Ephesians 4:1-32

The conjunction oun (therefore) points to the reason for Paul’s appeal or entreaty. Based on the preceding context, this reason would be everything believers had come to enjoy through God’s Son and their faith in him. In view of his confinement for the sake of the Lord Jesus Christ because of his proclaiming the message about him to people of the nations, the apostle made his appeal as “the prisoner in the Lord.” Being at one with his Lord, he could speak of being “in” him. Paul entreated fellow believers to walk or to conduct themselves worthily of “the calling” to which they had been called. They had been called or invited to become reconciled to God as his approved children. Therefore, they should live lives that gave evidence of their new status as members of his family. (4:1)

The dignity they enjoyed as children of God, however, gave them no reason for a proud bearing. Their changed condition had come about through God’s gracious favor and not any merit on their part. Consequently, they needed to conduct themselves “with all lowliness and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love.” In their relationship with one another as fellow children of God, they would demonstrate lowliness or humility through their readiness to act in the interests of others, willingly foregoing rights out of regard for them. Within the family of God’s children, harshness has no place. Believers need to be gentle or considerate, responding in kindness to one another. Whereas they have been forgiven of their sins, they are not liberated from their flawed human condition. This necessitates their being patient, forbearing, or tolerant with one another, putting up with one another’s failings in love. (4:2)

The objective of believers should be to put forth earnest effort to maintain the unity that God’s spirit produces, preserving the resultant bond of peace that distinguishes a loving family. (4:3)

All believers are members of just “one body,” the body of Christ that is at one with him as the head. The same spirit, God’s spirit, operates in the case of every believer. All of them are called to the “one hope” of their calling. This one hope, to which their calling to be God’s children has given rise, is their coming to be in the sinless state with Christ. (4:4)

Believers have only “one Lord,” the Lord Jesus Christ who surrendered his life for them. They have only “one faith,” the faith that centers on Jesus Christ and all that his Father has done through him. There is but “one baptism,” the water baptism that signifies repentance and which, through their faith, brings them into a new relationship with God as their Father, his Son as their Lord, and the holy spirit as their helper. (Compare Matthew 28:19; John 14:16, 17.) In Galatians 3:27, the “one baptism” is referred to as a baptism “into Christ.” This is because the baptized believers come to be part of Christ’s body, joined to him as their head. (4:5)

They have only “one God and Father.” He is the “God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.” As the only God whom all believers recognize, he is over them, working through them to carry out his will and purpose, and operating within them by means of his spirit, progressively transforming them into his image as they yield to his spirit’s influence. (4:6; see the Notes section.)

Accordingly, divisions were not to be tolerated in the community of believers. The differing gifts had been imparted to believers for the purpose of promoting unity. Christ had not granted these gifts because anyone merited them. Each one became a recipient of the gracious favor or unmerited kindness according to the way that Christ allotted the gift. So the gift itself proved to be an expression of gracious favor. (4:7)

Paul then used words from Psalm 68:18(19) to support the thought that Christ apportioned gifts, “Having ascended to the height, he led a captivity captive and gave gifts to men.” The Septuagint reading (found in Psalm 67:19) is different but expresses the same basic thought. “You ascended to the height; you led a captivity captive. You received gifts in [or, among] man.” While “man” is singular in the Septuagint (as it is in the extant Hebrew text), the term may be regarded as a collective singular denoting “men” or “people.” Paul appears to have regarded the “captivity” as the conquered powers of darkness over which Jesus Christ, in keeping with his Father’s will, triumphed by his death. (Compare John 16:33; Colossians 2:15; Revelation 3:21.) Upon his ascension to the height, the heavenly realm, he gave gifts to men, that is, to those who were and would come to be part of the community of believers. (4:8; see the Notes section.)

Reasoning on the basis of the word meaning “he ascended,” the apostle, by means of a question, pointed out that this also indicated that Christ had descended into the lower parts of the earth. These “lower parts of the earth” could designate the realm of the dead. Another possibility is that the earthly realm itself is being identified as the lower regions (in contrast to the higher regions or the heavenly realm). Both meanings are found in translations. “When it says, ‘he went up,’ it must mean that he had gone down to the deepest levels of the earth.” (NJB) “What does ‘he ascended’ mean except that he also descended into the lower [regions] of the earth?” (NAB) “When it says, ‘he went up,’ it means that Christ had been deep in the earth.” (CEV) “Now, the word ‘ascended’ implies that he also descended to the lowest level, down to the very earth.” (REB) “Notice that it says ‘he ascended.’ This means that Christ first came down to the lowly world in which we live.” (NLT) “When it says, ‘He went up,’ what does it mean? It means that he first came down to the earth.” (NCV) Jesus Christ did come down from heaven to the earth and also descended to the deepest part, the realm of the dead. Accordingly, either explanation would be in harmony with the rest of the Scriptures. (4:9)

