Written by Paul J. Bucknell on July, 10, 2020
Ephesians 4:3 The Unity of the Spirit
1 Therefore I, the prisoner of the Lord, implore you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling with which you have been called, 2 with all humility and gentleness, with patience, showing tolerance for one another in love, 3 being diligent to preserve the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. 4 There is one body and one Spirit, just as also you were called in one hope of your calling; 5 one Lord, one faith, one baptism, 6 one God and Father of all who is over all and through all and in all. (Eph 4:1-6)
Divisions and splits have threatened the worldwide church from its inception right to the present day. Different factions in the church are common all around the world. The Apostle Paul tackles this problem of disunity here in Ephesians 4, even though there is no reference to divisions in the church at Ephesus. However, when Paul spoke to the elders of the church for the last time, the apostle pleaded with them to stay alert from the oncoming attacks against the church.
“28 Be on guard for yourselves and for all the flock, among which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to shepherd the church of God which He purchased with His own blood. 29 I know that after my departure savage wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock; 30 and from among your own selves men will arise, speaking perverse things, to draw away the disciples after them.” (Acts 20:28-30)
What is unity? Sometimes, we allow the physical appearance of meeting together to disguise the lack of genuine unity. Unity is not just assembling together or even passing a budget. We want to consider the true nature of unity and how to preserve it.
Before focusing on Ephesians 4:3, I’ll briefly introduce its context to show the importance of the Spirit’s unity to our lives and decisions. The ideas noted here are very important. Verse one holds the charge or call, while verse two provides the means to bring peace, and verse three, the purpose or goal of being a peacemaker.
Although we could comment on the unity of the society and family, we will mainly consider God’s people—those with a special calling of God to preserve the unity of the Spirit (4:1).
- The call to be a peacemaker (1)
- The means of being a peacemaker (2)
- The goal of being a peacemaker (3)
Main Point: As believers, we have an important calling from God to preserve the Spirit’s unity.
“Being diligent to preserve the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.”
1. Define the “Unity of the Spirit”
The Webster states that unity is “The state of being one; oneness.” Each of us, through language or the study of mathematics, understands the difference between singular—one, and plurality—more than one. The unity of the church stems from her calling by one Lord through the one redemptive work of Christ to form the one body of Christ. Paul clearly expresses this oneness in its following context, where he mentions “one” seven times, seven being the number of completeness.
The definition or understanding of unity, however, reaches beyond its singularity, for there is a hint that there are parts to that oneness. The Greek definition uses the word ligament (the translation of ‘bond’ in verse 3) to refer to the special tissue that wraps about the bones so that the joint can smoothly function as one.
Paul exhorts them to maintain this unity due to the many parts of that body. But before understanding the parts of the whole, we need to understand the full function and origin of the whole—the one singular unit. It’s easy to see that each of us is his or her own person—one will, one body, and one soul—one entity. Due to the study of biology, however, we understand that there are a multitude of smaller parts to our beings—some physical while others are harder to define like the mind and soul.
The unity of the Spirit is, then, the one body of Christ composed of all the believers in Christ Jesus through the Holy Spirit’s work. And though one, we are many, collectively following Christ our Head and together fulfilling His purpose and will.
The Power Source of the Unity
The unity of the church, the body of Christ, derives its oneness from the Spirit of God as subsequently described in Ephesians 4:4-6. This unity is first seen by the way Paul describes the triune God: One God but three persons: Father (6), Son (Lord, 5), and (Holy) Spirit (4).
God’s redemptive work or force creates and sustains this oneness. “One” is significantly used seven times in these verses to stress the fullness and glory of this oneness, “one body and one Spirit, just as also you were called in one hope of your calling; one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God.”
Christians possess the same faith and have been baptized in the Name of Jesus, making them all born into the one family of God. Having been born of one Spirit, we are incorporated into one church—one spiritual body—animated by the one Spirit of God. Symbolically and theologically, we as one body work under Jesus, the one head. The implication is, then, that if we are one, then the church must function as one.
2. Discover Unity’s Bond of Peace
“Being diligent to preserve the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.”
The unity or union of the church, though one, is composed of more than one. How is this so? We know the logic: If you mean one, say one. If you mean many, say many. But no, Paul insists there are many members to the one body. Paul wonderfully uses the physical body to illustrate the members of the body (1 Cor 12:12-31). A leg is not made to function on its own, nor an eye, ear, or arm. Each body part is marvelously designed but is made as part of the whole. Depth of vision comes from possessing two eyes; stereo comes from having two ears. The body is remarkably designed with many parts composing its one unit.
