Unity in the Body of Christ
The Character of God
Bruce Einspahr, Pastor
Columbia Bible Church
The book of Ephesians is typical of Paul’s epistles in that there is a doctrinal section and then an application section. As we begin chapter four, the doctrinal section has been completed, and now comes the application of that doctrine. This gives us a guideline on how we should teach God’s Word. Build a foundation of teaching and/or doctrine from the scripture, and then apply what has been taught.
One of the major teachings from the first three chapters is that the Jew and Gentile are now one body in Christ, called the church. But there is a problem. Everything in the world system has always dictated that Jews and Gentiles don’t get along with each other! So this new doctrine is contrary to their past experience. Therefore Paul appeals to the believers to apply this doctrine.
Ephesians 4:1 Paul says: “I strongly urge you therefore, I the prisoner in the Lord, to walk worthy of the calling in which you were called”. We have to be careful how we translate the Greek word parakalew. The common translation of “exhort” has become less common as translators consider the implications of the Greek and English word. It is reasonable to consider dropping the translation “exhort” from the definition of the Greek word, in almost all cases.
The Greek word
parakalew can be defined in one of
the four following ways.
From the list of the four meanings, the third one fits best what Paul is trying to say. This word is not as strong as a command. Since Paul was an apostle, why didn’t he just use his authority and command them! Because God seeks those who worship him (Joh 4:23). Worship is a volitional decision to obey and voluntarily follow God’s Word. Therefore Paul appeals or urges them.
“Therefore” which begins this verse brings all the data from Ephesians chapters one through three and applies it. The new Gentile believers have been blessed with all the spiritual blessings in the heavenlies in Christ (Eph 1:3). They were dead in trespasses and sins; But God saved them by faith alone in Christ alone by grace alone (Eph 2:1-9). Who are they now as believers? They are God’s special workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works (Eph 2:10). They are now in the same body as the Jewish believers, having the same access to God the Father (Eph 2:18). More doctrines could be added to this list. “Therefore” begins the challenge to apply those doctrines.
Verse one continues: “That you walk worthy of the vocation in which you were called”; or “the calling in which you were called”. The Greek word “walk” peripatew means to walk around, the conduct of one’s day to day life.
There are basically two ways to walk around and live day by day as a Christian. 1st) “Walk worthily”, that is to live day to day according to the standard of your new position in Christ. Col 1:9-10 “That you might walk worthy of the Lord unto all pleasing, being fruitful in every good work, and increasing in the FULL knowledge of God”. 1Th 2:12 “That you would walk worthy of God, who has called you unto his kingdom and glory”.
But there is another way in which Christians can walk; they can walk as the Gentiles walk, or walk like an unbeliever. Eph 4:17 “That you henceforth walk not as other Gentiles walk, in the vanity of their mind”. Another way of saying the same thing is to walk by means of the Holy Spirit or by means of the flesh (Gal 5:16).
Making this discussion simpler we can ask two questions. 1st) Am I living day to day in a way that pleases God and my life honors Him? 2nd) Am I living day to day the way any other unbeliever would live. Unfortunately, the research by George Barna (http://www.barna.org/) indicates that Christians in the United States have chosen to walk according the last category, which is just about the same as any unbeliever would live.
When believers walk by means of the flesh, just like any unbeliever, then there are going to be major problems in the body of Christ. There is going to be prejudice based upon race (Gal 3:28), and strife and divisions in the church (1Co 3:3). So Paul reminds them of the special calling and privilege they have to represent Jesus Christ. If a believer says that he is in fellowship with Christ, then that believer is obligated to walk like Jesus Christ walked (1Jo 2:6). In order to walk like Jesus walked, the believer has to adopt the characteristics and thinking pattern that Jesus had, which are totally contrary to the way the world thinks.
The first one mentioned is “lowliness/humility” tapeinofrosunh means lowly mind, humility, and stresses the attitude that is low (Eph 4:2). The same basic Greek word is used in Philippians 2:3 and 8. Jesus Christ, being God himself had the right to exalt himself above all mankind. Yet Jesus made a choice in his mind to empty himself of those attributes and take on the form of a servant (Phi 2:7). If this one characteristic was applied among believers, the strife and pride would disappear from our churches.
J. V. McGee (Thru the Bible series in Ephesians 4:2) tells the story of a “very fashionable church in Edinburgh that wanted a pulpit–supply; so the seminary sent to them a very fine young man who was brilliant in the classroom at the school. He had never had any experience, and he was filled with pride at ministering in this great church. When he got up before that group of people, he was struck with stage fright. He forgot everything he ever knew. He had memorized his sermon, but he forgot it. He stumbled through it and left the pulpit in humiliation, because he knew how miserably he had failed. A dear little Scottish lady went up to him and said, “Young man, I was watching you this morning, and I’d like to say to you that if you had gone up into that pulpit like you came down out of that pulpit, then you would have come down out of that pulpit like you went up into that pulpit.”
