Over the past several weeks, because of circumstances surrounding my current situation in my life and ministry I have been deeply impressed about the unity of God’s church. Therefore, this past Sunday I was led to meditate on Ephesians 4, which is a challenging passage in which Paul shows the foundation and purpose of unity in God’s church.
Paul urges believers to “walk worthy of the calling” they have received. This simply means that believers should seek to live as if they deserved the favor of God. We shouldn’t get caught up in the possibilities of legalism in this verse. It is impossible to live perfectly as Jesus did, but our imperfection at fulfilling this command completely does not give us an excuse to pursue anything less. At the same time, because we have been given a new heart and a new mind in the New Covenant (Ezek. 36; 2 Cor. 5:21), our hearts should long to be in holy communion with God on a second-by-second basis. So, while our imperfection is a reality, it can never be our focus. Our focus is living in a Christlike manner for the glory of God with everything we are.
For Paul, the focus of this command in this context is that we should walk in a manner worthy of our calling, particularly when it comes to the relationships that exist within the community of the church.
The unity of the church, according to Paul, has a doctrinal basis. While it is good to focus on the practical aspects of how we can live in a harmonious estate with each other, the foundation of our unity is the unity of God Himself as He exists in the perfect eternal harmony of the Trinity. The meaning of the famous “one Lord, one faith, one baptism” verse is simply that we have one, absolutely unified God, manifested in the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
One of the greatest points of application that the contemporary church needs to take away from this passage is what our unity (or disunity) communicates about God. If our unity is based in His unity, and the purpose of our unity is, as Paul communicates at the end of the passage, that the body of Christ would be united in the truth to make His glory known throughout the earth, then the horrific reality is that when the body of Christ is divided, God is portrayed to the world in two possible ways. At best, if the church is divided, then the world looks at the church and concludes that God must be a confused, divided diety. At worst, if the church is divided, then the world looks at the church and concludes that God must be a myth if He is not powerful enough to keep His people together. It seems that this is the most common response considering how the world looks at the church today.
Could it be, that instead of fulfilling the Great Commission, we are actually promoting atheism through our disunity? This possibility should grieve our hearts, that the church divided is actually its own greatest enemy; that instead of being the instruments of God in proclaiming the Gospel of grace, we are actually proclaiming with our actions that God is not real, His grace is not effective, and His church is not the manifestation of Jesus on earth.
The unity of the church is found in God Himself. However, God has gone beyond simply being an example of this unity. Through the victory Christ accomplished through His life and death, God has given to the church diverse roles, filled by Spirit-anointed and God-gifted men and women. These roles, or offices, include apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors, and teachers. Now, whether or not we believe all of these offices are in existence even to this day is not in question. The point is that the unity of the church is actually promoted by the diverse positions in the church.
I think this portion of Scripture, particularly Paul’s usage of the victorious warrior-Christ imagery, supports the truth that there is not a battle of equals going on in the spiritual realm. Through the victory of Christ, the victory of the church is assured. These offices and the God-giftedness of the people fulfilling them are God’s way of making the teams uneven, so to speak. The victory of Christ put the victory of God over the evils of sin and death as certain and expected. The church already has victory over the enemy, but as time goes on, the victory is manifested more fully as the Gospel of God conquers the hearts of men and women throughout the nations. As the leaders of the church function according to the purpose God has given them, the church follows Christ in victory.
In this final section, Paul defines the purpose of those leaders in the church, to equip and disciple the church body to do the works of ministry and stand firm in the truth. These diverse roles function together to accomplish this goal. The anchor of truth is the foundation of the believers’ lives, while also being the glue that holds them together (as that truth is held in love).
In conclusion, the goal of the unity in the church is that as individual believers are discipled and sent on mission into the world, the truth goes forth in the world and Christ is lifted high. However, if we are divided, we not only fail at that mission, but go the other way and work against the mission of Christ in the community and culture, being a source of hardening in the hearts of many men and women. This is the state of many of our churches in America today. This reality is also the root of much of the liberalism in the church, as the roles within the church have not functioned correctly. No further plea needs to be made, as we can simply look around us and see the need for us to be unified in the truth of the glorious Gospel of God.