Study # 3
Ephesians 4:1-16 describes the first way that disciples are called to live, “in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called.” As outlined in the first three chapters of Ephesians, disciples are called to live in a manner that fittingly reflects their privileged calling to be children of God who now reside together in a new household. Ephesians 4:1-16 starts, in verses 1-6, with an emphasis on the unity within the church.
Verses 1-3 state not only the command: “maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace,” but also the manner in which it is carried out: “with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love.” Verses 4-6 establish the basis that is in place regarding the command for maintaining unity that the Spirit has created in Christ.
The basis for maintaining unity is explained by a series of seven affirmations. These seven affirmations—labeled with the term “one” to link them to the idea of unity—are stated to sustain disciples in their role in the work of unity. The affirmations are arranged around the Persons of the Godhead: “one Spirit,” “one Lord,” and “one God and Father of all.” All disciples share the same Father, the same Lord, and the same Spirit.
Trinitarian references are frequently used in Ephesians (1:3; 1:11-13; 1:17; 2:18; 2:22; 3:2-5; 3:14-17; 5:18-20). A letter written to describe the nature of the church is filled with so many references to the Trinity because the nature of the church is inseparably linked to the nature of God. In the immediate context of Ephesians 4:1-16 with its emphasis upon unity, it is the unity of God that serves as the grounds for the unity of the church. As the unity of God is unbreakable, so then should the unity of the church be seen as unbreakable. The unity of the church is not just for the sake of the unity; it is even more for the sake of properly reflecting the unified nature of God. Attempting to fragment the church should be seen as ill advisable as wishing to fragment God.
The nature of the God is not the only basis for maintaining unity. In addition, there is the commonality of how all believers experience the same realities in their redemption. The reference to the members of the Godhead is surrounded by four additional affirmations describing the most significant things that all disciples experience. The Godhead, in the Gospel, establishes believers with common experiences of: “one body,” “one hope that belongs to your call,” “one faith,” and “one baptism.”
All disciples through the Holy Spirit experience the common reality of “one body.” The body of Christ refers to the church: “Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it” (1 Corinthians 12:27). A diverse spectrum of individuals is placed, “in one body through the cross” (2:16; see also 1 Corinthians 12:13). While the body of Christ is descriptive of all believers across all geographical locations across all ages, particular local churches serve to be visible representatives of the universal church.
All disciples through the Holy Spirit also experience the common reality of “one hope that belongs to your call.” Today hope usually means something uncertain, something wished for but not really expected to occur. But the Bible uses the term hope to speak of a sure and certain future. Those who were formerly spiritually dead but given new life in Christ are, “sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, who is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it” (1:13-14). Disciples come from lives of fragmentation; but they are summoned to experience a common future: a glorious inheritance!
All disciples through Jesus Christ experience the common reality of “one faith.” Faith refers to the activity of believing but also the content of what is believed. These two ways of thinking about the term faith cannot be separated. The activity of believing always has an object and content to it. There are not multiple ways to be in right relationship with God. Nor are their multiple true faiths. Only the activity of believing only in Christ results in forgiveness of sin, a record of righteousness before God and thus, an eternal relationship with God. “We know that a person is not justified by works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ, so we also have believed in Christ Jesus, in order to be justified by faith in Christ and not by works of the law, because by works of the law no one will be justified” (Galatians 2:16; see also Romans 4:5). Disciples share the common activity of believing in Jesus as the instrument of their redemption.
All disciples through Jesus Christ also experience the common reality of “one baptism.” Baptism is more than just the act of getting baptized. Baptism is the means by which a disciple publicly identifies with the Lord Christ Jesus for the rite of baptism symbolizes that a disciple has taken on a new identity in Christ: “For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God” (Colossians 3:3; see also Romans 6:3-4). Disciples do not have multiple choices; disciples share in only one identity: Christ!
All disciples share a connection to the same church, a future outcome to their common redemption, the same means through which they experience the common blessings of redemption, and the same identity in Christ. There are not various tiers by which different disciples experience different realities. All disciples experience the most significant realities of redemption. Since they are the most significant realities, they must loom large in shaping a disciple’s thoughts as well as in stirring their affections.
All disciples also share life together as members of a common family: “So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God” (2:19). This common family is oriented around a common Father: “one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.” Thus, all disciples not only share the same Father, they share equally in the dynamics of their relationship with their Father. The Father is rightfully sovereign over all His disciples, powerfully at work through all His disciples, and faithfully present in all His disciples.
God only has one family and on the most significant aspects of redemption, He treats all of His children the same. Contentment in these commonalities will combat the envy that can rise over the differences in ministry assignments to be explored in the next section.