From Unity to Unity (2): Keeping Unity


Unity2Scripture: Ephesians 4:1-3

As mentioned in the first article, believers are urged to keep the unity of the Spirit, for in the environment of unity, believers will continue to grow toward maturity. The unity has been established by Christ, but we are to make every effort to keep it.

We divide this section into 4 areas: keeping the unity, remembering the basis of unity, serving in unity, and aiming for unity. We will look at some details of each area. This article talks about keeping the unity.

Keeping unity is a fitting way of life for Christians.

Paul started this section by urging believers to live a life worthy of the calling. In this context the word “worthy” means suitable or fitting.1 If we believe that Christ himself is our peace, that with his blood we have peace with God (see Rom 5:1), and that he has destroyed the dividing wall of hostility between groups who did not accept one another (Eph 2:13-22), we should see that it is only proper and suitable for us to live a life in unity with our fellow believers.

Keeping Unity requires a change of heart / attitude.

A direct translation of verse 2 is “with all humility/lowliness and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love.”2 Humility, gentleness, and patience are not merely outward appearances. Those qualities require true inward change (and often self-control and correction).

Keeping Unity requires real effort.

Verse 3 says “Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit.” Perhaps because of the circular nature of the letter, Paul does not specify what effort is to be taken because the situation of each Church is different. That omission turns out to be a good thing for us today because without any detail, we can still hear the message quite clearly: each of us is to examine what effort we should take to keep the unity of the Church.

Words such as humility, gentlenss, patience, unity, and love often bring out a warm feeling in us. While the vocabulary used in this passage is beautiful, the real situation that calls for such teaching might not be as sweet, especially when we consider that Paul seems to stress his urging using the fact that he is a prisoner of the Lord (v. 1).

Imagine that I was going to spend a week with my brother, and my mother wrote a letter to both of us, urging us to be humble, gentle and patient, and she strongly urged us to make every effort to keep the unity that we so far had. You could probably tell that the relationship between my brother and I was not very good.3

So although the reminder to keep the unity of the Spirit is nice, having to make a strong effort or having to be reminded to do so should not be our final condition. When we read verses 1 to 16, we see the image that Paul has in his mind: remembering that we have all the reasons to be one, believers are to make every effort in maintaining unity so that they can equip and be equipped to grow in Christ, “until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.” (v. 13)

1 As a prisoner for the Lord, then, I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received.
2 Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love.
3 Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace.
4 There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to one hope when you were called;
5 one Lord, one faith, one baptism;
6 one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.
7 But to each one of us grace has been given as Christ apportioned it.
8 This is why it says: “When he ascended on high, he took many captives and gave gifts to his people.”
9 (What does “he ascended” mean except that he also descended to the lower, earthly regions?
10 He who descended is the very one who ascended higher than all the heavens, in order to fill the whole universe.)
11 So Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers,
12 to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up
13 until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.
14 Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of people in their deceitful scheming.
15 Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will in all things grow up into him who is the head, that is, Christ.
16 From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work.

(Eph 4:1-16)

  1. See BDAG, entry 780 on ἀξίως.
  2. μετὰ πάσης ταπεινοφροσύνης καὶ πραΰτητος, μετὰ μακροθυμίας, ἀνεχόμενοι ἀλλήλων ἐν ἀγάπῃ.
  3. This is not a real situation. I am simply making an illustration so that we have a real feel for Paul’s urging to keep/preserve unity.

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