|By: Dr. Wayne Barber; ©2000|
|What is the source of unity in the church? How should it be maintained? Are church "programs" an effective way of achieving or maintaining such unity? Dr. Barber explains.|
Ephesians 4 talks about “Preserving the Unity of the Spirit.” It picks up right after the prayer Paul has just prayed in Ephesians 3:14-21. That prayer sums up what is said in chapters 1-3, and it sets up what is about to be said in chapters 4-6.
In 3:16-17 we find the real crux of the prayer: “that He would grant you, according to the riches of His glory, to be strengthened with power through His Spirit in the inner man; so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith.” If we put that in language that we can understand in our day, he is saying, “Simply exchange your life for His life by obeying Him in all things.” You see, that is what the normal Christian life is. It is not me trying to live like Jesus. It is Jesus being Jesus in my life. He is giving me strength and strengthening me with a divine ability far beyond what a human could do apart from the Lord Jesus Himself.
Now in 4:1, Paul stresses the importance of every believer living this way. He says: “I, therefore, the prisoner of the Lord, entreat you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling with which you have been called.” In other words, Paul is saying, “I have prayed for you now. I have told you what you have in Christ. Now measure up to that standard by the way that you live.”
Why does he encourage them to do this? Look at verse 3. He says, “being diligent to preserve the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.” We do not produce unity. We tried that in our church. It does not work! Oneness does not come from being together. Oneness does not come from knowing each other’s name. Oneness does not come from going out and eating together. Oneness is produced by the Holy Spirit of God. When you are right with God and I am right with God, we are one together. The Holy Spirit is the divine spiritual ligament that holds us together, given to us by the Lord Himself.
If we are not relationally preserving the unity of the spirit, then what we are doing is working against what the Spirit is trying to do. We are literally tearing the ligament that God has given us that binds us together. There are many times in our Christian walk when we may have problems with somebody. We may be bitter towards somebody. Paul is saying, “Listen, He gave you all this, and the unity of the Spirit is the very ultimate of what the church is supposed to manifest in their relationships.” Therefore, when we are not preserving it, evidently we are tearing it apart. We are tearing the ligament that God has given that unites us together.
The proof of our letting the Holy Spirit of God live in our lives and produce abilities beyond what we could do ourselves is found in verse 2. There are several characteristics I want you to see. First of all is the characteristic of humility. Humility is something a man cannot do. It is something God has to do. It is the attitude when a person is willing to die to self by saying yes to the Lord Jesus Christ. It means understanding that others are more important than yourself. It is the attitude when we are more concerned with the unity of the body than we are for our own opinions and our own so-called rights. That is a divine ability. There is not a human being alive who can do that apart from the power of the Spirit of God. You see, when you submit to God, God gives you that humble spirit that Christ Himself had when He left His throne in glory and came down to the earth for the sake of other people. He gave up His glory there, masked it with a body of flesh, came to this earth and died on a cross. That attitude becomes our attitude. When Christ is your life, Christ is your attitude. That is what Paul is saying.
Now when that ability is manifest, it moves into another ability that grows right out of it and builds off of it. That is the word “gentleness” in verse 2. It is the Greek word praotes. It is really the word “meekness.” It has the idea of a wild horse that has been tamed by the master. This horse now is comfortable in the reins of the one who has tamed him.
Let me explain that to you. Gentleness is the calm spirit that you have. You’re not anxious. When does it manifest itself? When somebody is talking about you. They are hurting you. That is going to happen in the body of Christ. But when you have a humble spirit and the desire to protect and preserve the unity of the Spirit instead of protecting your rights and your opinions, then your attitude is going to manifest itself in a gentleness about you, an inner calmness. You know that God is in control and God will use whatever is going on in your life to conform you into the image of Christ Jesus. That, by the way, is the hope of our calling, that one day we be like Jesus.
If you will exchange your life for His and realize you can’t handle that offense, then God will produce within you a humble spirit. You will become more concerned with them than you are with yourself. Have you ever noticed when you surrender to Him you refuse to complain to others and spread your misfortunes to others and the membership of the body? Why? Because you want more than anything to protect the unity of the Spirit in the bonds of peace. It is trusting God to work it out.
The third quality he mentions here is patience. All of these qualities are interrelated. Patience is the word makrothumia, which is the ability produced by the Spirit that enables us to take the unkind words that are said, and the unkind deeds that are done. Not only can we take them and tolerate the people who did them, but we can love them in spite of themselves and not give up on them because there is still hope that God can change their hearts. No human being can do that on his own. That only comes when you exchange your life for the life of the Lord Jesus Christ. When I realize who I am not and who Christ is, I begin to step into that which He has put me into at salvation. I say, “Lord, be who you are in me.” Then the God of glory begins to manifest His presence through humility, gentleness and patience.
