Ephesians - Lesson 7

By Curt Niccum

Growing Up and Growing Together. Ephesians 4:1-16


  1. The student can distinguish between the present unity of the Spirit (4:3) and the future unity of the faith (4:13).
  2. The student will again connect spiritual maturity in the church with "the fullness of Christ," but this time identifying the church with "the full stature of Christ" - in particular recognizing the church as Christ's body.
  3. The student can list the core elements of Christian doctrine as listed in 4:4-6.


  1. Bibles and pens as needed.
  2. One may wish to bring a bobble-head doll to class for an illustration.
  3. One may want to use written stories about the power of conversion in next week's lesson. If so, this week would be an appropriate time to solicit compositions from the class. (See the "Application" section of LESSON 8.)


In the second half of Ephesians, Paul focuses on "the hope of our calling" - living lives of purity. In 4:1-16 Paul reminds the Ephesians that purity develops in (comm)unity.

Lesson Plan for Conducting the Class


  1. Call the roll or have someone check it. (It is very important to know who is present so someone can check on those who are absent.) Introduce and welcome visitors, take prayer requests, and make any necessary announcements.
  2. Prayer and songs as desired.
  3. Review Ephesians 1-3.
    1. The first chapter of Ephesians consists of two prayers, both focusing on the grace of God and addressing the two concerns Paul's Gentile readers had (power and placement) and Paul's own concern that their doubts might lead to a lack of purity.
    2. In the second chapter Paul describes how the Gentiles received the fullness of God's power, having already been made alive with, raised with, and seated with Christ in the heavenly realms (2:1-10). He then goes on to point out that the Gentile believers have the same inheritance (placement) as the Jewish Christians with God constructing a new and living temple, or Holy of Holies, from all the faithful (2:11-21).
    3. The third chapter culminates with a prayer of praise preceded by a petition that God might aid the Gentile Christians to see the realities they already possess so they can move on towards maturity (3:1 and 14-21). Paul interjects this prayer with one last note about the importance of Gentile inclusion in the Kingdom ofGod (vv. 2-13) reemphasizing their unity with all believers (v. 6) and superiority over the spiritual powers (v. 10).
  4. Thus Paul can now move on to the "real" (as opposed to their perceived) problem. If the Gentile Christians continue to live in fear of the spiritual powers and in seclusion from the Jewish believers, they may revert to their old practices - lives marked by the sinfulness associated with their past (so 2:1-3). Paul directs the content of chapters four through six to this issue.
    1. To understand the last half of Ephesians, one must realize the connection Paul makes between a life of purity and one's perception of power and placement.For Paul, all immorality stems from the ruler one serves. Although the Gentiles never associated morality with their worship of idols, Paul certainly does (2:2).Thus, to not recognize the exalted status of those "in Christ" is to succumb once again to "the ruler of the power of the air." You either submit to Christ's power or Satan's. One's lifestyle reflects one's master. (See also Romans 6:16-18.) Paul addresses this in 4:17-6:9.
    2. Furthermore, one cannot grow apart from the body. Only when properly placed can one achieve the "fullness" for which Paul prays (3:19 and 4:13). Without growing together we cannot grow up. Paul begins the second half of his letter with this discussion in 4:1-16.

Learning Experience:

  1. In every letter, Paul marks his most important point(s) with the phrase "I urge." This occurs in 4:1. Paul now comes to the more pressing issue. Q: According to 4:1, what is most important? A: That you "live (literally "walk") worthy of the calling with which you were called." The importance of this idea develops with the recurring use of this verb in the rest of the letter. (See 4:17 [2x]; 5:1, 8, & 15. "Walk" also provides an interesting contrast with the command to "stand" that marks the closing of the letter, 6:11, 13, and 14.) As we have seen, Paul associates "the calling" with purity. Paul now prescribes for the Gentile Christians what it means to live the godly life.
  2. Surprisingly, Paul begins with the need for unity. Clearly Paul considers division a serious threat to godliness. This is a message of great importance today. The rugged individualism of American society has infiltrated American religion. Most Americans would be shocked at the idea that one needs the community for spiritual maturity. Many would argue that the spiritual life is a matter between the individual and his or her God. For this reason, it is good to be reminded that every word for the church is corporate in nature. One cannot be a Christian apart from the church.
    1. Purity, therefore, hinges upon our making every effort to maintain the unity of the Spirit (4:3). (Note that Paul presumes the existence of the unity provided by the Spirit!)
      1. Note that Paul recognizes the difficulties inherent in this. We all differ.This makes getting along rather difficult sometimes. Some Christians are "high maintenance." People come to Christ bruised and broken.With the gospel invitation opened to all, people of different races, economic backgrounds, social aptitude, mental ability, and physical and emotional disability come to the cross and therefore to the church. We sometimes have difficulty loving to the same extent as Christ loves.
        1. Q: So what does it take to maintain this unity? What do believers need to put into action according to verse 3? A: All humility and gentleness, patience, and putting up with one another in love.
        2. Q: So how do these characteristics help with unity? Are there some believers we just have to "put up with" in love? (Have the class discuss these questions. It might be good for the teacher to provide examples or have the class do so to make it more practical. Make sure that discussion centers around events or people from the past. This should help prevent anybody's feelings from accidentally being hurt.)
      2. The primary motivation for unity is God Himself. Paul points to this by listing the "seven ones" in verses 4-6.
        1. This list is significant in a number of different ways. First, the emphasis is on the unity of God and thus the church. (In its original formulation, this list probably began with a member of the Godhead at the beginning of each section, i.e., one Spirit, one Lord, one God. Paul emphasizes the need for the church to reflect this by moving "one body" forward as the first item of the seven.)
        2. Second, although working from the idea that God is one, all three persons of the Godhead - Father, Son, and Spirit - are mentioned. This becomes important for the discussion that follows since there is also diversity in the church's unity just as there is in God's.
        3. Third, this appears to be traditional material from the early church, perhaps a formulation of the core of Christian belief. Thus, we may have here a summary of what all Christians should agree on. Note that baptism is placed with important company: God (Father, Son, and Spirit), the body (which is the church), hope, and faith. Although seldom referenced in discussions of the topic, this is one of the strongest passages about the importance of baptism in the New Testament.
    2. Purity also depends upon the education that comes from being in the body as we try to attain the unity of the faith and knowledge of the Son of God (4:13).(Note that Paul does not presume that the unity of faith has been attained!)
      1. In verses 7-16 Paul mentions two types of diversity. The first is good and divinely ordained. Because of Christ's victory (which is Paul's only point in verses 8-10, a passage still misread by many as referring to a supposed descent by Christ into Hades), he has bestowed many different gifts upon believers.
        1. For the purpose of the immediate discussion, Paul lists only those gifts available in the first century that pertained to education (verse 11). 7 God equips the church with those who guide, nurture, and mentor the church towards spiritual maturity.
        2. God provides gifts of teaching (verse 11) so that the body might grow to its full stature. Paradoxically, the eighth "one" occurs in conjunction with the diverse gifts of the Spirit. As Paul discusses elsewhere, notably Romans 12 and 1Corinthians 12, the uniting Spirit also imparts variety to the church. Thus, just as God is one yet in three persons, the church too is one yet in multiple persons. Unity does not require uniformity. (For an excellent discussion of the differences between these two terms, see Everett Ferguson's The Church of Christ, pages 407-408.)
      2. The second form of diversity is presently unavoidable, but to be grown out of. The church should aim for a unity of faith. Paul recognizes, though, that wherever conversions occur there will be babes in Christ and, therefore, a lack of unity. The church's education program is designed to move the entire body towards the full stature of Christ.
        1. It might be helpful to employ the bobble-head doll as an example. These typically have large heads with very small and short bodies. This, in a way, mirrors Paul's somewhat humorous description of the church in 4:13-16. Christ, the"head" of the church, is fully mature - adult size. His "body," the church, on the other hand is disproportionate to its head. It resembles more a baby's body. Until the unity of the faith is attained, we sometimes look like spiritual bobble-head dolls. (Use of an actual doll in class will help the students visualize Paul's point.)
        2. One must also make sure that the class does not mistakenly limit the idea of Christian education to the Bible class setting. Education in the early church consisted more of mentoring than lecturing.
        3. The inclusion of equipping saints for "works of service" clearly indicates that Paul understands purity and the unity of faith to encompass more than just agreement on facts and doctrines. Faith finds fullest expression in life (4:1-3 and 12). He will continue to address this in the rest of the letter.
          1. The structures Paul places within this passage further emphasize these themes. Note the marking of the beginning and end of this section by the phrase "in love" (verses 2 & 16).
          2. Paul emphasizes the responsibility of every member in and to the body by framing the second half with the phrase "each one" (verses 7 & 16).
        4. This must also be connected with Paul's concern for the instability of the spiritually young (4:14). Note how often the false teachers of the first century centered on unethical and immoral behaviors. (See 1 Corinthians 6; 2 Peter 2; and Jude for examples.) We endanger ourselves if we restrict "the faith"to just thinking the right things.
    3. Purity, then, comes from both the head ("from whom") and the body ("as each part does its work") as it matures - verse 16. Paul presumes that the future of the church depends upon its unity. One cannot interpret the discussions to follow in Ephesians apart from this. (Note that "one another"occurs four times in the second half of the letter [4:2, 25, 32; and 5:21] and that the word "you" is always plural.)