The next characteristic “meekness” is variously translated gentleness, courtesy, considerateness. For all practical purposes this word is a synonym for humility, but there is a slight difference in the emphasis. A person who is meek never shows insubordination against God nor a resentment against men. In 2nd Samuel 16:11, when Shimei threw stones at David after Absalom had taken the throne, David said, "let him alone, and let him curse, for the Lord hath bidden it". No matter how cruel or how unjust, David recognized that it was from the Lord and therefore did not fight back against it. Jesus Christ was also “meek” (Mat 11:29).
Consider how unjustly he was punished, yet Jesus knew that it was in the will of God, and so accepted it. Meekness is that attitude which controls the emotions and temper so that harmony can be attained with God's will and with mankind. Leaders in churches need to apply the characteristic of meekness as they teach God’s word (2Ti 2:24‑25 “And the servant of the Lord must not strive, but be gentle unto all men, apt to teach, patient, In meekness instructing those that oppose, , ,”). What happens when we are faced with people who stand up and disagree with us? Do we have the meekness to control our temper and be patient with them? The body of Christ would be much more unified, if meekness controlled our passions.
The next characteristic is “longsuffering/patience” makroqumia which basically means “long temper”. This is the self-restraint in the face of provocation or the ability to remain calm while facing misfortune. This is repeated in the “fruit of the Spirit” (Gal 5:22). This characteristic is essential for the unity of the body of Christ. It is amazing how Christians have the potential to make one angry. They make so many mistakes! Many commit sins that seriously affect our life. But we need to be reminded that our Lord is patient toward us and therefore we are eternally saved (1Ti 1:16). Therefore we can learn to apply this characteristic in our lives for the benefit of other believers and for the unity of the body of Christ.
Finally he says, “Forbearing one another in love”. Here is another word for “patience”. In Louw-Nida Sematic Domains; there are 11 words for “patience, endurance, perseverance”. This Greek word anecomai can be translated, to take up and hold, tolerate, endure, be patient. Paul practiced what he preached; 1st Corinthians 4:12 “Being persecuted, we tolerated it/we were patient with it”.
Since Paul can tolerate persecution from unbelievers, why can’t Christians tolerate each other? Further, “patience with one another is placed inside the realm of agape love. Believers have experienced the infinite love of God. Romans 5:5 “And hope does not make ashamed because the love of God is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Spirit which is given to us”. Believers have the unique ability given to them to love beyond the understanding of any unbeliever. In our human relationships, nothing can be greater than to agape love one another (Rom 13:8-10).
Ephesians 4:1-2 gives us a framework of the characteristics necessary to keep the unity of the body of Christ. The unbeliever cannot live at this level. The believer has the ability, as Christ lives in him (Gal 2:20). Such a life-style rarely is seen in our churches today. Therefore, the next few verses are hard to apply.
Ephesians 4:3 begins with “endeavoring/being diligent/make every effort” spoudazw. The word combines the ideas of speed and effort; so we could say, hasten, expedite, make every effort, take pains to accomplish. The present tense emphasizes continuous action; “Don’t give up”. The active voice means it is our individual responsibility. You decide. You are not responsible or can control the decision making of someone else! This word does not allow us to give up and quit.
How many ways we can alibi away our Christian commitment? “I will come to the table to talk unity after they commit to it.” NO! You are obligated before God to make every effort regardless of their decisions. “I can take almost anything except when he/she gets too loud”. “I will forgive them, but first they have to admit they were wrong”. “I have tried as hard as anyone else”. All of these excuses fail to make every effort to accomplish the goal. One translation: “Yours is the initiative; do it now”! You can’t blame anyone else. We have a personal and direct responsibility for unity that God has given each one of us.
The believer is to make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. The idea of unity is repeated again; Ephesians 4:13 “Till we all come in the unity of the faith, and of the FULL knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect(mature) man, unto the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ”. The Holy Spirit can only speak one thing and therefore must promote harmony (1Co 12:13 “For by one Spirit are we all baptized into one body”). Jesus Christ prayed that we would be one (Joh 17:21).
So what happened to Christianity? Why are there so many denominations? Why are there so many splits? Dividing churches is considered an American sport. Unbelievers and cults make the division of the church a high point of their jokes. So why do we divide the body of Christ?
