The church is composed of those of different geographical origins, cultures, ethnicities, educational achievements, occupations, and even hobbies. How can true lasting unity be maintained?
I would suggest that it is possible for true Biblical unity to be maintained, if we hold to two things: (1) The right attitude; (2) The right standard and focus. These two things are essential for “the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.”
Attitude (Ephesians 4:1-3)
Verse one begins with “Therefore.” This points back to a previous point (Ephesians 2:15b-22; 3:6, 17-19, 21). God wants us to live harmoniously together in one body, bringing honor and glory to Him. The wording “walk worthy” means to live a life pleasing unto Him (cf. Colossians 1:10), a life which becometh the Gospel (cf. Philippians 1:27). He wants us to “walk in love” (Ephesians 5:2) and “walk as children of light” (Ephesians 5:8).
Verse two mentions the attitude we need if we are going to so dwell together:
1. Lowliness – (humility NASB; completely humble NIV). Self exaltation was common then, and it is common now. When men are self exalters and self promoters, difficulties are bound to happen.
The Bible warns one, “not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think” (Romans 12:3). We would do well to have Paul’s attitude. He said, “But by the grace of God I am what I am” (1 Corinthians 15:10) and “God forbid that I should glory save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ” (Galatians 6:14). Man has much to be humble about (Ephesians 2:8-9). Remember, “God resisteth the proud, and giveth grace to the humble” (1 Peter 5:5).
2. Meekness – (gentleness NKJV). Cruden’s says this word means “gentle, kind, not easily provoked, ready to yield rather than cause trouble.” We should ‘bend over backwards’ if necessary in order to keep peace. “The wisdom that is from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, and easy to be entreated…” (James 3:17). Paul instructed “as much as lieth in you, live peaceably with all men” (Romans 12:18).
3. Longsuffering – (patience NASB). Someone has said that “patience is the ability to idle the motor when you feel like stripping the gears.” We should be “swift to hear, slow to speak, slow to wrath” (James 1:19). But, being longsuffering involves more than this. It includes the idea of patiently enduring to help save a soul (cf. 2 Timothy 4:2).
4. Forbearing… in love. Vine’s says the word carries the thought of “to hold up, to bear with, endure.” We should not walk around with a ‘chip on our shoulder.’ We should overlook each others quirks, and even when we have been sinned against ‘forbearing’ would include the idea of standing ready to forgive (Colossians 3:13).
Verse three does not tell us to create unity but to be “endeavoring to keep…” When we were converted we became a part of one family. God unified us into one body. However, we must make effort to keep such oneness, unity, and peace.
Standard/Focus (Ephesians 4:4-6)
True Biblical unity can only exist when we have the same correct standard and focus religiously speaking.
1. One body. The body is the church (Ephesians 1:22-23; 4:4; 5:23). We are added to this body upon proper baptism (1 Corinthians 12:13 cf. Galatians 3:26-28). There is not one body for Jews and one body for gentiles; such is not how God designed things. Neither should we be divided after men (1 Corinthians 1:12-13; 3:4-7). The body belongs to Christ (Ephesians 4:12). He is the head (Ephesians 1:22; 5:23; Colossians 1:18).
2. One spirit. This one spirit has delivered one message (Ephesians 2:18, 20 cf. 3:5-6). The consequent is stated in 1 Corinthians 1:10, “Now I beseech you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that ye all speak the same thing, and that there be no divisions among you; but that ye be perfectly joined together in the same mind and in the same judgment.”
Moreover, this one spirit had given them different gifts (1 Corinthians 12:4-ff). Instead of being divided over these gifts they should be laboring together as one body. It is not as if different gods had given them different competing gifts.
3. One hope. The ultimate hope for each Christian is eternal life in glory (Titus 1:2; 3:7; 1 Thessalonians 5:8). This hope helps us to have endurance in this life (Romans 8:24-25; 2 Corinthians 4:16-5:2).
Now here’s the thing: we’re all striving for the same place, as Christians. If we can’t get along here, what’ll we do there?
4. One Lord. In the words of Peter, “God hath made… Jesus… both Lord and Christ” (Acts 2:36). The book of Romans says, “there is no difference between the Jew and the Greek: for the same Lord over all is rich unto all that call upon him” (Romans 10:12). He is Lord over both Jew and Greek.
The language “Lord” is language of authority (Luke 6:46). He has authority over “all flesh” (John 17:2). He has been given “all authority… in heaven and in earth” (Matt. 28:18). It is by His words we’ll be judged (John 12:48; cf. 2 Corinthins 5:10).
