Living the life of one who has been converted is tough going. The old man is dead, but his habits are hard to break. Every day we are tempted by a sinful, satanic world system to walk according to its course. We are told that we need more sex, more money, more things. We are told that we are to be more assertive and more self-aware, and certainly that we are to guard against anyone getting the upper hand on us. We are to guard our turf and to thus make sure that we never lose position, preference or place to others. In a word, we are to be selfish. We are to follow the self-centred path of individualism.
But we who have been made alive in Christ receive our orders from another world. We are seated in heavenly places in Christ Jesus, and thus He tells us heaven’s will for us while we are here on earth. Specifically, we are told that rather than living selfishly, we are to life selflessly. Humility, not pride, is to be our motivating mindset. The good of the whole is to take preference over the comfort and good of merely self.
This particular series of studies arose from a consideration of Brackenhurst Baptist Church’s own church covenant. Previously, we considered the biblical foundation for that covenant’s preamble, which reads,
Having been brought, we trust, by the Spirit of God to repent and believe in the Lord Jesus Christ as our Saviour, and to give ourselves up to Him; and having been baptised upon our profession of faith, in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, we now, relying on His gracious aid, in the presence of God, the angels and this assembly, do solemnly and joyfully renew our covenant with each other.
This study in turn considers the biblical foundation for the first clause of the covenant, following the preamble: “We will work and pray for the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.”
For those in covenant relationship with each other in Christ, it is necessary to realise just what it is that we affirm, what it is to which we are committed. And that to which we are committed is clearly spelled out by the statement above: “We will work and pray for the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.” By making such a commitment, we are simply affirming our calling.
We who have been made alive in Christ have been called out of this world system to that of another. We have been brought into a unique, miraculous and meaningful relationship with each other. And we are each responsible to make haste to live this out–practically. In other words, we are to work and pray for the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. These words are borrowed directly from the pen of the apostle Paul, and therefore we can see that such an affirmation is fully warranted by Scripture.
As we study what this particular covenantal commitment means, both in principle as well as in practise, I trust that we will be persuaded to wholeheartedly affirm our calling with one another because we have been enabled to affirm our conversion.
We should understand that, in order to wholeheartedly and biblically affirm our calling, we must first affirm our conversion, which is what we considered in our previous study. That is, since what follows in this and future studies requires God’s gracious aid, we must be partakers of His saving grace in order to make such an affirmation. And since our conversion does not take place in a vacuum we realise that to become a child of God by necessity places us in the wider family of God’s children and temporally in the local family, the Body of Christ. And, like all families, we have both rights and responsibilities. As we study what it means to work and pray for the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace, we will see clearly what these privileges and responsibilities are.
The letter to the Ephesians is one whose theme centres on the glory of the church. You will remember that the full revelation of the people of God being in one Body, comprising both Jew and Gentile, was not fully made known until God revealed it to the apostle Paul (3:3-9; 5:32; Colossians 1:23). The Old Testament was not completely silent on this truth, but it was only fully revealed later to Paul, who then, thanks to his epistles, revealed it to us.
Anti-Semitism is nothing new to our age, as the pages of history will attest. History also records prejudice from the Jews toward Gentiles (see Jonah). But the Lord Jesus Christ (a Jew!) struck a death blow to such alienation by His atoning work on the cross. By reconciling man to God, He also reconciled man to man (see Ephesians 2:1-7, 11-22). In chapter three of Ephesians, Paul delves further into this theme as he extols the glorious purpose of the church, namely that all peoples, and that all of creation will glory in such reconciling grace–forever and ever (3:8-12)!
But let us pause and ask a very obvious question: Why is this such a big deal? That is, why is this unity of peoples in the church such a glorious display of God’s grace? Simply, because we live in a broken, fragmented world in which hostilities between peoples reign supreme.
As you consider world history, there has been no lack of evidence to substantiate the claim that people just can’t and won’t get along. The history of humanity has pretty much been the story of “wars and rumours of wars” with very little respite from conflict. We have been told for 150 years that man is evolving and getting better, and yet with the onslaught of this theory the twentieth century was the bloodiest of all.
