(taken from Building Christian Unity, pg. 3-10)
It may not look like it, and it may not feel like it; but God is at work in this world today putting things together. Satan is at work tearing things apart – destroying homes and dividing churches. But God is at work, through His Church, bringing things together. Ours is a ministry of reconciliation.
Ephesians 1:10 describes God’s ultimate purpose: ‘That in the dispensation of the fullness of the times He might gather together in one all things in Christ.” God is gathering and Satan is scattering. God is uniting things in Christ; Satan is dividing and destroying by leading people away from Christ.
In our Lord’s high-priestly prayer in John 17, the unity of His people was a priority request. He prayed to His Father, “Holy Father, keep through Your name those whom You have given Me, that they may be one as we are” (v. 11). He repeated His request in verses 20 to 23: “I do not pay for these alone, but also, for those who will believe in Me through their word; that they all may be one, as You, Father, are in Me, and I in You; that they also may be one in Us, that the world may believe that You sent Me. And the glory which You gave Me I have given them, that they may be one just as We are one: I in them, and You in Me; that they may be made perfect in one, and that the world may know that You have sent Me, and have loved them as You have loved Me.”
Unity is not uniformity. When our Lord prayed for spiritual unity, He was not praying that we would build a world church with man-made conformity. Unity comes from power within, but uniformity comes from pressure without. Life within creates unity; but outward conformity, mere organization, encourages uniformity.
Nothing is wrong with organization. If an organism is not organized, it will die; and if the Church of Jesus Christ is not organized, it will fail. But religious organization without spiritual life is merely institutionalism. We labor just to support the program, keep the budget balanced and keep the lights on; but no life is being produced.
Wherever there is spiritual unity, there will be freedom and diversity. Wherever there is uniformity, there will be bondage and conformity. Churches can become cultic, and before long, everybody is alike. That is not unity; it is uniformity.
Paul urged us in Ephesians 4:1-16 to walk in unity. He told us that we must have four essentials to have true spiritual unity in the Church.
First, we must have humility. “I, therefore, the prisoner of the Lord, beseech you to have a walk worthy of the calling with which you were called, with all lowliness and gentleness, with longsuffering, bearing with one another in love, endeavoring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” (vv. 1-3). We must also have identity (vv. 4-6). We must know who we are and what we belong to. “There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called in one hope of your calling; one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is above all, and through all, and in you all.”
In verses 7-12 Paul named the third essential, diversity. “But to each one of us grace was given according to the measure of Christ’s gift. And He Himself gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers” (vv. 7, 11). Christ gives spiritual gifts to people, and then He gives these gifted people to the Church so they can equip the saints for the work of the ministry. This is what builds up the Body of Christ.
The fourth essential is maturity-growing up and becoming more like the Lord Jesus Christ (vv. 13-16). God wants the whole Body to “grow up in all things into Him who is the head-Christ” (v. 15). Maturity keeps unity and diversity from destroying each other.
Our focus in these four chapters is on Christian unity and on how you and I can strengthen and promote it. Let’s consider the first essential, humility. In Ephesians 4:1-3 we find three considerations: the encouragement to humility (v. 1), the evidences of humility (v. 2) and the enablement for humility that the Holy Spirit gives (v. 3).
What is the encouragement to humility? Paul’s appeal was a loving appeal: “I beseech you.” He didn’t say, “I command you!” but “I beseech you.” “Beseech” means “to encourage” or “to exhort.” He encouraged us to walk worthy of our calling in Christ. The word “worthy” means “to balance the scales.” On one side of the scale is all that we have in Christ. On the other side of the scale is what we are practicing in Christ. I fear that too often what we know outweighs what we put into practice, and the scales are out of balance! We are quick to hear the Word but slow to obey it.
Paul was in prison because of his love for the Gentiles (see Eph. 3:1). He believed in the unity of the Church – that believing Jews and Gentiles were all one in Christ (2:11-22). But some said, “Gentiles must first become Jews before they can become Christians.” (Read Acts 15.) Paul said, “No, the Church is one Body, and believing Jews and Gentiles are united in Jesus Christ.” Some of the unsaved orthodox Jews hated Paul for his ministry to the Gentiles, so they had him arrested (21:21-36), and that was why he was in prison. I wonder how many of us would be willing to go to prison in order to promote the unity of God’s people?
This was also a logical appeal: “I, therefore, the prisoner of the Lord, beseech you” (italics mine). In Ephesians 1-3, Paul had explained what God had done for sinners. In chapter 4 he told us that the logical thing for us to do was to walk worthy of what God had graciously done for us.
Please notice that in Ephesians 4 Paul moved from doctrine to duty as he urged us to have a walk worthy of our calling in Jesus Christ. He had described that calling in Ephesians 1-3; now he showed us the practical meaning of that calling. We are moving from doctrine to duty, from our wealth in Christ to our walk in Christ, from our spiritual riches in Christ to our spiritual responsibilities in Christ.
What kind of walk should we have? Paul told us to walk in unity (4:1-16), in purity (4:17-5:17), in harmony (5:18-6:9) and in victory (6:10-24). The Christian life is a walk; we progress a step at a time. Walking requires life, strength, freedom and balance. The Christian walk implies a day-by-day progress toward a God-given goal.
We should walk “worthy of the saints” (Rom. 16:2). That means we should live like people who have been set apart by God. We should walk “worthy of the gospel” (Phil. 1:27) and not do anything that would bring discredit to the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Paul told his friends in Colossae to “walk worthy of the Lord” (Col. 1:10). What a responsibility!
