Adam was created in the image of God (Gen. 1:27). After the disastrous fall into sin, mankind retained the image of God (Gen. 9:6), but it was barely recognizable, lying now in ruins. The purpose of Christ coming was to re- establish mankind in the second Adam, and to renew the image of God in us. This is why we are told in this chapter to put off the old man, to be renewed, and to put on the new man. That image is described for us here (v. 24), created in the likeness of God as righteousness and true holiness.
“I therefore, the prisoner of the Lord, beseech you that ye walk worthy of the vocation wherewith ye are called, With all lowliness and meekness, with longsuffering, forbearing one another in love; Endeavouring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace . . .” (Eph. 4:1-32).
Summary of the Text
Paul reminds them again that he is a prisoner, and asks them to walk worthily of the calling he has just been describing for them (v. 1). What does that look like? In a word, it looks like humility (v. 2). Such humility is the foundation for the strenuous labor of church unity (v. 3). That unity is grounded in what God has done—one body, one Spirit, one hope, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, and one God over all, through all, and in you all (vv. 4-6). We all have that in common. All believers, by definition, share that.
But to each Christian a particular grace is given (v. 7). Paul refers to the Ascension, after which Christ bestowed gifts on us (v. 8). Before He ascended He had to first go down (v. 9). The one who descended is the same one who ascended (v. 10). The gifts He gave (as listed here) are apostles, prophets, evangelists, and pastor/teachers (v. 11). These gifts were to equip the saints for the work of ministry, not to put on a hired show for the spectators (v. 12). These gifts will be exercised until we all arrive at the unity of the faith, to the perfect man (v. 13). At that time, we will no longer be gullible, the prey of false teachers (v. 14). Rather, we will speak the truth in love, which shows attachment to the head, who is Christ (v. 15). The entire body is connected to Him, and love is what makes it grow (v. 16).
That being the case, Christians ought not to walk according to the Gentile mindset (v. 17). Their problem is intellectual darkness created by heart blindness. When the heart is blind, the head is dark (v. 18). Their intellectual darkness not surprisingly is connected to moral corruption (v. 19). But the Ephesians had not learned Christ in that way (v. 20), at least not if they had heard the real Jesus and been taught by Him (v. 21). They had been taught to seize the old man, the old way of life, and take him off (v. 22). Then they were to be renewed in the spirit of their mind (v. 23), and put on the new man, who is of course Jesus Christ Himself (v. 24).
A cluster of ethical instructions follow. Stop lying, and speak the truth to one another (v. 25). Be angry, but don’t sin, and don’t let it fester (v. 26). Don’t give the devil a place, don’t let him have a foot hold (v. 27). Let the thief work with his hands on something, and share what he has earned (v. 28). Don’t speak in a foul way (v. 29). Do not grieve the Spirit (v. 30). Put away malice and all its companions (v. 31). Be kind to each other, tender-hearted, eager to forgive as you have been forgiven (v. 32). Don’t stand there as a spiritual leper, with little pieces of damnation falling off.
The Already/Not Yet of Unity
There are two kinds of unity in this chapter. The first is a gift from God, and it is a unity that needs to be protected and retained. We are told to keep the unity of the Spirit. In order to keep it, we have to already have it. This is a natural consequence of regeneration. Those who are part of the one true body of Christ have already, as a gift, true unity with one another. This is why a Baptist and a Presbyterian, belonging to different churches, can have true unity with one another. This kind of unity is disrupted by arrogance, by a lack of humility. This is why two Presbyterians, members of the same church, can be at one another’s throats. When this kind of unity is disrupted, it is always because of sin.
The second kind of unity is what we are all growing toward. This unity cannot be preserved because we are not there yet. This is what Paul refers to in v. 13, when he says that we will eventually come to “the unity of the faith,” or, put another way, to “a perfect man.”The lack of this kind of unity is not a sin, and not a problem. God governs human history, not us.
Look at a fertilized egg under a microscope, a person who will be a mature man 35 years from now. What you see is perfect unity. What is the first step toward the higher unity of the perfect man? The answer is division. Look at Adam before he met Eve. What do you see? You see unity. What was the first step in creating the higher unity of a human race of billions of people? The answer is division. Don’t tell God how to govern church history. But you should receive what He tells you about your demeanor in your particular corner of church history.
In verse 30, we are told not to grieve the Holy Spirit. At the beginning of the chapter, we are told to keep the unity of the Spirit (v. 3). We are told that there is one body and one Spirit (v. 4). The way we keep the unity of the Spirit is by humility—lowliness, meekness, patience, etc. The way we grieve the Spirit is by bitterness, wrath, anger, clamor, evil-speaking, and malice (v. 31).
Humility and love help the body to grow. Anger, clamor and dissension do not. Keep what God has given. Do not grasp after what He has not yet given. To grasp after the second kind of unity prematurely is to replicate the sin of Adam and Eve at the tree. They wanted what had not been given to them yet. Those who strive for the second kind of unity almost always trample the first kind. Those who cultivate the first kind are being used by God in His glorious eschatological purposes.