“As a prisoner for the Lord, then, I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received.” (Ephesians 4:1 NIV)
This verse marks a change in the letter to the Ephesians with Paul going from theology sprinkled with ethics in chapters one through three, to ethics sprinkled with theology in chapters four through six. Paul having spoken to us about God’s amazing plan of grace and our part in it now goes on to encourage us to play our part well. It would be interesting to stop right here and ask, “what is first on the list?” If you were Paul and were about to speak about Christian behaviour and character, what would you put first on the list? Given that the sex saturated society of the Roman Gentile world was far worse than that of Canada today, perhaps you might start there? Or start with alcohol abuse, or slavery in the Roman world, or the Artemis worship of the Ephesians? How does Paul begin? With a plea for the maintaining of unity, something which interestingly enough tends to get shuffled down the list of priorities today.
Paul introduces this theme of unity with an encouragement toward the development of character traits that are good for unity: “Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love” (Ephesians 4:2 NIV). As one commentator puts it, “bearing with one another” would be better translated as “putting up with one another.” I have just enough knowledge of Greek to agree, but plenty enough experience in churches to agree whole-heartedly! Over the years many a well meaning Christian has meant well, but not done well due to a lack of humility, gentleness, patience, and a commitment to put up with me and/or others. Let us strive to live a life worthy of the calling we have received, and put these character traits at the top of our to-do and to-become lists.
Paul goes on: “Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace” (Ephesians 4:3 NIV). I like the New Revised Standard Version of this verse which speaks of maintaining the unity of the Spirit. In other words, we do not create unity, but we are tasked with recognizing and nurturing the unity that is already there. When Jesus prayed for the unity of his disciples in John 17 he was praying for the Father to do something only the Father could do – make unity happen! It’s not for us to force it, it is for us to see it, to nurture it, to enjoy it. That God is the source of our unity is made clear in the next few verses:
There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to one hope when you were called; one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all. (Ephesians 4:4-6 NIV)
From these verses it does seem ludicrous to think that we can create unity. One body, one Spirit, one hope, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all; we have no impact on any of that! But we would also be fools to fight against that and carry on as if there were several bodies, several Spirits, several hopes, faiths, baptisms, and Gods to choose from. There is only One, and so the best thing we can do to promote unity is to strive to know that One!
I am a wee bit like my father in that we tend to have pet-peeves that no one else would ever think of. Here is one of mine; inter-church services that focus on unity. Strange but true, and here is why. When there is an inter-church service that has a focus on unity from the call to worship and opening hymn to the closing hymn and benediction, I find myself distracted by our differences and wondering if we are not worshipping unity itself. But if an inter-church service would focus on Christ from beginning to end, then as I worship Christ, and my Pentecostal, and United, and Anglican, and Presbyterian, and Alliance, and what have you all worship Christ, we experience unity without the incessant need of mentioning it. I am left with no doubt that I share a wonderful bond with my Christian friends across denominations – and that bond is Jesus. Want unity? Get Jesus! Let us strive to live a life worthy of the calling we have received, let us keep ourselves centred on Christ and so enjoy the unity He gives.