1. Walking Together In Unity (Eph. 4:1-6)Related Media
This is part 1 of a series in Ephesians 4:1-6:20 on “Living Together in Community.” The epistle to the Ephesians is about unity in the church. In the first half of the epistle, the apostle Paul addresses the theological basis for Christian unity - a unity that has been established in Christ through our common roots, common transformation, and common relationship (ch. 1-3).
In the second half of this epistle, the apostle Paul moves from the doctrinal instruction on church unity to the practical instruction on church unity - a unity that revolves around our personal, family, social, and church lives (ch. 4-6).
So, from the first half of the epistle, we learn what the unity of the church is (or should be), and from the second half of the epistle we learn how we should put that unity into practice.
In 4:1-6, we are exhorted to demonstrate certain Christian virtues - virtues that “keep the unity of the Spirit” (3), virtues that are listed in verse 4-6 and developed throughout the rest of the epistle. We are called to a “Live Together in Unity” through our common calling, our common character, and our common confession.
I. Walking In Unity Is Demanded By… Our Common Calling (Eph. 4:1)
1. We Have Been Summoned To A “Calling” That Is Heavenly
…the calling to which you have been called (1b)
Together with all Christian believers, we have been called to a common position in Christ, in which we enjoy our common blessings in Christ (Eph. 1:3-14), our common transformation in Christ (2:1-10), and our common relationship in Christ (2:11-22).
Just as the disciples had been called (Mk. 1:20) and the apostle Paul had been called (1 Cor. 1:1), so all believers have been called by God. We’ve been called to everything that God has created us to be - his people, his children, his inheritance.
We’ve been called to a life in Christ - a holy and blameless life (1:4), a life of redemption (1:7), a life of future inheritance (1:14), a life of hope (2:12-13), a life in God’s family (2:19-22). We’ve been called to a life of unity with all other believers, a new unity, which we manifest in our practice.
We have been summoned to a calling that is heavenly, and…
2. We Have Been Urged To A “Walk” That Is Worthy
Therefore, (Paul says) I, the prisoner of the Lord, urge you to walk worthy of the calling (1a)
Paul urges us to put into practice what we know in theory. We know in theory our position in Christ (ch. 1-3). Now our practice is to reflect that position (ch. 4-6). We are to live in such a way as to support, demonstrate, and enhance the glorious position that is ours in Christ and to which we have been called.
Paul himself was an example of this kind of life, a life that had rendered him figuratively and literally a prisoner of the Lord. That is what it means to walk worthy of the calling.
A worthy walk is a walk that is appropriate to our calling - a walk that conforms to our new position in Christ and not our old position in the world (2:2); a walk that reflects our blessings in Christ, our transformation in Christ, and our relationship in Christ; a walk that is consistent with the unity of the body of Christ. A person’s conduct must be consistent with their position in life.
The story is told that Alexander the Great once met a disreputable character whose name was also Alexander. Alexander the Great said to him: “Either change your way of life or change your name.” That’s what we are called to as Christians - to change our way of life to one that is consistent with our name and position; to walk worthy of our calling; to conduct ourselves in such a way that it adds weight to the gospel and the cause of Christ. We are his representatives on earth and our lives must show it.
So, first, walking in unity is demanded by our common calling. Notice also…
II. Walking In Unity Is Displayed In… Our Common Character (Eph. 4:2-3)
When we come to faith in Christ, our character is reshaped; our thinking changes (Rom 12:2); our opinions, values, and attitudes are radically changed to comport with the nature and character of Christ. Character is both internal and external:
1. The Character Of Christian Unity Is… Produced Internally (2)
John Stott calls “internal character” the “foundation stones of Christian unity.” 1
The 1st Foundation Stone Of Christian Unity Is… “Humility” (2a)
Humility is that lowliness of mind that enables us to respect others as better than ourselves. It is that lowering of self just as Christ “humbled himself” (Phil. 2:5-11). We are to duplicate Paul’s own example among the Ephesians of one who “served the Lord with all humility” (Acts 20:19).
The 2nd Foundation Stone Of Christian Unity Is… “Gentleness” (2b)
Gentleness (or, meekness) goes hand in glove with humility. Gentleness is consideration towards others; not insisting on our own rights (meekness); not asserting ourselves at the expense of others. This is not so much outward behaviour (or natural disposition) but an inward grace of the soul. 2
The 3rd Foundation Stone Of Christian Unity Is… “Patience” (2c)
To be “patient” is to be willing to wait, to be “longsuffering”, just as God waits in patience, holding back his judgement on this world, waiting for people to turn to him.
