Spiritual Unity, Part 1
Unity. That is a word that is thrown around in our culture, especially within the political realm. "We need to show a united front," we often hear. But what does true unity actually look like? The beginning of Ephesians chapter 4 begins to give us a glimpse of the kind of unity so many of us crave.
Have you ever watched one of those animal shows where a lion hunts down a zebra? For some strange reason, I really like those kinds of shows. It is always so interesting to me that the zebra that is finally chased down and killed is always the one that has been separated from the pack (the correct term is a "dazzle of zebras," but who's keeping track?). Without the bond of the unit, the zebra is literally sitting prey and has no chance of defending itself against the lion. Likewise, without the Church, a Christian cannot grow and is in danger of becoming the prey of our enemy, whom Peter calls a "lion" in 1 Peter 5. That is why passages like Ephesians 4:1-6 are so essential for the Church today.
In this passage, Paul moves to exhorting the Ephesian church, showing how the deep theology of chapters 1-3 shapes our everyday lives. And it is interesting that the very first place he starts is unity within the Church. In verse 3, he calls it "the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace." But what does this unity look like? Do we just need unity for the sake of unity? Or this there a certain kind of unity Paul has in mind?
One thing that is important to note is that verses 1-16 comprise the entire section of Paul's thought here. We are breaking this up into two different sections (vv. 1-6 and vv. 7-16), but verse 15 really does give us the thesis of the entire section. In other words, the model for this kind of unity is Jesus. He ultimately is the prototypical church member. He perfectly models the kind of unity the Church is to have.
I think verses 1-2 begin to give us a vision of this kind of unity: "I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to 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..." When we think of showing a united front, we do not often associate it with words like humility, gentleness, or patience. But that is exactly the kind of unity Christ envisions for His Bride.
The fact that Paul has to mention this kind of unity shows us that the Church is not automatically that way. In fact, churches can often be the opposite of these characteristics. Time and time again we hear of churches that are proud, haughty, and boastful. We hear of pastors or church members that are unwilling to show grace and love, rather they show power and judgment. This is where we must remind ourselves of the Gospel. The Gospel tells us that even in all our messiness, Christ was willing to bear with us in love. And so, He calls us to "[bear] with one another in love."
This is not easy. We all have preconceived notions about what churches and fellow Christians should be like. We all come with some sort of expectation of what people should think like, act like, talk like. We all have expectations of how people should treat us. But we are often soon disappointed when we see that our vision of the Church is not the reality of the Church. This is better known as disillusionment. But that is where we must do the hard work of preaching the Gospel to ourselves, as well as to the Christian community God has placed us in. To be sure, the Spirit is the One that creates this unity. We do not. It is our job to maintain it (see the word "maintain" in verse 3). But that does not make it easy nonetheless. The question is simple to ask, but difficult to answer: Are we willing to love the Christian community that God has given us, as imperfect as she may be?
In one of the best books I have ever read on the nature of the Church, Dietrich Bonhoeffer says it like this in Life Together:
"Those who love their dream of a Christian community more than the Christian community itself become destroyers of that Christian community even though their personal intentions may be ever so honest, earnest, and sacrificial."
Christian, we need one another. Just a simple reading of Jesus' High Priestly prayer in John 17 tells us that is true. And the only way to truly have that kind of unity is to remember, as the rest of this passage states, we have one body, one Spirit, one hope, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, and one God and Father of all. If we are to be an effective witness to the community God has placed us in (both our Christian community and the community-at-large), then we must strive for what Ephesians 4:1-6 calls us to. Otherwise, like a zebra that goes astray from the pack, we will be picked off one-by-one, and lose our testimony to the community. May we ever find our unity in the Gospel, bonded in the peace that the Spirit brings, and willing to bear with each other out of love.
Sermon Series: Ephesians: Church Alive In Christ