Thirteen years after the end of legalised apartheid, are South Africans any less racist? Even in the West, where there has been so much development regarding civil rights and attempts at racial harmony, things are worse than ever. Truly, we live in a broken world where alienation–between nations, between races, between cultures, between neighbours, between generations, and between family members–is the norm. And it is precisely in this environment that the church is placed for the purpose of showing that reconciliation is God’s work, and that reconciliation will one day in fact be the norm. She is called to both practise and to proclaim the message of reconciliation: the gospel.
The church is a miracle of God’s grace: her relationship to God is by His grace alone, and our relationship to one another in the church is also by grace alone. And it is as this unity within the church is lived out that God is glorified for His marvellous grace. And this privilege of glorifying God in this way belongs to all who can indeed affirm their conversion. In other words, those who can truly affirm their conversion will by necessity affirm their attendant calling to live in biblical harmony and unity with one another in the local body of Christ.
As noted previously, it is a wonderful thing to be “a habitat of Deity.” It is amazing! We, who have repented of our sins and believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, are built by the Spirit of God into “the household of God.” We are the temple (the “holy of holies”) of God, and thus quite obviously, we are very different from the world.
The church is not merely a club of those who choose to hang out together because of some common (and selfish) interests. No, she is a God-centred communion of people who have been purchased by Christ–because chosen by the Father–and formed together into one Body by the Holy Spirit. In other words, a club is the work of man, whereas the church is the work of the Triune God (see Ephesians 2:18; 21-22; 3:14-16). We are privileged indeed! And as with all privileges, we have expected responsibilities.
The apostle Paul, here in Ephesians 4, begins to apply the doctrine of the church. As in most of his letters, he lays a doctrinal foundation before exhorting believers to duty. His approach is that of first establishing principle and then encouraging the practises which correspond to the principles. In chapters one to three he has instructed us concerning the doctrine of the church and now in chapter four he begins to apply that doctrine. This is precisely what we see in 4:1-6.
The overall theme of these six verses is clearly that of unity: unity of duty, unity of disposition, unity of diligence and a unity of devotion rooted in a unity of doctrine. That is, since we have been called to the same duty of “walking worthy of our calling” (v. 1), we are each to manifest the same biblical disposition (v. 2) as we diligently and devotedly live out our God-centred doctrine (vv. 4-6). We are to devote ourselves to this call to a practical unity. This is our covenantal expectation.
Since our covenant calls for us to affirm the biblical expectation of v. 3 (“endeavouring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace”) we need to gain a firm handle on what this means. And to do so we must understand the context of this verse.
Let’s look at this call thoroughly so that we can intelligently and jealously affirm our calling.
First, we are called to a heavenly duty (v. 1). In this verse, the apostle essentially writes, “I, Paul, am begging you to balance the beam.” Let me explain.
Paul here “beseeches,” (“earnestly requests,” “begs”) the Ephesian believers to “walk worthy” of the responsibility, the duty (“vocation”) to which they have been summoned by God.
God, from eternity, has by His sovereign grace and wisdom decreed that He will save a people from the guilt, power, presence and pleasures of their sins. And in space and time He brings that decree to pass as He calls such chosen sinners to come out of the kingdom of darkness and to enter the kingdom of His dear Son.
Paul has acknowledged (in chapter 2) that these Gentiles to whom he is writing were at one time aliens, strangers from the covenant, without Christ, without hope because without God. They were indeed “dead in their trespasses and sins.” But God’s gracious, powerful, effectual call came to them and they were enabled to no longer resist! They thus positively answered the call and are now organically connected members of the Body of Christ. And it is in the light of this privileged calling that Paul now exhorts them regarding their responsibilities.
Alluding to 2:1-3, we can put it this way: They are to no longer walk according to the course of this world, but rather they are to “walk worthy” of their designation–the church, the called out assembly, the dwelling place of God. They no longer heed the call of this world but rather they heed the call to follow Christ.
The word “worthy” is from the Greek term axios, which was used in ancient times in the context of weights and measures. The word literally means “bringing up the other side of the scales,” and hence “indicates equivalence. Paul is insisting that there should be a balance between profession and practice” (Wood).
In what follows, Paul indicates that by which we can “weigh” or “measure” our profession of faith; namely, lowliness, meekness, longsuffering and forbearance as we live out our calling in relation to other believers.
