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Bodybuilders in Christ—Exercise Your Gifts!

Bible Study of Ephesians
The Reconciliation and Consummation of All Things through Christ

Week Seven: Bodybuilders in Christ—Exercise Your Gifts! (Ephesians 4:1-16)

After Paul’s intercessory prayer in 3:14-21, he will now shift gears and provide instruction for daily living that will help the Ephesians apply what they’ve learned in the first half of the letter (chapters 1–3). The Eph. 4:1 transition from teaching to application also parallels Paul’s transition in Romans 12:1, “Therefore, I exhort you…”*

*The beginning of Eph. 4:1 and Rom. 12:1 are the same in the Greek: Parakalo oun hymas...

Furthermore, since God is to be glorified in the Church throughout all generations (3:21), and because the hosts of heaven look on with awe and wonder at God’s wisdom displayed through Christ’s body (3:10), the conduct of every member should align with such a great privilege and calling. In other words, living up to our calling is what the “therefore” (4:1) is there for, “...[believers] are to walk worthily, for a relationship with God (the calling, 4:1, 4) mandates responsibility towards God (the walking, 4:1).”*

*Kuruvilla, 116. In his commentary of Ephesians, Wiersbe calls Eph. 1–3 our "riches" and Eph. 4–6 our "responsibility" (34). See also Jesus' exhortation in Luke 12:48.

God’s grand and glorious operation of reconciling and consummating all things through Christ (Eph. 1:9-10) has been carefully explained and developed in the first half of the letter, but now Paul will take the abstract and make it more concrete. Every member of Christ’s body, the Church, has a role to play in God’s body-building enterprise. And though believers are united as “one” (4:1-6), there is also great diversity in this unity, especially in the gifts that Christ distributes among His body (4:7-16).

Here is a preview of Paul’s message and overall flow of thought in Eph. 4:1-16:

1. Paul gives believers three key attitudes needed for a worthy “walk”, two goals, and a seven-fold basis for maintaining unity in the body (4:1-6)
2. Jesus, the triumphant and resurrected Head, shares the spoils of His conquest by giving grace-gifts to His people (4:7-10)
3. Christ gives the Church gifted leaders in order to equip the rest of the saints for ministry until everyone reaches full maturity (4:11-13)
4. The proper contribution and function of each member will result in avoidance of false teaching, loving and truthful correction, and a mature person; i.e. complete Christ-likeness (4:14-16)


I, therefore, the prisoner in the Lord, beseech you to walk worthy of the calling with which you were called, with all lowliness [humility] and gentleness, with longsuffering, bearing with one another in love, endeavoring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. [There is] one body and one Spirit, just as you were called in one hope of your calling; one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is above all, and through all, and in all.

Given that Christ has already torn down the hostile barrier that once divided humanity, and since He created one new entity from both Jews and Gentiles resulting in everlasting peace and access to the Father (Eph. 2:14-16), Paul, the prisoner in the Lord, exhorts believers to eagerly guard and protect the unity in the body of Christ.*

*There is a powerful play-on-words between 4:1 and 4:3: Paul, a prisoner [desmios] calls for others to maintain unity in the bond [syndesmos] of peace. These two Greek words have the same root [desmos], which means literally, "that which serves as a means of restraint by tying, or fastening; a bond, fetter," and figuratively, "something that holds people together by means of a common interest" (BDAG, 219). Additionally, Paul will talk about Christ taking believers "captive" in 4:8.

The three attitudes that are required for selfless love in the body are humility, gentleness, and longsuffering [patience]. Opposite of these Christ-like characteristics are pride, hot-headedness [short-temperament], and impatience [intolerance]—these immature attitudes disrupt and divide the body.

With the right attitudes in mind, Paul then states that believers should “bear with one another in love” and “endeavor to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.” The apostle wisely recognizes the existence of “growing pains” within the body, and he knows that children in the faith will make mistakes on their journey toward maturity. The hang-ups, bad habits, and weaknesses of every member creates the need for self-restraint and the toleration of differences that are unrelated to major doctrines.

