(taken from Building Christian Unity, pg. 11-18)
“Endeavoring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.”
Paul gave this admonition in Ephesians 4:3, and the Church desperately needs to heed it today. Homes are dividing (even Christian marriages are falling apart), and churches are splitting-in spite of the fact that Jesus prayed in John 17 that we might be one. How wonderful it would be, and how it would please His heart, if you and I would help answer His prayer by encouraging Christian unity.
In Ephesians 4:1-16 Paul named four essentials for unity: humility (vv. l-3), how we see ourselves and others; identity (vv. 4-6), what we are in Jesus Christ; diversity (vv. 7-12), using our spiritual gifts in the Body of Christ; and finally, maturity (vv. 13-16), growing to be more like Jesus Christ.
Let’s focus our attention on our identity in Jesus Christ. “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” (vv. 4-6).
Paul emphasized the Trinity, the entire Godhead, in these verses: the Holy Spirit (v. 4), Jesus Christ the Lord (v. 5) and God the Father (v. 6). Paul also gave praise to the Trinity in chapter 1 as he contemplated God’s great plan of redemption. All three persons of the God-head are involved in salvation and also in the unity of the Church. When you and I worship God and honor Him, we promote spiritual unity. But when we focus on human leaders, or on “pet doctrines” that are divorced from the total pattern of Scripture, then we promote division. Jesus prayed that His Church might be one, even as the Father and the Son are one. This is a spiritual oneness that glorifies the Father and the Son and the Spirit.
God the Holy Spirit and unity (Eph. 4-4).
Three particular “bonds of peace” are given in verse 4: “one body… one Spirit…one hope of your calling.”
There is one Body. This one Body is the Church of Jesus Christ of which He is the glorified Head (1:20-23). Paul amplified this truth in I Corinthians 12 where he explained how each member of the Body is important and has a ministry to perform.
The Head of this Body is not on earth. The Head is Jesus Christ in heaven. The Body is made up of believing Jews and Gentiles who are all one in Christ. “For He Himself is our peace, who has made both one, and has broken down the middle wall of division between us, having abolished in His flesh the enmity, that is, the law of commandments contained in ordinances, so as to create in Himself one new man from the two, thus making peace, and that He might reconcile them both to God in one body through the cross” (Eph. 2:14-16).
Paul also wrote about this in Colossians 3:11: “Where there is neither Greek nor Jew, circumcised nor uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave nor free, but Christ is all and in all.” In the Church, which is His Body, God does not see the distinctions that we see. We see rich and poor, educated and uneducated, Jew and Gentile, Baptists and Methodists and other denominations. But God does not see it that way. “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Gal.3:28).
There is one Body, and “we are members of His body, of His flesh and of His bones” (Eph. 5:30). Of course, there are local bodies of believers. And these local assemblies should bear witness to the fact that they belong to each other in the one Body of which Jesus is the Head. Signs in front of some church buildings declare that the church that meets there is “independent.” This means that the assembly does not belong to any denomination. But really there is no such thing as an independent church, because every assembly made up of true believers in Jesus Christ belongs to the whole Body. And this means we belong to each other.
There is one Spirit. There are many unholy spirits-demonic forces that are at work opposing the Church. But there is only one Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit, who gave Jesus Christ His physical body in the womb of Mary, gave Jesus His spiritual Body at Pentecost. The Holy Spirit came and baptized believers into one Body. Whenever a person trusts the Lord Jesus as Saviour, the Holy Spirit baptizes that person into the Body of Christ (I Cor. 12:13).
There is only one Holy Spirit. If you are saved, it was through the ministry of the same Holy Spirit who led every other believer to faith in Jesus Christ. We may belong to different local churches, but there is one Holy Spirit dwelling in each of us and all of us. Our fellowship is not based on our experience of the Spirit or on our explanation of the Spirit but on His living presence in our lives (Rom. 8:9).
There is one hope of our calling. Paul mentioned this in his prayer in Ephesians 1: “The eyes of your understanding being enlightened; that you may know what is the hope of His calling” (v. 18). The Holy Spirit called us through the Gospel, and in that calling is “a living hope” that makes the future bright (I Pet. 1:3-5). Good and godly people may have different opinions and interpretations of prophecy, but all Christians agree that Jesus is coming again. You and I may disagree about the Great Tribulation or the Rapture of the Church, but this will not cause us to break fellowship with one another. Why? Because we agree that Jesus Christ is coming again, and we want to be ready.
God the Son and unity (Eph. 4:5).
