Tag Archives: unity

Eager For Unity

Ephesians 4:1-7 begins with a command. Paul urges the reader (including us today) to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which they (including us) have been called. We’ve all heard this command preached on more than one occasion. It’s a favorite, especially in holiness circles. We are commanded to walk (to live our lives) in a manner (a way) worthy (equal to, fitting to) the calling to which we have been called. Paul goes on to define this worthy walk.

This walk, worthy of the calling, is defined by Paul with three nouns and two participial phrases. He describes it as a walk (way of life) marked by humility, gentleness and patience. These are the three nouns. Interestingly, if one’s walk is marked by these nouns, it would be safe to assume that walk would demonstrate the details given in the following participial phrases. These phrases tell us to “bear with one another in love” and to be “eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.” It seems if one is humble, gentle and patient, there is no need to include these last two. However, Paul is dealing with something the church has dealt with throughout her history—disunity. We easily find excuses to divide. Paul is adding some detail to give greater emphasis to the unifying side of the worthy walk.

I want to zone in on this last part for this blog post. Paul includes in a worthy walk being “eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit.” Some translations lose something here. The NIV, for example, translates this as “make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit.” But this merely means doing everything involved in keeping the peace. It misses the element of drive, push or haste. Let’s say I have a project to accomplish. I can expend every effort to accomplish the project and do so simply out of a sense of obligation. I would do everything needed to accomplish the project, but not really care if it works or fails—“It failed, but I did my part.” I can also not care how long the project takes, because there is a lack of haste or passion in my actions. In the same way, the NIV translation of this make it sound like Paul is saying to do what is needed or appropriate to maintain unity, without any reference to our drive, passion or zeal. It seems to reduce it to nothing but an action commanded. But the passage is much more powerful than this. The HCSB translates this as “diligently keeping the unity of the Spirit.” This, at least, gives some of the emphasis Paul places upon the command.

Paul is not just telling us to work at being united. Paul is not just including such unity as part of our walk. He is telling us to strive for, to be eager for, to diligently desire and work to maintain that unity. Unity of the body to which we are called (the Church Universal and the local expression of the church, where he has placed us). We should desire unity more than our own way. We should eagerly seek to keep the church together—even if it means giving up our own way and our own desires. That , after all, is part of the humility which he earlier used to describe the worthy life. We should desire unity even if it means dealing with our imperfect fellow Christians—even when it hurts. That, after all, is part of the patience which he earlier used to describe the worthy life. We should desire and work toward unity even when it would be far easier to attack and drive out those we find difficulty. That, after all, is part of the gentleness which he earlier used to describe the worthy life.

Paul commands us (God commands us through Paul) to bear one another’s burdens and eagerly strive to keep the church together as a united whole. We are not to drive those out or separate ourselves from our fellow believers. We are to strive to keep the church together. The only reasons to ever drive one out of the church is heresy (2 John 1:10) or discipline (1 Corinthians 5:5). Even that is meant to bring them back to repentance and back to the fold as fully restored members (2 Corinthians 2:6-7).

Be eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. This command (σπουδάζοντες) tells us to do this quickly, with haste, without waiting. When some action or behavior disrupts our unity, or breaches the bond of peace, we are commanded to quickly (eagerly, with haste) strive for restoration. This is a direct command to each of us—me, you and everyone else called to salvation by Christ.


Disagreement is Essential to Teaching

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Yesterday, I had a wonderful conversation with a nice couple who had some questions about our church, our beliefs and what I teach on various subjects. It was a pleasure to visit with them, to get to know them and to see how much we were in agreement. However, no matter how much we agreed, I warned them “Eventually, I am going to teach something that you will disagree with. It is inevitable and will happen. It is important how we handle that.”

Every church and every pastor faces such disagreements at one time or another. Of course, with many individual believers this problem never occurs because many Christians view church mostly from the aesthetic. The average Christian knows what they like and pick a church based on that. For some it’s a charismatic pastor, an exciting mixture of programs, or an energetic worship band.

Then there are Christians who find the teaching most important. These folks want to know what a church teaches, what a pastor believes. These are often the folks with the most to offer a church because they take the Word of God seriously enough to take time to study it. Conversations with such believers are usually the most constructive and, for me, the most enjoyable.

My thoughts this morning turned to my statement quoted above. It is true and inevitable that there will someday be disagreement between the one preaching/teaching the Word and the one hearing. This is actually a central tenet of teaching. If we both (teacher and student) agree on everything, then no actual teaching happens—at most you have reinforcement. Biblical teaching implies that the teacher holds a biblical view which he seeks to impart to another. This assumes disagreement—assuming the student lacks that view. The teacher must demonstrate why the listener should agree.

It’s less important in this setting that we start out agreeing on every point. It is most important that we start out agreeing to tolerate the difference and allow the person teaching to prove their point. Of course, it is then upon the teacher to do so. But the student should be able to look beyond the disagreement and fairly assess the teaching. If you hear your pastor say something you disagree with, and you shut down refusing to hear why he believes that, then you are not being a good disciple, but are being obstinate. If the pastor says, ‘This is what I believe and you must concur regardless of how weak my argument” then the pastor is a tyrant with more interest in indoctrination than teaching.

Does your pastor live a godly life? Does your pastor demonstrate the truth of the gospel and work hard to teach the Word honestly and correctly? Then give him the benefit of the doubt, listen to his teaching and then examine it in the light of the Word. The solution to differences is not division, but an examination of the Scriptures to find the truth.