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Eager to Maintain the Unity of the Spirit

Back to all sermons Ephesians

Date: October 27, 2019

Speaker: Erik Raymond

Series: Ephesians

Category: Biblical Exposition

Scripture: Ephesians 4:1–4:6


  1. The gospel brings massive implications for how we must live (1)
  2. One of our highest priorities is maintaining unity in the church (2–3)
  3. The Trinity is the model and motivation of our unity (4–6)
Imagine you are starting your first day of work tomorrow at a new company. What is one of the most important things you need to know? You need to know what’s expected of you. After all, how can you effectively do your job if you don’t know what you are supposed to do it?
In the passage before us, this morning the Apostle Paul is laying out some important foundational responsibilities for the follower of Jesus. In the previous chapters, he has been talking a lot about the privilege of knowing Christ and being a part of his body, his church. But now he is going to talk about what’s expected.
And what we find out right away is this: it’s our job, as citizens of Christ’s kingdom, to preserve unity in the church.
We have work to do. In verses 1-6 of chapter 4, we see what we need to do, how we need to do it, and finally, why we must do it. I’ve arranged these under three headers which you can find on the inside of your worship guide.
  1. The gospel brings massive implications for how we must live (1)
  2. One of our highest priorities is maintaining unity in the church (2-3)
  3. The Trinity is the model and motivation or our unity (4-6)
Let’s look first at first: 

(1) The gospel brings massive implications for how we must live (v.1)

This is the tenth sermon in this letter to the Ephesians. And here in the first words of chapter four, we have something that has been extremely rare so far. Do you see what it is? It’s a verb. A command. In the Greek New Testament, the original language, it is actually the very first word of the sentence. It’s translated “urge” by many contemporary translations. Aside from a couple of commands for the Christian to remember their former way of life (in chapter 2) this is the first command of the book.
But there’s something else. The second word found in the original is also found here in the second place is the word, therefore. What does this mean? It means that what is being said now is contingent upon or related to what has come before. This command, this urging by the Apostle, is connected to what has been already said. 
What has already been said? As I mentioned, there are nine sermons covering the content, you can get more detail on the sermon archive on the website. But in short, what has been said is this. Ephesians shows us the centrality of the church in God’s eternal plan to unite all things - in heaven and on earth - under the rule of Jesus. Everything that is in rebellion and ruined by sin is going to be put under the kingship of Jesus. The church is central in this because it is the church for whom Jesus has died and whom God has saved from their sins. Now, through the church, God’s wisdom is evident as the gospel is adorned and Christ’s kingship is on display.
What Paul is doing here is marshaling all of this grand theological truth, he’s bringing it all together, like a massive dam, only to release it upon the believer here in verse 1 of chapter 4.
And so what is the command? Look at verse 1: I therefore, a prisoner of the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called
What does this mean? Well, first, in the Bible, walk is a way of describing your life. Your walking is your manner or way of life. It’s how you conduct your life. But, it comes out of a value system. We live according to what we value. We make sacrifices and plans. Everything in our walk is determined by what or who we value.
Look around at the world around you. What is valued? What do people make sacrifices for? We can often see this by looking at where we spend our time, money, work through difficulty, or what we look forward to. Certainly education, work, recreation, food, entertainment, and relationships with family and friends. These are some things we sacrifice for and pursue. 
The Apostle Paul here is telling these first-century Christians that their lives, their walk, is to line up with a baseline. And what is the baseline? It is their calling. In other words, there is a way of living that corresponds to being a Christian. This is another way of saying that the gospel brings massive implications for how we must live.
I remember early days after enlisting in the military, I was cautioned by some superiors about careless living. To make their point they said that we were owned by the government. He said that if I got a sunburn and was not able to perform my job then I could be guilty of violating article 108, destruction of government property. They reminded me that after enlisting, I must conduct myself with a new set of priorities. I understood that I was constrained to live a certain way.
Perhaps you have found yourself in a similar situation with work, relationships, or other organizations. By virtue of our alignment, we must live a certain way.
This is what Paul is saying here. He is saying, listen, you are not simply part of a spiritual club here. This is the embassy of heaven. And you are brought into this relationship because a loving God chose you before the foundation of the world. He set his love upon you and elected you. He predestined your adoption as his child. And he has sent Jesus to come and be your sin-bearing substitute. Christ has lived in your place, died in your stead, and rose for your life. You have come to believe this truth and be part of his family, the church.
And now you serve this king in the place in which the glory of the King is manifest. This is the place where the ice from sin’s long winter is beginning to melt. This is the church.
So, says Paul, the gospel brings massive implications for how you live. 
There is something else here that makes Paul’s point without much explanation. Remember he’s saying we must live a certain way in light of the gospel. Our lives must match up with our profession of faith. 
And it’s here, as he writes this in his letter, that we can almost hear the chains around his wrists clanging together. He reminds us in verse one that he is, a prisoner for the Lord. Paul is in jail for his commitment to the gospel. His point that our lives must line up for and to the gospel is evidenced by his willingness to suffer for it. 
And make no mistake: this suffering is not simply because he is preaching the Bible. It’s because he is preaching the gospel of Christ that puts all people who believe in Jesus on equal footing. Regardless of race, education, economics, sinful past, or whatever — no matter what - if you are in Christ then you are an heir to the promises of the King.
So brothers and sisters, as Paul writes to walk in a manner worthy of your calling, hear his words—his urging; and hear his example—the handcuffs clanking together.
The gospel has massive implications for how we must live.
And now we turn to see what this looks like.

