One God, One Church

Ephesians 4:4-6

Audio Version

Our Daily Bread has this story to tell: during World War II, Hitler commanded all religious groups to unite so that he could control them. Among the Brethren assemblies, half complied and half refused. Those who went along with the order had a much easier time. Those who did not, faced harsh persecution. In almost every family of those who resisted, someone died in a concentration camp. When the war was over, feelings of bitterness ran deep between the groups and there was much tension. Finally they decided that the situation had to be healed. Leaders from each group met at a quiet retreat. For several days, each person spent time in prayer, examining his own heart in the light of Christ’s commands. Then they came together. Francis Schaeffer, who told of the incident, asked a friend who was there, “What did you do then?” “We were just one,” he replied. As they confessed their hostility and bitterness to God and yielded to His control, the Holy Spirit created a spirit of unity among them. Love filled their hearts and dissolved their hatred. When love prevails among believers, especially in times of strong disagreement, it presents to the world an indisputable mark of a true follower of Jesus Christ. Now, we are not talking about organizational union only. As the old saying goes, “There can be union without unity: tie two cats together by their tails and throw them over a clothesline.” We are not talking about organizational union, but rather unity in the faith. As A.W. Tozer says, “Has it ever occurred to you that one hundred pianos all tuned to the same fork are automatically tuned to each other? They are of one accord by being tuned, not to each other, but to another standard to which each one must individually bow. So one hundred worshipers [meeting] together, each one looking away to Christ, are in heart nearer to each other than they could possibly be, were they to become ‘unity’ conscious and turn their eyes away from God to strive for closer fellowship.” What is Paul talking about in these verses? He is talking about unity. Because there is one God, there is one body.

As has been said, we are now in the more practical section of Paul’s letter. Again, that does not mean non-doctrinal, nor are the first three chapter impractical. Doctrine and practice go together, always. Here Paul weaves in and out from doctrine to practice and back again. Last week we saw that we are supposed to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. That phrase is a sort of jumping-off point for Paul to talk about unity. What kind of unity are we talking about? That is the question Paul answers here.

Paul uses the word “one” over and over again; seven times in fact. That is probably no accident. Three of these occurrences refer to the members of the Holy Trinity. The other four occurrences refer to what God has done, or created. So, there is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, on the one hand, and there is one body, one hope, one faith, and one baptism.

Let’s start with God. The doctrine of the Trinity is very important to Paul. God is one God, who exists in three persons. That the three Persons of the One God exist together in the closest unity and union is proof that it is possible for us to live together by the grace of God in true unity. Now, there are differences, of course, between how the Three persons of the Godhead live as one God, and how we as believers live as one body of Christ. For instance, each person of the Trinity is fully God, whereas each one of us is not fully in another person in the congregation. So, the analogy does not hold for everything. However, Jesus does in fact pray that the unity which the disciples are to have with each other will be like the unity which He has with the Father. This is enormously important for us to grasp. We cannot be the true image of the Triune God unless we have unity together in the body of Christ. And, since the image of God is precisely what is restored to us when we become Christians, and the church is where that image is fully shown, therefore our behavior in the church is supposed to look like the Holy Trinity itself in its unity.

That kind of thought is too much for us. We should be driven to a realization of our own sinfulness, especially in how we treat one another. We are not unity-loving people. We want everyone to think we are, because a hateful person (or at least a person who is perceived as being hateful) will have no chances in society. However, we are not really that unity minded, most of the time. We must confess our lack of love for one another, and go directly to our Lord, as Paul says, our One Lord. As Tozer says, we must tune our hearts to the Master tuning fork, which is Jesus Christ. Tune your heart to that standard, and you will be in tune with the rest of the body of Christ.

The way to do that is to focus on Jesus Christ. The minute you try to go your own way in life apart from what Jesus Christ has revealed to you, you will be in a profound discord with the body of Christ. I am not saying that we lose ourselves into the community, and erase our own identity. What I am saying is that the good of the body should come before the good of ourselves. Indeed, our membership vows state just that: that we will faithfully study the purity and peace of the church.

