Ephesians Study 12: Unity & Maturity

As we continue our study of Ephesians 4, please keep a couple of points in mind. First, as noted in earlier lessons, there is a “shift” of sorts in chapter 4 as Paul moves from writing about important spiritual truths to providing more applied lessons for our life in Christ.

A second point to remember is that one of the themes for the letter is unity, the unity that Jesus brings. We concluded lesson 11 with notes about verse 3, and Paul’s instruction to maintain unity.

Ephesians 4:3
Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace.

Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV® Copyright © 2011 by Biblica, Inc.®

Pay particular attention to the wording of verse 3; Paul wrote that we are to keep the unity of the Spirit. That means we have unity in Jesus (remember chapter 2, Jesus has broken down all the dividing walls), and we have a responsibility to keep that unity.

The topic of unity is very important; Carlin pointed out in an earlier lesson that Jesus prayed for the unity of His followers in John 17.

John 17:20-23
20 “My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, 21 that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. 22 I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one— 23 I in them and you in me—so that they may be brought to complete unity. Then the world will know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.

Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV® Copyright © 2011 by Biblica, Inc.®

Jesus prayed that His followers would be one. The unity Christians demonstrate is very important, because as Jesus said, our unity is how the world will know of God, and in a sense, what they may know about God.

In Ephesians 4, Paul emphasizes the concept of unity, of a oneness

Ephesians 4:4-6
There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to one hope when you were called; one Lord, one faith, onebaptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.

Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV® Copyright © 2011 by Biblica, Inc.®

In three verses Paul uses the term one seven times. The seven “ones” in a sense illustrate why there is unity in Christ. 

There is unity in Christ because…there is one body.

What is this one body?  

Paul identifies the body in Chapter 1, and also in Chapter 5…

Ephesians 1:22-23; 5:23
22 And God placed all things under his feet and appointed him to be head over everything for the church, 23 which is his body, the fullness of him who fills everything in every way.

23 For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, his body, of which he is the Savior.

Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV® Copyright © 2011 by Biblica, Inc.®

The body is the church, which is us. Christians, the followers of Christ, make up the body. Paul also writes about this idea in the first letter to the Corinthians.

1st Corinthians 12:12-14
12 Just as a body, though one, has many parts, but all its many parts form one body, so it is with Christ. 13 For we were all baptized by one Spirit so as to form one body—whether Jews or Gentiles, slave or free—and we were all given the one Spirit to drink. 14 Even so the body is not made up of one part but of many.

Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV® Copyright © 2011 by Biblica, Inc.®

The term church can be confusing if we are not paying attention to the context. Use of the term may be in reference to a local congregation, or to Christ’s church collectively (in other words the universal church). Use of church can also be confusing because the term has become a “label” to refer to religious activity. For example, people refer to going to church. What they mean is they are going to a gathering or assembly of the church, of Christ’s followers. 

Christ’s followers, whether the focus is on a local congregation or the larger spiritual body, are unified because of their connection to Christ.

There is unity in Christ because…there is one spirit.

The Spirit Paul refers to is the Holy Spirit, the indwelling Spirit of God that is given to each Christian (c.f., Acts 2:38, 2 Corinthians 1:21-22). The work of the Spirit is a BIG topic all by itself. The point to take away here is that part of our unity comes from each Christian having the same Spirit of God within, the same Spirit helping us learn about, helping us become more of Christ.

There is unity in Christ because…there is one hope.

What is hope?

The Greek term includes the idea of confident expectation. Confident refers to something we are certain of, and expectation is something we look forward to happening. 

What is a Christian’s hope?

Paul refers to a Christian’s hope in chapter one of Ephesians…

Ephesians 1:18
18 I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in his holy people

Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV® Copyright © 2011 by Biblica, Inc.®

A Christian’s hope (our confident expectation) is the inheritance God has promised. Recall from the lessons on Ephesians 2, without Christ there was no hope, only expectation of judgment and destruction. In Christ there is relationship with God, for all time. Paul also expresses the idea of a Christian’s hope in Titus 1…

Titus 1:1-2
Paul, a servant of God and an apostle of Jesus Christ to further the faith of God’s elect and their knowledge of the truth that leads to godliness— in the hope of eternal life, which God, who does not lie, promised before the beginning of time…

Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV® Copyright © 2011 by Biblica, Inc.®

We are looking forward to the fullness of spiritual life that God has promised. This brings us back to the lesson on predestination. God established His plan for His creation, from the beginning.