(2) One of our highest priorities is maintaining unity in the church (2-3)

Here then is the description of what this worthy walk looks like. We are commanded what to do in verse 1, now in verses 2-3 we are shown how to do it. These descriptions show how believers are to live or walk. And we’ll note in a few minutest hat this all has a view toward unity in the church.
We are to walk with humility.
When we read this, most would agree —even outside the church—that humility is a healthy virtue. But, Paul is advocating something revolutionary here. In the ancient world, humility wasn’t a virtue, it was despised. This type of lowliness was descriptive of a slave not of someone who was esteemed. 
But when Jesus came, he came in humility. His entire life was one of humility (Phil. 2:3-7). Therefore, any who would follow Jesus must likewise take on this position and posture of humility. 
And what might this have to do with unity? Well, disunity is a declaration of many individuals that their cause or position is right. Humility is a personal willingness to set aside your own rights and privileges for the sake of a greater good, that is to serve others in love. This is the path of Jesus.
Let’s take it to the extreme: if everyone walked in humility there would be no arguments. 
Would you characterize your life as a humble life? I’ll give you a hint, answering in the affirmative is not usually a good sign. 
We have to see that humility fuels unity and prideful selfishness fuels division. Therefore, we walk with intentional humility. It’s a daily decision.
We are to walk with gentleness.
This word can also be translated as “meekness” which doesn’t mean weakness. Instead, it is someone who is strong and is under control. The word was sometimes used of animals that have been trained or domesticated. Some have used it to describe the power under control we see in a horse. You stand next to a horse for a minute and observe its size and muscle structure and you realize pretty quickly that this is a powerful animal. Then you watch them run and it is a thing of beauty. But yet, you can put a person or even a child upon them and they can control them with a bit and bridle, certain movements of their feet and hips. Tremendous power under control.
It’s been observed that humility and gentleness for a perfect couple. The gentle person things little of their personal claims and the humble person thinks little of their personal merit. 
Of course, we see these coupled together vividly and clearly in the life of our Lord Jesus Christ. He was perfect in humility and gentleness. He described himself as gentle and lowly in heart (Matthew 11:9).
Certainly, you can see why Paul is urging the Ephesians to live like this. While conflict would certainly be minimized, there would also be something else happening. There would be an unusual display of these virtues. People don’t tend to pronate toward humility and gentleness. Watch cable news for five minutes. Take a ride in rush hour. Pop into social media. What do we see? The exact opposite. Instead of humility, there is pride. And instead of gentleness, there is aggression and wrath.
Paul tells the church, you aren’t from this world system. You don’t get your orders or your values from this world order. Therefore, as you walk in this manner, know that you as a Christian are embodying a virtue from another world. The kingdom of God is breaking in. And you, in your life, are holding a sign to declare it.
Then there is a third, found in verse 2, patience. 
We are to walk with patience.
This is the opposite of being short-tempered. It’s to have a long wick of patience. Why do you suppose we must be patient with one another? Well, it’s because we are a congregation of imperfect people. We sin. All of us, in various ways. Therefore, if we have any hope toward unity, we must be patient.
We only have to think for a second about who the most patient person in history was. It was the Lord Jesus. Think of how he endured with such patience such as injustice, rebellion, and apathy toward him and his glory. Yet, he still endured with the long wick of patience.
We are to walk with loving tolerance.
This is mutual toleration of each other. It flows naturally from the previous command.
Today when we hear the word tolerance it’s often intolerance. People are told they can’t say certain things or hold various views because they are out of step with what others believe and think. But what this is actually intolerance.
To tolerate someone means that we recognize that there are some differences between us but there is something greater between us that compels me to act cordially toward them. Historically, this meant that fact that people are made in the image of God, therefore, they have inherent dignity. I am compelled to love and respect them even if I disagree with them. 
