EPHESIANS-SERIES NR 7
Theme: Unity of the Spirit
Scripture: Ephesians 4: 1 – 16
Suppose a certain wealthy person decided to take a beggar – who daily comes to his door begging for bread – bring him into his house, give him a place at his table, give him his own room – and later lawfully adopt him as his son and make him his heir! Can one expect that the beggar’s entire lifestyle and behaviour will undergo a complete change? Absolutely!
Now what if the living God should personally call a lost sinner (to whom He owes nothing), lavish upon him all spiritual blessings/ elect him before the creation / have Jesus crucified for his salvation/ pour grace over him like rain/ give him sure and certain hope for an eternal inheritance/ give the Holy Spirit as living Person in his life/ powerfully work in him/ give 24-hour access to Himself/ make him a member of a worldwide family/ give inner strength… Would the Lord expect that the sinner’s way of life will change completely? It speaks for itself.
That is exactly what it says in Ephesians 4:1-3 – in the entire Ephesians 4-6 in fact.
In chapters 1-3 Paul explains what God has done to the sinner, and what He gave the sinner in abundance, and what position the believer now occupies (in Christ). Chapters 4-6 now explains what life-changing effects are brought about in the believer by that which is described in chapters 1-3 – on different levels: in the church, in the world, at work, at home. In 4:1-16 particularly: in the church. That is why he is saying in verse 1: “I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received.” Your conduct in life must now be changed by that which Jesus has done for you, and is still doing. “Look at me for example“ says Paul, “I am a prisoner because I serve the Lord. Look how His calling influences my life! With that I am not saying that you must all suffer for Christ, but what must happen is that the mind of the Lord Jesus should take root in you. His attitude of humility, patience and forbearance. Then you will find it easy to live in unity with one another. The Holy Spirit has already created a bond of unity among you. Uphold that unity. Be united.”
We all are familiar with our sinful human nature: We want to be first. We want to be served, and not serve. Our lives revolve around ourselves. Therefore we do not like unity with others – especially those who are different from ourselves. We rather divide and separate. But, when we, spiritual beggars, are brought into the household of the Lord and sit down at His table, become His sons and daughters, and even become His heirs – then our inner heart changes. Everything becomes different. The Spirit makes us humble so that we are able to serve others. We become spiritually strong without being overbearing or putting ourselves in the forefront. We bear with the weaknesses of others. Even though we are hurt, we do not become embittered. And that results in unity among believers, and not cliques and groups and separation. Because where people serve one another, there is unity – in spite of differences and otherness! Like the dream someone once had about heaven and hell. Both places are dining rooms where everyone is eating with a spoon 2 metres in length. In hell everyone tries to get the spoon to his own mouth, while in heaven everyone is feeding his neighbour across from him! That is why everyone in hell is emaciated and frustrated, while everyone in heaven is perfectly healthy and content.
That is what verses 1-3 are about. What the Apostle is saying here, is that unity in the church does not happen automatically, but that everyone must continuously work/strive towards it. The Holy Spirit already wrought the unity, but we must work together very hard to uphold it! Even though believers are one spiritual building, it can easily happen that they could live as if it is not so. Therefore the summons: Banish the “me-first”-attitude of the world and allow the Lord Jesus attitude to change and fill you. Then there will be unity.
You therefore see what verses 1-3 are saying: Unity does not come automatically.
Now verses 4-6: It is logical that there will be unity, because there are so many things that believers have in common. Not when you look around at your fellow-members in church! Because there are so many differences. You are justified in wondering how there can be unity at all as you look at the people around you. Yet there are 7 things that all Christians have in common that makes it obvious that there has to be unity:
1. One body: (Rom 12). Our Lord Jesus and all true believers are one body of which He is the Head and the people the members – everyone with his/her function. A body has to be a unit otherwise it will die, or it is disabled. It is impossible to cut parts away. The same life that flows in the heart, flows in the little finger.
2. One Spirit: The Person of the Holy Spirit lives and works in all believers and binds everyone together.
3. One calling: All believers were called with the same calling (else they would not have been Christians!). All believers are on the way to the same destination.
4. One Lord: Only one Person is Lord and Master over all true Christians and that is our Lord Jesus Christ. To be a Christian means in principle to be subjected to his authority/say.
5. One faith: Meaning the content of that which is believed, in other words the basic content of the Gospel-message.
6. One baptism: Not water-baptism but Spirit-baptism. Not all Christian receive water-baptism for example the criminal on the cross next to Jesus. He died before he could be baptised. Through out history there have always been those who couldn’t be baptised due to all kinds of reasons. But there is ONE baptism that ALL true Christians have received: baptism by the Spirit. All people who come to faith in Christ also receives the Spirit (John 7:39) as John the Baptist promised on Luke 3:16. That is why 1 Cor 12:13 explicitly declares “In one Spirit we were all baptised into one body. We were all made to drink of one Spirit”.
7. One God and Father: There is only one true God and He is the Father of all believers.
With so much in common, how can there be separation, groups and cliques in a congregation? How can anyone remain aloof and uninvolved? How can there be resentment among people? How can people from other cultures and backgrounds be excluded only because they differ from you? The Spirit has established a bond of unity. It is impossible to be a truly saved person and live outside the church! It can not! You cannot be a living member of the body and stand apart from the body. Imagine your one foot/hand are at home at this moment, but the rest of your body is sitting here! Someone who is living for periods of time outside the body, can not be a true Christian! Because a person in whom the Spirit lives and works can not do otherwise than to be part of the body!
