Thoughts on Ephesians 4
The first part of this chapter gives ecclesiastical, the second, individual godliness. In the previous chapter this connects itself with it, that we have not the counsels of God simply, but the realisation and verification of these counsels in Christ dwelling in the heart by faith.
First of all we see the thought in God before the foundation of the world, but now it has been brought out. God has brought these eternal counsels into actual realisation, and this leads, of course, to actual walk. God has brought out now (as soon as ever Christ had laid the foundation for it by the cross) "one body and one Spirit."
Though the vocation looks back at the counsels of God, it is brought into actuality in this world. It is a sorrow to the heart, and it ought to be a much deeper sorrow to us, comparing these thoughts of God and their realisation. This is the revelation of God's thought in full blessedness, but we see how little in any sense saints have acted up to the mind of God.
This epistle first gives us the thought of God without reference to how far it has been accomplished or not, the mind of God as it is; though in chapter 3 we have the actual realisation of this in the power of the Spirit of God. Then comes the question of how far this is acted out. While Paul was there in the world, a continual struggle was going on; they were Judaising - dragging down, but the standard was never lowered. You will never find that God lowers the standard, whatever the failure. He never can lower the standard; He may have and has long patience, but He cannot take a lower standard. There are two standards of judgment: one is what God set up at the first; the other is, are they prepared for Christ's coming? There must be the going back to what He gave at the first. Malachi takes the Israelites back to Horeb: "Remember ye the law of Moses my servant which I commanded unto him in Horeb for all Israel." Surely He will accomplish His promises, but He never lowers the standard. There may be a degree of light possessed or not possessed; He deals with this in grace: where there is light, more is given; but the standard is not lowered.
Paul unfolds the vocation, and then calls on us to walk worthy of it, in the first part of chapter 4. The necessary effect of being brought so close to God as we are is lowliness and meekness; how can it be otherwise? The greatness of the grace makes nothing of self. This is not easy. In Christ's life you see it plainly enough, in Philippians also. Then the effect of lowliness and meekness is to manifest the unity of the Spirit. "With lowliness and meekness," that is what we ought to be: then the effect to others will be longsuffering; others may not be lowly and meek. Practically this brings God in and self is gone. The power of love walking with God brings in longsuffering to others. "Endeavouring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace." As servants of Christ, and self being gone, we are looking at others. "Yea, and if I be offered [poured as a libation] upon the sacrifice and service of your faith, I joy and rejoice with you all."
The mere fact of their being Jews and Gentiles in the church, and the constant tendency among the Jews to think little of the Gentiles, made this needed, "endeavouring to keep the unity of the Spirit," not the unity of the body - God keeps that. Then it comes to be jealousy for Christ's glory. What comes from the Spirit is always one; why are we not all. agreed? Because our own minds work; if we had only what we have learned from the Scripture, we should be all the same. The body is one that cannot be kept by our endeavours. All this is the practical realisation of what is in the purpose of God. If a man has the Spirit of Christ, he is a member of Christ. Jesus was the Christ on earth, but He was a Christ rejected: "Messiah shall be cut off, and shall have nothing." Then a much larger scheme and purpose of God comes out. He that was the Messiah goes down to the lower parts of the earth; the Creator goes below creation, and now He is above all creatures. Having done that, He delivers persons from Satan and makes them vessels of His power for building up those that are delivered. When "he ascended up on high, he lead captivity captive, and gave gifts unto men." You do not find miracles, tongues, signs of power here, but that which, as immutable and faithful Head, He gives for accomplishing His purpose.
If you take the state of things here, through the unfaithfulness of those to whom service was committed, "the wolf catcheth the sheep and scattereth them," but he cannot touch the power of the Head. You may have everything upset, but everything works together for good; you never can touch that. But for this, if one was to think of the saints, he would break his heart.
"I stand in doubt of you." "I have confidence in you through the Lord." You cannot touch the power and faithfulness of the Head, nor confidence in the Head, though there is disorder all around.
"For the perfecting of the saints" - that is the object. The specific object of ministry is the perfecting of the saints. This never fails: and it is done in various ways. The Corinthians had all sorts of gifts, but they failed in walk. We find various differences among the saints. Individual perfecting is the direct object of Christ - that each individual should grow up to the standard of Christ. Then comes the increase of the body. The first object is, that my heart or your heart is to be up to the measure of Christ; consequent on that comes the increase of the body. It is wonderful if you take the sphere and scope there is here. Christ goes to the lower parts of the earth, then above all heavens; from thence comes ministry.
