A Worthy Walk
Topic: Expository Scripture: Ephesians 4:1–16
Synopsis: Ephesians 4:1 represents the key “hinge” to the Book of Ephesians as Paul turns from his consideration of the believer’s “wealth” (“every spiritual blessing in the heavenly realms”) to the believer’s “walk.” The one should match the other. In this message (from Ephesians 4:1-16) we consider the first two characteristics of A Worthy Walk. And we find out why the typical church often differs radically from what God has in mind!
I want to begin my message this morning by considering one of the most important words in the Bible. It is the word “therefore”. When I say it is one of the most important words in the Bible, it is because it introduces a logical transition. And the Bible is a very logical book, so it is very important to notice and pay attention to logical transitions.
In this case, we find this word in Ephesians 4:1: I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called…
The word “ therefore” and in fact this entire verse represents the key hinge and transition point in the letter to the Ephesians. It is the connecting point, the logical transition between the first 3 chapters and the final 3 chapters in the letter.
Let’s consider it carefully.I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy… This is what Paul is about to do. He is going to urge us to walk in a worthy manner, and in the next 3 chapters he is going to define and describe what that worthy walk looks like. But “worthy” of what? …of the calling to which you have been called. What is this calling to which we have been called? That is a reference to the content of the first 3 chapters of the letter and all that we have covered in our series so far.
Do you remember? We have been blessed with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly realm; we have been chosen, adopted, redeemed, forgiven. We are part of God’s creative masterpiece, saved by grace in order to be an eternal display of the grace of God. We are being molded and shaped, Jew and Gentile together, into the dwelling place of God on earth, demonstrating his wisdom to the spiritual world. This is our calling. Some have referred to the entire first 3 chapters as a description of the believer’s wealth; our inheritance as the followers of Jesus Christ.
Since we have received so much; in light of our wealth, our calling, our identity in Christ, THEREFORE, Paul urges us… walk in a manner that is consistent with that wealth, that calling and that identity. It is really a simple way to remember the outline of the Book of Ephesians. The first three chapters: The Believer’s Wealth. Chapters 4-6: The Believer’s Walk. Ephesians 4:1 tells us that the two should be connected. That is what the word “therefore” is saying. The one should reflect the other. The believer’s walk should reflect his wealth.
So, what does a worthy walk look like? That will be the subject of our study during the rest of this series of messages.
The first thing the Bible tells us is that a worthy walk is a walk of unity with other believers. This is the essence and summary of the first 6 verses. Look at verse 3: “eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.” This is an important verse. Notice that it does not say that we are to “create” unity. It says that we are to “maintain” it. Why do I stress this? Because the Bible clearly teaches that we are already “unified”. We are already “one”.
Remember that great passage at the end of chapter 2, how God is building Jew and Gentile together into one body, the church. It’s clearly stated in Ephesians 2:13-16)
1 But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. 14 For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility 15 by abolishing the law of commandments expressed in ordinances, that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace, 16 and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross…
Notice all those references to unity that I have underlined in the text. We are one! Christ “made us all one.” We are “one body” through the cross. Now we are called to “maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.” In fact we are to be “eager” to maintain it. That literally means that we are to spare no effort, be diligent, work with great determination to maintain and therefore demonstrate this unity. Our walk should reflect our identity as “one body” in Christ.
Paul goes on to emphasize the content of our unity by listing all the things we have in common as followers of Christ and members of his family in verses 4-6:
There is one body and one Spirit—just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call— 5 one Lord, one faith, one baptism, 6 one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.
We are one! Act like it! But maintaining this unity will require us to develop and exercise certain character qualities and behavioral patterns, which Paul lists in verse 2: with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love.
I love the Bible because it is so practical. Maintaining Christian unity is a requirement of our calling. But no one said it would be easy! It will require humility – a state of mind that does not set one’s self up as superior or better than others. It will require gentleness. This can also be translated as “meekness”. It is the behavioral outworking of humility; the opposite of arrogance or self-assertive, “me-first” behavior. It is the behavior Paul calls for in Philippians 2:3: Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. This is the character quality that led Christ to give up heaven’s glory to become a servant and die for our sins.
We are also told that this will require “patience, bearing with one another in love.” We could translate that “putting up with one another.” Like I said, the Bible is very realistic. I sometimes I have to chuckle when people have said to me: “It must be wonderful to work with Christians all the time.” Let’s face it. Sometimes Christians aren’t very lovable. Sometimes the saints aren’t very saintly. Maintaining our unity is going to take humility and gentleness and patience. But this is our calling. Love one another. We are one! Act like it! We are called to be eager to maintain the unity – even if it means giving up our own rights, sacrificing our own agendas, repressing our own pride and sense of personal entitlement. Walk worthy of your calling. And your calling is to be one!
