Prepared by Dr. John E. Marshall
Eph. 4:3c “. . .the unity of the Spirit. . .”
Since our unity is “of the Spirit,” created by Him, it has to be a unity based on truth, for the “Spirit of truth” was sent to guide us “into all truth” (JN 16:13). When people say what we believe is unimportant they denigrate one of the Spirit’s main assignments. The only unity the Holy Spirit can promote is one based on truth. The same Spirit who unifies also inspired the Bible. Thus, true unity and Holy Writ can never contradict each other.
Groups of churches which teach error are frozen together, not fused together. We do not need this “cold unity of masses of ice frozen into an iceberg, chilling the air for miles around” (Spurgeon). Uniting one dead church with another is but a gorging of spiritual morgues. “Unity in error is unity in ruin” (Spurgeon). Building a false unity is not a gathering of new sheep into the fold, “but it is to borrow the shepherd’s brand and imprint it on the dogs and wolves and call them sheep” (Hamilton, in B.I.).
Eph. 4:3d “. . .in the bond of peace.”
This defines the sphere in which our unity is nurtured. “The bond” which ties the Church together is “peace.” The unity we have can be kept only as long as we maintain peace with one another. Our inward unity manifests itself in outward peace. In turn, this public calm becomes more than merely the outward evidence of inward union. It also becomes the outward guard, the protecting shell, of the inner unity which spawns it.
Outward peace is the girdle which surrounds and holds God’s people together. When peace is maintained, inner passions and angry thoughts are more likely to be held in check, thus allowing them to be resolved privately in prayer. When peace is broken, deeds and words inflame inner feelings and throw gasoline on inward sparks, thereby inviting all havoc to ignite.
Straightforward, loving confrontation is good and essential, but rancor ruins. Discord disbands, dissension dissolves. An old fable tells of two earthen pots floating in the sea. As they drew near to each other, one said, “If we clash, we are broken.” The same is true of local churches.
I implore us to be peacemakers. None of us is perfect. Our natural temperaments are flammable. Offenses occur daily, any of which could erupt into quarrels. Rather than be policemen who come after trouble begins and try to restore order, be peacemakers who foresee trouble and forestall it. Defuse tension. Disputes divide, but when welded as one, we can be wielded by One to break asunder massive walls of evil which oppose us.
Eph. 4:4a “There is. . .”
These words, added by our English translators, introduce Paul’s reply to the question, in what sense are Christians one? The answer is seven-fold. In verses 4-6, Paul will repeat the word “one” seven times. By using the perfect number, seven, Paul pictures the fact our oneness is perfect.
The seven “ones” are clustered into three groups. The first cluster (4:4) centers three “ones” around God the Holy Spirit. The second group (4:5) converges three “ones” on God the Son. The third cluster (4:6) contains one of the “ones” and focuses on God the Father, the Author of all.
Unity in the church is a reflection and manifestation of the blessed Trinity. The church is to picture for the world our triune God. No wonder we are to walk in lowliness, meekness, long-suffering, and forbearance in love. It truly is important to endeavor “to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace,” for the lost can best see the Trinity in a united church.
Eph. 4:4b “. . .one body,. . ”
“Body” is Paul’s favorite way of describing the church. This is understandable. It clearly pictures a unity which funnels energies into cooperative effort. Unity is essential to coordinated action. Division paralyses.
Notice, the body already exists as one. We are not called on to create this oneness. It is given by the Holy Spirit. Our task is to keep this sacred trust from being maligned. The body is one, consisting of all believers from beginning to end, from pole to pole, and continent to continent.
By the new birth, believers are joined to their Head, Jesus, and thus become members one of another. We are attached to one another whether we like it or not. We are made for one another, and cannot thrive without each other. To picture this and teach us this at the first of our Christian walk, God has made it impossible for a person to be saved without someone previously in the body doing something to make it happen. All who become believers do so by means of another believer. This forces us to see from the first that we belong. Even Saul was saved only after he saw the testimony of Stephen. Also, when Saul was blind and helpless in Damascus, God sent a member of the body, Ananias, to minister to him. The body is one.
I hasten to add, the body is one in love, life and purpose, not form. We are not called to an ecumenical movement which seeks ecclesiastical or organizational unity. Southern Baptists wisely declined to be part of the World Council of Churches, a group which has become an embarrassment to the name Christian. The body’s oneness is not a mechanical oneness of administration. When Paul wrote our text, there were already throughout the Mediterranean world churches, each separate and distinct from the others. They each had their own polity, and maintained their own discipline, with no bureaucracy or hierarchy over them. Corinthian Christians handled problems in Corinth only. Ephesian believers took care of business in the church at Ephesus. Each local fellowship was responsible for itself.
Efforts to put all Christians under one denominational umbrella are exercises in futility. Do not try to create body-oneness. It already exists.
Eph. 4:4c “. . .and one Spirit,. . .”
The church can never be viewed primarily as an organization, for the Holy Spirit’s presence constitutes life, as in an organism. The Spirit indwells every believer and thus creates vital union between them. He is the unifying force in “the body.” The same Spirit who came down in power on Jews at Pentecost is the same who fell on Gentiles in the house of Cornelius and the same who indwells every believer today.
Even as every human life is traced to Adam, every believer can trace his spiritual life to the Spirit who worked through ones already in the body. No Christian enters the faith with an independent existence. Each life can be traced to the body in one way or another, and all are drawn to the body by the Spirit, the unifying essence which makes us all one. He is the uniter. “All sins against unity are sins against the Holy Spirit” (Hodge).
A body can have only one inhabitant, one essence to which all else submits. No body could function properly with a dualism of intelligence. A body has to be permeated by one living principle, not a double consciousness. Two essences in one body would constitute a monster.
A human body functions in coordination because it is pervaded by a spirit which is one. The church is also successful when totally controlled by One. The Spirit indwells, animates, and means to rule the “one body.” His voice alone should be obeyed in every church decision. Leaders choose, or members vote, but their verdict should reflect the Spirit’s will, not theirs.
Eph. 4:4d “. . .even as ye are called in one hope of your calling;”
Believers are united by a common “hope” God set before us when He called us. We “are called” to share someday eternal Christlike perfection. Think of it! At this moment, one billion people of earth share an identical hope. Though from various backgrounds, we proceed toward the same goal.
God meant for our thoughts of the future to be a unifier among us, but we have devised ways for it to divide us. Our depravity is vast. We invent ways to fragment ourselves. We have pre-, post-, or a-, millennialists sorted into subcategories based on whether one is pre-, post-, or mid-, Tribulation. I hold three end-time essentials: resurrection of the dead, bodily return of Christ to earth to reign as King of Kings and Lord of Lords, and Judgment Day. Dogmatism over other details invites discord. Fighting over nonessentials undermines any joy we are to find in having “one hope.”
We need to be able to dwell on the future with delight, because emphasizing the past or present highlights differences. Looking to the past accents ethnic and national divisions. Looking only at the present emphasizes denominations and social status. Eyeing the future, all these distinctions fade. Knowing that the things which now divide us will someday fade away should help us view them today in proper perspective. We do not deny differences, nor ignore them. We simply do not overemphasize them.
Believers differ in much, but in this we all agree–we yearn for the homeland, for a life free from sin, the great divider. As the wise men followed one star to the culmination of their journey to Bethlehem, so Christians have “one hope” guiding them to their Promised Land. We will someday be like Jesus. With this as our common hope, let us walk in such a united and joyous way that we attract others to travel the journey with us.