If you take all three of those words and sum them up, they come into one word, forbearance. Paul says, in the last part of verse 2, “showing forbearance to one another in love.” Forbearance is the ability to stand up and not let it knock you down until the whole provocation is over. Everything is done and you have been able to make it all the way through. I wish I lived this every day, don’t you? Paul is saying, “We had better start living it because if we don’t, we are not preserving the unity of the Spirit in the bonds of peace. We are literally tearing the ligament that God has given that binds us together.” Everything that is done is in love, in the spirit of love. It is a faithful commitment that the Holy Spirit manifests in our life that says “I will do whatever is necessary to protect you spiritually and to protect you in the unity of the Spirit that God has given.” That is a beautiful characteristic, and it is not something that you and I can do. It is something He does in and through our lives.
All of this is for the sake of unity. Unity of the body is the heart of the message of the book of Ephesians. As a matter of fact, everything that relates to salvation, the church and the kingdom of God has to do with unity. Anything that infringes on that unity is sin. It is not only sin against God, it is sin against the body. It is sin of the worst kind. It is tearing down what the Holy Spirit is seeking to bind together. We preserve the unity of the Spirit, first of all then, in the way that we are diligent in our behavior towards each other.
Secondly, we preserve the unity of the Spirit by our willingness to adhere to doctrinal purity. It is only when we hold on to pure doctrine that we can stay and enhance the oneness the Spirit is producing in our life. In 4:4-6 Paul uses the word “one” seven different times. Watch this—one body, one Spirit, one hope, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all. These seven things frame the doctrine that defines the Christian church, the body of Christ. If you divert from these doctrines, automatically you have infringed upon the unity that the Spirit has given to you and me.
I want us to go through these seven doctrines and see how we are unified by what we believe. We are unified by what we believe, not only by how we behave. First of all, Paul says there is one body in verse 4. There is no denominational body; there is no Gentile body, no Jewish body, no male body, no female body, no slave or free man body. There is just Christ’s body on this earth.
Secondly Paul says, not only is there only one body, but there is only one Spirit. Let me just go over what we know about the Spirit from the book of Ephesians. In verse 13 of chapter 1, the Spirit seals every believer in Christ. In 4:30 it says that sealing is unto the day of redemption. You had better believe that there is one Spirit, and that Spirit is very unique and important. He comes into your life when you receive the Lord Jesus Christ. He is the Spirit of Christ, and He seals you until the day of redemption. That means that you are absolutely secure in your salvation because the Holy Spirit of God is your seal.
Also in 2:18 this one Holy Spirit gives us access to the Father. Every believer has access to the Father through or by the means of the Spirit. I came down to our church the other day, and I thought I hadn’t brought my keys. I wouldn’t have access into the building because I didn’t have my keys. It is the same way with the Spirit of God. You don’t have access in prayer at all unless the Spirit of God lives in your life. He is one of the two advocates. He takes the plea to Jesus. Jesus takes it to the Father. Without the Holy Spirit of God, you could not pray. He gives you access to the Father.
In 2:22 Paul says He indwells every believer on earth. The church is the dwelling of God in the Spirit on this earth. He dwells in every believer. There is only one Holy Spirit, and you get Him when you are saved. Romans 8 says that if you don’t have the Spirit of God, you are not a believer.
Chapter 3 verse 5 of Ephesians says He reveals the deep things of God, particularly the mystery of the church. Do you realize that man cannot discover what God has hidden? Truth is not something that man discovers. It is something that God reveals as man seeks after it. God reveals that truth through the means of His Holy Spirit.
In 3:16 He strengthens every believer. We just looked at that prayer. He does it with divine ability. You had better believe there is one Holy Spirit who lives in you because you couldn’t live the Christian life apart from Him.
In 4:3 He is the bond to all believers. He is the ligament. If you don’t have the Holy Spirit, then you are not joined to the body of Christ or you are not joined to Christ. The Holy Spirit is the ligament that holds on to you and me.
In 4:30 it says He can be grieved. 5:18 says every believer is to submit to the one Holy Spirit all the time. The word there is in the present tense. We will look at that when we get to chapter 5. It means the Holy Spirit is in me now, and He is there to rule over me. You see there is only one Spirit, and we must bow to Him.
In 6:17 the weapon of His warfare is the Word of God. The weapon the Spirit uses is the Word of God. Therefore, it is our weapon.
In 6:18 He enables the believer to pray. Paul brings that up one more time. There is no prayer apart from the Holy Spirit.
We have one body, and that one body is indwelt by one Spirit. Do you realize what Paul is saying? The same Spirit who lives in you lives in me. I didn’t get any more or any less than you got. There is only one Spirit, and He indwells the body.
Thirdly, there is only one hope of our [one] calling. Now every time you find the word “calling” in Scripture, it is in the singular, particularly in Ephesians. That means there is only one calling. There is not a different calling for you and a different calling for me. When he speaks of calling, he is speaking of something else. It refers to the ultimate goal of our salvation: that every believer is destined to eternal Christ-like perfection and glory. “Do you mean to tell me God is trying to make me like Jesus? I thought you said I can’t be like Jesus.” Well, now here is the key. I can’t, but the more I die to self, the less you see of me and the more you see of Him. He gets stronger in my life. There is going to come a day, friend, when He is going to transform me, glorify my body and make me like Him. I will not be a little Jesus, but I will be like Him. God wants me that way. That is the hope of my calling.
