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Bible Commentaries

F. B. Hole's Old and New Testament Commentary

Ephesians 4



Other Authors
Verses 1-32

As we open chapter 4 we pick up the thread which Paul dropped at the end of the first verse of chapter 3. In comparatively few words we have had brought before us the Christian calling in its height and fulness according to the thoughts and purposes of God. Moreover that calling has been unfolded to us, not only as it relates to us each individually, but also as it concerns us all together in our corporate or church capacity. Now comes the exhortation of a general character, and it covers all the more detailed exhortations with which the main part of the remaining chapters is filled. Still the Apostle knew right well that it is not enough to give general instructions, but that very intimate and pointed details are necessary, such as may get home to every heart and conscience. Let those who minister today take heed to this and be as wise and courageous as he.

The exhortations comprised in the first section of chapter 4 down to verse Ephesians 4:16, have evidently in view our calling, not as individuals but rather as members of the body of Christ, the church. In the assemblies of the saints how often friction occurs! A little experience of assembly life will suffice to convince us that this is so. Here then is an immense field for the cultivation of the beautiful graces enumerated in verse Ephesians 4:2. The lowly mind thinks nothing of itself. Meekness, the opposite of self-assertiveness, is of course the direct outcome of lowliness. Longsuffering, the opposite of the hasty spirit so critical of others, is the child of lowliness and meekness. When all these three are in operation how simply and happily do we bear with one another in love. Let us connect the love also with what we have just been seeing in chapter 3. Rooted and grounded in love, and knowing at least something of the knowledge-surpassing love of Christ, we ourselves are enabled with eyes of love, to look out on all saints, even those amongst them who according to nature are least lovable.

Amongst men we see the tendency for love to degenerate into a kind of soft amiability, which ends with condoning all kinds of things which are far from right. Thus it is not to be amongst saints, inasmuch as a very definite standard is set before us. We are to aim, not merely at agreement, for we might all be of one mind and in the sweetest agreement in favour of something entirely wrong! We are to give all diligence to keeping the unity of the Spirit—not Paul’s unity, not Peter’s, not yours nor mine, but rather that unity which the Spirit has produced. We did not make the unity, and we cannot break the unity. The Spirit made it and we are to keep it in a practical way in the uniting bond of peace. That is to be our constant endeavour. Our success in that endeavour will depend upon the measure in which we are marked by the beautiful features mentioned in verse Ephesians 4:2.

If verse Ephesians 4:2 of our chapter gives us the characteristics which, being developed in us, will lead to the keeping of the unity of the Spirit, verses Ephesians 4:4-6 give us a series of unities which strongly support the exhortation of verse Ephesians 4:3. The word “one” occurs seven times in these three verses.

First we have the oneness of the body of Christ, which is composed of all the saints of the present dispensation. This body has been formed by the baptism and indwelling of the one Spirit, and every member of that body shares in a common calling, which has one hope in view. Nothing that is unreal enters into this body. All is vital here in the life and energy of the Spirit.

Next we have the Lord, and the faith and the baptism that are connected with Him. Oneness is stamped upon these things connected with the Lord, equally with all that is connected with the Spirit; though the faith may be professed and baptism be accepted by some, who afterwards turn out to be nothing more than mere professors.

Then we come to God the Father, and here again oneness is pressed upon us since we all find our origin in Him. And further, though He is above all and through all, He is in all of us.

In these seven unities is found the foundation and support of the unity of the Spirit, which we are responsible to keep. It is buttressed in this sevenfold way, which is a definite testimony to its importance, as also to our frailty in keeping it. We are one, and that by the presence and action of the Spirit of God. We may fail to keep the unity, yet the unity will not thereby cease to exist, since it stands in the energy of God.

On the other hand we are great losers, and the testimony of God suffers, as we fail to keep it. The very divided state of the people of God proclaims how grievously we have failed in this respect, and it accounts very largely for the weakness, the lack of spiritual insight and vigour, which prevails. We cannot rectify the present divided state of things, but we can make it our aim to pursue the unity which is of the Spirit of God with all lowliness, meekness, longsuffering and forbearance. Only it must be the Spirit’s unity. To aim at keeping any other unity, yours, mine or any one else’s, is to miss the unity of the Spirit.

