Unity and Salvation in the Body of Christ
[Ephesians chapter 4, verses 1-16]
When we left off last week at the end of Ephesians chapter three, the apostle Paul had just finished composing his prayer for the saints at Ephesus. Based on the way in which Paul wrote this, there may have been a pause from when Paul finished chapter three until he began writing chapter four. The most likely reason for this would be because the apostle Paul was in prison at the time (as we found out last week) and so had limited access to what we would call pen and paper today. Despite these limitations he heroically goes on writing, taking up where he left off beginning in verse one of chapter four.
“As a prisoner for the Lord, then, I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling that 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. This is why it says: ‘When he ascended on high, he led captives in his train and gave gifts to men’. (What does ‘he ascended’ mean except that he also descended to the lower, earthly regions? He who descended is the very one who ascended higher than all the heavens, in order to fill the whole universe).” (Ephesians 4, verses 1-10, NIV)
Live a life worthy of your calling! (That could be an entire sermon right there, but I’ll save that for another time.) God put everybody here for a reason, there are no exceptions. Not everybody can be a priest, a minister, or a rabbi. Not everybody can be a starting pitcher in major league baseball, or a famous actor or musician, either. But that’s not the point. It doesn’t matter how famous you become or how much money we make. That’s what the world wants you to believe, because those who believe all that junk inevitably take their eyes off Christ in the process. It doesn’t matter whether you’re the president of the USA, a cook, bartender or a janitor. Anyone who performs their job, or who runs their small business, as if they were doing it all for Christ instead of themselves, will reap an equal harvest in heaven when their lives are over here on earth. My case is a little different, since I’m disabled and on early retirement. I do mostly volunteer work right here from home with this ministry. But, since I don’t want to retire, I write non-fiction books about, among other things, the reasons the US middle class is disappearing, and the social injustice and economic inequality that result. I also put up this website using my own money, and I do so because I want much more than just a royalty check or a donation. I aspire to really make a difference with my writing because I believe that is what God has called me to do.
Multitudes of people make similar decisions each day, and all in different ways. Former traffic cops enroll in law school. Former fast food workers go back to technical or trade schools, earning professional diplomas, degrees and certifications in the medical field, in technology or in business. Little kids aspire to become doctors, astronauts or professional athletes. Everybody has that internal spark that lights up for certain things that fascinate them, inspire them, and capture their imaginations. But the ultimate calling we all have is to acknowledge He who made us, and to love his only-begotten Son because he loved us first (see 1st John chapter 4, verses 10-12). And how did Jesus love us first? By freely allowing himself to be tortured and beaten, then hung on a cross until He died only to be raised from the dead on the morning of the third day. All this was for us, to save us all from our sins and so from eternal separation from God. He obtained eternal life for us all in so doing, just so we could all be with Him forever.
The “bond of peace” between us all equals Spiritual unity. I would compare Spiritual unity to that of soldiers on a battlefield. Without a unified, coordinated plan of attack – or defense – they will lose the battle and get themselves killed for their trouble. So it is with the unity of the Holy Spirit. When there is unity, the Spirit of the Lord will move upon that service or that group or congregation in overpowering ways – I have personally seen this occur in my life and that of others I know or have met. The Holy Spirit is real, you can be very sure of that.
Paul goes on to define the unity of the Spirit as “one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.” Paul was clearly flowing in the Spirit as he wrote this, as his equally flowing prose and elegant writing style shows. But he then reveals the full scope of the Spirit as he sees it by clarifying what happened to Jesus for the three days that He laid in the tomb when he wrote, “he also descended to the lower, earthly regions… He who descended is the very one who ascended higher than all the heavens, in order to fill the whole universe“. Jesus conquered death by conquering the gates of hell itself. He then went on the equivalent of a search and rescue mission by descending into hell, where Jesus gathered together all the souls that were trapped there, and snatched them back from what would otherwise have been eternal suffering. The souls of every human being who ever lived can be saved from hell, and only by Jesus Christ. Each individual must, in their own heart and mind, come to a point where they acknowledge their separation from God, and that this is due to their own sinful nature. Once we recognize we have a problem, the next step is to ask to be saved. For those of you who haven’t done this yet, now would be a very good time. Having been (hopefully) inspired by this, let’s move on in our study starting at verse eleven.
“It was he who gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers to prepare God’s people for works of service, so that the body of Christ be built up 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. 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 men in their deceitful scheming. Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will in all things grow up into him who is the head, that is, Christ. 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.” (Ephesians 4, verses 11-16, NIV)
In this passage we see Paul finishing making his earlier point that we should all live up to what God has called us to do. Different people do different things within the body of Christ so that the entire church is edified for the glory of God. Contrary to what you may have heard or read, not all speak in tongues and not all are evangelists. Paul pointed this out 2,000 years ago and, in this respect, his writings continue to be ignored and misinterpreted to this day by certain religious denominations, whether by accident or not. One does not have to speak in tongues in order to have Holy Spirit baptism as one denomination – whom I will decline to name in the interest of Christian unity – continues to erroneously preach. You will recall from our previous study of 1st Corinthians chapter 14 that there are many gifts of the Spirit. Although I can and sometimes do pray in tongues, I tend to keep it to myself since there is no one there to interpret as the apostle Paul specified. It does not matter what one does within the body of Christ, and there is no one calling that is any better or worse than any other. To quote one well-known preacher, “God isn’t looking for ability, He’s looking for availability”. Obeying the teachings of Christ means that everyone has unconditional equality before the Lord. Human equality is Scriptural and of Christ, but inequality of any kind is sin in God’s sight. This can be inequality based on race or national origin, on age or with respect to gender, based on disability or preexisting condition, and worst of all based on economic inequality due to the hoarding of wealth and liquid assets by America’s “top 1%”.
When we do all these things, Paul writes, we enable ourselves to become mature in the Lord, growing in measure of truth and faith as He enables us. “We will no longer be infants”, Paul wrote, “tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of men in their deceitful scheming”. Remember Jesus’ teaching from the four gospels, which was, “I am the good shepherd, I know my sheep and they know me”? I believe this was exactly what the apostle Paul was referring to when he wrote what he did. If we are to be true believers instead of being mere bench (or pew) warmers, our faith will be rewarded with discernment and Spiritual wisdom. We will be able to spot phony preachers and bogus Christians, and we will be empowered to steer away from cults of various kinds.
The end result of what happens when we follow all these teachings is that we will all find ourselves “speaking the truth in love, we will in all things grow up into him who is the head, that is, Christ. 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.” So when we speak the truth of Christ, we are to do so in love so we may best exemplify Him, but never with harsh judgment as a few “Christians” enjoy doing from time to time. It’s not our job to judge others, as the Bible repeatedly warns us, because that’s God’s job, and then only at the end of the age as we have visualized it from His Word. Jesus already taught us what happens in the absence of humans judging others at the Sermon on the Mount when he said, “Blessed are the merciful, for they will obtain mercy” (Matt. 5:7). God’s word is total love, and Jesus Christ is that same love personified. His new command, wrote the apostle John, is that we love one another (1st John 3:11). If we spend the rest of the week thinking up ways to do that, believers will be well on their way to a deeper and well-grounded relationship with Christ. But the best part of all is that many non-believers will find themselves compelled to ask to be saved as a result of the unconditional love of Christ Jesus. His blood has already been shed, it’s up to us to make the affirmative decision for Christ. Go ahead, it’s OK, just ask him right now!