But now look at verses 7-12: Unity does not mean uniformity! Unity does not mean that everyone is or looks the same. One sees it with the non-Christian religions – everyone looks the same as far as their clothing is concerned – even their appearance. But the true Christian church does not wear a uniform. Although true Christians are all one, they all look different, different temperaments, different views, different races and cultures – but those things do not have a bearing on the unity! True Christians are one, but have different gifts. The gifts are the fruit of His ascension. Remember: The Lord Jesus first descended to the lowest place possible: death on the cross, but then He ascended to the highest place imaginable: the throne of the Father. Now the universe is filled with His presence (through the Person of the Holy Spirit) distributing gifts among His children. Almost the same as it was in days long past when kings/generals returned from war to their country/city having a parade where they ridiculed their captives, but also distributed to their own people as gifts, the spoils they brought back. Now that our Lord Jesus is sitting victoriously at the right-hand of God, and is filling everything with His presence, He is giving GIFTS to His children to build up the unity of the church. These gifts that He is giving the church, must build up/ edify/ give steadfastness to prepare them for the works of service to which the Lord called them. What are the gifts? Apostles, prophets, evangelists, teachers and shepherds.
APOSTLES: Jesus’s 12 apostles (with Matthias in the place of Judas) as well as Paul. After their deaths there were never again Apostles, because an apostle had to be an eyewitness of Jesus’s earthly ministry and His resurrection (Acts 1:21/Matt 3:13) and their task was to lay the foundation of the church with their teaching and example (Eph 2:20). A foundation can be laid only once after which others build upon it
PROPHETS: During the time that the Bible was not yet complete, prophets like Agabus (Acts 11, 21) worked together with the apostles and received inerrant revelation from God. At that stage the New Testament was not yet completed. After the Bible was complete, their ministry became superflous. Men like Matthew, Mark, Luke, James and Jude were prophets from whom we have received Holy Spirit inspired NT books. Together with the apostles, these prophets laid the foundation for the NT church of all ages (Eph 2:20).
EVANGELISTS: We think of men like Philip (Acts 2:21) and Timothy (2 Tim 4:5) as well as Titus. They were the Apostles’ assistants. Their task was to encourage the church to proclaim the Gospel-message wider and wider outside the church. Their task was to preach the Gospel in the capacity of missionaries and help building new congregations like Timothy did in Ephesus (1 Tim 1:3) and Titus on Crete (Tit 1:5). The original office of Evangelist (assistants to the Apostles and Prophets) disappeared together with the Apostles and prophets
SHEPHERDS AND TEACHERS: Also called elders/pastors/bishops (supervisors). The first churches were placed in their care, preaching the OT and the teaching of the Apostles, to them. After the time of the first Apostles/prophets/evangelists were over, the shepherd-pastors continued – until today. Their task is to build on the foundation laid by die Apostles and Prophets as it is found in the New Testament.
Although the unique offices of apostle, prophet and evangelist do not exist today, the CONTENT of their ministries still flow through the service of all believers. All Christians are missionaries and Gospel messengers and proclaimers of the Truth. All Christians are evangelists. All are prophets, spreaking and applying the Scriptures etc
No one in the church is the same as someone else. Everyone cannot be Apostles/prophets/pastors. Nobody needs to be envious of another person. Nobody needs to try to be the same as someone else. Nobody need to think he/she is better/more special than someone else. The church does not look like muslims – everyone dressed alike. The church is a body, where everyone has their own function – the same as the organs of a human body have its own task, and every one complimenting the other perfectly.
Important to see: Every member of the church has their own responsibility and ministry (v 12). The pastors are not supposed to be the only ones who serve (because they receive payment for it). The work has to be done by EVERYONE, but the pastors must equip them. That is what verse 12 clearly states. The church is not a passenger ship where most of the people on board are served by a small crew – spending their time lying in the sun! The church is a warship/fishing vessel where everyone has a task. There are no passengers on board a warship/fishing vessel. Much of the spiritual dynamics of the NT-church come to the fore in small groups (cell groups) where the Holy Spirit uses everyone to serve everyone. It is important that everyone should be busy and not suggest that the ministry belongs to the pastor.
Verses 13-16: Unity is closely related to spiritual maturity: Spiritual maturity within the church leads to unity when every member – instead of being self-centered – focuses in on the wider body of Christ and begins to truly understand the content of the Scriptures and becomes attached to it so that no one and nothing can shake them.
Paul is desirous of the day when the Ephesians will leave behind certain things: 1. Gullibility and 2. Spiritual immaturity that causes every wind of false teaching to blow them here and there. Paul wants to see that they remain with the Truth, and that they would share it lovingly with other people, and grow spiritually. As in the case with a body, every member of the body has a function and a contribution to make to enable the body as a whole to remain healthy and function as it should. Every member of the body thinks of the welfare of the body as a whole – e.g. hand/foot/eye. The church is the body of Christ. Every believer is a member who has a function. We can never grow into spiritual maturity as individual, alone and by yourself. You cannot be a Christian and live apart from the church. You can also not grow if you hop from church to church. Also not if you are not absolutely faithful in your attendance. A body just does not function that way! When an organ/member of the body malfunctions, it harms the rest of the body. We do not always realize this – that the wellbeing of others depends on our/my behaviour!
Last sentence: May the Lord help us to realize that in our following of Jesus Christ, it is not mainly about us as individuals, but about the body. For the toe/heart/veins/microscopic cells, it is about the body! We will be astonished at what could happen in this church when that becomes clear to us.
Translated by Marthie Wilson