22 October 2010

Ephesians 4:1-6

"I therefore, the prisoner in the Lord, beg you to lead a life worthy of the calling to which you have been called." (v.1)


Many of Paul's letters fall roughly into two parts. In the first part of this letter to the people of Ephesus (in modern-day Turkey), Paul expounded the faith as he knew it; in the second part, he drew out the consequences for the lives of believers.

In today's passage, Paul has moved from the statement of his belief about God - the secret revealed in Christ and the experience of the love of Christ. All this has consequences for the way Paul lived and expected other new Christians to live. Sometimes this movement of thought is described as 'from the indicative to the imperative'. This means that as Paul has already indicated what God is like, he will now move to the practical consequences, the orders under which Christians live, the imperative.

But this is not a word game. It is at the very centre of Paul's theology. Paul has utterly rejected the idea that we can earn salvation through obeying the Jewish Law. It is all about grace for Paul, from first to last. But he did not believe that this meant that Christians were free to live how they wanted. Paul was not an ethical free-thinker, believing you were free to act just as you liked; he did not believe that Christians were free from law, especially the law of love.

But Paul also argued passionately that you could not earn the love of God through good behaviour. Precisely because the love of God was an expression of God's grace it was undeserved. But it evoked a response. We find this same pattern clearly in the Methodist Worship Book service for infant baptism. The promises made by parents, godparents and congregation follow the sign of grace, the act of baptism (pages 92-95). Baptism is not given on the basis of promises; promises are made as a response to the grace of baptism. For Paul the promises, or signs of grace, are humility, gentleness, patience, and bearing with one another.

Above all, Paul's requirement, the sign of God's grace among them, was unity - what Paul called the bond of peace. The fact that Paul called for one faith and one baptism suggests that he felt that such unity was threatened. He based his call for practical unity on the oneness of God, expressed as one Spirit, one Lord, one God and Father; a trinitarian belief, at least in embryo. Again, it is clear that God alone was the source of the characteristics of the Church which Paul sought to maintain. The Church itself, not just individual Jews and Gentiles (non-Jews), were entirely dependent on the grace of God.

To Ponder

What imperatives follow from what you believe?

How important is 'oneness' in Church and community today, and what expressions might this oneness have?

Do you believe that there is only one faith, or is it alright for people to pick and choose what they want to believe? Why?

Bible notes author

The Revd Dr David Calvert

David is a retired Methodist minister whose active ministry included a mixture of circuit ministry and theological education..