There is unity in Christ because…there is one Lord.

In our society, the idea of a “Lord” is not one we may think about too often. From a study of world history, we might understand the concept of a feudal system, with kings and queens and lords. In the United States we focus more on the idea of democracy and majority rule. What we should understand as Christians though, is that we have a creator, God, and we are subject to Him. 

If you think about Christ’s last words to his followers, he declared that all authority had been given to him.

Matthew 28:18
Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.

Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV® Copyright © 2011 by Biblica, Inc.®

And in Philippians 2, Paul writes about Jesus Christ as Lord.

Philippians 2:9-11
Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, 10 that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 11 and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV® Copyright © 2011 by Biblica, Inc.®

Christians are unified under the lordship of Jesus Christ.

There is unity in Christ because…there is one faith.

The writer of Hebrews explains that, “…faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen” (Hebrews 11:1). As we have learned, Christians have a confident expectation of salvation through Christ. The assurance we have, our hope, influences us to live our lives based on the teachings and example of Jesus Christ. 

It is important to emphasize the one faith is belief in, and acceptance of the gospel. The gospel is the good news that Jesus lived, died, and was resurrected, providing the means of our salvation. The emphasis is important because there are other religious beliefs, some which are based in Christianity (e.g., Catholicism, Mormonism, Evangelicalism, Jehovah’s Witness) some which are not (e.g., Judaism, Muslim, Buddhism, Hinduism). Some people will teach it does not matter what you believe. The teaching we find in the Bible on unity conveys a very different lesson, that it does matter what we believe and how we live.

There is unity in Christ because…there is one baptism.

In the Bible we find consistent references to baptism. For example…

Mark 16:15-16
15 And He [Jesus] said to them, “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to all creation. 16 He who has believed and has been baptized shall be saved; but he who has disbelieved shall be condemned.

Acts 2:38
38 Peter said to them, “Repent, and each of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.

Colossians 2:9-12
For in Him [Jesus] all the fullness of Deity dwells in bodily form, 10 and in Him you have been made complete, and He is the head [j]over all rule and authority; 11 and in Him you were also circumcised with a circumcision made without hands, in the removal of the body of the flesh by the circumcision of Christ; 12 having been buried with Him in baptism, in which you were also raised up with Him through faith in the working of God, who raised Him from the dead.

Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV® Copyright © 2011 by Biblica, Inc.®

For me, an important focus of the one baptism is the purpose. As noted in the preceding sample of scriptures, baptism is an important element in God’s plan to connect us with Him, to symbolize the death of our sinful nature, and the raising up to a new life. If you would like to explore this idea more, read and think about Romans 6.

There is unity in Christ because…there is one God and Father.

Thinking back to our lessons on Ephesians 1, we are reminded again of a key point, God is, and He determined, “…before the creation of the world…to bring unity to all things in heaven and on earth under Christ” (Ephesians 1:4-10). Belief in one God and Father is essential, because as I explained in the portion on one faith, there are different religious beliefs, including some based on other gods. A very important difference, which I believe Paul emphasizes with the wording, is that God is not just our creator, but He desires to know us as our father.

If you think about examples of other gods (e.g., Zeus, Ra, Baal-just to name a few), there is not a belief system that portrays a god as a loving being who sacrifices for the people. God has made it possible for us to have relationship with Him by sacrificing for our sins. As the psalmist noted, our God is awesome.

Bringing all these “ones” together, keep in mind the instruction in Ephesians 4:3, “Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace.”

The seven elements Paul highlights may be thought of as key points (or truths) around which we are unified, and which we learn about and teach, in order to recognize others with whom we are to be unified. Remember, our unity is one of the means by which people come to learn about and to know God.

