The following message was delivered at Ohio Valley Baptist Church on May 25th, 2014:
When you join an organization or group, you pledge yourself to live an act in accordance with the standards and regulations of that group. You accept their aims, objectives, goals, and standards as your own. This can be illustrated in a number of ways really. When you are born and grow up in this country, or come over to this country from another country, you pledge yourself to abide by the laws of this country. You must drive sober and with a license, you must pay taxes if you work, you can’t commit homicide, and there are many other laws you are required to follow as part of being an American citizen. If you refuse to abide by these regulations, then they have a place for those who refuse to submit—prison. When you get a job you are obligated to work according to the rules, standards, and purposes of the company. When you join an athletic team or something at school, you pledge yourself to conform to the standards and purposes of whatever you join. I remember in high school, when I was joining FFA, I had to do a certain amount of service projects, memorize the FFA Creed, and many other requirements.
It doesn’t matter what you join—you obligate yourself to live and act in accordance with the standards and aims and goals of that group. And in the place where this truth ought to be most prevalent, most greatly expressed, is where it is nearly lost—and it’s in the church of God—this idea of conforming to the standards of being a part of the church is nearly lost. Too many times, we as believers are glad to have the secure salvation, the blessings and promises of the gospel, but we don’t have near as much gladness when it comes to living responsibly as a Christian and conforming to the standards of what it means to be “in Christ” and obey the commands of Scripture. When we received Jesus Christ as our Savior, we were made alive, we became children of God, new creations, redeemed persons—but we also became a part of the body of Christ and with the great honors and privileges of being in this body come great responsibilities and duties. And that is why I believe that Paul urges the Ephesians (and us today): “Walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called” (Eph. 4:1).
The Text: Ephesians 4:1-6
“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.”
Prisoner for the Lord (Again)
First, Paul writes “I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called.” Paul begins by saying, “I therefore,” indicating that this is a new section in Ephesians. He’s talked all about who we are in Christ throughout the first three chapters and now finishes this letter with these last three chapters talking about what we are to do as believers in Christ. And the very first thing Paul says concerning how we are to live as believers in Christ is living in unity—that’s what this passage of Scripture is about. If we are reconciled into one body (2:14-22), how shall we then live? He doesn’t leave us wondering but writes chapter 4 to answer that question.
This passage of Scripture may even rewrite your understanding of unity—because I believe that our biblical belief about unity is often blurred. We think, “Well, no one is quarreling with me. I must be living in unity,” or “I don’t cause anyone here any problems, I must be living in unity.” But it is much more than just staying out of people’s way. Unity is all about action, as this text will show. It involves all of our life as believers. Unity is a word that we need to put under the category of action words. It is a lifestyle meant to be maintained.
But as Paul begins this passage, he once again refers to himself as a “prisoner for the Lord.” He has already done that once in 3:1. Why do you suppose he refers to himself this way again? Well we know from seeing Paul’s attitude about his suffering in chapter 3, that he wasn’t focused on his difficulty but on God. Paul’s focus was never on the present difficulty but on God. By Paul saying this again, he is appealing to them as an apostle that this kind of unified living is worth it! He is referring to his own costly commitment. He was imprisoned for the sake of those whom he now addresses, and because he was committed to the unity that he now requests of them. I wonder. . . Do we see unified living that way? Do we see it as worth it? Unified living, as the text will reveal, is very costly. It means counting others greater than yourself, it means being gentle to others when they don’t deserve it, it means being patient with those who are not patient, it means loving people in the church with a God-like love, it means costly commitment. It means “walking in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called.”
Unified living is worth it because we display to the world that we belong to Christ and the power of His marvelous grace to reconcile peoples together into one body and completely eradicate the barriers that once separated us—the racial barriers, the financial barriers, the ideological barriers, the social barriers—and unites us into one body with one purpose and that is to “proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light” (1 Peter 2:9). Do you see unity that way? Do you think it is really worth it?
We might as well start living in unity now, because you know when we get to heaven and the multitude of redeemed peoples from every tribe, tongue and nation on the earth are gathered around the throne (Rev. 5:9; 7:9), we are going to be singing one song to the Lord together, throughout all eternity—we better get ourselves ready for that day by living in unity right now. If you don’t like the idea of unity and unified living, then I’m not sure heaven is really the place you’re looking for!
