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This Sunday School Study Guide is provided free of cost for personal study and as an aid for Sunday School teachers.  It contains copyright material and may not be reproduced in any form for sale, without permission from the copyright holders.  

Bailey Sadler Class



Study Theme:  Connected: My Life in the Church

What This Study Is About:

Week of:

Lesson Title:



Sept. 07

Connected in Christ


Sept. 14

Connected in Unity


Sept. 21

Connected in Growth


Sept. 28

Connected Through Words


Oct. 05

Connected in Service


Oct. 12

Connected Through Prayer



Unity is a given, but staying unified takes work.


Ephesians 4:1-6





Accept Each Other With Humility (Eph. 4:1-2)

Strive To Keep Unity (Eph. 4:3)

Unity Is Built On The Oneness of God (Eph. 4:4-6)


Unity in the Church—Ephesians 4:1-6

Ephesians is the perfect balance between doctrine and duty. The first three chapters deal with doctrine, the believers’ spiritual blessings in Christ. The last three chapters focus on the church’s responsibility to live in unity, variety, maturity, purity, and victory. We learn from Paul’s balanced perspective the need for both orthodoxy (right belief) and orthopraxy (right living).

Commentators have suggested that the pivotal verse of the entire letter—indeed, the key that unlocks its structure—is 4:1. It brings together the themes of chapters 1-3 and in a stirring appeal announces Paul’s emphasis of chapters 4-6. The church’s privileged position and calling carries with it weighty responsibilities. Paul exhorted the church to worthy living. He emphasized the character and effort required for such exemplary living (4:1-3). Then with characteristic Trinitarian emphasis the apostle claimed the church could so live because it is energized by the Spirit, established by the Lord, and empowered by the Father.

SOURCE: Holman Bible Handbook; General Editor David S. Dockery; Holman Bible Publishers; Nashville, Tennessee.


 There is an excitement inherent in championship games, but when it is a team with only average talent that wins, the excitement is even greater. Talent has a role in winning a game, but what can really make a difference is when the individual players work together as a single unit, a team. This principle is all the more critical when we’re talking about the life and ministry of the church. The Holy Spirit empowers believers to work together in complete unity.

The Herschel Hobbs Commentary; Family Bible Study; by Robert J. Dean; LifeWay Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention; 1 LifeWay Plaza, Nashville, TN.


Accept Each Other With Humility (Eph. 4:1-2)

1 Therefore I, the prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk worthy of the calling you have received, 2 with all humility and gentleness, with patience, accepting one another in love,








1.     Who is the speaker and what do you think prompted his exhortation in this passage? (See Overview of Focal Passage.)

2.     What exhortation did Paul issue in this passage (v. 1)?

3.     On what grounds was his appeal based (v. 1a)?

4.     How would you explain to a non-believer the idea of walking “worthy of the calling you have received, . . . “ (v. 1b)?

5.     How does your life reveal that you are walking in that calling (v. 1b)?

6.     What are some things a believer could do to increase their humility? their gentleness? their patience? their acceptance of others?

7.     What are four attitudes that ought to characterize believers’ daily conduct (v. 2)?

8.     What one word stands behind each of these attitudes (v. 2)?

9.     Do you think a believer’s lifestyle will exhibit each of these attitudes if this one word is not imbedded within their being?

10.  If not, why not?

11.  How does love manifest itself in each of these four attitudes?

12.  How would you explain the meaning of accepting one another in love (v. 2b)?  (See commentaries on this attitude.)

13.  How would you summarize these two verses in one word?

14.  If you were thinking of the word unity,  what is the implication of this word for the child of God in His church?

15.  “Unity within God’s church is a given, but staying unified takes work.”   Do you agree or disagree with this statement?

16.  If you disagree, why?  If you agree, what is implied by the word work as it relates to each believer? 

17.  What are some things a believer can do to promote and maintain unity within the body of the church?

18.  What in these verses do you find most difficult to apply?


Lasting Lessons in Eph. 4:1-2:

1.  God commands us to live in ways that reflect both His call and the Holy Spirit’s indwelling presence in our lives.

2.  The qualities of humility, patience, and gentleness help us accept other Christians.

3.  Love both helps us accept other Christians and exercise humility patience, and gentleness.



Strive To Keep Unity (Eph. 4:3)

3 diligently keeping the unity of the Spirit with the peace that binds us.

1.     Who is the source of unity?

2.     What is our part in keeping the unity of the Spirit?

3.     Why is this important to the well-being of the church?

4.     What does the word diligently mean?

5.     What does the word imply when applied to keeping the unity of the Spirit?

6.     Do you think this word helps a believer stay focused on their behavior?  Why, or why not?

7.     How would you describe the peace that bind us?

8.     How should being at peach with God affect being at peace with one another?

9.     Do you believe that “accepting one another in love” (v. 2) is the requirement for “diligently keeping the unity of the Spirit” (v. 3)? Why, or why not?

10.  What do you think most often erodes unity and thwarts teamwork in the church?

11.  How would you describe the effect that gossip and unforgiveness has on the unity with a church?

12.  How should a congregation deal with this kind of problem within its body?

13.  Why does maintaining unity within the body of the church require so much work?


Lasting Lessons in Eph. 4:3:

1.  Believers must work to keep the unity the Spirit brings.

2.  The peace Christ gives brings about unity.



Unity Is Built On The Oneness of God (Eph. 4:4-6)

4 There is one body and one Spirit—just as you were called to one hope, at your calling—5 one Lord, one faith, one baptism, 6 one God and Father of all, who is above all and through all and in all.

1.     Why do you think the number one is so important that Paul used it seven times in these verse?

2.     To what one hope were you called?

3.     What do you think Paul’s emphasis on the number “one” tells us about the importance of unity?

4.     What are the seven factors Paul pointed out that make for unity in the church?

5.     How would you define each?

6.     How would you explain the role of each “one” of these factors in building church unity?

7.     What do the last three phrases in verse 6 (above all and through all and in all) tell us about God’s relationship to creation?

8.     Do you think these three phrases should have an impact on the relationship He wants with us?  If so, why?

9.     How would you explain these seven elements of church unity to a new member?

10.  Since churches are made up of a diverse body of believers, how am I to maintain an attitude of unity?

11.  How have you seen Christians who differ from one another practice unity?

12.  The Spirit within us is our guarantee of the one hope we share, how do we utilize that same Spirit to maintain unity?

13.  What steps can we take to model unity in our church and community?


Lasting Lessons in Eph. 4:4-6:

1.  The Spirit working in believers, enables them to become one body, the church.

2.  Although we call God “Father, Son and Spirit,” He is three in one.

3.  The oneness of God is the foundation for unity in the church.





The study in this session reminds us all that unity is the responsibility of each member of the body—the church.  It reminds us that unity is a matter of the heart, our attitudes, and the work of the Holy Spirit.  It is the Spirit that makes us one; it is our responsibility by the power of the Spirit dwelling within us to stay as one!  There is an old saying:  “It’s a tough job, but somebody has to do it.  When it comes to church unity, that “somebody” includes all of us.