If we indeed affirm that we have been converted by Christ, then indeed we will also affirm our calling to follow Christ, to walk after Him, to “walk worthy of the calling by which we have been called.” This duty to which we have been called is simply to “walk the talk.” If we have repented of our sins, believed in the Lord Jesus Christ and given ourselves up to Him, then we will “balance the scales” between profession and practice, between confession and conduct, between talk and walk. And we will do so regardless of our circumstance in life.
Note that Paul wrote as one who was the prisoner of the Lord. Was he seeking to gain sympathy? Hardly! Was he writing to complain? Never! Instead, he uses this self-descriptive appellation as a proper boasting in the Lord. As Theodoret once said, “He gloried in his chains, more than a king in his diadem.” Or as Charles Hodge paraphrases this, “I, the martyr Paul, the crowned apostle, exhort you.” Thus, if being in shackles did not excuse Paul from this duty, then none of us has any excuse either.
As we affirm our covenant with God and with each other, we are affirming our calling to be holy as He is holy (1 Peter 1:15-16). Nothing less is expected and no excuse to the contrary is allowed. Yes, it is true that we need help to fulfil this, but that is why we affirm the covenant in dependence upon God for His gracious aid, and we do so holding the hands of our fellow church members. We are called to this Body-duty together.
I recently read the sad story of a child who went missing. The entire community began searching for her, but their efforts, which continued for several hours, proved to be fruitless. Finally, after they had seemingly combed the entire area, someone suggested that they make one final search, this time holding hands so as to be sure that not an inch was overlooked. The child was found, but it was too late: The elements had taken her life. When her body was discovered, her mother lamented, “If only we had held hands sooner!”
Such is often the lament of churches that have undergone heartache in the assembly. Much difficulty could be avoided or dealt with far sooner if church members would only hold hands sooner. May God grant us the grace to do so!
To be a member of Christ’s church is an inestimable privilege and this membership entails a corresponding immense responsibility. But God’s means of grace, which is the local church, is designed to aid us in fulfilling this responsibility. This is why we need to affirm this covenant. To walk worthy of the Lord is no small task and thus we need to exhort and “work and pray” to help each other “balance the beam.” Individualism will tip the scales towards a false balance, which is an abomination to the Lord (Proverbs 11:1). Thus we must affirm together to so live in community that when our church is examined by God we will not hear, “Thou art weighed in the balances, and art found wanting” (Daniel 5:27), but rather, “Well done, good and faithful servants” (Matthew 25:23).
What a glorious calling we have been given, and how much grace is available to us as we walk through this life on the level beam forged by profession and practice! May we work and pray for a unity of holy duty.
Second, we are called to a humble disposition (v. 2). The unity to which we have been called is not, as we shall soon see, one that is contrived or humanly orchestrated. In fact, the unity that we experience is nothing less than the work of God, a work that resulted from the prayer of Jesus.
In John 17 we have the record of Jesus praying in the upper room after the final supper, just prior to His betrayal. Our Lord knew that the soldiers from the temple were on their way, and that soon the sheep would be scattered as He, their Shepherd, would be smitten. And yet He had nothing but the strongest faith that this small church would survive, and even that it would thrive. And it was this faith that drove Him to pray for the unity of the church, and not just for the church of that first generation, but rather for the church of all subsequent generations (vv. 20-21). He prayed that there would be a God-centred, glorious organic unity in the church. And since the Lord Jesus always prayed according to the Father’s will, we know that His prayer was, is and will continue to be answered. Yes the church is “at one with God” and this ensures that we are also in an unbreakable relationship with each other.
Again, Paul says that we are seated together in heavenly places in Christ Jesus (1:3; 2:6). And we know that one day we will be in a perfect unity and harmony with each other (Romans 8; Revelation 21-22). But what about now? As someone has lamented, “To reign with saints above, O that will be glory; but to live with saints below, well, that’s another story!” We might smile at this in good humour, but I wonder if Paul would have.
Paul had had his fair share of conflict from the professing church (see Philippians 1:15-16; 2 Corinthians 11:28). He had experienced plenty of heartache at the hands of believers. And yet he also knew the invincible power for good that existed in the church. He knew what it was to experience the love of fellow believers (see Philippians) and thus he was no cynic when it came to the expectation that we should entertain concerning the Body of Christ; and v. 2 clearly highlights this.
