Ephesians 4: “Unity, Gifts, and Character”
By Dr. Donald Whitchard
“I, therefore, the prisoner of the LORD, beseech you to walk worthy of the calling with which you were called, with all lowliness and gentleness, with longsuffering, bearing with one another in love, always endeavoring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to one hope of your calling; one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is above all and through all, and in you all.” (Ephesians 4:1-6, NKJV)
The Call to Walk in Unity (vv.1-6)
Paul tells the Ephesians to walk worthy of the calling given by Jesus Christ, showing the watching world the reality of the new life available in Christ (Romans 6:4, 8:1-4), and demonstrate the qualities of the Christian life through faith (2:8-10), spiritual maturity (Galatians 5:16), caution about anything that may compromise their walk with Christ (Colossians 2:6) and to demonstrate a Christlike attitude before people (1 John 2:6). Our walk should be done in a sense of humbleness, patience, and under the watch of the Holy Spirit. Just as the LORD is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, working together in unity, so we should be in unity with God. Paul describes this unity as one LORD, the true and living God who saves and loves us; one Faith, found only in Jesus Christ, and one Baptism in and through the Holy Spirit to teach and guide us.
“But to each one of us grace was given according to the measure of Christ’s gift. Therefore, He says: “When He ascended on high, He led captivity captive, and gave gifts to men.’ Now this, ‘He descended – what does it mean but that He also first descended into the lower parts of the Earth? He who descended is also the One who ascended far above all the heavens, that He might fill all things. And He Himself gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers, for the equipping of the saints for the work of ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ, till we all come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a perfect man, to the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ, that we should no longer be children, tossed to and fro and carried about with every word of doctrine, by the trickery of men, in the craftiness of deceitful plotting, but, speaking the truth in love, may grow up in all things into Him who is the head – Christ- from whom the whole body joined and knitted together by what every joint supplies, according to the effective working by which every part does its share, causes growth of the body for the edifying of itself in love.” (4:7-16, NKJV).
The Work of Jesus Christ Established the Gifts (vv.7-16)
Because the Lord Jesus came to Earth to redeem and live in us, He also ascended after HIs resurrection to heaven, having fulfilled prophecy (Luke 24:18-27) and completed the redemptive work for which He ordained by God the Father to accomplish. As the risen Lord and Savior, Jesus can bestow upon His people those unique gifts to strengthen, build up, and expand His church. No spiritual gift is ever given for self-edification, but for the good of the brethren.
The first gifts Paul lists are the offices of apostle and prophet. In his commentary on Ephesians, John Macarthur describes three basic responsibilities given to these men. They were to lay the foundation of the church (2:20), receive and declare the revelation of God’s Word (Acts 11:28, 21:10-11; Eph.3:5) and to give confirmation of the Word through signs, wonders, and miracles (Acts 8:6-7; 2 Corinthians 12:12). The meaning of the word apostle is “one sent on a mission.” Jesus Christ is the first of the Apostles. This term applies to those men personally chosen by the Lord Jesus and who had witnessed His resurrection. Paul was the last person to meet the apostolic qualifications (1 Corinthians 15:8-11). The office of apostle is no longer in effect today. It should also be noted that the Apostles also had a broader ministry than other leaders in the church.
The prophets were men who spoke for God, expounding existing Scripture and that revelation based upon both Scripture and the teachings of the Apostles. Prophets were also teachers. They were more personal and practical within a local church. The prophetic office, like that of the apostles ceased after the completion of the New Testament canon. The foundation of the church had been laid upon their authority, with Jesus Christ being the Chief Cornerstone. The evangelists, pastors, and teachers would build upon their foundation.
The work of the evangelist was to proclaim the message of the Gospel in areas where Christ is not known and to teach the meaning of salvation in Christ to the unbelievers. They were to plant churches and missions and teach new believers the doctrines of the faith, empowering them and then move to new territories. The evangelistic office should have a high priority in the churches today, according to Dr. MacArthur, and I agree. (Adapted from The MacArthur New Testament Commentary: Ephesians: Chicago, Moody Press, 1986, pp.142-43).
Pastors are to care for, protect, and lead the flock with teaching as the primary function. The terms bishop and elder are diverse ways of identifying the same person. The term bishop means “overseer,” and the elder is a more mature and established man within the church leadership (1 Timothy 3:1-8; Titus 1:7-9; 1 Peter 5:1-2). The elder is who the man is; bishop speaks of what he does, and pastor reflects his attitude and character.
The authority of the elder is done by precept and example (Hebrews 13:7). They do NOT operate by majority rule or vote, but by prayer, careful and reverent study of the Word of God, and seeking His will. Elders are given the task of preaching and teaching, determining doctrinal standards for the church, and proclaiming the truth to the congregation. The elders determine church polity (Acts 15:22), oversee (Acts 20:28), ordain other elders (1 Timothy 4:14), rule, teach, and preach and set an example (Titus 1:9; 1 Peter 5:1-3). Gifts (4:12) have been given to the believers for the equipping of the saints for service, which means teaching the authority of Scripture (2 Timothy 3:16-17), prayer, and to endure times of suffering and testing to purge and refine us for holier living, spiritual strength, and to trust God.
Proper equipping (vv.13-15) is to be grounded in the faith, not being tossed around by false and deceptive teaching or doctrine. There is no excuse for scriptural neglect or illiteracy in the life of a child of God. Faith in Christ is to be unified with deep and correct knowledge of His teaching and openness to His will, which are signs of spiritual maturity. Sound doctrine will be an essential part of the well-equipped believer. There will be a loving, Christ-like attitude among the brethren, knowing that it is Jesus and not they who are the head of the body. This is an ideal scene for any Bible-believing, Christ-honoring assembly and is not something lofty or inconceivable. When we come together before the cross and not be concerned with the affairs of the world or self, it is amazing what He can do in our lives. Pray for your pastor, staff, and elders, your persecuted brethren this week and seek the LORD’S counsel on how you may be a more effective member of Christ’s body. Our study of Chapter 4 will continue with a look at what it means to be a new person in Christ.
Donald was born and reared in the authentic Cajun country of south Louisiana. He is a 1978 graduate of LaGrange High School in Lake Charles. He is also a graduate of Louisiana College (B.A. in History Education, 1984), New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary (M.Div., 1994) and Andersonville Theological Seminary (Doctor of Ministry, 2000). He is an ACPE Certified Chaplain with training in Trauma/ER, NICU, and Psychiatric Pastoral Care from the McFarland Institute in New Orleans (2003). He has over thirty years of ministry service, which concluded when he was called to serve as pastor of Meadowbrook Baptist Church in Muskogee, Oklahoma from 2017-2018. Due to health concerns, he retired from public ministry in 2020 and now devotes his time to internet evangelism through the writing of Bible studies, sermons, and articles on current issues for varied Christian webpages and ministries. He is a regular contributor to sites such as Rapture Ready and Sermon Central as well as Inspirational Christian Blogs. He and his wife Cathy are both active members of Eastern Heights Baptist Church in Muskogee. Don will often serve as a panel member of the Gospel Rescue Mission Pastor’s Round Table Broadcast, shown monthly on the mission’s Facebook page as his health allows. He has a personal evangelistic blog as well and can be contacted at his Email address.