In the late 1800s, a small church in Mayfield County, Kentucky, had two deacons who hated each other. One Sunday, one of those deacons nailed a small wooden peg to the back wall for the pastor to hang his hat. When the other deacon saw the peg, he was outraged that he had not been consulted. An argument ensued, and the members took sides. The church split was called the Anti-Peg Baptist Church.
- Some things we laugh at because they’re funny.
- Some things we laugh at because they’re true.
- Some things we laugh at to keep from crying.
Churches fight, split, and die because of congregational conflict. There are things worth fighting about. “Let there be truth where possible,” said Martin Luther. “Let there be truth at all costs.”Unfortunately, Christians often divide protecting personal territory, not biblical truth. This is how the church loses its gospel influence. We proclaim that God has reconciled with sinners through the finished work of Christ. The church exists to be the living proof of the gospel message. The world needs to see the church united in Christ despite our differences. How can the world believe the gospel if we can’t get along?
This is the concern of Ephesians 4:1-6. It is a transitional passage marked by the word “therefore” in verse 1.
- Ephesians 1-3 teach the doctrine of our wealth in Christ.
- Ephesians 4-6 teach the duty of our walk in Christ.
Chapters 1-3 explain what it means to be seated with Christ in heavenly places. Chapters 4-6 explain how to walk in, with, and for Christ. Our text begins this practical instruction for Christian living. It calls us to walk in unity. You are not walking right if you are not walking in unity. What does it mean to walk together in spiritual unity?
How to Walk in Spiritual Unity
Verse 1 says, “I therefore, the prisoner for the Lord.” This is a statement of Paul’s physical circumstances. Paul wrote this letter while under house arrest in Rome, where he was on trial for his life. This is also a statement of his spiritual devotion. Caesar’s verdict did not determine Paul’s destiny. His prison sentence was a divine appointment. Paul’s ultimate concern was to do the Lord’s will. What are you willing to endure for the Lord? As a prisoner for the Lord, Paul shows us how to walk in unity.
Pursue Your Calling. Verse 1 says, “I therefore, the prisoner for the Lord, urge you.” “Urge” is entreaty, encouragement, or exhortation. Rather than issuing a command, Paul pleads with the saints. This is the heart of a spiritual leader. The church should be led by those who are peacemakers, not troublemakers. Paul urged the saints to “walk” right, which refers to one’s conduct, behavior, or lifestyle. It is a profound metaphor for the Christian life, denoting strength, balance, and progress. You can’t run for Jesus until you learn how to walk.
Princess Margaret sat beside her mother, Queen Elizabeth, during the young princess’ first presentation to the British public. When she was called upon to address the gathered dignitaries, her mother leaned over and said, “You are a princess. Walk like one.”
That’s the point of verse 1: “Walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called.” “Worthy” refers to balancing scales.
- Our position in Christ is on one side of the scale.
- Our practice as Christians is on the side of the scale.
Are you walking worthy of your calling? “Calling” and “called” refers to the divine call to salvation. We call on the Lord for salvation. But we are saved because he calls us, not because we call him. 1 Peter 2:9 says, “But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you of o darkness into his marvelous light.”
Practice Christlikeness. Spiritual unity is the result of spiritual maturity. Spiritual maturity is Christlikeness. It is about how you act and react.
How You Act. Verse 2 says: “With all humility.” “Humility” is lowliness of mind. It is the opposite of pride that thinks more highly of itself than it should. Philippians 2:8 says Christ “humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on the cross.” To be like Christ is to live with all humility. Philippians 2:3 says, “Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than ourselves.”
“Gentleness” is meekness. Meekness is not weakness. It is strength under control. Matthew 11:29 says, “I am gentle and lowly in heart.” The Greek word describes a horse, medicine, or wind. A tame horse wins races and battles. A wild horse is dangerous. The proper dosage of medicine can heal disease or ease pain. An overdose can kill you. A soothing wind relieves and refreshes. Hurricane-force winds knock down your house. Matthew 5:5 says, “Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.”
How You React. Verse 2 tells us to live “with patience.” “Patience” is longsuffering. Patient people are not short-tempered, thin-skinned, or easily offended. 1 Thessalonians 5:14 says, “Be patient with them all.”That is how we are to love toward one another. It is how God lives toward us. Exodus 34:6 says, “The Lord, the Lord, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness.”
Verse 2 says, “Bearing with one another in love.” “Bearing” means to permit, endure, or suffer. You don’t have to put up with it. You choose to bear with one another in love. Christian love is marked by fellowship, forgiveness, and forbearance. Romans 15:1 says, “We who are strong have an obligation to bear with the failing of the weak, and not to please ourselves.” Galatians 6:2 says, “Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.” Colossians 3:13 says, “Bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving one another; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive.”