Moreover unity does not mean a dead uniformity. Verse Ephesians 4:7 is plain testimony to this. We all are one, yet to each of us is given both gift and grace that is peculiar to ourselves. This thought leads the Apostle to refer to those gifts of a special yet abiding nature, which have been bestowed by the ascended Christ in proof and manifestation of His victory.

The quotation in verse Ephesians 4:8 is from Psalms 68:1-35, a Psalm which celebrates prophetically the Divine victory over rebellious kings and all His enemies, which will usher in the glorious millennial age. The Apostle knew that the victory, to be publicly manifested then, had been already accomplished in the death, the resurrection, the ascension of Christ. Hence he appropriates these words from the Psalm and applies them to the ascended Christ before the day of millennial victory arrives. Having conquered Satan in death, his last stronghold, He has gone on high, having brought into subjection to Himself those who had been the slaves of Satan. Then He signalized His victory by bestowing on those, who are now captivated by Him, spiritual powers which should suffice for the carrying on of His work, even while they are yet in the place where Satan is permitted still to exercise his wiles.

Verses Ephesians 4:9-10, as we notice, are parenthetical. They emphasize two things. First, that ere He ascended He had first to go down to death, where He vanquished the power of the enemy, and even the grave. Second, that having achieved victory He is supreme in exaltation, with a view to the filling of all things.

“Far above all heavens,” is a remarkable expression. In Mark 16:1-20 we have the Divine Servant “received up into heaven.” In Hebrews 4:1-16 the great High Priest is “passed through the heavens.” Here the victorious Man is “ascended up far above all heavens.” The very heaven of heavens is His, and it is His that He may “fill all things;” another remarkable word. Even today each believer should be filled with the Spirit as we see a little further on in this epistle. Each believer who is filled with the Spirit is necessarily filled with Christ, and consequently Christ comes out of him. If filled with Christ we display His character. The day is coming when Christ will fill all things, and consequently all things will display Him and His glory. The “all things” spoken of here is of course all things that in any way come under His headship—all things within the universe of blessing.

Verse Ephesians 4:11 reads straight on from verse 8. The four great gifts are specified. Apostles, the men sent forth for the establishment of the church, through whom in the main the inspired Scriptures have reached us. Prophets, men raised up to speak on God’s behalf, conveying His mind; whether doing so by inspiration, as in the earliest days of the church, or not. Evangelists, who carry forth into the world that great message which avails when received, to rescue men from the enemy’s power. Pastors and teachers, those qualified to instruct believers in the truth revealed, and to apply it to their actual state, so that they may be fed and maintained in growth and spiritual health.

The simple meaning of the word translated, “pastor,” is “shepherd,” and the words, “shepherds and teachers,” describe not two gifts but one. Let this be taken to heart by any who are gifted in this direction. No one can very well act as shepherd without doing a little teaching, but it is possible for a very gifted man so to concentrate on teaching that he never concerns himself to act as a shepherd; and this in practice proves very hurtful both to himself and to his hearers.

The objects in view in the giving of the gifts are stated in verses Ephesians 4:12-15. The saints are to be perfected, qualified each to take their due place in the body of Christ. The work of the ministry is to be carried on, and thus the body be built up. And all this is to proceed until God’s purpose as to the body is carried to its completion. Until then the gifts abide. The gifts in this passage, be it remembered, are not exactly certain powers conferred; but rather the men who possess these powers, who are conferred as gifts upon the church. Apostles and inspired prophets remain in the Scriptures that came from their pens. Uninspired prophets, together with evangelists and also pastors and teachers, are found in the church even to this day.

The ultimate objective contemplated in the bestowal of the gifts is stated in verse 13. We are to arrive at “a full-grown man,” and that according to the measure of that which is God’s purpose for us. As the body of Christ we are to be His fulness (see Ephesians 1:23) and up to the measure of the stature of that fulness we are to come. We shall arrive there in oneness—that oneness which springs from the faith fully apprehended and the Son of God really known.

Again, God’s objective in connection with the gifts is set before us in verses Ephesians 4:14-15, but this time not the ultimate but the immediate objective. It is that we may be marked by spiritual growth, so that instead of being tossed about, like a boat without an anchor, and at the mercy of false teachers, we may be holding the truth in love and growing up increasingly into conformity to Him who is our Head.