So we’ve seen that Paul viewed unified living as worth it and now still in this first verse we see that he calls his readers to “walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called.” He tells them to walk worthy. The Greek word for “walk” here is peripateo and it means to “tread all around . . . to give proof of ability.” Now read it that way. “I urge you to show proof of your ability to live your Christian life by walking worthy of your great calling into the kingdom of God.” And the Bible itself also uses the language of “walk” to talk about the whole of our Christian lives. When Paul says “walk in a manner worthy,” it’s important to understand what he means. He doesn’t mean that you need to live in a way that is worthy so that you will be called by God. He doesn’t identify with Mormon doctrine, that you must live right and do right to be counted worthy of the death of Christ—there is nothing we have done and nothing we can do that would make us deserving of the death of Christ. Look at what Paul says here: “Walk in a manner in accordance of your calling.” He isn’t saying to live worthy to be called, but to live worthy because you are called.
There are a few passages in the New Testament where Paul uses this same language. When Paul prays for the Colossian believers that they would receive spiritual wisdom and understanding: “So as to walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him, bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God” (Col. 1:10). And when Paul talks about his ministry to the Thessalonian believers, “We exhorted each one of you and encouraged you and charged you to walk in a manner worthy of God, who calls you into his own kingdom and glory” (1 Thess. 2:12). And last in Philippians 1:27, “Only let your manner of life be worthy of the gospel of Christ.”
The Believer’s Calling
This calling Paul refers to here (“walk worthy of the calling . . .”) is talking about the divine invitation we receive from God at conversion—when God calls us to come to Himself and be saved—when God calls us to repentance and faith at conversion. The Greek word here is klesis meaning “an invitation to a banquet.” And isn’t that what God does at salvation? He invites us into His kingdom, His blessings, His kingdom, His work—He says “Welcome to My plan, welcome to My story, welcome to My grand story of redemption—you’re now involved.” And He overcomes our resistance to Him and gives us new spiritual life all in one moment. It’s not that you cannot resist His call, but if you are saved, then that is evidence that God overcame your resistance to Him. You can’t overcome it—you have no power or ability to do so. God by His grace must do so. Paul has referred to the believer’s calling already in Ephesians: “Having the eyes of your hearts enlightened, that you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints” (Eph. 1:18). The writer of Hebrews says, “Therefore, holy brothers, you who share in a heavenly calling, consider Jesus, the apostle and high priest of our confession” (Heb. 3:1). And the apostle Peter, “Therefore, brothers, be all the more diligent to confirm your calling and election, for if you practice these qualities you will never fall” (2 Peter 1:10).
So it is on the basis of God’s great salvation work in us that we are exhorted from the Bible to lead lives that are in keeping with our high calling. Are you living worthy of your salvation?
How to Live Worthy
Well, you say, “How do I know if I’m living worthy of my calling to salvation? How do I know if I’m living worthy?” Thankfully for you who wonder that, Paul has not left you without a standard to follow. He tells us in the next verse how we are to live worthy of our calling: “With all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love” (v. 2). Paul names here four graces: humility, gentleness, patience, and loving forbearance. We’re going to talk about each of them individually. It’s also important to see that these characteristics are progressive. They start with the ego, an examining of oneself and then they move on to our loving relations with the church. In order to attain true unity, we must exercise each of these graces:
Humility is essential for the Christian life, but it’s also essential for church unity. In Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, He gives a description of true Christian character and the first thing He ever says is “Blessed are the poor in spirit for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” (Matt. 5:3). Why do you suppose that humility is first? Because without it, you cannot be saved. The Scriptures even say that God will resist you if you are proud. Because in humility, you recognize your need for a Savior and you realize your spiritual poverty apart from God.
But how does it apply to living in church unity? If we are exercising humility, we will see each other as we truly are: Sinners in need of a Savior and saved by the same grace. That has great implications. We won’t think we’re better than each other, we’ll be focused on the salvation found in Christ, we will be obedient to Romans 12:3, “For by the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned.” A few other Scriptures are helpful at this point: Colossians 3:12, “Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience.” And in Philippians 2 we have that great example of humility, but before it, Paul commands humility, “Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others” (Phil. 2:3-4).
Are you exercising humility toward each other? Let us recognize ourselves as we truly are and pray that God would give us a humble attitude toward those in our local congregation. Not only are we to exercise humility towards each other, but also gentleness.
If you have a KJV, here it probably reads meekness. But that’s what the word “gentleness” means here anyway. We are to exercise gentleness towards each other. Gentleness in our actions, gentleness in our speech, and gentleness in our thoughts. Gentleness/meekness is not weakness.We need to be gentle in our correction towards one another. We don’t grab each other’s shirt collars and say, “You shouldn’t be doing that!” But instead we “speak the truth in love with [our] neighbor” (Eph. 4:15). We need to be gentle in all of our conduct. Check out 2 Timothy 2:24-25, “And the Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but kind to everyone, able to teach, patiently enduring evil, correcting his opponents with gentleness.”
