Sabbath School Lesson for August 5-11, 2023
Overview of Lesson 7, The Unified Body of Christ
Memory Text: “And he gave the apostles the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ.” Ephesians 4:11, 12 ESV
What to expect:
- Sunday: The Unity of the Spirit, the virtues that lead to church unity– humility, gentleness, and patience (Ephesians 4:1-3)
- Monday: Together as One in the One, the “ones” that make us united in Christ (Ephesians 4:4-6)
- Tuesday: The Exalted Christ, Giver of Gifts, what the exalted Christ has done to make us united (Ephesians 4:7-10)
- Wednesday: Gifts of the Exalted Jesus, what the exalted Christ has given for us to achieve unity (Ephesians 4:11-13)
- Thursday: Growing Up Into Christ, the danger of our not being united (Ephesians 4:14)
In Ephesians 4, Paul begins his climax of developing the doctrine of church unity. He already has briefly touched on the unity of the Jews and Gentiles, but now to make his point even clearer, he uses the metaphor of the human body to show the spiritual makeup of the church. See also Romans 12:3-8 and 1 Corinthians 12:12-31.
One of Aesop’s fables, “The Belly and the Feet”, describes these two parts of the body arguing over who is more important. The feet brag on their strength in carrying the stomach around. But the stomach replies that the feet wouldn’t have that strength without the food provided by the stomach. This entertaining fable illustrates Paul’s point of how the church needs to achieve unity in order to accomplish God’s mission of spreading the gospel. He compares the church to a human body.
Therefore, each church member should willingly contribute their God-given abilities to help the whole body of Christ function in a unified way that glorifies Christ, the Head of the church body.
Sunday: The Unity of the Spirit
Paul begins this second half of his letter with a stirring appeal for unity, with practical tips on how this unity is achieved. Calling himself once again a prisoner of the Lord, he encourages them to walk worthy of their calling as members of the body of Christ.
The virtues most needed by the Spirit for achieving unity are listed as:
- humility (or lowliness)–thinking of others as more significant than themselves
- gentleness (courtesy and meekness)–not being overly impressed by one’s own importance
- patience (longsuffering)–bearing up under provocation and trials by focusing on the value of others
- What does it tell us about Paul when he calls himself “the prisoner of the Lord”, rather than a prisoner of Rome?
- How does a person walk in a way that is worthy of his calling? What does that mean and why is it important?
- What happens when we aren’t humble, courteous, or patient with people, especially other church members?
Monday: Together as One in the One
Symbolically, the number seven represents perfection, especially God’s perfection. In Ephesians 4:4-6, Paul poetically reveals seven “ones” that drive home the need for unity, or becoming as “one”, in the church. They are…
- One body (referring to the body of Christ, the church)
- One Spirit (the Holy Spirit)
- One hope (related to being called by God)
- One Lord (the triune God, three in one)
- One faith (the common beliefs of Christians)
- One baptism (which sanctifies and cleanses us)
- One God and Father of all (who is above all, through all, and in us all)
Unity, to Paul, is a spiritual fact, rooted in these “ones”. The reality of this concept should be nurtured and celebrated. Paul’s words convict us of our need for unity and the hard work, empowered by God, that is required to make it a reality.
Ephesians 4:6 has been used in support of pantheism, the false belief that identifies all nature as God. Instead, it points to God’s transcendence, or supremacy (who is over all), His active rulership (who is through all), and His immanence, or omnipresence–being everywhere (who is in all).
- What point is Paul making with so many “ones” in these verses?
- How does it change your thinking about church unity?
Tuesday: The Exalted Christ, Giver of Gifts
Using Psalm 68:18 in Ephesians 4:8, Yahweh is described as a conquering general, returning from battle with a crowd of captives. The timing of these events has been confusing to some people, as Paul’s words indicate that the descension comes before the ascension. However, some translators of Paul’s Greek seem to indicate the issue of the timing as open.
There are also some who believe that this descension mentioned in Ephesians 4:8 may be referring to those “captives” raised from their graves after Jesus’ resurrection (Matthew 27:51-53). A more accurate translation of “he led captivity captive” would be “he took as prisoners a group of captives”.
Death had amounted to captivity for those saints. Most likely these “prisoners” ascended to heaven with Jesus, making them the “firstfruits” of the redeemed. In other words, a “wave sheaf” to be presented to His Father on His return to the courts of heaven.
Ephesians 4:7 and Romans 12:3
- What is one thing all believers are given from God?
- What are you personally doing with the faith you’ve been given, which has been received through grace?
Ephesians 4:8-10 and Matthew 27:51-53
- Who might have been the captives that went to heaven with Jesus?
- Why is Christ worthy to be the One who gives us spiritual gifts?
Wednesday: Gifts of the Exalted Jesus
Ephesians 4:12 tells why Jesus gives gifts to the church. Paul said it was “for the equipping of the saints in the work of ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ.” The various forms of ministry Paul listed are designed to build, or edify the church. Christ wants His church to grow, not just in numbers, but there’s spiritual growth to consider as well. What better way for us to practice love, a signature trait of God, than by serving others in the church and our neighbors in the community. There are many ways church members can join hands in various lines of service to God, leading to more unity.
The gifts Paul includes in this passage are apostles, prophets, evangelists, shepherds and teachers. The way the Greek is structured suggests that the last two belong to a single group. Both teachers and pastors are very similar in what they do for the church. The person giving the sermon is actually teaching the Bible, much the same as the Sabbath school teacher who leads our discussion of the Bible or teaches our children in religious school settings.
In addition, verse 13 assures us that prophets did not end in Old Testament times, as some churches believe. Paul saw them continuing “till we all come to the unity of the faith and the knowledge of the Son of God.” Acts 2:17 affirms this claim by asserting that our sons and daughters (male and female) will prophesy in the last days.
- What “gifts” does the exalted Jesus give, and for what purpose?
Thursday: Growing Up Into Christ
Everything so far is positive in this portion of Paul’s letter that talks about the body of Christ, with spiritual gifts so beneficial for its unity and growth. He gets serious with his readers in Ephesians 4:14 though by warning them of the dangers of not being united through the gifts of the Holy Spirit. He says that without unity, they can become like “children, tossed to and fro and carried about with every wind of doctrine”. There are clever false teachers that can easily sway them, he contends.
Then in Ephesians 4:15, 16, he gives hope and shows his confidence in their choices. He reminds them that by “speaking the truth in love”, with every believer doing their part, they can be united and strengthened, reflecting their Lord Jesus, the head of the church. What a worthy goal–to be so closely bonded intimately with God and each other that nothing can divide us or shake us from our mission to spread the gospel.
- Why should we not spend too much time on “every wind of doctrine” meant to distract us from our mission? How can we avoid these sometimes appealing doctrines?
Ephesians 4:15, 16
- How do the qualities of truth and love keep us bonded with each other, and what happens when one or both of them are lacking in our relationships?
Friday: Final Thoughts
Several themes were highlighted in the first half of Ephesians 4.
- The unity of the church is vital to its existence and overall mission of spreading the gospel.
- By looking closely at how the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, though different, are united in how they function in administering the plan of salvation, we can see that unity in the church also can and must be achieved for these plans to be fulfilled.
- Christ does His part, through the Holy Spirit, by providing spiritual gifts to help unite the church.
Let’s remember that the church is not a human organization, built and maintained by humans alone. The Godhead deserves all the credit for anything good that comes out of the body of Christ. Only by using our God-given gifts will the church survive till the day Christ returns.
Next Week: Christ-Shaped Lives and Spirit-Inspired Speech
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