These objectives, whether we consider the ultimate or the immediate, are very great, very worthy of God. If we take them in we shall not wonder that with a view to them special gifts have flowed from the ascended Christ. But verse Ephesians 4:16 completes the story by showing that the increase and growth of the body, which is the present objective, is not to be reached only by the ministry of these special gifts, but that every member of the body, however obscure, has a part to play. Just as the human body has many parts and joints, each of which supply something to the general upkeep and growth and well-being, so is it in the body of Christ.

It is very important that we bear this in mind, otherwise we easily fall into the way of thinking that the general good and spiritual prosperity of the church altogether depends upon the actions and service of gifted men. Consequently when things are poor and feeble, or altogether wrong, we can conveniently absolve ourselves from all responsibility and blame, laying all at the door of the gifts. The fact is that the healthy action of every part, down to the smallest and most unnoticed, is needful for the welfare of the whole. Let us all aim at so going forward ourselves that there may be increase of the body, to the building up of itself in love. Truly intelligence is necessary; but love, Divine love, is the great building force. God help us all to be filled with divine love.

With verse Ephesians 4:17 we come face to face with detailed injunctions. The general exhortation occurs in the first verse of our chapter, and is of a positive character. Here the first injunction is of a negative sort: we are not to walk as do men of the world. Verses Ephesians 4:18-19 give us a glimpse into the dark cesspool of Gentile iniquity which surrounded these saints at Ephesus. We see enough to discern the same hideous features as are exposed more fully in Romans 1:1-32. Is the Gentile world of the twentieth century any better? We fear not; though the evil may be more skilfully hidden from the public eye. Still there is vanity, coupled with darkness, ignorance, blindness, and consequent alienation from all life which is of God.

Now we have learned Christ. Not only have we heard Him, and as a result believed in Him, but we have been “taught by Him,” or as it may be read, “instructed in Him.” He is not only our Teacher but our Lesson Book. He is not only our Lesson Book but our Example. The truth is in Jesus: that is, He Himself when here on earth was the perfect setting forth of all that is enjoined upon us. He perfectly manifested the “righteousness and holiness of truth,” of which verse Ephesians 4:24 (marginal reading) speaks.

What we have learned, then, concerns three things. First, as to our having put off the old man, which is utterly corrupt. Second, as to a complete renewal in the very spirit of our mind. Third, as to our having put on the new man, which is wholly according to God. The putting off and the putting on are not something which we are to do, as the Authorized translation would infer, but something which the true believer has done. “Your having put off... and having put on” (N. Tr.).

The “old man” is not Adam personally, but rather the Adamic nature and character. So too the “new man” is not Christ personally, but the nature and character which are His. The righteousness and holiness, which spring forth from, and are in entire consonance with truth, were altogether proper to Him, and like a native growth. With us they are not native but foreign, and consequently as regards us the new man is spoken of as created. Nothing short of creation would do, and nothing less than complete renewal in the spirit of our minds.

But let us not miss the point that all this is what has been arrived at in the case of the true believer. It is of the very essence of true Christianity. We are to be characterized by a walk wholly different from the rest of the Gentiles because this great transaction has taken place, if indeed we have heard and learned of Christ; which is equivalent to saying, if indeed we are really His.

The Apostle proceeds to lay his finger upon particular manifestations of the old man that we are to put off. Because the old man has been put off we are to put off all his features in detail. He begins with lying which is to be put off in favour of truth. The previous verse had mentioned holiness of truth as marking the new man, so we must be off with the lying which marks the old. Moreover, anger, theft, corrupt speech, and all similar evil use of the tongue, are to be put away, and kindness and forgiveness are to characterize us. We are to forgive others as we have been forgiven ourselves.

In these closing verses of the chapter we have not only what we are to put away but what we are to put on. Not lying, but truth. Not stealing, but toiling so as to have the wherewithal to give to others. Not corrupt talk, but words of grace and edification. Not anger and bitterness and heated clamour, but kind forgiveness. And all this in view of the grace which God has shown us for Christ’s sake, and in view of the indwelling of the Spirit of God.

We are sealed by that Holy Spirit until the day of the redemption of our bodies and of the whole inheritance purchased by the blood of Christ. He will not leave us, but He is very sensitive as to holiness. We may easily grieve Him, and in consequence lose for the time the happy experiences that result from His presence. So may God help us to lay these practical instructions very much to heart, that we may walk not as the world, but in righteousness, holiness and truth.


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Bibliography Information
Hole, Frank Binford. "Commentary on Ephesians 4:4". "F. B. Hole's Old and New Testament Commentary". 1947.

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