{7}         Unity (Eph 4:1-16)

Introduction

PART II. CHRISTIAN DUTY. SECTION C. NEW STANDARD.

The first 3 chapters (Part 1) explain the foundation of Christian doctrine. The last 3 chapters (Part 2) describe our Christian duty. Our faith necessarily leads to practice, otherwise, our faith is dead.

Paul moves from the explanation of God’s new society to its standards, with concrete commands for everyday living. The first standard that he emphasizes is unity.

 

Question: How do you think that unity is different from uniformity?

 

Outline:

4:1-10              Unity and love in the body of Christ

4:11-16            Spiritual gifts and growing up into Christ

 

Explanation

4:1       In ch.1-3, Paul talks about the eternal purpose of God being worked out in history. It is the creation of something entirely new, not just a new life for individuals but also a new society of believers. The next 3 chapters turns from exposition to exhortation, from what God has done (in the indicative) to what we must be and do (in the imperative), from doctrine to duty.

“Therefore” (Gr. oun): the connection of the 2 parts of this letter. It implies a relationship of cause and effect.

“I” (Gr. ego): the emphatic personal pronoun indicating a self-conscious apostolic authority (same as 3:1). Paul is both a prisoner of Christ and a prisoner for Christ.

“Worthy” signifies that the response which should be “directly proportional” to the cause.

The society that God created has 2 major characteristics:

[1]   It is “one” people, composed equally of Jews and Gentiles, the single family of God. Unity is the theme in 4:1-16

[2]   It is a “holy” people, distinct from the secular world, set apart to belong to God. Purity is the theme in 4:17-32.

Paul elaborates 4 truths about the oneness which God intends His new society to enjoy: [1] charity: it depends on the charity of our character and conduct (v.2); [2] unity: it arises from the unity of our God (v.3-6); [3] diversity: it is enriched by the diversity of our gifts (v.7-12); [4] maturity: it demands the maturity of our growth (v.13-16).

4:2       [1]        Charity: The life worthy of our calling by God is characterized by 5 qualities: humility, gentleness, patience, forebearance, love.

 

Active (Interaction with others)

Passive (Response to others)

Internal attitude

HUMILITY

PATIENCE

External action

GENTLENESS

FOREBEARANCE

 

Root & Foundation : LOVE (Charity)

Unity does not begin with structures but with moral qualities.

[a]   Love is the root and the foundation of all (3:17). It is the crown and sum of all virtues.

[b]   Humility: This was much despised in the ancient world. The Greeks used the word for humility (Gr. tapeinotes) as a sign of weakness. It means “the crouching submissiveness of a slave”. The word Paul uses here (Gr. tapeinophrosyne) means “lowliness of mind”, the humble recognition of the worth and value of other people, the humble mind which was in Christ and led Him to empty himself and become a servant (Php 2:3).

Pride lurks behind all discord while the greatest single secret of concord is humility. The people we instinctively like are the people who give us the respect we consider we deserve. Humility is the internal respectful attitude of recognizing the instrinsic God-given worth of other people.

[c]   Gentleness or meekness: It is the gentleness (Gr. praőtes) of the strong, whose strength is under control. It is the mean between being too angry and never being angry at all. It is the absence of the disposition to assert personal rights. It is the external expression of a humble heart.

[d]   Patience: It is the internal attitude of tolerance of other people, especially towards aggravating people.

[e]   Forebearance: It is the external action of tolerance.

4:3       [2]        Unity: v.3-6 are thought by some to be part of a Christian hymn or a creed. The word “one” occurs 7 times: 3 for the Trinity and 4 for Christian experience related to the Trinity.

In the next 3 verses, Paul emphasizes the unity of the church: in God’s mind, there is only ONE church (the invisible church). Yet he also hints at the disunity in reality (the visible church). That is why he commands the readers to “make every effort to keep the unity”, to maintain the unity visibly. The Greek verb for “make every effort” or “eager” (spoudazontes) is emphatic. It means that we are to “spare no effort” (NEB), with a full effort of the whole man, with haste and passion: “Do it now! YOU are to do it! I mean it!” The verb is a present participle, meaning that it is a call for continuous, diligent activity.

“Through the bond of peace” means by the peace (God’s peace) which binds us together.