Our patience is to be expressed by bearing with one another in love (2d), by tolerating one another’s foibles out of love for one another. Love is the underlying virtue upon which both “patience” and “forbearance” are based, as mothers of small children well know. Patience is something we must be zealous to demonstrate to one another. It is fundamental to maintaining unity in our interpersonal relationships.
The character of Christian unity, then, is produced internally and…
2. The Character Of Christian Unity Is… Practiced Externally (3)
… endeavouring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace (3a)
We are not instructed to “create” this unity. If that were the case, we would fly apart at the seams. Rather, we are to keep the unity that already has been created. We are to put into practice the unity of the Spirit – that unity created by the Holy Spirit that indwells every Christian, binding us inseparably to each other.
This is a unity that exists in principle whether we live like it or not. If the character of Christian unity has been produced internally in us, then we will express it practically by living like those who are bound together by cords that cannot be broken; then we will take great pains to guard carefully the unity that is ours.
Since we did not create this unity we can claim no merit in forming it. The unity of the Church exists entirely apart from any effort on our part but we can do a lot to “maintain / keep the unity of the Spirit” - i.e. we can put into practice the unity that exists in principle.
What Paul is urging us to do is to guard our spiritual unity; to do everything we can to forge a strong bond between ourselves; to manifest the unity that the Holy Spirit has formed among us by practicing these Christian virtues.
If we truly keep the unity of the Spirit we will be at peace (3b). God has established peace through our Lord Jesus Christ. He has reconciled us to himself and to each other through the cross (2:14-17). Peace is the overriding character of the unity between Christians. It is the glue that binds us together - the bond of peace.
The foundation stones of Christian character are essential for unity but they aren’t always easy for us to practice; they don’t come naturally to us. When was the last time you heard about or practised humility? You weren’t taught it in school. You wouldn’t read about it in the corporate ethics of the place where you work. It isn’t considered a positive character trait by the world.
What about gentleness? What you learn in the world is to push your way to the top, tread on others to make it up the corporate ladder, look out for #1.
And who has sufficient patience these days? Did you know that they figure that in your lifetime you’ll spend six months waiting at traffic lights? No wonder people run red lights!
But humility, gentleness, and patience are key for unity in the church. For the church to work right, we need internal character and attitude that isn’t natural to us, that only comes from God.
Walking in unity, then, is demanded by our common calling, displayed in our common character, and…
III. Walking In Unity Is Driven By… Our Common Confession (4:4-6)
There can be no unity in practice without unity in belief. Our confession of faith is formulated around the seven “ones” of unity…
#1 And #2. Unity Of Formation: “One Body” And “One Spirit” (4a)
The one body is formed and sustained by the one Spirit who indwells all believers, thus rendering us collectively one body (cf. 1 Cor. 12:13). Therefore, Paul can say definitively there is one body and one Spirit regardless of whether or not our practice demonstrates the unity of the Spirit or the truth of the one body.
In this sense, the body of Christ is like a necklace. A necklace is composed of many individual beads joined together by a single common cord. Separately, they exist as beads, but when they are joined together by a common cord they exist as a single necklace. Just so, individual Christians are bound together by the indwelling of the Spirit to form a single body, the church.
The Holy Spirit constitutes the church and is the basis of its oneness. There are not numerous bodies, even though it may seem that way when you look around. There isn’t one for Jews and one for Gentiles, one for blacks and one for whites, one for rich and one for poor. There is one body, the church, which is comprised of all believers.
Just as there is unity of formation in one body through one Spirit, so there is…
#3. Unity Of Destiny: “One Hope Of Your Calling” (4b)
The amplified version reads: There is also one hope that belongs to the calling you received (4b). We have been called, indwelled by the Holy Spirit, and given one hope.
The Spirit constitutes “the body” and its unity and He fills its members with a common hope – namely, the hope of being with and like Christ. And we live in the truth and consciousness of this glorious hope. It is the “hope of the gospel” (Col. 1:23); the “hope of glory” (Col. 1:27); the “hope of salvation” (1 Th. 5:8); the “hope of eternal life” (Tit. 1:2); the “blessed hope and glorious appearing of our great God and Saviour Jesus Christ” (Tit. 2;13); a “living hope” (1 Pet. 1:3).
