Have you ever asked the question, “Why did Jesus come to earth?” What was His purpose in joining Himself with humanity? We often think of Jesus purpose for coming to earth as providing salvation to us; to call us powerfully to Himself, and thus give us new life in Him. And this is true. That is why He joined Himself with flesh, and lived a perfectly righteous life according to the Law, and died bearing the wrath of God on behalf of those whom He would save, and then being resurrected by the sustaining power of His Father, rendering death stingless. His purpose was to save us.
But there was a further purpose in saving us, and that is what we will look at today in our passage in Ephesians 4. Christ’s purpose in redeeming us is to join us into one Body. We were not saved merely into a personal relationship with Him alone - we were saved into the Church - the Church for whom Christ died to make holy and blameless, and to prepare her as a bride for Himself. The unity of the church says something about the Gospel in which we believe, as well as the Triune God that has given us that Gospel and saved us through it.
As we read corporately this morning, Jesus had a heavy burden on His heart as He was praying His high priestly prayer in John 17. In the midst of His preparing to go to the cross, His thought was not on the beatings that He would incur, or the pain of the nails through His flesh, or the torture of his body weight slowly suffocating Him as He pulled Himself up merely to take half a breath, or even the damning wrath of His Father towards the sins He was bearing that were not His own, and that He never needed to bear. No, His thoughts were focused on those He was leading, His disciples, that the Father would join them together so that they would be one, even as Jesus and the Father and the Spirit are one.
But do we observe this presently? Do we experience the joined-together temple of Ch. 3? Sadly, and to our shame, not always. Because of the sin that is still present in us, we often do not live together as we ought. So, beginning in Ch. 4, Paul calls us to become what we are by eagerly maintaining the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.
You will remember from last month that Paul urges us to walk in a worthy manner of the calling with which we have been called. To be “worthy” means to be “equal to,” calling into mind that if we have been shown such grace in Christ, then we ought to live like those who have been shown grace. And we do that by the list of means of spiritual gifts that he tells us beginning in vs. 2: by “all humility and gentleness with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.” If you are going to walk as one who is conscious of the gospel of Christ, you must live with these characteristics in your life. You do not get to choose the ones that best fit your personality or your personal circumstances. Mothers, fathers, children, employer, employee, teacher, student - if you are living in Christ’s desire for you, the reason for which He died, then you must follow hard after Him - denying yourself and picking up your cross daily to do so.
We are to live together. As the Church, we are to live as one. All of the spiritual traits that one should portray from these verses have a common goal culminating in vs. 3 - “to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.” Why be humble and gentle? To be united. Why be patient? To be united. Why bear with one another in love? To be united. You cannot step away from this passage and still have an excuse to have disunity! Paul commands us as a prisoner for Jesus to be one! Just as Christ prays as He nears the cross that we would be one!
But yet we ask, “Why do we need to be one!” We are not content with simply obeying our authority in Christ. We are not content with seeing the commands of God’s Word and submitting our life to them. We are like children, continually asking, “Why?”. This is a sign of our hard hearts.
But God is merciful - “He knows our frame, He remembers we are dust,” as David reminds us in Ps. 103:14. So, in His mercy, God gives us seven sure, immovable reasons here in Eph. 4:4-6 that the church is to be united as one.
Paul gives us these seven reasons, that if we are to walk worthily of our calling, we must eagerly maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. We will spend the majority of our time on the first reason because it is what is being considered in context, but the others are important in understanding why Paul can make this first statement.
If you want to know why Paul says in vs. 3 that there must be unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace in the Church, here is a very good reason - there is only one Body! By definition, the Body of Christ is one. This is not a new teaching. Paul already in Ephesians has spoken of this. Christ was seated above all things and put all things under His feet and given as head over all things for the Church, which is His body, the fullness of Him who fills all in all (1:22-23). Christ broke down in His flesh the dividing wall of hostility...that he might create in Himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace, and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby killing the hostility. (2:14-16). Those who trust Christ for salvation are members of the one household of God (2:19), and are joined together as a holy temple in the Lord, a dwelling place for God by the Spirit (2:21-22). Do you think Paul was trying to get a point across here?