Lewis and Harris Island is just west of Scotland, with a population of 25,000 people in 1949. There are three denominational churches on the island, all Presbyterian. The biggest denomination is the Church of Scotland. But because of its connection with the main island and deemed not evangelical enough, there formed the Free Church of Scotland. But neither of these Presbyterian churches were separated enough so a new denomination was necessary, called the Free Presbyterian Church of Scotland. (Source: SOUNDS From HEAVEN by Colin & Mary Peckham, pg 21.). So on any Sunday, you could hear Calvinism, Brand A; or Calvinism, Brand B; or Calvinism, Brand C. Each one preaching that the others were wrong! It seems someone forgot to read Ephesians 4.
At one time, churches in South Africa were interracial and whites and blacks worshipped together. But some Afrikaners came to object to drinking out of the same cup as black Christians during the Lord’s supper. In 1857 it was proposed that there would be two Lord Supper tables, one for European members and one for nonwhite members. This was done in spite of the recognized fact that the Bible taught that Christians should worship together. Later it was decided because of the weakness of some, that there would be separate groups. Soon this became separate congregations, and then further became separate institutions. Finally there was an official policy separating white and nonwhite churches. (Source: An Emergent Theology for Emerging Churches by Ray S. Anderson, pg 79). Upon what scriptural authority was this done?
So what is our responsibility? We are to live day by day in a manner that illustrates the Christian life (v.1). Each believer is required to adapt a mindset that recognizes who he is before the Almighty God. Meekness is necessary so we don’t resist and get angry at the way life comes at us, nor the people we have to deal with. We are to have patience, because there will be people and situations that will tempt us to be provoked. We can tolerate or bear up with one another, because we have experienced the perfect example in the love of God toward us. We are to take the initiative, right now, to diligently and continually maintain harmony that the Holy Spirit sponsors. Living the Christian life this way will develop a bond between believers that results in peace.
Now Paul gives us seven reasons why we should maintain that unity and peace. What is it that takes a bunch of diverse people and brings them together into one unit called the church? It is important to consider what holds us together.
Ephesians 4:4 starts with “There is one body”. Jesus Christ is the head of the church, his body (Eph 1:22-23 “and gave him to be the head over all things to the church, which is his body”). Paul clarified that both Jew and Gentile are brought into “one body” through the work of Jesus Christ on the cross (Eph 2:16 “And that he might reconcile both unto God in one body by the cross”). Every person who has been eternally saved through the work of Jesus Christ is a member of His body, the one body.
The most basic application of the concept of one body starts in the local church at Ephesus, or today as we look at any local church. The problem is how do we get along with each other? The interaction of fellow believers with each other can cause divisions and splits within a local church that make a mockery of the concept of one body. All of the essential characteristics of the previous three verses are thrown out the window and we leave to start another local church or denomination. So the first application of this concept is very basic; how do we keep unity in a local church body?
It is impossible in this short paper to explore the application of this passage to the body of Christ across the world. No one proposes we comply with the ecumenical movements that bring “Christians” together just to be together under some organization. But as this passage is applied, we should reconsider why we separate away from believers in other churches or denominations. Is there a Biblical basis for such division?
The next point of unity is “one Spirit” (Eph 4:4). There are many competing spirits in this world, but there is only one Holy Spirit (1Jo 4:1-3). And the Holy Spirit always promotes unity of the many members (1Co 12:13 “For by one Spirit are we all baptized into one body”; Eph 2:22 “In whom you also are builded together for an habitation of God through the Spirit”). If the Holy Spirit is running the show, there is going to be unity. Two believers under the authority of the Holy Spirit is a formula for unity. Two believers minus the Holy Spirit is a recipe for division. The application of this point becomes very serious, starting with the basic function of a local church and the potential problems that happens between members. Unfortunately, the Holy Spirit is abandoned and our selfish natures take over, and we divide the body of Christ. Everything in this passage is forgotten.
Paul continues, “even as you are called in one hope of your calling”. Every saved person has been called into the exact same hope and all have believed in the exact same Savior, with the exact same result! (Act 23:6 "of the hope of the resurrection of the dead"; Gal 5:5 "the hope of righteousness by faith"; Col 1:5 "the hope which is laid up for you in heaven"; Tit 1:2 "in hope of eternal life, which God, who cannot lie, promised before the world began". Tit 2:13 "looking for that blessed hope, and the glorious appearing of the great God and our Savior, Jesus Christ"). Since every believer experiences the same calling into the same exact hope, then why are there divisions? Paul explains why the Corinthians had strife and division in their church; 1st Corinthians 3:3 “For you are yet carnal; for whereas there is among you envying, and strife, and divisions, are you not yet carnal, and walk as men”? It is pretty simple. Christians start thinking about themselves rather than the Lord. Pride and arrogance kick in, and Christians start acting just like unbelievers. Unfortunately, this happens all the time! When believers don’t know who they are in Christ, and don’t apply the qualities outlined in Ephesians 4:1-3, then they will be led by human impulses, and cause trouble in the body of Christ. Unity is achieved when believers know and apply the fact that they are called into the exact same hope. That other believer is in the same body of Christ as me. Why divide the body of Christ?
