Ephesians 4:2-6 - Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing one another in love. Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit--just as you were called to one hope when you were called--one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.
The lyrics of a well known Christian song begin with the emphatic declaration that "We are one in the Spirit." But the song continues with a prayer for the restoration of our unity. In some ways the words of this familiar song seem like a contradiction, don't they? Why pray for unity to be restored if we are one in the Spirit already? Actually these words are right on! They express at the same time both a profound Christian truth and a great Christian responsibility. The truth is that we are are one in the Spirit and the responsibility is that this unity is to be seen in our lives. What exactly is this unity and how are we to show it in our lives as growing Christians? Should we attempt to break down all the denominational barriers and start a new denomination--something like "The Church for All True Christians?" Needless to say, such a plan would hardly get off the ground without serious and divisive consequences. And yet we are told to make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit in Ephesians 4:3. A closer examination of Ephesians 4:2-6 will help answer these questions. Notice first of all that verse 3 does not say "make every effort to form the unity of the Spirit" Why not? Because the unity of the Spirit is something which is already formed. Remember, we are one in the Spirit. No amount of ecumenical maneuvering can add a thing to this unity which God has already formed. Now in verses 4-6 we have the basis or the ground of our unity in the Spirit. There is a sevenfold oneness to our unity. "There is one body...one Spirit ...one hope...one Lord...one faith...one baptism...one God. Notice again that this unity is not something that we form. "There is" is understood throughout verses 4-6. We cannot add to or take away from this oneness which already is. In order to better appreciate these essential ingredients or our unity in the Spirit, let us visualize three concentric spheres (you know--one sphere within another sphere within a third sphere.) Now label the outer sphere with the words of verse 6: "one God and Father of all." Label the middle sphere with verse 5: "one Lord, one faith, one baptism." Finally, label the inner sphere with verse 4: "one body, one Spirit, one hope." Although all seven aspects of our oneness are essential (all are contained within the larger sphere), it is as we move from the outer sphere towards the inner one that we come closer to the "heart" of our unity. For example, non-Christians as well as Christians may subscribe to "one God", but only true Christians are members of the body of Christ and have the Holy Spirit. Let's look at these three spheres in a little more detail. "There is one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all" (v6). God is Creator of all. He has authority over all. He sustains all and is in control of all. His presence is everywhere. All Christians hold this truth, but then so do many others--even Moslems! But there is more to our unity as seen in the middle sphere. "There is one Lord, one faith, one baptism." All Christians believe that Jesus alone is Lord. We hold to one faith as taught in the Holy Scriptures. Although we may differ in interpretations of some passages, together we "earnestly contend for the faith which was once for all delivered to the saints" (Jude 3). See 1 Corinthians 15:3-4, for example, for the basic content of the one faith which Christians profess. What about one baptism? Is this "Spirit Baptism" or "water baptism?" Most likely it is water baptism, because the Spirit is mentioned as we move further in towards the center. But water baptism certainly symbolizes what the Spirit has done in our lives. Notice that it doesn't say "one mode of baptism!" Christians may differ as to the mode, but all agree that Christian baptism has one meaning--I've become a Christian! The inner sphere shows us that our unity is even deeper that the confession of "one Lord, one faith, and one baptism." "There is one body." All true Christians are joined together in the one Body of Christ. He is the Head of that Body (Ephesians 4:15-16). It doesn't matter whether we are Congregational or Catholic or "common Christian." If we love the Lord Jesus, we are part of that one Body. It is not just an organization which we join or wemaintain--it is a living organism which God has created. "There is one Spirit." Although there are many different spiritual gifts and manifestations (see 1 Corinthians 12:4-11), there is only one Holy Spirit. Regardless of how we view these spiritual gifts and manifestations, all Christians are one in the Spirit. Finally, only true Christians can claim the "one hope" of sharing Christ's glory forever (Ephesians 1:18). This then is the basis of our unity in the Spirit. It is true that non-Christians may subscribe to one God, and some confessing Christians may even profess faith and undergo baptism (see Matthew 7:21-23), but the Spirit only indwells the one Body of true believers. Yes, we really are one in the Spirit and nothing can destroy that unity which God Himself has formed. But we are told to "make every effort to keep (or preserve) the unity of the Spirit." How do we do that? As individual members of the one Body of Christ we do everything possible to recognize and reflect our oneness in Christ. We may differ in our views of when and how our Lord is going to return. We may differ in our concepts of church government. We may differ in our ideas of spiritual gifts for the church today. But we are not to let these things keep us from recognizing one another as brothers and sisters in the Lord. Those things are not the ground of our unity. Members of an earthly family can hold different opinions but still exhibit the family unity in love, because they are onefamily. How much more should we who are members of the one Body (not just family) of Christ reflect our unity "in the bond of peace." Keeping the unity of the Spirit is more easily said than done! True, but we are to "make every effort." How do we start? Verse 2 shows us that we begin with ourselves and then move out to others. "Be completely humble and gentle." We become humble when we begin to see ourselves as God sees us. Our natural tendency is to see ourselves as the "star" we would like to be. God sees the motives and the masks! "Gentle" is sometimes translated "meek." Meekness is not an easy-going weakness but is the result of a mind and spirit kept under control. We are to make every effort to be gentle. "Be patient (or long suffering)." This involves others besides ourselves! Someone has said that "long-suffering is the spirit which can suffer unpleasant people with graciousness and fools without complaint." Yes there are such people even in the Body of Christ! "Bear with one another in love." This goes even farther than patience. We are not just to tolerate our brothers and sisters but actually love them in their weaknesses. Love would certainly involve helping--not despising or judging. "With one another" clearly indicates that we all have our shortcomings. We must bear with one another in love in spite of our different life styles, opinions and hang-ups. It is as we make every effort to love one another in this way that the unity of the Spirit is kept in the bond of peace. It is not easy to keep the unity of the Spirit, but as people who are in the Holy Spirit we are called to be holy people. It is hard work, but the Spirit who makes us one body also empowers the new life He gives us. Keeping the unity of the Spirit is not an impossibility! Let us make every effort to show that we are one in the Spirit.