Thus, the believer who continues to think and act selfishly has yet to fully comprehend the value and worth of their calling: “To live in a manner which mars the unity of the Spirit is to do so in spite of the gracious reconciling work of Christ. It is tantamount [equal] to saying that his sacrificial death by which relationships with God and others have been restored, along with the resulting freedom of access to the Father, are of no real consequence to us!” (Peter O'Brien, "The Letter to the Ephesians, 280).

Next, and without a conjunction or transition word in the Greek text, Paul makes a list of seven spiritual realities that serve as the basis for protecting and preserving unity in the body of Christ. Ultimately, the Church derives its unity from the diverse union of God himself (the Trinity: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit), and in this list of seven, there is repetition [for emphasis] of the words “one” and “all”:

1. One body
2. One Spirit
3. One hope
4. One Lord
5. One faith
6. One baptism
7. One God and Father of all, above all, through all, and in all*

*In a related passage on the topic of unity and diversity in the body, Paul also lists the members of the Trinity in the order of Spirit, Lord, and God (see 1 Cor. 12:4-6).


But to each one of us grace was given according to the measure of Christ’s gift. Therefore He says: ‘When He ascended on high, He led captivity captive, and gave gifts to men.’ (Now this, ‘He ascended’—what does it mean but that He also descended into the lower parts of the earth? He who descended is also the One who ascended far above all the heavens, that He might fill all things).

Eph. 4:7 marks a subtle shift from an emphasis on unity to an emphasis on diversity within the body. Verse 7 in the Greek begins with the word heni “one,” which links back to the preceding verses. However, in the same verse (4:7), heni is linked with ekasto “each,” which is also found in verse 16 “each [part].” As a result, these two words “each” (ekasto) form a bookend for 4:7-16—a section that underscores the unique contribution of individual believers.

Furthermore, Paul’s mention of Christ giving gifts of “grace” to each member and the reference to an Old Testament psalm are introduced at this point, because the resurrection and ascension of Jesus had to occur first in order for the Church to exist, function as one body in the Spirit, and grow together toward maturity. In other words, believers share in Christ’s victory over sin and death (the great dividers) and the diverse gifting of each member serves to harmonize and preserve the unity of the body.*

*Thus, unity is not the same as uniformity [sameness], "Unity comes from within and is a spiritual grace, while uniformity is the result of pressure from without" (Wiersbe, 35).

Verse 7 is where we also encounter the Greek word metron (measure), and this same word is repeated two more times in 4:13 and 4:16. Kuruvilla strings these three verses together and summarizes: “Measured gifts of grace (4:7), working concertedly in measure through each individual (4:13), leads to growth that is in measure with the stature of Christ (4:16).” (pg. 121).*

*Notice that Christ's gifting to His body is part of a strategic design and not a random, arbitrary giving of handouts. Hoehner adds, "Each believer is to function in Christ's body by God's enablement, proportionate to the gift (spiritual ability) bestowed on him, no more and no less" (634). Paul also reinforces this point in Rom. 12:3.

In Eph. 4:8, Paul directs our attention to Psalm 68. The original context of the psalm is about the God of Israel (YHWH) conquering His enemies, rescuing prisoners of war, and sharing the riches of His conquest with His own people (see Ps. 68:6, 10-11, 18-20, 35, especially). This is highly significant because in the context of Ephesians 4:7-8, Jesus is linked with the God of Israel, the Divine Warrior-King who rescues captives and distributes the spoils of war among His people.

However, rather than focusing on material or spiritual riches, the “gifts” in the context of Psalm 68:18 and Eph. 4:8 are in reference to the “captives” themselves. Thus, as Eph. 4:11 explicitly reveals, the gifts that Christ gives to the Church are former rebels who were once held captive under the power of God’s arch-enemy (cf. Eph. 2:1-3; Ps. 68:18, “...even among the rebellious…”).

