The world is a mess. God created it to be perfect, but when sin entered it, the world became a mess. From harmony to disharmony, the world stopped working the way God intended for it to. God’s answer to the disharmony of the world is Jesus Christ. Through Him, all men become one. These united believers form the Church, the Body of Christ. The Church is made up of believers from all over the world, from all time. We are literally all one in Him. That fact goes to the heart of the mission of the Church in the world:
The Church has its place and function between Christ and the world. She is not the mediator of salvation; she is not the savior of the world; she is not even a redemptive community. But she knows and makes known the Savior and salvation.
And part of making the Savior known is demonstrating what unity looks like. The Church, when it manifests unity within its membership, is at the same time manifesting the power, glory, and grace of God in the world.
The call for unity
The premise for unity is based on the call of God –
I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received. (Ephesians 1:1b NIV)
As Christians, we are to “live a life” or, as the KJV so eloquently translates it, “walk worthy” of our calling. The call is to walk on a higher plane commensurate with our position in Christ. And our position in Christ couldn’t be higher –
And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus, in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus. (Ephesians 2:6, 7 NIV)
Since God called us and we responded, it’s our duty to live up to our calling. This was an important thing to Paul, which he wrote about elsewhere –
We continually ask God to fill you with the knowledge of his will through all the wisdom and understanding that the Spirit gives, 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 (Colossians 1:9, 10 NIV)
In Ephesians, the Greek word translated “live” is paripateo, and as it is used in the New Testament, it means “to conduct one’s life.” It’s an obligation every believer has simply by virtue of their new life in Christ. This is important for a number of reasons. As we conform our lives to the life of Christ, God will bless us. But beyond that, every single believer is Christ’s ambassador on earth, that is, he is representing Jesus Christ to sinners. It behooves all believers to get it right! How offended would Jesus be if the image you presented to your friends was less than He is?
When it comes how the Church of Jesus Christ manifests Godly unity in the world, there are no less than four virtue that must be exemplified –
Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. (Ephesians 1:2 NIV)
Let’s look briefly at each one of these virtues or graces:
Humility. The Greek, tapeinophrosyne, is translated “lowliness” in the KJV, which is little more descriptive. It refers to “a thankful dependence upon God,” and it’s the exact opposite of pride or arrogance. Humility is the mind brought low. Dr McGee thought so highly of lowliness that he referred to this virtue as “the flagship of all Christian virtues.” The stance of humility is that of a man looking upward.
Gentleness. Again, the Greek word, praotes, suggests “meekness” but certainly not weakness. To give you an idea of praotes really means, you should know that there are two men in Scripture noted for their praotes: Moses and Jesus Christ. That’s right, these two men – one the leader of Israel who led his people out of Egypt and into the Promised Land, and Jesus Christ, the Son of God who died for the sins of the world – cannot be considered weak in any way, but they are known for their humility. The word also carries with it the idea of an “unresisting, uncomplaining attitude which enables one to bear without irritation or resentment of others’ faults.”
Patience. Moule defines the Greek word makrothymia (longsuffering) like this:
…the enduring, unweariable spirit which knows how to outlast pain or provocation in a strength learnt only at the Redeemer’s feet.
This kind of patience means that when a fellow believer is suffering or has a problem, we are willing to step in and walk beside them; that we are willing to “suffer long” with that person. We don’t lose patience with them just because they’ve fallen and can’t seem to get back up again. The kind of patience Jesus wants us to exercise is the kind that picks up a fallen brother not once or twice, but every time he falls.
Woodrow Kroll made this observation:
The unity that we have in Jesus Christ is a unity of purpose. Our purpose is to be a blessing to one another. Our purpose is to walk worthy of the Lord so that we can build up the Church, so that we a Church can be a blessing to the world.
Bearing with one another in love. This final virtue is the logical outworking of a patient spirit or attitude toward others. It refers to being patient, respectful, and honoring others in spite of their weaknesses and faults.