4:4       [a]        There is one body because there is only one Spirit. The church includes Jewish and Gentile believers; and its unity or cohesion is due to the one Holy Spirit who indwells it. The Holy Spirit creates the one body.

4:5       [b]        There is one hope, one faith, and one baptism because there is only one Lord. For the Lord Jesus Christ is the one object of the faith, hope and baptism of all Christians. It is in Jesus Christ in whom we have believed, Jesus Christ in whom we have been baptized (Gal 3:27), and Jesus Christ for whose coming we wait with expectant hope.

4:6       [c]        There is one Christian family, embracing “us all” because there is only one God and Father as head of the family. A few manuscripts read “in YOU all”, clarifying that the “all” of whom God is the Father means “all Christians”, not “all people” or “all things” (the universe).

There is only ONE church and it is no more possible to split the church than it is possible to split the Godhead. Then why are we witnessing a divided church in this world? The unity of the church is an invisible reality present to the mind of God as if He is saying to Himself, “I have only one church.” The visible church that exists in this world should in principle reflects this reality. The visible disunity (both between churches and within churches) is contrary to what God wants us to be.

Authentic Christian unity is expressed in truth, in life, and in love. This can co-exist with the reality that we belong to different traditions, different denominations, and different practices. This kind of unity is more important than some “union” schemes or “union” structures, although some visible expression of the unity is an ideal. In other words, ecumenism has Biblical support. Unfortunately, many past ecumenical movements ended up emphasizing a political agenda (such as liberation theology) or sacrificing fundamental Christian truth (such as universalism).

4:7       [3]        Diversity: Paul turns from “all of us” (v.6) to “each of use” (v.7), from unity to diversity of the church. The church is not a lifeless or colourless uniformity but exciting diversity. While the church contains different ethnicities, professions, personalities, the emphasis here is the difference in spiritual gifts. The unity of the church is due to God’s grace (Gr. charis) and the diversity of the church is due to God’s gifts (Gr. charismata, although the Greek word here is a different one). They are given in differing degrees “according to the measure of Christ’s gifts”.

Paul teaches about spiritual gifts: [a] the giver (v.7-10), [b] the variety (v.11), and [c] the purpose (v.12).

[a]   Giver of spiritual gifts: Christ is named as the giver here although Paul named the Holy Spirit as the giver in 1Co 12:11 and God the Father as the giver in Ro 12:3. All 3 persons of the Trinity are involved in the church’s wellbeing although the role of Christ is emphasized here.

4:8       The quote came from Ps 68:18. The psalm is a call to God to come to the rescue of His people and vindicate them again, as in olden days. God marched triumphantly into His capital by ascending on Mount Zion, leading captives in His train. Paul uses this picture to Christ’s ascension which was a further fulfilment of the triumph of God. His train of captives was the principalities and powers God had defeated and dethroned.

The problem, however, is that the psalm reads about God “receiving gifts among men” but Paul’s quotation is that Christ “gave gifts to men.” This is actually not contradictory. In the ancient world, every conquest is followed by a receiving of tribute as well as a distributing of riches won by the conquerors. The Hebrew verb could actually be translated “brought” instead of “received” and some actual versions actually use the verb “gave”.

4:9       The early church fathers understood “the lower, earthly regions” as hell (1Pe 3:19). But Bible scholars since the Reformation believe this refers to simply “the earth”. The descent refers to Christ’s descent to humiliation, including incarnation and death on the cross (Php 2:5-11).

4:10     The descent to humiliation is followed by exaltation of the ascension to a position higher than everything. Christ uses this universal authority and power to bestow gifts of the Spirit to edify the church and bring it to maturity.

4:11     [b]        Variety of spiritual gifts: The Biblical lists yield at least 20 distinct spiritual gifts. Each list is widely different from the others. The selection of gifts is apparently in a haphazard fashion. We can conclude from these that the lists are not exhaustive and there are many more gifts that are not listed. Paul only lists 5 selected gifts here: apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors, teachers.

Apostles: Only ‘the twelve’ plus a few others (such as Paul) were called ‘apostles’.  Qualifications include:  (1) saw the Lord (1Co 9:1, Ac 1:21); (2) directly called and appointed by God (Ro 1:1; Gal 1:1, 1Ti 1:1, 2:7, 2Ti 1:11, 1Co 1:1); (3) founded churches (1Co 9:1-2) (possibly only for the Universal Church, not for local churches), (4) with ‘signs, wonders and miracles’ (2Co 12:12, Ac 2:43), (5) general acceptance by the Church as apostles.  As such, there are no more apostles today.

