Perhaps the most serious consequence of the Covid-19 pandemic is the impact on the church. Almost every local church has experienced some degree of division over differing opinions and reactions. This is regrettable to say the least, particularly in light of Paul’s words in Ephesians 4:3, “Endeavoring (giving diligence1) to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.”
Dr. David Jeremiah writes, “Unity is not union (“being connected to one another”), uniformity (“being exactly like one another”), or unanimity (“always agreeing with one another”). It is an organic oneness based on Christ as the common center. Believers are required not to create unity but to keep the unity that already is theirs in Christ (Rom. 12:5).”2
Considering our God-given unity as a body of believers, here are seven reasons to “keep the unity of the Spirit.”
1. The importance of the local church
Paul begins Ephesians 4 with these words, “I therefore,” he proceeds to call us to action based on something he has said previously, which is the dignity and significance of the church. This is found in reading the first 3 chapters of Ephesians. Space forbids an analysis of all that is said, but here are few examples.
Eph. 3:21: “Unto him be glory in the church by Christ Jesus throughout all ages, world without end. Amen.” The church will be a vehicle that brings glory to God “throughout all ages.”
Eph. 2:22: “In whom ye also are builded together for an habitation of God through the Spirit.” The church is the dwelling place of God, through His Spirit.
Eph. 1:22, 23: “And hath put all things under his [Christ’s] feet, and gave him to be the head over all things to the church, Which is his body, the fullness of him that filleth all in all.” The church is fullness of the Son of God. Profound language indeed. Beyond comprehension.
The Father, Son and Holy Spirit are affected by the church to which we belong as believers. It is easy for us to view our own local fellowships through the lens of its problems, personalities or peculiarities and be distracted by these. In so doing we lose sight of the big picture of what God has done in the church. We endeavour to keep the unity of the Spirit because of the importance of the church.
2. It is consistent with our calling as believers.
Paul writes in Ephesians 4:1 “I therefore…beseech you that ye walk worthy of the vocation wherewith ye are called.”
We have a high and holy calling as believers. We belong to the most significant society on earth. Any calling has both privileges and responsibilities. This is true of professional, academic, legislative, or corporate bodies of men. There are expectations of conduct that accompany the members of these entities. How much more for those who belong to the church of our Lord Jesus Christ. One of those responsibilities is to “keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.”
3. It is Christlike to do so
“With all lowliness and meekness, with longsuffering, forbearing one another in love;” (Eph. 4:2).
You cannot help but notice the similarity between these words and the character of the Lord Jesus Christ. He too could be described by “lowliness and meekness, with longsuffering, forbearing one another in love” Likewise, Galatians 5:22, 23, describing the fruit of Spirit, echoes these words. A believer who knows the fruit of the Spirit, producing Christlikeness will show this in conduct one towards another. This will go a long way to “keeping the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.”
4. It is the foundation of our faith
“There is one body, and one Spirit, even as ye are called in one hope of your calling; One Lord, one faith, one baptism, One God and Father of all, who is above all, and through all, and in you all” (Eph. 4:4-6).
Notice the 7 “ones.” The whole structure of our faith and the church is built around this unity. “There is one body”: There is only one universal church of which our own local church is an expression. While it is true there are many local churches, these are still part of the “one body.”
“And one Spirit”: This is a reference to the Holy Spirit. There is only one as there is only one Father and one Son.
“Ye are called in one hope of your calling”: There is a hope found in God’s future purpose for the church which will be seen in its fullness in eternity. The church is not just for here and now, but we are called to “the blessed hope”3 which will begin the realization of all the Lord has planned for His bride in the ages to come.
“One Lord”: there is only one. One day “every knee should bow, and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord.”4 As believers and members of the church of Jesus Christ, we have already bowed the knee to Him in advance of the day when every being will do so.
“One baptism”: I take this to refer to the baptism of the Spirit. “For by one Spirit are we all baptized into one body, whether we be Jews or Gentiles, whether we be bond or free; and have been all made to drink into one Spirit” (1 Cor. 12:13). This seems consistent with Paul’s subject, the unity of the Spirit. But even if one saw this as a reference to believer’s water baptism, the point remains the same. There is only one.
“One God and Father of all.” We are not polytheists. Our affirmation of the doctrine of the trinity does not make us so.
All these ones further underscore Paul’s exhortation to “keep the unity of the Spirit.”
5. The body is designed structurally on the variety of gift.
Again, Dr. David Jeremiah makes a helpful comment: “Spiritual gifts are not toys to play with but tools to build with. Christians should use their God-given gifts for ministry, to build up one another in the faith. This also strengthens the church as a whole.”5
Our individual gifts, although different from person to person, has a common goal which is to build up the church. This is by design and is part both structure and the living dynamic of the local church.
6. We cannot grow without the unity of the Spirit
“But speaking the truth in love, may grow up into him in all things, which is the head, even Christ: From whom the whole body fitly joined together and compacted by that which every joint supplieth, according to the effectual working in the measure of every part, maketh increase of the body unto the edifying of itself in love.” (Eph. 4:15-16).
Growth and maturity occur when the body is functioning as it should. A healthy body will grow. However, hindrances to this kind of spiritual health will affect the spiritual growth of the body.
7. We are putting ourselves at risk of deception by false teaching when we fail to “keep the unity of the Spirit”
Ephesians 4:14 warns us: “That we henceforth be no more children, tossed to and fro, and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the sleight of men, and cunning craftiness, whereby they lie in wait to deceive.” Satan hates the church. He uses his servants to employ a cunning strategy of deception. While he cannot rob us of our salvation, he can rob us of the enjoyment of it through confusion and deception. A local church, when functioning normally, is a safeguard against false teaching contaminating our minds. When we fail to “keep the unity of the Spirit” we are handing over to Satan the opportunity to introduce false ideas which will rob the local church.
The unity of the Spirit is a rich resource and heritage given to us. Someone might ask, if this is the unity of the Spirit of God, how is it so fragile that we can destroy it? We cannot destroy this work of God, but we can miss out on the practical realization of it in our local fellowships.
We are challenged to set aside strong opinions on lesser matters. We are challenged to see if Christlikeness is governing our behavior. There is so much at stake. We cannot afford to let down our guard. We must make every effort to “keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.”
1 Marginal reading from The Newberry Reference Bible
2 Note on Ephesians 4:3, The Jeremiah Study Bible
3 Titus 2:13
4 Philippians 2:10, 11
5 Note on Ephesians 4:7, The Jeremiah Study Bible