I have been working through Ephesians for our Wednesday night Bible class and one of the big principles in Paul’s letter to the Ephesians is God’s desire and design for unity. Paul begins this letter by talking about all that God has done for us through Christ in order to reconcile the world to himself. In order to do that God had two distinct groups in the world (Jews and Gentiles) that he sought to bring into complete unity as members of God’s household (2:19-22), sealed by the same Spirit (1:13) and as a body under the headship of Christ (1:22, 4:15). These are unifying metaphors for God’s people.
If that weren’t enough he gives us more unity language in 4:1-7,
“As a prisoner for the Lord, then, I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received. Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. 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. But to each one of us grace has been given as Christ apportioned it.”
Unity is important and, in Paul’s case, the only way for unity to happen was for those who were already God’s people, the Jews (1:12), to be brought into unity with the ex-pagan Gentile Christians (1:13, 3:6). In order for that to happen, the Gentiles had an entire way of life they would have to put behind them (2:1-3 & 4:17-19) and that would be no easy task.
The good news is, God has already done the heavy lifting. Through Christ God has made two very distinct groups one (2:14-22). He did that by His grace through the death and resurrection of Christ (1:6-7, 2:13) and the gift of the Holy Spirit (1:13). That is past action of Christ that was intended to unify both Jews and Gentiles through Christ. But the work of Christ is not done there. In 4:11-16 Paul tells us that the work of Christ continues in his church as he gives spiritual gifts to his people for the direct purpose of our growing in maturity and knowledge.
Here is where we come into the picture. All of that was done for us. Christ died and rose before we were born. Christ continues to give spiritual gifts to his people. That is done to us. But there is a part that must be done by us and that part is found in Ephesians 4. Unity is not just the work of God through Christ it is also the continuing work of God’s people. In 4:1-7, quoted above Paul tells those Christians to “make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace”. That is something they have to do and it is hard work, so hard that it requires God’s grace (4:7) for it to even work in the first place. But there is more…unity also requires us to live in line with the calling we have received.
Where it gets tough…
We desire unity. You see it all over the place…our world would rather erase lines than draw them and often that is needed. There are lines that need to be erased and the church has not always been the best at making that call so now we hesitate to find any lines at all for fear of seeming intolerant. The tendency today is to erase lines rather than draw them but there are still some lines that have to be drawn. Once you have erased enough lines (and some lines should definitely be erased in this world) there is a sense that nothing really matters any more. Do your own thing…call your own shots…leave me and my way of life alone.
But here is what Paul says next,
“So I tell you this, and insist on it in the Lord, that you must no longer live as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their thinking. They are darkened in their understanding and separated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them due to the hardening of their hearts. Having lost all sensitivity, they have given themselves over to sensuality so as to indulge in every kind of impurity, and they are full of greed.
That, however, is not the way of life you learned when you heard about Christ and were taught in him in accordance with the truth that is in Jesus. You were taught, with regard to your former way of life, to put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires; to be made new in the attitude of your minds; and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness.” – 4:17-24
Paul spends 4 chapters telling us how unified we have to be and have to strive for and then hits us with a bombshell that honestly shouldn’t surprise us…There is a way of life that is totally out of line with the unity we are called to. Jesus said it himself…once he is the way, truth and life a line is drawn in the sand. If you choose to live in a way that separates you from the body of Christ you can’t point back at everyone else and cry “foul” and plead for people to accept what you are doing on the basis of maintaining Christian unity.
Unity is not made by erasing the line Jesus drew but by living in line with our calling with those who choose to be on the same side of the line as Jesus. You can go so far down the road of rejecting Jesus that you no longer know the difference between what is right and wrong or that lines even exist. There is a way we must teach and must live by and that Way will be in line with new life…like God in true righteousness and holiness (4:24).
As a group, Churches of Christ have worn out our share of sharpies over the years. If you draw a line on every issue there is no where left to stand. We should have never gotten in the line drawing business in the first place. The truth is, we don’t hold the marker. God does. We do our best to see where He has drawn the lines and live accordingly because he is the only one with the authority to make the call but we also must live by what He said. When we do that we will find ourselves living in unity with those who have chosen the same.
K.C. Moser said it this way, “Christianity cannot be an imposition. Its mission is not to curse, but to bless; not to enslave, but to free; not to rob man of pleasures, but to give him joy forever more.” Once you see a line we assume the imposition…lines impose on choices. Lines seem to impose on liberty. Lines make the free feel enslaved. But the line we are talking about here is not that kind of line…it is more like what Jesus was talking about in John 5:24-27,
“Very truly I tell you, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life and will not be judged but has crossed over from death to life. Very truly I tell you, a time is coming and has now come when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God and those who hear will live. For as the Father has life in himself, so he has granted the Son also to have life in himself. And he has given him authority to judge because he is the Son of Man.”