Jesus Christ, the one who descended, “is also the one who ascended far above all the heavens, that he might fill all things.” After coming to the earth, which meant assuming a condition of humiliation, and laying down his life in sacrifice, he was highly exalted. In his exalted state, he is now “above all the heavens” and in a position to “fill all things.” His influence and sustaining power pervade all things that come to be at one with him, and thus he fills everything. (4:10)

The gifts Christ, after his ascension, gave to the community of believers were apostles, prophets, evangelists, shepherds, and teachers. (4:11) Apostles were men sent forth, either directly by the Lord Jesus Christ or by communities of believers (under the guidance of God’s spirit) as messengers to declare the good news about the Son of God. (Matthew 10:1-7; Luke 6:12-16; 9:1-6; Acts 9:1-6, 15; 13:1-3; 26:12-18) Evangelists also were proclaimers of the glad tidings about Jesus Christ. What appears to have distinguished evangelists who were not also apostles from the apostles was their not having been specifically sent forth. They did, however, act in accordance with the guidance of God’s spirit as they faithfully proclaimed the message about Jesus Christ. (Acts 8:5-8; 26-40)

Apostles filled the roles of prophets, shepherds, and teachers. Other men also served in these capacities. (4:11) While prophets at times did foretell future events, they primarily made known God’s will, sharing words of encouragement that served to strengthen fellow believers. (Acts 11:27, 28; 15:32) Shepherds cared for the needs of fellow believers, being particularly concerned about their spiritual welfare as members of God’s congregation. (Acts 20:28) Teachers provided instruction for fellow believers. When expounding on the Scriptures, teachers would aid the hearers to understand the written word, enabling them to make personal application in their lives as members of God’s beloved family. (1 Timothy 1:3-11; 4:1-11; 6:1-4; 2 Timothy 3:14-17; 4:1, 2; James 3:1)

The gifts granted in the form of various functions faithful men would carry out as part of the community of believers served to “prepare the holy ones for the work of service, for building up the body of Christ, until we all attain the oneness of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to [the state of] a mature man, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ.” The “work of service” would be any service rendered in response to the needs of others, including providing food and clothing. (Acts 6:1-6; 9:36, 39) Loving response to the spiritual and material needs of fellow believers contributes to the building up of the entire congregation, forming strong bonds of affection among all. With faithful men functioning as Christ’s gifts for the benefit of everyone, the whole body would be built up. (4:12, 13)

Within the community of believers, individuals differ with reference to the measure of their faith and knowledge of God’s Son. Sound teaching should help all to attain ever greater faith and to draw closer to Jesus Christ, coming to know him in a more intimate personal relationship. This would make the unity of faith and knowledge become evident to an increasingly greater degree. The community of believers would be growing to become a “mature man” and making progress in attaining the measure of the full stature that Christ exemplified during the course of his life on earth. (4:13)

To resist the influence of wrong or destructive teaching, believers need to have a strong faith and to be solidly grounded in the truth about God and Christ. It would be dangerous for them to remain “babes,” as their faith would be too fragile to withstand being tossed to and fro like a light object by false doctrines that appear plausible and exert a powerful influence comparable to the wind. As mere babes, believers could not easily recognize the trickery, cunning, and deceit of those who teach falsehood. (4:14)

According to most manuscripts, the first word of verse 15 is a form of aletheúo, meaning “to be truthful,” and can either denote “to speak the truth” or “to live the truth.” Both meanings are found in modern translations. “But speaking the truth in love, we must grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ.” (NRSV) “Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will in all things grow up into him who is the Head, that is, Christ.” (NIV) “Rather, living the truth in love, we should grow in every way into him who is the head, Christ.” (NAB) “But we are meant to hold firmly to the truth in love, and to grow up in every way into Christ, the head.” (J. B. Phillips) The conjunction (but) serves to contrast the course faithful believers would be pursuing with the trickery, cunning, and deceit to which the proponents of falsehood resort. (4:15; see the Notes section.)

