One of the memorable stories found in the Bible is the story of Gideon. “There is strength in numbers,” you may have heard. Just ask Gideon…but not the number that he thought they would be. According to God’s plan, he and 300 men united against and defeated the enemy. Soldier battalions are strong because they work together as a united front. They have one goal and strive to achieve it…this is a powerful motivation. Families…be it the nuclear family, or extended families…working together display a unity that is powerful. Paul shares with us that the church also can have a great influence on the world around us if we are united in one front, determined, working together to reach a common goal. Though we in the body may all be different, we must continue to remind ourselves just how important it is for us to have and to promote unity.
Paul lays out key doctrinal arguments in this part of his letter to the Ephesians (4:1-16). But, as he says, it does not mean much if we are not applying doctrine to our lives. And, it starts with unity. Once again, unity is not “uniformity.” Unity is a spiritual grace that is born from within, from the Spirit of love, while uniformity is the result of outside pressure. If we are to preserve “the unity of the Spirit,” we must possess the necessary graces. There are six listed here – humility, meekness (gentleness), patience, forbearance (in love), diligence and peace. Do these sound familiar? They are similar to the Spirit’s fruit, as seen in Galatians 5. Some people attempt to unite Christians together in love…as if it all that matters. This is not to say that love is not the most important matter, because it is, but there are other things that impact unity. Paul says that doctrine is very important to unity. (Please notice that he does not say “opinion.”) Not all Christians are going to agree on certain matters of opinion, but all need to be together on the foundational truths of the faith. And what are these foundational truths? Paul shares them here in this passage…what some have called “the seven ones.” Unity built upon anything else is going to be shaky ground. The seven spiritual realities that unite all Christians are -- oneness in body, Spirit, hope, Lord, faith, baptism, God and Father.
Paul moves from what Christians have in common to how we differ from one another. There is variety and individuality of gifts within the unity of the Spirit. The Spirit has gifted us to edify the body. In this passage, (as well as 1 Corinthians 12, Romans 12) lists of gifts are given…tools to begin building the body of Christ. As God’s personal emissaries, the apostles helped to lay the foundation for the New Testament church. Their purpose was fulfilled after John went to be with the Lord. The prophets of the time predicted the future and proclaimed the Word of God in order to further the message of the Lord. Their ministry of fore-telling would be fulfilled with the coming of the written message of God...although forth-telling would continue, even as it is being done today. Evangelists are traveling preachers who shared the message of God’s grace. Pastors and teachers are “teaching pastors” or elders who would shepherd the flock by caring for it, feeding it the Word. As these gifts are exercised we grow in maturity, Paul says, and together this promotes unity. Leaders are to equip, members are to be equipped, feeding on the Word, ministering to each other. This all…to a degree…represents what it is to be Christ-like. Maturing Christians are stable, but not stagnant. They are not tossed about by strange doctrines or unhealthy methods, but are willing to try new things, to learn and grow. They are willing “to speak the truth in love.” Most importantly, maturing Christians are cooperative, not antagonistic. As members of one body, we belong to each other, need each other, affect each other – we need to work together, cooperating in order to see the full benefits of unity. But, we have to be willing to fight against the system of our culture which works against all of the things I have just shared.
Ron Clark shares some interesting thoughts in relationship to “living a life worthy of the calling with which you have been called.” -- “Church” is not a spectator sport where people gather as “consumers” waiting for spiritual food to be brought to them. The consumerism of our culture has shaped the thinking of many so that the value of one church over another is based on the level of benefits one gets out of church A over church B. Consumerism is all about what we want not what Jesus has called us to do! We live in a culture that revolves around consuming. Every TV commercial, every store, every credit card company, every bank, every TV show or movie, every piece of clothing, car or product, every website, every restaurant is tailored to fit your desires, needs or personal preference. We are easily frustrated when things don’t happen exactly as we want them. We exist in a culture that implicitly says this: We are here to serve you and meet your every whim and desire. Let us take care of you. What’s more, it’s never enough. Churches also fall into this trap when they attempt to provide as comfortable an experience as possible, using every means at their disposal to attract people and then keep them in. They tailor what they do around people’s wants and desires. In reality, however, the only thing that Jesus is counting is followers, i.e. people dedicated to his mission -- to go into the world making followers! Jesus really doesn’t care about attendance, budgets or buildings. It’s all about followers and followers by nature are producers not consumers. As followers of Jesus we are all called to be out in our community sharing Jesus and sharing his love. We are called to “do good to all people” and especially to those who are fellow followers of Jesus. (Galatians 6:9-10) We are not called to sit and be waited on but to take up our own towel and serve whomever we are called to serve. Jesus said that he did not come to the earth to be served but to serve others and give his life as a ransom for many. (Matthew 20:28) So, what does “church” mean to you? Is it about sitting and being served (consumerism) or about getting out and being Jesus to the world (producers on mission)? Jesus said, “As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.” (John 20:21) What an exciting time to be “On Mission” for Jesus. Ekklesia’s core belief is that we are a family of Jesus Followers called to be loving, serving and sacrificing ourselves for others because of Jesus. I’m ready to get going! Are you?
There really just is not a whole lot to add to Ron’s thoughts…it is good as it is. If we are interested “in preserving the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace,” we are going to love and respect one another for who we are as God’s uniquely gifted people, we are going to seek ways to promote “unity” and not “factions”, and we will seek for ways to be active in living and taking the message to those around us.