THE LETTER TO THE EPHESIANS
Lesson 2: Chapters 3:1-4:25
The World Mission of the Church Continued

Most Holy Father,
St. Paul reminds us of the great privilege of our divine election as heirs of Christ. Our inheritance is sealed and secured in our baptism by the Holy Spirit who elicits and develops in us an inward virtue of goodness grounded in the hope of our ultimate salvation. We are grateful Lord, and at the same time we are mindful of our obligation to live in holiness as Your children while we make our journey through this life in the hope of crossing the threshold into the next life in Your heavenly Kingdom. Please send Your Spirit, He who is the Spirit of Truth, to guide us in our study of St. Paul's letter to the Christians in Asia Minor as he reminds them and us that grace and peace come from the Father, and the Son, and from the Holy Spirit who sanctifies the faithful. We pray in the name of God the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.

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When Jesus Christ elected Paul and made him an apostle, he elected him through the Spirit by the will of God for the power through whom God works his will. Let us therefore understand, as I often say, that the will of God is the very power, greatness and substance of the whole divine plenitude. Christ "that is, God's Word which was in Christ "is the will of God. Those who consider this more closely will find that God and his will are inseparable.
Marius Victorinus, Epistle to the Ephesians, 1.1.1

In Lesson 1 did you notice the impersonal tone of the letter that is so unlike the tone of St. Paul's Letter to the Galatians? It was mentioned in the Introduction to this study that two of the reasons Biblical scholars (as far back as the Fathers of the Church) suggest this letter is not addressed to any one community but is an encyclical letter sent to several faith communities is the impersonal tone of the letter and that the place-name "Ephesus" is absent in all the earliest and best manuscripts. For example, in Paul's letter to the Galatians he mentions them by name in Galatians 1:2 and 3:1; in Paul's letter to the Corinthians he mentions them in 1 Corinthians 1:2; 2 Corinthians 1:1, 23 and 6:11; in Paul's letter to the Philippians he mentions them 1:1 and 4:15; and in Paul's letter to the Romans he mentions the Roman Christians in 1:7 and 15. In these other letters, Paul mentions specific strengths and weaknesses in the various communities, sends greetings to the community as a whole, and mentions specific individuals (1 Cor 16:12, 17, 19; Phil 4:18, and in Romans to many specific individuals and their families). All of these aspects found in Paul's other letters are missing in the letter to the Ephesians in which the general tone and subject matter suggests that the letter could be addressed to all Christians.

In this letter, it is important to understand Paul's use of the Greek word charis. It is a word Paul uses frequently in his letters. He has already used it six times in Ephesians 1:2, 6, 7; 2:5, 7, 8; 2:5, and 8 in the first lesson on chapters 1-2, and Paul will use the word charis an additional six times for a total of twelve times (also see Eph 3:2, 7, 8; 4:7, 29; 6:24). St. Paul uses charis to indicate a gift given freely and unearned. In his letters and in the other New Testament letters, the word charis is most often employed to describe the way in which God offers the gift of salvation through Jesus the Son; we translate this word as "grace."

The different ways the word "charis/grace" is used in the New Testament
Jesus' Incarnation was an act of grace. John 1:14, 17; 2 Corinthians 8:9; Titus 2:11
Jesus' self-sacrificial death was an act of grace "a gift of the Father. Romans 8:32; 1 Corinthians 2:12; Ephesians 1:6ff; Hebrews 2:9
Through grace we are justified, receive salvation, and the right to eternal life without the works of the Law. Romans 3:24; 4:4ff; Ephesians 2:5, 8; Titus 3:7; Acts 15:11
It will be an act of grace when we receive everlasting glory. 1 Peter 1:13
Jesus' Second Advent will be an act of grace. 2 Thessalonians 1:12

It is also possible to receive grace "in vain" (2 Cor 6:1), to "fall from grace" (Gal 5:4); to forfeit grace and insult "the Spirit of grace" (Heb 12:15; 10:29). Above all, grace must be carefully guarded. God's gift of grace must be applied in one's life wisely because it is necessary for grace to increase. In other words, we must continually grow in grace to be strengthen on our faith journey in order to help us obtain our eternal goal of salvation (Acts 13:43; 14:26; Rom 5:2; Heb 12:28; 13:9; 1 Pt 4:10; 5:12; 2 Pt 3:18; 2 Tim 2:1).