These four graces or virtues are meant to be exercised within the Body of Christ. In other words, Paul’s intention here is not how Christians should interact with sinner, but how they ought to treat their fellows in Church. How we treat other believers is a testimony to the world of the unity that God desires. It’s a powerful witness to a chaotic world.
It’s about the Spirit
How is all this unity possible, anyway? As if Paul anticipated that question, he wrote this in verse three:
Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. (NIV)
The kind of unity God wants cannot be manufactured or ginned up at a conference or convention. It’s not the kind of unity achieved through movements or denominations. Only through the work of the Holy Spirit and our submission to Him can we enter into the kind of unity Paul is writing about here. But it wasn’t just Paul who was interested in this spiritual unity. Our Lord spoke about it –
My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, 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. (John 17:20, 21 NIV)
In fact, whether we feel the unity that exists between members of the Church or not, it’s what happened when we were born again!
For we were all baptized by one Spirit so as to form one body—whether Jews or Gentiles, slave or free—and we were all given the one Spirit to drink. (1 Corinthians 12:13 NIV)
All genuine believers belong to ONE body, and we need to live like we realize that. The world is watching Christians to see how or if we get along with each other. There is so much disharmony and discord outside of the church, the lost are looking for an alternative whether they realize it or not, and they’re looking at us. What do they see? If they see us behaving like they are, then we aren’t living a life worthy of our calling. Ephesians 4:4 – 6 is simply a striking passage on the unity of the Body of Christ. Count the number of times the word “one” is used –
There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to one hope when you were called; one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all. (NIV)
God is obviously trying to tell us something of great importance here! It’s all about the Holy Spirit in verse four. He is the One who creates the Body of Christ and fills it with peace and hope. Verse five is all about Jesus. He is the Lord of the Church; the very anchor of our faith and into His Name have we been baptized. Finally in verse six, we get to God the Father, who is everywhere, all at once. Our unity as members of the Church should reflect the unity in the Trinity.
To the Roman church, Paul wrote something similar –
…so in Christ we, though many, form one body, and each member belongs to all the others. (Romans 12:5 NIV)
This unity is a fact – a present spiritual reality, and it should serve as the basis for Christian living within the community of faith.
Some special gifts
We serve a caring and thoughtful God. He wants us to live in unity, yet He also knows our weaknesses. Given those weaknesses, He understands that achieving the kind of unity He desires is, well, virtually impossible. To help us out with that given the Church gifts.
But to each one of us grace has been given as Christ apportioned it. (Ephesians 4:7 NIV)
Paul used the Greek charisma to describe what believers have received from the ascended Christ. Not all believers receive the same gift, but these gifts are for the purpose of fulfilling God’s will for His Church. The gifts are enumerated in verse 11 –
So Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers… (NIV)
Apostles. Most scholars believe this to have been a foundational gift. In other words, there are no apostles today. The apostles Paul refers to here would have been The Twelve (the Eleven, really) plus Paul. The text doesn’t give any indication that the gift of apostles would be an ongoing possession of the Church. But the result of this particular gift is remarkable: the New Testament Church.
Prophets. This gift, along with the previous one, seems to have come to an end with the apostolic age. Having said that, this particular gift does not refer to the Spiritual gift of prophecy, which is at work in the Church today. The prophets who would have been gifts to the Church were people like Agabus (Acts 11, 12) and the five men in Acts 21.
The remaining gifts are permanent gifts, manifested in the Church today:
Evangelists. These are the itinerant preachers; people who travel to various churches and groups to preach and teach but who don’t have a congregation of their own. Evangelists are gifts given to the Church as a gift because they do things or say things pastors and elders don’t or can’t.
Pastors and teachers. Some like to separate these two gifts but grammatically they are a single unit. Pastors are also teachers within the Church, but not all teachers are pastors.
These gifts (these are gifts, not just people) were given by Christ for the reasons given in the following verses –
…to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ. (Ephesians 4:12, 13 NIV)
All believers, not just the pastor and teacher; not just the evangelist; not just the apostle and the prophet, are to be performing “works of service.” Every believer is expected by Christ to perform some work of service that will strengthen the Church.