Eager for Unity
It was our first anniversary. I had planned a weekend getaway at Elkwater in Cypress Hills. I had purchased Aimee a nice gift and we were staying in a nice place and I had all the ingredients in place for it to be just perfect.
But then things fell apart. I chose the part of the drive right as we were getting there to share something critical with Aimee—some helpful thoughts on something I thought she needed to change. Perfect timing for setting the tone! And then on the next day I reacted quite poorly to an event which put a ton of emotional distance in between Aimee and I. We spent the whole next day barely talking to each other and it took most of the five-hour drive home to work it all through.
Our first anniversary had all the ingredients of being perfect. But I wrecked it anyways.
Today we’re almost at the very end of our series on the church. We have one more week next Sunday for a big summary and review, and then on July 5 a string of guest preachers will begin our summer series in the Proverbs. And I hope we’d all say that it’s been a good journey. At the very least, I hope we’d agree that God’s word has given us everything we need to understand what the church is and how it’s supposed to work.
So here’s a question. Now that we’ve walked through all of this truth, now that we understand everything we’ve learned, does that mean that we’re good? We’re just automatically going to experience a healthy, unified, beautiful life together as a church now?
I think we know it’s not that simple. I can think of many churches—churches which believe the Bible and love the Bible and teach the Bible—who really struggle with being the church. They can understand what the church should be like, from Scripture. But their life together is marked with broken relationships and church splits and ugly resignations and power grabs and control trips and disunity on all sides.
We’ve can have all the ingredients for a healthy church, but actually being a healthy church doesn’t happen by itself, does it? Each one of us has the dangerous ability to sabotage the health of the church by our own sinful actions. And that means that each one of us has the responsibility to pursue the health and the unity of the church with careful deliberation.
That’s what our passage is about today. Ephesians 4:1-6 shows us that healthy, unified churches don’t just happen by themselves. It’s not enough to have the ingredients in place. God’s people need to make unity a priority and intentionally, deliberately, eagerly work at being the church together.
I’ve heard it said before that if you hear a pastor preaching on unity, you know there’s a problem in the church. “Things must be bad; he’s pulling out the unity sermon.” But I disagree with that, because I think Ephesians 4 disagrees.
Ephesians 4 shows us that unity needs to be an always-on priority for all of us at all times. It’s not automatic. It will only come as we intentionally work at it.
The Context of the Passage
So that’s where we’re going today, as we listen to what Ephesians 4:1-6 tells us about unity and our responsibility to pursue it together. But before we get into the passage itself, we need to stop and consider where this passage sits in the book of Ephesians. Because that’s actually really important for how we understand it.
Ephesians is six chapters long, and is divided fairly evenly in half. The first half is focused on God’s great plan of salvation. It’s full of theology and worship and gospel truth.
We’ve spent some time in those first three chapters of Ephesians in recent months. We made a stop in chapter 1 on Resurrection Sunday, where we heard about Christ’s super-exalted place above all earthly powers, and our identity as His body. We’ve been to chapter 2, which spoke about His power in resurrecting us from our spiritual death, and His work today in making us a spiritual temple. And thapter 3 talks about God’s plan to bring glory to Himself through the church.
And then, at the beginning of chapter 4, Paul pivots, and he spends the next three chapters telling his readers how they now need to live as a result of everything that God has done.
Given that God has saved us through the death and resurrection of His Son, given that we’ve been raised from our spiritual graves, given that we are His body and His temple, given that we’ve been called to so great a salvation, we need to act and behave and live in a certain way.
And that’s what Paul writes in chapter 4 verse 1, “I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called” (Ephesians 4:1). And he spends the next three chapters unpacking what this worthy walk or worthy way of life looks like.
Aren’t you glad that God doesn’t wait for us to be worthy before He calls us to salvation? He graciously made us His body and temple and bride long before we were worthy of such a status. But now that this is our status, he summons us to live in a manner worthy of this calling.
Worthy Living = Eager Unity
Now I really want us to make sure we don’t miss something so important in our passage today. And so let’s think about us here in North America. When we think about this matter of the Christian life, of living in a manner worthy of the gospel, what sort of things so we tend to think about right away?
I can think of many gospel presentations I’ve seen, where someone is led through a series of steps to confess Jesus as their Saviour. And then usually there’s a section at the end that shows them what they need to do now that they’ve believed the gospel. And usually, there’s at least three things on that list. First, read your Bible. Two, pray. Three, you can go to church.
Notice that the first two are individual activities. And the final one—about attending a church—is often presented as optional.
Let’s bring it closer to home. Do you remember the “You Are Here” series last year? When we got to the part of the series that talks about our place in the story, without thinking about it too much we ended up talking mostly about individual matters. And that wasn’t wrong, but it was lopsided. Which is one of the reasons that we did this series this year.
With all of that in our minds, let’s notice what Paul, inspired by the Holy Spirit, tells us what it looks like to walk in a manner worthy of our calling. What comes to his mind first is unity—our relationships with each other in the church.
“Walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” (Ephesians 4:1b–3).
When we think about “living out our faith,” unity should rise to the surface first. Healthy, peaceful relationships with one another should be at the top of our list.
And this shouldn’t surprise us too much, because it was less than three years ago that we encountered Philippians 1:27, which tells us, “Only let your manner of life be worthy of the gospel of Christ, so that whether I come and see you or am absent, I may hear of you that you are standing firm in one spirit, with one mind striving side by side for the faith of the gospel.”
Letting our manner of life be worthy of the gospel means standing firm in one spirit—being unified in the mission together. That’s the same point as we see here in Ephesians 4.
