Unity within the body of Christ is a consistent theme through the New Testament. In the earlier chapters of Ephesians, Paul talks about what happens when we follow Jesus. In chapter 4 Paul talks about the topic of unity. Remember that scripture does not ask us to ‘create’ unity rather to ‘preserve’ the unity that comes from being united together in Christ.Benefits of Unity
- Mutual Encouragement: whenever we meet together we have the opportunity to encourage one another (Rom 14:19) through sharing life stories, reading scripture, praying for each other and so on.
- Increased effectiveness: where there is division we become ineffective but when we are working together we increase our effectiveness.
- Sign for the World: Jesus recognised that the credibility of his life and message in the eyes of unbelievers was dependent upon the way we as his followers relate to one another (see Jn.13:34-35). The credibility of the gospel is at stake. As Francis Schaeffer said, “Our relationship with each other is the criterion the world uses to judge whether our message is truthful – Christian community is the final apologetic.”
In Ephesians, Paul mentions ‘unity in the church’ 18 times. Again in chapters 1-3 of Ephesians Paul talks about the benefits of following Christ, we are forgiven, accepted, adopted and become children of God and it is with this in mind that chapter 4 begins.
Read Ephesians 4:1-16 (Other scriptures to consider Ps 133:1, 2 Cor 5:18).
The ‘worthy walk’ that Paul talks about in verse one is the Greek word here axios and refers to balancing a set of scales. The weight of one side must equal the other side, put all that Jesus has done (Eph 1-3) for you on one side of the scales and put how you live on the other side – does it balance? This is what it means to have a worthy walk. Paul is not calling for perfection or trying to earn salvation rather the concern is that our lives would be shaped in response to salvation.
In verse two, Paul mentions some character qualities that will help us preserve unity, they are ‘Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love.’ (1)
To be ‘completely humble and gentle’ means to have an attitude that recognises the worth and value of other people. Pride, the opposite of humility causes division amongst people (see Pr 8:13, Pr 11:2). Aristotle says this is ‘strength under control, the place between being too angry and not angry at all.’
Paul goes on to say we should ‘be patient, bearing one another in love’. The concept Paul is communicating is that a lack of patience causes us to have a narrowness within our soul and life, the opposite, which Paul encourages leads us to have a largeness of soul that encourages those around us to excel, makes room for mistakes and ultimately helps others become all God intended.
In verse 3 Paul goes on to say that we are to ‘make every effort’ in developing these character qualities that will help us preserve unity.
Following are some general comments from this passage:
- Focus on Unity
• In verses 4-6 Paul tells us about the things that unite us together.
• One Body – co-workers working together
• One Spirit – His Spirit gives us life and purpose
• One Hope – our hope is in Christ.
• Lord – living in unity under his Lordship
• Faith – faith in Him, faith that pleases God
• Baptism – confession of faith
• God and Father – not judge but Father
(Also read Mt 5:23-25, 2 Cor 5:18)
- Celebrate Diversity
Within every Christian community there will be diversity, within our own community we have over 100 nationalities in unity together, we haven’t manufactured this unity, it is Christ that brings unity. In verse 11 Paul talks about the diverse gifts that have been given as an example of diversity yet they all work together to build the church.
- Avoid Division
We all need to learn to handle conflict well, as it’s not going to leave us. When conflict occurs, acknowledge it and then take the initiative to sort it out, whether you are the one hurt or the one who did the hurting. Avoiding conflict kills community. Resentment builds up inside like buried toxic waste. Sooner or later it will leak.
Paul doesn’t say ‘sweep all the issues of life and relationship under the carpet, instead he gives some guidelines that will help preserve unity and describes this as a sign of our maturity, he says in all aspects of life we should, ‘Speak the truth in love’ (Eph 4:15)
‘Not let the sun go down when we’re angry’ (Eph.4:26) – that’s 24 hours to sort out that argument. Imagine how much better all of our relationships would be if we all simply did that. Learn to say, “I’m sorry” and “Would you forgive me?” These words, when spoken genuinely, can heal broken relationships and restore peace into our world. Make it a priority to be ‘reconciled’ rather than to be ‘right’ (Mt.5:9).
- Why is Unity so important today? Where do we need greater unity?
- How do we ‘preserve’ unity together?
- What factors are at work against the qualities listed in verse two?
- How do the different gifts complement each other?
Spend some time praying together about any area of your life that is currently lacking unity and pray that God would guide in this situation, also thank God for the unity we experience together in Christ.(1)
The Holy Bible : New International Version. Grand Rapids : Zondervan, 1996, c1984, S. Eph 4:2.