As you think about the truths from this study on church unity, how is your attitude toward promoting and/or maintaining unity within your church?  What is your role?  Do you see yourself as “one” in the Spirit of unity? Or are you prone to gossip and/or unforgiveness?  On a scale of 1 (not much) to 10 (very), how active are you in promoting and/or maintaining your church unity?  Are you as active as you should be?  If not, ask God to guide you to a more active role.  He will!

What are the implications of these truths for your life?  THE CHOICE IS YOURS, ISN’T IT!

REMEMBER, the safest place for a believer is in the center of God’s will.


Lesson Outline, Introduction, Discussion Questions, and Conclusion adapted from the following sources:

SOURCE: Life Ventures-Bible Studies for Life; Leader Guide; LifeWay Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention; Nashville, TN.

SOURCE: The Herschel Hobbs Commentary; Family Bible Study; by Robert J. Dean; LifeWay Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention; 1 LifeWay Plaza, Nashville, TN.

SOURCE: Advanced Bible Study; LifeWay Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention; One LifeWay Plaza, Nashville, TN.



Connected in Unity — Lesson Outline & Commentary

Focal Passage from three different translations of God’s Word:

King James Version: Ephesians 4:1-6:

1 I therefore, the prisoner of the Lord, beseech you that ye walk worthy of the vocation wherewith ye are called, 2 With all lowliness and meekness, with longsuffering, forbearing one another in love; 3 Endeavouring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.  4 There is one body, and one Spirit, even as ye are called in one hope of your calling; 5 One Lord, one faith, one baptism,  6 One God and Father of all, who is above all, and through all, and in you all.  (KJV)

New International Version: Ephesians 4:1-6:

1 As a prisoner for the Lord, then, I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received.  2 Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love.  3 Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace.  4 There is one body and one Spirit—just as you were called to one hope when you were called—5 one Lord, one faith, one baptism; 6 one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.  (NIV)

New Living Translation: Ephesians 4:1-6:

1 Therefore I, a prisoner for serving the Lord, beg you to lead a life worthy of your calling, for you have been called by God.  2 Always be humble and gentle. Be patient with each other, making allowance for each other’s faults because of your love.  3 Make every effort to keep yourselves united in the Spirit, binding yourselves together with peace.  4 For there is one body and one Spirit, just as you have been called to one glorious hope for the future.  5 There is one Lord, one faith, one baptism, 6 and one God and Father, who is over all and in all and living through all.  (NLT)





Accept Each Other With Humility (Eph. 4:1-2)

Strive To Keep Unity (Eph. 4:3)

Unity Is Built On The Oneness of God (Eph. 4:4-6)

(NOTE:  Commentary for the focal passage comes from three sources: The Expositor’s Bible Commentary New Testament,Believer’s Bible Commentary,” andThe Complete Biblical Library Commentary,” and is provided for your study.)

The Expositor’s Bible Commentary New Testament; Eph. 4:1-6:

The Unity of the Church (4:1-6)

The opening of chapter 4 marks the principal transition of the entire Epistle. As is his method in other writings, Paul turns from the doctrinal to the practical. It must not be imagined, however, that the break is complete. Theology is not left behind but interwoven with the moral exhortations that make up the bulk of chapters 4-6. Nor does the liturgical style, so apparent in chapters 1-3, disappear altogether. The predominant hortatory element may reflect the content and method of Paul’s sermons set here in a context of praise and worship. It is highly significant that the first item on the agenda is the need for Christians to live together in love and unity.

4:1. Does the retrospective “then” (oun) connect only with Ephesians 3:20, 21 or with what precedes those verses? Some consider that the whole doctrinal section is under review, but it is more probable that Paul has in mind certain references in chapters 1-3 to spiritual privileges and the Christian’s calling (3:6, 12, 14-19; cf. 1:18; 4:4).

It is “as a prisoner for the Lord” (cf. Eph 3:1, 6:20) that Paul makes his appeal. The verb (parakaleo; NIV, “urge”) can mean either to entreat or to exhort: in this case it is the latter. What the apostle urges is that the Ephesians may lead the sort of life that matches their Christian vocation. “Worthy” (axios) is literally “bringing up the other beam of the scales” and hence indicates equivalence (TDNT, 1:379). Paul is insisting that there shall be a balance between profession and practice. So he provides a criterion by which possible courses of action can be weighed. Christians will always seek to do what is most in keeping with their vocation. By definition it is a calling they have received (literally, “with which they were called”)—not one they have acquired by self-effort. Those who share such a divine call constitute the church, the called-out company (ekklesia).

4:2. The apostle now specifies four graces that evidence this essential proportion between calling and character: humility, gentleness, patience, and forbearance. These are all qualities necessary for good relations with others in the Christian community and beyond. The word for humility (tapeinophrosyne) occurs five times in Paul and only once elsewhere in the NT. The adjective and verb are found in LXX. In classical Greek, tapeinos is a derogatory term suggesting low-mindedness and groveling servility. The adjective was redeemed by the gospel to represent a distinctively Christian virtue, and this euphonious noun was coined to stand over against the admired high-mindedness of the heathen. Linked with humility is gentleness (prautes) or considerateness. The element of restraint is included so that it denotes controlled strength and not supine weakness.

Patience (makrothymia) or clemency is a characteristic of God himself. It can mean steadfastness in the endurance of suffering but more often in the NT it describes reluctance to avenge wrongs. It is to be displayed to other Christians and to everyone else (Rom 12:10, 18). Patience finds its expression in loving forbearance (Col 3:18). To bear with another (literally, “hold him up”) is to put up with his faults and idiosyncracies, knowing that we have our own. Love is a recurring theme in Ephesians. The four graces Paul recommends here are all aspects of love and exemplified to perfection in Christ (Philippians 2:2, 5).

4:3. The absence of these qualities may jeopardize Christian unity. That is why Paul presses his readers to exert all their powers to maintain the oneness in Christ that binds all believers to each other because they are bound by him and to him. The verb (spouclazontes) suggests difficulty and a resolute determination to overcome it. It is assumed that unity between Christians already exists as given in Christ (Eph 2:13-18) by the Spirit. The “one Spirit” (v. 4) is the agent of unity. What Paul envisages is not “a vague spiritual identity, but rather a profound oneness made possible by God’s Spirit” (Johnston, p. 18).

“Peace” is the clasp that ensures that this God-given unity will not fall apart. The “bond” (syndesmos) strengthens rather than hampers. In Colossians 2:19 Paul uses it with reference to the ligaments of the body and in Colossians 3:14 figuratively of the love that holds Christians together.

4:4. The reasons why those who belong to Christ should be eager to preserve their unity are now supplied in a crescendo of nouns. In three groups of three items each, Paul’s thought ascends from the realization of unity in the Spirit to the focus of unity in the Son and thence to the source of unity in the Father.

“One body” depicts the church as a single visible community. It is not simply a mystical concept. Its unity is recognizable in that Jews and Gentiles are now seen to be reconciled in Christ. In the pagan world there were many religious cults to choose from. Christians, on the other hand, were all members of one body.

“One Spirit” indwells the body of Christ. By him the body lives and moves (1Cor 12:13). The Spirit is its soul; apart from him it cannot exist. The same Spirit fell on the Jews at Pentecost and on the Gentiles in the house of Cornelius. The “one Spirit” who has already spanned this widest of all gulfs will bring together all other diverse groups within the church.

