Second Reading (B): Ephesians 4:1-13
Unity with the Glorified Christ
1 I am being held prisoner just because I am a follower of the Lord. So, I encourage you to live the way God called you to live. 2 Be humble and gentle. Be patient with others and treat them in a loving way. 3 Be eager to let God's Spirit keep you as one, as you live in peace. 4 Remember, there is one Body you are part of. There is one Spirit who calls you to share one hope as followers of Jesus. 5 There is only one Lord, and one baptism that made us his followers. 6 There is only one God and Father of us all. He is above all creation. He works through all of us. And he lives in all of us.
7 Christ freely gave us his gifts. 8 Just as it says in the Bible:
"After he went up to the mountain top, he led prisoners to freedom, and he gave gifts to everyone."
9 Do the words "he went up" really have any meaning, unless he came down to depths of the earth? 10 The person who came down also goes up, beyond heaven, so he can fill everything! 11 Thus, he shared his gifts, with some to be apostles, with others to be prophets, preachers, leaders, or teachers. 12 He did this to prepare us, his followers, so we could serve and build up the Body of Christ. 13 Then, all of us will believe and will really know the Son of God. We will mature and will become complete, just like Jesus.
1 I, a prisoner for the LORD, encourage you to walk (throughout life in a manner) worthy of the call which you were called (by God), 2 with all humility and gentleness, with patience, putting up with one another in love, 3 quickly going around to keep unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. 4 (There is) one Body and one Spirit, like you were called into the one hope of your call; 5 one LORD, one faith, one baptism, 6 one God and Father of us all, the one above all, through all, and in all.
7 By the measure of the gift of CHRIST, grace was given to each one of us. 8 So, it says:
"Having ascended into the heights, he led (those from)
he gave gifts to men."
9 What does "HE ascended" (really mean), unless, of course, that he also descended into lower portions of the earth? 10 The (ONE) having descended is also the (ONE) having ascended beyond all the heavens, so that he might fill all. 11 HE gave (those gifts to) apostles on the one hand, prophets, and evangelists, shepherds and teachers, on the other hand, 12 toward the preparing of the saints for the work of service, for the building of the body of CHRIST, 13 until all might come into faith and knowledge of the SON of God, into the total man, into measure of maturity of the fulness of CHRIST...
4:5-6 The emphasis on the "one" compared the unity of the community with the concept of monotheism Christians adopted from Judaism (see Deuteronomy 6:4). As God was "one," so should the community be.
4:6 "one God and Father of us all, the one above all, through all, and in all" The last phrase of 4:6 can refer to God's activity in his creation ("above everything, through everything, and in everything"). Or it can refer to his activity among people in the end times ("above everyone, through everyone, and in everyone"). The context argues for the later meaning.
4:7 "Having ascended into the heights, he led the captivity, he gave gifts to men." This verse came from Psalm 68:18. It was a reference to Moses, who led the captive Israelites into freedom and gave them the Law. The author used this verse and image to portray the glorified Lord in heaven, who led sinners to freedom and gave them the gift of the Spirit.
4:13 In Greek, the sentence continued for three more verses.
These verses from Ephesians cover many different theological themes: unity in the Church, the unity of God, the ministry of Christ, and leadership offices. The glue that holds these themes together was the image of Christ on high.
The author (ghost writing for Paul the prisoner) urged peace within the community and an eager pursuit of the Spirit. Many times, the cause of dissension within the ranks could be a simple misdirection of sight. When Christians stop looking to God as the core of personal life and begin to look to themselves, gossip and rancor would result.
When Christians did focus upon God, they should see unity: the uniqueness of divine nature (one God in the Trinity), the unique place of the Father (the one above all, through all, and in all), the unique mediator between God and humanity (Christ), and the unique power of God (the Spirit). The activity of God reflected his unity: one Church (the Body of Christ), one baptism, one hope God will act in the future. In other words, the author saw the ministry of the Church on earth as a mirror of God himself (not just his activities) in heaven. The unity of the Church was bound to the unity of God. Of course, when a local Church community was not united, not only did it take its sights from God, it sent mixed signals to the general culture. The Church must reflect God to show credible witness. Unity in the Church reflected the kind of God it worshiped.
The core of Christian unity and the image of God the Church professed lay in the activity of the exalted Christ. He came to earth, died (represented by his journey to "the depths of the earth" in the tomb) and rose to glory. Unlike many other biblical authors, this writer saw glory as more than spreading reputation. He viewed it in cosmic terms. The exalted Christ was transcendent, able to fill the universe with his presence. Notice the parallel between God's presence in 4:6 with that of the risen Christ in 4:10. The risen Christ now had a divine presence (which led to the doctrine he shared in the divine nature). Both the image and activity of God in the Church were the result of the glorified Christ. Christ revealed God as one in nature and purpose. He charged the Church to carry out that singular message in peace and ethical living.
How did the Church hope to accomplish its mission? Through the gifts of Christ. He gave the Church a leadership (not only in structure but in personalities) to guide the local communities into unity. But that was not the only goal for the leaders. They were to show the community the path to spiritual maturity. Again the glorified Christ was the model for such maturity. The author presented his image as the "total, complete man." He was the measure of spiritual growth. As his focus lay on the Father, so should the community lay its focus.
The image of the glorified Christ and the various themes in these verses can seem daunting to us. Peaceful unity, like faith, is both a gift from God and a human struggle. Yet if we look to the risen Lord as our model and our strength, we may find that we can progress in the spiritual life. We can become more peaceful, gentle, forgiving. Just because he is.
Picture the risen Lord in your imagination. What is he saying to your heart now? How does his message compare with the reading from Ephesians?