Ephesians 4:4-6, The one body, its variety, and God’s love that unites it, part 4.
length: 83:45 - taught on Oct, 18 2020
Notice the previous sentence to Paul’s list of spiritual gifts in Rom 12:
I urge you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship. 2 And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect.
There is the way of the world and the way of God; the things of the world and the things of God. We have to learn to discern them and then we can walk with God, meaning that we walk in His way.
Prove by testing that which is good, acceptable (euarestos = well-pleasing), and perfect (teleios = complete, finished, full-grown).
For through the grace given to me I say to every man among you not to think more highly of himself than he ought to think; but to think so as to have sound judgment, as God has allotted to each a measure of faith. 4 For just as we have many members in one body and all the members do not have the same function, 5 so we, who are many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another.
In the case of all three places where Paul lists spiritual gifts, he immediately follows it with love and unity.
No one gift makes one believer better than another. Some are more important in the manner of need, like apostles and prophets, and even teachers, but no gift makes any believer closer to God or more spiritual. Remember, an overflowing pint is more pleasing to God than a half-filled vat.
Each of us are nothing without God and yet each of us in Christ’s body are baptized and indwelt by the one Holy Spirit who has distributed to each gifts as He has seen fit.
1Co 12: Apostle, prophecy, teaching, miracles, healing, helps, administrations, tongues, interpreting tongues, wisdom, knowledge, faith, distinguishing spirits.
Rom 12: prophecy, service, teaching, exhortation, giving, leadership, showing mercy.
Eph 4: Apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastor-teachers.
Now concerning spiritual gifts, brethren, I do not want you to be unaware.
The church at Corinth contained wealthy people with status as well as the very poor and whatever was scattered in between. It was a city that loved status. The surprise that comes when Paul establishes a church there, is not from their conflict about status or spiritual gifts, for it was a part of their culture to have conflict, but the surprise is rather that the transformative power of the gospel could provide a new common status and identity to all believers as “one body … whether Jews of Gentiles, slaves or free.” In the Roman/Hellenistic world of the first century, such a thought was revolutionary.
Paul’s method of healing the fractions or divisions in the church was not an ecclesiastical one. He didn’t tell them to re-organize.
Paul’s solution to division was to remind them of Christ’s cross and the gift of divine grace that put them all, and us all, on the same footing.
For who regards you as superior? And what do you have that you did not receive? But if you did receive it, why do you boast as if you had not received it?
Now concerning spiritual gifts, brethren, I do not want you to be unaware.
“I do not want you to remain ignorant my dear Christian family (brethren).”
It was obvious that they were ignorant of the way and reason for spiritual gifts. They weren’t ignorant of spiritual gifts, and they had them in abundance, but like so many people do, when they come to know of some blessing, they lay aside the full doctrine of that blessing, and rush to their own way. It’s like giving a teenager a car and as you are about to explain its responsible and proper use, he peels out and drives off, concluding that a big, fast machine must only be for the reason of thrills.
But earnestly desire the greater [meizona - a superlative “greatest”] gifts. And I show you a still more excellent way. If I speak with the tongues of men and of angels [i.e. I have a super-duper gift of tongues never seen before], but do not have love …
“the greatest gifts” is a sharp irony towards the competitive Corinthians. Great gifts are those that serve the good of others and build the community. The more excellent way is the way of love.
Vs. 4: Love is patient …
Paul ends his steadily built up argument in 1Co 12 with rhetorical and logical force. There is no division in the human body. The hidden, weaker members (inner organs) are vital. The unseemly members of the body are adorned with clothes. After hearing about their divisions, jealousies, strivings with one another, and chaotic church services in which one tries to talk over another with a tongue or a prophecy or a psalm, and the Lord’s Supper has two tables, one for the rich and one for the poor, one overflowing with abundance and another void, Paul knows that each strives to have greater gifts, and so he says tongue-in-cheek, “do not stop being zealously concerned about the greatest gifts.”
Ben Witherington in his work Conflict and Community in Corinth concludes: “Corinth was a city where public boasting and self-promotion had become an art form. The Corinthian people thus lived with an honor-shame cultural orientation, where public recognition was often more important than facts … In such a culture a person’s sense of worth is based on recognition by others of one’s accomplishments.”
This came about as Corinth city with rapid urban development which was also rapidly growing in wealth, but not aristocratic wealth from a monarchial family, but from trade. It was a city filled with businessmen, tradesmen, bankers, and loads of opportunity from the enormous amounts of goods that were traded in its east and west ports from the eastern and western worlds. It was a city were there were many self-made persons who escaped humble origins, accumulating wealth and status. And, being a cosmopolitan city, one could also give off the impression of importance, which is so important in an honor-shame culture. In essence, Corinthian culture strove for winning an argument and being noticed for it, rather than striving for truth.
Witherington shows that Corinth wasn’t much different from the popular mood of the post-modern world where social experience is counted as most important, competition in the art of statecraft, and the tension of radical pluralism, which is the ever conflict of different ideologies (like democrat/republican). One can see, when understanding the socio-economic conditions in first-century Corinth, that they let their world intermingle with Christianity creating a monstrous ideology.
Another commentator suggests, “while the concern for facts, truth, and rationality remains central to the more “classical” Roman attitudes of Cicero and Quintilian, the reductive and contrived “instrumental” rationality and rhetoric which looks not for truth but for applause and success characterizes more readily the kind of competitive rhetoric which was most highly prized at Corinth.”Thus we can see why different factions in Corinth preferred different pastors, just as orators competed with one another in the city, not to find truth, but to be liked.
After being stung in their souls about what Paul has already written, to seemingly consent to this aspect of their pride would have grabbed their attention greatly. And that’s just what our smart apostle wants to which he caveats “provided you follow me in transposing and subverting your understanding of what counts as “the greatest.” The greatest are not those that minister to status or self, but those which serve the good of others and build the community. And then he piles one: “I now show you that what is an even greater way still is the way of love.”
Paul redefines “greatest” in a way that pulls the rug from under the feet of the status-seeking elitists.
This is followed by “a more excellent” way. Kath huperbolen, a phrase used only by Paul, is used to pull the greatest gifts to the height they were meant for, an even greater way still, which is love.
The greatest gifts, which serve the good of others and build the community, feed and are energized by divine love.
After Paul’s list of gifts in Rom 12:
Let love be without hypocrisy. Abhor what is evil; cling to what is good. 10 Be devoted to one another in brotherly love; give preference to one another in honor; 11 not lagging behind in diligence, fervent in spirit, serving the Lord; 12 rejoicing in hope, persevering in tribulation, devoted to prayer, 13 contributing to the needs of the saints, practicing hospitality. 14 Bless those who persecute you; bless and curse not. 15 Rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep. 16 Be of the same mind toward one another; do not be haughty in mind, but associate with the lowly. Do not be wise in your own estimation. 17 Never pay back evil for evil to anyone. Respect what is right in the sight of all men. 18 If possible, so far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men. 19 Never take your own revenge, beloved, but leave room for the wrath of God, for it is written, "Vengeance is Mine, I will repay," says the Lord. 20 "But if your enemy is hungry, feed him, and if he is thirsty, give him a drink; for in so doing you will heap burning coals upon his head." [idiom for a burning conscience] 21 Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.
We are all to be all of this no matter what our spiritual gift is.
As a result, we are no longer to be children, tossed here and there by waves, and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, by craftiness in deceitful scheming; 15 but speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in all aspects into Him, who is the head, even Christ, 16 from whom the whole body, being fitted and held together by that which every joint supplies, according to the proper working of each individual part, causes the growth of the body for the building up of itself in love.