Ephesians 4 Commentary

Live Worthy of Your Call Focused on Unity (4:1 – 3)

With the translation “the calling you have received,” the NIV loses the text’s double emphasis on election (lit., “the calling with which you were called”). Paul reminds the reader of the description of salvation in chapters 1 – 3 and especially of the doxology in 1:3 – 14. If God’s love is so great, if his salvation is so powerful, if God has granted such reconciliation, then believers should live accordingly. They should value God’s love enough to be shaped by it. Note that “calling” is used of the salvation and responsibility of every Christian, not of the “professional ministry” or an elite group. This one call is for all Christians to live in accord with what God has done.

The NIV’s “bearing with one another in love” sounds archaic and loses the force of the text. A more appropriate translation is “putting up with each other in love.” The Christian life is a life of putting up with other people, and this tolerance finds its ability and motivation in love (cf. Gal. 6:2). “Love” and “putting up with each other” are intertwined and mutually explanatory.

Application requires accepting the challenge to live out our faith. So often Christianity is presented as if nothing is required of believers. We place so much emphasis on human weakness, on our inability to do anything profitable, and on the necessity of God’s actions in salvation that no room is left for human responsibility. The New Testament never gives this impression! Human responsibility is wedded to God’s action, but we are responsible. We must expect something of ourselves. If God’s salvation is so good, live like it. This requires an act of the will and a determination to follow through. As Philip Spener said, “It is by no means enough to have knowledge of the Christian faith, for Christianity consists rather of practice.”

Our problem is that we have a million dollar salvation and a five-cent response. We seem unimpressed with God’s salvation. We protest that no one can actually live worthy of this calling and express our fears of perfectionism.

Unity Is Motivated by Theological Oneness (4:4 – 6)

Christians must maintain the unity of the Spirit because everything they hold of any significance they hold with other people. Seven items are preceded by the word “one,” and in each case the oneness expresses both the uniqueness of the item and its foundational value for unity. All seven express the reality that there is only one gospel and that to believe that gospel is to enter into the unity it creates. Christianity is a shared faith. No separate or merely individual faith exists, nor is there a different salvation.

Living the truth in love is no abstract exercise; it is personal, practical, and all-embracing. No other foundation exists for healthy living. We as humans prefer to live in delusion, hiding from ourselves and thinking we are better (or worse) than we are. We lie to ourselves, to each other, and to God. The entertainment industry consciously hides reality and creates an illusion in which people seek to live. As one actor said after being caught in a huge indiscretion, “I don’t believe in truth. I believe in style.” With so many lies, it is not surprising that people are like corks in storm-tossed waves, being carried in every direction (4:14). But sooner or later, the delusion falls apart, and we and our relationships suffer. We need to speak truth with God — even if it is to express our doubts and fears — with ourselves, and with other persons, and then we need to live the truth.

Whether dealing with the shallowness of a self-proclaimed “good” person or with someone struggling with cancer, truth in love is all we have.

Speaking the truth in love may require confrontation, which many of us seek to avoid out of concern for our own security. But in a fallen world confrontation is necessary to love. The command to love one’s neighbor as oneself is even preceded by the admonition, “Rebuke your neighbor frankly so you will not share in his guilt” (Lev. 19:17 – 18). Both patience and tolerance also have their roles. Wisdom is required to discern when service to others means speaking or “the ministry of holding your tongue.”

Living the truth in love requires confronting the lies society hands us. Alcohol is not required for a good time. Pornography does demean women, and no, the majority of people are not promiscuous. Poor people are not necessarily lazy. None of us is independent and self-supporting. All Christians are not hypocrites, and no, you cannot worship God just as well by yourself.

The Old Life of Futility (4:17 – 19)

Ephesians 4:19 could have been written this morning as a telling commentary on us. We give ourselves to trivialities and diversions. Our minds are given to sports, movies, and sitcoms to avoid thought. Our self-centeredness alienates us from God. We do not acknowledge our need of God, do not have time for him, and if we think about him at all, our thought is juvenile. Having lost sensitivity to God and fellowship with him, we give ourselves to sensuality, trying through pleasure and especially through sexual avenues to recover that intimacy for which we were created. We are caught in an increasing downward spiral of serving ourselves. Pleasure and enjoyment are not illegitimate, but when they become the focus of life, they distort and corrupt.

Learning the Messiah (4:20 – 24)

The wording of verses 20 – 21 is unusual, almost harsh, and the nuances of the text are difficult to convey. Literally, verse 20 reads: “You did not learn the Christ this way.” No parallel exists for learning a person. More is intended than mere learning facts about Christ. That is, the readers have been schooled in the Messiah. They know him, have firsthand knowledge of him, and know how radically different his life is from that of the Gentiles. The implication seems close to 1 Corinthians 2:16; they have, or should have, the mind of Christ.

The old being fit the former way of living, and its ongoing corruption was fueled by “deceitful desires.” Paul’s thought is related to 2:3, which spoke of disobedience caused by following fleshly desires, although no mention is made here of the ruler of the air. The old being is the human self without God, deluded and deceived into a downward spiral by fleshly desires. The solution requires ongoing renewal and a new creation — two phrases that we would have expected in the reverse order. But Paul’s emphasis on continual corruption seems to have brought the corresponding emphasis on continual renewal first.

Lying and Anger (4:25 – 27)

That the sun is not to go down on our anger is a way of saying that anger must not endure. It must be dealt with quickly and then set aside. The word “foothold” in verse 27 is literally “place.” That is, we must not give the devil room in our lives to operate. Anger is one place of inroad for him, a Trojan horse for his attack. In other words, anger usually leads to other sins.

Christian Ethics (4:25 – 5:2)

Some Christians worry about such specific directions for living, for they fear it may lead to legalism, but this thinking is far from the New Testament. Texts like this do not endorse legalism; they are descriptions of life in Christ, which is never without content. Christian living requires certain and specific actions. The Christian faith is not a passive religion; it is an aggressive pursuit of the productive and beneficial.


All of us come into the world for a brief time, and we spend most of it yelling “Pay attention to me!” We feel justified in satisfying ourselves, even at cost to others. From the time we are old enough to recognize objects, we want what the other person has — if for no other reason, so that they will not have it. Ephesians 4:28 ignites a bomb under all our self-centered thinking. Our goal is not enjoyment; it is productivity so that we can give. We do not exist for ourselves, but for relations with other people and with God.


We live in a society of takers, one that mocks the “Puritan” work ethic. But we have been created in the image of God to enter into his creative activity, that is, to work. In failing to be productive we fail to live up to our vocation as humans. Possibly the strongest witness Christians can make is to become givers. The concern is not about giving money, which is at most ancillary to the text. The concern is working to benefit others.

Be like God (5:1 – 2). The command to imitate God is breathtaking to us, but it is a thoroughly biblical idea and not unusual in Jewish or Greek thought. Although other texts may not be this explicit, the Bible assumes that God’s covenant people take their character from him. Leviticus 19 is perhaps the most striking text, for the Israelites are commanded to be holy because God is holy. At least fourteen times in that chapter a command to Israel is followed by the words “I am the LORD,” to show that ethical action is determined by God’s character. Similarly, in Matthew 5:43 – 48 Jesus commanded his disciples to love their enemies in order to be like the Father and to be perfect as their heavenly Father is perfect. Elsewhere Paul urges readers to imitate him or to imitate him as he imitates Christ.

This commentary was taken from: Snodgrass, Klyne. “Ephesians 4:1 – 16” In The NIV Application Commentary: Ephesians. By Klyne Snodgrass, 193-228. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, © 1996.

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