There is a textual issue that needs further clarification: When you compare Eph. 4:8 and Ps. 68:18, the psalm says that God [YHWH] receives gifts from people, whereas Paul says that God [Christ] gives gifts to people. Did Paul misquote the Scripture? Is he playing fast-and-loose with the text? Actually, there is a much less sinister option to explain the difference:

Rather than quoting the Hebrew, Paul apparently followed the Jewish interpretation of the day (the Targum), which paraphrased this verse as follows: ‘You did ascend to the firmament, O prophet Moses! You led captivity captive; you taught the words of the Law; you gave [not received, as in the Hebrew] gifts to the sons of men’...Paul followed this Jewish exegesis because it explained that the conqueror distributed the gifts to His loyal subjects. The apostle applied that idea to Christ’s victory over the forces of evil…” (Allen Ross, "Psalms," in The Bible Knowledge Commentary, vol. 1, 843 (emphasis his).

Another possible option might be that Paul paraphrased the entire psalm by emphasizing Ps. 68:18 and incorporating the last verse of the psalm: Ps. 68:35, "...the God of Israel gives power and strength to His people..."

Next, in verses 9 and 10, there has been much discussion concerning the “ascending” and “descending” of Christ. The issues center around properly identifying what is meant by His descent [i.e. is it His Incarnation? Death? Visit to Hell/Hades?] and the meaning of “the lower parts of the earth” (4:9). I won’t get bogged down with the debate here, but it appears that Paul aims to communicate that Jesus had to first humble himself (descend) before He could rise victoriously from the dead and ascend to heaven.*

*Therefore, the "descent" of Christ most likely refers to His death, broadly speaking. Consider also that "far above the heavens" and "He might fill all things" from Eph. 4:10 points back to Eph. 1:20-23, which is a passage of "ascent" that begins with His resurrection from the dead (the descent). Compare Eph. 4:9-10 with John 3:13 and Philippians 2:5-11.


And He himself gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers, for the equipping of the saints for the work of ministry, for the edifying [building up] of the body of Christ, until we all come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a perfect [complete] man, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ…

In 4:7, Christ gives “grace” [charis]* to each and every believer; however, in 4:11 the focus narrows to specific leaders who are given to the body: apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers. Therefore, not every saint is an apostle, prophet, evangelist, pastor or teacher.

*The nuanced meaning of "grace" in this verse refers to a tailor-made ministry given to each believer; it is the same word used by Paul in reference to his own ministry of proclaiming God's mystery (Eph. 3:2, 7-8). A different Greek word, charismata, is used in other passages such as 1 Cor. 12 and Rom. 12 in reference to various spiritual gifts.

The two offices (or titles) of apostle and prophet are linked in Eph. 2:20 and 3:5 in reference to the foundation of the Church. An apostle, like Paul, is one who is sent out with a message [i.e. the gospel]. The role of a prophet, according to a passage such as 1 Cor. 14:3, is to edify, encourage, and comfort the body. An evangelist, like Philip (Acts 8:5, 39-40; 21:8), proclaims the gospel with great effect, reaping a harvest of souls and adding more to the body. The pastor and/or teacher, linked by one definite article in the Greek, refers to one who guards and instructs the flock (i.e. a local congregation).*

*The Greek word for "pastor" is literally one who is a "shepherd" (Jn. 21:16; Acts 20:28; 1 Pet. 5:2). Other synonymous terms for pastor include "overseer" and "elder" (1 Tim. 3:1-2; 5:17; Titus 1:7-9; 1 Pet. 5:5). Notice that the pastor/elder/overseer must be able to teach God's word faithfully to the flock.

Christ gives His body these gifted leaders in order to equip and train other believers to serve in their own various capacities. When the rest of the saints are equipped by their leaders, and when they in turn minister and build up the body, then the end result will eventually be: a fully mature body that believes God’s word ("the faith") and knows Jesus personally ("the Son of God"). To summarize, here is a helpful overview of God’s bodybuilding program:

Ephesians 4:12 thus delineates the threefold pattern of the exercise of various gifts—”equipping,” “working,” and “building”; 4:13 then depicts the threefold goal of this exercise—the attainment of unity of faith and knowledge, maturity, and the stature of Christ. Not that few in the church will attain to these ends, but that all will (4:13).” (Kuruvilla, 127).

