“Preparing To Go In Unity”
Unity in Christ is how God’s people are set apart in the world.
Unity Displays the Trinity
Unity of the Spirit
Unity Displays God’s Presence
Unity Displays the Trinity
Ephesians 4:1-2, NKJV
I, therefore, the prisoner of the Lord, beseech you to walk worthy of the calling with which you were called, with all lowliness and gentleness, with longsuffering, bearing with one another in love,...
Apostle Paul in the verses preceding the above portion of Scripture explains that being filled with the fullness of God is vital for the understanding to do what he is about to tell the believers in Ephesus (Ephesians 3:14-21). Paul uses the word therefore to illustrate the need to understand what came before is necessary to achieve what is about to come. He also inserts the reality of his current state as a “prisoner of the Lord”.
This is one of the letters the apostle wrote during his imprisonment due to the preaching of God’s Word. In the Greek it is recorded that Paul is a prisoner in the Lord rather that of the Lord as it is translated in most modern versions of Scripture. Apostle Paul is proclaiming with this classification of his circumstances that he is less a prisoner of the legal authorities of this world and views himself rather as being held in the center of God’s will. This provides evidence that what God has inspired him to write is possible even in the most extremely difficult of circumstances.
It is easy to discount encouragement that comes from another person who is not suffering from hardship in their life. Apostle Paul had just finished explaining how God was abundantly able to do more than what anyone can imagine or think. This is an easy statement for one experiencing times of joy and ease, but unthinkable coming from a person who is enduring circumstances that others attempt to avoid in their life. The instruction God is giving through Paul at this time is something which reveals God’s completeness in ways that times of leisure never could display.
Paul encourages all God’s people “...to walk worthy of the calling with which you were called...”. It is important how God’s people live. Paul is telling those who belong to Christ that their lifestyle must reflect God’s character in how they speak, act, think, and engage the world around them. Circumstances being experienced by the people of God are irrelevant to how they are to behave. This is what it means to walk worthy of the calling the people of God have been called to as the people of God.
A great example of this in the Old Testament is the life of Joseph recorded in Genesis 37, 39-41. Joseph was spoiled by his father, hated by his brothers, sold into slavery, falsely accused of rape, and betrayed in prison before rising to the position of second in command of the Egyptian empire. Regardless of what Joseph’s circumstances were his submission to God was unwavering as he remained faithful to God in all things. Jesus the Christ is of course the greatest example of obedience to God that can be found. Jesus’ submission to the will of the Father remained steady in spite of public opinion, the performance of the disciples, or even His personal well-being.
The lifestyle of God’s people is important and under attack by spiritual forces because it reveals the reality of the Unity of God in the Trinity. It is true that there is no separation in God for He is one (Deuteronomy 6:4; John 1:1-2, 10:29-30; Romans 8:14-19). The fullness of God is revealed in the body of Christ when they are able to set personal agendas aside for the promotion of God over personal gain, comfort, and success. Those who have not surrendered to God through faith in Christ for the forgiveness of sins are unable to do this. The divisions in those who oppose the Church are great. There is often a false sense of unity that is portrayed by those outside of Christianity, but revealed as a lie when action must be taken.
Lowliness, gentleness, patience, and bearing with one another in love is impossible for any person to do in their own strength. The presence of God is revealed through the child of God when these things are noticed in the life of a person. God’s presence is magnified to the point of being undeniable even to the most obstinate critic of Christianity when there is unity in the midst of disagreement and trouble. Lowliness and gentleness reveals the presence of God the Son in those who imitate Christ’s character (Matthew 12:20; Philippians 2:5-8). Patience reveals God the Fathers presence in the way He has dealt with mankind even in their continued rebellion (Romans 3:21-26). Genuinely loving people in spite of their faults, weaknesses, and shortcomings is evidence of the presence of God’s Spirit within a person (1 John 4:7-11). This kind of consistent self-sacrificing love is beyond the capability of mankind in their sinfulness, but made possible when God’s people allow Him to have full authority over them.