The Holy Spirit is the pledge of our inheritance (Eph 1:14) and so he is the guarantor of the “one hope” to which we are called (Eph 1:18; 2:12). This is not the hope that stems from the calling but the hope that belongs to the call (v. 1). It is, of course, the hope of sharing Christ’s glory at the end of the age (1 John 3:2). There is no differentiation between Jewish and Gentile Christians. This eschatological expectation is entertained equally by all.

4:5. The second trio of unities is related to the “one Lord” or master to whom all Christians owe their allegiance. The three expressions may well be intended to convey a single idea, as Scott has surmised, i.e., “one Lord in whom we all believe and in whose name we are baptized” (p. 204). Certainly Christ is central. He is the sole Head of his body the church. Christians are only such through trusting him and acknowledging his name. The pagan world spawned many lords. Christianity has only one whose claim is absolute. That is why believers cannot call anyone else Lord even to escape death.

“One faith” in the one Lord unites all true believers. Faith here is personal commitment to Christ, yet it is not purely subjective. It involves a recognition of who he is as Son of God and Savior of men. It is thus “one allegiance and one profession of allegiance.”

“One baptism” is the external seal of incorporation into the body of Christ. Falling as it does in the second triad (related to Christ) and not in the first (related to the Spirit), it appears to indicate water baptism and not primarily the baptism with the Spirit of which water baptism is the sign. Baptism is regarded as the sacrament of unity. In the Christian church baptisms are not multiplied as with the Jews (Heb 6:2). There are not even two baptisms—one of John and one of Jesus. There is “one baptism” symbolizing identification with Christ in his death and resurrection, sealing with the Spirit, and incorporation into the body of Christ, so that all Christians become one person in Christ Jesus (Eph 1:13; 2:5, 6; 3:15). Baptism is one because it makes one. It provides the evidence that all Christians, without discrimination as to color, race, sex, age, or class, share the grace of Christ. If we ask why Paul does not at this point mention the other dominical sacrament, that of the Lord’s Supper (cf. “one bread” in 1Cor 10:17), the answer may be that he regards the eucharist not as a prerequisite of unity but an expression of it.

4:6. The last in the ascending scale (though the first in terms of cause) is the Father. As Zerwick (p. 104) points out, he is not associated with other unities like the one Spirit and the one Lord. He stands alone. The triple note, which is still to be found, merely divides up his modes of action. There is “one God” not many as in pagan culture (1Cor 8:5, 6). He is the “Father of all” with particular reference to his redemptive paternity. Yet his creative fatherhood is not entirely ruled out in view of what follows.

If the first “all” is exclusively personal, the rest are not necessarily so. It looks as if Paul now regards the body of Christ in its cosmic aspect (as in Eph 1:23). God reigns “over” (epi) all in his transcendent sovereignty. He works “through” (dia) all in his creative activity. He dwells “in” (en) all by reason of his immanent pervasiveness.

The trinitarian structure of vv. 4, 5 bears out the assumption that here we have an incipient creed. It was on the basis of such biblical passages that the historic affirmations of faith were developed. The reiteration of “one” distinguishes Eastern from Western creeds (the Nicene Creed has “I believe in one God the Father Almighty”).

SOURCE: The Expositor’s Bible Commentary New Testament; Frank E. Gaebelein; General Editor; Zondervan Publishing House; A Division of Harper Collins Publishers


Believer's Bible Commentary: Eph. 4:1-6

Appeal for Unity in the Christian Fellowship (4:1-6)

4:1. There is a major break at this point in Ephesians. The previous chapters have dealt with the Christian's calling. In the last three chapters, he is urged to walk worthy of his calling. The position into which grace has lifted us was the dominant theme up to now. From here on it will be the practical outworking of that position. Our exalted standing in Christ calls for corresponding godly conduct. So it is true that Ephesians moves from the heavenlies in chapters 1-3, to the local church, to the home, and to general society in chapters 4-6. As Stott has pointed out, these closing chapters teach that "we must cultivate unity in the church, purity in our personal lives, harmony in our homes and stability in our combat with the powers of evil."

For the second time Paul refers to himself as a prisoner—this time as a prisoner of the Lord. Theodoret comments: "What the world counted ignominy, he counts the highest honor, and he glories in his bonds for Christ, more than a king in his diadem."

As one who was imprisoned as a result of faithfulness and obedience to the Lord, Paul exhorts his readers to walk worthy of their calling. He does not command or direct. With tenderness and gentleness he appeals to them in the language of grace.

The word, walk, is found seven times in this Letter (2:2, 10; 4:1, 17; 5:2, 8, 15); it describes a person's entire lifestyle. A worthy walk is one that is consistent with a Christian's dignified position as a member of the Body of Christ.

4:2. In every sphere of life, it is important to show a Christlike spirit. This consists of:

Lowliness—a genuine humility that comes from association with the Lord Jesus. Lowliness makes us conscious of our own nothingness and enables us to esteem others better than ourselves. It is the opposite of conceit and arrogance.

Gentleness—the attitude that submits to God's dealings without rebellion, and to man's unkindness without retaliation. It is best seen in the life of Him who said, "I am gentle and lowly in heart." Wright comments:

What an astonishingly wonderful statement! The One who made the worlds, who flung the stars into space and calls them by name, who preserves the innumerable constellations in their courses, who weighs the mountains in scales and the hills in a balance, who takes up the isles as a very little thing, who holds the waters of the ocean in the hollow of His hand, before whom the inhabitants of the earth are as grasshoppers, when He comes into human life finds Himself as essentially meek and lowly in heart. It is not that He erected a perfect human ideal and accommodated Himself to it; He was that.

Longsuffering—an even disposition and a spirit of patience under prolonged provocation. This has been illustrated as follows: Imagine a puppy and a big dog together. As the puppy barks at the big dog, worrying and attacking him, the big dog, who could snap up the puppy with one bite, patiently puts up with the puppy's impertinence.

Bearing with one another in love—that is, making allowance for the faults and failures of others, or differing personalities, abilities, and temperaments. And it is not a question of maintaining a façade of courtesy while inwardly seething with resentment. It means positive love to those who irritate, disturb, or embarrass.

4:3.  Endeavoring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. In forming the church, God had eliminated the greatest division that had ever existed among human beings—the rift between Jews and Gentiles. In Christ Jesus these distinctions were abolished. But how would it work out in their life together? Would there still be lingering antagonisms? Would there be a tendency to form a "Jewish Church of Christ" and a "Church for the Nations?" To guard against any divisions or smoldering animosities, Paul now pleads for unity among Christians.

They should give diligence to keep the unity of the Spirit. The Holy Spirit has made all true believers one in Christ; the Body is indwelt by one Spirit. This is a basic unity that nothing can destroy. But by quarreling and bickering, believers can act as if it were not so. To keep the unity of the Spirit means to live at peace with one another. Peace is the ligament which binds the members of the Body together in spite of their wide natural differences. A common reaction when differences arise is to divide and start another party. The spiritual reaction is this: "In essentials, unity. In doubtful questions, liberty. In all things, charity." There is enough of the flesh in every one of us to wreck any local church or any other work of God. Therefore, we must submerge our own petty, personal whims and attitudes, and work together in peace for the glory of God and for common blessing.