Paul also says in 4:13 that the end result of all of the work accomplished by the saints will be both Head and body united as a complete and mature “man” (i.e. “the fullness of Christ”; cf. Eph. 2:15-16). In other words, the body is currently working to catch up to the Head (4:15; cf. Eph. 2:6), but God’s word makes it clear that one day the body will be “caught up” with no more need for temporary gifts (1 Cor. 13:8-13).*

*The last words of Eph. 4:16 in the Greek are en agape "in love" (cf. Eph. 4:2, 15; 1 Cor. 13:8, "Love never ends..."). Also, take a look at Revelation 12:5 to see John's vision of the end result of Eph. 4:13—the body of Christ has finally caught up to the Head, having reached full maturity, and then is literally "birthed" (resurrected) and "caught up" (raptured) to God's throne (cf. 1 Thess. 4:13-18)!  For further confirmation, see Gary's past two articles, "Who is the Male Child of Revelation 12?" and "Major Discovery Concerning Revelation 12."


...that we should no longer be children, tossed to and fro and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, in the cunning craftiness of deceitful plotting, but, speaking the truth in love, [we] may grow up in all things into Him who is the head—Christ—from whom the whole body, joined and knit together by what every joint supplies, according to the effective working by which every part does its share, causes growth of the body for the edifying of itself in love.

In this final section, Paul paints a picture of what real maturity in the faith looks like and how it is accomplished—that is, the body matures when each person speaks the truth in love (4:15). Conversely, the immature and childish believer is unstable, naïve, and vulnerable to false teaching, and Paul compares the infant in Christ to one who is carried away by every passing fad and cheap thrill: “tossed to and fro and carried about with every wind of doctrine” (4:14; cf. James 1:6).

While there are a variety of false religions and Christian cults in the world today, the singular nouns of 4:14 indicate that there is a single agenda that unites all of these frauds and fakes, “the trickery of men...the cunning craftiness of deceitful plotting.” Furthermore, the word panourgia “craftiness” is also used to describe Satan’s deception of Eve in the garden (2 Cor. 11:3), and the word methodeia “scheme/plot” is found in Eph. 6:11, which confirms that the Devil is behind every wind of (false) doctrine and deceitful scheming done under the sun.

And so, for the believer in Christ, the answer to deceptive scheming is to speak the truth in love, which relates back to Paul’s original instructions in 4:1-3. Members of the body grow and mature when they submit to the teaching of the gifted leaders of 4:11 and fulfill their own responsibility to minister to others in the body. Thus, when every member does their part, not wasting away or watching the leaders do all the leg work, then the body grows up,“edifies/builds itself in love,” and conforms more and more into the image and likeness of Christ (cf. Rom. 8:29).

Application to the Body of Christ:

Summary of 4:1-16:

“Selfless and loving exercise of grace-gifts, that leads to peaceful unity, builds up the body to the mature stature of its head, Christ” (Kuruvilla, 131). 

Now that Jesus has triumphed over the flesh, the world, and the hostile rulers in the unseen realm (Eph. 1:20-23; 2:1-5, 14-18; 3:10), members of His body share in His victory by receiving gifts—spoils of war! The risen Lord Jesus has plundered the enemy and taken captive those who were once captive to sin, death, and the Devil.

In this week’s study (4:1-16), the application to the body of Christ is clear and explicit: every member of the body must live up to their calling and be actively engaged in ministry for the proper functioning and growth of the whole. Preserving the unity of the body (4:3) is accomplished when every member loves selflessly and exercises their specific and measured gift to build up others in the faith.

Christ gave His body gifted leaders (4:11) who are to equip the rest of the saints for their work in ministering to others. When each member fulfills their role, then the body grows and individuals within the body mature as well. The final outcome for all in the body will be a united faith (4:5, 13), perfect knowledge of the Savior (4:13), and complete Christ-likeness (4:13). In the meantime, believers are to press on toward maturity, avoid deception of every kind, and communicate the truth to each other with great love and affection for their fellow family members (4:14-15).