Unity cannot be based on anything of this world. Philosophy, religion, ideology, and disasters bring people together for the common goal of survival and personal fulfillment. This kind of unity is short-lived at best and destructive at worst. Unity in Christianity is different because it is based on God, who is outside of and independent of the ever changing opinion of mankind. True unity is able to be experienced across cultures, times, and whatever other classification that separates people from one another.
God provides evidence of His fullness in marriage in the balance of authority and submission beautifully working together. He has provided evidence of His fullness in the body of Christ, the Church. Both have come under attack by the enemy to cause a disruption of unity between husbands and wives, parents and children, and between brothers and sisters in Christ. Disunity reveals the sinfulness of mankind rather than the glorious character of Almighty God who is always in perfect harmony with Himself.
Imagine the stress caused by the Incarnation when God came into the world in human flesh in order that redemption and reconciliation would be possible. Yet, there was still unity even at Gethsemane when Jesus prayed that the Father would remove the cup that was before Him but God the Father refused to remove it. Imagine the strength and fortitude it took for the Holy Spirit and the Father to watch and also feel the suffering of Christ but remain silent and refrain from action. Unity that God provides is noticed most when things should be falling apart, but God’s people choose to stand together in support of one another. This is the unity the lifestyle of God’s people ought to be displaying in the world so the unity of God is faithfully reflected in the routine of life.
Unity of the Spirit
Ephesians 4:3, NKJV
...endeavoring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.
Unity is something that must be worked for since it goes against the will of the sinful nature of people. This is why Apostle Paul encourages the believers at Ephesus to make every effort possible to make sure unity among the family of God is held as a priority. Paul is literally telling them to be eager and determined that nothing will bring division between believers. Division only brings strife and ruins the witness of the Lord among His people.
Unity is unimpressive and easily ignored when everyone is in agreement. It is a witness to the power and presence of God whenever preferences clash and disagreements are present and everyone remains in unity. Keeping unity is difficult since people rarely agree on anything over long periods of time.
Unity is most important as a witness in the body of Christ and marriages. These two areas of life reveal the character of God when unity is present in a way that the world cannot deny or ignore. The majority of disharmony within the body of Christ and marriages often have to do with conflicting preferences rather than great theological divides. Music, traditions, location, and timing are all things which has caused God’s people to completely ruin their witness about Christ’s love, grace, mercy, joy, and peace. Money, faith, discipline, and intimacy are the areas within marriage that display the beauty of authority and submission that exists in the character of God when unity is present, but is distorted and ruined when division occurs.
This kind of unity that is visible in the midst of strife is held firm in the bond of peace. Paul is using the idea of being joined together figuratively here to illustrate that the connection of God’s people is like bones in the body that are attached by ligaments and tendons. Division of bones by the severing of these bonds is just as painful and traumatic to the spiritual body of Christ as it is to the physical body. It is these ligaments that bonding bones together as faith bonds individuals to one another in their faith in Christ. The Holy Spirit is like the tendon of the physical body which attaches the muscles to the bones to allow for the power of the muscles to move the body.
This bond of peace is an understanding that each person who is in Christ is not living for themselves or for their preferences, but for what is best for the body of Christ to reveal His character in and through their life. Those who are in Christ are able to put their preferences aside gracefully and find appreciation in the likes of others that differ from their likes. They are also able to eventually reconcile with those who they have disputed with in the past and forgive all wrongs done to them as well as ask forgiveness for ways they have wronged others (Matthew 6:14-15; 1 John 3:10-23).
The unity of the Spirit gives people the ability to deny themselves for the edification of the whole rather than the satisfaction of a few. This is exemplified when people within a congregation can discuss non-theological issues and have the ability to love and appreciate that which is best for the future growth of the kingdom of God when it goes against what is convenient for individual members. The inability to live in unity with one another in times of conflict reveal people’s sinful nature rather than submission to God’s authority over their life.
A great example of this can be seen in the council that met to discuss what would be required of the Gentile believers recorded in Acts 15:1-29. This was no small matter in the early Church. The emotions of everyone was certainly high since a precedent was being set for the future of the Church. There was much dispute over the matter being discussed, but unity had to be maintained (Acts 15:6-7). Everyone did not get what they wanted, but everyone agreed to abide by what was decided collectively whether they were in full agreement or not with the decision made.
