By Sam E. Stone
When we become discouraged in today’s hostile religious environment, it helps to remember what it was like for the first-century Christians back when the church began. In pagan Ephesus, few people knew anything about Jesus Christ, even less about who or what a “Christian” was. There of all places, it was important for members of the church to stand together as one, representing their Lord to the world.
Called to Unity
Paul challenged the believers to live a life worthy of (their) calling. “Don’t worry about the other person. Here is what you must do to make things better in God’s family.” In the first two verses he lists four qualities that should characterize our relationship in the family of God. Be . . . humble. Jesus set the example (Philippians 2:6-8). Be . . . gentle. The word describes a powerful animal that has learned control and discipline (2 Timothy 2:25). Be patient. Bear with one another. Don’t stop loving people because you are offended by their faults.
Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. To do this, each believer must remember “the seven great ones” of the Christian faith—one body, one Spirit, one hope, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all. Edwin Hayden wrote, “There can be no disunity of faith without a disunity of lordship. Baptism, the natural act of identification with the buried and risen Lord, follows necessarily. So long as the one lordship is acknowledged and the one faith is received, the one baptism will be practiced.”
Called to Service
To equip the church for service, the Lord has given grace to each member. Each Christian has one or more gifts. Although these gifts are universal, they are not identical. In his wisdom, Jesus gives the most suitable and appropriate gifts to each individual Christian preparing him or her for service (see 1 Corinthians 12:4-6). Several specific leadership groups in the New Testament church are named as recipients of these gifts: the apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers. These leaders have received gifts from Christ himself to meet the needs of the church.
The purpose is to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up. Each of us has both the responsibility and the opportunity to use our abilities to do God’s work. Some years ago I baptized an 80-year-old grandmother. She was as faithful as could be. She worked with the church’s ladies service group making clothing for the needy; she gave to the Lord from her Social Security check each month. When her health failed, she was admitted to a nursing home. There she told me how she shared her copies of The Lookout and other Christian literature with the other residents and the nurses. One day she smiled and said, “Perhaps here is my place of service.” And it was. She showed Christ’s love to all she met as long as she could. So should we.
We are to build others up until we all reach unity in the faith. The word “unity” is only used twice in the entire New Testament, both times in this chapter. In v. 3, Paul says, Keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. Then in v. 13 he urges us to build up the body until we all reach unity in the faith. There is a unity to seek and a unity to keep. We must do our part to maintain unity with all brothers and sisters in the body of Christ.
Called to Maturity
Unity in the faith comes by sharing the message of Scripture faithfully and consistently. As we do this, maturity is attained. Paul warned his readers of an all-too-familiar problem—believers are blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of people in their deceitful scheming. False teaching abounds. We must call everyone back to the Bible, teaching what the apostles taught, no more and no less. We do this by speaking the truth in love. John Stott wrote, “Truth without love is fanaticism; love without truth is sentimentality; but truth in love is Christianity.”
Jesus is the head of the church. We follow his example, obey his commands, and share his love with our lost world. As each one does this, the church grows and builds itself up in love.
Sam E. Stone is the former editor of Christian Standard. He continues his writing and speaking ministry from his home in Cincinnati, Ohio.