Key text: “There is one body and one Spirit — just as you were called to one hope when you were called — one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all” (Ephesians 4:4-6).
Lesson objective: To understand that God has called his new covenant people (the church) to live out in a worthy manner our unity in Christ, which is expressed in early creedal formulas that are Trinitarian, gospel, and/or Christological in character. The high calling of Christ is not for the purpose of individual accomplishment and recognition, but to be team members serving the whole body for the edification of all.
Introduction: Creeds have been an important aspect of the life of the church from its beginning down to our very day. The early church formulated several of them and they are now part of Holy Scripture (e.g., 1 Corinthians 15:3-7; Philippians 2:6-11; 1 Timothy 3:16). Ephesians 4:4-6 is an early Trinitarian credo. These concise creedal formulas contain the fundamental beliefs of the Christian faith. These statements were most likely used on to instruct baptismal candidates on the essential matters of the faith. They were also used to help distinguish essential Christian beliefs from pagan and heretical teachings. In this way these creeds helped establish a belief system that helped believers tell the difference between orthodoxy and heresy.
After the completion of the biblical canon, the life of the church continued to express itself in Trinitarian terms. Each local church formulated its own short creed based on a general rule of faith, which summed up salvation history. One such creed that has kept its universal appeal is the one known as the Apostles’ Creed. Although not formulated by the original apostles, it is an example of similar creeds that flourished early on in the life of the church. Our present Apostles’ Creed, after several additions, did not reach its standard form until approximately A.D. 700. Here is an earlier Greek text of the Apostles’ Creed (Marcellus, A.D. 340):
I believe in God the Father almighty.
I believe in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord;
Who was born by the Holy Spirit of the Virgin Mary;
Was crucified under Pontius Pilate and was buried;
The third day he rose from the dead.
He ascended into heaven, and sits at the right hand of the Father,
From where he shall come to judge the living and the dead.
And [I believe] in the Holy Spirit,
The holy Church,
The forgiveness of sins,
The resurrection of the body,
And life everlasting.
This succinct format incorporates into creedal form at least 12 basic beliefs of the Christian church. This is one way of bringing unity to the body of Christ. Scripture itself sets certain creedal parameters to test if a belief is truly of the faith or not. More extensive statements are required to delineate other points and check against other heresies, and the church has formulated these as well. Yet, the simplicity of scriptural creedal formulas has a freshness all of its own, and they are indispensable in the outreach and missionary endeavors of the church.
When the church loses its focus, it also becomes competitive and political. The church competes for members, positions, programs and dollars. Power-plays become evident among its clergy, while members await the next scandal! Sometimes it seems that the church can’t tear itself down fast enough and bring down as many as it can on its way down. Obviously, this is not the way God planned it!
The church regains its focus when it turns from self-centeredness and looks once again to its Head, Jesus Christ. In Christ the church is built up, not torn down. Through his death and resurrection, Christ has defeated and triumphed over all the foes of the church. And he has given gifts to every member of his body, the church (4:7-10). In giving apostles and prophets, he has given foundational gifts on which the church can stand. He gives functional gifts of ministry or service by equipping the church through evangelists, pastors and teachers (v. 11).
Every member is uniquely gifted in one ministry or another for the building up of his church (v. 12). The purpose of Christ’s gifts is so the church may mature into the fullness of adulthood and not be swayed by false teachings (vv. 13-16). The church universal and at the local level needs to mature in love so as not to lose focus and blur its vision with the carnality and egocentrism of this fallen world.
As Paul states, like the games, we run a race, but the race we run is not for gold, silver or bronze medals (1 Corinthians 9:24-27). We run a race for the prize of the high calling in Jesus Christ (Philippians 3:10-16). We continue in the path of our Lord and Savior and await his glorious coming and the crown of righteousness unto eternal life (2 Timothy 4:6-8). Now, that is a prize worth running for! And, in Christ it is already ours (1 John 5:13). Amen!