In other words, to tolerate someone's differences are implied. In order to tolerate you have to endure the differences while maintaining the posture of respect.
In the church, it is essential to demonstrate this type of forbearance. We have to be able to acknowledge secondary differences and not let them sidetrack us. They should be things that we explore and discuss without fear because we know that there is something greater than binds us.
For example, there may differences among us:
  • ethnically
  • politically
  • educational philosophy
  • parenting style
  • hobbies
What is the secret? It is love. God’s love for us drives our love for him and others! 
Peter writes that Christians must obey the truth with sincere brotherly love, and love one another earnestly from a pure heart (1 Pet. 1:22). We do this by honoring everyone and loving the church (1 Pet. 2:17). Intent on having —all of us— writes Peter, “having a unity of mind, sympathy, brotherly love, a tender heart, and a humble mind.” (1 Pet. 3:8) And it is this fervent love that works surprisingly powerfully in the church, he says, “above all, keep loving one another earnestly, since love covers a multitude of sins.” (1 Pet. 4:8)
This is how we must live. This is the worthy walk he is talking about: humble, gentle, patient, and loving tolerance.
And we see how this functions
Look at verse 3, “eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.”
We are to walk with a burden for unity.
This verse starts with a motive for the action that follows. Notice the first word: eager. It describes a certain level of diligence. A conscientious and obligation to do our job. It drips with zeal and conviction. It’s a word that used for the zeal and eagerness to come and visit someone who is in need and wants to see you (2 Tim. 4:21), confirm that you are a Christian (2 Pet. 1:10), and to go to heaven (Heb. 4:11). You get the sense of it. What we are talking about should have your attention and your effort.
What are we to do eagerly?
Maintain the unity of the Spirit and the bond of peace. We are talking about unity in the church here. And Paul is saying something that we need to observe and remember: we don’t create unity but we must maintain it. This is a very important distinction here. Christians are called to maintain the unity that the Holy Spirit has created in the church.
Paul speaks about unity here like it is a first-level concern. I wonder if you have thought about unity like this.
Disunity often starts with little differences. Someone says or does something that you don’t like. Then it doesn’t get dealt with. Instead of humility, gentleness, patience, and loving tolerance, there is pride, abrasiveness, impatience, and intolerance.  
But these little differences compound. Think about building a stone wall, how do you do it? It is built rock by rock. And eventually, there is a wall. In the church, walls of division are built rock by rock. Instead of walking in a manner consistent with our calling, we walk according to the manner of our old life. And we build the walls of division. 
Paul is saying here, brothers and sisters, this ought not to be. You should be very concerned about unity in the church that comes around the gospel.
This is one of our highest priorities as followers of Jesus. It’s our job, as citizens of Christ’s kingdom, to preserve unity in the church.
We see this example in Galatians 2 between the Apostle Paul and Peter. 
Galatians 2:11–14: But when Cephas came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he stood condemned. 12 For before certain men came from James, he was eating with the Gentiles; but when they came he drew back and separated himself, fearing the circumcision party. 13 And the rest of the Jews acted hypocritically along with him so that even Barnabas was led astray by their hypocrisy. 14 But when I saw that their conduct was not in step with the truth of the gospel, I said to Cephas before them all, “If you, though a Jew, live like a Gentile and not like a Jew, how can you force the Gentiles to live like Jews?”
Peter had been enjoying the benefits of the gospel, and especially the liberty from the dietary restrictions (that is the live like a Gentile reference). But when some Jews came from Jerusalem he felt pressure and instead of maintaining the unity the Spirit has produced he undermined it and separated from the Gentiles, maintaining Jewish food laws. Therefore, Paul confronted Peter because his conduct undermined the gospel.
Preserving unity is important. This is one of our highest priorities as followers of Jesus. It’s our job, as citizens of Christ’s kingdom, to preserve unity in the church.
Finally, let’s see where we learn how and why to pursue this. Look with me at verses 4-6 where we find that, The Trinity is the model and motivation for our unity.