There is one Lord. This is the central statement of Ephesians 4:4-6. Jesus Christ has the preeminence (Col. 1:18). The Person and work of Jesus Christ, the Son of God, ties everything together. There are many false “lords” and false “gods” in this world (I Cor. 8:l-6), but Jesus is the only true Lord. Knowing Him personally and fellowshipping with Him in the Spirit is what strengthens unity among God’s people. Sadly, too many people focus on human leaders. They become “fans” of this preacher or that writer or that theologian. There is one Lord, and the test of salvation is: “What have you done with Jesus?” John wrote: “Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits, whether they are of God; because many false prophets have gone out into the world. By this you know the Spirit of God: Every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is of God, and every spirit that does not confess that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is not of God” (I John 4:1-3). How simple can God make it? “Jesus is Lord!” and no one can say that and mean it apart from the Holy Spirit of God (I Cor. 12:3).
There is one faith. This is not our subjective experience of faith, because each of us responded in a different way when we trusted Christ. I cannot insist that you have to feel the way I felt when Jesus saved me. Paul’s emphasis here is on objective faith – not how we felt when we believed but what we believed. “The faith” is a body of revealed truth that is held by all true believers. Christians may not agree on their interpretations of individual passages of Scripture, but they do agree on the basic doctrines of “the faith which was once for all delivered to the saints” (Jude 1:3).
At the close of his life and ministry, Paul wrote: “I have kept the faith” (II Tim. 4:7). He was referring to that body of truth that was given by the apostles to their generation. They passed it along to the next generation, and eventually it came down to us. Our task is to receive that truth, guard it and share it with others (2:2).
There is one baptism. I do not believe this is water baptism, because then there would not be one baptism but two – water baptism (Matt. 28:19, 20) and Spirit baptism. “For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body” (I Cor. 12:13). How did you become a member of the Body of Christ? You were baptized into Christ’s Body by the Holy Spirit when you trusted the Saviour. (See Acts l0:44-48 for the distinction.)
So often, when you start discussing water baptism, you end up with disagreement and even division. Water baptism is not a basis for Christian unity unless you look behind it to the truth it represents: the baptizing work of the Holy Spirit that every believer has experienced. Not every Christian has been baptized by water, but every Christian has been baptized by the Spirit.
The Corinthian church was divided because of this issue of water baptism. “For it has been declared to me that there are contentions [quarrels] among you. Now I say this, that each of you says, ‘I am of Paul,’ or ‘I am of Apollos,’ or ‘I am of Cephas,’ or ‘I am of Christ”‘ (I Cor. 1:11,12). So Paul asked them, “Was Paul crucified for you? Or were you baptized in the name of Paul?” (v. 13). The Corinthian saints were bragging about who had baptized them, but Paul urged them to forget the servants and focus on the Master.
The important thing is that you know Jesus Christ as your own Saviour. The one baptism into the one Body by the one Spirit makes us partakers of eternal life. No church ritual can do that!
God the Father and unity (Eph. 4:6).
There is one God and Father of all. He is our God, and He is our Father. Through faith in Jesus Christ, we are children in the family of God. There is a sense in which God is “Father of all” human beings, because He is the Creator of mankind (Acts 17:26-28). In that sense, we are all brothers and sisters.
But Paul was talking about saved people, people who worship a God who is “above all, and through all, and in you all.” Notice that last phrase – “in you all.” That can only mean believers, because the Lord lives in those who belong to Him. “In whom you also are being built together for a habitation of God in the Spirit” (Eph. 2:22).
God lives in us. There is one God and one Father, and so all who have trusted Christ belong to one family. When we pray, we say, “Our Father,” not “My Father.” Have you ever noticed that there are no singular personal pronouns in the Lord’s Prayer? It is not “Give me this day my daily bread” but “Give us this day our daily bread.” This is a family prayer, because there is one living Father of all believers.
Our God and Father is “above all,” and I am so glad of that! He is sovereign over everything, and we do not have to be afraid. He is “through all,” which refers to His providential activity as He is at work in this world. That is what makes a promise such as Romans 8:28 possible!
He is “in you all.” The sovereign God of the universe deigns to live in us and with us! God the Father dwells in us through the Person of the Holy Spirit (John 14:21-24). We are “a habitation of God in [through] the Spirit” (Eph. 2:22). What a high and holy calling we have!
When you understand your identity in Jesus Christ, then you can do your part in “endeavoring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” (4:3). When you know that you belong to the one Body, that you are indwelt by the one Spirit and that you have this one hope before you, then you will live and work to promote unity and not division.
Knowing that you belong to the one Lord, that you have received the one faith delivered to you and that you have experienced the one baptism of the Holy Spirit, then Christian unity will be a rich blessing in your life. When you worship and serve the one God who is your Father, the God who is sovereignly at work in all things, then the minor differences among Christians will not prevent you from enjoying and strengthening the unity of God’s people.
Our Lord prayed that His people might be one.
Let’s help Him answer that prayer!
©2004 Warren W. Wiersbe and © 1989 by The Good News Broadcasting Association, Inc. All rights reserved.
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).