Just as the body has many parts, so does the family. The more we look at social networks, including the church and natural entities, the more we can comprehend the essential characteristics of unity. It’s here in the importance of every part that we can grow in our faith and appreciate every believer—even when we don’t see eye to eye with him or her, or just can’t see a person’s unique contribution. We build our attitudes of confidence in others by faith. Since God made and saved them, everyone is important!
The Force of Peace
The unity of the Spirit as a special power urges us to function as one. Paul names this force as peace. Let’s think about what this means.
Did you ever notice how people have an innate desire to keep their body functioning together as one? The lack of the proper function of one body part, whether it be an organ in the body or an appendage, plays a crucial part in the functioning of the whole. The big toe can support twice the weight of all the other four toes, but it obviously is not meant to function on its own. Who quickly volunteers to give up one pinky? Why? God has given us a strong urge to keep our bodies intact; we instinctively know to keep our bodies intact.
Peace serves as an attracting and bonding power to keep God’s people unified. I think most of you have experienced trying to restore the oneness of some object. As a whole, the object served fine, but once it was broken into pieces, it needed to be mended or bonded to become one piece again. At times, I have ordered or scoured for parts to fix all sorts of machines or objects like rollers for our shower door, most recent. I am very thankful for super glue. But how does peace serve as a bonding element?
Unity is the natural given state of God’s people. We are a family. No one disputes the oneness of a family, right? We were born into that family, or perhaps, kindly adopted into it. This is the state we found ourselves as the people of God—one body. I remember the special bond that I shared once I became a believer. We do not choose our family; God does that for us. We only find ourselves in that family. So it is spiritually—this is the teaching here. We have one God, one Savior, one Spirit; all of us have been baptized into Christ. In time, we find that we are part of the body of Christ. I was so happy to find that God had caused me to be born again. Like all His people, I cherish my Savior Jesus’ work on the cross. I determine to follow Him. This is true of you, too, right?
The state of unity is a given. We do not work for it nor create it, just as we do not need to make ourselves members of our physical family. True, our family might disown us, but we are still part of that family. We might suffer spiritual attacks where we get confused of our true identity in Christ, but we still belong to Him. This is the given state of affairs, and so it is with God’s people.
Many have struggled with the dilemma of a disunited church. They have tried to bring about harmony, and yet, they cannot bring peace.
Two Kinds of Peace
Peace is spiritual glue; it’s the Spirit-empowered desire to maintain good relationships with everybody—as far as we are able. Peace is the divinely-empowered ability to be humble, gracious, forgiving, and loving—even when we have been wrongly misunderstood, forgotten, gossiped against, etc. Peace, then, is the Spirit-glue, the Shalom, that enables us by faith to value each body member.
We often think of peace in its resultant state—we have peace; our family enjoys this harmony. Peace leads to harmony, but it is important also to understand peace as an agent. This is how Paul introduces peace here. There is no English verb “to peace,” but there are adverbial uses, “peacefully treat” or a combination of verbs “make peace.”
Peace is the Spirit-glue that we apply to those around us. We are less conscious of the bonding power of peace when we enjoy the fellowship of the brethren. When we exercise peace, we enjoy its presence and focus on our delight and the fondness of being with others. We notice the need for peace the most when we are agitated or grieved with others. Divisions depict the lack of peace through lots of relational problems; schisms are organizational splits. Many now are seeking peace for our nation when there is so much divisiveness.
Our chief problem, however, is that we don’t realize peace is an active agent by which we all can overcome disunity.
I’m not sure about your own lives, but I grew up in a very troubled family with many arguments. My parents didn’t know the Lord. Divorce resulted. As a believer, I had to learn how I could exercise peace, or otherwise, I would copy the tactics I learned at home and destroy my family. Perhaps you have hurt your family, all because you never learned how to be a peace-bringer as a believer. Here’s the great news: You possess God’s spiritual glue and have the power of peace to restore unity.
I suppose it works like this. When you get mean and angry, you say and do wrong things. Later on, you know you should have refrained yourself, but alas, too late. (That acknowledgment hints that you know it’s wrong to break the unity.) If you are mature, you would confess your sin to God and the offended parties. You would restore the relationship—that which is healthy and right. If you are immature, you allow the demons to activate your flesh, nurture your pride, and blame others for your wrong, thus, countering the oneness.
You possess God’s spiritual glue and have the power of peace!
I am not saying that we apologize for the wrongs of others, but you always need to rectify your wrongs. This is part of preserving peace. Otherwise, you cannot move on in your Christian life.