Then Paul writes, “One Lord”. This refers to Jesus Christ, who went to the cross on our behalf. In the context we have an affirmation of the Trinity (I prefer the term “Tri-Unity”) in three verses; “One Spirit”, “One Lord” and “One God and Father of all”. Every believer has the exact same Lord, no matter what church they go to! Even if they hold some strange doctrines! Even if they are waving their King James Bible around as the only true word of God. Even if they believe the rapture takes place at the end of the seventieth week of Daniel! Every born again believer still has the same Lord. This fact requires that we reconsider our drive to divide the body of Christ over our personal doctrinal preferences.
What is our response when we get to Paul’s next point, “one faith”? Now we ask questions about what we believe. And now we have problems because some will find a reason to have a good theological fight with a biblical mandate (Jud 3 “contend for the faith which was once delivered unto the saints”). And what are we going to fight over? Christians have fought and divided the body of Christ because they don’t use the right version of the Bible. What mode of baptism is the right one? Did you really, really claim that Jesus was Lord when you believed? When did the church begin? What type of church government do you have? And if you say anything negative about John Calvin, we are going to have a fight and divide this body of Christ!
To solve this problem, we should first give a definition to “faith”. Reviewing the immediate context, we find that Paul uses this term several times. Eph 1:15 “Wherefore I also, after I heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus, and love unto all the saints”. Eph 2:8 “For by grace are you saved through faith”. Eph 3:12 “In whom we have boldness and access with confidence by the faith of/in Him”. Eph 3:17 “That Christ may dwell in your hearts by faith”. The definition of “one faith” seems to be a faith commitment to the gospel message that saves.
Further study throughout the
New Testament of the doctrinal content of “faith” finds the following points.
Since this becomes the basis for unity within the body of Christ, then we must reconsider divisions in the body of Christ. If we are to “contend” (Jude 3) or “fight” (1Ti 6:12) for the faith, we are obligated to determine that what we are fighting for is supported by God’s word. Divisions in the body of Christ are caused when believers draw theological blood in a doctrinal battle, while they are we fighting in a battle field they have personally designed without God’s help.
A natural question in everyone’s mind is how can we have unity with people who believe other doctrines that are diverse from our own? Let us be very frank with each other. Have you ever met a person who believes exactly the way you do? (maybe one!). Have you ever seen two pastors who believe exactly the same way? (NEVER!). There is always something to disagree about when two people examine each other’s doctrine. Paul’s answer to this diversity is answered in the paragraph, Ephesians 4:7-16. There is diversity in the body of Christ, but under the Holy Spirit’s direction, that diversity works toward edifying itself in love. This paper cannot go into more detail on this subject. But when there are differences, we have to apply godly characteristics to deal with them (2Ti 2:24-26).
It is amazing that when Paul says there is “one baptism”, that this would become controversial. But church history indicates that “baptism” is one of the most favorite doctrines that divides the body of Christ. First, one has to determine what “baptism” means in this context, and to differentiate the many uses of the word. As a result of a complete study of baptism, we must conclude that Paul is referring to the baptism of the Holy Spirit. Paul lists seven elements that encourage us toward unity. Each one depends upon the character of God and is related to God’s plan for the believer. Each one becomes an instant possession of every believer at the moment of salvation. Therefore “one baptism” refers to the baptism of the Holy Spirit placing a believer into the body of Christ at the moment of salvation (1Co 12:13). This is a solid basis for unity.
In Ephesians 4:6, we have Paul’s final element for unity; “One God and Father of all, who is above all, and through all, and in you all”. This seems to be a summary statement for the relationship believers have with God, the Father. Each believer belongs to the same spiritual family. Every believer is spiritually related to each other for eternity! What a motivation for unity!
But through history, how have Christians decided to be united with another believer or church or organization? Have they been motivated toward unity by the same reasons listed by Paul in Ephesians 4:1-6? A search through church history finds that this passage is not the basis for unity.
