He begins to explain in —
(Eph 4:11-12 ESV) 11 And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, 12 to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ,
First, some of us are gifted as leaders and therefore called to “equip” Christians minister to (serve) one another to build up the church.
The BDAG Greek lexicon (the premier New Testament Greek dictionary) adds that “equip” could also be translated “discipline” or “train.”
Notice that the leaders equip, but the actual building up of the church is done by those who’ve been equipped — the rest of the members — all of them. We are all charged with building up the body of Christ.
“Building up” is the same word the Greeks would use to refer to building a building. The picture is not merely increasing emotional and spiritual strength, as in English, but the word could also include building the church bigger — adding new members.
(Eph 4:13 ESV) until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ,
The goal of the equipping is unity, but the unity comes not merely from equipping and disciplining, but from the actual works of service. You see, we want to get unity through head knowledge, but Paul knows real unity comes from the bonds that form when you serve next to someone.
The closest friends are often men and women who fought in war together. They learned to rely on each and help each other in ways that mere classroom time and friendship don’t.
There will be precious little unity in our congregations — and certainly among our congregations — until we do our works service together, side by side, not as competitors but as allies against a common enemy. (We are bad to aim our bayonets at our allies rather than our enemy, aren’t we?)
Unity, therefore, is the marker of “mature manhood” and “the fullness of Christ.” But this is unity that comes from service.
(Eph 4:14 ESV) so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes.
This kind of unity helps us gain a truer perspective. Rather than wrangling over doctrine and schemes, we love the people we’ve served with. If we’ve painted houses, conducted Bible studies, and fed the poor side by side with someone, no argument over mere hats or fellowship halls will separate us. Our love will be too strong.
You see, if we truly are re-created in the image of Jesus — being mature and having attained the fullness of Christ — unity is the natural, inevitable consequence. Therefore, our disunity and constant wrangling prove how far removed we are from the image of God.
(Eph 4:15 ESV) Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ,
Again, “truth” in the New Testament refers not to all true things or all true doctrine but the truth about Jesus — the gospel. To “speak the truth in love” is to have kingdom and gospel words on our lips — words of unmerited forgiveness, no boasting, and the love of Jesus.
Once we learn to speak this way, and add that to the rest, we “grow up” into Christ. The unity that Jesus prayed for begins to be truly realized. It really happens.
It’s not magic. We don’t start walking on air rather than dirt. But submission to the work of the Spirit in our hearts, supported by our leaders and fellow members, serving others, and speaking the language of gospel brings God’s cosmic plan to fruition.
(Eph 4:16 ESV) from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love.
This happens because love makes it happen. Love drives the equipping, the serving, the right speech, the unity …
And, therefore, it must happen together. This unity is achieved by “the whole body” — the congregation! This is not private piety! It’s community that brings us all into unity with the Creator.
(Eph 4:20-24 ESV) 20 But that is not the way you learned Christ!– 21 assuming that you have heard about him and were taught in him, as the truth is in Jesus, 22 to put off your old self, which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires, 23 and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, 24 and to put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness.
We (the pronouns are plural) leave the old behind so we can “be renewed” (passive voice, meaning God does it for us through the Spirit, if we submit), and so attain “the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness.”
Wow. Really? Can it really happen?
(Eph 4:32-5:2 ESV) 32 Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you. 1 Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children. 2 And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.
Paul sure thinks so. He thinks we can imitate God by loving and sacrificing as Jesus did for us. We might start by forgiving others as unreasonably as God forgave us — a stubborn people, who are by nature children of wrath. That’s who we have to forgive, too!
(Eph 5:18-21 ESV) 18 And do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery, but be filled with the Spirit, 19 addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart, 20 giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, 21 submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ.
The conclusion — the path to theosis — is to be filled with the Spirit. That’s the subject and verb of the passage. That’s the command. All else in the passage are participles that hang on “be filled with the Spirit.” If we fail to be filled with the Spirit, well, none of rest matters. (Sadly, the NIV and many other translations break this single sentence apart, confusing the reader as to the central command.)
And the last participle is the most important. Indeed, it forms the theme for the entire next chapter and a half: “submitting to one another.”
Do you want to be a king? A priest? The very image of God? Would you love to one day be united with Jesus and all the other sons of God, as he prayed in John 17? Do you want to do the works God saved you to do? We start by submitting to your brothers and sisters.