These small group studies of Ephesians contain outlines, cross-references, Bible study discussion questions, and applications.  Visit our library of inductive Bible studies for more in depth inductive studies on this and other books of the Bible you can use in your small group.

Ephesians 3:14-4:16 Inductive Bible Study – Small Group Lesson Plan

Outline

I. Benediction of doctrinal section of Ephesians (3:14-21)
II. Be diligent to preserve the unity of the body (4:1-6)
III. Spiritual gifts and their purpose (7-11)
IV. Purpose of spiritual gifts (12-16)

I. Benediction of doctrinal section of Ephesians (3:14-21)

Discussion Questions

  • Paul says “for this reason I bow my knees…”. For what reason?
  • What is the main point of 14-21?
  • What does verse 15 mean?
  • How can we or anyone derive their name from God?
  • Is Paul praying starting in verse 16?
  • If not, what is he doing?
  • Comprehend the breadth and length and height and depth of what?

Cross-References

Psalms 95:6 – Come, let us bow down in worship, let us kneel before the Lord our Maker

Ephesians 1:10 – To be put into effect when the times reach their fulfillment—to bring unity to all things in heaven and on earth under Christ.

Ephesians 2:19 – Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and strangers, but fellow citizens with God’s people and also members of his household.

Psalms 107:43 – Let the one who is wise heed these things and ponder the loving deeds of the Lord.

Romans 11:33 – Oh, the depth of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable his judgments, and his paths beyond tracing out!

Teaching Points

1. In verse 14, Paul continues the thought process he began in verse 1. He went off on a side point about the mystery, which is the uniting of the Gentiles and Jews in the church. He had already discussed that point in chapter two. So “this reason” is the points he discussed in chapter two, namely that believers who were dead in sins are now alive in Christ and that the Gentiles who were formerly strangers and aliens were now fellow citizens with God’s household.
Paul marveled at God’s eternal purposes and perfect plan for the Jews and Gentiles. His response is to bow in worship. God is sovereign. He has good plans for His people. This should also cause us to bow our knee before Him and praise Him with all our hearts.

2. It is very important to read verse fifteen in context. As with the rest of the chapter, the context is believers in the church. Therefore it doesn’t mean that unbelievers derive their name from God. Only followers of Christ bear His name. In Christ, every believing family is God’s, regardless of ethnicity.

What does it mean that we derive our name from God? Well, we are Christians, believers. Our relationship to God forms a foundation of our identity. When people see us, they see God in us. If we do right, they may give glory to God. If we do wrong, they say that our God is not good. It’s like my son. He is called by my name “Dexter”.

What he does reflects on me. Jesus Himself said that the world would hate us because they hated Him first. Our actions stem from our relationship with Christ and reflect back on Him.

3. The rest of this section is a benediction. It closes out the first half of the book of Ephesians before the second half begins. The first half is focused on doctrine and the second half is focused on life application of that doctrine. Most of Paul’s books end with a benediction giving glory to God and invoking God’s blessing on or exhorting the believers he is writing to. This is like a two part sermon with a benediction in the middle.

4. In verses 16-18 Paul is invoking God’s blessings on the Ephesians. We may not notice it, but we also invoke God’s blessings on others when we say things like “May God bless you.” “God’s peace be with you.” “May God comfort you during this time.” etc. When we do this we should also pray for the person as Paul did for the believers he taught. Paul wants them to be strengthened, their faith to increase, and to fully understand the love of God. In verses 20-21, he concludes the benediction with praise for God. Notice also in verse 20; he is recognizing that God can do much more than he had even asked him for.

II. Be diligent to preserve the unity of the body (4:1-6)

Discussion Questions

  • What is the therefore there for?
  • Do you remember what it means to be prisoner of the Lord?
  • What is Paul’s conclusion?
  • How is this section different than the previous section?
  • What does the word “walk” mean?
  • What does it imply?
  • Why are the qualities in verse two integral to unity?
  • Give some examples of how they can preserve unity.
  • Give some examples of how their opposites can wreck unity.
  • What does showing tolerance look like in real life?
  • What does it not look like?
  • How much energy should we expend towards keeping unity?
  • What does this imply?
  • What is the reason for unity in the church?
  • What word is repeated again and again?
  • What do we have in common?

