Ephesians 4:1-16
 Investing Your Life in God's Work

American Journal of Biblical Theology
Copyright 2011, J.W.  Carter.      Scripture quotes from KJV


Fountain of Trajan, Ephesus. 
(Courtesy focusmm.com)

Paul wrote this letter to the church in Ephesus, a church he knew well.  Paul spent three years at the church, and by so doing became familiar with its membership.  Such intimate knowledge of the congregation also includes an understanding of the difficulties the church is facing.  Not only was the church experiencing persecution from the secular culture that surrounded them, much of that secular culture was brought into the church fellowship.  The church was having to deal with the influx of worldly doctrine, and this influence was diminishing the spiritual growth of its members.  It is difficult for a body of believers to grow in spiritual maturity and discipleship when it is experiencing petty conflicts within its members.  Such conflicts create disunity, one of the most effective weapons that Satan uses to minimize the effectiveness of the church.  People have a choice of how to express their interests and apply their abilities in the church.  Some choose to express their desire for influence by overpowering the Spirit and demanding their own way.  Others choose to express that same desire by doing so in a manner that is submissive to the Spirit and to the desire of the church body, and can lead far more effectively by doing so.  When people bring their talents and gifts into the church body, they have a choice to use them in obedience to the Spirit for the furtherance of the Kingdom of God, or they can use them for personal gratification.  The Ephesian church included members who were creating disunity by applying their talents and gifts in the latter, selfish, manner, and their actions were hurting the body.  This section of Paul's letter addresses this issue, and gives us guidance on how to apply those talents and gifts in a manner that is consistent with God's purpose for the church. 

The church has been called by God to a purpose:  to work to bring the lost to salvation, and to work to disciple those who have placed their faith and trust in God.  Is the work of the church our own work, or is it God's work?  We would probably agree that, unlike the work that we might encounter in the workplace or in a secular social organization, the work of the church is God's work, a work that is to be done under His control, not our own.  It is hard for us to give up that control.  However, Paul, in his letter to Ephesus, gives us some instruction on how we can give that control to the LORD and invest our lives in His work.

Ephesians 4:1. 

I therefore, the prisoner of the Lord, beseech you that ye walk worthy of the vocation wherewith ye are called,

At the time of this writing, Paul is in imprisoned in Rome.  Three times in this letter Paul refers to his being a prisoner, reminding them that the persecution that they receive by this secular society is shared by himself and others who are part of the church.  At a time like this, one might be inclined to shy away from the faith in order to avoid persecution.  Instead, what does Paul urge the members of the church to do?  We are to live a life that is worthy of the vocation, (purposeful work) to which we are called.  He teaches that all members of the body are called by God, and led by His Spirit, to live consistently (walk) a life that is submitted to the Holy Spirit (worthy) so that the continuing work that we do (vocation) is consistent with God's intended purpose for us (calling).

We invest our lives in God's work when we bring our walk under His control.  To do so can bring sacrifice as one gives up their own personal rights for the benefit of others.  Who would know better than Paul who is suffering imprisonment simply because he thought of the needs of others before his own?  When Paul brought his work under the control of the Holy Spirit, the LORD was able to develop in him

When the members of a church do not recognize this calling to spiritual integrity, growth, and application of gifts, both the members and the church suffers.  God's plan for that church cannot be fully implemented.  Ministry that God would desire to take place takes a back-seat to the personal desires of the membership, and work goes undone.  People are not being reached with God's love, and are not hearing or seeing the gospel.  When outsiders look at the church they do not see a group of people who love one another, but rather a group of people who bicker.  The body is characterized by disunity and criticism.  The initial ability of the church to reach people is essentially destroyed.  Satan has won that battle, one of his own making.

The solution, as Paul describes here, is to be submissive to God's calling.  What is your calling? What is it that God has called you to do with your life?  What kind of a lifestyle is consistent with that calling?  What is the calling of the local church?  We will see some answers to these questions in the following verses.

Ephesians 4:2.  

With all lowliness and meekness, with longsuffering, forbearing one another in love; 

Here Paul is going to describe some of the common characteristics of those who is following their call.  These are not a list of rules to follow.  They are simply a list of individual characteristics that are produced, like fruit, from a person's Godly character.  Note that when we treat these things as rules, we fall into the trap of legalism, and tend to criticize one another when we do not see the fruit of them in their lives.  Each person is unique, and has a set of interests, gifts, and talents that are just as unique.  The expression of those traits is also unique, so demanding uniformity in their application is unreasonable.

