3 Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace.
(Ephesians 4:3 NIV)
The Apostle Paul, starting in chapter 4, has switched gears, going from doctrine and theology in chapters 1 through 3, to now taking about our walk with Christ and each other in chapters 4 through 6.
Here’s what Paul has said so far:
As a prisoner for the Lord, then, I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received. Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love.
In verses 1 and 2, Paul says we have a calling, we have a destiny, and that calling is from Christ, to Christ, and in Christ.
As we discovered yesterday, the important point is to “be” before we “do”. Character development begins on the inside of us, with our heart, soul, and spirit. Whatever is on the inside of us, the “be” inside us, then manifests itself outwardly in our “do”.
And what are those “be” qualities? Paul says to “be humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love.”
Paul moves on today, to address a key point of our calling in Christ: unity.
And how do we obtain unity? Paul just laid out the steps in verse 2: it starts with humility on our part, which leads to gentleness toward others, then patience, then forbearance toward others, all done in unconditional, self-sacrificing love.
So what does Paul mean by “unity”? This simply means to be of one mind, to be in agreement. Paul is not saying uniformity, where we all have to look the same, act the same, do the same things, say the same things, like robots following their leader. Instead, Paul is telling us to have the same purpose, to be in agreement for our purpose and calling, to serve our Lord, Jesus Christ. In fact, Paul, in his letter to the church in Rome, tells them that diversity is needed in the church to help it function as God intended (Romans chapter 12). That’s a whole different study.
Let’s get back to the subject at hand – unity. Notice that Paul says to “keep” the unity of the Spirit. he did not say to go find it, or to create it, but to keep it. That implies that we, as followers of Christ, must already have it. And that is exactly what Paul said: “Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit…”
God, through His Holy Spirit, has given us unity; He has made us one in Christ. Paul explains it well:
12 Just as a body, though one, has many parts, but all its many parts form one body, so it is with Christ. 13 For we were all baptized by one Spirit so as to form one body—whether Jews or Gentiles, slave or free—and we were all given the one Spirit to drink.
(1 Corinthians 12:12-13 NIV, emphasis mine)
So how do we keep this unity the Spirit has established? Do we form a committee? Do we buy everyone the same t-shirt to wear? Do we all join the same denomination, or try to get our denominations to agree and work together? Do we sit around, hold hands, and sing “kum ba yah”? No to all these things. John MacArthur, speaking about this passage and the topic of unity in particular, clearly and succinctly states that unity is “not organizational, and it’s not ecumenical, it is personal and it is spiritual.” (from his Ephesians 4 sermon).
Paul tells us how to keep the unity of the Spirit – it’s through the bond of peace. The “bond” Paul mentions is like the “belt” – it holds everything together. It’s not peace by force or might, but peace through humility, gentleness, forbearance, and love. Easy to say, hard to live, especially when people irritate us and get in our face.
In a similar instruction to the Roman church, Paul tells us how to practically live out this peace as the love of Christ permeates every part of our life, even in the hard stuff of life (Romans 12:9-21).
May each of us practice keeping the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace with other Christ-followers today. This is the distinctive, the difference that separates Christianity from all other institutions – that we love and serve one another in humility, in the unity of God’s Spirit. Jesus said it best:
“A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”
(John 13:34-35 NIV, emphasis mine)