Outlining Ephesians 4:1-6

by Dr. David L. Allen
Dean of the School of Theology
Professor of Preaching
Director of the Center for Expository Preaching
George W. Truett Chair of Pastoral Ministry
Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary

I, therefore, the prisoner of the Lord, entreat you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling with which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, showing forbearance to one another in love, being diligent to preserve the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit, just as also you were called in one hope of your calling;  one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all who is over all and through all and in all.

These six verses clearly form a paragraph unit. The paragraph in English is composed of two sentences (1-3 and 4-6). The paragraph in most Greek New Testaments is likewise subdivided right in the middle. However, most Greek New Testaments don’t place a period at the end of verse 3, but rather place a colon marker (raised period) to indicate a partial stop, but not the end of a sentence. Thus, the Greek New Testament editors view Ephesians 1-6 as a single sentence.

Semantically, it is clear that there is something of a shift beginning with verse 4, though not the beginning of a new sentence in the Greek text. This would lead us to suggest that in outlining this single-sentence paragraph, we are likely going to be dealing with two sub-sections.

Let’s analyze the clausal structure of verses 1-3. There is one main clause: “I . . . entreat you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling.” The main verb in the sentence is “beseech,” the content of which is identified in the infinitive of indirect command “to walk worthily of your calling.” This calling is further defined by the relative clause “by which you were called.” This is followed by several prepositional phrases in verse 2 further modifying the infinitive “to walk”: “with all humility and gentleness,” and “with patience.” This is followed by two adverbial participial clauses of means, stating the means by which they are to go about walking in a worthy manner: “showing forbearance to one another,” and “being diligent to preserve the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.” Both of these dependent participial clauses modify the infinitive “to walk.”

Verses 4-6 contain six predicate nouns following an understood subject and verb: “There is….”: one body, one Spirit, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, and one God. The clause “just as you were called in one hope of your calling” further modifies “one Spirit” even though it mentions a seventh phrase emphasizing oneness: “in one hope.” A final relative clause further describing “God” in three ways: “who is above all, and through all, and in you all” concludes the paragraph.

The primary focus of vv. 1-3 (and of the entire paragraph) is unity. This unity produced by the Holy Spirit (notice the preposition “of” in the phrase “of the Spirit” in v. 3 means “produced by.” Unity in a local church is not created by Christians; it is created by the Holy Spirit. However, as the passage teaches, Christians are charged with the responsibility to maintain that unity which the Spirit produces. The main point of the paragraph is Paul entreats believers to conduct themselves in a manner worthy of their Christian calling in such a way that will promote and preserve unity. The final adverbial participial clause in v. 3 sums up the attitude which Christians are to display in their effort to promote unity: humility, gentleness, patience, and forbearance – “being diligent to preserve the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.”

The primary focus of vv. 4-6 is to denote the basis on which this unity is grounded: sound doctrine. Seven aspects of doctrine are mentioned, each modified by the adjective “one”: body, Spirit, hope, Lord, faith, baptism, and God. Notice the Trinitarian emphasis here: “Spirit,” “Lord (Christ), and “God.” Spiritual unity is always based on sound doctrine. Paul adds three prepositional phrases modifying “God”: “above all” (sovereign), “through all” (immanence), “in you all” (indwelling believers via the Spirit). The fact that Paul concludes with God’s sovereignty, immanence and presence in all believers indicates his emphasis on the fundamental foundation for Christian unity and why believers need to work diligently to promote and preserve that unity in the church, the body of Christ.

Structurally, the major points of the outline would look something like this:

I. Exhortation to Unity – (1-3)

II. Ground (or Basis) of Unity – (4-6)

Since an exhortation semantically outweighs its stated grounds, the focus of Paul is primarily on vv. 1-3. Paul does not go into detail in vv. 4-6 concerning the seven doctrinal aspects he mentions. His purpose is rather to emphasize the “oneness” of these things as the ground or basis for the exhortation to walk worthy by promoting unity.

Homiletically, the outline might look something like this:

I. Preserve Unity in our Local Church by Godly Conduct Toward Others (1-3)

II. Recognize God Himself Mandates Unity in our Local Church by Sound Doctrine (4-6)

In preaching this paragraph, don’t spend too much time on each of the seven doctrinal aspects in vv. 4-6. Paul doesn’t. I would recommend no more than one minute be spent on each of them (though as a Baptist I might be tempted to camp out on the “one baptism” and point out that our paedobaptist friends actually have two baptisms: infant and adult believers – but then they might think I was stirring up trouble by not promoting unity!)

As for a sermon title, try “United or Untied?” Notice that the two words are only distinguished by the transposition of the letters “i” and “t.” It does not take long in a church to go from united to untied!

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