Questions for Bible Study
Read the following verses and respond to the questions:
1. Ephesians 4:1-6
a. What does Paul urge his readers to do? v. 1. What does Paul mean by “calling”?
b. What four worthy mannerisms are mentioned? v. 2. Why these four?
c. What else does Paul ask them to do? v. 3. What does Paul mean by: “keep the unity of the Spirit”? Note: Paul is speaking of the fruit of Christ’s reconciling work on the cross, that is, the peace of his reconciliation to be lived out by the church in the here and now.
d. What three elements make up the first part of the creed? v. 4. What does each one mean, and in what way are they related to each other? See Ephesians 1:18; 2:14-18.
e. What is the second triad of the creedal formulation? v. 5. What does each one mean, and in what way are they related to each other? See Romans 6:3; 10:9.
f. What is the seventh part of the creed? v. 6. How is this one related to “one Spirit” and “one Lord”? See 1 Corinthians 8:6; 12:4-6.
a. What has been apportioned? By whom? To whom? v. 7. What does Paul mean here by the word “grace”? See 1 Peter 4:10.
b. In the context of Ephesians, why does Paul quote this psalm? v. 8. See Colossians 2:15. Note: The analogy is taken from a victorious military leader returning home with a procession of prisoners of war following behind him. Tribute from the spoils of the conquest is rewarded to the victor, who in turn showers the cheering spectators with generous gifts.
c. What is Paul’s messianic interpretation of the psalm? v. 9. What does he mean by the “lower, earthly regions”? Does he mean that Christ descended to the abode of souls in hell? Note: It is probably more correct to contrast heaven with the great gulf that separates it from the lower earth, that is, earth is at the bottom. If this is the case, then Paul is referring to the Incarnation (Christ’s First Advent), when he came here below.
a. Who is it that gave these gifts to the church? v. 11a. See Acts 2:32-33. What is meant by the foundational gift of “apostles”?
b. What is meant by the foundational gift of “prophets”? v. 11b.
c. What is meant by the functional gift of “evangelists”? v. 11c.
d. What is meant by the functional gift of “pastors and teachers”? v. 11d.
e. What purpose do the above gifts serve? v. 12a. How is this done in practical terms in your local church (be specific)?
f. What have you been equipped to do as a local member of the church? Have you been trained for ministry (service)? Why or why not (be constructive in your answer)?
g. What should be the result of implementing a united ministry? v. 12b. Is this taking place in your local church? Why or why not? What can you do to improve the situation?
a. What three goals are outlined in this verse to ensure the well-being of the church? v. 13. Note: The first two have to do with unity and the third is the resulting outcome.
b. In your opinion, what level of maturity has your local church reached? Do you consider yourself a mature or immature Christian? Why?
c. What is one sure sign of having reached Christian maturity? v. 14. Note: The analogy is that of a ship without a steady rudder. The ship is tossed back and forth with every wave and every wind that comes upon it.
d. How well do you know the Holy Scriptures? How well do you know orthodox evangelical doctrine? Can you defend yourself against heretics who know the Scriptures well but twist them to fit their false cultic teachings? Give examples of when you have had to defend the faith against false doctrines.
e. What is another sure sign of Christian maturity? v. 15a. Why?
f. What is God’s desire for every member of the church? v. 15b. How is the whole body benefited in this way? v. 16.
Respond to the following questions:
1. Many contend that brief summaries of the Christian faith are only watered-down versions designed to attract everybody and anybody with no real convictions. Others say that longer statements of faith are designed to keep away as many as possible unless they think exactly alike, like an assembly-line church. What is your own assessment?
2. How well are you running the race of Christian maturity? Are you still at the starting gate? Or are you halfway there but out of breath? Or maybe you are on the last lap and stretching out for the finish line? See 1 Corinthians 9:24-27.
3. How many “believers” do you know who started out well but lost focus along the way? How does one get to that final lap and maintain his or her eye on the finish line? See Philippians 3:10-16.
4. We share many tasks or vocations (callings) in this life, but our highest calling is to share in the ministry of Jesus Christ. There is one ministry, but a variety of services to perform. To which of these are you called? How effectively do you contribute to the edification of the whole body?
God has called us to live in peace and unity as much as possible in this fallen world. While there is room for disagreement within the church on nonessential matters, the gospel truth of Christ’s reconciliation is the only basis for unity in this age or the next. Jesus has given his church an abundance of gifts. May every believer answer his or her calling and grow in love to the building up of the whole body. Amen.
Author: Lorenzo Arroyo