5. One faith. If this is speaking of personal faith, then it simply makes the point that both Jew and gentile christians believe the same message. Remember, “Faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God” (Rom. 10:17 cf. Luke 8:11-12; John 5:45-47; 17:20; 20:30-31; Acts. 17:11-12; 18:8; Ephesians 1:13-14; 2 Thessalonians 1:10).
It is possible that this is speaking of the source of personal faith, that is the objective standard of faith (cf. Acts 6:7; 14:22; 15:9; Romans 5:2; 2 Corinthians 13:5; Galatians 1:23; 3:23; 3:25; Philippians 1:27; 1 Timothy 3:9; 4:1; 4:6; 5:8; Jude 3). It is true the definite article is not present, but neither is it in passages like Romans 1:5; 1:17; 16:26, etc.
Either way, the message is similar. Whether it is personal faith (which they held alike, and which came by the same objective standard) or whether it is the system of faith which is being spoken of in this passage, the message is they did have the same standard and the same trust.
6. One baptism. Various baptisms are mentioned in the pages of the Bible: (1) The baptism in the sea (1 Corinthians 10:1-2 cf. Exodus 14); (2) The baptism of John (John 1:26; 3:23; Matthew 21:25); (3) baptism of suffering (Luke 12:50; Matthew 20:22-23 cf. 26:39 and Hebrews 2:9; 1 Corinthians 15:29); (4) baptism with Holy Ghost (Matthew 3:11; Luke 3:16; Acts 1:4-5 cf. Acts 2); (5) baptism with fire (Matthew 3:11-12; Luke 3:16-17); (6) Great commission baptism (Matthew 28:19-20; Mark 16:15-16; Acts 2:38; 8:12-16; 10:47-48; 19:5, etc.).
Which is the one baptism? (1) The baptism in the sea was a one time thing. Moreover, it was not something which Jewish and gentile christians had in common. (2) The baptism of John anticipated a coming Messiah (Acts 19:4). It is spoken of in the past tense even in Jesus’ lifetime on earth (Matthew 21:25). It clearly is not the one baptism (Acts 18:24-19:7). (3) The baptism of suffering? It is true that we are all called upon to suffer when necessary for the cause of Christ (2 Timothy 3:12). It is also true that both Jew and gentile experienced this (1 Thessalonians 2:14). However, this is figurative language, and water is mentioned later in this same book (Ephesians 5:25-27). (4) The baptism of the Holy Ghost? It is interesting that Holy Ghost baptism (a promise, not a command – Luke 23:49; Acts 1:4-5 cf. Acts 10:6, 47-48; 11:14) occurred in Acts 2 (cf. Acts 1:4-5); Many believe that it also occurred in Acts 10-11; However it is never spoken of again as occurring after Acts 10-11. (5) The baptism of fire? I don’t think we want this one (Matthew 3:10-12; Luke 3:16-17).
This leaves (6) The baptism of the Great Commission. It is necessary for salvation (Mark 16:15-16 cf. Acts 2:38). Water is connected with the baptism that saves (1 Peter 3:20-21). Water baptism is a command to be obeyed (Acts 10:48). One must obey the Gospel to be saved (2 Thes. 1:6-ff). The Gospel at its core is the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus (1 Cor. 15:1-4). We obey this in our dying to the love and practice of sin, being buried in water, and raised to walk in the newness of life (Rom. 6:1-ff). The baptism of the Great commission clearly is not Holy Ghost baptism [watch the consistency of the original language: Matthew 28:18-f; Acts 8:6; 19:5, lit. “Into the name…”]. The “washing of water” is mentioned in this very book (Ephesians 5:25-27 cf. Acts 22:16). It thus stands to reason that water immersion of the Great commission is the one baptism.
It is after this one baptism that one is added to the church (Acts 2:38, 41, 47). Thus both Jew and gentile christians would have gone through this same entrance (Read Galatians 3:26-28).
7. One God and Father. There is not multiple competing gods as the heathens thought. there is not one God (Jehovah) for the Jews, and another (Diana) for the gentiles. “He giveth to all life, and breath, and all things; and hath made of one blood all nations of men for to dwell on all the face of the earth” (Acts 17:25-26).
Spiritually, He can be the Father of us all (Galatians 3:26-28). In Ephesians 2:16, 18 we read, “That he (Jesus – B.H.) might reconcile both (Jew and gentile – B.H.) unto God in one body (church – B.H.) …For through Him (Jesus – B.H.) we both (Jew and gentile – B.H.) have access by one Spirit (because he revealed the truth Ephesians 2:18, 20 cf. Ephesians 3:4-5 – B.H.) unto the Father.”
Meditating on these things should help in our maintaining the unity we should have.