Peace is the opposite of an angry and agitated spirit. Peace is not a false apology, as we hear people suggesting today, but a gracious spirit wherein we forgive and kindly deal with others, even if they don’t act very nicely.
And though we don’t have time to go much further into this discussion, peace is the power to embed God’s love into an otherwise divided relationship. Reconciliation also happens through faith. As the peace-giver relies on God’s truth and Spirit, the believer interjects calmness, wisdom, and patience into the situation.
Peace is the Spirit’s bonding agent that we can interject into any situation. It’s amazing. Let me close this section with an illustration in my family. Say my wife does or says something I don’t like. I get all flustered, and anger starts to rise. By faith, I remember she is my precious wife to whom God told me to love. This truth allows me to perceive how upset I am with my wife. So, instead of focusing on my emotions, I focus on her needs and God’s greater purposes. I put aside my anger (Eph 4:26) and instead speak kindly, maybe saying, “You seem to be struggling with something today?” This bonding agent of peace enables her not to be threatened, and so she can speak about what is troubling her.
The same can happen in the church. Maybe we are convinced that this or that should happen in the church or something that should be handled in a “more godly way.” Maybe so, but we must apply the spiritual glue of peace rather than insist on our way—no matter how convinced we are. Paul, in verse 2, names the ingredients to peace’s bonding agent: humility, gentleness, patience, and tolerance love.
Humility respectfully treats others who seem to do things in inferior ways. We become listeners. We see if they need assistance, training, encouragement, or just observe if they are troubled with something at work or home. Patience gives us extra time to see what can be wrong, keeping us from focusing on a rash of emotions. Gentleness provides a special door into a person’s life, giving them extra confidence that you care for them. (You do care for them, right?) Tolerance in love describes the stretchiness of the soul that enables you to look at things from different perspectives, even if you do not agree with the other. You are not their Lord, but God is.
So each believer through the Spirit has the opportunity to work toward the unity of the body. We don’t compromise the truth, but nor do we become overbearing in our attitude. Instead, we try to learn how the Spirit works through others, contributing to the whole—even when you disagree with them.
3. Diligently Preserve the Spirit’s Unity
“Being diligent to preserve the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.”
Many Christians are puzzled over Paul’s exhortation to “diligently preserve the unity.” They, perhaps, are not familiar with unity. They have overheard their uncle and others speak of differing opinions and how this or that brother and sister left the church. My Christians wrongly conclude from this that the unity of the church is something that must be created or marvelously devised by some miracle of God because they have yet to witness it. This unbelief in the inherent natural oneness of the people of God causes many believers to dismiss the church as some earthly institution or religion, leaving them to be a vulnerable target of the enemy.
“Preserve” doesn’t seem to be the right word. It purports that oneness is existent. They try to substitute “create,” “make,” “attempt to make,” instead of using preserve. But the word to preserve, otherwise translated as keep, also meaning to care for, or guard, does point us back to the natural state of the church’s unity due to her calling. This is why Paul continues on in verses 4-6 to prove the oneness of the people of God. We must allow the truth of God to convince our doubtful minds.
Paul has, here and in other places, called the church to work on preserving unity (1 Cor 12). There must be something that threatens that unity.
When we add the word “diligently” in there, we are convinced that unity is something that we work at. Diligence is a persistent effort to accomplish some defined effect. In other words, we regularly and persistently apply the ingredients of peace (verse 2) to assure the oneness of the body. So, on the one hand, we can rest and be assured that we don’t need to come up with ingenious ways to devise unity. Unity is the church’s natural state. On the other hand, there are those things and forces that threaten to violate this oneness.
Our Grand Calling
So the Lord calls us—this is our high calling— to be peacemakers or, as Paul says in 2 Corinthians 5:18, reconcilers, “Now all these things are from God, who reconciled us to Himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation.” We purposely walk in the footsteps of Jesus. He did not get distracted by His disappointment with others, even though He had plenty of opportunities to do so. But, by faith, Jesus focused on doing His Father’s will. He offered Himself as a sin offering on the cross and made a peace offering through His life.
We are to be like Jesus and make peace, not because others are being kind but because by faith, we carry out the steps of peace. Will people take advantage of us? Maybe. Will the church make a wrong decision? Maybe. But your peaceful approach enables everyone else to know that you are not seeking your personal will but the will of the Father. I wish I could say that everything works out fine when we exercise a peaceful heart. It’s not quite so easy as that, but when several of us bond together, we are able to anticipate God’s special intervention into the situation. “For where two or three have gathered together in My name, I am there in their midst” (Mat 18:20).