It was mentioned in Lesson 1 that St. Paul wrote about salvation as a past event in Ephesians 2:5 and 8 (underlining added to emphasize the past tense):

However, do not misunderstand Paul's statements to suggest that salvation is only a one-time, past event in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, as some Christian denominations misunderstand our goal of salvation in Christ Jesus. In his letters, Paul writes about salvation in the past, present and future as a process with many points of justification along each individual's faith journey to the gates of Heaven and eternal union with the Most Holy Trinity. The following chart provides some examples of Scripture passages that support the past, present, and future dimensions of salvation:

Past Present Future
Ephesians 2:5 1 Peter 1:8-9 Romans 13:11
Ephesians 2:8 1 Corinthians 1:18 1 Corinthians 3:15
  Philippians 2:12 1 Corinthians 5:5

Also see CCC #588, 1256-57, 1277, 1739-42 and 1889 on the three dimensions of salvation as taught by the Church.

The definition of salvation: "In biblical language the deliverance from straitened circumstances or oppression by some evil to a state of freedom and security. As sin is the greatest evil, salvation is mainly liberation from sin and its consequences. This can be deliverance by way of preservation, or by offering the means for being delivered, or by removing the oppressive evil or difficulty, or by rewarding the effort spent in co-operating with grace in order to be delivered. All four aspects of salvation are found in the Scriptures and are taught by the Church. [Etym. Latin salvare, to save']" Catholic Dictionary, page 391-2. Also see CCC 1256-59, 1261, 1277 = baptism is necessary for salvation; CCC 588 = all need salvation; CCC 432, 452, 161, 1507 = Jesus Christ is the only way to salvation; CCC 776, 780, 816 = the Church is God's instrument of salvation; CCC 1811, 1949, 2448 = God gives us the grace that is necessary to lead us to salvation.
That Jesus is the only way to salvation is affirmed by the Church in CCC 161: "Believing in Jesus Christ and in the One who sent him for our salvation is necessary for obtaining that salvation. Since without faith it is impossible to please [God]' and to attain to the fellowship of his Son, therefore without faith no one has ever attained justification, nor will anyone obtain eternal life but he who endures to the end'" (quoting Dei Filius 3; Matthew 10:22; 24:13; Hebrews 11:6; Council of Trent: DS 1532; also see Acts 4:12).

St. Paul writes that faith is our response to God's grace, and the necessity of faith is the first step in the process of salvation. The journey to salvation lasts one's entire life and also includes the command of obedience to Jesus' teachings and commandments to attain entrance into Heaven, which Paul called "the obedience of faith" (Rom 1:5; 16:26). The inspired writer of the Letter to the Hebrews, believed by many scholars to be St. Paul, wrote about the necessity of obedience in the process of salvation. Concerning Jesus' sacrifice for the sake of our salvation he wrote: Son though he was, he learned obedience from what he suffered; and when he was made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him ... (Heb 5:8-9, emphasis added; also see Jn 14:15, 21; 15:10; 2 Thes 1:8; 3:14; 1 Pt 3:1; 4:17; 1 Jn 3:22, 24; 2:3; 5:3; 2 Jn verse 6; especially Jesus' command to love others as He has loved us in Jn 15:12). Jesus taught that the Last Judgment will be based on how we demonstrated our obedience in His command to love (Mt 25:31-46).

Writing about our future salvation and the necessity of being prepared, St. Peter warned that one should be careful not to misinterpret St. Paul's teachings on salvation: And consider that patience of our Lord as salvation, as our beloved brother Paul, according to the wisdom given to him, also wrote to you, speaking of these things as he does in all his letters. In them there are some things hard to understand that the ignorant and unstable distort to their own destruction, just as they do the other Scriptures (2 Pt 3:15-16). Earlier in the same letter St. Peter gave the warning: Know this first of all, that there is no prophecy of Scripture that is a matter of personal interpretation, for no prophecy ever came through human will; but rather human beings moved by the Holy Spirit spoke under the influence of God (2 Pt 1:20-21). Under the guiding direction of the Holy Spirit, it is the Church that has the power and authority to interpret the meaning of Scripture (Mt 18:18; Jn 20:22-23; CCC 109-119).