Paul fully expected (because Christ does) that those who have received a holy calling will manifest this in a humble walk. Those who have been privileged with the holy duty (v. 1) will fulfil it with a humble disposition.
This walk, this humble disposition, is also, by its very nature, a holy one. That is, it is different–much different than the walk of those who have not yet experienced this call. Believers, those who can indeed say amen regarding the characteristics of conversion, can also affirm that their disposition has been converted. That is, in their relationship with one another in the church (as well as without) they are lowly, gentle, patient and forbearing. In a word, they love (1 John 3:14).
This is what we must affirm if we will commit to live in proper covenantal relationship with one another. If we will be the church to one another and for the glory of God, then we each must be committed to living out a humble disposition in our relationships with each other. Let’s investigate what this means both in principle as well as in practice.
First, our walk is to be marked by the disposition of “lowliness,” or humility. Commentators point out that the word translated “lowliness” (tapeinophrosyne) was a derogatory word in classical Greek language, for it was a despised characteristic in the proud Greek culture. To such people this word suggested grovelling, servility, low-mindedness, and perhaps even obsequiousness. But what else would we expect from a world system which walked “in the futility of their mind, having their understanding darkened” (4:17)? On the other hand, those who have been “called with a holy calling” are characterised in their relationships by this culturally despised characteristic, especially within the church.
If we will truly strive to live out the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace, then we must be committed to esteeming others better than ourselves. We must not be touchy when a fellow church member enquires regarding our absence from fellowship, or when we are confronted with our misdeeds. We must be lowly enough to accept the risk of rejection as we reach out to help others, and we must learn to serve rather than live to be served. In sum, to affirm that we will “work and pray toward the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” is to commit to living counter-culturally.
A member of the Navigators’ ministry was once asked, “How do you know if you have a servant’s attitude.” He wisely replied, “By how you respond when you are treated like one.” And indeed, if we walk in lowliness of mind, we will respond gracious when others treat us as servants, for we will realise that we are in fact bond slaves of the Lord Jesus Christ.
Second, our walk, our conduct towards others is to be characterised by a disposition of “meekness.” This too is a despised word by many in our world. After all, in a self-assertive world, showing a strong hand is seen as essential in getting ahead. But, of course, believers know that this is nonsense.
One of the greatest leaders in world history was specifically designated, in his time, as the meekest man on the earth (Numbers 12:3). Moses, this most meek man, has probably never been surpassed in history as an effective leader. He was strong–strong enough to control his strength–and thus he accomplished much for the good of a nation and for the glory of God.
Moses learned to let God be His greatest fear object, and thus he feared no man. And because he feared no man, he didn’t throw his toys out of the cot when things didn’t go his way. In fact, the one time that he failed to be meek highlighted the folly that results when one exercises their strength without control (see Numbers 20).
BBC, we too need to have such a devotion to God that we will be gentle with one another. When we affirm our calling, we are declaring that, by God’s grace, we will be gentle with one another. Why? Because we will be affirming that we are under the authority of Christ, the meekest Man of all time!
Third, our walk is to be characterised by the disposition of “longsuffering” or patience. A practical unity between believers requires that we “suffer long,” that we “hopefully endure” with one another. We must be committed to one another for the long haul. Yes, there will be times in which you will be wronged, or when others in the church will fail in their responsibilities. It is then when you will have the opportunity to “walk worthy” of the naming, the “calling” to which you have been called. The local church affords us plenty of opportunity to exercise a longsuffering attitude! The world is impatient with failures; but the church is constructively and robustly patient.
As the Lord Jesus was longsuffering with His disciples during His earthly ministry, and as the Father is longsuffering regarding the ingathering of His elect (2 Peter 3:8-9), so must we affirm and practise patience with one another.
Finally, our walk must be characterised by “forbearing one another in love.” The word translated “forbearing” literally means “to bear one up.” We are called to bear with one another through thick and thin. Practically, we are to let love cover a multitude of sins (1 Peter 4:8). We are to give one another the benefit of the doubt (without merely irresponsibly turning a blind eye to sin).
