I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, 2 with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, 3 eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. 4 There is one body and one Spirit—just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call— 5 one Lord, one faith, one baptism, 6 one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all. 7 But grace was given to each one of us according to the measure of Christ’s gift. 8 Therefore it says,
“When he ascended on high he led a host of captives,
and he gave gifts to men.”
9 (In saying, “He ascended,” what does it mean but that he had also descended into the lower regions, the earth? 10 He who descended is the one who also ascended far above all the heavens, that he might fill all things.) 11 And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, 12 to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, 13 until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, 14 so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes. 15 Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, 16 from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love.
We’ve all been influenced by the influx of health documentaries over the past few years. What the Health, Forks Over Knives, Food Inc. Fed Up, among others, all promising a new way to understand health and what new practices to take in order to achieve it. There are many things I’ve learned from these documentaries and they’ve changed the way I think about my diet.
In chapter four of this letter, Paul changes directions. If you look back at the end of chapter three, he gives a sort of sign off, ending with what’s called a doxology. There is closure, and now in chapter 4, a new beginning. Paul spent the first 3 chapters detailing God’s eternal plan: to gather all things in heaven and on earth together under the headship of Christ (Eph. 1:9-10; 3:4-6). The first 3 chapters detail how the church came to be, and now the 2nd half is Paul detailing how the church is to live out our commitment to God and to one another, or in other words, how the church is to live now in light of God’s eternal plan. And in these first 16 verses we will see Paul’s prescribed spiritual diet in order to be a healthy body (of Christ). Just as the government's diet has 5 categories, fruit, veggie, grain, meat and dairy, Paul gives us 3 dietary categories. A healthy body of Christ must have unity, diversity, and a clear goal. Today I will focus on our unity, and in days to come I will focus on the two other elements.
1) A healthy body is unified in our ethic; 2) a healthy body is eager to maintain it’s unity; 3) a healthy body is rooted in the unity of the Triune Godhead.
1) If you look back to Galatians 5:23 you will notice that we, as Christians, have a singular fruit of the spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. We don’t get to pick and choose. Some Christians aren’t gifted with gentleness, while others are killing it with self-control. No. Christians are unified in that we’re all being shaped by the Spirit to bear the same 9-fold fruit. In Ephesians 4:2 Paul just shortens this list, though he expands it as his letter continues. Imagine a body of Christ - or in the instance of RUF, an extension of this Body - that is humble, gentle and patient with one another (v. 2)! Imagine having conflict with your friend in RUF and you approach the situation assuming you could very well be wrong. I’m not that into the enneagram, but my friend who is always tells me about my number (an 8), and that “I need to remind myself 10 times a day that I could be wrong.” Apparently my personality type has the proclivity to always think I’m right. A healthy Christian is someone who is growing in humility. If you get older, and your growth in age comes with growth in your self-obsessed ego, then you are not growing healthily, and you are affecting the body at large. Your pride, your rage, your impatience, isn’t just sin between you and God, but you are causing destruction to your neighbors and the health of the Body. So we become healthy by growing in a unified ethic.
2) The second thing to note about this unity is that we have to be eager to maintain it. That word eager finds its root meaning in the word hurry. We live in a society of hurry, so this concept should be simple enough. During the RUF Summer Conference signups, I told y’all that registration opened at 11pm on February 29th. By 11:05 all of our (41) spots were full. Y’all were eager and hurried to get your spot. And in the same way, Paul says we have to be hurried to pursue unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.
In coming to Christ you have bonded yourself with Christ and with Christ’s people. So just like I ignored stretching for 10 years of my athletic life, and now different parts of my body are out of whack because of it, if you ignore, or are not hurried to maintain unity, the body will be out of whack. You are bonded with each other, we are bonded in peace (reference Eph. 2:14-18), so pursue unity with one another. The unfortunate thing is that it’s temporarily easier to be eager to maintain gossip and grow in bitterness, but this destroys our unity and peace.
3) The third thing this passage shows us is that the foundation for our unity is in our Triune Godhead. Paul says that God the Spirit called us into the body - the Church - and has called us into the same hope - the eternal life found in the Gospel. Then he says, one Lord, which is a word he uses 26 times in this letter, and every time he either says “Lord Jesus Christ” (1:2-3, 15, 17, etc) or he just says “Lord,” in its shortened version - but referring to Jesus Christ. Make sense? Ok - so Paul says, one Lord (Jesus Christ), who from beginning to end has had one faith - or one belief - which is the Gospel of Scripture which has always been pointing to the person and work of Jesus Christ. And one baptism - which is the cleansing and creating of a new creation in Christ Jesus, through the Holy Spirit. And if we look back at Acts 19 when Paul was speaking and preaching to the people in Ephesus we read, “Paul passed through the inland country and came to Ephesus. There he found some disciples. 2 And he said to them, “Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed?” And they said, “No, we have not even heard that there is a Holy Spirit.” 3 And he said, “Into what then were you baptized?” They said, “Into John’s baptism.” 4 And Paul said, “John baptized with the baptism of repentance, telling the people to believe in the one who was to come after him, that is, Jesus.” 5 On hearing this, they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. 6 And when Paul had laid his hands on them, the Holy Spirit came on them, and they began speaking in tongues and prophesying. 7 There were about twelve men in all. 8 And he entered the synagogue and for three months spoke boldly, reasoning and persuading them about the kingdom of God.”
Perhaps this now creates a new set of questions, but this is what Paul is referring to. We have one baptism; a baptism of the Holy Spirit. That is the only baptism that is required for our salvation.
And then lastly, Paul mentions God the Father, who is the loving origin, ruler and sustaining presence of everything and everyone in the universe.
So our unity comes from the Trinity - who work together perfectly to build up the Church and to accomplish their purposes, uniting all things under Christ. They are the very Being that sustains us and makes us - as a body of Christ - healthy.
In the days to come I will touch on the 2nd and 3rd part of this passage. But here are some practical application actions and thoughts:
- Ask the Lord to reveal ways that you are more prideful than humble, more enraged than gentle, and more impatient than patient. And confess these things to a God who is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.
- Marvel in the Lord’s grace, that though we are prideful, enraged and impatient people, He loves and uses broken down vessels to accomplish his purposes. These sins do not disqualify you from being His children, but are the very necessary things we bring into His Family of Grace, because they remind us of our need for Him.
- Consider ways you’ve been eager to pursue gossip and bitterness over unity. Take the first step, in humility and gentleness, towards pursuing unity with a friend you are in conflict in. Use wisdom and discernment in this action of reconciliation and pursue help in how to do this well (Bethany, Connor and I are always ready to help you think through this with you.)
- Marvel at the beauty of our Triune God and how they all lovingly work together to accomplish their purposes.
A closing prayer from St. Francis of Assisi:
"Lord, make me an instrument of your peace; where there is hatred, let me sow love; where there is injury, pardon; where there is discord, union; where there is doubt, faith; where there is despair, hope; where there is darkness, light; and where there is sadness, joy.
"O Divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled, as to console; to be understood, as to understand; to be loved, as to love; for it is in giving that we receive, it is in pardoning that we are pardoned, and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life." Amen.