The big picture is this:  When those things described as part of an obedient lifestyle are not our own, we are not being directed to do those things, but rather, encouraged so that our personal desires and motives will change, so that those things will spontaneously come from our love for God, not from any attempt to follow a book of rules.  We have been given the Holy Spirit as the resource to cause this to happen to us.  It is He that changes us.  We cannot do so on our own, nor can we demand such changes of others.  Consequently, when we look at what Paul has to say, ask yourself, "Is this a description of me?"  "Is this a description of my church fellowship?"  What should we do if it is not?  Rather than sit in a fruitless self-debasing pool of guilt and despair, or look upon one another in judgment, we can seek God's wisdom and His guidance in creating the change in us needed to make it part of who we are.

Paul mentions four characteristics of a life that is submitted to the Spirit.  What are they?

Ephesians 4:3.

Endeavouring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. 

We invest our lives in God's work when we serve as agents of reconciliation.  

Notice that the application of these four attributes form the basis for maintaining unity in the Spirit by brining people together.  Paul's use of the word translated, "endeavoring" implies a constant, focused, and applied pressure.  This is real work.  These four fruit are not the natural attitude of the flesh, and to maintain them takes constant vigilance and effort.  Note that Paul states that we are be consistent in making every effort to maintain unity and peace in the fellowship.  We are mistaken when we think that matters of polity and personal opinion are more important than unity and peace in the body.  

"Keeping the unity" refers to the work of reconciliation.  When we pridefully express our own selfish desires we are working to bring disunity to the body.  Christians are called to be reconcilers through the application of God's agape love in their lives.  Consequently, this imperative even goes beyond our own actions.  As reconcilers, Christians are pro-active in the promotion of reconciliation among the body as they seek to bring people together in peace.  Rather than jump into a conflict, the mature Christian will serve as a calming voice that employ's God's wisdom in a way to promote peace by reconciling the conflict.  The Holy Spirit works to bring people together in peace as He brings them to God in peace.  Paul wrote to the Corinthians:

And all things are of God, who hath reconciled us to himself by Jesus Christ, and hath given to us the ministry of reconciliation; (2 Cor. 5:18).

God's work is a work of reconciliation as He brings people together in love, and as He brings people to Himself in relationship.  He has called us to join Him in that work.

Ephesians 4:4-6

There is one body, and one Spirit, even as ye are called in one hope of your calling; 5One Lord, one faith, one baptism, 6One God and Father of all, who is above all, and through all, and in you all. 

People with varying opinions, if left to their own purposes, will attempt to take the church in just as varied a set of directions.  We can certainly see this as the church has divided into nearly exclusive denominations.  Is this God's purpose for the church?  God has provided us with a single gospel; a single truth, revealed to us by a single Spirit.  There is only one gospel, and God's Word does not take us in different directions.  Those things that are important and essential to the faith are simple and consistent.  So, as Paul is teaching us all how to be ministers of that one gospel, we see that an important starting point is to understand our relationship with God, the purpose of His church, and seek to keep the unity in the church that is the Unity of the Spirit.  God's purpose and plan does not change from situation to situation.  With this as our basis, we continue ...

Ephesians 4:7.

But unto every one of us is given grace according to the measure of the gift of Christ. 

We invest our lives in God's work by dedicating our gifts for His purposes.

How great a gift to mankind is the gift of Christ?  Paul states in 1 Cor. 9:15 that there are no words to express the value of this gift.  Consequently, every believer has received immeasurable grace.  This grace, the unmerited favor, that we have received from God is given to us at a level that is equivalent in measure to Christ Himself.  When reminded of this, it might be easier to demonstrate our love of others by attempting to afford the some measure of grace to them also.  Grace is unmerited, a concept that is alien to our secular world view.  We want to treat others with favor only when we think they deserve it by obtaining our approval.  Since we fall short of God's glory, without His grace we could never obtain His approval.  Where would we be if God treated us this way?  We can see that, if we apply the same grace to others who do not deserve it, we will find opportunities to encourage and minister in a way that can make a real difference in the lives of other people.  That is a quite different approach than what is often taken.

Ephesians 4:8-10.