  1. Since Paul becomes more specific about the details of walking in a manner worthy of the calling in the following sections of the letter, the class might benefit from a discussion about the role of church leadership.
    1. Unfortunately, congregations often tacitly assume (even if they say otherwise) that they hire ministers and select elders to do the work of the church. This problem becomes exacerbated when each member has a slightly (and sometimes greatly) different perception of what that work is or should be. Many preachers complain that they have over 100 bosses, all with different demands and seeking immediate results.
    2. Q: According to 4:12, what is a primary role of evangelists, shepherds, and teachers? A: Equipping the saints for works of service.
      1. Q: What does it mean to equip? A: To prepare for a particular task.
      2. If the class has difficulty answering the question above, you might also ask a related question to help create discussion. Q: What is the purpose of equipment? A: It provides aids for accomplishing particular tasks. If necessary or viewed as helpful, you might provide specific examples or have the class discuss secular examples of equipping or equipment. For example, firefighters can do their jobs better if equipped with tanker trucks, hoses, and protective gear. The City Council equips them for the job. Council members do not themselves go out and fight every fire.
      3. Q: In light of these answers, what should be the focus of these church leaders? A: Getting us to do the work of the church. Preparing us for ministries within God's Kingdom and towards the lost. Q: So, if you approach a leader with a vision of a ministry in which the church needs to be involved, what should you expect? A: Probably full agreement, the approval of and necessary tools for the task, and an assignment to be involved with that ministry. (Leaders often recognize that those who identify ministries are probably the best ones to serve in them.)
      4. Q: What then should we expect from these leaders? A: Encouragement, training, and support. Q: Who actually needs to be involved in the church's ministries? A: Everybody else!
  2. Hiring staff and choosing elders does not constitute one's sole duty in the church. The establishment of church leadership in a congregation recognizes the need for a support network to help encourage, mature, and execute works of service. Q: Since this is the case, should leadership be limited to the Bible class or sermons? A: No.The best education comes on the field. Our spiritual leaders must lead in action as well as speech.
  3. Q: In addition to equipping, what are the roles of the teaching positions in the church to do (verse 13)? A: To move the congregation in the direction of a unified faith and towards a fuller knowledge of the Son of God. So the "unity of the faith" has two purposes: 1) equipping the saints for works of service, and 2) building up the body to its full stature.


  1. Memorize the "seven ones."
  2. Challenge the students to find the ministry for which they are gifted (or else initiate some).

*Notes: * 7 The Greek allows two different translations for the end of the list. Paul either refers to two groups, "shepherds and teachers," or one "shepherd teachers" (i.e., elders who teach). Paul's practice of altering the last item in his lists probably indicates that he distinguishes between two groups here rather than identifying one with two nouns. The former is the better choice.

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