Chapter four begins the second half of the letter with a major change in Paul’s grammar and intent. The entire letter contains 41 imperative verbs (which is already a high percentage ); however, only one of them occurs in the first half (“remember” in Ephesians 2:11). Thus, of the 197 verbs in chapters 4-6, more than 20% of them are commands to his readers.
This chapter has four natural divisions as the apostle began to outline the aspects of genuine Christian living. First, he said it was to be characterized by unity (Ephesians 4:1-6). Rather than the unity that many Christians attempt to force via social justice and community outreach, Paul said that true Christian unity is found in the great truths of God and his work in us. The unity that exists within God and our unity with him should drive us to “live worthily of the calling with which [we] have been called.” This should define our attitudes and actions toward one another. Since this “calling” is not defined in chapter four, it must be a reference to the outworking of the truths about salvation and the Church Paul had already presented in the first three chapters.
Second, Paul noted that Jesus gave his Church special gifts for the purpose of helping individual believers live out that calling (Ephesians 4:7-16). Unlike the spiritual gifts given by the Holy Spirit to each believer (1 Corinthians 12; Romans 12:1-8; 1 Peter 4:7-11), Jesus gave certain people in certain roles to the Church at large, namely, the apostles, prophets, evangelists, and pastors and teachers. The purpose of these people within the church is “to equip the saints for the work of ministry, that is, to build up the body of Christ.” The reason that the body must be built up is so believers will grow in maturity, in sound doctrine, and in love.
Third, Paul “insisted in the Lord” that believers would “no longer live as the Gentiles do,” namely, “in the futility of their thinking” (Ephesians 4:17-24). This last phrase sets up the overarching theme of living in godly wisdom that permeates the rest of the letter. Paul taught that there was a stark difference between the lives of believers and unbelievers that stemmed from the heart. Whereas unbelievers live out of “the ignorance that is in them due to the hardness of their hearts,” believers are to live out of the way they learned Christ: “to lay aside the old man…to be renewed in the spirit of [their] mind, and to put on the new man.” All of this is the result of the “righteousness and holiness that comes from truth,” demonstrating again the importance of sound doctrine on daily living.
Finally, Paul gave a list of examples of what this should look like: replace lying with truth; replace sinful anger with productive anger; replace theft with work and giving; replace language that tears down with language that builds up; replace bitterness with forgiveness.