The unity which Paul is talking about is not some kind of abstract unity that has no wheels on the ground for our daily lives. No, it is a unity built upon the truth of the Gospel. Again, we must never sacrifice truth for the sake of unity. Rather, we must base our unity upon the truth. Let me repeat that: we must never sacrifice truth for the sake of unity. Rather, we must base our unity upon the truth. So, if we are all the same body of Christ, and we are all saved by the blood of the Lamb, then we are one body.

Maybe the most obvious application of this truth is in the realm of marriage. There, two people have become one flesh, as the Bible states. But how close are you to your spouse? Do you find yourselves going in different directions? Do you quarrel all the time? Do you compete all the time? Do you bear with one another in the bond of peace, or are you always fighting? Here is one simple rule that can save you a lot of heartache, and will preserve your unity as one flesh: always go to sleep with your problems resolved. Never let the sun go down on your anger, as the Bible says. If there is an issue in your life regarding an offense, do not say, “Let’s resolve it tomorrow.” Now, I’m not talking about major decisions about which you might disagree. Those may take longer than one evening. What I am talking about are offenses. Never go to sleep without resolving those. That way, you will not keep a long list of wrongs done by your spouse that you keep bringing up time after time. However, this principle is applicable for all relationships, not just for marriage. Do not let the sun go down on your anger. Do not let offenses burn a canker sore into your soul. There is one body.

There is also one hope. One hope means that we all expect the same thing to happen at the end of time: Christ will come back and the bride of Christ will be completely ready, free of such dis-unifying things as heresies, selfishness, idolatry, and all other sins. If we were only to focus more of our thoughts and energies towards remembering that hope that is ours, we would be far more unified as a church than we are. By the way, I do not mean to be too hard on our churches, since we are unified on many things. And this should also be encouraging to us, since we know that God will in fact bring about unity among us. It is not the case that God is simply going to let the church go her own way without His having a hand in where she goes. Therefore, she will go in a more unifying direction. God will see to it.

The truth aspect of this unity is clear in the phrase “one faith.” We possess one apostolic faith. That is, we do not hold to anything different than what the apostles themselves taught. They taught the truth. We must cling to the truth at all costs. The truth of the Gospel is the one thing that we will never sacrifice in our quest for unity. For it must be a unity that is centered on the truth. Today is an age of ecumenical endeavor. That is, people want to erase the distinctions among the various denominations. They want Roman Catholics and Evangelicals to get together, Lutherans and Reformed people to get together, Baptists and Anglicans, and so on. However, the unity of which Paul speaks is not an organizational unity. It is a (S)spiritual unity, as he explicitly says “the unity of the Spirit.” If we start trying to erase all the differences among the various denominations, then we will actually sacrifice truth in the quest for unity. We must not do that. Instead, as one denomination seeks to connect with other denominations, we must openly acknowledge our differences, and celebrate what we have in common. We have to be careful here, as well, since some things are more important than others. For instance, justification by faith alone is at the heart of the Gospel. We cannot change that or give one little bit of ground on that, or else the Gospel itself is lost. However, the question of whether a baptism should be by dunking a person under the water, or by sprinkling that person is not something over which we should divide. Some things are closer to the center of the Gospel than others. In those central things, we must be rigid. We cannot be blown about by every wind of doctrine that comes down the pike. However, in those less important things, we must exercise charity. That is the real way of keeping true Christian unity with all other believers in the world.

Lastly, Paul says that we have one baptism. Baptism is a visible sign (water) that points us to the invisible spiritual reality (Christ’s blood atoning for our sins). Baptism means the same thing for everyone, whatever they may believe about it. It is the sign that points us to the spiritual reality.

Are you seeking that unity with other believers? Are you seeking to make the church look like the Holy Trinity as much as possible? Do it by God’s grace, for He is working in you both to will and to do His good, pleasing, and perfect will.

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