Wherefore he saith, When he ascended up on high, he led captivity captive, and gave gifts unto men. 9(Now that he ascended, what is it but that he also descended first into the lower parts of the earth? 10He that descended is the same also that ascended up far above all heavens, that he might fill all things.) 

Again, each person is unique, and has a different measure of differing spiritual gifts.   As much as we might desire to continue to live with sinful desires, intents, and actions, we have been freed to turn from them by the act that Jesus did when he took sin captive, destroyed its power to condemn us, and replaced it with the gifts of the Holy Spirit.  When we look at the giving of gifts within the context of this verse, we see that Christ's purpose included replacing the acts of sin that are part of the life of the lost, with acts of the Spirit, which are empowered in the lives of the saved.  The ability for us to express those spiritual acts are a function of the gifts that God has given us.  We have all received the gift of God's love that we can share and utilize to empower our spiritual acts.  This is the foundational gift of them all (1 Cor. 13) and without it, the expression of any act is outside of God's purpose.  However there are many gifts, skills, and talents that God has given to each person, whether they be the showy gifts that we see in one another or the more subtle gifts such as mercy, compassion, prayerfulness, etc. 

Ephesians 4:11.

And he gave some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers; 

Here Paul mentions a few of the activities or professions that come out of the expression of God's spiritual gifts.  What are they?  For some people the expression of gifts empowers them to a ministry of apostleship.  The gift of apostleship is characterized by the ability to easily establish relationships with others and lead them to Christ.  Some are given a gift of prophesy,  those who can understand the will and word of God and clearly express it to others.  Some people express their gifts through acts of evangelism, the wide-spread sharing of the gospel to people who have not yet heard.  Some are gifted to serve as pastors who dedicate themselves to equipping the people in the church and ministering to their needs as they help them to grow in the faith.  Some are gifted to serve as teachers who can help others to learn God's plan, His purposes, His Word.  

This is by no means an exclusive list.  It is simply an example of some of the Ministry activities that are produced when people submit themselves to the Holy Spirit and start to exercise the gifts that God has given to them.  Our culture tends to think of this particular list as a set of vocational ministry positions, or vocational endeavors.  This was not the case for the culture of the early church.  The first-century apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors, and teachers had other vocations that were used to meet the needs of themselves and their families.  Even Paul had a vocation that he used to support himself.  These "vocations" that are listed here are simply easily identifiable applications of spiritual gifts.  Where they are applied is a function of the setting where the individual is located.  God's purpose is that the gospel be spread throughout the world.  Our modern culture, by vocationalizing the gifts, we tend to keep the gospel within the walls of the church.  This is a misunderstanding of this verse.

Again, this list is not exhaustive:  it is just the beginning.   Before we add to it, lets look at the next couple of verses.

Ephesians 4:12-13.

For the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ: 13Till we all come in the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ: 

The next verses are a continuation of the same sentence.  First, what is the purpose of using the gifts God has given us, according to these verses?  There are several.

In what way are you using your gifts to:

There are many ways that the gifts that God has given each of us may be used for these purposes that are not characterized by the previous list of specific ministries.  Christians can apply every spiritual gift that they have been given to these purposes through one simple decision:  dedicate those gifts to his purposes and follow up on that promise at every opportunity to do so.

We frequently do not realize the powerful gifts that the LORD has given us, and we then use them for our own purposes and our own profit.  How many celebrities can be examples of extremely gifted people who are using their gifts for their own purposes.  What if their gifts were applied for God's purposes?  Imagine the impact on the gospel if some of the greatest secular movers and shakers of our day were applying those leadership gifts to perfect the saints, work in ministry, build up the body of Christ, promote unity in the church, to teach the world about God, to bring people to Christ?

If you are not using the gifts that God gave you for these purposes, what are you using them for?  Most of us do tend to use our talents, gifts and abilities for our own gain, since that is certainly natural, and is the pattern for our lives before we give our hearts to the LORD.  Accepting Jesus as our LORD is to give our lives to Him.  To give our lives to Him is to return to Him the gifts that He has given us.  Everything that we can do, and every task that we enjoy doing can be applied in a manner that brings glory to God. 

