The Unity Of The Spirit
W. E. Vine, Bath
AT the beginning of the fourth chapter of Ephesians believers are exhorted to walk “worthily of the calling” wherewith they were called, a walk to be characterised by “all lowliness and meekness with longsuffering, forbearing one another in love.” For this it is necessary to give diligence (not merely to endeavour, but to make it their business) “to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.”
Unity can exist only where we have a right estimate of ourselves, a realisation of our own littleness and demerit, and that unassuming self-abasement which is a reflection of the lowliness of Christ; when, too, we exercise that spirit of glad submissiveness to God's dealings which produces considerateness towards others even when under provocation, the “invincible might of meekness,” which reflects the meekness of Christ and overcomes evil with good. To these is to be added the longsuffering which patiently bears with unreasonableness and meets disappointments with quiet fortitude. Only so can we forbear one another in love. That kind of forbearance is not studied courtesy or frigid endurance, but is characterised by the holy attachment which binds believers together in the bonds of Christian love.
The unity is there; it is not for us to make it. The Church is one, a Divine entity. The Spirit of God makes it so. As the presence of the Holy Spirit imparts to the Church its fitness to be God’s Temple (11. 22), so His power imparts its unity to it. That unity is not formed by man, nor by any ecclesiastical organisation on earth. Human arrangements and institutions may devise, and have devised, something which possesses a show of uniformity from the natural point of view, but the unity of the true Body of Christ of which Scripture speaks, is spiritual in its course of development and heavenly in its position and character, its design and destiny.
There is no hint here, or anywhere else in the New Testament, of anything like unity consisting of the combination of a number of communities, or assemblies, delimited by geographical conditions, or formed into earthly associations or circles of fellowship, nor is there any hint of a number of churches bound together by the bonds either of formulated religious creeds or of human tradition. No matter whether such communities are organised by mutual consent or under a church council or any form of ecclesiastical authority centralised in a given locality, all such combinations are a distinct departure from the plain teaching of Christ and His Apostles. They do not constitute the unity spoken of in this passage or any other in the Word of God. They satisfy the aspirations of men but are contrary to the mind of the Lord.
All bitterness, and wrath, and anger, and clamour and railing, and all malice are to be put away from us; we are to be kind one to another, tenderhearted, forgiving each other, even as God also in Christ forgave us (verses 31, 32). In maintaining unity thus in the local church, our harmonious conduct would be in conformity with the unity of the Spirit which pervades the whole spiritual Body.
The risen and glorified Head has made provision for the spiritual direction and care of each local assembly. The traditions of men and the bondage, or con fusion, which has been brought about by them have naught to do with the unity formed by the Holy Spirit. Where a local church acts in conformity with the teaching of the Word of God, it is thereby an expression of the unity of the Spirit.
There are elements of unity which characterise the whole. These are enumerated in verses 4 to 6: “There is one body, and one Spirit, even as ye were also called in one hope of your calling; one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.” The mention of the Trinity, “one Spirit,” “one Lord,” “one God and Father of all,” is significant. The Spirit is put first, for the immediate subject dealt with is the unity of the Spirit. Associated with Him are the spiritual and heavenly unities of the Body and the hope of our calling.
The next three unities are associated with Christ. They have to do with public witness; firstly, the acknowledgment of Christ as Lord; secondly, the one faith, the complete Divine revelation, which testifies of Christ; he who holds it confesses Him; thirdly, the one baptism, an ordinance involving the public recognition of, and identification with, Christ as Lord. Then, to crown all, “there is one God and Father of all, who is over all” (His transcendence and supremacy), “and through all” (His pervading and controlling power), “and in all” (His indwelling and sustaining presence).
All these constitute “the unity of the Spirit” (verse 3), and they are enumerated as inducements for us to give diligence to keep this unity in the bond of Peace. They have to do with the one Church, the Body of Christ, in which all believers are thus united to Him. Its unity is not yet visible, for the Head is not visible, but it will become so when He is manifested and His saints with Him.