Ephesians 4:4-16...

There is one body, one spirit, one hope, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, and there is one God. Ephesians 4:4-16 follows a creedal structure. Note the seven-fold repetition of the word “one.[1]” The use of the number seven throughout the Bible tends to indicate completeness. The creed that Paul formulates for the church in Ephesus is complete in nature: there is nothing else needed. Existing inside of this seven-fold structure is a Trinitarian model, assembled in a similar fashion to the parallel structuring found frequently in Hebrew poetry: (1) there is one body – there is one spirit, (2) there is one hope – found in one lord, (3) there is one faith – acted out in one baptism, and above it all – one god.[2] Under this complex and poetic framework Paul calls the community of the church into unity. These seven truth claims, around which Paul centers the church, are each intentionally vague and generic.

Paul calls this community past whatever differences it may have, towards a group of central concepts, which all can gather around. Why can they, beyond the possible boundaries between individuals, be called together as one church? Verse seven tells us it is because of the grace that was given to each of us by Christ (4:7). The word here that is translated as “was given,” is the Greek verb δίδωμι (didōmi). Δίδωμι is in the aorist tense, pointing us back to a completed event in the past.[3] The church can be called forward into new things, because of the gift, which they have already received. The reception of that gift (the grace of Christ and the power and presence of the Holy Spirit) have already been given. That part of the work is finished, now the Church must decide how it will live with these gifts.

Paul picks back up the gift language in verse eleven; here he expands on how this gift manifests in the lives of the believers in a classically Pauline run-on sentence. Paul’s language in this section is reminiscent of Romans twelve, when the author tells the reader that “the gifts he gave were.” The list of gifts supplied in this Ephesians passage, include apostleship, prophecy, leadership, teaching, and evangelism. (4:11) Why have these gifts been given? “To build up the body of Christ.” (4:12)

As we survey this epistle to the Church at Ephesus there is a great wealth of imagery for the Church, such as that of a “body” (4:12) and that of a “structure.” (2:21) The word rendered in English as “structure,” is the Greek word oἰκοδομὴ (oikodomē), literally a physical structure; in the same verse is the image of a temple (ναὸν naon). Terms like these draw out the concept of physical construction in the mind of the reader. The Church is also spoken of as something that is growing (aὔξησιν auxēsin) (4:16) which connects us back to the language of body.[4] Ephesians does create room for special offices, but at the same time it expects that all the Christians in the community would have a part in this work – building the structure, growing the body. In this passage all of the community is called to unify under their common calling, found in the triune seven-fold creed, to the work of the Church.

Here the author makes sure that the reader understands that the work/building-up/growing of the Church is not exclusively the work of professionals; such as the teachers, pastors, prophets, evangelists, and apostles that were mentioned earlier. Verse sixteen states that “the whole body” has a role to play in the work of the Church and that each member has been equipped for this work. If each member of this, the body of the Church, is empowered to perform the task to which it has been called, connected to the rest of the Church in unity, then the Church will be “built up” in the work of love. (4:16) The specific word for love being used in the Greek is ἀγάπῃ (agape). ‘Aγάπῃ is the Greek term for the type of love that is self-sacrificial in nature. This is the kind of love that Paul says feeds the work of the Church and empowers the unified community.

[1] Barclay, William, The Letter to the Galatians and Ephesians, Revised ed, Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1976, 141-2.

[2] Martin, Ralph P. Ephesians, Colossians, and Philemon, Atlanta: John Knox Press, 1991, 48.

[3] Croy, N. Clayton, A Primer of Biblical Greek, Grand Rapids, Mich: W.B. Eerdmans Pub.,1999, 71-2.

[4] Perkins, Pheme, “The Letter to the Ephesians,” in The New Interpreter's Bible, Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1998, 422-3.


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