4:4.  Instead of magnifying differences, we should think of the seven positive realities which form the basis of true Christian unity.

One body. In spite of differences in race, color, nationality, culture, language, and temperament, there is only one body, made up of all true believers from Pentecost to the Rapture. Denominations, sects, and parties hinder the outworking of this truth. All such man-made divisions will be swept away when the Savior returns. Therefore, our watchword at the present time should be, "Let names and sects and parties fall, and Jesus Christ be all in all."

One Spirit. The same Holy Spirit who indwells each believer individually (1 Cor. 6:19) also indwells the Body of Christ (1 Cor. 3:16).

One hope. Every member of the church is called to one destiny—to be with Christ, to be like Him, and to share His glory endlessly. The one hope includes all that awaits the saints at the Return of the Lord Jesus and thereafter.

4:5.  One Lord. "For even if there are so-called gods, whether in heaven or on earth (as there are many gods and many lords), yet for us there is one God,... and one Lord Jesus Christ, through whom are all things, and through whom we live" (1 Cor. 8:5, 6; see also 1 Cor. 1:2.)

One faith. This is the Christian faith, the body of doctrine "once for all delivered to the saints" (Jude 3), and preserved for us in the NT.

One baptism. There is a twofold sense in which this is true. First, there is one baptism by the Spirit, by which those who trust Christ are placed in the body (1 Cor. 12:13). Then there is one baptism by which converts confess their identification with Christ in death, burial, and resurrection. Though there are different modes of baptism today, the NT recognizes one believers' baptism, in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. By being baptized, disciples express allegiance to Christ, the burial of their old self, and a determination to walk in newness of life.

4:6.  One God. Every child of God recognizes one God and Father of all the redeemed, who is:

Above all—He is the supreme Sovereign of the universe.

Through all—He acts through all, using everything to accomplish His purposes.

In you all—He dwells in all believers, and is present in all places at one and the same time.

SOURCE: Believer's Bible Commentary; by William MacDonald; Copyright © 1995, 1992, 1990, 1989 by William McDonald. Database © 2014 WORDsearch.


The Complete Biblical Library Commentary: Eph. 4:1-6

4:1. This chapter begins the practical section of Ephesians. Paul normally balanced his epistles with a theological portion and a practical portion. The "therefore" of verse 1 serves as a bridge connecting all the apostle had written up to this point with what follows.

In the Greek text "beseech" (parakalō) is first in the sentence for emphasis. Paul was concerned that believers should cross the bridge from analysis to action, from theology to morality, from Christian faith to Christian life, from the revelation of doctrine to the development of practice. He made this very strong appeal as "the prisoner of the Lord."

Verses 1-16 describe the unity and diversity of the New Testament Church. Paul began his exhortation by appealing to the Ephesians to live lives worthy of the calling God had given them. "Worthy" (axiōs) is an adverb of manner used with scales. Basically it means "bringing up the other beam of the scales" or "bringing into equilibrium." It carries the idea of one thing being the equivalent of another thing. In other words, a Christian's practice should "weigh as much as" or "be equivalent to" his profession. If it truly does "weigh as much as," that person will be doing what the whole Book of Ephesians tells him to do.

4:2. Furthermore, it will be reflected in the three qualities mentioned in verse 2. The first two, "lowliness and meekness," refer to a person's attitude toward self. A person with a proper balance between profession and practice will be humble, will not be full of haughty pride. A truly humble individual will be in balance, not thinking too highly of himself, nor, at the other extreme, putting himself down. Such a person will also be meek, which is the opposite of self-assertion. The third quality, forbearance, is a social virtue, expressing the ability to be patient with the weaknesses of other people.

4:3. The absence of these three qualities will definitely jeopardize Christian unity. Unity does not just happen. Because this is a present tense idea, we must constantly work at it.

4:4. The apostle then gave the perfect example of unity—that which is exhibited among the members of the Trinity. They never disagree. Verse 4 describes the work of the Holy Spirit. There is one Body, and the Holy Spirit is the One who makes us members of it. As a result, we share "one hope," an expectant attitude concerning the second coming of Christ and all the benefits related to it.

4:5. Verse 5 reminds us that there is only one Lord. When Paul wrote these words, nearly every cult of mystery religion had its own lord. However, the New Testament has only one Head, the Lord Jesus Christ, and He is the only means of access into His church.

The term "faith" is used several different ways in the Scriptures. Sometimes it relates to the subjective placing of confidence in God; sometimes it refers to the body of doctrine that believers accept; sometimes it refers to a means of access. The last is the use in this context.

The statement concerning "one baptism" does not deny the reality of other types of baptism (in water, in the Holy Spirit, in suffering) but refers to the one baptism without which the others would not be possible—the baptism into the body of Christ (1 Corinthians 12:13).

4:6. The Father is described as the One who originated all that verses 4 and 5 describe. The Father is sovereign ("above all"), the sustainer ("through all"), and the One who gives the energy for all that happens ("in... all").

SOURCE: The Complete Biblical Library Commentary – Acts.  Database © 2009 WORDsearch Corp.; World Library Press, Inc.



Humility and gentleness—Along with several other qualities mentioned in verses 2-3, these two terms describe how you can “walk worthy of the calling you have received” (v. 1).  Whether we use the word humility, “lowliness” (KJV), “modesty” or “meekness,” this term describes persons who have a correct estimation of their value—which doesn’t mean self-depredation or degradation.  For us as believers, this term reflects the fact that we have turned over control of our rights and realized our position before God, that everything we have and are is a gift from God and thus we properly evaluate ourselves.  While related to humility, the word gentleness or “meekness” (KJV) stresses the result that a proper valuation of ourselves makes in our conduct.  The gentle or meek person is not a weak person; on the contrary, he/she exercises strength under control.  For believers, this control belongs to God who exercises it through the Holy Spirit.

SOURCE: Advanced Bible Study; LifeWay Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention; One LifeWay Plaza, Nashville, TN.

Humility:  A personal quality in which an individual shows dependence on God and respect for other persons.

Old Testament:  The Old Testament connects the quality of humility with Israel’s lowly experience as slaves in Egypt—a poor, afflicted, and suffering people (Deut. 26:6). The Hebrew word translated as humility is similar to another Hebrew word meaning “to be afflicted.” In Old Testament thought, humility was closely associated with individuals who were poor and afflicted (2 Sam. 22:28).

What God desires most is not outward sacrifices but a humble spirit (Psa. 51:17; Mic. 6:8). Such a humble spirit shows itself in several ways: (1) a recognition of one’s sinfulness before a holy God (Isa. 6:5); (2) obedience to God (Deut. 8:2); and (3) submission to God (2 Kings 22:19; 2 Chron. 34:37).

The Old Testament promised blessings to those who were humble: (1) wisdom (Prov. 11:2); (2) good tidings (Isa. 61:1); and (3) honor (Prov. 15:33).

The experience of many kings indicated that those who humble themselves before God will be exalted (1 Kings 21:29; 2 Kings 22:19; 2 Chron. 32:26; 33:12, 19). Those who do not humble themselves before God will be afflicted (2 Chron. 33:23; 36:12). The pathway to revival is the way of humility (2 Chron. 7:14).

