The word “Church” means different things to different people. To many it is a building, to some it is the institution, to others it is the pomp and ceremony with all the bells and smells. Foe some the word ‘church’ has positive connotation and for others negative.
In the Bible the word ‘church’ is used in two different ways. It is used to speak about the universal body of believers from every race, tribe, language and nation both in heaven and on earth. Paul has deal with this concept of the church in chapters 2 – 3 — There is not division on racial or ethnic grounds and God is ‘the Father from whom his whole family in heaven and earth derives its name’
In other places it is used to speak about the local congregation – Thus Paul can begin his letters to the Corinthians 1&2 Corinthians 1:1 …To the church of God in Corinth,… The local church is part of, and an expression of the universal apostolic church. In one sense the church is fully represented in the local body of believers because Jesus Christ is there. But the local community of believers also participates in the people of God scattered throughout the world.
To emphasis either of these to views of the church to the detriment of the other is to distort the biblical teaching on the church. It is not good enough for someone to say “I am a member of the universal church and therefore I don’t need to be part of a local congregation.” If there is no local church – as for example in Saudi Arabia – that is a different matter. If you are a believer you must be united to a body of Christians for fellowship, teaching, encouragement, worship etc…. On the other hand we cannot say as a local body the we will have nothing to do with other Christians and other congregations.
Just as within this local body at Binscombe we are different with varying gifts and views but still one body. So as a congregation we differ from Godalming Baptist Church, from the parish churches from the Salvation army and the King’s Church nevertheless we are united to each other if we are united to Christ by faith.
It is this issue of unity in Christ that Paul is addressing in this passage.
Is he not addressing the Church in Ephesus only? It is very possible, in fact probable, that this letter was actually a circular letter to a number of churches in the area of Asia Minor and not only to Ephesus. Even if this were not the case Paul argument shows this is what he had in mind – both universal and local unity.
There are some churches that are so exclusive that they will have nothing to do with any other body – they will find no comfort in Paul’s words here.
However their are those who would be so ecumenical as to eradicate all differences and have a united super-church at the expense of truth – they too, will find no comfort here.
In the first 3 chapters Paul has been unfolding the eternal purposes of God – how Jesus came and died and that through him sinner can be forgiven and enter into God’s new humanity, It is a wonderful picture of what God has done and is doing.
Now in chapters 4 – 6 Paul is putting feet to these great truths. He is exhorting the new standards from this new community.
In the KJV v.1 begins “I therefore …” — in view of what you are ‘in Christ’ behave in a way that is in keeping with that position. In other words, BECOME WHAT YOU ARE!!
- THE SUMMONS TO UNITY. V.1.
a] a prisoner.
Paul was not a person who did not practice what he preached – as far as it depended on him, Paul lived what he preached. As he writes he is a prisoner in Rome but he knows that he is ‘in the Lord’ He knows that his situation is under the control of the Lord. In fact, it is because of his life in Christ that he is in prison in the first place. He may be physically restricted but his life is nevertheless under control – under God’s control.
None of us here today are physically in prison but maybe you feel trapped in some way or other – maybe trapped by domestic circumstances, or your situation at work, or some illness that plagues you. Can you say with Paul I know my life is under God’s control and therefore I will not fret but live a life worthy of the Lord who has called me. Paul had a view of his life from God’s perspective
b] a passion
…. I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received. (NIV)
Paul never lost his desire for Christ nor his passion for others to be Christ like. He longed to “present every person perfect in Christ” [Col. 1:28] and his desire of the Ephesian Christians was no different. There was an urgency and a passion about Paul’s life.
A passion for Christ that I feel is lacking in my own life and I sense is lacking in the lives of other believers. There is a lack of enthusiasm for the things of God. Can you and I honestly say with Paul, Philippians 3:8 8 What is more, I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them rubbish, that I may gain Christ (NIV)
c] a purpose.
…. I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received.[v.1]
Paul has spelt out the great call that the Christian has received and now he is urging us to walk in a direction that corresponds to that call.
The Gk. word for ‘worthy’ is acios and in it root form mean ‘balancing the scales’ The meaning is obvious, if you claim to be a Christian then ensure that your life balances with your claim.
We cannot claim to be Christians and then deliberately go against the things that God called us to be and do.
ILLUS.: When we were in France on holiday we were talking to a single lady friend who has been a Christian for about 2 years. She was finding it difficult to accept that she could not marry a non-Christian.
For a Christian to marry an unbeliever is clearly contrary to the will of God and to do so would be blatantly disobedient. It is not the unforgivable sin but it is clearly not walking in the direction that God has set.
If we accept that we have been called by God to be his people then we must live as his people according to the standards that he has set.