Prophets: A prophet is the mouthpiece or spokesman of God. He/she receives direct revelation from God and relates to believers faithfully. If the term refers to those who built the foundation of the Universal Church (1:20 and 3:5), there are no more prophets today. However, some people emphasize the effect of the ministry of NT prophets such as “upbuilding, encouragement, and consolation” (1Co 14:3). Then there can be prophets today.

Evangelists: These are persons who have the gift of evangelistic preaching or of making the gospel particularly plain and relevant to non-believers, of of effective personal witnessing that brings non-believers to Christ.

Pastors and teachers: Since the definite article “some” is not repeated in the expression, these two may refer to the same ministry. The work of the pastor is to tend God’s flock through administration of the sacraments and discipline, warning and exhortation. The work of the teacher is to feed God’s flock with God’s Word. Every pastor must be a teacher although some teacher in the church may not be a good pastor. Teachers are important in the church because it is teaching which builds up the church. It is particularly important for spiritual babies because they are prone to sin and error and are almost defenceless against false teachings which are rampant in the world today.

4:12     [c]        Purposes of spiritual gifts: Immediate purpose: to prepare God’s people for works of service. The Greek word (diakonia) means ministry; everyone is a minister, not only full time ministers. Ultimate purpose: to build up the body of Christ. All spiritual gifts are given for the good of the church, never for the good of the individual (1Co 12:7).

4:13     [4]        Maturity: Paul explains what he means by “building up the body of Christ” in v.13-16: [a] “reach unity in the faith” which is explained as “in the knowledge of the Son of God” and [b] “become mature” which is characterized as “attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ”—the fullness which Christ Himself possesses and bestows.

Unity in faith involves more than individual Christians. The whole church needs to approach a similar understanding of truth and knowledge.

4:14     While the maturity emphasized here is for the whole church, the process involves the maturing of individual members. Members must mature with time and not stay as spiritual infants. Infants are ignorant and unstable. They fall easy prey to each new unorthodox teaching and each new theological fad as if they are in the middle of a storm. The church needs TRUTH, that is, orthodox Christian doctrine.

4:15     While Christians should always speak truthfully in love, the translation “speaking the truth in love” is not the best translation because the Greek verb (aletheuontes) makes no reference to speech. Literally, the phrase is “truthing in love” or living and doing the truth on the foundation of LOVE, that is Christian practice. This is the process of growing up and maturing. It is also growing up in Christ, the Head of the church.

4:16     Each church member is united in Christ, “joined and held together” (unity). On the other hand, “each part does its work” (diversity). Then, the church will grow and mature, again in love.

Unity and diversity are both important. The word “fellowship” (Gr. koinonia) has two components as represented by various translations of the Greek word in the Bible: [1] unity, oneness: described by words with prefixes of “com-” like communion, communication; [2] diversity, sharing: described by words with prefixes of “part-” like partnership, participation, partaking.

 

Summary

        Here is Paul’s vision for the church. God’s society is to display charity, unity, diversity and growing maturity. These are the characteristics of a life worthy of God, which the apostle begs us to lead.

        The more we share Paul’s perspective, the deeper will be our discontent with the ecclesiastical status quo. Some of us are too complacent, too ready to acquiesce in the present situation and to resist change. Others are too radical, wanting to dispense with the institution altogether. Instead we need to grasp more clearly the kind of new society God wants His church to be. Then we shall not be content either with things as they are or with partial solutions, but rather will pray and work for the church’s total renewal.

        Complacency is unworthy of the church’s calling. In contrast to it the apostle sets before us the picture of a deepening fellowship, an eagerness to maintain visible Christian unity (and to recover it if it is lost), an active every-member ministry, and a steady growth into maturity by holding the truth in love. We need to keep this biblical ideal clearly before us. Only then shall we live a life that is worthy of it.

 

Application

 

Prayer

        Thank God for the marvellous unity that He has made available to us in the church. Confess to Him the ways that you have failed to strive to maintain the unity in your church. Ask Him to change you and build into you the 5 foundations stones of Christian unity.