New Testament:  Jesus Christ’s life provides the best example of what it means to have humility (Matt. 11:29; 1 Cor. 4:21; Phil. 2:1-11). Jesus preached and taught often about the need for humility (Matt. 23:12; Mark 9:35; Luke 14:11; 18:14). He urged those who desired to live by Kingdom standards to practice humility (Matt. 18:1; 23:12).

The person with humility does not look down on others (Matt. 18:4; Luke 14:11). Humility in the New Testament is closely connected with the quality of “meekness” (Matt. 5:5). While God resists those who are proud, He provides grace for the humble (Jas. 4:6). Primary in the New Testament is the conviction that one who has humility will not be overly concerned about his or her prestige (Matt. 18:4; 23:12; Rom. 12:16; 2 Cor. 11:7).

Paul believed that quality relationships with other people, especially those who had erred spiritually, hinged on the presence of meekness or humility (1 Cor. 4:21; Gal. 6:1; 2 Tim. 2:25). The New Testament affirms, as does the Old Testament, that God will exalt those who are humble and bring low those who are proud (Luke 1:52; Jas 4:10; 1 Pet. 5:6). The Greek world abhorred the quality of meekness or humility, but the Christian community believed these qualities were worthy (2 Cor. 10:18; Col. 3:12; Eph. 4:2).

SOURCE: Holman Bible Dictionary; General Editor, David S. Dockery; Holman Bible Publishers; Nashville, Tennessee.

Lowliness and meekness: Paul identified these two moral qualities or attitudes in verse 2 as essential for living in a manner consistent with new life in Christ.  Lowliness and meekness, or humility and gentleness (HCSB), were not popular attributes in the Greek culture.  Generally, they were regarded as traits of weakness.  In Christ the qualities are redefined as marks of spiritual strength.  Such attitudes are learned of Christ and witness to the presence of the Holy Spirit within the believer.

SOURCE: The Herschel Hobbs Commentary; Family Bible Study; by Robert J. Dean; LifeWay Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention; 1 LifeWay Plaza, Nashville, TN.

Meekness:  A personality trait of gentleness and humility, the opposite of which is pride. Meekness does not refer to weakness or passivity but to controlled power. Aristotle described meekness as the middle position between excessive anger and an excessive lack of anger.

Meekness or gentleness is exemplified by God (2 Sam. 22:36, Ps. 18:35), Moses (Num. 12:1-13), and Jesus (Zech. 9:9, Matt. 11:29, 12:14-21; 21:5). In the Old Testament the meek were often the poor and the oppressed (Amos 2:7; 8:4; Job 24:4; Ps. 9:18; Pr. 3:34; 16:19). The Hebrew word translated meek (anaw) means, “wretched, impoverished, oppressed, in need, bowed over,” but came to mean, “humble, pious.”

The meek receive the special concern of God and are called blessed (Ps. 37:11; Matt. 5:5). God identifies with the poor and oppressed, hears their pleas, and helps them (Pss. 10:17; 22:26; 25:9; 147:6; 149:4). The Messiah will also have a special ministry to the meek (Isa. 11:4; 61:1; Luke 4:18).

Christians are encouraged to be meek (Eph. 4:1-2; Col. 3:12). Meekness is a fruit of the Spirit (Gal. 5:23) and should mark the Christian’s attitude toward sinners (Gal. 6:1). Paul was meek with the Corinthians (1 Cor. 4:21). Pastors should be meek and teach meekness (1 Tim. 6:11; 2 Tim. 2:25; Titus 3:2). Christians should receive God’s Word with meekness (Jas. 1:21). Wisdom is expressed with meekness (Jas. 3:13). Christian wives can witness to their unbelieving husbands with their meek spirit (1 Pet. 3:1-4). All Christians should be prepared to give a defense of their faith in meekness (1 Pet. 3:15).

SOURCE: Holman Bible Dictionary; General Editor, David S. Dockery; Holman Bible Publishers; Nashville, Tennessee.

Christian Unity:  Christian unity is founded on each Christian’s commitment to the one God. Common submission to His person and will should result in a church united in worship, fellowship, and service. Both this fact, and the conflicting fact of churches frequently fractured, is the testimony of the NT.

The Gospel of John reminds the church that oneness was the Lord’s design for His followers (John 17:20-23). Jesus’ prayer for every generation of believers was that “all of them may be one” (John 17:21). This unity with one another stems from a shared oneness with the Father and Son. The stated intent is that “the world may believe” in Jesus through the united testimony of His disciples.

John made a similar point to a church in turmoil. Those in fellowship with God (those who “walk in the light”) share a resultant fellowship of love (1 John 1:5-7). The absence of this Christlike love, which should characterize the “light,” is no small matter. A loveless, divisive Christianity is not Christianity at all. It is a type of heresy (1 John 2:9-11,15,19).

Paul also prayed for unity in the church and often exhorted believers to maintain oneness. His prayers identify the basis of unity as the one Father, the work of the one Spirit, and believers’ common bond to Christ (Rom 15:5-6; Eph 4:3-6; Phil 2:1-2). Frequent references to unity reveal both its importance and the challenge of maintaining it in the church.

It is important because it glorifies the Father and the Son. Thus it is appropriate for believers, and it provides a witness to unbelievers (Rom 5:6-7). Paul’s actions illustrate how crucial this was to him. His conflict with Peter (Gal 2:11-14), the Jerusalem Council (Acts 15), and the offering for the saints in Jerusalem (2 Cor 8-9) were all attempts both to defend the truth of the gospel and to maintain the unity of the church.

Yet the church experienced divisions. Selfishness, immaturity, conceit, and an unforgiving attitude are identified as common, root causes (Rom 15:7; 1 Cor 3:1-4; Phil 2:1-4; Jas 4:1-12). Even apparently mature Christians could place personal feelings or interests ahead of the good of the gospel and thus generate divisions. Individuals in conflict could also gather into warring factions and endanger the life and witness of the church (Acts 6:1-4; Gal 2:11-13; Phil 4:2-3; 3 John 9-10).

Believers were exhorted to recognize these pitfalls and avoid them. They were to emphasize the church’s common purpose rather than focus on the ambitions of individuals (John 17:21; Phil 2:2). They were to accept others (forgiving faults and accepting differences) as Christ had accepted them (Rom 15:7; Col 3:13-14). Also, like Christ, they were to promote the well-being of others, not narrowly pursue their own goals (Phil 2:3-4). The true “yokefellow” was exhorted not only to govern his own actions but also to promote unity where there was conflict (Phil 4:2-4).

The NT makes clear the basis for unity in the body of Christ. Jesus, Paul, John, and others frequently emphasized its importance and its rewards. The church, therefore, in every generation bears the responsibility of making unity a reality.

SOURCE: Holman Bible Handbook; General Editor David S. Dockery; Holman Bible Publishers; Nashville, Tennessee.




“SEALED” A Word Study

By Jerry M. Windsor

Jerry M. Windsor is associate professor of preaching, Florida Baptist Theological College, Graceville, Florida.


HE FIRST TIME I met the girl I would later marry, I told my college roommate that one day I wanted to marry “a girl like that.”  Five years later, that impression became a reality, but that early encounter was the beginning of our life together.