The fourth “one” of unity is…
#4. Unity Of Headship: “One Lord” (5a)
The body enjoys a unity of headship because there is one Lord, just as it enjoys unity of formation because there is one Spirit. The church’s primary confession is that Jesus Christ is the sovereign Lord, the head of the body (see 1 Cor. 8:6; 12:3; Phil. 2:11).
#5. Unity Of Belief: “One Faith”
The body of Christ confesses only one faith (5b), a confession that is both subjective and objective. The fundamental subjective expression of “one faith” is the confession with our mouths that Jesus Christ is Lord and the belief in our hearts that God has raised him from the dead. The objective expression of “one faith” is the belief in the fundamental doctrines of the New Testament, those doctrines which are necessary for salvation, about which all true believers are united.
Just as all believers are united in their confession of “one Lord” so they are united in their confession of one faith - one faith in the one Lord who alone saves us through his work of atonement. (Cf. Gal. 1:23; Phil. 1:27; 1 Tim. 3:9; 4:1, 6; Tit. 1:4; Jude 3).
Unity of formation (one body and one Spirit). Unity of destiny. Unity of headship. Unity of belief. And…
#6. Unity Of Ordinance: “One Baptism”
Christians differ as to the form of baptism but there is only one baptism in the sense that true baptism expresses one truth – namely, faith in, and union with, Christ.
By submitting to this ordinance every believer expresses their unity - unity of one faith and one Lord (1 Cor. 12:13). “For the Lord Jesus Christ is the one object of the faith, hope and baptism of all Christian people. It is Jesus Christ in whom we have believed, Jesus Christ into whom we have been baptized, and Jesus Christ for whose coming we wait with expectant hope.” 3
Lastly there is…
#7. Unity Of Godhead: “One God And Father” (6)
This is the apex of unity. This is the ultimate expression of all that the church ought to reflect here on earth – that there is one God and Father of all.
The unity of the church is most fully expressed in the unity of God himself. It is through our relationship with the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit that Christians participate in this unity.
The various religions and philosophies of the world claim different gods. Some religions have several gods. In fact, some religions now claim that we ourselves are gods or that the ultimate goal is to become God. The truth is that there is only one God and it is that one true God whom the true church confesses and worships.
The one God is above all because He is transcendent over the church and all creation; he is sovereign over all. He is through all because He is omnipresent, pervading all things. And the one God is in you all because He is immanent, near. He does not live within all people, but within you all (believers). And we manifest his presence in us by our relationships, our compassion, our attitudes etc. Thus, God is the Father “above,” “through,” and “in” all who are his people.
We have been called to “Walk in Unity” through our common calling, common character, and common confession. There are no stars or soloists or lone rangers in the church. There are no stars because we are called to walk together in unity, on the same level with one another, in step with one another; united in Christ-like character (humility, gentleness, patience); united in theological confession.
Francis Schaeffer once said, “We cannot expect the world to believe that Jesus’ claims are true, and that Christianity is true, unless the world sees some reality of the oneness of true Christians” – i.e. the external expression of the indwelling Christ. When non-Christians look at the church they should see people who walk together, united in Christ.
What do non-Christians think about the church? Do they think of slick television evangelists like they see on TV? Do they think of fundraising drives to line the pockets of the leaders? Do they think that we’re some sort of cult – private, even weird? Or, do they see consistency in our behaviour and caring in our attitude? Do they see a community of happy united people “in honour preferring one another” (Rom. 12:10); “esteeming one another better than ourselves” (Phil. 2:5); confident in who we are and what we believe; wanting to share what we have with others? Do they see in us the character of Christ - humility, gentleness, patience?
To walk worthy of our calling means (1) to live by what is demanded of our position in Christ; (2) to display our new character in Christ; and (3) to be driven by the one true confession of faith. May this be true in our churches. Not that we merely agree on a common confession of faith but that we mirror that confession in our practice by living as those who are chosen in Christ, redeemed, and are looking forward to entering into our heavenly inheritance.
1 John Stott, The Message of Ephesians (IVP, 1979), 149.
2 W. E. Vine, Vine’s Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words, 727.
3 Stott, 150.
Related Topics: Christian Life