Cross-References

Philippians 1:27 – Whatever happens, conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ.

Colossians 1:10 – So that you may live a life worthy of the Lord and please him in every way: bearing fruit in every good work, growing in the knowledge of God.

1 Thessalonians 2:12 – Encouraging, comforting and urging you to live lives worthy of God, who calls you into his kingdom and glory.

1 Corinthians 13:4-5 – Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs.

Romans 15:1 – We who are strong ought to bear with the failings of the weak and not to please ourselves.

Galatians 6:2 – Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.

John 17:21 – That all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me.

Teaching Points

1. Chapter 4 begins the second part of Ephesians, which is focused on application of the doctrines taught in the first half.

Notice it begins with the word therefore”. This means “based on everything you have just read.” The doctrines taught in the first three chapters should directly impact how a person lives. In fact doctrine is useful. Some people don’t like to look at doctrine.

They think it is boring and unimportant. Their exhortation is just to love one another more.

But why should we love one another? Why should we have this unity in the church?

Paul told us many specific reasons why we should love those who are different than us in the first three chapters. Doctrine is the why and application is the how.If we don’t know why we do something, eventually we may stop doing it.

Just share the gospel! Why? Because we all have sin and are doomed to judgment and hell unless we believe in Christ. This is the motivation. The facts in the Bible form the foundation so we should dedicate ourselves to understanding them.

On the other hand, some believers mostly focus on the doctrine and skip the application. Just understand the Bible. But knowledge is not our end goal. If it doesn’t change our life it is not helpful, but will only puff us up. So Paul gives us a good example here, three chapters of doctrine and three chapters of application. If you read the rest of his epistles he writes extensively about both doctrine and application.

2. The key application is that we are to walk in a manner worthy of the calling with which we have been called.

We see all that God has done for us. We see the great position we have in Christ. We have seen His love for us and His plans for us and His blessings for us. So we must live our lives in a worthy manner. Does this mean that we can someone earn what we have received from God? Of course no. Then what does it mean? Because of our gratitude and because of our new lives in Him we should live our lives according to the new position we have.

Imagine a king goes out and adopts a poor beggar into his family. This beggar is now a prince. But he leaves the feast at the palace in order to resume begging. It is improper and not suitable.

Or suppose someone robs your house. You find them in prison and discover how bad their life situation is. You decide not to press charges, but instead choose to give a financial gift to this thief. He then comes back to your house and steals again. He is not living worthy of the gift you have given him.

As believers, when we go back to the same sinful lifestyle we had prior to coming to Christ, we are the same as the beggar and thief. God has adopted us and forgiven us. Now we have a responsibility to live worthily, not perfectly, but worthily.

Maybe at the beginning the beggar has a hard time adjusting to life as a prince. He can’t seem to learn how to be a noble and makes a lot of clumsy mistakes. The king will have patience with him, but the beggar needs to try his best. The king will definitely provide plenty of help for him, resources to speed this change. God provides the resources for us. We need to make use of them and live new lives, not going back to our former way of life.

3. We learned in the last couple of chapters about the unity believers have regardless of their race. Even previous enemies can be brothers and sisters in God’s family.
So how do we live this out? Maybe there are some old grudges there. “Sure, I can have unity with John and Fred, but Tim here is just too difficult. Yeah, Michelle can have unity with Tricia and Angel, but Janice is just so hard to get along with. I mean, you don’t how annoying she is!”

No, it is not a pick and choose type deal. We are to have unity with all believers in the church, not just those like us or with the same views as us. And this is hard work.

A. The qualities we need – The first part of verse 2 discusses the qualities that are
absolutely essential to unity. A prideful person looks down on others. He thinks that his way is the best and is condescending toward those who don’t agree with him. He will bicker and argue. He wants respect and honor. He will cause divisions over minor issues. He will speak out his opinion too much and want others to listen to him. This will all create disunity.

A humble person is quiet and calm, considers others more important than himself, is always willing to listen to others’ opinions and their viewpoints. He doesn’t consider himself to be superior because of his education or Bible knowledge or number of people he has shared with. He is a team player looking for the common good.