Believers, whether speaking or living the truth, would be guided by love. In every way or in all things, their growing would be “into Christ,” becoming progressively more like him as members of the body of which he is the head. (4:15)

Everything the body needs comes from Christ, the head. The body is joined together and made to function together “through every ligament of supply.” The expression “ligament of supply” may be understood to designate a body part that is connected to another and makes its needed contribution for the proper functioning of the body. As each part works in keeping with its “measure” or its proper function, the body grows and builds itself up “in love.” When everyone in the community of believers is at one with Christ and the individual members are supportive and caring, the body grows, increasingly becoming more like Christ. The body is built up “in love.” This could mean that, for the body or the community of believers to be built up, love is the essential element. Without love, the body would be weak and fragmented. None of the members would be built up or strengthened in their faith and devotion. (4:16)

There is a possibility that the words “in love” may be understood yet another way. As the body grows, coming to be more like Christ, it becomes more loving. With the individual members manifesting love to a greater degree, the whole body would be built up in love. (4:16; see the Notes section.)

To add solemnity to the point he was about to make, Paul said, “This, then, I say and testify in the Lord.” Thus he expressed himself as one who was at one with the Lord Jesus Christ and who spoke in his name. The apostle urged believers to stop “walking” or conducting themselves as did people of the nations, persons whose life revealed an emptiness of mind. Those of the nations failed seriously in using their mental faculties in a noble way. (4:17; see the Notes section.)

Their moral corruption demonstrated that their thinking faculties had been darkened. As if blindfolded, they conducted themselves without any regard for the consequences, harming themselves and others. (Compare Romans 1:18-32.) On account of their self-imposed ignorance and the “callousness of their heart” (or the unresponsiveness of their inner selves to the voice of conscience), they were “alienated from the life of God.” The “life of God” could refer to the newness of life that has God as its source or could designate the honorable life God meant for humans to live. (4:18)

In this context, the Greek word apalgéo appears to denote an absence of a sense of shame. Insensitive to any discomfort from a guilty conscience, people of the nations gave themselves up to shockingly indecent behavior or unrestrained debauchery. They engaged in unclean or defiling practices “in greediness [pleonexía].” The Greek word pleonexía denotes an inordinate desire for more. It is an extreme passion or addiction expressed in wanting more without any regard for others or the hurtful effect it might have on them. So, when performing all kinds of filthy practices, people of the nations did so with a passion for more and more indecent things to satisfy their lusts. (4:19)

Believers, however, did not learn from Christ the kind of moral corruption that existed among people of the nations. (4:20) If they had indeed heard him, having paid attention to his words as conveyed by those who had been with him, and had been “taught in him,” they would have known that Jesus Christ lived a life untainted by any trace of defilement or impurity. To be taught “in” Christ may mean to be taught as a believer who has come to be at one with him as a member of his body. Having heard and been taught, the believers whom Paul addressed knew that “truth is in Jesus.” At all times, Jesus Christ spoke the truth that his Father had taught him. Through him alone (his words, his deeds, his disposition), full knowledge about his Father is revealed. Jesus’ blameless life confirmed that the truth is indeed in him. (4:21)

In keeping with what they had heard and been taught, believers needed to strip off “the old man” of their former behavior, the old self that had been corrupted by “desires of deceptions” or desires that, if acted upon, appeared to lead to gain but, in the end, would result in loss or harm. (4:22)

They needed to be renewed in the “spirit” of their minds. Instead of the former spirit that impelled them to think and act in corrupt or debased ways, a new spirit, a new activating or motivating power produced through the operation of God’s spirit, should be guiding their thinking, speaking, and acting. (4:23)

With the “old man” having been put away, believers should be putting on the “new man” or the new self that is created “according to God in righteousness and holiness [hosiótes] of the truth.” In being “according to God,” the new self conforms to his image and becomes evident in an upright life. The Greek word hosiótes is descriptive of devoutness and purity. “In righteousness and holiness of the truth” could mean that the truth (with particular focus on Jesus Christ and all that he accomplished when surrendering his life) produces uprightness and purity. Another possibility is that “truth” here applies to true, actual, or real righteousness and holiness. (4:24)

Having put on the “new man” that is fashioned according to God’s likeness, believers should put away falsehood or everything that is opposed to truth, dependability, or trustworthiness. They are fellow members of the body of Christ. Therefore, in their dealings with one another, each one of them should be speaking the truth to his neighbor or fellow. Among them, a spirit of complete trust and dependability should prevail. (4:25; see the Notes section.)

