A Church Committed to the Pursuit of Unity in the Advancement of its Common Cause
In Ephesians chapter 4, Paul turns his attention to the matter of unity within the body of Christ as he exhorts us to walk in a manner worthy of our calling in Christ (verse 1). The first half of the chapter provides a vivid portrayal of the type of unity that should characterize the functioning of the church: Spirit-led, interdependent co-laboring of diversely gifted yet deeply integrated, mature followers of Jesus Christ. The second half of the chapter describes in very practical terms the behavior that should characterize our relationships within the church as we allow the Holy Spirit to transform our lives into Christ-likeness. As we yield to the Spirit’s leadership in our lives and ministries we successfully realize the theme of the chapter: “being eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in a bond of peace” (verse 3).
There is a word in verse 3 that is very important and worth contemplating: “eager.” Paul tells us to be eager to maintain unity within the church: be speedily diligent; be swift and show full diligence. This word has a powerful implication: unity within the church does not occur naturally but only develops as we give careful attention to the corporate body and to our own individual conduct.
Paul first reminds us, there is one body, one Spirit, one hope, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, and one Father (verses 4-6). These truths enable our unity, making it possible for us to be profoundly connected to each other. Yet, Paul tells us, we are a diverse collection of people with varying gifts of the Spirit (verses 7-11). The intent of this diversity is to display a supernatural unity and love under the authority of Jesus Christ, which in turn is a demonstration of God’s love, salvation, and glory (verses 12-16; John 13:34-35, 17:20-23). Nevertheless, diversity is not unity per se; rather it is the starting point for developing godly unity.
Furthermore, Paul goes on to warn us that the sinful practices from our former ways of living still exist within each of us. These sinful habits hinder our relationships within the church (verse 17-19) and cause us to tear and devour each other (see verses 25-31; Gal 5:15-21). Such conduct displayed in the church will quickly destroy any pretense of unity, contaminate our witness for Christ, and besmirch the character of our God.
Because of our diverse perspectives and giftedness, and our ever-present sinful tendencies, our natural bent is toward disunity. So the display of supernatural unity takes work, individually and corporately. We must show full diligence to the development and maintenance of unity.
At a practical level, maintaining unity within the church requires several components which build upon each other: 1) a leadership team committed to practicing unity as it discusses important issues and makes decisions for the flock (see verse 11); 2) preaching and teaching ministries which faithfully exhort individual members to Christlikeness (see verses 12-14); and 3) unifying the congregation under the headship of Christ and His call (purpose) for the church (see verses 1, 15-16).
This last step is one that is often missed. It requires us to be passionately missional in our leadership, focused not merely on executing ongoing ministries and keeping the bills paid, but also on being devoted to faithful obedience as we pursue Christ’s purpose for us as a church.