Let me pause for a moment to make a few comments on what I believe is included in this call for unity and what is not.
I would suggest that there are two kinds of unity which are not mandated from this passage. The first is unity with unbelievers. True unity, the kind of unity that Paul is describing here, is based on the seven “ones” he listed in verses 4-6. To attempt unity with those who do not share the “one Lord, one faith, one baptism, etc.” is a false unity. In fact, in 2 Corinthians 6:14, Paul warns us against such unity: Do not be unequally yoked with unbelievers. For what partnership has righteousness with lawlessness? Or what fellowship has light with darkness?
The second thing I would say is that the unity demanded here is not necessarily an organizational unity. Our unity is essentially spiritual, not organizational. It is impossible to use external means to enforce an internal reality. We don’t all have to be members of some single, earthly organization to practice our essential one-ness in Christ.
On the other hand, I believe that there are two kinds of unity which are clearly called for and implied in this passage. The first is unity within the local church; in our case, within ECC. Here there is no room for division, for disunity, for factions and cliques within the fellowship. Each local church is to be a mini picture of the larger Body of Christ and to reflect our unity. That does not mean we agree on every issue or share every opinion in common. But we are to strive and work hard to reflect and maintain our essential unity in Christ.
The second application of this passage is that we should carry with us a recognition of the essential spiritual oneness among all followers of Christ who share the 7 “ones” listed here. We must recognize and accept them as fellow members of the Body of Christ, even though we may have differences in points of doctrine, in preferred styles of worship, in language, in culture. This recognition of our spiritual oneness in Christ should reflect in our attitudes and relationships with Christians and churches with other traditions. Once again, this is not a unity that we create. It is one that we are called to recognize and strive to maintain.
So, the first mark of a worthy walk is that we are to walk in unity with other believers in the Body of Christ.
The second application that Paul makes is that a worthy walk is a walk of service to one another in the Body of Christ.
As we approach this next paragraph (verses 7-16) I want to explore it by asking three questions.
1. Who is responsible to do the work of ministry in the church?
2. How are they prepared or equipped for this work?
3. What is the purpose or goal of this ministry?
Now, if a neutral, outside observer were to drop in on the average church and hang around for a few weeks, he might conclude the following, in answer to these questions.
First, the pastors or members of the church staff are responsible to do the work of the ministry. After all, that’s what we pay them for!
Second, the professional pastors and staff are equipped by going to Bible College or seminary and getting a degree in theology.
Third, the purpose of the ministry is to meet the needs of the church members who hired them and to keep them happy.
But that is nothing like the picture that Paul paints in this passage. Let’s look at Paul’s answers.
1. Who is responsible to do the work of ministry in the church?
Let’s read several verses in this section. First of all in verse 7: But grace was given to each one of us according to the measure of Christ's gift.
Look at verse 12: to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ,
Finally, verse 16: 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.
Do you see what the Holy Spirit is saying through Paul? Every member has a part to play. Every one of us is to do the work of the ministry in the church. He uses the analogy of the human body and its parts. Every joint is important to hold the body together and make sure it works properly.
Let’s consider the next question.
2. How are they prepared or equipped for this work?
The average church member might be excused for complaining: But I don’t know how to do the work of the ministry. I am not qualified. I have no training.
Paul gives two answer to this question concerning equipping. First, he tells us that Christ has equipped us by giving us special gifts.
In verse 7, we read: But grace was given to each one of us according to the measure of Christ's gift. This “grace” he refers to here can be interpreted as an undeserved gift, something that Christ has given to each of us in proportion to the great gift of Christ himself.
There follows here a rather obscure and difficult passage:
Therefore it says,
“When he ascended on high he led a host of captives,
and he gave gifts to men.”
9 (In saying, “He ascended,” what does it mean but that he had also descended into the lower regions, the earth? 10 He who descended is the one who also ascended far above all the heavens, that he might fill all things.)
This is a complex passage, and I don’t want to spend a lot of time on the complexities. Very quickly, Paul is building here on the imagery found in Psalm 68, in which God is described as a conquering king who has been victorious in battle. The king enters the city, leading behind him the prisoners of war whom he has captured. As he parades through the city, he also gives out gifts to his followers from the spoils of the battle.
