Ephesians 4:1-16 -- Unity is what we want to consider today. When we hear or read certain
words, our minds present us mental pictures. At least my mind does, and I believe all minds do to a greater or lesser degree. What mental picture comes to mind when we hear the word unity? Maybe it’s a sports team working together for a common goal. Maybe it’s a picture of siblings engaged in a conversation. Perhaps it’s a group of workers all dressed in identical uniforms. Whatever may come to mind, what the concept entails is a group of people coming together and striving together for a common purpose. Now, perhaps a church, or your church, to be more specific did not immediately come to mind when you began considering the word. But this is obviously the context of the passage before us, and arguably one of the most important places for unity to exist. We can use other words that are essentially synonymous with unity to put a finer point on the concept. Perhaps we would even prefer other words to describe this Biblical concept, like solidarity, inclusion, collaboration, or interdependency. All of these are helpful for rounding out a concept of the word unity.
In almost any context, few would argue that unity is not a good thing. Even if in the next
sentence one would also contend that it is harder and harder to come by, especially in its truest and purest form. The better question would be: does anyone still believe that unity is worth striving for? Unity is no doubt abused at times, silencing dissent, difference or questions, all in the name of preserving unity. Despite unity’s possible misuse and the challenges that are associated with striving for it we still have a command. The Bible not only invites us, but further compels us to care deeply about this subject of unity. According to the passage in Ephesians, unity (especially in the context of the church), is not just a good thing. It is essential. It is glorious. And it is a work of the Holy Spirit, it is something He does in us, for us and through us. We are unashamedly called in verse 3 to “keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.”
We have to ask ourselves these questions. What is unity? Why does it matter? And, how do we do it? We have eight quick lessons about unity that can be seen from this passage.
The first thing we learn about unity is that it is to be a Christian’s priority. We know this from the urging Paul uses while speaking to the church at Ephesus when he tells them in verse 1 to, “walk worthy of the vocation wherewith ye are called.” Unity is foundational to our calling as a Christian. Unity in our lives, churches and relationships embodies the gospel It is inherent in the way which we embody the gospel. This concept echoes the very words of Christ in John 17:11 when he prayed for his church with these words, “…Holy Father, keep through thine own name those whom thou hast given me, that they may be one, as we are.” Remember the context of this prayer. It was on the eve of Christ’s death, when He knew that He was about to die for the sins of men, and what does He pray for? Oneness. The importance of this cannot be overstated. Christ’s death, in part, should have the effect of driving us together. unity is not an option: it is a biblical Christian priority.
The next thing we see from this passage is that unity is a sign of Christian maturity. In verses 12-14 of the passage, we are instructed that as the church is built up in the unity of the faith it will reach “perfection (completeness or maturity).” The unified church will not be like “children tossed to and fro.” A church that lacks unity is a church that has immaturity in it. Consequently, it is also a vulnerable church. This is a group of believers that will be “…carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the sleight of men, and cunning craftiness.” The church is more easily
misled when it comes to truth and manipulated by false teachers when we are divided into
warring factions. We need to be unified with one another if we ever hope to be spiritually
The third lesson we see is that Christian unity is a human impossibility. What we mean by
this is that outside the working of the Spirit in our hearts and lives this will not be something which is either attained or maintained. Notice in verse 3 where it references unity as being “of the Spirit.” Unity is something the Holy Spirit gives, cultivates and instills. It is a supernatural work. This is an important aspect to create a distinction between unity and a natural affinity. That is, getting along with people that we would likely have been friends with anyhow. I hope in the church that you HAVE friends, this is good, to be expected and has benefits. “There is a sense in which this is a naturally occurring reality. Unity is not naturally occurring. It is about God working in the lives and hearts of church members to draw us closer to Him, and by extension, one another. This is a critical aspect of unity. Consider this. If it is true that your church consists of those who are saved solely by the grace of God, and not by any other common human qualification or commonality, perhaps our expectations of our relationships IN the church should be different. Maybe we should not be surprised when church doesn't feel like a college dorm room. Maybe it shouldn’t shock us when relationships in a church are at times awkward. Nor should it surprise us when at times the relationships in the church are occasionally attended by conflict and issues. After all, it is by God’s grace that we who maybe
were naturally enemies have been made family. If this sounds impossible, that is literally my point. Outside the work of the Spirit, it IS impossible.
This begs a question. If Christian unity is NOT about personal affinity, then what IS it based on? This leads us to our fourth principle. Unity is anchored by our Christian identity. What is the most often used word in verses 4-6? It is the word ‘one.’ Seven times Paul uses this word to not only drive home the concept of Christian oneness, but to further link the aspects of our Christian identity and submit them as the FOUNDATION of the oneness we should enjoy. We share one faith” Our lives are shaped by the same old, old story. Why we are here, how we should live, and where we are heading. Our foundation is the same ultimate trust. We also share “one hope” Our confidence in an ever-changing world, even in the face of depravity that seems to know no bounds, is founded upon the resurrection of Christ. We share “one baptism” We, as a church, are unique in that our hope is built on nothing less, than Jesus Christ and his righteousness, we dare not trust the sweetest frame, but wholly lean on Jesus’ name. We project our baptism as that public confession that sets us apart as one of those belonging to Christ and his Church. We share “one Father” as adopted children of God’s eternal family. This means we address a person we have never met as ‘brother’ or ‘sister’ upon learning that they have also put their trust in Christ's work on the cross.
Our relationships with each other are not just informed by these ‘ones’ but they are defined by these spiritual realities. Even those that may be separated by a canyon in their socioeconomical situations share a bond in the gospel. It is not a matter of naively ignoring real and actual differences but that we as different people from different backgrounds share the ULTIMATE thing in common. We ARE one together specially because of one faith, one hope, one baptism and one God. These realities literally redefine who we are.
There is an additional spiritual reality in this passage that is implicitly outlined in verses 4-6- the trinity. According to the Bible God is three persons and one eternal being. The divine
embodiment and personification of unity. See how Paul in these verses relates our oneness to God's triune nature. “One Spirit…one Lord…one Father” The God who is three in one, the most perfect example of unity we have, is whose image we are being conformed. Unity is not just something we work at and try to achieve, rather it is core it to our very identity as a Christians and church members.
Check back in a couple of weeks for part two of our thoughts on unity.