CHAPTER 3
The World Mission of the Church

He [Jesus] answered them, "The mystery of the kingdom of God has been granted to you. But to those outside everything comes in parables, so that they may look and see but not perceive, and hear and listen but not understand, in order that they may not be converted and be forgiven.'"
Mark 4:11

Ephesians 3:1-6 ~ The Mystery of God's Divine Plan
1 Because of this, I, Paul, a prisoner of Christ [Jesus] for you Gentiles "2 if, as I suppose, you have heard of the stewardship of God's grace that was given to me for your benefit, 3 [namely, that] the mystery was made known to me by revelation, as I have written briefly earlier. 4 When you read this you can understand my insight into the mystery of Christ, 5 which was not made known to human beings in other generations as it has now been revealed to his holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit, 6 that the Gentiles are coheirs, members of the same body, and copartners in the promise in Christ Jesus through the Gospel.
[] brackets in the translation indicates a word or words that are not found in the oldest and best manuscripts and are probably glosses added by later scribes.

1 Because of this, I, Paul, a prisoner of Christ [Jesus] for you Gentiles ...
Paul identifies himself a second time as the writer of the letter and includes the information that he is writing from prison because he preaches the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

2 if, as I suppose, you have heard of the stewardship of God's grace that was given to me for your benefit...
He reflects on his mission to the Gentiles (3:1-2), first announced by Jesus to the Christian prophet Ananias in Acts 9:14-16.
Question: How is Paul empowered to preach the Gospel to the Gentiles? See Eph 3:2, 7; Rom 1:5; and 1 Cor 3:10.
Answer: It is the gift of the grace of God that that empowers him.

Notice that in verse 2 Paul uses the word "grace" as a gift entrusted as a "stewardship" to dispense to others through his teaching and not as a possession.

3 [namely, that] the mystery was made known to me by revelation, as I have written briefly earlier.
Paul is referring to the revelation he received in his conversion experience on the Damascus Road, which St. Luke recorded several times in Acts (Acts 9:1-19; 22:6-21; 26:12-18) and which Paul referred to in his letter to the Galatians in 1:12-16. The word "mystery" applied to God's divine plan by Jesus in Mark 4:11 is repeated by Paul in this letter six times in 1:9; 3:3, 4, 9; 5:32; 6:19 (also in other New Testament letters including Rom 11:25; 16:25; 1 Cor 2:7; 15:51; Col 1:26, 27; 2:2; 4:3; 1 Tim 3:9, 16 and in Rev 10:7).

4 When you read this you can understand my insight into the mystery of Christ, 5 which was not made known to human beings in other generations as it has now been revealed to his holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit ...
In verse 3 Paul is referring to his appointment to his apostolic office to carry the Gospel to the Gentiles. He writes that his insight through divine revelation, the same revelation by the Holy Spirit to the other apostles and prophets in the Church, has enriched the understanding of the mystery of God's divine plan of salvation in Christ, which in this case Paul applies to the inclusion of the Gentiles. The New Covenant prophets that Paul also mentioned in 2:20 have the fullness of the revelation of God's plan while the Old Covenant prophets only had an imperfect understanding of the mystery of God's divine plan in sending the Messiah. Addressing the Old Testament prophet's obscure knowledge of the Messiah, St. Peter wrote: Concerning this salvation, prophets who prophesied about the grace that was to be yours searched and investigated it, investigating the time and circumstances that the Spirit of Christ within them indicated when it testified in advance to the sufferings destined for Christ and the glories to follow them. It was revealed to them that they were serving not themselves but you with regard to the things that have now been announced to you by those who preached the good news to you through the Holy Spirit send from heaven, things into which angels longed to look (1 Pt 1:10-12; also see CCC 1066).

Question: Is the mystery of God's divine plan fulfilled in the Resurrection and Ascension of the Christ or is there more to come? See 1 Thes 4:16 and Rev 10:7
Answer: God's divine plan is not completely fulfilled until the Second Advent of Christ, as an angel told St. John in the Book of the Revelation of Jesus Christ: "At the time when you hear the seventh angel flow his trumpet, the mysterious plan of God shall be fulfilled, as he promised to his servants the prophets."

Question: According to Paul in verse 6, what is an important aspect of the mystery of God's divine plan?
Answer: The newly revealed part of the mystery of God's plan is that the Gentiles are part of God's plan for mankind.

Question: What does God's divine plan include that is new for the Gentiles?
Answer:

  1. They are co-heirs with the Jews in God's plan of salvation.
  2. They will receive same spiritual benefits promised to the Jews in previous covenants.
  3. They are united with the Jews as full members in the Body of Christ that is the New Covenant Church.