There is only one Body! Remember what was read at the beginning of the service in 1 Cor. 12? Paul takes the metaphor of the body and elaborates on the unity that the Church must have. There are many members of the body, and some are as different as night and day. But they all have a commonality, whether they are a finger or a Golgi Apparatus or a Corpus Callosum - They were all made by God and joined together to work together in the body. If the immune system stops doing its properly designed function to protect the body, and instead attacks the body, we have a serious problem on our hands, don’t we? If the skin stops its function of keeping harmful things out, and starts letting them in instead, we are going to have to take serious measures, aren’t we? The same is true of the Church. If the Church, the Body, stops functioning as it ought, it will not be healthy.
This metaphor of the body is organic for a reason. It is alive, so it grows and adapts. The human body has many, many diverse parts, but they all work together as one. They are united in function and purpose. If one member of the body is struggling, another one or a group jump in to help out.
This is a wonderful picture of the Church Body. We grow and adapt. The Church Body has many, many diverse people, but we all work together as one. We are all united in function and purpose. If one member of the Body is struggling, then another member or a group of them jump in to help out. That is why we were saved into the Church, because by living in a united Church Body, we honor God in Christ.
Remember Paul said in 3:10, “through the Church the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places.” By our living united in one Body, we are showing the angels in the heavenly places that God is wise and powerful and loving. The perfect creation that was marred in the fall, the ideal symbiosis between creation and creator, and creation and creation, was torn apart and replaced with hostility; but by the work of God in Christ, creator and creation are united once more, and the new creation in the Church is working once more as Adam and Eve once did - the way we were all created to do.
But do we see the paradox that is here? Paul says that there is one, unified Body. As we will see as we go through these verses, this one Body is unified because the Holy Trinity is unified. But do we experience this unity? More than that, if we are unified, why does Paul exhort us in vs. 3 to “eagerly maintain the unity of the Spirit?” Because while ontologically, by its nature, the Body is united as one; but experientially, our sin often causes us to be separate from one another.
Now, we can sit here and hear this and say, “Yes! We should be united!” And in general, we all would agree that is good. But Paul does not deal with generalities here. Paul is specific in his exhortation to “eagerly maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.” It is our job corporately to do this, but it is also each of us in particular that should be about this work. If we are content for problems to arise and never come to conclusion, or if we would rather repress issues than work towards healing, then we are disobeying God’s command here, and thus we walk unworthily of our calling by Christ.
But more than that, we must remember that our church is a local manifestation of the universal Church. Not only are we who have signed our covenant to be one, but we are to be one with all those who are in Christ! In this city, in this country, and around the world, all of those who follow after Christ and trust Him and Him alone for deliverance from the wrath to come, who have Him as their sure foundation, we are to be eagerly maintaining the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace with them!
This past week Phil and I were at a conference where we heard a great example of this kind of unity across different racial, political, and social boundaries. For the sake of security, I will not share what two countries this happened in, but will refer to them as countries A and B. There was an unmarried, believing man in country A that was growing in Christ, but who was feeling pressure from his society to get married, even if that meant marrying a Muslim girl. He knew this to be wrong, as believers are not to be unequally yoked with unbelievers. But what was he to do? He did not know of any unmarried believers. In God’s providence, at a family reunion, he meets a distant family relative who, once they started talking, he found out was a believer. After a time of getting to know one another, they decided to get married. But, they very badly wanted to have a Christian community to bless and recognize their marriage. But again, they knew of none. So, one of our workers in country B, where there was a thriving church, invited them to come over to them and they would bless and recognize this couple. The problem, though, is that country A and country B hated one another. There were centuries of distrust and hostility between them. Would this church accept these people? Could their unity as the Body overcome their disunity as socio-political enemies? Sure enough they could, because they were united in one Body.
The worker that was telling this story said tears came to his eyes (and again even as he told the story and showed a video from the ceremony) to see the work of the Spirit in the Gospel taking root in these believers lives, that even though these two believers and this church were from vastly different backgrounds and there was hostility between them, in Christ they were one. They really were one Body.
They got this passage. Paul’s exhortation is not a generality, but is specific in its reach. We should all in some way be rifle-focused on our part in supporting and encouraging and growing God’s Church in the world. Remember Paul’s word in 1 Cor. 12:26, “If one member suffers, all suffer together, if one member is honored, all rejoice together.” There is so much that our brothers and sisters are enduring across the world, that if we were to live the way Paul commands us here, we would be an agent for change and support in their lives, as well as bring hope to those that do not yet know our King and His mercy. Also, there is so much grace being shown to people all around the world, that we just might be affected for the better when we unite with them in prayer and work. We clearly have been given the assignment, so please, do not continue your life being unaware of the worthy manner of walking that we can and should be doing in this Body of the Church. There is one Body.