We now get what the truth is in Jesus. If we have learned Him ourselves, we get this putting off the old man, and putting on the new. This is stated as a fact in Colossians: "Seeing that you have put off the old man with his deeds, and have put on the new man." The truth as it is in Jesus is the having put off the old man, and having put on the new.
There are two great elements of the Christian life: one is this putting off the old man and putting on the new; the other, that the Holy Ghost dwells in us. "Be ye therefore imitators of God as dear children." Supposing this done, God's conduct is the rule and measure of mine. "Be ye perfect, as your Father in heaven is perfect." We are in the new creation, we have Christ. What is Christ? The manifestation of God. The truth of my state and condition, the truth in Christ is that I have put off the old man, and put on the new. Christ is our life: it is a new creation - created after God "in righteousness and true holiness," not as innocent Adam. In Colossians 3 it is expressed in another way, "the new man, which is renewed in knowledge after the image of him that created him" - that was not Adam's case at all. God is known. I have got now the divine nature fully revealed in Christ, in a Man. We are created now after God; we have the knowledge of what God is, not of what man ought to be. If as a poor sinner, I am brought to God, I know His love the very first instant; I know the righteousness and love of God. There is growth, of course. I have Christ instead of Adam. I have put off the old man as nothing worth, and put on the new. We have to contend with the old as an enemy. I own nothing but Christ for my life. The knowledge of good and evil has come in, and I cannot take any standard of it (now Christ has revealed Him) but God Himself.
God has made Himself known as Almighty, as Jehovah, and as Father. As Almighty, He said, "Walk before me and be thou perfect"; as Jehovah, "Thou shalt be perfect with Jehovah thy God"; as Father, "Be ye perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect."
The second great principle is, "Grieve not the Holy Spirit of God whereby ye are sealed unto the day of redemption." The precious blood of Christ having been sprinkled upon us, the Holy Ghost dwells in us: this is of immense value to us. The new nature cannot reveal anything, the new nature has no power. What we see in Christ (there was power in Him, of course) is dependence and obedience; these are the great leading traits of the new man. The Spirit of God reveals the things of Christ, encourages me, shews me His faithfulness and His love, and is power in me. God is dwelling in me in power, giving me liberty, power, sonship, but at the same time the sense of God's presence. "Know ye not that your body is the temple of the Holy Ghost?" If He is grieved, the effect is that power is gone, and the conscience is bad; the Spirit then becomes a rebuker. If the queen were in the house, every right-minded man and every thing would bow to her.
How our hearts cultivate things that are not of Christ! Whatever is not fit for His presence is not fit for my heart. How often things are allowed in the heart which make the heart unwilling (not at the bottom, of course) to let Christ back! It is to me a most striking expression of what the Christian is that he has put off the old man, and put on the new, and that, having the Holy Ghost dwelling in him, he is not to grieve the Holy Spirit. "Be ye imitators of God as dear children." Grace has put us in the place distinctly; and this is the way we are to walk. He takes the two essential names of God (He has many attributes), love and tight; both are that in which we have to say to God. However could I imitate God? you may say. But what do you think of Christ? Is He not God? and God just where we want Him? "Awake, thou that sleepest, and arise from the dead, and Christ shall give thee light." Do you look at Christ and see what that light is? Christ is the pattern and model. If you wake up from the sleeping state of soul (sleep is for the time as bad as death), Christ will give you light. "Walk in love as Christ also hath loved us, and hath given himself for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God, for a sweet-smelling savour." Christ gave Himself up entirely: the law never asked that; the law only said, "love your neighbour as yourself." In a world of sin and sorrow there is another principle, the giving up of self for others; and I get another principle of Christ's love, it was "to God." If as a creature I love an unworthy object, my love is unworthy. Divine love does not want a worthy object. "For us," and "to God!" - if we reached that, we should get the right thing for Christians, the giving up of self and for a worthy object. What a picture of the Christian - the old man gone, the new man put on, the Holy Ghost in us, and Christ the pattern! Surely it is a blessed privilege and a truth. Christ's love went on as a divine source when everybody was against Him. Oh! what a calling, beloved brethren. If we are only babes in Christ, we may be consistent with what we have got. Where a person does walk in that way with God, the soul is satisfied as with marrow and fatness in a dry and thirsty land.
If we let Christ practically out of our hearts, it costs a deal to bring Him back again.