The Epistle today from the fourth chapter of St Paul’s Letter to the Ephesians begins with the firm statement that “grace has been given to each one of us according to the measure of Christ’s gift.” Marius Victorinus, an African pagan philosopher who moved to Rome in the fourth century and became Christian, has explained this Biblical passage very well indeed. He wrote: “Grace has been given to each of us according to the measure in which Christ grants it. Since therefore different people have different gifts, there is no cause for envy [of the gifts given to others] or refusal [of the gifts given to you]. One should not [be jealous] over what another has, nor should any refuse to give what grace [they have] received. [When] Christ grants according to the measure of grace given to each, we should all embrace one another in love, bearing everything with forbearance and patience, with meekness and humility.” In other words, both St Paul and Marius Victorinus are reminding us that we are each unique persons—we are each different from every other person on earth—and each of us have received different gifts from Christ. Furthermore, we all have to learn to accept each other with patience and humility.
So, what are these gifts of which St Paul is writing? The closing lines of this passage from Ephesians, chapter 4, verses 11 to 13 state the gifts clearly: “[The gifts of Christ] were that some should be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers, to equip the saints [that is, all the people of God] for the work of ministry, for building up the Body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to [being mature persons] to the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ.” the different gifts that we each receive are given so that we can face the different challenges that Christ permits us to have in our lives. We all seek together to touch “the fullness of Christ,” but we follow different paths as we seek that “fullness of Christ.”
St John Chrysostom has explained that “In the body [that is, the community of Christians—the people who believe in Christ and have gathered around Him] it is the living spirit that holds all members together, even when they are far apart. So it is here,” he wrote: “The purpose for which the Spirit [of God] was given was to bring into unity all who remain separated by different ethnic and cultural divisions: young and old, rich and poor, women and men” [Homily on Ephesians 9.4.1-3]. St John’s fourth-century colleague, Ambrosiaster, explained that “The Church’s order has been so formed as to join the human race together in the profession of unity, so that all may be in Christ, having Christ as their single head, that is, the source of life” [Epistle to the Ephesians 4.12.6].
Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture has raised the question of “When will this unity [set out in Ephesians 4] be attained?” An answer of Theodoret, a fifth-century theologian, was helpful. He wrote: “In the future life we shall attain perfection. But in the present life we need all the help we can get from the apostles, the prophets and our teachers” [Epistle to the Ephesians 4:13]. Now, the extent to which this perfection and unity is gained in this life or after we die, we really don’t know. But St John Chrysostom sets out an exciting goal for all of us. He wrote: “We mature until we attain the unity of the faith, that is, until we are all found to share a single faith. For this is unity of faith when we are all [truly] one, when we all alike acknowledge our common bond. Until then [that is, until we have unity of faith and accept each other] we must labour [that is, we must work and pray]. If you have received the gift of upbuilding others,” urged St John, “be sure that you do not overthrow yourself [that is, misuse the gifts you have been given by Christ] by envying someone else’s gift” [Homily on Ephesians II.4:13]. Now, we have all received “the gift of upbuilding others”—in our families, in our friendships, in serving those in need, in our work (both paid and voluntary) and in the Church. To “upbuild” is to enlarge, to increase. Just as the wind upbuilds sand dunes, so the Lord upbuilds each of us.
A few verses after today’s reading ends, St Paul considers how we can “upbuild others,” grow to maturity, and gain the perfection that we seek and that Christ seeks for us. St Paul’s challenge is quite practical. He urges us “to speak the truth in love” to each other and to Christ. St Paul insists that, and I quote, “we are to grow up in every way into Him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the body [of Christians are] joined and knit together by every joint … [so that] each part is working properly [and] makes bodily growth and upholds itself in love.”
We don’t all need to become theologians. Even St Peter reflected at the end of his Second Letter that “there are some things [in the writings of St Paul] that are difficult to understand” [chapter 3, verse 16]. What we do need to do is grow into mature persons who upbuild and love each other and love Christ. We can all do that. We can love each other and love Christ. As the Divine Liturgy of St John Chrysostom urges us:
Let us love one another, that with one mind we may confess Father, Son and Holy Spirit, the Trinity, One in essence and undivided. Amen.