We shared phone calls, letter, dates, and special events.  One day I saw for sale in a stationary store a special wax seal and all of the needed attachments to seal letters.  I bought those items and was then able not only to write the one I loved but also to seal my notes and letters to her with a special personal mark and insignia.

Impressions and Seals

The custom of using seals and impressments was an ancient rite that aided in identifying objects with a mark, letter, sign, or words.  The earliest seal instruments and concepts probably had their start in the religious world and then spread to secular culture.  Common images such as fish, doves, swords, bows, and ships were used in early seals1

Researchers have identified many types of seals, but the oldest physical seal forms were probably the Babylonian roll seals and seal cylinders that date back to as early as 3000 B.C.  Artisans cut figures, signs, and marks into the surface of the cylinder, and the user then rolled the cylinder on damp clay.  By 1300 B.C., the Egyptians were also using a seal ring.

In the Biblical Era – Archaeologists have not identified any royal seals that they can link to a specific Old Testament king.  Yet sealing documents was both known and practiced in that era.  Personal signet rings, property markings, legal insignias, religious inscriptions, and special stone cuttings go back before 2000 B.C.2

The New Testament uses the word for “seal” 32 times in its noun and verb forms.  John used the word twice in his general writings (John 3:33; 6:27) and 22 times in the Book of Revelation.  Matthew used the word once (27:66) – and Paul 7 times in his epistles.  Our emphasis will be Paul’s use of the word “sealed” in Ephesians 1:13 and 4:30.3

In the Book of Ephesians – Paul expressed the crown and climax of his theology in the Book of Ephesians.  The theology of this book is as grand as salvation itself and is wedded with moral and ethical demands for holy living.  In Ephesians, Paul blended the story of Jesus with the principles for successful Christian living.  This moral, ethical, and holy behavior all pours forth from being “sealed” by the Holy Spirit.

In Ephesians 1:13, Paul said that unbelievers become followers of Christ as they hear the Word of God, believe the Word of God, and then are sealed by the Holy Spirit.  The sealing is part of the work of the Holy Spirit, who enlightens, guides, and transforms the believer.

Ephesians 4:30 goes further by informing believers about the permanency of the sealing by the Spirit.  There Paul affirmed the Holy Spirit seals us until “the day of redemption.”  Echoing Jesus’ concept of believers being help firmly in the Father’s hand (John 10:29), Paul emphasized the enduring security of the believer’s status in Christ.  As a wax seal confirmed the security of a letter’s contents until that letter was delivered to the recipient, so the Holy Spirit confirms the believer’s security until he or she is to be delivered to the Father.

This sealing is the gift of the Spirit and is different from gifts of the Spirit.  The prophets predicted the Spirit (Joel 2:28), and Jesus reaffirmed the coming and work of the Spirit (John 16).  Salvation is attributed to the work of Christ as persons respond in faith.  The sealing is the Holy Spirit’s act of approval, confirmation, and support.

Interpretations of “Sealed”

Some individuals have argued that the Holy Spirit does the sealing but the seal itself is the act of baptism.  Some individuals who uphold this thought have gone on to say baptism is the seal and therefore has sacramental or saving powers.  Still others have tried to link Paul’s teachings about baptism with circumcision.  As circumcision was the external mark of a follower of God under the old covenant, so baptism is the outward mark (or external “seal”) for the new covenant believer.  Careful study of this argument shows that it leads to a salvation-by-works theology.  The New Testament, though, teaches believers are baptized because of the remission of sins and not to gain the remission of sins.

E. Y. Mullins offered an explanation by saying the Spirit’s sealing is not an outward sign but more of “a spiritual bestowment.”  He said “the seal is the Holy Spirit.”  Mullins pointed out that things receive “an outward mark, or badge, or impression, but the Holy Spirit is the appropriate seal for persons.”4

We should be careful to note that the sealing is not the guarantee of our spiritual inheritance; the Holy Spirit is (Eph. 1:13-14).  The Holy Spirit’s seal is the end of the salvation experience, but it is the front end.

Implications for the “Sealed

If sealing is the Holy Spirit’s presence, then some specific teachings about being sealed cannot be ignored.  Four biblical truths can help enlarge our thinking on being sealed.

First, the sealing of the Holy Spirit has a specific beginning. Before the Holy Spirit came to seal the believer, the individual first heard and believed the Word of God (v. 13). These events occurred before the lost person was incorporated into God’s family.

Second, the seal of the Holy Spirit is continuous.  God designed this action as part of the believer’s salvation.  Mullins pointed out that the Holy Spirit attended the preaching, hearing, and believing of the Word.  When we are under conviction because of sin in our lives, the Holy Spirit leads us to confession and repentance.  After we hear and respond in sincere faith, the Spirit takes up residence in the believers and is a continuous sign of divine presence within us.5

Third, the seal of the Holy Spirit empowers us.  Marcus Barth in his commentary on Ephesians stated that the Holy Spirit enables us to do things we could not do on our own.  The Holy Spirit’s presence provides believers more than assurance of salvation and personal peace of mind.  The Holy Spirit gives believers a mission.6

Fourth, the seal of the Holy Spirit has ethical implications.  Many first-century Christians in places such as Ephesus were Gentile converts.  They had religious backgrounds, but were steeped in pagan culture and lifestyles.  Some had yet to align their morals and behavior with their Christian confession.  Paul reminded them that hearing and believing the gospel also brought the Holy Spirit requirement of the highest morality in personal and social interactions.7

We grieve the Spirit when we sin.  But as believers we are sealed with a view to the final deliverance from all sin on that day of redemption.  Then we will be in a state of completed redemption and in perfect conformity to the will of God and the image of our Lord Jesus Christ.8 That state of eternal bliss is reserved for those persons who bear the mark, the stamp, the seal of the Holy Spirit in their lives.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                         Bi

1 Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, Gerhard Friedrich, ed., Geoffrey W. Bromiley, trans., vol. 7 (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1971), 939-940.

2 Ibid, 940-946.

3 New Testament Theology, Colin Brown, ed;, vol. 3 (Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 1978), 499-501.

4 E. Y. Mullins, Studies in Ephesians (Nashville: The Sunday School Board of the Southern Baptist Convention, 1935), 37-38, E. Y. Mullins was president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, KY 1899-1928 and was president of the Southern Baptist Convention 1921-1924.

5 Ibid.

6 Marcus Barth, Ephesians (Garden City, New York: Doubleday and Company, Inc., 1974), 135-143.

7 Ralph P. Martin, “Ephesians” in The Broadman Bible Commentary, vol. 11 (Nashville: Broadman Press, 1971), 125-127.

8 Mullins. 107-108.

SOURCE: Biblical Illustrator; LifeWay Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention; Nashville, TN 37234; Vol. 30, Number 3; Spring 2004



By Paul N. Jackson

Paul N. Jackson is associate professor of Christian Studies, Union University, Jackson, Tennessee.