The bond of peace recognizes that personal preferences are of less importance than the overall health and growth of the kingdom of God. Jesus set His own comfort and safety aside in order to provide atonement for mankind through His death upon the cross for the forgiveness of sins. He willingly carries the scars of mankind’s transgressions in order that people could be healed from the curse of sin (Isaiah 52:13-15).
Peace in the sense Apostle Paul uses it here means the absence of confusion. In other words, each person in the body of Christ is clear and determined to be focused on the singular goal of seeing people come to faith in Christ, making disciples of Christ, and lifting up the name of Jesus so that all people will be drawn to Him (Matthew 28:19-20; John 12:32). All that is done in the body of Christ whether corporately or individually must work to this end. Confusion comes and peace is lost when people have different agendas besides focusing on the lifting up of Christ in their lives.
Peace is disrupted from time to time due to a loss of focus on Christ. Traditions, pride, and preferences will take first priority unless the people of God are determined to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. What people perceive as being right in their eyes will also cause confusion to exist and the bond of peace to be broken within the body. Unanimous agreements are not always possible. The lack of such unity in agreements is no reason to assume that God’s will is against a specific decision that is to be made. The majority is not always right in the same way that the minority is not always right.
This may make it seem like unity is impossible to maintain in any decision. In times of disagreement unity is maintained when God is trusted to overcome the poor decisions and mistakes His people make to bring blessing through the situation, provide the opportunity for learning more about His character, and a deeper understanding of God’s calling upon each person and the congregation as a whole. There is no mistake, sin, or judgment call gone wrong that God cannot bring blessing out of when His people turn to Him in repentance when God reveals these things to His people over time.
Therefore, it is important to trust God when decisions and situations do not turn out to satisfy personal preferences. When poor decisions are made that are felt to be other than what God desires, it is important for those who are certain about their position to continue to pray for the kingdom of God to grow in spite of the decision that was made. Instead of abandoning brothers and sisters in Christ it is vital to continue to be active in the body to lovingly provide correction or to receive correction by not arrogantly thinking more highly of oneself than should be in any circumstance (Romans 12:1-21).
It is important to remember that the body of Christ is made up of sinners who are saved by grace alone. The struggle against the sinful nature internally and spiritual forces externally is real (Romans 7:13-23; Ephesians 6:10-13). There are times when God’s people fall out of fellowship due to harbored sin, lack of practicing spiritual disciplines, and mistreatment of others (Psalm 51:1-13; 119:9-16; Isaiah 58:6-9; 1 Peter 3:7). Unity which comes from the bond of peace through the Spirit of God is trusting in the Lord’s ability to protect and build His Church in spite of unfaithfulness of people and their inability to obey His Word completely. This is one of the most powerful ways for God’s people to proclaim His presence in their lives and His work in the world today.
Unity Displays God’s Presence
Ephesians 4:4-6, NKJV
There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called in one hope of your calling; one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is above all, and through all, and in you all.
Unity in the body of Christ is never divided because the Person of God is never divided. That is what Apostle Paul means by when he says, “There is one body...”. Many will challenge this by saying the church is fractured into hundreds of denominations, traditions, and divided even among individual congregations. How could the Church be united?
There is only one true Church. It is not defined by a tradition, but by faith in the Person of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of sins. Christ made it clear that whoever believes in Him will not perish but have eternal life (John 3:16-18). Apostle Paul further clarified this when he was inspired to write that whoever confesses Jesus is Lord with their mouth and believes in their heart that God raised Him from the dead that they have receive forgiveness of their sins and salvation from the wrath of God the Father (Romans 10:9-13).
Regardless of the tradition a person identifies with such as Catholicism, Protestant, Amish, or Independent, the true Church, made up of people who have surrendered their life to Christ, are present in all of them (Mark 9:38-41). That is why believers can put their individual traditions aside and worship the Lord together in peace and joy despite their differences. The true Church does not carry a man-made title; it is identified by the Christ who died and rose again from the dead, for there is no other name in heaven or under heaven by which people can be saved (Acts 4:8-12).
