Short Summaries of
Sermons on Ephesians
For the Church to walk worthy of her calling means that she must live everyday in this world according to her nature as the body of Christ. It also means Church unity in wisdom and holiness in order to accomplish the work of the kingdom. Humility, forgiveness, and patience are necessary if sinners are to live and work together in peace. Unity, however, is not based upon our slight virtues. God Himself has established the unity which the Church is called to preserve and enjoy.
God Created Unity
It is essential to understand Paul's command to "keep the unity of the Spirit." Christians in our day seem to think that the unity Paul commanded must be found in a structure or organization that we create by compromising our theological convictions. We look at the organizational mess that modern Christianity is and want to solve the problem from the top down, from the outside in. Too many people think that if all churches and Christian groups joined one big organization, all would be well.
It doesn't work that way. The institutional Church is a confused muddle, but that is the least of her problems.
When Paul speaks here of unity, he is thinking of the daily life of the local church. This is where church unity must begin to be realized. If individual local churches cannot maintain unity, the apparent structural and organizational unity at higher levels will really be nothing more than compliance to coercive authority. Unity expressed in the actual work of the kingdom, ethical unity based upon obedience to God's commandments and mutual forgiveness is what the church needs first of all.
Unity at levels higher than the local church is not at all irrelevant. In fact Paul makes it clear here that it has already been established by the grace of God. It is an essential part of the good news of the Gospel. God has created the Church as a single body, unified in Christ by the Holy Spirit. All Christians have the same calling and the same hope. We share the same faith, meaning, we share the same objective revelation of the truth. We have all been baptized by the Holy Spirit of God into the body of Christ (1 Cor. 12:13) and though Christians understand (or misunderstand) water baptism in various ways, it is no less covenantally meaningful. One Father is sovereign Lord over us all. He leads us and works in our hearts to accomplish His will and purpose.
Unity is a glorious fact. The New Creation in Christ is harmonious because Father, Son, and Spirit rule, indwell, lead, and save the Church. When we confess and rejoice in the work of God, we will see greater unity in the life of the Church.
Christian Holiness Preserves Unity
At the local church level we need to practice the Christian virtues of humility, gentleness, patience and love. The word for humility here is literally "to think lowly of oneself." Paul uses this same greek word to refer to the false humility of the Phariseeic heretics in the Colossian church whose acts of self-abasement appear to be humble, but were actually a proud rejection of God's truth. He also writes of the true humility of Christ, who, because He considered us as more important than Himself, divested Himself of the glory that was rightfully His and came into this world in human form to save us by His death on the cross (Phil. 2:1-11). Walking in humility means remembering the mind of Christ and seeking to treat other Christians as He treated us.
Jesus humility led to His exaltation and so does ours: "Humble yourselves in the presence of the Lord, and He will exalt you" (Jam. 4:10). "Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt you at the proper time" (1 Pet. 5:6). Humility is not groveling. It is self-sacrificial faith that leads to dominion "in due time."
For us to be gentle means to be meek. Again, Jesus is the example: "Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light." (Mat. 11:29-30). James tells us that wisdom is gentle (Jam. 3:13). Self-assertive pride and inconsiderate roughness are excluded. But meek is not weak. Moses was the meekest man on the face of the earth, but Pharaoh learned that he was no spineless milksop. The more we fear God, the less we fear men, but also the less we will offend unnecessarily.
The word translated "patience" is literally "long wrath" meaning "to be slow to become angry." Again, Christian virtue is ethical conformity to God for when He announced His covenant name to Moses, He describes Himself as "longsuffering" (Ex. 34:6, 7). Nehemiah confessed, "thou [art] a God ready to pardon, gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and of great kindness, and forsookest them not" (Neh. 9:17b). The Psalmist too praises God for His patience: "The LORD [is] merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and plenteous in mercy" (Ps 103:8).
Patience means that we "forbear one another in love." On more than one occasion Jesus rebuked His disciples with the words "how long must I bear with you." He puts up with us, with our faults, our folly and our faithlessness, because He loves us. So we too are to endure one another in love. It sounds odd. We think that if we love someone it is pure pleasure to be with them. But with sinners in this world it can never be so. Paul does not demand that as Christians we be infatuated with one another. Rather, he demands that we have enough love to endure one another for the sake of Christ. What this means in terms of everyday life is mutual forgiveness: "bearing with one another, and forgiving each other, whoever has a complaint against anyone; just as the Lord forgave you, so also should you" (Col. 3:13). Once again, this means imitating God Himself.
To preserve the unity that God has created and given to us as a gift of grace in Christ, Christians must be diligent. It requires vigilance and earnest moral striving just to guard what God has given, not to mention to cultivation and growth. We live in a world of sin and we are called to ethical warfare. Every aspect of our lives is part of the battle for the kingdom of God; preserving the unity of the church is one of our most important fights.
We see here the ethical nature of the Christian religion. To enjoy the blessings that God has given us requires moral effort. The war against sin must be fought in our own hearts first as each one of us earnestly seeks to grow in our Christian faith. When earnest striving to grow disappears, so does church unity. The metaphysical facts of the Gospel(IQ(Jone body, one Spirit in us all, one Lord, one Father(IQ(Jimply ethical commands. What "is" implies what "ought" to be. We begin with God and what He has done, but we cannot, like the Eastern Church tends to do, stop with contemplation on His nature. We must seek to become like Him.
The unity of Christian people is to reflect the unity of the Godhead. But Christian unity is not metaphysical in the same way that the unity of the Persons of the Trinity is, though there is a metaphysical side to it in so far as we are all indwelt by the same Spirit of God. Ethics here is primary.
The unity of the Trinity includes the personal harmony of love and righteousness, as well as unity of purpose and work. It is this aspect of the unity of the Godhead that the Church is called to reproduce. We are striving for Godlikeness because we love Him. God Himself is the center of our vision, the standard of our ethics, the motive and the goal of all our work. The unity and diversity of God's people is to reflect the perfect harmony of love and diversity of working in Persons of the Trinity. The Church thus reveals the glory of God.