Unity, Not Stupidity: Ephesians 4
In Summary: Paul turns here, as he usually does halfway through an epistle, from the more conceptual ideas to the more practical ones. There is no great gulf fixed between these sections, as practical ideas readily work through the opening half and new concepts rise up in the second halves of his letters.
Typically, though, there is something of a mood shift when you hit the “therefore” that marks this turning. It’s also followed by an imperative, as we find here. Paul says to do this: walk worthy of the calling. The furtherance of the chapter develops this theme. That is, of course, not too narrow of a topic and much of Paul’s instruction to the church falls into that category.
Ephesians 4:17-18 then comes back to the point of walking, and this time presents a negative statement. Paul says not to walk as the Gentiles walked, evoking the image not of reasonable Gentiles but of lost Gentiles. The implication is that worshiping darkness, even by default or omission, is to be avoided.
In Focus: Yet another portion of Paul’s view here is that walking worthy of the calling involves walking in unity. Note how Ephesians 4:3-6 put a major emphasis on how the church is not made up of different ideas, but of the unity of the body and the Lord who is the head of the Church.
This is reinforced with the images of Jesus in His victory triumph in Ephesians 4:8 and the whole body knitted together in 4:16. Unity matters.
So, though, does truth. Note Ephesians 4:13-15 and the references to growing up, maturing, and not being tossed about by waves and wind. He commands that the Ephesians speak the truth, lay aside falsehood, and only seek the good of their brethren in Christ.
In short, he wants unity but not at the cost of stupidity.
In Practice: Where is this going? Three places. Ready?
First, we should pursue unity in the Lord. We. Believers, followers of Christ, we need to seek this unity. It falls to us to put forth effort to attain unity. It is not natural to be unified with others, because we tend towards a bit of self-centered behavior in life. This is not something to be forced from shortly above (anyone less than Jesus) nor is it something some of us luff about and wait for another to do. We have responsibilities to hold together here.
Second, we should pursue unity in the Lord. Unity. Togetherness in walking with Jesus. A willingness to go with all who are bought by the Blood of the Lamb. We so often let unity be about preferences or styles, when it’s about whether or not we are redeemed sinners. There is a difference. My fellow believers, we are not welcoming others into our group by pursuing unity. We are all celebrating that Jesus paid the price for us to be in His group.
Third, we should pursue unity in the Lord. In the Lord. The same One who calls Himself “The Truth.” That Lord. There is no unity bought by stupidity or ignoring the truth. Unity comes from the Lord Himself, that He died for us, rose again, and sits at the right hand of God. When we can keep this straight, we will not ignore real problems in the name of unity. Real problems, mind you, not fluffy ones like “I don’t like the paint.”
Real problems should be addressed, for the Lord Himself was often more direct in correcting religious arrogance than with broken sinners. Always being redemptive, for unlike Jesus we do not deal with sinners in the Body from a place of perfection, we still address untruth and sinful actions. We ought never let a veneer of unity cover our love for the truth. It is from our love of the Truth Himself that we are empowered to love others, not from a desire for unity.
Remember, unity, not stupidity. Stupid, foolish ignorance of the Word of God in the name of unity is not maturity. Neither is failing to act on the Word to fake that unity.
In Nerdiness: Ephesians 4:8 quotes Psalm 68:18, yet it invokes the image of a Roman Victory Triumph as well. This was the parade given a victorious general to celebrate his accomplishments. In that parade, the victor displayed evidence of what he had conquered, and then provided something akin to party favors.
This is a frequent tradition in the ancient world, and we still observe part of it in granting parades to returning victorious military. They just do not parade the captured plunder and enemies alongside them. This is part of understanding the history that Paul simply assumes his readers know, because they are familiar with the concept.
An additional interesting rabbit is to chase Ephesians 4:9. Does “he descended” mean Jesus went to Hell, or simply that He came to earth? Consult 3 theologians and you’ll get at least 3 answers. What do you think?