How about a harsh person?

Maybe I see a friend making a mistake in his gospel sharing at church. So I invite him to lunch and then just lay into him. How can you make this simple mistake? Don’t you know the Bible? What’s the matter with you!! Is this method right? Why not?

The Bible says to correct with gentleness. Harshness stirs up anger, resentment, and ill feelings. It also discourages. Maybe this brother just started sharing. And my harsh rebuke shatters his confidence, making him scared to share again. A gentle person would kindly and calmly help him to see the error while encouraging him for his effort in gospel sharing and his heart for others.

B. The energy we need – Maintaining unity doesn’t happen automatically. Christians are also sinners. Put hundreds of sinners of all ages and backgrounds together. What do you get? Do you think they will by nature have peace and be unified? No, by nature they will have a hundred different opinions and argue on and on.

Keeping unity requires diligence. We have to work at it. We have to make an effort to go out of our way to show kindness the to the “weird” believers. If there is a disagreement, we have to take initiative to find the other party and confess and solve the problem instead of letting it fester.

A basketball team needs to train, train, train to perform well as a team. Without training, it is just 5 individuals out there doing their own thing. After training, they can become a well oiled machine that is unstoppable.

We need to be diligent in this area, always on the lookout to squelch division and show Christian love. It take energy and hard work to preserve healthy relationships.

Verses 4-6 are reviewing the foundation for this unity.

III. Spiritual gifts and their purpose (7-11)

Discussion Questions

  • Who has been given a gift?
  • Was this earned or deserved?
  • Who is it from?
  • Explain verse 8.
  • What does it mean that Jesus descended to the lower parts of the earth?
  • When did He ascend?
  • What does it mean to fill all things?
  • What does it mean “He gave some as apostles…”?
  • Gave to who?

Cross-References

Psalms 68:18 – If I had cherished sin in my heart, the Lord would not have listened.

John 3:13 – No one has ever gone into heaven except the one who came from heaven—the Son of Man.

John 6:33 – For the bread of God is the bread that comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.

Romans 10:14-15 – How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them? And how can anyone preach unless they are sent? As it is written: “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!”

Colossians 1:28-29 – He is the one we proclaim, admonishing and teaching everyone with all wisdom, so that we may present everyone fully mature in Christ. To this end I strenuously contend with all the energy Christ so powerfully works in me.

1 Thessalonians 5:12-14 – Now we ask you, brothers and sisters, to acknowledge those who work hard among you, who care for you in the Lord and who admonish you. Hold them in the highest regard in love because of their work. Live in peace with each other. And we urge you, brothers and sisters, warn those who are idle and disruptive, encourage the disheartened, help the weak, be patient with everyone.

James 1:6 – But when you ask, you must believe and not doubt, because the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind.

Teaching Points

1. Each one of us – Every believer has received God’s grace in the form of spiritual gifts. This is important. Every believer has at least one, not just some of us. What’s more it is from Christ and He measures out the type and kind to give. Since He is the one giving, He can give different levels to different people. Two people might be gifted in preaching, but he might gift one more. Notice also the word “gift”. This means is it is freely given and completely undeserved. The giver is Christ.

Application: We should have an accurate view of ourselves. Not only are we created in God’s image and redeemed, adopted as His children, and sealed with the Holy Spirit. But we are also given spiritual gifts for building His church. A person who has low self-esteem does not understand these Biblical doctrines. Believers should be confident and walk around with their heads held high, not because of our goodness, but because we know that our Heavenly Father loves and cares for us. That is what gives us value. That is what gives us confidence.

2. Verse 8 comes from Psalms 68:18. Originally it was a victory hymn by David commemorating the victory over the Jebusites in Jerusalem. Paul may be applying this to Christ as an analogy of what Christ did upon His ascension. It has three parts.

The “ascension” is Jesus’ return to heaven. His “captives” would be the victory over Satan and death. These are both defeated and awaiting their final destruction. The “gifts to men” would be these spiritual gifts referred to by Paul. So just as the conquering David gave spoils of victory to the soldiers, Christ gives us spiritual gifts.

3. Descended refers to His incarnation. He came to the lower parts of the earth from the upper parts of heaven. Basically he came down.