Ephesians 3:7-13 ~ Paul Commissioned to Preach God's Plan
7 Of this I became a minister by the gift of God's grace that was granted me in accord with the exercise of his power. 8 To me, the very least of all the holy ones, this grace was given, to preach to the Gentiles the inscrutable riches of Christ, 9 and to bring to light [for all] what is the plan of the mystery hidden from ages past in God who created all things, 10 so that the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known through the Church to the principalities and authorities in the heavens. 11 This was according to the eternal purpose that he accomplished in Christ Jesus our Lord, 12 in whom we have boldness of speech and confidence of access through faith in him. 13 So I ask you not to lose heart over my afflictions for you; this is your glory.

In verses 7-8 St. Paul writes that it is his life's mission to be God's special herald of this new promise to the Gentiles. Then in verse 8 Paul expresses a humility that is lacking in his earlier letter to the Galatians, declaring himself "the very least" of the "holy ones." St. Paul makes a similar humble statement in 1 Corinthians 15:9, For I am the least of the apostles, not fit to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the Church of God.

Notice that in Ephesians 3:2, 7 and 8 St. Paul again uses the Greek word charis, which Christians define as God's freely given favor. God has given Paul the favor of His grace to effectively preach the Gospel of salvation to the Gentiles. This is the ninth of twelve times Paul has used the word "grace" in this letter: 1:2, 6, 7; 2:5, 7, 8; 3:2, 7, 8; 4:7, 29 and 6:24. See the comments on the meaning of "grace" in the introduction to this lesson.

8b this grace was given, to preach to the Gentiles the inscrutable riches of Christ, 9 and to bring to light [for all] what is the plan of the mystery hidden from ages past in God who created all things, 10 so that the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known through the Church to the principalities and authorities in the heavens.
As in 3:3 Paul mentions the "mystery" of God's divine plan concerning the Gentile peoples that has kept hidden from his covenant people in past ages. It has always been God's resolve to bring Gentiles who were separated from Him as well as the Israelites/Jews who were in covenant with Him to salvation. Paul also mentioned the principalities and authorities in the heavens in 1:15-23, and he is again referring to the angelic spirits who reside with God in Heaven and who are also subject to Christ.

11 This was according to the eternal purpose that he accomplished in Christ Jesus our Lord, 12 in whom we have boldness of speech and confidence of access through faith in him. 13 So I ask you not to lose heart over my afflictions for you; this is your glory.
The fulfillment of God's divine plan in Christ for a united Church and the exercise of His divine authority over all creation should give all Christians more confidence through faith in God (verse 12). Paul writes that their confidence should increase despite any afflictions they or other Christians may experience, including the news of Paul's sufferings. Even Paul's sufferings are part of God's plan and are no reason for being discouraged; rather it is "your glory" "something his readers should be glad about because his imprisonment reflects the fact that he has fulfilled his mission to the Gentiles as God intended. Paul's point is that God is the Master of His plan and nothing on earth or in Heaven can conflict with His "eternal purpose." It is a message that is as important to us today when we worry about what the future will bring as to the concerned Christians in Paul's time.

Ephesians 3:14-21 ~ Paul's Intercessory Prayer for the Readers of His Letter
14 For this reason I kneel before the Father, 15 from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named, 16 that he may grant you in accord with the riches of his glory to be strengthened with power through his Spirit in the inner self [anthropos], 17 and that Christ dwell in your hearts through faith; that you, rooted and grounded in love, 18 may have strength to comprehend with all the holy ones what is the breadth and length and height and depth, 19 and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, so that you may be filled with all the fullness of God. 20 Now to him who is able to accomplish far more than all we ask or imagine, 21 by the power at work within us, to him be glory in the Church and in Christ Jesus to all generations, forever and ever. Amen.

In verses 14-21 Paul writes that he kneels in prayer for those who read his letter "his prayer also includes us as we read his letter in this study. This is his second prayer for those who read his letter; the first was in 1:15-23 or perhaps this is a continuation of the first prayer.

The three parts of St. Paul's prayer:

  1. I   Introduction (verses 14-15)
  2. II  Petitions (verses 16-19)
  3. III Doxology (verses 20-21)

Part I the Introduction: 14 For this reason I kneel before the Father, 15 from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named ...
Jews often stood to pray, but they also knelt. Kneeling is a position of submission that acknowledges the authority of earthly rulers and God the divine King; it is also an act of worship that expresses the inner attitude of humility and obedience. This is why we both stand and kneel when we pray in the sacrifice of the Mass (2 Chr 6:13b-14; Dan 6:10; Ps 95:6-7; Mk 1:40; 15:19; Acts 20:36; CCC 2702-3).