Being a Christian is often likened to being a soldier – in the army the soldier doesn’t make the rule he just obeys then if he knows what is good for him. Christ is the Captain of our salvation – he gives the orders but unlike an Army Captain whose orders are sometimes foolish and selfish, Christ’s order are always wise and good and in the best interests of the Christian.
‘If you are a believer, and you wish to known as a believer, then live like a believer!’
In other words, BE WHAT YOU ARE!!
- THE INGREDIENTS OF UNITY. v.2.
Having said that we are to live a life worthy of our calling Paul now goes o to describe some of the qualities of that calling.
Ephesians 4:2 2 Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. (NIV)
This is not a comprehensive list of every quality but a sample as can be seen by comparing Gal.5:22 of the fruit of the Spirit.
Humbleness or lowliness was not a word used much by the Greeks and when it was used it always had a negative meaning — slavish, ignoble — it was derogatory term. Jesus gave the word new meaning by humbling himself, even to the point of death on a cross [Phil.2].
Humility is a quality that is essential to unity. Pride is our instinctive attitude. We find it easy to get along with those people who respect us but we instinctively dislike those who treat us badly. When we are constantly manoeuvring to get the respect of others – that is pride.
Humility is giving up our rights for the sake of others – as Christ did!
Humility is something that we should all desire but something that we can never claim – when we claim to be humble we forfeit it because we have become proud of our humility.
When we put others first we are going a long way down the road to humility.
ILLUS.: There is a story told about a group of Moravian Christians, who during the days of slavery in the West Indies found it impossible to witness to the salves – many of the ruling class felt it impossible even to speak to a slave. Two young Moravians were determined to reach these oppressed people at any cost so the went and worked an lived beside the slaves. They shared their overwork, their beatings and their abuse – it is not surprising that they won the hearts of the slaves and many accepted Christ.
For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.” (NIV)
Humility always produces gentleness /or meekness. You cannot have meekness without humility. Meekness /or gentleness is not synonymous with ‘weakness’
It is the same word that is used of wild animals that have been tamed, esp. horses. The horse still has all its strength and spirit but it is under the control of its master. One of the marks of meekness is self-control King David displayed this quality when he refused to kill Saul or two occasions – it was within his power to do so but his power was under control .
Meekness is the quality that doesn’t insist on ‘my rights’ – either in the presence of God or in the presence of men.
If there is to be unity in a church there needs to be gentleness and meekness.
Long-suffering better describes the meaning of this attitude. A person who not only patience and calm in good and pleasant circumstances. But one who endures negative circumstances and doesn’t give in to them.
This is an attitude that God has shown towards us – God is long suffering with sinful humans when he should have destroyed us long ago.
1 Timothy 1:15-16
15 Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners — of whom I am the worst. 16 But for that very reason I was shown mercy so that in me, the worst of sinners, Christ Jesus might display his unlimited patience as an example for those who would believe on him and receive eternal life. (NIV)
Paul himself is an example of God’s long-suffering towards sinners – if God has been patient with us we ought also to be patience with each other. And with the situation in which God has placed us.
ILLUS.: For a woman or man to have an unbelieving spouse can present great heartache – but it is in these and other inter-personal relationships that God calls us to be long-suffering.
d] forbearance in love
This final characteristic that Paul mentions is very closely linked to patience. It is a kind of mutual tolerance without which no groups of human beings could live together in peace.
No marriage can survive without this quality – there has to be give and take. Unfortunately for many it is a case of “YOU GIVE AND I TAKE” and consequently the divorce rate rocked. This tolerance that Paul is talking about is not a New Age “love and let live” tolerance. I find it interesting that at a time when the virtue of tolerance is so highly prized, the divorce rate is at an all time high.
The Bible talks about “bearing with one another in love” – secular tolerance is a selfish tolerance – it is you be tolerant of me and leave me to do my own thing. BUT Christian tolerance is to be motivated by Christ like love – it is actively to seek the welfare of others and the good of the community of the saints. I can’t simply do what I want to do but must do what is best for the body of Christ [the Church] and for the glory of God. It is doing for others what is right in God’s sight, constantly remembering God’s patient love towards me!
It is loving our friends and neighbours even if their if their faults and weaknesses offend or displease us.
- THE RETENTION OF UNITY. v.3.
Ephesians 4:3 3 Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. (NIV)
This is really the centre of the passage – unity of the Spirit –
a] by strenuous effort
It is true that we are united to each other by virtue of the fact the we are united to Christ – nothing can change that. This unity exists in God – but in tandem with this fact we are called upon to give all our energy and strength to maintain this unity.
The word translated “make every effort” is one compound Gk. word with a numbers of facets of meaning – diligence; exertion; zeal; urgency; and to be done in haste.
This is a pressing need that require immediate and strenuous effort.
b] by the Spirit’s power
The unity that Paul has in mind is not a kind of warm cosy togetherness. It is a unity that is brought about by the Spirit of God at work in the lives of the people of God.