Are you exercising gentleness toward each other? Are we being gentle towards one another or are we being rough and verbally violent? Do we have hardened hearts toward our people or gentle hearts? Not only are we to exercise humility and gentleness/meekness, but also patience.
I want you to know that this is not just an abstract Christian characteristic. The Greek word here is makrothumia and it means “patience in relation to people.” We are to be patient with those who are young in Christ. Children make mistakes and learn from those mistakes while they are growing up. You don’t give up on a child because he pours too much milk in his cereal and spills it on the table, you help them and you are patient with them. In the same way, let’s be patient with those who are still growing in their faith—Oh wait, that’s every single one of us. We need to be patient with each other in our different sin struggles that we have. We need to be patient with each other. Having patience also means not being immediately angry when you are wronged.
Are you exercising patience towards one another or does your fuse blow real quick with those around you?
Not only are we to exercise humbleness towards each other, gentleness and patience towards each other, but also Paul says, “bearing with one another in love.”
The Greek word for bearing here is anechomai and here’s what it means: “to hold oneself up against.” Don’t you know the comfort someone brings when they just listen to you in your time of need? Don’t you know the comfort one brings when they take time out for you and listen to your concerns? We need to have bearing love for one another. We need to be obedient to Galatians 6:2, “Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.”
John MacArthur writes, “When someone staggers, we help steady the load. If he is straining, we help bear the burden. And if he stumbles, we lift him up. Helping fellow believers carry the weight of their worldly troubles is one of the chief practical duties that ought to consume every Christian” (1).
To those who are strong in the faith, listen to Paul’s words in Romans 15, “We who are strong have an obligation to bear with the failings of the weak, and not to please ourselves.” Similarly, “And we urge you, brothers, admonish the idle, encourage the fainthearted, help the weak, be patient with them all” (1 Thess. 5:14).
I’ve heard it said before that the Christian life is like climbing a mountain. Consider what you would need to climb a mountain. First, you need a partner who gives and responds to clear commands. You both must know and say the same commands and use the same terminology in voicing commands. When the climber yells, “Rope!” his partner needs to know that he is tossing down a rope and avoid getting hit by it. Our Christian walk together is much like mountain climbing. We journey through rough terrain at times, and offer encouragement to one another to endure to the end. When we see someone struggling, we need to help him or her so that he or she does not become ensnared by sin.
Who is your mountain climbing partner in your Christian walk? Are you exercising forbearing love towards each other?
The Unity of the Spirit
We have seen that unity is costly, but it is worth it because we display to the world the unifying power of the gospel. We have seen that we are to walk worthy of our calling, and we have seen how we are to do that by exercising humility and gentleness with patience and forbearing love. Now Paul tells them why they are to live exercising those characteristics: “eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” (v. 3). Paul urged his readers to live out those characteristics so to “maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.”
I hope you noticed that most of those characteristics discussed earlier are fruits of the Spirit. You know what that means? You cannot produce them. You can only surrender yourself over to the power of the Holy Spirit and allow Him to produce those things in you. The same thing applies here: The unity of the body of Christ was and is created by the Spirit. The church’s unity is described here as a unity that the Spirit creates, thus it is not your own achievement. It is the Spirit’s work. You recall that it was the Spirit of God who united us into one body: “For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and all were made to drink of one Spirit” (1 Cor. 12:12-13). Some say that this baptism of the Holy Spirit is a separate experience. But that cannot be true because the Bible says that the baptism of the Spirit is when you are united to the body. It’s not when you get special gifts—it’s when you partake of the same Spirit that rose Christ Jesus from the dead that now lives in the hearts of believers everywhere. That’s what unites.
Paul is saying here that if we are living in unity, with these characteristics, then it will show that we are maintaining the unity of the Spirit. We cannot create the unity—the Holy Spirit does that by baptizing us into one body—but (like with faith and works) showing forth humility, gentleness, patience, and forbearing love towards one another is evidence that we are united. Can you mess things up and cause disunity? Of course you can. But you can never break this bond of peace that exists between the members of the church of God. You see, this verse is followed by a series of “oneness” truths that will always remain the same: one body, one Spirit, one hope, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one Father (vv. 4-6). So Paul is also saying here that the very unity of the church of God is as indestructible as God Himself. “And on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it” (Matt. 16:18).
