The Epistle of St. Paul to the Ephesians
E- Explanation of the Epistle (contd.)
10- Diverse Gifts to the Believers and One Church (Eph. 4:7-16)
The Spirit, Who takes from Christ and gives us (Jn. 16:14), grants every believer – “to everyone” – the gift which suits him/her. All the gifts are entwined and perfected to support the unity of the Church, her growth, and the union of her believers in love. Since the Spirit is one, the gifts work together without contradiction or competition, but serve Christ’s mission in harmony. Those gifts are among the fruits of salvation, bestowed upon us through Christ’s death, His resurrection, and His ascension 1 “far above all the heavens, that He might fill all things” (Eph. 4:10). And He is at the right hand of the Father after entering into His glory (Lk. 24:26). Thus was fulfilled what was prophesied centuries earlier in the psalm: “You have ascended on high, You have led captivity captive; You have received (given) gifts among men …” (Ps. 68:18). Those who had been previously held captive by the enemy (the devil) were taken captive anew by the Savior, but this time into the Kingdom’s glory. Then He poured His gifts which started with the descent of the Holy Spirit on the Pentecost Day when what He promised before His ascension was fulfilled.
St. Paul enumerates in this chapter some of the Lord’s gifts which believers received through the Holy Spirit: hence, apostles, or prophets (both in the Apostolic age), or evangelists (for the non-believers), or pastors, or teachers (for serving the Churches). He also makes reference to these gifts and others in Rom. 12:6-8 and in 1Cor. 12:28. The aim is the building of Christ’s body (i.e. the Church) “till we all come to the unity of the faith (in Christ the only Savior) and the knowledge of the Son of God, to a perfect man (in the faith, at the level of the individual and the Church), to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ (= the fullness which is Christ’s)” (Eph. 4:13).
This is what is realized when the Church reaches her unity, and the faith its oneness. This is what must take place so that you do not be child-like in a faith pushed by the winds of strange doctrines from false and cunning teachers who seek to lead you astray. Rather, stay firm in your faith, honest in your love, continuing your growth in everything to reach the level of the head of the Church, Jesus the Christ. From the head extends the Church’s body with all of its members where they are entwined together according to their gifts as the joints get connected at the source. Thus the Church’s body grows in love to the person of Christ and to each other through the grace which flows from the head over the members.
11. The Christian’s New Life: abandonment and acquisition (Eph. 4:17 – 5:21)
It is imperative that your faith in Christ be reflected in new behavioral traits, which should differ from those which you had previously, and from those exhibited by the Gentiles who are foreign to God. The Gentiles’ hardness of hearts (Mark 3:5) has deadened their good feelings, thus resulting in their persistence down the path of ignorance and dark thoughts; this, in turn, is manifested in their yielding to voracious indulgence in filth and lewdness. Your distinguished behaviour now stems from your faith in the Lord and belief in His Gospel, and what it implies regarding your behaviour, hence: “… put off … the old man which grows corrupt according to the deceitful lusts” (Eph. 4:22). This means that your abandonment of all past sinful behavior should be full and irrevocable. In return, you will acquire a new mind: “… that you put on the new man which was created according to God, in true righteousness and holiness” (Eph. 4:23). This is equivalent to being recreated, and this is precisely what the grace of God bestows upon us: “For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men” (Titus 2:11). This process is initiated in every believer through baptism, which imparts to us the power of Christ’s death and His resurrection.
There is, however, a necessary and important condition, namely, that the person’s will be perfectly responsive to the grace of God, through firm rejection of all deviation; this maintains the illuminated life, and the enjoyment of peace and growth in communion with God. It is thus quite reasonable for St. Paul to demand of the congregation of the Church of Ephesus, who have known the Lord, to preserve their purity and their newly acquired life in Christ, and to discard all filth carried over from past beliefs and practices; such practices should be replaced by corresponding virtues, leaving no room for sin. St. Paul tells them:
A. “Therefore, putting away lying, let each one of you speak truth with his neighbor.” There is thus no room for lying (which is contrary to the truth and hence against Christ) among members of the one body, living in the faith “….for we are members of one another.” (Eph. 4:25)
B. “Be angry and do not sin.” In other words, be angry only according to God and in defence of His truth and the faith, and in confining and repelling evil. At the same time you should be careful to neither err nor aggress, in which case you should ensure that such anger is temporary and short-lived: “….do not let the sun go down on your wrath.” Put differently, you should be quick to forgive, apologize, and repent, so that you do not “give place to the devil” amongst you after he had been dismissed (Eph. 4:26-27).
C. “Let him who stole steal no longer …” (Eph. 4:28). Rather, the thief should convert to honest labor and blessed toil by working and earning his wages, gaining peaceful conscience. Thus, whereas he used to wrongfully acquire, through aggression, that which is not rightfully his, he will now not only earn an honest living, but will also gladden Christ’s heart by giving to the poor and the needy.