Protect the Unity. Verse 3 says, “Eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.” Spiritual unity is not organizational, institutional, or programmatic. It is “the unity of the Spirit.” We cannot make or manufacture spiritual unity. We “maintain” it. The word is used for the soldiers who guarded Jesus during the crucifixion and his tomb at the resurrection. Every Christian is responsible for maintaining the unity of the Spirit. We are to be “eager” to do it. It means to do your best or to make every effort. How do we maintain spiritual unity?
- By acting in love toward others.
- By giving the benefit of the doubt.
- By speaking words that build up.
- By refusing to listen to gossip.
- By not arguing about secondary matters.
- By being slow to take offense.
- By forgiving as Christ has forgiven you.
We should be zealous to guard the unity as we are to guard the truth. Titus 3:10-11 says, “As for a person who stirs up division, after warning him once and then twice, have nothing more to do with him, knowing that such a person is warped and sinful; he is self-condemned.” We must be eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. What is the bond of peace? Ephesians 2:14 says, “For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the diving wall of hospitality.”
Why to Walk in Spiritual Unity
John 17:20-21 says, “I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me.” The Father has answered Jesus’ prayer to make us one. Ephesians 4:4-6 is the proof. The unity of the church is securely rooted in the unity of the Godhead.
One in God the Spirit. Verse 4 says we are “one body” in Christ. It consists of all the redeemed of all the ages – from Pentecost to the second coming of Christ. There are many Christians, congregations, and denominations. But the one head has only one body. Romans 12:4-5 says, “For as in one body we have many members, and the members do not all have the same function, so we, though many, are one body in Christ, and individually members of one another.”
I am a person. I live in a body. Only one person lives in my body. This is true of every human being. It is also true of the church. Verse 4 says, “There is one body and one Spirit.” 1 Corinthians 12:12-13 says, “For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. For in one Spirit, we were all baptized into one body – Jews or Greeks, slaves or free – and all were made to drink of the one Spirit.” Every sin against the body is a sin against the Spirit.
Verse 4 says, “There is one body and one Spirit – just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call.” This is our future hope in Christ. Ephesians 1:18 prays, “The eyes of your hearts will be enlightened, that you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints.” There is division when we look back and look around. There is unity when we look ahead to the hope of our calling. 1 John 3:2 says, “Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is.”
One in God the Son. Verse 5: “One lord, one faith, one baptism.” This is the irreducible basis of Christian unity. But it offers no watered-down agreement. The “one Lord” is Jesus Christ. The first Christian creed is Jesus is Lord. Romans 10:9 says: “If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.”
- Every believer confesses Jesus as Lord in salvation.
- Every unbeliever will confess Jesus as Lord in Judgement.
“One faith” is the biblical and historic Christian faith. Jude 3 calls it “the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints.” Many deemphasize theology, claiming doctrine divides. But togetherness devoid of truth is appeasement, not unity. There are points of doctrine where Christians disagree. These are in-house debates within the pale of orthodoxy. Yet there are some points of doctrine upon which there must be no disagreements. Either you believe these things, or you are not a Christian.
- It is the difference between truth and error.
- It is the difference between life and death.
- It is the difference between heaven and hell.
There is “one baptism.” The New Testament speaks of baptism in two ways. Spirit baptism is the supernatural, invisible, and non-experiential work of the Holy Spirit that joins us to the body of Christ in salvation. Water baptism is a visible symbol of Spirit baptism. The Lord Jesus commands his disciples to be marked by water immersion in the triune name of God. This public act identifies the believer with the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ. It also identifies the believer with the church. Galatians 3:27-28 says, “For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”
- One in God the Father
Verse 6 says, “One God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.” The verse begins with an affirmation of monotheism. There is only one true and living God. The Godhead exists in three persons: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Yet, we do not worship three gods. The one God is our heavenly Father in Christ. But you are not an only child. We are brothers and sisters in Christ.
God is over all. Psalm 103:19 says, “The Lord has established his throne in the heavens, and his kingdom rules over all.” In Acts 12, Herod arrested Peter with plans to execute him. The church met to pray. God sent an angel to deliver Peter from Prison. At the end of Acts 12, Herod was eaten alive by worms while sitting on his throne because he did not give glory to God. Proverbs 21:30 says, “No wisdom, no understanding, no counsel can avail against the Lord.”
God is through all. The God of exhaustive sovereignty is the God of pervasive providence. Joseph went from the pit to the palace. His brothers thought he would use his promotion to exact revenge against them. Genesis 50:19-20 says, “Do not fear, for am I in the place of God? As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today.” That’s every believer’s testimony. Romans 8:28 says, “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.”
God is in all. God is infinitely above and beyond us. But God is no distant deity who is unmoved, untouched, or uncaring. Every Christian enjoys the indwelling presence of the Life-Giver King. 1 John 4:13-15says, “By this we know that we abide in him and he in us, because he has given us of his Spirit. And we have seen and testify that the Father has sent his Son to be the Savior of the world. Whoever confesses that Jesus is the Son of God, God abides in him, and he in God.” God the Spirit lives in you! Ephesians 3:20-21 says, “Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen.”