And so right away, this challenges any notion that the Christian life, our walk with God, is primarily an individual experience. Just “Jesus and me.” Instead, this reminds us that being a disciple of Jesus is primarily a shared experience. We’ve been saved to be a member of the body, a part of the bride, a brick in the temple. Ground zero for practical Christianity is our relationships with one another.
And these good relationships won’t happen automatically. We each have a responsibility to cultivate the attitudes and the behaviours that will produce unity. And that’s what we see when we take a closer look at verses 2-3.
First, in verse 2, we see three attitudes described. Humility, gentleness, and patience. Humility has the basic idea of lowness or lowliness, of not thinking highly of ourselves. Humility enables us to associate with people who are different than us, because we don’t think we’re better than them or higher up the ladder than them. Like Christ, we’re willing to be made low to serve and love others.
Gentleness is connected to the idea of humility. A gentle person is not a weak person, or a pushover, but someone who knows when to hold their strength back. They know not to treat a lamb the same way you treat a wolf.
The final attitude mentioned here is patience. Knowing how to wait. Knowing how to endure. Knowing how to put up with things that are not ideal. Knowing how to hold your tongue. Knowing how to not rush in with guns blazing.
These three words, taken together, paint a picture of someone who is thinking about others instead of themselves. Most significantly, they are thinking about God first. They are aware that Christ was so humble when He stepped in to save us, and they know how gentle and patient He is with them. And knowing Christ has made them be this way towards others.
So our passage describes three attitudes that w need to cultivate for there to be unity.. And what we see next is that these attitudes spill into actions. Our passage describes two actions that mark a humble, gentle and patient person. The first comes at the end of verse 2: “bearing with one another in love.”
“Bearing” has the idea of enduring or putting up with. Do you see how realistic this is? God understands that we’re not in heaven yet. As He is building His church, he knows that we have sin that’s still being dealt with and personality quirks a-plenty. There is no guarantee that our church is going to be filled with people that we naturally, humanly, get along with. We are going to have to put up with, endure, bear with one another.
But we don’t do it with a groan and a sigh, a complaining or critical spirit, or looking for opportunities to vent and gossip at every turn. We are to bear with one another “in love.” We love those we bear with.
This is supernatural, isn’t it? To love someone that we are having a hard time with? To love someone that we need to endure? And this is what life in the church is like. Bearing with one another in love.
It’s a beautiful thing. But I’m so glad that it’s not the only thing. I’m so glad for verse 3. Because if all we had was verse 2, we might imagine that life in the church was just a tough slog of putting up with difficult people.
But verse 3 tells us that there’s a second action that should characterize us. We must be “eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” (Ephesians 4:3). We’re not just passively saying, “Ok, (groan), I’ll put up with them if I have to.” No, we’re eager for this. Eager to maintain unity. Eager to be bound together in peace.
Is the idea of being unified, of living fully at peace with one another, a thought that makes you eager? Because that’s what practical Christianity looks like. That’s ground zero for living a life worthy of the gospel. Eager for unity.
The Basis for Our Unity
Now let’s ask an important question: is this unrealistic? You might be thinking, “Get real; has Paul ever been a part of a church before? I might be able to put up with some people, and maybe do so in love. But being eager about maintaining unity? How is that possible when we are all so different?”
Just think about EBC and the differences we see between us. We’re different ages. Different life stages. We have different incomes. Different employment situations. Different family situations. Different relationship statuses. We were born in different places and have lived in Nipawin for different lengths of time. We have different interests. Different abilities. We get along with different people and fit more easily into different social groups.
We think differently. We have different opinions about many things. Different convictions. Different understandings. There is a lot that we can and do disagree about. We have different behaviours, making different choices about practices we will or will not engage in. We differ in our perspectives on what’s best in many different situations.
And I could go on and on. There are a lot of differences between us. And if we only ever focused on those differences, we probably wouldn’t find much eagerness for unity.
But what this passage leads us to do is focus instead on what we have in common with each other. To look beyond the surface and recognize that what we share with one another is way bigger, way more important, than any of our differences.
This commonality is first hinted at in verse 3, which speaks about the unity “of the Spirit.” The church is the work of the Sprit. Chapter 2 verse 22 said that we are being “built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit.” We are not building ourselves. The Spirit is. The work of the Spirit is what enables and undergirds our unity. We can be united because we all share of the Holy Spirit.
And now listen to verses 4-6, as God through Paul shows us more of what we all have in common with each other: “There is one body and one Spirit—just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call— one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all” (Ephesians 4:4–6).
- There is one body. Only one body of Christ. There is not a separate church for people who get on your nerves. We are all a part of the body of Christ together.
- There is one Spirit, like we’ve seen. One Holy Spirit who has drawn us to Christ and is building us together in the church.
- We have been called to one hope. There is not a separate hope, a separate place in the New Creation for people who disagree with you. We’ve been called to one hope.
- There is one Lord. We all bow our knees to the one Lord Jesus. The same Lord Jesus who died for each one of His people.
- There is one faith. One Christian faith with one gospel that we all believe in. You don’t believe in a different or a better gospel than any other child of God.
- There is one baptism. We are baptized into the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. No disciple of Jesus has been baptized into a different or better baptism than any other disciple.
- And there is one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all. You pray to and worship and were created by the same God as every other disciple.
So let’s put some leather on the shoe. Think about someone in this church who is the most different from you, humanly speaking. Or perhaps think about the person with whom you’ve had the most struggles. Now run through this list in verse 4-6. Consider everything you have in common. If you are both disciples of Jesus, then you have way more in common than you don’