Dear people, if we have been called out by God’s sovereign and saving grace, then we must be committed to an “unquenchable benevolence” (MacArthur). Again, we are to be willing to take abuse from others while still loving them. We will do all that we can to help one another in our pursuit of Christ, and when a failure occurs we will be careful to keep this from becoming public knowledge.
To cover a multitude of sins (1 Peter 4:8) with love does not mean that we ignore sin. Instead, it means that we will with the sin as necessary without making it public knowledge. David was wronged time and again by King Saul, and yet when Saul was slain in battle, David lamented his death and cried, “Tell it not in Gath, publish it not in the streets of Askelon; lest the daughters of the Philistines rejoice, lest the daughters of the uncircumcised triumph” (2 Samuel 1:20). Though he certainly did not ignore Saul’s sin, he was unwilling to rejoice in the king’s downfall, and he refused to make Saul’s failures public knowledge. Indeed, in David’s life, love covered a multitude of sins.
To affirm our calling is to affirm that we love one another, and thus humility, gentleness, patience and forbearance will characterise our church, thus “keeping the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.”
Third, we are called to a hearty diligence regarding our duty and disposition (v. 3). The word “endeavouring” comes from the Greek word speudo and it speaks of “zeal,” “diligence,” or “speed.” The idea is that of “making haste.” This concept can be seen in the various ways that the word is translated in the New Testament.
- Luke 2:16–“And they came with haste, and found Mary, and Joseph, and the babe lying in a manger.”
- Acts 22:18–“And saw him saying unto me, Make haste, and get thee quickly out of Jerusalem: for they will not receive thy testimony concerning me.”
- Galatians 2:10–“Only they would that we should remember the poor; the same which I also was forward to do.”
- 2 Timothy 2:15–“Study to show thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth.”
- 2 Timothy 4:9, 21–“Do thy diligence to come shortly unto me … Do thy diligence to come before winter. Eubulus greeteth thee, and Pudens, and Linus, and Claudia, and all the brethren.”
- 2 Peter 1:10–“Wherefore the rather, brethren, give diligence to make your calling and election sure: for if ye do these things, ye shall never fall.”
The exhortation is thus one of great importance. Paul is saying that we must be eager, diligent to live out the reality of the unity that we have in Christ. We must be zealously committed to peaceful relationships reflecting the work of the Spirit in our lives. We are to reflect relationally what we’ve experienced redemptively.
Please note that this is not a peace at any price. No, this is a peace that recognises the third Member of the Godhead; He who is the Spirit of truth. This is essential for us to understand, especially in light of what has both preceded and what follows this verse. Let me explain.
The disposition of v. 2 which is to be displayed by church members is not a flabby, spineless, postmodern type of love. Rather it is a love that honours God and thus it honours truth. And therefore it is diligent to honour the Spirit of truth. Let me put it this way, though we are called to humility in our relationships with others, this humility is not to be exercised at the expense of failing to stand on and for the truth. It is precisely because we humbly bow to God’s truth that we humbly relate to one another in the body of Christ. And thus we must honour God’s truth while at the same time being careful to let Scripture define that truth. All too often we die on exegetical or theological hills that perhaps should be treated–at least at this stage in our Christian growth–as mole hills.
Recently, I interviewed a prospective church member and the issue of eschatology surfaced. This individual was not fully convinced of my partial preterist interpretation of the Revelation, but I informed him that this is not a barrier to his church membership. Rather, the truth that is not negotiable is that of the actual, physical, literal return of Christ to earth one day to judge all of mankind, and the subsequent eternal blessedness of the saved and the everlasting punishment of the lost. In the same vein, we would not demand that church members use a particular translation of the Bible, but we would expect a biblical conviction concerning the inspiration of Scripture. Likewise, we do not demand that church members abstain entirely from the consumption of alcohol, but we most certainly stand against drunkenness.
My point is that the church must be diligent to humbly keep the peace while at the same time not compromising truth. We are to be meek while still being faithful to clear cut doctrine. We are to be patient while not abandoning biblical conviction. We are to be forbearing while still being faithful to God’s law. (For a negative illustration of this, look at how the Corinthians abandoned truth under the supposed exercise of love, as recorded in 1 Corinthians 5.)