HIS YEAR OUR NATION celebrates its 229th year of independence – freedom from the shackles of servitude and bondage to England.  This celebration of liberation causes me to think of the day I received Christ and was delivered from the crushing sentence of sin.  I was a 12-year-oldboy at the Venetian Hills Baptist Church in Atlanta, Georgia in 1968.  Also as I wrote this article, I was preparing a message about the most dramatic biblical example of liberation – the one Saul of Tarsus experienced on the Damascus road.  That day Jesus unexpectedly intercepted the murderous fanatic and transformed him into a unwavering herald of the gospel he once tried to destroy.  America’s independence in 1776, my conversion at age 12, and Paul’s Damascus road encounter are examples of redemption experiences.

Paul’s conversion event gripped him so deeply that some 20 years later to the church at Rome he devoted an entire letter to explain God’s redemptive work.1 In this letter we find the word under consideration for this article – “redemption.”  What was the origin of the word?

Redemption in the Old Testament

The theological idea of redemption – of an entity being redeemed – has a rich heritage.  Old Testament writers described property, animals, persons, and the nation that were all redeemed (or “bought back”) by the payment of a price.  The concept of a no-cost redemption would have been completely alien to the people of Israel.  Boaz and Jeremiah, for example, played the role of “kinsman redeemer” involving the “buying back” of property (Lev. 25:25-28; Ruth 3 – 4; Jer. 32:6-8).  Even though all the first-born males of all livestock belonged to God, the Old Testament made provisions for buying back donkeys and unclean animals (ex. 13:13; Num. 18:14-17).

This privilege of redemption extended also to individual Israelites.  Each Israelite had to pay a ransom for his life at the time of the national census.  Firstborn sons had to be redeemed because they belonged to god since the first Passover when the death angel “passed over” the homes where the lamb’s blood was sprinkled on the doorposts (Num. 3:40-51).  As another example of redemption, a man would be put to death for his out-of-control bull goring a neighbor to death, unless an acceptable fine was paid to the dead man’s family to redeem the owner’s life (Ex. 6:6; Isa. 43:1-4).  The exodus event established an important theological foundation for believers’ later understanding of Jesus’ ministry, death, and resurrection.

Redemption in the New Testament

In the New Testament the idea of “redemption” moves from the material to the spiritual realm.  Luke linked two “redeeming” events – the Old Testament exodus story that described Moses delivering the Israelites from physical bondage to Pharaoh in Egypt and the New Testament exodus story of Jesus delivering humanity from spiritual bondage to sin and Satan through His death on the cross.  Luke 9:28-36 records that Jesus had a conversation on the mount of transfiguration with Moses and Elijah concerning His death.  The Greek word underlying and referring to Jesus’ coming death translated as “departure” in verse 31 (NIV) is exodus.  In this sense, Jesus functioned as a “second Moses” who redeemed from death to life those who believed in Him.  Later Luke recorded Jesus’ promise of believers’ redemption “drawing near” (21:28, NIV).

Basically, the word “redemption” in Romans 3:24 is a term that emerged from the slave world and meant “liberation through payment of a price.”2 In the second and first centuries B.C., “redemption” often referred to the “ransoming” of prisoners of war, slaves, and condemned criminals.  Paul thus presented “Christ’s death as a ‘ransom,’ a ‘payment’ that takes the place of the penalty for sins ‘owed’ to God by all people of God.”3 Jesus said, “for even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Mark 10:45, NIV, italics mine). 

Jesus’ death is foundational for all redemption talk in the New Testament.  Humans are in spiritual captivity, and the only way we can be freed or redeemed is if a price is paid for us.  This redemption required nothing less that the death of the Messiah.

Romans 3:19-26 is embedded in a section of Paul’s letter in which the apostle unpacked the characteristics of the gospel of God’s grace.  Some Christians consider the Romans 3 text the most important passage the apostle worte.4 After Paul in verse 23 proclaimed the whole world, whether Jew or Gentile, guilty before God because of sin, he used a legal term “justified” (v. 24) to paint a picture of a courtroom in which God, the judge, pronounces the guilty sinner innocent. How can this be?  Why do the guilty go free?  Paul indicated the mode of being made right with God as “freely by his grace,” and then followed that with the phrase “through the redemption.” These phrases help explain the costly means by which this acquitting verdict is made possible.

While the Old Testament described people redeemed from serious social situations such as debt, captivity, slavery, exile, and potential death sentences, Jesus redeemed us from the greatest threat of all – sin and spiritual death.  Not only did He deliver us from our sins and the curse of the law, but He also rescued us from all the ill effects of the fall.  In addition, an already/not yet aspect applies to redemption.  All of God’s people are waiting for the “day of redemption” when we will be made perfect.  This includes our bodies and the whole groaning creation (Rom. 8:18-23; Eph. 1:14; 4:30).  While we are in these temporal, eroding bodies, the Holy Spirit within us is the seal, guarantee, and firstfruits of our final redemption.

We have been redeemed from sin and its lethal effects.  The cost was Christ’s blood (1 Pet. 1:18-19).  The writer of Hebrews echoed the same idea in saying that Jesus “entered the Most Holy Place once for all . . . by his own blood, Having obtained eternal redemption” (Heb. 9:12, NIV).  In Romans 3:24-25, Paul directly connected this redemption to the blood of Christ.

Christ’s redemption carries a final yet huge practical implication for believers.  Christ has undeniable rights over His purchase.  We belong to Him.  Jesus has absolute lordship over the church and each Christian.  Paul reminded the elders in Ephesus that their pastoral care of the church would be carried out with the utmost seriousness because Jesus purchased the church with His own blood (Acts 20:28).

Because of the huge price Christ paid to buy us back through His death on the cross, we must exercise discipline and self-control by not becoming slaves to anything or anybody on this earth,  Paul emphasized that fact to the Corinthian Christians by offering a twofold reason why they should not engage in sexual immorality: 1) “Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God?  You are not your own”: 2) “You were bought at a price.  Therefore honor God with your body”  (1 Cor. 6:19-20).  The reality of our costly redemption prohibits this type of immoral behavior.

Fireworks can mark the celebration of our country’s political freedom.  But the fireworks fade as the celebration passes.  The cross, however, remains as the enduring symbol of spiritual freedom, where Christ paid our penalty and we were redeemed by His all-sufficient sacrifice.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      Bi

1 Romans sets forth Paul’s “Gospel of Redemption,” and can be outlined as follows: 1. The Need for Redemption (1:18 – 3:20): II. The Provision for Redemption (3:21 – 8:39); III. The Challenge of Israel within Redemption (chaps. 9 – 11); and IV. The Practical Application of Redemption (chaps. 12 – 16)

2 Douglas J. Moo, “Romans” in Zondervan Illustrated Bible Backgrounds Commentary, gen. ed., Clinton E. Arnold, vol. 3 (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2002), 23.

3 Douglas J. Moo, The Epistle to the Romans, New International Commentary on the New Testament (NICNT) (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1996), 229.

4 See Robert H. Mounce, Romans in The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman Press, 1995), 114.  Also see Moo, NICNT, 229-330.  Also, this text in Donald Grey Barnhouse’s Bible had a heart traced over it as he said, “I am convinced today, after these many years of Bible study, that these verses are the most important in the whole Bible.”  See D. G. Barnhouse, God’s Remedy, God’s River, vol. 2 (Fincastle, Va: Scripture Truth Book Co., n.d.),6.

SOURCE: Biblical Illustrator; LifeWay Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention; Nashville, TN 37234; Vol. 31, Number 4; Summer 2005.


