23 October 2010

Ephesians 4:7-16

"Speaking the truth in love, we must grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ." (v.15)


Paul grappled with the tension between the unity of the Church, derived from the unity of God, and the diversity found within the body of the Church. He sought to hold the two together by showing that the very diversity which put a strain on its unity was itself a gift of God.

He argued that it was the one God who gave out a whole range of gifts - each a gift from Christ. It is not clear whether Paul consciously listed the gifts in some order of importance. Arguably, he would not have given any list without putting 'apostles' at its head. What is not clear is whether there is some notion of hierarchy inherent in the list as it unfolds. It seems unlikely that Paul saw prophets as receiving a higher gift than evangelists, or that he sought to evaluate the importance of pastors and teachers in relation to each other.

Whatever might have been in Paul's mind when he listed the gifts in this way, it is clear that the purpose of each of them was the same, namely "to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ". We know from 1 Corinthians 12 that the 'common good' was all that Paul was concerned about and that it was out of order for one member of the body to think more highly of themselves than another member of the same body. The passage from Paul's letter to the people of Corinth encourages us to think that he was much more concerned about the unity of the body and the outcome of the various gifts than he was about who or what was the more important.

Here the body image of the Church is paramount. The body as a whole works properly only when every part of it individually is working properly. And the key to such unity is love. Everything comes from God. Each has a gift from God. This is not a self-made quality, it is a gift, it is grace, God's grace from beginning to end. This is what keeps it in order and prevents a superior attitude from one person to another.

To Ponder

How far does the image of 'unity and diversity' provide a model not only for the search for Christian unity today in the ecumenical movement but also within each local congregation?

To what extent is this image of unity and diversity a helpful and practical image for family life - and for life within the community of the nations?

What does "speaking the truth in love" mean for each human relationship and for dealing with disagreements, especially disagreements within the Church?

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..