The unified God has united believers to himself, the church ought now walk worthy of its calling by pursuing a full-orbed unity. This unity does not require uniformity, but it presumes a diversity of opinions, personalities, social roles, and people groups. Because diversity naturally produces friction, the church ought to give particular attention to humble and patient purity, love, wisdom, and spiritual warfare in its pursuit of unity. This is the sort of walk worthy of the calling of the one God, who is Father, Son, and Spirit.
The first half of Ephesians lays out God’s plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in Christ, things in heaven and things on earth (Eph 1:10). Paul’s doctrine of unity can be summarized in the shape of a capital “I” (in a font with bars across top and bottom). The top horizontal bar represents the unity God has with himself, among the persons of the Trinity. The vertical bar represents the unity between God and his people, brought about by grace through faith. The bottom horizontal bar represents the unity among God’s people that ought to result.
Having followed Paul’s argument in Ephesians 1-3 in the previous post, let’s now walk through Paul’s application of the doctrine of unity within the life of the church.
Diversity Shouldn’t Divide the Church
Paul transitions to application with the urging to walk in a manner worthy of the calling described in the first three chapters (Eph 4:1). And what exactly is a manner of life worthy of the call to unity, in light of God’s plan to unite all things in Christ? It requires humble, gentle, and patient forbearance toward fellow church members (Eph 4:2). Such character arises only from an eager commitment to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace (Eph 4:3).
Paul roots the unity of the church, explicitly, to the unity of the Trinity (Eph 4:4-6), which includes a victorious Christ ascending to take his throne while dishing out good gifts to his people. Psalm 68, quoted in Eph 4:8, likens the ascension of the ark of the covenant into Jerusalem to the arrival of God’s glory-cloud on Sinai. And Paul capitalizes on the image to explain how Jesus, the true ark, has entered heaven, the true sanctuary. This king cares enough about the unity of his body that he provides the church with leaders tasked with equipping members to serve one another—all so the community can grow together to maturity, according to the image of Jesus himself (Eph 4:9-14). That theological truth plays out in real life as people speak the truth to one another with love and build up one another in love (Eph 4:15-16).
In short, Eph 4:1-16 teaches that every church member is not required to be the same thing, do the same thing, or think the same thing. It assumes that there are differences among people, requiring patience and loving speech toward one another. In other words, diversity shouldn’t divide the church. But sadly, it often does, so the rest of the letter tells us what to do about that. We must give attention to four key areas, each marked with a renewed exhortation to walk (or, in the last case, to stand — Eph 4:17, 5:1, 5:15, 6:10-13).
Four Areas With Potential for Divisive Behaviors
The first area that requires attention in pursuit of unity is purity (Eph 4:17-32). However, notice that the chief problem of impurity is that it makes people like those who are alienated from—not unified with—God (Eph 4:18). The opposite of building up others in love is to serve oneself in sensuality and greed (Eph 4:19). This is not how you learned Christ! (Eph 4:20). A pure life according to the truth in Jesus requires each church member to do three things with their divisive behaviors:
- Put off the old self, with its divisive and selfish desires (Eph 4:22).
- Get a new way of thinking about how the calling to unity ought to drive your behavior (Eph 4:23).
- Put on the new self, which is like God—fully unified with himself and with his body (Eph 4:24).