Finally, it should be evident from the text and go without saying, but still some refuse to submit to God’s design for the Church and remain isolated, rogue Christians who will not engage with the rest of the body for one reason or another (cf. Heb. 10:24-25). The Father is glorified when believers come together in unity, bear with one another despite minor differences, and think, speak, and act in a manner equal to their grand calling to manifest God’s grace, kindness, and wisdom to the spiritual authorities in the heavenly places (Eph. 2:6-7; 3:10).

So, if you're a member of the Church and enrolled in Christ's bodybuilding program, then it's time to get fit by exercising your gift!

"The tomb where soldiers watched in vain
Was borrowed for three days
His body there would not remain
Our God has robbed the grave
Our God has robbed the grave"

Post A Comment


  1. This week was a treasure trove and once again we've tied into the story of Rev. 12.

    "Tossed about by every wind and wave of doctrine..." We certainly see a lot of THAT going on.

    1. Satan is working extremely hard to move everyone about by the winds of change so to speak...Lots of New Age going around, Hebrew Roots, and Pantheism.

  2. Does anyone here go to a local church and actually receive instruction and edification? I've noticed I get much more by reading the WORD myself and studying than by going to a structured service. Is it just me? My wife and two sons are baby christians, new to the knowledge of Jesus, perhaps I should go and take them so that they can learn? They just don't seem to have the hunger for the Truth that I do, then again children can only understand so much. Perhaps I need to develop a sort of service at home or teach when I can...

    Is anyone else torn concerning the Sabbath? I'm still unsure what to do about it. It appears to be something that even the early church did and honored, even the non-Jews. From what I understand we are to honor it just as God instituted it when He rested on the 7th day. Any thoughts?

    As far as gifts, I am not totally sure that I know what gifts I've been given. I'm leaning towards, instruction, support, learning as I seem to be good at those.

    1. I don't see anything wrong with keeping the Sabbath... UNTIL it becomes an essential. Then those who are promoting it have abandoned the gospel and Sabbath-keeping becomes a grace-busting sin.

      Everything we do should point others to Christ and the simple truth of the gospel. For instance, Heb. 3-4 uses the Sabbath as a testimony to the fact that Christ's propitiation has given use the ultimate, complete Sabbath rest.

      Anything we do or teach that tells others they must do this or that to get right with God is falling short of His glory.


      As for Church - I'm with you to a point. Many, many churches are led by spiritually immature shepherds and are filled with spiritually immature flocks. They scoff at the deeper truths (ESPECIALLY prophecy). And I learn a lot from reading God's word on my own.

      However, that same word repeatedly exhorts us to remain in fellowship and not isolate. We have to have both. Big 'C' Church is happening right here, too, on Unsealed.

      Most of my spiritual growth has happened w/ other Christians alongside me (Greg, Jeff, Hillary, friends on the Discussion Board; and believers in person through my local small 'c' church).

      I came to faith because of the preaching of others and grew in the faith because of the preaching, teaching, and love of others.

      So I think we need to be part of a local body, not only for our children and those around us that might need spiritual milk and who can't yet handle solid food, but also for ourselves for accountability, and, so that we can disciple others IN PERSON.

      Not to mention - corporate worship is one of the greatest pleasures I know and Heaven will be eternally full of it (:

      Just my 2 cents.

    2. Amen, brother.

      Corporate worship coming up in this series in a couple of weeks (Eph. 5:19)!


    3. Jeff, I've never really been one for singing or worship with singing and really don't like doing it, let alone around others. Perhaps it isn't about me but about Him...that thought just popped into my mind while I was typing. Worship, is it only done through singing?

    4. I for one am a terrible singer, but I love to sing. I grew up in the CoC where everyone sings. For me I just love to hear everyone else singing... sometimes I join in, sometimes I just soak it in.

      I'm praying I'll be given a good singing voice in Heaven.

      In the meantime, I'm learning piano so I can contribute (:

    5. (Sorry, I know your question was directed to @Jeff) (:

    6. This comment has been removed by the author.

    7. So why do we still keep the other 9 commandments to this day, but not the 4th? Which is the Sabbath rest?

  3. So, so good, Jeff!

    Do you have any insights or resources for those in the body who are wondering what their specific God-given gifts and callings are? There are so many self-proclaimed apostles and prophets these days, and quizzes folks can take to figure out if they are for "helps" or "administrations" or whatever...what wisdom has God given you about this?