The word “hope” is never uncertain. The word “hope” means an absolute certainty. So therefore, I have something ahead of me. I have a goal. One day I will be made like Him. There is only one hope of one calling. Every day when you go to work, God wants you to be like Jesus. How do you do that? Die to self because you can’t be like Him. Christ will be who He is in your life. You have a hope that one day He is going to transform you and make you like Jesus. Instead of Jesus living, ruling and reigning in you, you will rule and reign with Him on this earth. So we have one hope of one calling.
Fourthly, there is only one Lord. The term “Lord” always refers to the Lord Jesus Christ, not to the Holy Spirit, not to the Father. It refers to Jesus. Of course, Jesus is the fullness of the Godhead bodily. The word “Lord” refers to the Lord Jesus Christ. Now what does it mean? It means if He is the only Lord, then He is the only ruler and master over the very things that knock us down. He rules over sin. He rules over death. Therefore, He is the only means of our salvation.
The Word of God says there is one Lord and only one way to salvation. One has ruled over death and sin. That is our Lord Jesus Christ. Acts 4:12 says there is salvation in no one else for there is no other name under heaven that has been given among men by which we must be saved. Romans 10:12, speaking of Christ, says for the same Lord is Lord over all, abounding in riches for all who call upon Him. Galatians 1:8 gives a warning. It says “even though we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to that which we have preached to you, let him be accursed.” There is only one Lord, the Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. The word “Lord” is kurios. It means a compassionate, caring ruler and master. If you are looking for something today, there is only one Lord who cares about you. There is only one who can give you what you are looking for. He is the One who rules over life and rules over death. There is only one Lord, one body, one Spirit, one hope of our calling and one Lord.
Fifthly, there is only one faith. If you have one Lord, it necessarily means you can only have one faith. He is not talking about the act of faith when a person receives Christ. He is talking about the body of Scripture, the Bible, that fully reveals Christ in the New Testament and shadows Him in the Old Testament. There is only one faith. Therefore, to know about this one Lord, you must know this one faith. You must believe this book, the embodiment of God’s Word. It is the Scriptures that must fall on a person’s heart whereby he is saved. It is the seed that convicts you. It’s not that you are a bad guy. You are just a sinner unable to save yourself. So therefore, there is only one faith. How are we unified? By believing this book, by living in it, by studying it and by being diligent about it. That unifies us as a body.
The sixth thing Paul mentions is there is only one baptism. Is he talking about spiritual baptism, which is what happens at salvation when we are baptized into the body of Christ, or is he talking about water baptism? I believe he is talking about water baptism. Water baptism doesn’t save you, it simply identifies you as a person who has been saved. First of all, if he was talking about spiritual baptism why didn’t he put it back in verse 4 when he was talking about one Spirit?
Secondly, we live in a culture in America that does not appreciate baptism. We don’t understand the culture of the day in which this was written. We don’t understand that when a Jew went forward and was baptized it cost him everything. His family disowned him. They walked away from him. It was identifying him as one who had been spiritually baptized into the body of Christ. There is only one baptism. This baptism identifies us as believers.
If you were in a Muslim country today and you were baptized you would understand the weight of that word. If you were in the Jewish faith and were baptized, you would understand the weight of that word. When we were over in Romania they had a baptism. The church had asked the people being baptized not to give their names, their place of residence or where they work because the Communists were in the services. Do you think it wasn’t important to those precious people when they got baptized?
When they walked up to be baptized, they gave their name, their address, their places of residence and if they had phones, they gave their telephone number. They were overwhelmed with the fact that they had been spiritually baptized into the body of Christ. This one moment, this one baptism identified them with believers. They were separated unto Christ. This meant something in their lives.
Finally Paul says, there is one God and Father of all. Did you realize the Fatherhood of God is a New Testament doctrine? You don’t find that in the Old Testament. But guess who it was who taught us the Fatherhood of God. The Lord Jesus Himself. He revealed God the Father as Father to you and me. Men did not quite understand that concept. It was alluded to, but never fully explained like it is in the New Testament. Jesus told His earthly parents, Joseph and Mary, “I must be about My Father’s business.” He told the disciples in Matthew 6 when they asked Him to pray, “Pray this way. Our Father....” And the last words He said on earth before He went back into heaven were, “Wait for the promise of the Father.”
We are not only unified by how we behave towards each other, we are unified by how we believe the doctrines of God, which are seven-fold: one body, one Spirit, one hope of one calling, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all who is over all and through and in all. We are diligent to preserve the unity of the Spirit by the way we behave and by the way we believe. If you depart from any of this, then you are tearing the ligament that God has given that binds us together.