4. The gifts administration gifts – Five different gifts of administration (or leading) are mentioned. Apostles, prophets, evangelists, shepherds, and teachers. God gives the church what it needs to function in a healthy way. What is the difference between each of these roles? How can people with these different gifts work together for building up the church?

5. Gave some. These people were given by God to the church to meet their spiritual needs. He gave them the gifts to accomplish their work and they in turn were a gift to others.

IV. Purpose of spiritual gifts (12-16)

Discussion Questions

  • What was His purpose in giving these gifts and calling them to work in the church?
  • How are the saints equipped?
  • Who is supposed to be doing the work of service?
  • Should there be an audience/preacher division?
  • Who has a job in the church?
  • What is our job? How can we do it?
  • What is the end goal for the believers in the church?
  • If we achieve this goal, what is the result?
  • Why would an immature believer be tossed here and there by every wind of doctrine?
  • How can we avoid this dangerous situation?
  • What kind of trickery do men use to mislead others?
  • What do the words craftiness and scheming imply?
  • How to explain the unity and individuality of the members of God’s church?
  • Who makes the church grow?

Teaching Points

1. The who of the gifts – Who is doing the work? The saints are the ones doing the work of service. They are not sitting and watching the pastors/teachers do it. They are to be involved themselves, each one having a task. The pastors job is to help the saints learn how to do the work and encourage them along the way. Unfortunately in most churches around the word 10% of the people do 90% of the work.

You have the congregation/audience who go to church each week. They get there just on time or late and leave right afterwards. Perhaps they may make a few comments about the lovely sermon or drop some money in the offering plate, but most do not participate in the work of the church. They are listeners.

Meanwhile the pastors and teachers labor all week putting together different classes, studies, sermons, lessons, often times directing the choir, cleaning the church, preparing materials, visiting the sick, conducting weddings, dedicating babies, conducting funerals, etc. The balance of work is disproportionate. From this verse, we see that God’s design involves every believer serving the Lord.

Application: How about you? Are you doing the works of service? Are you using your gifts in your local church. If not, you need to fix the situation. This Sunday, go up and ask what you can do to help or volunteer for a specific ministry.

If they say there is no need, tell them what you learned in Ephesians and ask them to really think about what you can do. Leaders of a church may say “no” the first time out of politeness so don’t stop there. Whatever they give you to do, do with all your heart. Do not consider it is below you. Eventually as you serve, your special gifting will become apparent.

2. The result of the speaking gifts – Verses 12-16 describe the purpose or mission of the evangelists, teachers, and shepherds.

Equipping the saints for the work of ministry
Building up the body
Helping the saints attain unity
Increasing knowledge
Guarding against deception and false teaching
Bringing spiritual maturity (so that you may not be children)
Helping believers grow up

We can see that the role of leaders in the church is very important. Increasing numbers and the weekly offering is not the goal. A healthy church is not one that simply has the pews filled up. A healthy church is a growing church. People are fed. People are equipped. People are trained. Knowledge of the truth is increasing. But this knowledge is being lived out as people join together to build God’s kingdom, each one using his gift for the work of ministry. A healthy church is not one super-pastor who is famous and gets all the recognition. A healthy church is one with many volunteers, lay brothers and sisters working together. What Paul is talking about, is discipleship.

The leaders are disciples and they are making disciples through equipping and training, and these new disciples are in turn serving and helping and making more disciples. This is what church is about. It is not about slick media presentations or celebrity services. It is about normal people growing to be more like Jesus and helping others do the same.

Application: What is your spiritual gift? Some people like to go to conferences or fill out surveys to try to discern their spiritual gift. However, the most effective way is to begin serving. A boat that is not moving cannot change direction. However, once it is going forward (in any direction) the rudder can easily change its trajectory. In like manner, a believer who sits around contemplating what his spiritual gift may be will never be using it for God’s kingdom. But once he starts serving, it will be easy to change his direction as God (and other people) guide him into a role perfectly suited for his unique God-given abilities.

E-book: If these notes are helpful you can download the entire Ephesians E-book study guide to use on any device or print the entire series.

Study Ephesians 4:17-32

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