Paul gives us a second reason for striving after unity, and it is the cause of the first - there is one Spirit. How is the one Body formed? Through the salvific drawing and rebirthing by the Holy Spirit. There is only one Holy Spirit, and He saves people into only one Body, and thus that Body should be unified. “For through him we both have access in one Spirit to the Father” (2:18) The Spirit is the cohesive glue that holds the body together by His indwelling and animating activity. He is the seal that joins us to the one body (1:13), and by whom we were sealed for the day of redemption (4:30). That is why we should eagerly maintain the “unity of the Spirit.” The Spirit cannot be divided, and if the Spirit cannot be divided and is the realm in which the Body is made, then the Body cannot be divided. We have become members of the Body by the Spirit’s work, and it is He who is a cause of our unity, both in this local manifestation and worldwide.
Paul gives us a third reason for striving after unity, and it is given to us as an effect of the Spirit’s work. Back in Eph. 1:18, Paul says, “...Having the eyes of your hearts enlightened, that you may know what is the hope to which He has called you...” It is this hope that Paul looks to as another reason that we are to be unified in the Church. If there were many hopes, it might make sense for there to be division among us. If some were to hope in works, and others to hope in grace, and still others to hope in their wit, and more who hope in their charm, then maybe we could have divisions among us. But apart from the grace shown to us in the Gospel, there is no hope! How are you going to reconcile yourself to the righteous God by your wit! Does the just Judge of the universe sway His counsel because of a man’s charm? Are you able to do enough good works to cover your sins before the all knowing Creator? No! You must come to God through His grace, and that is our one Hope to which we’ve been called.
Previously you were separate from Christ, and “had no hope and were without God in the world” (2:12). But now, since you have been joined with Christ’s Body through the power of the one Spirit, you have hope because God is faithful to complete the work that He has begun in you (Phil. 1:6)! Because you are indwelled by the Spirit, you have a firm hope! This is not, “Oh, I hope it snows this week,” or “I really hope I get that new CD for my birthday.” This is a firm hope that belongs to our calling. When the Spirit called you, you were shown a firm hope that is based on the finished work of Christ. It is complete. You don’t need to question the fulfillment of this hope, because it is sure, not only for you, but for all who have been called by the Spirit into Christ’s Body. And because the one Spirit has called you with one hope that belongs to your call, then you should be eager to maintain unity with all others that have this same hope!
As Paul is giving us reasons to fight to maintain unity in the Church, do you notice a theological pattern popping up? Maybe with this next one you’ll begin to understand. There is one Lord. Who is our Lord? In the OT, “the LORD” in uppercase is a translation of the covenant name for God, YHWH. We say “God” as a designation of position and ontology; it is not a name. But when we come to the NT, the designation of Lord is given to Jesus. In the Hebrew mind, this was not a simple title given to whomever had power. There was a recognition of a theological term for God being applied to Jesus, the God-man. So we see here, then, that this “one Lord” refers to Jesus, the Lord.
So our reasons for seeking unity are based firstly on the Holy Spirit, and His work of calling us to a hope and calling us into a Body, and secondly on the Lord Jesus Christ. He is unique. There has never been another like Him. He was not simply a good man, or a prophet, or even an angel. He is “the LORD.” He is God. He is the Alpha and the Omega. He is the grounds by which the Spirit does His work in calling people and giving them hope and uniting them into one Body. Therefore, since there is one Lord who has caused this, there must be one, united Body. Christ cannot be divided (1 Cor. 1:13), thus neither can His church, so be eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace, the peace that Christ established on the cross.