Paul makes a word play on the relationship between two Greek words: pater, the word for "father," and patria, the word for family that is derived from pater/father. Paul is expressing the concept that every family owes its origin and existence to its progenitor (human father) just as God is the divine Father and Creator of every Jewish and Gentile family on earth as well as the family of spiritual beings in Heaven. Angels are regarded as part of God's family. They are rational spiritual beings who also owe their existence and identity to their Creator.

Part II: Paul's five petitions for the readers of his letter:

  1. He prays that his readers might receive inner strength and power through the Holy Spirit (verse 16).
  2. He prays that Christ will dwell in their hearts through faith and that they might be rooted and grounded in love (verse 17).
  3. He prays that they might comprehend, in union with the Church, the glorious totality of Christ's authority in His work of salvation (verse 18).
  4. He prays that they might know the love of Christ that surpasses all knowledge (verse 19a).
  5. He prays that all the fullness of God will indwell them (verse 19b).

The first petition: 16 that he may grant you in accord with the riches of his glory to be strengthened with power through his Spirit in the inner self ...
Paul prays that his readers might receive inner strength and power, as much as God's infinite resources (glory) can make that possible, through the ministry of the Holy Spirit. The place where this strengthening is to take place is the "inner person" (anthropos).

Question: Why does Paul specifically mention the inner self rather than the physical self?
Answer: The choices we make that lead to works of holiness or the temptation to do evil come from within.

The second petition: 17 and that Christ dwell in your hearts through faith; that you, rooted and grounded in love ...
The second petition is similar to the first, but Paul adds another dimension with the request that the risen Savior dwells within our hearts so that we are rooted in love because Christ/God is Himself the definition of love (1 Jn 4:7-8). In our modern concept, we think of the heart as being the expression of our feelings and emotions. However, for the ancients, the heart was the center of the total essence of a person and the seat of one's moral expression for good or for evil (Lev 19:17; Dt 4:29; Dt 8:17; 9:4-5; Ps 7:10; 9:1; 13:5; 24:4; Pro 4:4; 6:18; Mt 5:8; 11:29; 12:35; 15:8, 18-19; Heb 3:10, 12; 10:22; 13:9; Rev 17:17).

The third petition: 18 may have strength to comprehend with all the holy ones what is the breadth and length and height and depth ...
The word "strength" is a synonym for "power." Paul prays that God will give the readers of his letter the power to understand, in union with the other "holy ones" of the united Body of Christ that is the Church, what is the breadth and length and height and depth ... Paul does not define exactly what he means by those dimensions, but they seem to suggest what encompasses everything. Biblical scholars have suggested:

  1. Paul is referring to the immensity of God's plan for man's salvation that he explained earlier in 3:3-10.
  2. He is referring to the dimensions of God's unfathomable wisdom (wisdom is defined by physical dimensions in Job 11:5-9).
  3. Some Fathers of the Church suggest the four dimensions refer to the four arms of the Cross, marking the direction of the four corners of the earth to which Christ's sacrifice brought the true understanding of mankind's salvation.

We can combine the three interpretations to suggest that Paul petitions the Lord that the mystery of His divine plan, which reflects His infinite wisdom, will reveal to the reader and the other "holy ones" of the Church, the true knowledge of Christ's gift of salvation to the world from His throne of the Cross.

The fourth petition: 19a and to know the love [agape] of Christ that surpasses knowledge ...
In referring to "love" Paul uses the Greek word agape, in Greek "spiritual love" but a word to which Christians gave a distinctive Christian meaning of "self-sacrificial love" "the way Christ loved us. Not only does Paul pray for our knowledge to comprehend but to know the love of the Savior that "surpasses knowledge" "probably referring to the love of Christ which is a reality that exceeds our human capacity to explain in words. Yet, it is his prayer that despite our limitations in understanding that we may have a personal experience of His unique agape, self-sacrificial love.

It is the Cross that stands as the proof of Jesus' love for us that can never fail and from which nothing can separate us, as Paul writes in his letter to the Romans: What can separate us from the love of Christ? Will anguish, or distress, or persecutions, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or the sword... No, in all these things we conquer overwhelmingly through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, no angels, or principalities, nor present things, no future things , nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our lord" (Rom 8:35-39).

The fifth petition: 19b so that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.
In his last petition Paul sums up all that he has asked in the last four petitions. He compares the lives of the holy ones who read his letter with containers filled to the maximum level "infinitely filled with God's divine life and love.