It is not the tradition that saves a person from the wrath of God. Jesus Christ is the only way to the Father (John 14:6). This means everyone who gathers for worship around the world in sanctuaries where Christ is preached belongs to the Lord. Jesus said that many will come to Him identifying Him as their Lord that He will send away for they never knew Him (Matthew 7:21-23). It is only those who do the will of the Father that belong to Christ and is known by Him. This is the true Church which is never divided in spite of different titles that are given to them in this world. This is true because there is only one Spirit that binds them all together under the lordship of Christ, which was expounded on in the previous point.
There is one hope and calling given to the people of God in the same way there is only one Church. This one hope God calls people to is salvation through faith in Christ Jesus (Romans 15:4-6; Colossian 1:19-23). God calls all people to come to Himself through Christ who became sin so that all who come to faith in Christ can become the righteousness of God (2 Corinthians 5:21). This hope is guaranteed in the presence of the Holy Spirit who is revealed in the unity of the Church regardless of where they are located or style of worship they participate in daily (Romans 8:23-27). This calling is to proclaim the Good News of Jesus Christ to the entire world. There is no greater calling or hope that can be held or shared.
There is only one Lord. God, the Creator of all things, is the only true, living God that exists; there is no other (Deuteronomy 32:39-40; Psalm 86:10; Isaiah 45:5, 46:9). No one or nothing can ever challenge God’s authority. There can only be one Lord in a person’s life which is why Christ demanded that He be the one love that is over all other loves in life (Luke 14:25-27). There were few in all the crowds of people who followed Christ that truly held Him above all other loves.
Family is important, but never as important as obedience to the Lord. If a choice has to be made between family and God, the Lord must win out. If there is something internal God is calling a person to which goes against their preferences, then God must be able to overrule those preferences and obedience to His will is necessary. The Lord will accept no other God’s before Him (Exodus 20:3-4).
There is only one faith because there is only one Lord. A person who claims to have faith in Christ cannot also have faith in themselves, government, friends, family, or fate. When faith in Christ is the only faith a person has they are not destroyed or crippled by the failure of family and friends. Their life is unchanged by the legislative choices of government. Those who have faith only in Christ are not crushed by mistakes, failures, and sin that infiltrates their life but they rejoice in the forgiveness and strength God gives to overcome them.
There is one baptism. Apostle Paul is not referring to water baptism but the reception of the Holy Spirit which first was poured out upon all believers on Pentecost and given to all who accept Jesus Christs sacrifice on behalf of their sins. This obedience to the Lord by the power of the indwelling of His Spirit living in God’s people is important for God’s people to understand. The Spirit sets people apart as children of God as they allow Him to guide and direct their life from the moment of their conversion to throughout eternity with God in His kingdom.
There is also one God and Father of all, above all, through all, and in all those who submit to His lordship over their life. It is His presence that is revealed for the world to see and experience when unity is something that is understood as a priority. Glimpses of God can be seen in all traditions because He is not bound to a single man-made title. The Lord is transcendent over all titles of mankind. The Lord is truly over all things since He is the One who made all things.
This is why the Church must go out in unity in spite of the factions and divisions that exist in congregations throughout the world. These things reveal the fruit of a person’s life whether it is good or bad fruit by how they can set themselves aside for the good of the kingdom of God (Matthew 7:15-19; 1 Corinthians 11:18-19). Unity that is expressed through loving those who are disagreeable or who threaten and demand their way reveals the presence of God powerfully in the world as a testimony to the truth.
Unity that is grounded in Christ is what sets those who belong to the Lord apart from those who do not belong to Him. Regardless of what is done or said, unity must be a priority for those who proclaim Christ. Those who stir up dissension and cause strife within the body of Christ displays their sinfulness rather than the unity that ought to be present (Galatians 5:19-21; 2 Timothy 2:22-26; James 4:1-5). Unity is precious in the life of the body of Christ and therefore must be guarded and walked in at all times.