Since there is one Lord who died for sins and lived the only righteous life, then by necessity there must be one Faith. You cannot have faith, or trust, in anyone else for salvation other than the one Lord, Jesus. The person and work of Christ is your one Hope, and therefore you can only have Faith in Him. This one Faith is your only Hope. This Faith is both subjective and objective. The subjective element of your faith is your personal believing what Christ has done in His life and death for sins, to be accounted for you before God. The objective element of Faith is the truths that make the subjective element possible. This is why we can refer to “the Faith.” Jude refers to this in vs. 3: “Beloved, although I was very eager to write to you about our common salvation, I found it necessary to write appealing to you to contend for the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints.” Since there is one Lord who is the source and grounds for this Faith, there is by necessity then an obligation to eagerly maintain unity with all those who both here and around the world have had this one Faith delivered to them.
This one Faith is an entry experience and truth that we have when coming to the Lord. Another entry experience is Baptism. Paul tells us there is one Baptism, and it is a cause for us to eagerly maintain unity. Baptism brings unity. As members of the one Body, we have all experienced Baptism into Christ. It is the way we publicly identify with our Lord. Believers from all over the world experience this same Baptism. As Paul explains in Romans 6:3-4: “Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.” As we see here, Baptism is the picture of the contents of the one Faith that was brought about by the work of the one Lord, Jesus. Because there is one Baptism, then, we should be sure to eagerly maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace, and thus walk worthily of the calling with which we’ve been called. As Paul says in Galatians 3:27-28, “As many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” There cannot be disunity where there has been baptism, because baptism into Christ unites.
So, we’ve seen that good reasons to maintain the unity of the Spirit are the person and works of both the Holy Spirit and of Jesus the Lord. Paul builds to this final reason for unity, that there is “one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.” Paul’s basis for our unity as the Church is found in the eternal unity of the Holy Trinity - Spirit, Son, and Father. But that is not how we usually speak of the Trinity, is it? Doesn’t Paul have it backwards here? Shouldn’t it be Father, Son, and Spirit? Notice what Paul is doing - he argues from the effect to the cause. He began his line of reasoning by exhorting us to be eager in maintaining the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. Who is Paul exhorting? Those who have been called - the Church, or as he says here, the one Body. Who called them? The one Spirit. What did the Spirit do? Gave them one Hope. What is the basis of that Hope? The finished work and person of the one Lord, Jesus. How do we experience that Hope in the Lord? By wholly trusting the set of truths about Him, the one Faith. How do we give testimony to that Faith? By one Baptism. Who is the primary cause of all of this? The one God, the Father. Paul argues here from effect to cause.
Our sovereign God and Father is the Creator and ruler of all things. He is “over all and through all and in all.” “For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named” (3:14-15). He has planned from eternity to join those who have been drawn by the Spirit to the salvation earned by the Son and planned by the Father to be one. As J. M. Boice said: “Whatever else you may say about the church, the church is God’s church. It is composed of God’s people, it is the result of God’s work, and it exists for God’s glory.” On the last day, there will not be thousands of churches. There will be no denominations, and there will be no arguing. There will be no gossiping, and there will be no hurt feelings. There will be no tears of pain caused by fellow church members, and there will be no suffering of one member due to the inaction of another. There will be the Church, the Body, from all peoples around the world, perfected and unified, prepared by the Lord Himself to be His bride. Paul tells us that this future reality should be present with us now, so he urges us to eagerly maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.
So, have you considered these reasons for unity? Do they make sense to you? Are you willing to sacrifice your place and position and worldly desires to make this kind of unity happen? The Trinity is perfectly united in purpose and work. Are we? Are we daily putting into practice the means by which this unity will be accomplished? Are we humble? Gentle? Patient? Do we bear with one another in love? Are we eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace? If not, then do consider that if these seven unshakeable reasons are true, then our resolve for unity must be undaunted. We must strive for oneness in Christ. Remember, it is through the Church that the “manifold wisdom of God is being made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places.”
Also, consider what this unity means for our role in the larger realm of the universal Church. Does this passage inform our part in it? Think about it the way John Piper has written: “If there were many true gods, and many Saviors, and many valid faiths, and many baptismal entrances into many genuine bodies of redeemed people, there would be little need for missions the way Paul sees the need. But there is only one God and one Lord and one faith and one baptism. And so this salvation truth must be proclaimed to all creation - to all the peoples.” Are you taking part in God’s purpose for the one Body? Has the one God and Father called us to take the Good News of our one Lord and share this one Faith through the strength of the one Spirit to give one Hope to the world, uniting them with the one Body through one Baptism? Are you actively caring about and participating in this work?
Let me then today, with Paul, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eagerly maintaining the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.
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