Part 3: Paul's doxology: 20 Now to him who is able to accomplish far more than all we ask or imagine, 21 by the power at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations, forever and ever. Amen.
A doxology is a short hymn of praise to God in various forms of Christian worship, often added to the end of canticles, psalms, and hymns, as it is to the "Our Father" prayer.1 The tradition derives from a similar practice in the Jewish worship, especially in the synagogue where a version of the Kaddish serves to terminate each section of the service.2 In Latin doxologia, comes from the Greek term doxa, meaning "opinion" or "glory," and the suffix -logia, which refers to oral or written expression; it literally means "glory-word." The Gloria in Excelsis and the Gloria Patri are two of the best-known and most often sung doxologies in contemporary Christianity.

In the doxology that is address to God, Paul expresses confidence that God will answer his prayer because He is capable of doing so much more than Paul has asked: 20 Now to him who is able to accomplish far more than all we ask or imagine...

21 by the power at work within us, to him be glory in the Church and in Christ Jesus to all generations, forever and ever. Amen.
The "glory" directed to God refers to the praise and worship given Him in the assembly of the Church of Jesus Christ for all generations until Christ's return at which time the praise and worship of the Church on earth will be united forever with the Church in Heaven.

Biblical scholar Peter Williamson writes that the petitions of St. Paul's prayer "points to our ultimate goal as Christians, what some of the Church Fathers daringly describe as divinization' or deification' (theosis)" (Catholic Commentary on Sacred Scripture: Ephesians, page 101). It is what St. Peter wrote in 2 Peter 1:3-4, His divine power has bestowed on us everything that makes for life and devotion, through the knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and power. Through these, he has bestowed on us the precious and very great promises, so that through them you may come to share in the divine nature, after escaping from the corruption that is in the world because of evil desire (also see 1 Jn 3:3).

CHAPTER 4
The World Mission of the Church Continued

Ephesians 4:1-6 ~ Unity in the Body that is the Church
1 I, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to live in a manner worthy of the call you have received, 2 with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another through love, 3 striving to preserve the unity of the spirit through the bond of peace: 4 one body and one Spirit, as you were also called to the one hope of your call; 5 one Lord, one faith, one baptism; 6 one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.

St. Paul urges the Jewish and Gentile Christians reading his letter to persevere in unity "united in the Spirit as One Body in Christ despite tensions that threaten to disrupt their unity. The virtues that Paul lists in verses 2-3 are all different aspect of charity (love in action) which "binds everything together in perfect harmony" (Col 3:14) and is the mark of the true disciple of Jesus Christ (Jn 13:35). The "bond of peace" (verse 3) that unites Christians is the peace which Jesus brings, or rather, it is Jesus Christ Himself (Eph 2:14). By having the same faith and the same Spirit, "all find themselves", says St. John Chrysostom, "brought together in the Church "old and young, poor and rich, adult and child, husband and wife: people of either sex and of every condition become one and the same ... However, this unity is maintained only by the bond of peace'. It could not exist in the midst of disorder and enmity" (Homilies on Ephesians, 9).

4 one body and one Spirit, as you were also called to the one hope of your call; 5 one Lord, one faith, one baptism; 6 one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.
These verses express one of Paul's most profound statements, summarizing our Christian faith in only a very few words, the focus of which is the theological basis of our unity "the Most Holy Trinity. It is the Trinity who is at work in the Church and who keeps it together in the "seven unities" of the Church "one Body, one Spirit, one hope, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, and one God and Father. Verses 5-6 may be a quote from an acclamation from an early Christian baptismal liturgy:

The Seven Unities of the Church:

  1. "One Body": The unified Body of Christ, the universal Church founded by Jesus, under the authority He gave St. Peter, the Apostles, and their successors.
  2. "One Spirit": There is only one Holy Spirit who brings about and maintains the unity of Christ's mystical body; and there is only one such body, the Church, in which we were divinely called to be a part.
  3. "One hope": Jesus Christ is the only hope of our salvation, as St. Peter declared, "There is no salvation through anyone else, nor is there any other name under heaven given to the human race by which we are to be saved" (Acts 4:12).
  4. "One Lord": This is a profession of our belief in God the Son who, as our Lord and Savior, has sovereignty over His kingdom of the Church of which He is the head of its mystical body.
  5. "One faith": There is only one faith that Jesus taught and which His Apostles and their successors, as shepherds of His Church, have expressed in clear statements of doctrine and dogma. Pope Pius XII wrote: "There can be only one faith; and so, if a person refuses to listen to the Church, he should be considered, so the Lord commands, as a heathen and a publican (cf. Mt 18:17)" (Mystici Corporis, 10).
  6. "One baptism": There can only be one spiritual rebirth into the family of God through the Sacrament of Baptism to become a member of the Body of Christ. It is not an "initiation" "it is a life transformation. It is a Baptism by which, after making a profession of faith, one joins the other members of the Church as their equals. Since there is only "one Lord, one faith, one baptism", "there is a common dignity of members deriving from their rebirth in Christ, a common grace as sons, a common vocation to perfection, one salvation, one hope and undivided charity (Vatican II, Lumen gentium, 32).
  7. "One God and Father of all, who is over all through all and in all": This statement affirms God's sovereignty and dominion over all of creation and the unity of mankind with God, the Creator of us all.

