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Unity in the Body of Christ May 12, 2012

Posted by flashbuzzer in Books, Christianity.
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Here are my thoughts on Ephesians 4:1-16.

Summary: Paul – as a prisoner due to his being a Christian – begins by exhorting the Ephesians to be 1) conformed to the image of Christ, 2) exalted and glorified with Him, and 3) united as God’s children. He exhorts them to:

  • be meek and mild
  • exercise mutual forbearance stemming from love.

They should strive to maintain the unity of the body of Christ – which is based on peace – via the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. He states that their unity stems from there being one:

  • body of Christ
  • Holy Spirit
  • expectation of future glory
  • Lord
  • creed
  • baptism
  • God and Father of all believers, who is over them, pervades them and abides in them.

Paul then notes that the Ephesians’ unity is consistent with the fact that Christ has given them a variety of spiritual gifts according to His good pleasure. To illustrate this point, he quotes from Psalm 68:18, which states that Christ – after defeating Satan, sin and death – leads His defeated enemies as captives and distributes the spoils of His victory to His followers.

Now Paul bolsters his use of this quotation by noting that since Christ ascended from the grave, He must have descended to the earth. Christ has now ascended above the entire universe and pervades it with His presence and power. Moreover, Christ has given gifts that allow some to:

  • be His immediate messengers
  • speak on His behalf
  • preach the Gospel where it has not been preached
  • guide and instruct believers.

These gifts are given to certain believers in order that all believers can be made perfect – building up the body of Christ until all believers are united by attaining the mindset that 1) apprehends Christ’s glory and 2) is devoted to Him; at that time all believers will be perfect as He is perfect.

Paul then notes that the above-mentioned gifts help believers avoid:

  • instability in their faith – which stems from false teachings
  • being seduced and captured by false teachers.

On the other hand, these gifts help believers speak and live by the Gospel – in love – and progress to their goal of conforming to Christ. Paul concludes by stating that the church derives its life and power from Christ, and its members are divinely united by Him, enabling it to grow and be edified in love.

Thoughts: In verse 1, we see that Paul exhorts the Ephesians to live according to the “calling” that God has given them. Hodge offers some insights on this point:

That calling was to sonship (Ephesians 1:5). This includes three things: holiness, exaltation, and unity. They were called to be conformed to the image of Christ, to share in his exaltation and glory, and to constitute one family, since they are all God’s children.

This verse was actually the theme of the Urbana conference in 2006 that I attended and blogged about. It has been more than five years since I went to Urbana, and I must admit that it has been difficult to live according to God’s “calling to sonship.” Often I have failed to live in holiness, failed to comprehend the glory of Christ, and harbored vengeful thoughts towards fellow believers. In spite of all these failures, I am glad that Paul challenged his readers in this regard; without an excellent goal that we will someday attain, how would we be motivated to glorify God in this life? Indeed, over the past five years, I have made some positive strides in my Christian walk – yet I know that I have a lot of room for improvement.

In verse 8, we see that Paul quotes from Psalm 68:18 to support his point that Christ is able to distribute a variety of spiritual gifts to His ministers. Hodge offers some illuminating thoughts on this quotation:

There are two serious difficulties about this quotation from Psalm 68:18. The first is that the quotation does not agree with the original. The Psalm reads, “You received gifts from men.” Paul says, “He…gave gifts to men.”…The second difficulty connected with this quotation is that Psalm 68 is not messianic. It does not refer to the Messiah but to the triumphs of God over his enemies. Yet the apostle not only applies it to Christ but argues that it must refer to him.

Hodge then addresses these issues. For the first difficulty, he quotes from Addison Alexander to support his inference that “a conqueror always distributes the spoils he takes; he receives to give.” As for the second difficulty, he addresses it as follows:

This difficulty is resolved in three ways which apply not only to this but to many similar passages. The first is the typology found in the old dispensation. It was a shadow of good things to come…The second principle applicable to this and similar cases is the identity of the Logos or Son, revealed in the flesh under the new dispensation, with the revealed Jehovah of the old economy. Hence, what is said of the one can correctly be said of the other…There is still a third principle to consider. Many of the historical and prophetic descriptions of the Old Testament are not exhausted by any one application or fulfillment.

This is just one of many examples of the issues that one must address when interpreting Old Testament quotations that arise in the New Testament. I must admit that I am curious as to whether the psalmist and Paul discussed this passage when they first met in heaven; did they engage in a friendly debate over Paul’s interpretation of it?

One of Paul’s main points in this passage is that Christ has given certain believers certain spiritual gifts so that all believers can be perfect as Christ is perfect. Hodge offers some rather startling thoughts on this point in his commentary on verse 16:

Ministers, therefore – apostles, prophets, evangelists, and teachers – were given to edify the church by communicating that truth with which alone the Holy Spirit is given. All this is perverted by the Roman Catholic Church. She says that prelates, whom she calls apostles, are the channels of the Holy Spirit first for the priests and then for the people, and that this communication is not by the truth but by touch, by the laying on of hands. No one, therefore, can be united to Christ except through them or live except in communion with them. Thus error is always the caricature of truth.

Now this is a rather sharp rebuke of Catholicism; in fact, based on the four commentaries that I have read, Hodge appears to have an aversion to the Catholic Church and occasionally highlights some of its perceived faults. I am curious as to whether the role of prelates in the Catholic Church has changed since Hodge wrote this commentary in the 19th Century; perhaps some Catholic readers of this blog would care to weigh in here. Does Hodge completely misunderstand the role of prelates in Catholicism, or does he have a legitimate point?

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Comments»

1. Christopher C. Randolph - May 12, 2012

Did you check to see how well Paul’s quotation lined up with the Septuigent version of the OT? That is what he would have read and quoted. Just a thought, but that is the reason for other such “discrepencies”.

flashbuzzer - May 25, 2012

That’s a great question. I did a quick Google search for the Septuagint and eventually came across this link: http://www.2001translation.com/Psalms.htm#_Captives

Based on that link, it appears that the Septuagint also has the phrase “You received gifts from men.” So it doesn’t resolve the issue that Hodge notes above, which causes him to quote from Addison Alexander’s interpretation of this passage.

Christopher C. Randolph - May 25, 2012

Paul seems to have adapted the verse. He equates the “you” with Jesus and adjusts the “receives” to gave. Yes. A couple things. The “receives” in the psalm implies that the gifts were inspired by and there fore originated with God so that is actually consistant. My notes on ephesians also assert that ancient Syriac and Aramaic translations say “gave”. It is not untoward to think of the “you” in the psalm is speaking of Th Lord either. We must remember that the numbering system and punctuation are modern conveniences. All in all. When examined more closely, it’s a good adaptation by the master commentator, I think.


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