Yes, we do not just try to be patient or humble; we are patient and humble. This is God’s work in us. We don’t just try one time and give up when there is a lack of anticipated results. Diligence is required. You, like Christ, seek the best for the body of Christ.
I should interject that there will be those who, though professionally trained to get their business plans accepted, paid for, and implemented, need to realize a worldly spirit will not accomplish God’s Spirit work. They are working hard but in the wrong way. It’s so hard for the worldly-wise refrain from using the world’s approach to manage the church. The stated truths in Ephesians 4:1-6 lead us on how to proceed. We must believe these words and follow the Spirit’s leading.
All of His people are called to be peacemakers, not implementers of their grand plans. The preservation of unity among His people remains one of God’s great obstacles that God’s people need to prioritize.
You might find that you have gone extreme in seeking your plans and forgetting to prioritize unity. Maybe some harm has come; relationships have gone sour. Note who has been hurt? It might seem too late, but it’s not. Any family, church, or even nation, can repent from their wrongs and humbly seek God’s way. Peace is the natural state, remember!
If this is true of you, start talking to the Lord right now even as I continue. Tell Him how you were not a peacemaker and forgot your high calling, mistakingly hurting others to get your way and being insensitive to what God really wanted. Ask for forgiveness, and wait for further instructions from the Lord. Follow His instructions.
You might right now, as a parent, an elder, a teen, a pastor, etc. face an impossible situation. Just remember your high calling. God has commissioned you not to force a solution, but to depend on Him for wisdom. You are not the solution; He is. But by being patient and extra kind, you maintain a relationship with others, which enables you to bring peace into the situation.
Think about sides that develop in a church or family division. The assumption is that one side is wrong; one side is right. But are we not forgetting God’s side, the only side that exists? Why not rather focus on what God wants rather than what you have decided. Sure, you have your opinion and can defend your position, but you need to gather others together to pray for God’s will to be done on earth even as it is in heaven. Everyone’s opinion is secondary when God’s will is clear.
Perhaps, you have been scarred by others. They cared about plans more than people. They thought God’s will meant to step on others. You were one of them, feeling rather “squashed.” Now you are wondering if you will ever “go to church” again. Your faith in God is dwindling. Do what Jesus said, “Forgive.” It doesn’t make a person right, but it puts you in the right place to be a Peacemaker. God might lead you to meet up with that person who hurt you when you graciously share how they hurt you. You might mention how you see what good they were trying to do, but their ways brought pain to you and others. Don’t wait for them to first apologize. Just tell them how they have hurt you, but you have forgiven them. Apply peace as much as you can. Sometimes, the person does not accept your peace, but this whole process is part of the Spirit-glue. Your peace of heart does not depend on being reconciled with that person but taking these important steps.
If this would happen here, and then there, with that sister, and so forth, you would have a revival on your hands—despite how much wrong has been done. I believe this peace can usher in a great movement of God so that all the past divisions are seen as petty.
When I was a little boy, I was fascinated with the latest invention. I got a super ball as a gift. I played hours and hours with that ball, repeatedly banging it up against some church building. But then, one day, the ball broke. Wow, how sad I became! Our family was poor, so I never thought of getting another ball. I tried doing this and that to glue that super ball together. I had hopes that my fix would work, but it didn’t. Many of us in a similar way have tried to help the church but have since given up hope on church divisions, bickering, etc. You have moved on. We have given up on God and the church. Like me, I thought I tried to fix things but to no avail. I want to remind you of this Spirit-glue that brings patience, healing—even to impossible situations.
The peace that derives from unity remains as one of her most precious gifts of God, secured by the Prince of Peace, who died a horrible death for us. God’s powerful peace now works through each believer.
Beyond all these things put on love, which is the perfect bond of unity (Colossians 3:14)
I in them and You in Me, that they may be perfected in unity, so that the world may know that You sent Me, and loved them, even as You have loved Me. (John 17:23)
Study Questions on Ephesians 4:1-6
- What is unity?
- Is unity something we create, or what?
- Why is there so much division?
- What is a physical ligament for? (Look up as necessary.) Why does Paul refer to the ligament?
- Three essentials for unity is oneness (own entity), ___________, and the spiritual force.
- Where have you succeeded or failed as a peace-maker? (at church, home, or in your marriage)
- Have you used the four components of “spiritual glue”? Give an example.
- What divided situation do you find yourself in now? Pray and see what step(s) the Lord is leading you. Obey the Lord’s leading.
- What would you say to someone who has given up on the church due to being hurt by another?