We, like the community in Ephesus, celebrate our unity when we celebrate the Eucharist. We come together as One Body to receive Christ's Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity in our sacred meal made present by the power of the Holy Spirit on Catholic altars across the world. In our miracle feeding, there is always enough, and everyone leaves nourished spiritually by the very life of Christ, which He shares with all who come to His altar-table.

When Jesus communicated His glory to us, He joined us to God the Father by giving us a share in the supernatural life of the Godhead. This divine life is the source of the holiness of Christians united in the seven unites of Christ's Body, the Church.

Ephesians 4:7-16 ~ The Diversity of Spiritual Gifts
7 But grace was given to each of us according to the measure of Christ's gift. 8 Therefore, it says: "He ascended on high and took prisoners captive; he gave gifts to men." 9 What does "he ascends" mean except that he also descended into the lower [regions] of the earth? 10 The one who descended is also the one who ascended far above all the heavens, that he might fill all things. 11 And he gave some as apostles, others as prophets, others as evangelists, others as pastors and teachers, 12 to equip the holy ones for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, 13 until we all attain to the unity of faith and knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the extent of the full stature of Christ, 14 so that we may no longer be infants, tossed by waves and swept along by every wind of teaching arising from human trickery, for their cunning in the interests of deceitful scheming. 15 Rather, living the truth in love, we should grow in every way into him who is the head, Christ, 16 from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, with the proper functioning of each part, brings about the body's growth and builds itself up in love.

In verses 7-16 St. Paul focuses on the different graces associated with ecclesial offices (see verse 11 and CCC 913). Every Baptized and Confirmed Christian receives spiritual gifts (also called charisms) to be put to use for the good of the Church. St. Peter wrote about these gifts of grace in 1 Peter 4:10-11, As each one has received a gift, use it to serve one another as good stewards of God's varied grace. Whoever preaches, let it be with the words of God, whoever serves, let it be with the strength that God supplies, so that in all things God may be glorified through Jesus Christ, to whom belong glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen (also see what St. Paul wrote in 1 Cor 12:4-11).

8 Therefore, it says: "He ascended on high and took prisoners captive; he gave gifts to men." Verse 8 is a quote from Psalm 68:19ab and refers to the Exodus liberation and the theophany at Mt. Sinai when the former Israelite slaves were freed from their captivity, led by God to Mt. Sinai, and received the gift of nationhood and divine Law in covenant with Yahweh.

9 What does "he ascends" mean except that he also descended into the lower [regions] of the earth? 10 The one who descended is also the one who ascended far above all the heavens, that he might fill all things.
There are two interpretations of verse 9:

  1. The verse refers to Jesus' Incarnation when He came down from Heaven to become man (Jn 1:14; 3:13), and returned to Heaven in His Ascension after His earthly mission was completed (Acts 1:7-11).
  2. Several Fathers of the Church interpreted this verse as referring to Jesus descending from His tomb to Sheol, the abode of the dead, to preach the Gospel of salvation to the souls held captive there and to lead them out of "prison" and into Heaven (see 1 Pt 3:18-19, the Apostles' Creed, CCC 632-33). Afterward, Jesus arose from the dead on Easter Sunday, and forty days later He Ascended to the Father in Heaven (Acts 1:7-11).

11 And he gave some as apostles, others as prophets, others as evangelists, others as pastors and teachers, 12 to equip the holy ones for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ ...
Every Baptized and Confirmed Christian receives unique spiritual gifts for special ministries for building up the body of Christ. All the different kinds of service are necessary, and all are for the good of the Church as a whole.