D. “Let no corrupt word proceed out of your mouth.” The tongue has been sanctified, its nature has been changed, and all foul language has vanished down the path of no return; it is thus befitting, in the age of grace, that what proceeds from the mouth is only “what is good for necessary edification, that it may impart grace to the hearers.” Thus, you “do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by Whom you were sealed for the day of redemption (day of entering the kingdom and gaining eternal life)” (Eph. 4:29-30). Only sin grieves the Spirit of God, since sin is incompatible, and cannot co-exist, with God’s holiness. We have to be extra vigilant, since the Lord said: “for every idle word men may speak, they will give account of it in the day of judgment. For by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned.” (Mat. 12: 36, 37)
E. “Let all bitterness (due to the cumulative effects and relationships of the past), wrath (rebellion, unrest and dissatisfaction), anger, clamour (loud quarrelling) and evil speaking (blasphemy, open enmity with God caused by the controlling evil-mindedness) be put away from you with all malice (cunning and tortuous dealings).” All of those traits are characteristics of the old life, which should be buried in the past and replaced by being “kind to one another (as a result of love), tender-hearted (due to your open and merciful hearts), forgiving one another (this is the effect of the new life, where we derive our behavior from the example our Lord and His attitude [great mercy] towards us), even as God in Christ forgave you (this is impossible to imagine, due to the huge chasm between God’s holiness and man’s degeneracy, despite which God has forgiven us).” (Eph. 4: 31-32) God’s forgiveness compels us to forgive one another, bearing in mind the divine rule: “Forgive, and you will be forgiven.” (Luke 6:37) “For if you forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men their trespasses, neither will your heavenly Father forgive your trespasses.” (Matthew 6:14 – 15)
F. “And walk in love” as God the Father who “so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.” (John 3:16), and as His Son who “also has loved us and given Himself for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God for a sweet-smelling aroma” (Eph. 5:2). And because “……love is the fulfillment of the law” (Romans 13:10), our love to one another thus necessitates that we purge our lives from all defilement such as “fornication and all (various forms of) uncleanness or covetousness (this is equivalent to idolatry) … filthiness (obscenity) … foolish talking … coarse jesting (vain humor) … let it not even be named among you, as is fitting for saints.” (Eph. 5:3, 4) “For this you know, that no (practitioner of these abominations) … has any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and God.” (Eph. 5:5) We should rather incessantly give thanks to God.
G. “For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Walk as children of light.” Let not a crafty person lure you with vain speech to re-embrace the old way of life, along with all the associated iniquities which invoke the Divine wrath. Rather, enjoy the fruits of the Spirit, and the illuminated life “in all goodness, righteousness, and truth, experiencing what is acceptable to the Lord” (Eph. 5:9, 10). As children of light “have no fellowship with the unfruitful works (useless acts) of darkness (this refers to sin that is committed secretly and covered-up) but rather expose them (in other words, reveal them, for by uncovering such deeds, its perpetrators are given the chance of awakening from the death of sin)” (Eph. 5:11). This is the call for the fallen so that they may enjoy the illuminated life: “Awake you who sleep … and Christ will give you light.” (Eph. 5:14)
H. “See then that you walk circumspectly, not as fools but as wise, redeeming (from loss) the time, (which is short) because the days are evil (and the world is under the sway of the evil one)” (Eph. 5:15-16). Devout believers, sons of light, should walk circumspectly, not in a superficial way projecting a silly image, rather, in all wisdom, commensurate with the Lord’s will and the Gospel’s commandments, in order not to offend anyone. In this respect, “do not be drunk with wine, in which is dissipation (and debauchery)” (Eph. 5:18). This is not befitting the saints who have been transferred from darkness to light; on the contrary, “be filled with the Spirit.” This means that you kindle the Spirit with prayer, be engulfed in His overflowing joy, peace and comfort, and fill your lives with whatever things are true, noble, just and praiseworthy (Philippians 4:8); above all “speaking to one another [chanting together] in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord,” (“I will sing with the spirit, and I will also sing with the understanding.” (1 Cor. 14:15)] “giving thanks always for all things to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, submitting to one another in the fear of God” (Eph. 5:19-21). St. Paul also wrote to the Romans saying, “in honor giving preference to one another” (Romans 12:10). This reflects the collective submission to the Head, Who is Christ. And these are the traits of members of the Church, dwellers of the house of God, Christ’s family.
- In this passage, St. Paul explains in detail what Christ has accomplished at His death and at His Ascension: he thus says that Christ (with His human soul united with His divinity) “first descended to the lower parts of the earth”, i.e. Hades, where the spirits of those who died in the hope of resurrection, as well as the spirits of the wicked who were under the devil’s captivity, awaited, each in their assigned location, separated by a fixed great gulf (Lk. 16: 26). In this context, we also have St. Peter saying that Christ “went and preached to the spirits in prison” (1Pet. 3:19) and admitted the spirits of the believers with Him into Paradise, in which on that day also the right thief entered (Lk. 23:43). ↩