When we have a “worthy walk,” we will not create discord or division. We will love one another and seek to maintain “the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” (Eph. 4:3).
What are the evidences of humility? This unity Paul wrote about is not some invisible unity that only God can see. I have heard people make excuses for church divisions by saying, “After all, the Church is one Body even though we cannot see it now.” Yes, “there is one body” (Eph. 4:4), but the unsaved world does not see that one Body. It sees divisions, disputes, and sometimes even competition! The only way the world can see that there is unity among God’s people is by how we act toward each other. Humility makes unity visible.
Paul named four evidences of genuine humility in Ephesians 4:2: lowliness, gentleness, long-suffering and bearing with one another in love.
Lowliness. When we are lowly in mind, we don’t think poorly of ourselves; we just don’t think of ourselves at all. We see other people as more important than ourselves. Jesus practiced lowliness of mind (see Phil. 2:1-11), and He is our example. Paul ministered in lowliness of mind: “Serving the Lord with all humility,” with all lowliness of mind (Acts 20:19). Peter commanded us to have this attitude. “Be submissive to one another, and be clothed with humility. Humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God” (I Pet. 5:5,6).
Gentleness. This is the word “meekness.” “Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth” @Mt. 5:5). Jesus was meek. He said, “I am meek and lowly in heart” (11:29, KJV). Moses, though he was a strong leader, was a very meek man. Numbers 12:3 tells us that “the man Moses was very humble, more than all men who were on the face of the earth.” Meekness is not weakness. Jesus and Moses were both meek, but they were not weak. Both were strong leaders.
Gentleness means power under control. The word describes a horse that has been broken. Its power is under control. The meek person does not deliberately hurt others, even though he or she might have the power to do so. Those who are meek keep their power under control.
Long-suffering. Patience means bearing with circumstances. Long-suffering means bearing with people. Sometimes it’s hard to be long-suffering when people are difficult to live with or work with. But God is long-suffering toward us, and we should be long-suffering toward one another. If only we will wait and give people a chance to grow! After all, they have given us many opportunities to grow!
Bearing with one another. “Bearing” and “forbearing” are both important to Christian unity. They can be practiced only if we have love in our hearts, the kind of love that is described in I Corinthians 13. When we bear with others in love, it builds us up and gradually changes them. When we bear with others in our own strength, it tears us down and only makes matters worse.
When you and I have these four qualities in our lives, we make Christian unity visible. The unsaved world can look at us and see the character of Jesus Christ: lowliness, not pride; gentleness, not arrogance; long-suffering, not short tempers; bearing with one another in love, not giving up on each other. When unbelievers see this kind of love and unity, they will say, “This must be real! We believe!”
How can we do all of this? Only through the enablement that God gives. “Endeavoring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” (Eph. 4:3). The unity is already there. We don’t have to manufacture it; all we must do is maintain it. We must guard it and strengthen it. The Holy Spirit has already created this unity. He lives in all believers; and He magnifies Jesus, who is the center of our unity. “There is one Spirit” (v. 4).
But maintaining the unity requires endeavor on our part. The word “endeavor” means to labor, to be zealous, to work at it, to be diligent. Maintaining unity in Christ is not automatic. All of us as God’s children must work at it! It takes prayer, serious feeding on God’s Word, honesty toward God and other believers, and a true desire to promote love among God’s people.
The next time one of the saints disagrees with you or you don’t have your own way at the board meeting or a decision is made that you don’t like, you have an opportunity to practice Christian unity. Yes, Christians disagree, but we must disagree without being disagreeable. We disagree as loving members of the same family – not as enemies on the battlefield.
It would be helpful if every day you and I would ask, “Lord, what did I do today to show a divided world that Christians love one another? What did I say or do today to promote the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace?” That’s our job today and every day. Let’s not fail the Lord by working for the Enemy and promoting division. By the power of the Spirit of God, let’s strive to maintain “the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.”
“Behold, how good and how pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together in unity!” (Ps. 133:1).
©2004 Warren W. Wiersbe.
Dr. Warren Wiersbe (1929-2019) was an internationally known Bible teacher, author, and conference speaker. He graduated in 1953 from Northern Baptist Theological Seminary in Lombard, Illinois. While attending seminary, he was ordained as pastor of Central Baptist Church in 1951 and served until 1957. From September 1957 to 1961, Wiersbe served as Director of The Literature Division for Youth for Christ International. From 1961 to 1971 he pastored Calvary Baptist Church of Covington, Kentucky south of Cincinnati, Ohio. His sermons were broadcast as the “Calvary Hour” on a local Cincinnati radio station. From 1971 to 1978, He served as the pastor of Moody Church in Chicago 1971 to 1978. While at Moody Church he continued in radio ministry. Between August 1979 and March 1982, he wrote bi-weekly for Christianity Today as “Eutychus X”, taught practical theology classes at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School in Deerfield, Illinois, and wrote the course material and taught a Doctor of Ministry course at Trinity and Dallas Seminary. In 1980 he transitioned to Back to the Bible radio broadcasting network where he worked until 1990. Dr. Wiersbe became Writer in Residence at Cornerstone University in Grand Rapids and Distinguished Professor of Preaching at Grand Rapids Theological Seminary. In his lifetime, Dr. Wiersbe wrote over 170 books—including the popular Be series, which has sold over four million copies. Dr. Wiersbe was awarded the Gold Medallion Lifetime Achievement by the Evangelical Christian Publishers Association (ECPA).