    1. Thank you, sister! Good, good thinkin' and I know others are probably asking similar questions.

      In my experience, the various spiritual gift assessments can be helpful...to an extent. I feel the same way about those kinds of quizzes as I do the Meyers-Briggs-type assessments that help you determine your personality and relational style (i.e. Introverted/Extroverted,
      Support Person vs. Out Front Leader, etc.)---these can help you figure out possibilities, but we are all fluid in some way, and since we are being renewed into the image of Christ by the Spirit, things change!

      Growing up, I got a lot of feedback regarding my natural gifts and abilities. I didn't really ask for feedback, I just received it from those around me and those who were perceptive and observant. I think the same goes for our spiritual gifts.

      If we are faithful to speak and minister God's word to others, and if there is a physical need, and we take action to meet that need for others in the body, I believe that, over time, we will get feedback from our spiritual family and the Spirit himself about our particular gifting. There will be confirmation from others like, "Oh, sister, that was a wise word you shared," or "You make things so easy to understand," or "Your faith is inspiring," and so on (Rom. 12:7; 1 Cor. 12:8-9).

      In my estimation, I believe we just need to do our part, be faithful in the little things, and take note of the feedback and the fruit that we see from our ministry to others.

      Anyone else, feel free to weigh in!

      P.S. I love your heart, Hillary. From what I've observed in your ministry, you have taught others with the right motive and goal (1 Tim. 1:5). The response that I've seen has been others confirming to you that their faith has been strengthened and they experience God's love for them in a greater measure. For those under a heavy yoke, you have shown them mercy with cheerfulness (e.g. Rom. 12:8). Keep on, keepin' on, sister!

    2. @Hillary, I strongly suspect the Holy Spirit has gifted you with both teaching and spiritual discernment. I see that on display in your life all the time!

    3. Brothers!! This brought the tears for sure! Such an answer to prayer and a blessing from both of you, Jeff & Gary. There have been some shifts going on in my world and this has been on my mind quite heavily. I've been studying a lot of these exact passages you mentioned, Jeff, and praying for clarity. Gary, you confirmed some things I think the Lord has been showing me and leading me to. I can't thank both of you enough for your wisdom, faithfulness, and continued kindness. Bless the Lord, oh my soul!

  4. Hillary, in my very honest estimation,you are like Heaven on earth! sincerely* and thank you. Carry on sister ~~~~ Shalom

    1. What a humbling thing to read! I recently wrote out my story with more depth and as I recalled all of the foolish things I've said and done in my life I was astonished once again at how good and glorious our heavenly Father is, to forgive all our trespasses and clothe us with the righteousness of Christ. May I decrease and He increase! If there is anything heavenly in me, it is ALL HIM. And I can't help but to adore Him more and more for His indescribable grace and love. He is so good! Blessings, Ozark!

  5. Oh Yes, a personal Loving Father who possesses infinite wisdom!, we are surely in good hands - you and me sister, in His hands* Enjoy the Victory, Keep om Praising Him \o/ Wellness Always

  6. Oops! that om(mis-spell) may be related to the om of Shalom! Hillary, Your the Love !

  7. Saudis say Jerusalem will be divided


  8. Give us humility Lord God; Unify us, complete the good work that you have started in us, bring us into the fullness of the Spirit unto maturity, amen. TY Jeff, that was REAL!,...and really helpful!, ...something good is happening to us and i give Thanks /// p.s. Have you ever listened to a song called,"Hot, Blue and Righteous" by them ZZTop boys? Beautiful and reverent it is brother, Shalom

    1. Amen, Ozark. Much love to you, my friend!

  9. Wow, that Resurrection song brought tears to my eyes. . .

  10. I don't know if any of you recall Jonathan's Cahn's story about the spot in NYC where either NYC or America was founded and where the WTC buildings fell or something else died (sycamore tree, etc., ) but I was reminded of it after seeing this story on Drudge today...

    Is it a harbinger for Los Angeles?



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