What is the consequence of keeping the use of these gifts for ourselves? We may live a life of comfort and pleasure, and we may be able to rationalize away God's calling and purpose for our lives by the overwhelming satisfaction of our own personal success.  That is why Jesus said, "It is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than it is for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven."  God's purpose is that we bring our gifts under His authority and express them in ways that fulfill His will.  Much of the New Testament text is dedicated to the teaching of this doctrine, one that many people would prefer to ignore or rationalize away.  Another rationalization is that self-abasement that can only come from an evil spirit that says, "I am not gifted, there is nothing I can do."  We have already seen the immeasurable value of the grace one receives upon salvation.  How difficult is it for us to thank God for his indescribable gifts and dedicate them all, as little as they may seem to be to us, to Him?

The next verse identifies some of the wonderful benefits that we will experience when we bring ourselves under God's authority.

Ephesians 4:14.

That we henceforth be no more children, tossed to and fro, and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the sleight of men, and cunning craftiness, whereby they lie in wait to deceive; 

We invest our lives in God's work by growing closer to Him.

Note that without maturity we are still infants.  As such we are tossed back and forth by the winds of doctrine.  When we dedicate our lives and our gifts to Him, God is able to use these, not just to benefit the work of the gospel, but to bring a huge benefit to the believer.

What kind of wind does this speak of?  Just as a tree is battered with the wind, Christians are battered with bad doctrine and attacks by sinful men that results in tribulation and suffering.  How much suffering do we allow into our lives because of our ignorance or self centeredness?  How much suffering do we experience in our lives because we have not used the gifts for the proper purpose?  We may whine and complain at each pin-prick, criticize others at every possible occasion, and have fallen far short of the fullness of the calling of Christ ourselves.  Whining and criticizing is a clear indication that there is a need for spiritual growth.

What is the result of using the gifts God has given us for the proper purpose?  When so applied we gain knowledge, experience, and understanding, that provide stability and strength against the winds and waves that may buffet us.  Paul will focus in on this matter in Chapter 6.   Look at some other benefits of proper use of gifts:

Ephesians 4:15

But speaking the truth in love, may grow up into him in all things, which is the head, even Christ: 

Our speech will be of what nature?  Rather than our speech being focused on our desires and opinions, it is focused on The Truth, the application of the gospel in love.   What does this imply?  We will be honest and yet tactful and caring in the way we express the truth in an effort to promote unity and minister to others in grace and love.  Interesting question:  Is there ever occasion to lie?   Sometimes we need to draw on God's wisdom in order to apply the truth in love, but that is our calling.  Untruth can never pass our lips.  What happens to your ministry when you are caught by the simplest of lies?  Trust is destroyed, and rebuilding that trust takes time, time that is lost to God's purpose.  God knows even the simplest of lies, and the effect on your ministry is just as significant when you are not discovered by others.  However, when our speech is motivated by truth, in love, what is the result, according to this verse?  We will in all things mature in him!  By growing, we will be able to always better apply the gifts, and by so doing, continue to grow.  Our lives will not be stagnant or plateau at some point.  As we grow we will see ourselves taking on more and more of the characteristics of the vocations of verse 11.

Ephesians 4:16

From whom the whole body fitly joined together and compacted by that which every joint supplieth, according to the effectual working in the measure of every part, maketh increase of the body unto the edifying of itself in love. 

We invest our lives in God's work by laboring in unity for Him.

There is a great and wonderful work to be done.  What are some of the things we have seen from this short segment of scripture?  We are all called to serve God.  We are all given gifts of immeasurable value.  Obedience to Jesus as LORD necessitates that those gifts are to be used in a manner that promotes unity in the Spirit and to bring to maturity both ourselves and the body of Christ.  We are to speak the truth, in love

What gifts has God given you?  One way to identify your gifts is to examine those characteristics in your own life that tend to define you.  What do you enjoy doing?  What are some of the things that you are skilled at?  What are your talents?  These verses listed some vocations that come from the application of some of those gifts.    However, there are many others including gifts of administration, prayer, mercy, generosity, compassion, speaking, communication, writing, hospitality, music, praise, worship, sport, ... etc.  The list is virtually endless, as God's grace is endless.  Any tool that can be empowered by the Spirit to accomplish God's purpose is a gift.

As you pray, consider specifically what your calling is in the body of Christ, take the time and effort to identify the gifts God has given you, and then explore ways to use them for building up the body of Christ as we all work together, in unity, to bring the gospel message to a lost world and then to disciple those who love the LORD.