As we affirm to “work and pray for the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” we do so affirming that we will not abandon truth for the sake of peace, but we are also affirming that neither will we allow discord over issues that are not clear cut matters of truth (see 1 Corinthians 8-10; Romans 14).
We must “make haste” to get along. We must “be eager” to reconcile differences. We must “be zealous” to have harmony in the Body. We must “labour” to make sure that grace and truth characterise our fellowship.
For us to be the church to each other and to impact the world for the glory of God, we must be diligently alert to guard against needless fragmentation. This means, practically, that we will sometimes need to rebuke a gossiping tongue and confront a cynical accusation. We must speedily stand on the Spirit’s truth and guard (“keep”) what He has produced. Unity in the church is produced by the Spirit, who kindly and graciously leads us deeper into the truth of God’s Word, which results in a deeper devotion to Him. But we are required to “work and pray” towards this. Let me illustrate.
On 11 September 2001, the United States became the victim of terrorist attacks. The world came together–for a while–and was united in a common cause. Peace reigned between nations, political parties and even in the ongoing culture wars. People began attending churches in large numbers. There appeared to be unity, but it was short lived. As life became comfortable again, selfishness once again reigned, and humility, meekness, patience and forbearance seemed to collapse with the same force as the Twin Towers.
On 26 December 2004 a huge tsunami devastated southwest Asia, destroying homes, industries, and the shoreline. Most tragically, the giant wave took some 250,000 lives. At that time, Tamil Tigers rebels in Sri Lanka laid down their weapons and joined hands with their countrymen in giving aid and helping those in need. Nearly three years later, the fighting is back with a vengeance. With the crisis forgotten, selfishness and rebellion have returned with a deadly passion.
In April 1994 the entire world marvelled at the long and peaceful queues outside voting stations in South Africa’s first ever democratic election. Crime took a nosedive and what appeared to be a miracle took place. Those of us who had panicked and bought CADAC gas stoves found ourselves firing them up for enjoyable braais rather than using them for basic survival due to anticipated bombings of power plants! Peace reigned for a while. But that peace is long forgotten. A politically negotiated “peace” has given way to the depravity of man, with the result that a self-centred, sin-driven desire for gratification has prevailed. And we should not be surprised. The natural man responds to others naturally.
But we who have been called to “the habitat of Deity” are different. We have the Spirit of God within us, and thus we are “diligent,” “eager” to be in right relationships with each other–not merely when we experience a crisis, but always. That is, we are committed to guarding what God has given to us; we are committed to working and praying towards a faithful stewardship of this privilege.
Paul exhorts us to “keep” or to guard the unity of the Spirit. This means that we must at times confront that which threatens such unity and therefore we are called to exercise a helpful discipline in the body. Whether it is false doctrine, divisive and factious behaviour, or sinful conduct, anything that would threaten the godly peace produced by the Spirit of truth must be either corrected or removed. To guard this unity sometimes requires difficult and painful responses but in the end, the church is helped. Once again, the initial peace, unity is to be an ongoing reality in church life and thus we must guard it.
We know what it is to be reconciled with a holy God. We know what we have been delivered from and what we have been delivered unto. We realise that militant rebels, political violence and natural disasters do not hold a candle to the all consuming fire of God’s wrath. Because we have experienced God’s gracious deliverance we seek reconciliation as a daily pursuit in our relationships with others–especially with our brothers and sisters in Christ. It is for this reason, unlike the worldly examples given above, that we persevere in peaceful relationships long after our initial deliverance from the penalty of sin. In fact, the more we learn about God’s grace, the more humbled we become, the more meekly we respond, the more patiently we relate, and the more forbearance we exercise. Because we want to know and glorify our Saviour, we are diligent to guard the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. Let us affirm to work and to pray toward this end!
Fourth, and finally, we are called to a holy devotion (vv. 4-6). As Paul writes of the unity which the Spirit (through the new birth) creates, he immediately reminds his readers that we share this unity in one Body (v. 4a). In what follows, he identifies the motivation for diligently pursuing the unity mentioned previously. And this motivation is nothing less than devotion to the Triune God.
Again, as mentioned above, the unity that we share is not natural. And because it is not natural it transcends issues of demographics. It transcends issues such as race, ethnicity, culture, economic and social status for it is a unity which is rooted and grounded in the Godhead!