Believers have been forgiven of their sins and are divinely approved on the basis of Christ’s righteousness and their faith in him. They, however, are not yet in possession of the sinless state. At times, in their interactions with one another, their failings and missteps can be a source of irritation. Therefore, the words of the psalmist (Psalm 4:5, LXX), which Paul quoted, are most appropriate, “Be angry and do not sin.” The anger or irritation resulting from the wrong that may have been committed should not be allowed to grow to the point where the transgression is countered by hateful words or actions. Grudges should not be permitted to develop. So, as the apostle admonished, the sun should not set while the individual is still in an angry state. (4:26)

The devil should not be given a place where he can undermine the unity that believers have as members of Christ’s body. If feelings of anger or ill-will toward fellow believers were to take hold, this would serve the devil’s purpose. It would create disharmony in the community of believers and be destructive especially to those with a fragile faith. (4:27)

Before becoming believers, some may have been thieves. Any who formerly were guilty of stealing were to stop and, instead, work hard with their “own [according to numerous manuscripts] hands,” taking care of their needs through honest labor. Besides no longer taking things from others, they should make it their aim to have enough to be able to share with the needy. (4:28)

The mouths of believers should not be used to utter rotten, degrading, or unwholesome words. Their speech should be good for building up others, addressing their needs in a wholesome and encouraging manner. This would result in imparting what is gracious or favorable to the hearers. (4:29)

Believers had been sealed with God’s spirit for the “day of redemption.” This sealing with God’s spirit marked them as his approved children and served as a guarantee of their future redemption or absolute deliverance from sin. For them to act contrary to the guidance or influence of God’s spirit would have meant that they had grieved the spirit. They were to avoid such grieving, or such an outrageous resistance of the spirit’s influence for good. (4:30)

All bitterness, fury, anger, screaming, and blasphemy or abusive speech, along with all evil or badness of every kind, should be banished from the midst of God’s family of approved children. (4:31) Instead, they should be “kind to one another,” compassionate and forgiving. They have a powerful incentive to manifest a loving spirit, for “God in Christ has forgiven” them. God’s forgiveness is “in Christ,” for his Son’s surrender of his life provided the basis for all who would respond in faith to be pardoned of their sins. (4:32; see the Notes section.)


Later copyists seemingly wanted to make “all” (the last word in verse 6) to apply explicitly to believers and added either hymín (you) or hemín (us).

In verse 8, many manuscripts, including P46 (c. 200 CE), do not include “and” (kaí). With the “and,” the text in other manuscripts reads, “Having ascended to the height, he led a captivity captive; and he gave gifts to men.”

After “descended” (in verse 9), many manuscripts add “first.” The oldest extant manuscript (P46, c. 200 CE) and a number of others omit the word “parts.”

In a number of manuscripts, the first word of verse 15 is “truth” (a form of alétheia). These manuscripts contain a verb that means “to do” (a form of poiéo) and so convey the thought of living or practicing the truth.

In verse 16, the point relating to Christ as head (“from whom all the body”) is not completed. This aspect of the Greek text is preserved in the more literal renderings of modern translations. “From whom the whole body, joined and knit together by every ligament with which it is equipped, as each part is working properly, promotes the body’s growth in building itself up in love.” (NRSV) “From whom the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, with the proper functioning of each part, brings about the body’s growth and builds itself up in love.” (NAB)

Though not stated in the text of verse 16, the implication is that the head is essential in supplying what the body needs. A number of translations have added words to make this significance explicit. “The whole body depends on Christ, and all the parts of the body are joined and held together. Each part does its own work to make the whole body grow and be strong with love.” (NCV) “For it is from the head that the whole body, as a harmonious structure knit together by the joints with which it is provided, grows by the proper functioning of individual parts to its full maturity in love.” (J. B. Phillips) “And on him the whole body depends. Bonded and held together by every constituent joint, the whole frame grows through the proper functioning of each part, and builds itself up in love.” (REB)

It is noteworthy that the apostle’s focus was not on growth in numbers but on growth of the body as a community of believers that progressively becomes more like Christ.

In many manuscripts (in verse 17), the word “rest” precedes the term “nations” (rest of the nations), thereby indicating that the reference is to non-Jews. The oldest extant manuscript (P46, c. 200 CE) and numerous others, however, do not include the word “rest.”

The words of verse 25 about speaking the truth are not introduced as a quotation. A similar thought is expressed in Zechariah 8:16 (LXX), “Speak truth each [one] with his neighbor.”

In verse 32, manuscripts read either “God in Christ has forgiven you” or “God in Christ has forgiven us.”