ILLUS.: There are many people who have a kind of togetherness because of a common interest – fishing clubs – golf clubs, bingo …..
True Christian unity is a unity brought about by the Spirit of God. Only those who have be truly born again by God’s Spirit can enjoy spiritual unity.
This is what Jesus prayed for just before he was crucified >>
John 17:11 11 I will remain in the world no longer, but they are still in the world, and I am coming to you. Holy Father, protect them by the power of your name — the name you gave me — so that they may be one as we are one. (NIV)
We know that we are united in Christ – how then are we to understand the plea for unity here. It can only refer to visible unity –
How are we to maintain this unity ….
c] by the “glue” of peace.
In order to be united we need to be at peace with each other – where there is strife there can be no unity. This unity is so important that every effort must be made to keep the peace.
Stott gives a good illustration: The Smith have three sons – Tom, Dick and Harry – marriage and parenthood unite them. In time the parents quarrel, split up and get divorced. The boys quarrel first with their parents and then with each other. Tom goes to Canada, Dick to South Africa and Harry to Australia. They never meet write or telephone. They even go so far as to change their names.
They are still a family – nothing can change that – but their is no unity and no peace.
Sometimes this is true of the Christian Church – sometimes it is true of members within Churches. Paul says we are to make every effort to be a peacemaker. Spare no effort.
We are related to each other you and me;
We’re the body of Jesus Christ the Son;
We are joined by his covenant we walk in unity;
We are family eternally as one.
That truth needs to be visible.
- THE GROUNDS OF UNITY v.4 – 6.
Ephesians 4:4-6 4 There is one body and one Spirit — just as you were called to one hope when you were called — 5 one Lord, one faith, one baptism; 6 one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all. (NIV)
The essential ground of our unity is the fact that there is but ONE God.
4 Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one. (NIV)
The true Church is not a man-made institution by a product of the Spirit’s work.
a] one Spirit
There is one body and one Spirit –
Paul expands on this truth in 1 Corinthians 12:13 13 For we were all baptised by one Spirit into one body — whether Jews or Greeks, slave or free — and we were all given the one Spirit to drink. (NIV)
The same Spirit that creates one body also gives hope – the Spirit is the deposit we have now of a guaranteed future glory.
b] one Lord.
Not only is there unity in the Spirit , there is unity in the Son – one Lord. In order to know Christ as Lord you need to come to faith in him and be baptised by him in the Spirit. That is the experience of all true believers.
c] one Father.
He is the Father of ALL – who is this ALL? It is all those who have come to God by faith in the one Lord Jesus Christ by the Power of the one Spirit. He is the Father, 15 from whom his whole family in heaven and on earth derives its name.
This God who has brought about the unity of his people is himself a unity of Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
As Father he is over all as he exercise control over everything. He is through all because he blesses us through he Son , our mediator and he is in all for he draws us to himself in the Spirit.
The Father creates the one family.
The Lord Jesus creates the one faith, hope and baptism.
The Holy Spirit creates the one body.
There is only one God – one christian family and one Christian faith!!
How is then you ask that we have been so successful and spliting the Chruch into fragments.
Well there is a difference between the Invisible spiritual Chruch and the visible institutional, human organisation. Paul recognised this distinction and the possibly of splits and division and thus he urge ue to spare no effort in maintaining the unity of the Spirit.
I believe that Paul’s emphasis in this passage in on the local fellowship and we need to guard against factions and rivalries. Satan is very clever at attacking the Church – if he can;t do it from witthou then he will do it from within.
But what about felowship with other churches and denomiantions? There is a strong move today for ecumenical co-operation. This is good when it expresses genuine Chrustian unity and spiritual oneness. And we should be eager for some visible expression of the Christian Faith.
There is a proviso – this desire for unity must never sacrfice essential Christian Truth. Christian Unity centres around having One Father, One Saviour and One indwelling Spirit.
The Can be know unity with those who deny the Trinity or the deity of Christ. Ther can be no unity with those who have not come to personal faith in Christ by faith alone.
Any kind of outward structural unity must be an expression of genuine Spirtual unity otherwise it is not unity of the Spirit.
True unity is found in God and is worked out in our everyday lives as we give ourselves to seeking after humility, meekness, patience and forebearance in love.
EPHESIANS 4:1 – 6
- THE SUMMONS TO UNITY. [v.1]
by a prisoner
with a passion
for a purpose
- THE INGREDIENTS OF UNITY. [v.2.]
gentleness / meekness
patience / long-suffering
forbearance in love
- THE RETENTION OF UNITY. [v.3.]
by strenuous, urgent effort
by the Spirit’s power
by the ‘glue’ of peace
- THE GROUNDS OF UNITY. [v.4 – 6]
N } One Spirit one body / one hope
} One Lord one faith / one baptism
O } One Father of all
D } over all