Pagan Thought Processes

By Robert A. Weathers

Robert A. Weathers is pastor of Meadow Ridge Baptist Church and adjunct professor of religious studies and philosophy, Gardner-Webb University, Boiling Springs, North Carolina.

IN THE FALL OF 2000, the members of Pleasant Valley Unitarian-Universalist Church in Garland, Texas, decided to make their worship more “pagan.”  Rather than worship one particular deity, they expanded their focus, to include various “gods and goddesses.”  They also added the practice of lighting candles to herald the elements (earth, air, fire, and water) hoping that would help their worship become “more earth-centered.”  Sermons shifted accordingly, focusing on more natural themes, such as gardening.1

Is this “pagan” religion a new fad?  Not at all.  Pagan worship, characterized by reverence for the elements of nature, has existed for thousands of years.  In fact, paganism conflicted with Christianity as soon as the earliest Christians began to evangelize their neighbors.  This conflict was motivated by the striking differences in their worldviews.

Our worldview is the way we think about the world around us and interpret the events we experience.  All people see and experience the same world, but not everyone interprets it the same way.  Furthermore, these thought processes motivate our choices and behavior.  Various influences impact our thought processes, but the most powerful influence on our worldview is our religion.

The Pagan Worldview

For centuries, pagans have believed that the events of life are determined by fate and governed by the forces of nature.  The ancient Greeks embraced this worldview.  They believed that human beings had no free will.  Therefore, they assigned divine status to the forces of nature and sought to develop beneficial “relationships” with these gods and goddesses.  So, like today’s pagans, the Greeks focused their worship on the elements of nature.  They wanted to appease these deities and manipulated them, hoping to gain for themselves a better life.2

But Christians taught a new worldview.  They preached that God was intimated and personal, as demonstrated in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ.  Life was directed by God, not dictated by fate.  When Paul and his associates evangelized Greek cities, they faced the daunting challenge of witnessing for Christ in a culture saturated with the pagan worldview.  Ephesus was such a city.

Paganism in Ephesus

Pagan thought processes dominated Ephesian culture.  Central to the Ephesians’ pagan worship was the goddess Artemis, called Diana by the Romans.  The Greeks believed that Artemis was a child of Zeus, born from his union with the goddess Leto.  Revered as the mother goddess of the earth, Artemis was first worshiped as the goddess of the hunt and the protectress of wildlife, but over time she became associated with fertility.  In the Artemis fertility cult, adherents practiced sacred prostitution in the temple built in her honor, striving to manipulate the powers of the goddess.  By the time Paul evangelized Ephesus, the temple of Artemis was an imposing structure.  It was four times as large as the Parthenon in Athens and honored as one of the Seven Wonders of the World.  Her likeness, a multi-breasted statue believed by the Greeks to have fallen from the divine realm, met worshipers entering the temple (see Acts 19:35).3

Paul encountered stiff opposition in Ephesus when his preaching began to win converts for Christ away from the Artemis cult.  According to Act 19:23-41, a silversmith named Demetrius incited a riot against Paul.  He crafted statues of the goddess and sold them to people for their homes.  The defection of worshipers from paganism to Christ threatened his business, so he decided to persecute Paul.  His efforts failed, however, when the city clerk dismissed his charges based on the overwhelmingly popular view of the Ephesians that no other religion could ever dethrone Artemis!

Two Worldview Clash

Ironically, Demetrius was closer to the truth than the city clerk.  Ephesians who followed Christ would have to turn away from their worship of Artemis.  The two represented incompatible worldviews.  Paul taught that this incompatibility originated in the religious person’s thought processes.  He told the Ephesian Christians that they would have to abandon their pagan worldview in favor of a Christian worldview and lifestyle.

Throughout Paul’s letter to the Ephesians, he instructed them in this exchange of thought processes.  For instance, in the passage that begins with Ephesians 4:17, Paul insisted that the way pagans “live” is an expression of the “futility of their thinking” (NIV).  The term translated “futility” refers to something empty or meaningless.  These meaningless thought processes were the trademark of unbelievers, who tried to fill the void of God’s absence with exuberant idolatry (compare Rom. 1:21).  This condition “darkened” their “understanding,” resulting in spiritual blackout (Eph. 4:18) and a complete lack of moral “sensitivity.”  These pagans, Paul added, demonstrated their “ignorance” by participating in unholy lifestyles, and they would “indulge in every kind of impurity, with a continual lust for more” (v. 19, NIV).  Clearly, Paul believed that the corrupting influence of sin had generated the unholy thought processes that characterized paganism, culminating in the debauchery exhibited in the cult of Artemis.

However, the Ephesians were able to know Christ because, before they tried to change their behavior, they had accepted God’s truth in their minds.  They had exchanged their pagan worldview for the new, Christian worldview.  Consequently, Paul taught, they had been “made new in the attitude of [their] minds” (vv. 20-23, NIV).  The word translated “attitude” is literally “spirit.”  Our worldview germinates from our spirit, which in turn motivates our actions.  Just as sinful actions depict a spirit corrupted by sin and separated from Christ, a life of holiness indicates that a person’s spirit has been made new in Christ (v. 24).  If our thought processes have been purified in Christ, our lifestyle will manifest God’s holiness.

Paul listed areas of conduct in which the believer’s lifestyle should reflect a spirit renewed by Christ.  For example, he instructed a Christian should abandon lies, purge the sinful anger, and relinquish the tendency to steal.  Words should edify other Christians and please God.  All believers should strive for healthy relationships, which includes the practice of forgiveness, kindness, and compassion (vv. 25-32).4 Paul considered such behavior a choice, and Christians are to choose to act according to their new worldview.

Are You Practicing a Christian Worldview?

The pagan worldview was a formidable obstacle in the first century.  That worldview is still advocated today.  But so are many other worldviews that are equally incompatible with the Christian worldview.  Just as with Paul and the Ephesian believers, today’s Christians should abandon all other thought processes in favor of a Christian worldview.  We should be easily distinguished by our worldview.  If your actions are determined by your thought processes, can your neighbors, relatives, and friends tell by your behavior that you are guided by a Christian worldview?                                                                                                                                                Bi

1 Kim Horner, “’Going Pagan’ No Stretch for Dallas Area Church,” The Greenville News (Saturday, January 13, 2001), 68.

2 L. Russ Bush, A Handbook for Christian Philosophy (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1991), 161.

3 Jack Finegan, Myth and Mystery: An Introduction to the Pagan Religions of the Biblical World (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1989), 161; F. F. Bruce, Paul, Apostle of the Heart Set Free (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1977), 287.

4 Kyle Snodgrass, The New International Version Application Commentary: The Epistles to the Colossians, to Philemon, and to the Ephesians (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1984), 354-65.

SOURCE: Biblical Illustrator; LifeWay Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention; Nashville, TN 37234; Spring 2002




What Is The Answer To & Where In The Bible Is This Week’s Trivia Question Found? (09/14/14)  Who was king of Judea when Israel fell to Assyria? Answer next week:

 The answer to last week’s trivia question (09/07/14)  In what city was Paul and Silas imprisoned during their 2nd missionary journey? Answer: Philippi; Acts 16:12.