If you’re someone who’s always stirring up disunity, then you might need a spiritual wake up call because it may be you who doesn’t really belong to the church as a believer in Christ in the first place. “I believe there are too many practitioners in the church who are not believers.”- C. S. Lewis
So we’ve spent most of our time looking at how unified living is worth it, and also how we are to walk worthy and we’ve looked at how unity is evidenced through humility, gentleness, patience, and forbearance. Now Paul points us to the oneness of the Christian faith: “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” (vv. 4-6).
Does Paul say here, “Pursue unity even if it compromises the doctrines of Scripture!”? No he doesn’t. Paul has mentioned this seven-fold oneness passage to demonstrate that unity is not throwing doctrines away. Some people say, “Why can’t we just love Jesus and love each other and just get rid of doctrine.” After all, isn’t doctrine what theologians argue over and split hairs over? I’ve got some stark news for you. If you don’t affirm that there is “one body, one Spirit, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, and one Father,” then you haven’t been a part of the Christian body to begin with. You cannot fulfill the Great Commission or be a faithful growing Christian without doctrine. It is doctrine and theology that is meant to lead us toward maturity, growth and action. Let me give you one final reason to study doctrine and theology from the Bible: It’s not enough to have ideas about God and the church. Everyone has ideas about God—it’s unavoidable. But the problem is, you may have a lot of wrong ones.
So Paul is affirming these truths as a great motivation for living in unity. Because unity is not just between believers but it is between the truths that we draw from the Scriptures that we must agree on. If the entirety of the Christian faith is dependent on these great truths of “oneness,” then why can’t Christians get along and live in oneness with each other? It would make it look like we didn’t believe that we have oneness in the fundamentals of our faith.
Paul of course mentions the “body and the Spirit” first if you notice because he is talking primarily about unity in the body and that unity, as we have seen, is established by the Spirit.
There are many denominations today, but there is only one body of believers. Two ways to describe the body of Christ is 1) locally 2) universally—it’s the same body, just two ways of describing it. When we are saved, we are obligated to worship with a local congregation (Heb. 10:25), the Word of God knows nothing of a lone-ranger Christian. People say, “Well I don’t believe in organized religion, but I believe the Bible and let’s meet and study at my house at 7 and John’s bringing the donuts.” Hello!? That’s organized religion. And the local congregation is to be a representation of the worldwide congregation of God all throughout this earth consisting of those of different tribes and tongues.
I’m glad that there’s only one Holy Spirit. We don’t get different “Spirits” when we are saved, He the Holy Spirit lives in us.
There’s only one hope—the hope of the gospel of Jesus Christ. Without affirming this as your only hope, you have no hope.
There is only one Lord, the Lord Jesus Christ. We don’t have many “lords” in the church today. The Greek word for “Lord” here means the one in supreme authority. Could you imagine how hectic church life would be if we had to worry about pleasing people all the time? Often times the reason it is hectic is because we are trying to please people and ourselves. Every decision we make should be influenced by our desire to please our Savior in church life.
This one here is an important one. This refers back to what I said earlier about doctrine and theological oneness. There are different meanings in the Greek for the same English word. So then, there are different meanings to the word “faith” in the New Testament. Here it doesn’t mean “daily trust in God,” it doesn’t mean “saving faith,” it doesn’t even mean “dead faith” (as James speaks of). But it means “the whole collection of Christian teachings—everything that Christianity stands for or against.” And there is only one faith. We believe that the Word is inspired, that God is all-knowing, all-present, and all powerful . . . we believe that Christ died for sin and rose again . . . we believe that the Holy Spirit applies our salvation. If there’s one faith only, why can’t there be oneness in the body?
There’s only one baptism, both into the church and as Baptists affirm, only one correct mode of baptism—by immersion in the name of the Father, Son, and Spirit upon receiving Christ as your Savior. If there’s one baptism only, why can’t there be oneness in the body?
We serve one God. He is sovereign over all things, and His universal rule of this world is exercised in many things—especially us as believers in His body. If God Himself is one, why can’t the church be one especially if God is sovereign over us, with us through all and in all that we do?
We Must Live in Oneness
We have seen today that striving to attain unity is very costly, but it is worth it. We have seen that we are to live in a way that demonstrates that we are walking worthy of our calling. We have seen how we are to walk worthy and attain unity of the Spirit: living in humility, gentleness, patience, and forbearing love towards each other. We have seen that unity is also about the oneness of our beliefs—and that they are the only valid beliefs. If you are convinced that you aren’t living in unity, allow God to have full control of you so that you can live in unity and display to the world the wondrous reconciling power of the gospel of Jesus Christ. We need to be living out unity in oneness.
1. John MacArthur, Bearing One Another’s Burdens (From Ligonier Ministries and R.C. Sproul. © Tabletalk magazine).