(3) The Trinity is the model and motivation for our unity (4-6)

When we read through these verses we see repetition and connections. Look with me at verses 4-6: 
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.
No doubt you saw the repetition: the word one is mentioned 7 times.
And perhaps less clear, though some may have seen it, the connections: we find the Trinity (Father, Son, and Holy Spirit) each mentioned.
There is one body, created by the Holy Spirit.
There is one hope that belongs to our calling. That is our faith and baptism are in the Lord Jesus Christ.
Finally, there is one church family where there is one Father who is over all and in all. 
The point is this: our life as Christians and our fellowship in the church is sourced in the Trinity. Trinity simply means the three-in-oneness. God is united in his person and in the church, he calls us into this fellowship together. 
This is a tremendous model and motivation for unity.
We should observe a couple of implications here.
First, the unity that Paul is talking about is unity in unity. Not unity for unity’s sake. It’s unity in God and what he’s revealed in his Word. Our unity is first theological.
Second, see how decisive the Bible is about the exclusivity of Christianity. There are not many faiths just as there are not many Gods. There is but one, the true God and the true faith. This might be unfashionable to many today but it is what the Bible says.
Third, see how practical theology is. This whole argument is built upon theological truth. This is not simply good advice. It’s God’s revealed Word for how his people are to function together as a church.
Fourth, note how this is really what everyone wants. We want unity and we want the truth. We want to know what we are clinging to is right and that it brings people together. God anchors this unity in his eternal, unchanging and infinite character.
Sometimes people think that Christianity is all about what happens after you die. We see in this passage that this is not biblical thinking. God is concerned with how his church lives as they prepare for the kingdom of God coming in its fullness. We are to live as testimonies of his powerful grace. One of the ways we show this is by how we live.
Finally, observe with me the way in which we preserve this unity begins in our hearts. Things like humility, patience, and tolerance come from within. They have outward expressions for sure, but they originate in the heart. 
In this passage, we’ve seen that:
  1. The gospel brings massive implications for how we must live (1)
  2. One of our highest priorities is maintaining unity in the church (2-3)
  3. The Trinity is the model and motivation or our unity (4-6)
It’s our job, as citizens of Christ’s kingdom, to preserve unity in the church.
It would be wise for all of us who name the name of Christ to consider how earnestly we are doing our job in preserving unity in his church.