I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit–just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call–one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all. But grace was given to each one of us according to the measure of Christ’s gift (Eph. 4:1-7).
When we think upon the writings of Paul compared to our own context, it is interesting to think about those whom he is addressing. He is not writing to the First Baptist Church of Ephesus or to the Ephesus Presbyterian Church or to the Reformed Church of Ephesus, but he is writing to the church at Ephesus. And what exactly does the apostle mean when he says that he is writing to the church at Ephesus? He explains this at the beginning of his letter: “To the saints who are in Ephesus, and are faithful in Christ Jesus” (v. 1:1). Therefore, his letter (shockingly) is intended for all who are in Christ in Ephesus–who have been bought with his blood and who share in the Blessing of his Spirit.
Though we are not told how many souls comprised the church at Ephesus, it is safe to assume, granting the size of the city of Ephesus, that there were many and that they were scattered throughout the great city in multiple congregations. Yet despite this, Paul addresses them as a single body comprised of those who are set apart for God and are faithful in Christ Jesus.
In our present context, the apostle’s address of the Ephesian church in this way is strange to us. Because of centuries of religious distortion, the church has been transformed from those who are the Lord’s (church from the northern dialect’s kirk from the Greek’s kuriakos– “Of the Lord”) to a sacred building intended to house worship services on Sundays. The distortion is profound, for it rails against Christ’s declaration that his people would not worship geographically but in Spirit and in truth (cf. Jn. 4:23), and it reinstitutes the shadow which Christ himself fulfilled. God’s people alone are the Church, and to label any building, place, or group that is not the faithful saints of God in Christ “the church” is a misnomer and a false declaration.
Taking Paul’s declaration of the church and applying to the text from Ephesians 4, it is an extraordinary exhortation. For he is exhorting a church comprised of multiple congregations and, no doubt, differing opinions on doctrine, to be “eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” (v. 4:3). This point cannot be missed. The apostle is not exhorting particular congregations to be at peace within their own congregations merely, but that all of the saints in Ephesus would be at peace with one another. Such a declaration would be no less extraordinary than exhorting the saints who comprise the Methodist, Baptist, Presbyterian, and Lutheran congregations all within a quarter mile of one another on Six Forks Road in Raleigh to eagerly seek peace and unity with one another.
And this unity within the Church of God is not something that is merely icing on the cake of Christianity, but the apostle calls it the fruit of “[Walking] in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called” (v. 4:1). In other words, unity within the Body of Christ, i.e. unity among all the saints of God, is accomplished by Christians walking as they ought to walk.
How then are we to walk so that we, the saints of God, are unified as one body? The apostle writes, “[Walk] with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing one another in love” (v. 4:2). All these things when practiced by the people of God bring about unity in the Body. For when God’s people are humble, they understand who they are and the darkness from which they were brought and therefore understand that all who are saints of God are being brought from that same former darkness. This humility makes the people of God gentle people, for God was gentle with them in their own lack of understanding and sin. Recognizing God’s gentleness with them, the people of God are patient toward one another, suffering long with one another’s flaws knowing that God has long suffered their flaws. All these things culminate in love for one another, understanding the great love with which God has loved them, they are therefore eager to return it to those whom God loves.
When all these things are practiced by the saints of God, unity occurs. And it is not a man-created unity, but these things, being fruits borne by the Spirit of God, are a Spirit-created unity. For where the Spirit is present, unity is present, because, as the apostle writes:
There is one body (i.e. one church) and one Spirit–just as you were called to one hope that belongs to your call–one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all (v. 4:4,5).
The issue, therefore, is not an issue of unity of all those who label themselves “Christians,” but it is an issue of everyone whom God has called to himself. It would be foolish to strive for unity with those like Mormons, Jehovah’s Witnesses, etc., who do not worship the same God as we worship or with those who profess Christ but live unholy lives, but when our God is singular, our Savior is singular, and his Word is singular, why then are we divided into many? I have heard it said by some that denominations are a necessary evil, but I believe the apostle Paul by his exhortation begs to differ. The greatest problem that we as the church face is not our doctrinal differences, but it is our unwillingness to be humble, gentle, patient, and loving to those whom God has been humble, gentle, patient, and loving. Oftentimes, we are more like Pharisees than we are Christians, measuring out a tenth of our mint, dill, and cumin, while neglecting love and mercy. If we were able by the Spirit to become humble, gentle, patient, and loving people, I sincerely believe that right doctrine would naturally follow.