A few weeks ago, when I was preparing to preach a sermon on Ephesians 4 at my church, I was amazed at Paul’s letter as a work of theology. Some commentators have called Ephesians the crowning theological achievement of the entire Pauline corpus. If you listened to my sermon, you heard me confess that I had a difficult time dealing practically with the panoply of issues Paul raises in the first three chapters — even though they are all part of a panoramic, cohesive arc that Paul uses to describe the staggeringly multifarious (and eminently practical) nature of God’s grace.
At a certain point during my study, there was so much bouncing around in my mind and heart that I had to sit down and commit my tenuous grasp of all the various threads Paul weaves together to writing. I often find that God uses this exercise to clear my thinking.
The following few paragraphs are part of the result. As it turned out, God really did sort out my thinking, and this ended up serving as the core idea behind my whole message.
Thoughts on Eph. 4
This chapter marks something of a departure from the material that has preceded it in that Paul’s expansive, cosmic thought now turns to its practical outworking in the church.
In the first three chapters, we have heard Paul describe the cosmic significance of Christ’s victory over death and spiritual adversaries. The finished work of Christ paves the way for a universe that is out of sync with itself and with divine intent to be made whole, and the Church — Christ’s own body — stands not only at the forefront of this movement, but acts as evidence of God’s superintending hand at work, rectifying the brokenness of Creation through Christ.
Salvation history and space-time are interwoven, and they are most indissolubly linked in the existence of a people who are not only adopted as God’s sons and daughters, who are not only His inheritance, not only to the praise and glory of God and His grace, but united with the Risen Lord. In Paul’s mind, these fundamental truths of the Church’s existence are a clear precursor to the “administration” or economy he speaks of in chapter 1, where all things in heaven and earth will one day be “summed up in Christ.”
Paul’s sweeping, panoramic theology makes clear the cosmic significance of the Church. By virtue of its union with the resurrected Christ, the Church is already summed up in Christ. As such, we experience (in measure) an all encompassing, divinely conceived, divinely instituted economy that, for the rest of creation, is yet to come.
From this assertion, Paul moves on in chapter 4 to deal with the tension between the indicative and the imperative. The handiwork of God expressed in the Church gives way to ethical ramifications; the “is” of the Church’s cosmic significance translates into “oughts” of Christian ethics and behavior. Thus, the expansive mysticism of the first three chapters begins to take on practical focus in chapter 4.
aka The MonT-SteR