Christian Unity Part 1
by John Lowe
(Laurens SC, USA)
Text: "I, therefore, the prisoner of the Lord, beseech you to walk worthy of the calling with which you were called, with all lowliness and gentleness, with longsuffering, bearing with one another in love, endeavoring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace." (Ephesians 4:1-3).
1 I, therefore, the prisoner of the Lord, beseech you to walk worthy of the calling with which you were called,
2 with all lowliness and gentleness, with longsuffering, bearing with one another in love,
3 endeavoring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.
4 There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called in one hope of your calling;
5 one Lord, one faith, one baptism;
6 one God and Father of all, who is above all, and through all, and in you all. (Ephesians 4:1-6)
28 Let him who stole steal no longer, but rather let him labor, working with his hands what is good, that he may have something to give him who has need.
29 Let no corrupt word proceed out of your mouth, but what is good for necessary edification, that it may impart grace to the hearers.
30 And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption.
31 Let all bitterness, wrath, anger, clamor, and evil speaking be put away from you, with all malice.
32 And be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God in Christ forgave you.
Paul doesn't deal with any problems in his letter to the Ephesians. All the news was good news from the people at Ephesus, and Paul had the glorious privilege of writing a positive letter to encourage them. The theme of his letter is "Christian Unity."
Paul had established many churches and watched them grow, so he realized that without unity, nothing else really matters. And with unity, nothing can defeat the church. In the first three chapters of Ephesians, Paul lays the foundation for Christian unity. In his last two chapters, he describes the practical results of unity. And in chapter four he deals with the heart and soul of Christian unity.
Today, we are going to focus our attention on the fourth chapter.
Here Paul speaks of:
1. The behavior of Christian unity.
2. The basis of Christian unity.
3. The benefits of Christian unity.
Paul begins with behavior because it has everything to do with Christian unity. Often it appears that behavior is more important than beliefs, in maintaining unity in the church. For example, in our church, there are many different beliefs about prophecy, and faith healers, and the work of the Holy Spirit, and the Rapture, and the gifts of the Spirit, and yet there is unity. But I could absolutely destroy this unity by my misbehavior.
We occasionally hear about church splits, but very few can be traced to bad theology. But many church splits can be traced to behavior. Therefore, Paul quickly and directly deals with behavior and treats it as the main priority. He says, "I beseech you to walk worthy of the calling with which you were called" (v. 1).
Being a Christian is a vocation, it is a calling or life's work. It behooves Christians to walk worthy of the source of their high and holy calling of God that they have in Christ. Christians are called to live for Christ and walk "even as He walked." But just in case the church at Ephesus doesn't understand what he's talking about, he spells it out for them. He lists seven characteristics of the type of behavior that builds Christian unity. Let's look at each of them and see what Paul had to say.
First, he says that our behavior must be compatible with our calling.
If we are to be one of those people who can help bring Christian unity, we must conduct ourselves in a manner that doesn't reflect poorly on our calling as Christians. Since we bear the name of Christ we must never bring that name into disrepute. Remember, it doesn't make any difference what you say if your life doesn't back up your words. People will judge you by what they see you do. So you can't promote Christian unity if you are unfriendly, if you talk about others faults, or if you are living like everyone else does.
Next, Paul says that we should be humble.
He states in the second verse of our text that we should act "with all lowliness and gentleness, with longsuffering, bearing with one another in love." Our lives are to be lived "With all lowliness." In other words, your high calling should not lead to pride, but on the contrary, it should lead to a modest opinion of yourself. This means unfailing humility, and a deep sense of unworthiness, in every experience and in every relationship. We must not be conceited, or egotistical, or proud. But how does humility come about? It comes from two things.
First, Humility comes from knowing yourself.
Humility depends on honesty; it depends on having the courage to look at ourselves without the rose-colored spectacles of self-admiration and self-love. In simple terms, humility comes from knowing who and what you are. If you are saved, then you should know that it's by the grace of God, and not because you deserve it. So you and I are nothing without God. And everything we have comes from Him. And anything that is "good" about us is due to the Holy Spirit, who has taken up residence in us. If we can just realize this, then it will be easy to be humble
Now here is the second reason for our being humble.
We should be humble because we know Almighty God and we know the One who died to save us.
Humility comes from comparing our life with the life of Christ. As long as we compare our self with others, we may come out of the comparison looking rather good. Friends, there is always someone that you can compare yourself to and say something like, "I'm not so fat after all; just look at Mr. So-and-so." Or perhaps you might think to yourself, "I'm a pretty good woman; just look at the other women and you'll see that I talk about Jesus more than they do." But my friends, we should not be comparing ourselves to others. Instead, we should compare ourselves to Jesus. It is only when we compare ourselves to Jesus that we can see our own failures. None of us will come out well when compared to Him. Knowledge of God added to knowledge of self, equals humility.
But Paul says that we are also to be gentle. That's what he said in verse 2. Those who are gentle are so God-controlled that they are continually kind and gracious towards others. They are people who often deny themselves, and people who have the Spirit of God living within them in all of His humility.
Paul said, "I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me" (Galatians 2:20). This is Paul's personal testimony, which may be repeated by every believer in Christ. He is saying that when he believed in Jesus, the old nature was crucified, but the new man that he has become in Christ is living. The new believer is crucified with Christ, yet he is spiritually alive because he possesses life through Christ who lives within him.
We are also told that we must be patient.
Perhaps we can think about patience like this. It's the spirit that has the power to take revenge but never does so. Patience is the spirit that puts up with insults without becoming bitter or complaining. This is the opposite of being short-tempered. The old nature is so quick to be offended that we need longer fuses. The new life in Christ allows us to endure, without retaliation, any wrong that we have suffered, and then, to turn the other cheek
Paul also says that to promote Christian unity, we must be magnanimous.
As Christians, we must make allowances for one another; we must be magnanimous towards others when their faults are revealed. After all, wasn't God being magnanimous to us when He forgave our sins. But remember, God could be magnanimous only because Jesus paid the penalty for our sins.
The sixth characteristic of Christian unity is that it is loving.
We are able to bear with one another, through life's difficulties and problems, out of Christian love, not because we have a lot of grit and determination. The Bible teaches that "love conquers all." There are four Greek words for love, but the word Paul uses in verse 2 when he says, "bearing with one another in love," is the highest. It means that we must love others so much that nothing they do or say will keep us from loving them and wanting to do good things for them. Even though they mistreat and hurt us, we will feel only kindness toward them.
Lastly, Paul says that Christian unity is marked by being peaceable.
We read in verse 3, "Endeavoring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace." We have peace with God only by accepting His Son as our Savior. We can feel at peace and live peaceably with others when God's Spirit within controls us.
We have seen that the characteristics of Christian unity are: living lives that reflect our calling as Christians, humility, gentleness, patience, generosity, love, and peace.
The next thing to see is THE BASIS OF CHRISTIAN UNITY.
The way we behave is an important part of Christian unity. But for a person to behave in a way that promotes Christian unity, he or she must have a sound foundation to build their life on. So someone might ask, "What is the basis, the foundation, on which Christian unity is built?" My friends, Paul has the answer.
In the fourth chapter of Ephesians, he lays seven foundation stones. They are one body, one Spirit, one hope, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, and one God.