Historians would have to critique this, but perhaps the world is more polarized than ever. On the eve of a new year can we say that the world is united in anything but sin? Sadly, the church is not much better. The answer to the divisive tensions in the world, and to the fractured fellowship in the church, is God’s plan in Christ. If people would put their faith to unite in Christ, the world would be well on its way to the new Heaven and new earth.
Ephesians is about the plan of God to unite all things in Christ (Ephesians 1:9, 10). The church occupies center stage in that drama (3:10). This reconciling unity is a gift from God (Ephesians 2:8, 9, 13, 14). But Christ followers have to work to maintain that gift, and that is the theme of the practical section of Ephesians (chapters 4 through 6).
Life in Unity
Paul was a prisoner for the Lord physically and figuratively as he wrote this circular letter in AD 62. He urged the Ephesians to live a life worthy of their calling (literally, walk worthily in the Lord). The way the Ephesians would do that was with right attitudes and proper commitments.
This worthy life is evident in at least four attitudes. The first two are closely related. Humility (lowliness of mind; disregard for self) and gentleness (meekness) go hand in hand. The great Christ hymn of Philippians 2:6-11 embraces the former (see Philippians 2:3), and the Sermon on the Mount embraces the latter (Matthew 5:5). The last two are dependent on each other. Patience (long suffering) will be evident in our willingness to forbear (put up) with one another.
These unifying attitudes do not come naturally. They take effort, which is why Paul called the church to make every effort (give all diligence; see 2 Timothy 2:15) to keep the unity that God has given. We cannot manufacture unity in a fallen world. But we can work to maintain what God has given in Christ. It may not sound theologically profound, but unity in the church often circles back to attitude.
These attitudes and efforts are necessary for maintaining the seven proper commitments. In these seven affirmations are the trinity (Spirit, Son, and Father—in that order here), the church (body), our salvation (faith and baptism), and our future (hope). Those seven commitments should be tenaciously clung to, but not without the right attitudes.
Gifts for Unity
Ironically, unity is not best achieved by sameness but by diversity. So Paul uses another nuance of the word grace, and says that grace has been given as Christ apportioned it. Paul grounded in two things this belief that every Christian is a gifted minister: an Old Testament Psalm and the incarnation and ascension of Christ. Psalm 68:18 speaks of a king winning the battle and taking the spoils (gifts) for himself. Paul takes a bit of liberty with the passage, and, due to the nature of our God, says that out king “gave” gifts to people.
Paul is as sure that each Christian is a gifted minister as he is about Jesus coming and ascending back to God. If God in Christ did that, then he can certainly give gifts to his church that will help her work in unity. In fact, God gave four groups of gifted leaders to the church. These four groups could have primary references and more generic references (for example, apostles referring more specifically to the twelve or more generically to missionaries). Perhaps two of the groups are more foundational for the church (Ephesians 2:20) and two (evangelists and pastor-teachers) are more ongoing. At any rate, the goal of God giving the church gifts was to equip the church, to build up the church, and to mature the church so that it would look like Jesus in every respect.
Growth toward Unity
When the church is attaining to the fullness of Christ she will not be an infant and susceptible to false teaching and false teachers. Instead, speaking the truth in love (literally, truthing in love) as her methodology, the church will grow to maturity in Christ. Jesus will hold the whole body together, but it is important that each part of the body do its work.
Unity is a gift from God. That is doctrine. Using our faith to maintain unity is our task. That is duty. May the New Year give us many opportunities to demonstrate to the world what real unity looks like.
Dr. Mark Scott teaches Preaching and New Testament at Ozark Christian College in Joplin, Missouri.
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