In the next section of Ephesians 4 we learn that Christ has taken specific action to establish His body, and to make it possible for the body-the church-to function as it should. In verses seven through ten we learn that Christ prepares each member of the body to function according to its design. Christ came from heaven to earth, to establish His church, to establish the body.

Ephesians 4:7-10
But to each one of us grace has been given as Christ apportioned it. This is why it says:

“When he ascended on high, he took many captives and gave gifts to his people.” (What does “he ascended” mean except that he also descended to the lower, earthly regions? 10 He who descended is the very one who ascended higher than all the heavens, in order to fill the whole universe.)

Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV® Copyright © 2011 by Biblica, Inc.®

The imagery Paul uses emphasizes again Jesus Christ’s position as Lord (c.f., filling the whole universe), and introduces the idea of “giving gifts.” The statement that to each one of us grace has been given, is the same idea as Christ has given gifts to His people. What are those gifts? In verses 11-13 we read about the gifts of service, and in verses 14-16 we are reminded of the importance of the gifts.

Ephesians 4:11-13
11 So Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, 12 to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up 13 until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.

Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV® Copyright © 2011 by Biblica, Inc.®

In verse eleven Paul list different roles that have been found in the church (in the body). We may not be equally familiar with all the terms Paul lists. But if we think about the function of the different roles represented, we can understand the key point, that there are different (roles) parts of the body that have specific services to perform.

Read verses eleven through thirteen again, this time from the Amplified version.

Ephesians 4:11-13
11 And [His gifts to the church were varied and] He Himself appointed some as apostles [special messengers, representatives], some as prophets [who speak a new message from God to the people], some as evangelists [who spread the good news of salvation], and some as pastors and teachers [to shepherd and guide and instruct]…

Copyright © 2015 by The Lockman Foundation, La Habra, CA 90631

There are people in the church who share a message from God, who spread the good news of salvation, who shepherd, who teach the members of the body. These roles are important because they function to equip (to prepare) Christians for their service. As each member is equipped, and as each member serves (in whatever his/her role), the body is built up (or strengthened). As the body is built up, we all mature or grow to become more like Christ. And remember, it is the church (each of us) working together in service that makes known the mystery of God, which is salvation for all through Jesus Christ.

Recall again Paul’s charge in verse three to keep the unity of the Spirit. It is essential that Christ’s body (His church) is functioning properly, that people are carrying out the roles He has prepared for them. The instruction, the teaching, we receive is very important to help us resist Satan’s attempts to distract us and to confuse us with false teaching. Consider verses fourteen through sixteen.

Ephesians 4:14-16
14 Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of people in their deceitful scheming. 15 Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will grow to become in every respect the mature body of him who is the head, that is, Christ. 16 From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work.

Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV® Copyright © 2011 by Biblica, Inc.®

Each part of the body (each person) growing (think of growing as meaning we are learning and understanding more fully) and being built up in love, is what makes it possible for the body to mature or to reach it’s potential. We have the potential to show Christ, to show God’s love, to those around us as our understanding (our experience) of God’s love increases, as we find out what gift(s) we have to share with others, and as we use our gift(s).

It is important that we grow, that we strive to keep the unity of the Spirit, because there are false teachings, some which may seem very good. Satan is crafty, he is deceitful. Paul emphasizes that in order to remain faithful, to not be deceived by false teaching, the body must be growing.

So, what is your part in the body?  

Perhaps you will teach a Bible class, lead a prayer group, host youth events, organize a food drive, or some other service project. There are many different roles in the church; I do not think Paul was trying to present an exhaustive list in verse 11. I do think an important point to take away from this lesson is that there are some important truths (or ideas)-the seven “ones”-that Christians do need to better understand. The truths are defining elements of God’s plan, and from which we may recognize other Christians, because we are unified (or should be) around these truths.

Each member of the body does need to be equipped, to understand the seven ones, and also to understand their gifts, to understand how they may serve. In the next section of Ephesians 4 we will look more closely at how this equipping, learning elements of our unity, plays out or is manifest in our lives. In other words, as I better understand one body, one Spirit, one hope, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, andone God and Father of all, what is the impact on how I live? That is what we will be looking to understand.