Today’s reading is Ephesians 3:1-4:32.
I think it is ironic that I’m reading this today. On Saturday, I am scheduled to preach at the First Street congregation in Lawrenceburg, Tennessee. Their series is about unity and comes from Ephesians 4:4-6. My topic is “The One Body.” If you are in the Middle Tennessee area, drop down to Lawrenceburg on Saturday at 6 PM and let’s get to know one another.
However, because of my prep for that lesson, the issues of unity really stood out to me while reading today. While Paul speaks of some broad aspects of the universal church, he applies those principles to the practical unity of the local church. Instead of looking at all the religious division “out there,” we should each look at how we are living within the local congregation. In Ephesians 4, Paul provides the keys to maintaining unity within the local congregation. If we will all follow these keys, then the local congregation will be internally united in Christ.
Key #1: The unity must be based in Christ and His word–Ephesians 4:15.
No matter what else we do, if the unity is not based on growing up into Christ, who is our head, then our unity is pointless. We may all be united, but if we are all united in going the wrong direction, it won’t help us. Colossians 3:16, part of a parallel passage, points out that we must let Christ’s word richly dwell within us. That is the basis and foundation for positive unity. Therefore, individually, we must make sure the Word of Christ is our standard. This way, as Ephesians 4:14 says, we will not be tossed about by every wind of doctrine.
Key #2: We must each work and provide what we can–Ephesians 4:16.
Sadly, for many, unity merely means getting along. For Paul, unity meant working together, growing together, progressing together. Unity does us no good if we are not going somewhere with it. This only happens when we are working, when each member is providing what he or she can. We can’t all do the same things. We don’t all have the same skill levels. However, we can all do something. To have positive, progressing unity, we must all be using our strengths to further the growth of the congregation.
Key #3: We must walk with humility–Ephesians 4:2.
I love one of the definitions Strong’s gives this term for humility. “A deep sense of one’s (moral) littleness.” Sadly, too many Christians are like the Pharisee in the Luke 18 story of the Pharisee and the tax collector. With that mindset, we are just pushing division. We push others away with our arrogance and pride. Many Christians don’t even realize how puffed up they are. They simply think they are being spiritual while others aren’t quite making it. We need to recognize our own moral littleness. As Paul, who called himself “the very least of all the saints” (Ephesians 3:8), we should view ourselves this way. In that way, we won’t separate ourselves from our brothers and sisters thinking we are better.
Key #4: We must walk in gentleness–Ephesians 4:2.
This meekness or gentleness is not weakness. It is not submitting to others because we have no ability to do otherwise. Rather, this is strength under control. This term was used of a tamed horse, who clearly had the power to throw off its rider and then trample him into the ground. However, the horse did not. The horse submitted to the direction of the rider. In the same way, instead of throwing off our brethren and trampling them in the ground, we submit to their needs. We humble ourselves before them and gently submit. As Philippians 2:3-4 advises, we must view others and their desires as more important. This is especially important when we need to correct others. We should do so with gentleness (Galatians 6:1) lest we too be tempted and fall. We do not correct them to put them in their place, to show our superiority, or to vent our wrath. We do so to help them because they are more important than we are. I know–this is tough for us.
Key #5: Walk with patience–Ephesians 4:2.
The term for patience here specifically means having great restraint when it comes to responding to being wronged. Wow! That’s tough. But, if we want to have congregational unity, we have to learn to deal properly with the wrongs others do. No, this doesn’t mean sweeping them under the rug. However, it does mean not blowing up and taking vengeance. If someone wrongs us, we go back to the last principle and approach them with gentleness. Our goal should not be to see them grovel. Our goal should be to help them grow. This is easier if we have the humility mentioned above, remembering the times we have wronged others and wished they were patient with us.
Key #6: Walk with forbearance–Ephesians 4:2.
We must learn to bear with one another. As I Corinthians 13:7, when we love others, we will bear and endure anything. This means to hold up, to strengthen and stand firm. As Galatians 6:2 says, we should bear one another’s burdens. We hold each other up. Sadly, too often we keep asking the question, “When should I leave the congregation?” Perhaps this is the wrong question. Paul seems to suggest our question should really be, “How can I stay and help lift up those who are struggling?” Who knows how much unity we might maintain if we worked from this standpoint thus leaving division only for the extreme cases when others simply won’t submit to God.
Key #7: Walk in love–Ephesians 4:2.
This encompasses all the other keys and then stretches them. This is the “agape” love we’ve heard about in so many sermons. We know what it means. It means unconditional love. In other words, we don’t walk in any of these things as long as someone else does. We strive to walk in them regardless. No matter how we have been treated, no matter what has been done to us or what can be done for us, no matter how others are walking, we walk in these principles.
Key #8: Walk in peace–Ephesians 4:3.
We must be eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. Peace must bind us together. While we can certainly talk about the Christians as peacemakers (cf. Matthew 5:9), in the context of Ephesians, this is not simply talking about peace in general with others. This is specifically talking about the relationship between the Jews and Gentiles in Ephesus (Ephesians 2:11-22). Jesus Christ is the peace between Jews and Gentiles. Through Jesus, each group had peace with God and therefore should have peace with one another. They should work together and love one another. They should follow all these principles with each other. The Jew/Gentile division is not as big a plague for us today. But what about the other divisions we have, namely race. It is a sad tragedy that churches often continue to be divided along racial barriers, black churches and white churches. We should be ashamed. I am ashamed. Rick Warrens purpose driven marketing to a set group within our culture aside, each congregation should be for all. We should not market to one group but learn how to meld the cultures together. Paul would have thought the idea of having two congregations in town, one marketing to Jews and one to Gentiles was anathema. How can we take up that banner cry as if it is going to be beneficial for the congregation. Oh, I have no doubt we might get more numbers. But we won’t have the unity God wants us to have. Walking in peace means learning how to work together with people from a different culture and background.
No doubt, divisions will come (I Corinthians 11:18-19). Clearly there will be people who will leave us because they are not of us (I John 2:19). No doubt, there will be times when we must discipline the impenitent, removing the leaven from among the congregation (I Corinthians 5:1-13). However, these ought to be the exceptions, not the rule. Further, we should live by the principle of Romans 12:18. As much as it depends on us, be at peace with all. Let us make sure we are living by these principles. When the divisions come, let them be in spite of us and not because. Let them be laid at the feet of others.
Keep the faith and keep reading,
P.S. What did you get out of today’s reading?