13 until we all attain to the unity of faith and knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the extent of the full stature of Christ, 14 so that we may no longer be infants, tossed by waves and swept along by every wind of teaching arising from human trickery, for their cunning in the interests of deceitful scheming.
Question: What does Paul write is the goal of the ministry of the Church's apostles, prophets, evangelists, and all pastoral ministries and teachers?
Answer: The goal of all the Church's ministries is to help the faithful to reach maturity of faith and true knowledge so that false teachers will not easily lead members of the community astray.

15 Rather, living the truth in love, we should grow in every way into him who is the head, Christ, 16 from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, with the proper functioning of each part, brings about the body's growth and builds itself up in love. Paul returns to his image of Christ the "Head" of the Body that is the Church (see Eph 1:22). Notice that Paul describes Christian maturity first positively in verse 13 and then negatively in what "we may no longer be" in verse 14, and then positively again in verse 15a ""living in the truth in love." Finally Paul sums up what should be the goal of the Church's ministry and the result of Christian maturity in 15b-16. The "supporting ligaments" that hold together the Body probably refer to leaders of the Church that provide structural support and that the strength of the whole depends on the supporting parts. In other words, the goal of the various ministries of the Church is to build up the Body of Christ, this results in the unity of faith that produces works of love within and outside the community, as every member of the Body lives in imitation of Christ who is the "Head" of the Body.

Ephesians 4:17-24 ~ New Life in Christ
17 So I declare and testify in the Lord that you must no longer live as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their minds; darkened in understanding, alienated from the life of God because of their ignorance, because of their hardness of heart, they have become callous and have handed themselves over to licentiousness for the practice of every kind of impurity to excess. 20 That is not how you learned Christ, 21 assuming that you have heard of him and were taught in him, as truth is in Jesus, 22 that you should put away the old self of your former way of life, corrupted through deceitful desires, 23 and be renewed in the spirit of your minds, 24 and put on the new self, created in God's way in righteousness and holiness of truth.

St. Paul contrasts the Christian's "new life in Christ" with the former sinful lives of the pagan Gentiles that was far from the holiness of Christ and without a relationship with God. It is the "old self" (verse 22) that must be put away and the "new self" (verse 24) that must take hold to make the Christian a new creation in the image and likeness of God. Christians "put on" the new self (verse 24) in the Sacrament of Baptism, when they die to their sinful old selves to be reborn as a new creation in Christ Jesus, as Paul wrote in Galatians 3:27 ~ For all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ.

Question for reflection or group discussion:
How can you apply the five petitions of St. Paul's prayer in Ephesians 3:14-21 to your life?

Endnotes:
1. The doxology that the Church prays the end of the "Pater Noster/Our Father" prayer from Matthew 6:9-13 is not found in the oldest Greek texts. It is inserted at the end of Mt 5:13: "For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, forever. Amen." The earliest occurrence of the addition of a doxology to the Lord's Praer is found in copies of the Church's first Catechism, "The Teaching of the Twelve Apostles" also called the "Didache" (Teaching), dating to between 50 and 120 AD (Didache 8.1). This is why in the Mass we repeat the "Our Father" or "Lord's Prayer" up to the last petition "and deliver us from evil," and don't add the doxology until after the priest's short prayer.
2. The Jewish Kaddish is a hymn of praise to God found in the Jewish prayer service. The central theme of the Kaddish is the magnification and sanctification of God's holy name. In Jewish Synagogue liturgy different versions of the Kaddish are used functionally as separators between sections of the service.

Michal Hunt, Copyright © 2016 Agape Bible Study. Permissions All Rights Reserved.

Catechism references for Ephesians chapters 3:1-4:24
(*indicates Scripture quoted in citation):
3:4 CCC 1066* 4:3 CCC 814
3:8 CCC 424 4:4-6 CCC 172*, 249*, 866, 2790*, 1278
3:9-12 CCC 221* 4:7 CCC 913
3:9-11 CCC 772* 4:8-10 CCC 661*
3:9 CCC 1066 4:9-10 CCC 611, 2795*
3:12 CCC 2778* 4:9 CCC 633*, 635*
3:14 CCC 239*, 2214*, 2367* 4:10 CCC 668*
3:16-17 CCC 1073, 2714 4:11-16 CCC 749*
3:16 CCC 1996 4:11-13 CCC 669*
3:18-21 CCC 2565* 4:11 CCC 1575*
3:20-21 CCC 2641* 4:13 CCC 674, 695, 2045
4 CCC 1454*, 1971* 4:16 CCC 798*
4:2 CCC 2219 4:19 CCC 2518*
4:3-5 CCC 866*, 1272 4:23 CCC 1695
    4:24 CCC 1473*, 2475, 2504