If fellowship or unity is the concern, believers quickly refer to their favorite theological issue and make judgments. Do you believe in “dispensations”? Do you hold to “Reformed” theology? Has the church replaced Israel? When did the church start, or is the church in the Old Testament? What version of the Bible do you use? What view of lapsarianism do you hold? Are you a five-point Calvinist? What type of music do you have in your worship service? Do you speak in tongues? And the list could go on and on. Unity is based upon a doctrine or creed. Certainly we feel very biblical when we hold our doctrines in esteem and make sure others hold the same before we fellowship with them. Believers have done that for centuries, so what is wrong with that? Has anyone reviewed what God’s word says about reasons for dividing the body of Christ? Think about the phrase, “dividing the body of Christ”. There seems to be something fundamentally wrong with that idea.
What reasons did Paul give for unity? One body, One Holy Spirit, One hope, One Lord Jesus Christ, One faith (not creed), One baptism by the Holy Spirit who placed all believers into one body, One God. Unity for Paul is based upon the character of God and because each believer is related to God in exactly the same way, therefore unity.
So why do believers have to fight and divide?
This question is never asked when the confrontations take place. Paul saw a need to emphasize unity for those believers in Ephesus, and we still need to be reminded today. The divisions break up good churches. The disagreements over a doctrinal point destroy friendships. Because divisions and splits are so common, it is probable that every person who reads this paper has had that experience or (gulp!) experiences.
Ephesians 4:1-6 establishes the basis for unity among believers. It is not based upon a list of doctrinal issues contained in a doctrine statement that one must pass. Our written creeds and doctrinal statements are normally great deposits of truth that indicate our understanding of the Bible. We have elevated them to become the standard for fellowship and unity. But we don’t see Paul using that tactic to determine unity. Paul bases unity upon the character of God and the shared relationship that is true for all believers. Maintaining that unity is determined by the maturity of our own Christian character (Eph 4:1-3). When we fail to maintain unity, it is because we have failed to apply the character traits and we use another standard that is not listed in Ephesians 4:4-6. Wrong character and wrong standards will produce a division of the body of Christ.
In my years of ministry at Columbia Bible Church, I have experienced believers dividing away from our local church for many of the reasons I have listed in this paper. One person was a graduate of Dallas Theological Seminary and had moved into our area in another profession. When you live in the desert (physically and spiritually) as I do, and an alumni shows up in your church, it tends to raise your excitement level. Every time we met, it was fun. The third Sunday he attended, he asked me what view of lapsarianism I held. He never came back.
I was having a great discussion in the back yard during a party and we started discussing the subject of Genesis and creation. I described all of the Biblical and grammatical reasons why I no longer teach that there is a gap between Genesis 1:1 and 1:2. A lady with tears in her eyes, nearly screamed at me that I was a heretic. I have seen this family since, but this lady has never spoken to me.
I cannot count how many times new comers into the church have made the use of the King James Version their make or break issue. How can anyone really know you are reading God’s Holy Word, unless it is in the King James Bible? Recently I had a man come to tears as he worried that these other translations are corrupting God’s Word. On the other hand, another new comer observed that I displayed the King James Version on the computer projection during my messages, and thought I was a King James only person and was ready to walk out! How can we divide the body of Christ over this issue?
Another new comer spent about a month coming to our services and then asked, “where are the elders in your Constitution?” He was an elder in his previous church back in California, and he wanted to become an elder of our church as soon as possible. He never came back.
The availability of resources on the internet is amazing, but it also can be dangerous. One of our members discovered some “bible” teaching that taught the church did not start till Acts 9 (or 11, or 13, or maybe 28), because the “body of Christ” did not start till Paul. For sure the church did not start in Acts 2, because that was the Jewish church. This position is called “Mid-Acts Dispensationalism” by proponents and “Hyper-Dispsensationalism” by others. In order to try to convince me I was incorrect, this member sent me 120 pages of email messages over a period of three months. Since emails are monologues, the information came from one direction and they never answered my questions for clarification and definition. For several months, this person tried to convince individuals in the church to adapt this new teaching. At one point, they even approached the deacons to have the doctrine statement changed. No one took this person seriously. Finally I was able to talk to the person face to face. I gave them one verse (Eph 4:11-12), which proved that the body of Christ existed before Paul, therefore goes back to Acts 2. They ceased further discussion and immediately removed their membership.
In comparison, I taught a class in Royal City (75 miles from Pasco) for many years. It came time for me to quit because a pastor was coming to their community. At the end of my last class, a man came with tears in his eyes for how much he appreciated teaching from God’s word. It is moments like this that stick in your mind. I later found out that this man held to “Mid-Acts Dispensationalism”, but never brought it up in class. What a difference!
Which of these individuals practiced Ephesians 4:1-6?
©Ron Wallace, http://www.biblefragrances.com.
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