In this passage, Paul applies this to Christ, who, having done battle with forces of evil through his death and resurrection, he ascended in triumphal procession, giving out gifts as he went.
So what are these gifts in the imagery as Paul applies it in this context? First, they are spiritual gifts; special God-given abilities which he gives to each believer – a special “grace” to equip him or her for works of service in the Body of Christ. There are other passages that expand on these gifts in 1 Corinthians and Romans. We don’t have time to explore them here. Let me just cut to the bottom line and tell you plainly; if you are a follower of Christ and have trusted him as Savior, then you have received a gift or gifts from him to equip you in your own unique way to serve in the church. It is your responsibility to discover your gift and use it.
But there is another kind of gift that Paul makes reference to here. God has given to the church gifted individuals and leaders. Look at verse 11: And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ.
There are some differences of opinion in the specific interpretations of this verse. Who are these men, listed in this verse? My own interpretation is that “the apostles and the prophets” were the first century church leaders and prophetic voices through whom God revealed his truth to the church. I base this on Ephesians 2:20 where Paul refers to the church as “the household of God” that is built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone.
These men were Christ’s gift to the church and their ministry continues to us through the Scriptures which they wrote under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. Their writings are essential to a correct equipping for ministry.
The others in this list are leaders whom God continues to give to the church; evangelists and pastors and teachers. These leaders, through their divine enablement, continue to play a vital role in the church in gospel proclamation and outreach, in providing shepherding care to the flock and careful instruction in God’s truth.
But here is the key point of Paul’s teaching here. These individuals, no matter how well trained or gifted or vital they may be, are not given to the church to do the work of the ministry. Read carefully now! Their role is to equip the saints for the work of the ministry! The emphasis is still on the believers in the church, the saints, every member. The work of the ministry belongs to all of us! It is not the exclusive domain of a chosen few.
This is my greatest challenge in ministry. It is the great challenge in every church and for every pastor. It is how to find the balance between doing ministry and equipping others for ministry. It is a question that the church needs to ask candidates as you choose your next generation of leaders. “Are you an equipper?” The ministry belongs to all the saints and to every member. This requires leadership that is skilled in equipping the saints for the work of the ministry.
What will be the outcome of this kind of ministry? Let me cover these final points quickly.
First, there will be a growing unity.
In the first part of verse 13: until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God,
We are back to the theme of unity again – this time a unity based on a shared faith and a growing knowledge of the Son of God.
The second result is spiritual maturity. In the second half of verse 13: to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ. Paul was always concerned about the spiritual maturity of the churches he planted and the people he led to Christ. This comes through mutual ministry of all the members.
The third result is stability in doctrine. Verse 14 describes it this way: 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.
A church that is not committed to every member ministry is going to be vulnerable to the teachings of a false prophet. A new and dynamic preacher enters the pulpit. If he starts to wander from sound Biblical doctrine, a well-grounded congregation will soon recognize his error and rise up and throw him out. But if the congregation has been lulled into a consumer mentality, ceding all authority and responsibility for service to their professional staff – they may be led astray. The same goes for the multiplicity of televangelists and websites available today.
All three of these results (growing unity, spiritual maturity and stability in doctrine) are summarized in the final verses of this paragraph, which also adds one more key ingredient: a climate of love.
Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, 16 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.
Every member has a role to play. Every member is to do its part. One of the marks of believers who are walking a worthy walk will be a local church where members are committed to mutual service to one another.
So, in light of our great wealth as followers of Christ, are we walking in a worthy manner? No congregation ever reaches perfection, any more than any individual believer does – but there should be growth as each member does his or her part.
- Read Ephesians 4:1-16.
- Why is Ephesians 4:1 such an important verse in our understanding of the Book of Ephesians and its logical development? What happens when we isolate Ephesians 1-3 from Ephesians 4-6? What happens when we isolate Ephesians 4-6 from Ephesians 1-3?
- Ephesians 4:3 instructs us to “maintain the unity of the Spirit”. Why is Paul’s choice of words significant? How does it affect our approach to and understanding of Christian unity?
- What is your understanding of the 7 “ones” found in verses 4-6?
- What character qualities are necessary to “maintain” our unity? (see verse 2)
- What are the gifts that Christ gave to men (the church) when he ascended?
- Discuss the portrayal of church life that this passage (v. 7-16) paints. How does it compare and contrast to the typical church? To our church?
- What is the role and function of leaders, according to this passage?
- What happens in the church when “every member” does its part?
- What changes do you think we need to make as a congregation to be an Ephesians 4 church?