when I gather with God’s people.

The church is God’s idea!

Here’s a few questions to help us think further about Paul’s teaching in Ephesians 2.11-22:

What has been your experience in local churches? Positive? Negative? 

How relevant is your local church to your regular walk with Christ? Can you imagine your life without regularly meeting with God’s people?

Have you ever thought about the church as being the place where God dwells with humanity during this time before Christ’s coming? How does this work? What does this mean? 

What bearing does this passage have on the way you view others in Christ’s church? How does your peace with God affect the way you treat His people?

What connection does this passage encourage you to seek with brothers and sisters in Christ you’ve never met?