Since God is “above” His creation, we cannot pursue unity in the church based on “creaturely criteria”–like those just mentioned. No, a thousand times no! Rather, our unity is due to what the Triune God has created, and thus our devotion to Him is what keeps us together. In other words, our horizontal relationships are determined by our vertical relationship. And likewise our responsibilities. Our responsibility (vv. 1-3) is weighty, and in order for our practise to measure up to our profession, we need to constantly remember our God. We must constantly be growing in our devotion to Him, and this seems to be Paul’s point in vv. 4-6.
He tells us first that we must be diligent in having a practical unity because, after all, the Spirit of God has baptised us into one Body (v. 4; cf. 1 Corinthians 12:13). The Holy Spirit has placed within each believer the “hope of glory” and this Spirit-driven pursuit of a glorious, godly character drives us all. We pursue this because we desire to live Soli Deo Gloria. We diligently live in such a way that God’s glory is our focus, and thus we work together toward this end. It is for this very purpose that we strive for the disposition of v. 2, because this character reflects that of the Lord Jesus Christ.
Paul adds that we are to diligently pursue practical relational unity in the church because our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ has defined for us our belief and our identification. He is our Master to whom we owe our wholehearted allegiance. The apostle is intending to convey a single idea; i.e. “one Lord in whom we all believe and in whose name we are baptised” (Scott, quoted in Wood).
Our “one faith” in Christ unites all true believers. “One allegiance and thus one profession of allegiance” (Wood). We are thus to practically live out this unity in allegiance, devotion to the Lord Jesus.
Paul mentioned baptism in relation to Jesus Christ because in (water) baptism we are identified with Christ, which is an identification of unity with Him and thus with His Body. As one has said, “baptism is one because it makes us one.” And by virtue of our love for Christ, we are to love one another. Since we are united by the Spirit in the Son, how dare we not work and pray for the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace?
Finally, Paul mentions the first member of the Godhead, the Father, in v. 6. Since He is the One who unites all of creation under Him by virtue of His sovereign power, who are we to divide what He has joined together? “God reigns ‘over all’ in His transcendent sovereignty. He works ‘through all’ in His creative activity. He dwells ‘in all’ by reason of his immanent pervasiveness” (Wood). And thus we are called upon to do all that is required to “keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.”
When you consider this trio of Trinitarian verses in their overall context, it is quite clear that Paul is exhorting his readers in Ephesus to do their duty, with all diligence, to display such a disposition of character and conduct that they honour the Triune God, whose dwelling place they are. If they profess to be the habitat of God, then they are to live like it. And the motivation is simple: not primarily because of love for the church, not primarily for a concern to reach a lost world, but rather because of their love for their glorious God. They are to live for Him because they love Him, because He first loved them (2:4; 3:14-19).
But before bringing this study to a close we must say something once again about the truth that unites us.
It is interesting that Paul, in highlighting the One to whom we are devoted, does so in doctrinal terms. That is, the God that we claim has called us is definable. He is the One who has given us propositional truths both about who He is and what He does. And it is vital for our unity that we work and pray for unity in these truths.
As already indicated, there are legitimate differences of opinion regarding certain areas of teaching and thus judgments of charity over things doubtful must prevail. But when it comes to the character of God and clearly defined statements of His truth we must stand firm. We dare not jettison any of these for the sake of unity.
For example, today it is popular to criticise churches because they make definite declarations about the nature of God regarding His omniscience, His foreknowledge, His sovereignty. But these are non-negotiable. We are not permitted to create gods of our own imaginations. We are called to worship the one true and living God. We must remember always that it is He who has called us into His light and thus we dare not set up our darkened understanding as the standard by which we worship Him.
What I am simply trying to say is that the unity which we are working towards is a God-centred one which means that His doctrine matters. We thus must have a teachable spirit while at the same time exercising a robust faith, a muscular theology which refuses to compromise on essentials for the sake of a mushy unity. We dare not play fast and loose with the truth “once for all delivered to the church.”
As we journey together in covenant affirmation, may it be a walk of growing love and a developing devotion for our wonderful, glorious, majestic, gracious, loving God fuelled by a commitment to the truth of His Word. If we indeed love the One who converted us, then we will have no problem affirming our call to “work and pray for the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.”