The Unity of the Spirit (1)

C. Gahan, Ilminster

Part 1 of 2 of the series The Unity of the Spirit

Category: Study

“Endeavouring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace”, Ephesians 4. 3.

Commentators see in the opening verses of this chapter seven unities; but is not this a case of not seeing the wood for the trees? In the Holy Trinity there is one Father, one Son and one Holy Spirit, but we do not speak of them as being three unities for to do so would be to miss the essential nature of the Godhead. The Godhead is a Trinity, a Trinity in perfect unity for these three are one. So it is in this passage: to see seven unities in these verses is to miss the essence of things. The truth of the Church was very much on the apostle’s mind when he wrote this Epistle, and this is what we have here. This unity of which the apostle here speaks is that living unity formed by the Holy Spirit on the Day of Pentecost when that which had been but a thought in the mind of God now became a glorious reality. In other words: this unity is that divine institution which in Matthew 16 our Lord calls, “my church”.

The Church is essentially a unity; it has many component parts, many members, but together they make one whole and the binding, cementing bond is the Holy Spirit. Individual assemblies are intended to be the local expression of this unity and all too often they come far short of this, but disunity in the local church cannot affect the fundamental unity of the Church as a whole. This is the unity of these verses; not the unity of a local company of believers, but that immutable, indestructible unity of the Spirit, exemplified in the Church as distinct from its local counterpart, the assembly. To this unity we shall now give our attention: in verse 3 of this chapter the apostle mentions the fact of this unity, and in verses 4 to 6 he explains it.

What it is. It is the unity of one body. This is one of Paul’s favourite metaphors of the Church; he constantly speaks of the Church as a body, a body of which Christ is the Head and all believers are members. This analogy is very striking and instructive; the absolute oneness, interdependence, and sympathy of the members of the human body, and their complete dependence on the life-giving head, fitly represent the divine ideal of the Church of God. Thus the relation in which believers stand to each other corresponds with that which subsists between the members of the human body: “So we, being many, are one body in Christ, and every one members one of another”, Rom. 12. 5. This unity of the Spirit, therefore, is the unity of a body, a unity of life. The Church is not a dead organization, it is a living organism; and it is the unity of one body and not many. In the Scriptures the word “bodies” is never used of the Church or its local counterpart, the assembly. The Church is one body and anything not framed after the pattern of the one body can never be of God.

Further, this unity of the Spirit, the Church, is the unity of one Spirit. As in the human body there is but one spirit, so, also, there is but one Spirit in the body, the Church. The Church is not only constituted one body, it is animated and pervaded by one Spirit: “For by one Spirit we are all baptized into one body, whether we be Jews or Gentiles, whether we be bond or free; and have all been made to drink into one Spirit”, 1 Cor. 12. 13. On the Day of Pentecost the Holy Spirit came down from heaven upon about one hundred and twenty believers who were gathered together at Jerusalem, and that coming was the baptism of the Spirit. By that one baptism all believers were united to the risen Head in glory and all became members of His body; hitherto they had been disciples but now they are the Church of God. This was a new thing and it came with the coming of the Holy Spirit; from that moment it could be said, “there is one body, and one Spirit”. Nor has the Holy Spirit ever departed from that first inauguration; it is as true today as it was then. The same divine Spirit is in the body and its members today, guiding, sustaining and unifying them. What a blessed unity! To introduce faction, strife and division where this unity truly exists is a very solemn thing indeed. Nothing can be more grieving to the Holy Spirit than to disrupt that which He would bind together. What a cogent argument this for loving our brethren, and as far as in us lies, being at peace with them.

Again, this unity of the Spirit, the Church, is the unity of one hope. As members of the one body we are not only called to a common fellowship, we are called to a common hope, and hope implies something future. We have a great deal now but we have not got everything; we are “looking for that blessed hope, and the glorious appearing of the great God and our Saviour Jesus Christ”, Titus 2. 13. This is the great hope of the body, the Church; the hope that a day is coming when she shall be worthy of Him and becoming to Him. In that day He will present the Church to himself, “a glorious church, not having spot or wrinkle, or any such thing; but that it should be holy and without blemish”, Eph. 5. 27.

More than this, this unity of the Spirit, the Church, is the unity of one Lord. Christendom has lords many; small wonder it is a divided Christendom! There are men in Christendom today who lord it over God’s heritage, who assume titles and claim authority over human souls. Little do such men know of the Church of the New Testament; the Church which was inaugurated by the Holy Spirit on the Day of Pentecost has but one Lord. In the words of our Lord, “one is your Master, even Christ”, Matt. 23. 8; we have but “one Lord Jesus Christ, by whom are all things”, 1 Cor. 8. 6. The Church is a divine institution of which Jesus Christ is Lord, and here His authority must be supreme. So it will be in every Christian assembly after the New Testament pattern; if the assembly is built along the lines of God’s Word, the Lordship of Christ in worship and service will be constantly recognized. With anything less than this the assembly loses its distinct character; in the assembly as in the Church, Jesus Christ is Lord. It follows, therefore, that no one has any right to impose his will or way in the assembly, that no one has any right to lay down rules and regulations for the assembly. While the Scriptures recognize godly rule by elders in the assembly, it is clear that all such rule must be according to the Word of God. The assembly is the Lord’s and all in the assembly, from the greatest to the least, must be subject to Him. Thus, the Church’s unity is the unity of one Lord and forgetfulness of this has produced factions, schools and parties.

Furthermore, this unity of the Spirit, the Church, is the unity of one faith. In this divine system we have: one basis of faith, “the faith which was once delivered unto the saints”, Jude 3; one saving faith, “For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God”, Eph. 2. 8; one justifying faith, “Therefore being justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ”, Rom. 5. 1; one rule of faith, the Scriptures. “All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness”, 2 Tim. 3. 16. In the Scriptures the Church has her one and only standard of faith and godliness, her one and only final court of appeal in all matters pertaining to doctrine and practice. Faith, therefore, is a fundamental element in this great unity.

Again, this unity of the Spirit, the Church, is the unity of one baptism. Many expositors see water baptism here, but if water baptism should come in here, why not the Lord’s Supper? Both these ordinances are equally binding and if the one should come in here so should the other. The fact is that the subject of these verses is the inner unity of the Spirit, the Church, but outward ordinances are another matter. A man can be a member of the body of Christ without baptism and the Lord’s Supper, but no man can be a member of the body of Christ without “the washing of regeneration, and the renewing of the Holy Spirit”, Titus 3. 5. Water baptism brings us into the place of profession but it cannot bring us into the one body. The baptism of these verses is that inner baptism of the Spirit by which, and in virtue of which, all believers are brought into that divine system, the unity of the Spirit, the Church. This does not mean that every new believer must have a fresh baptism of the Spirit before he can become a member of the Church. The baptism of the Holy Spirit on the Day of Pentecost was once and for all; that baptism came with the coming of the Church and it embraces all who ever have been, and all who ever will be saved. In virtue of that one baptism all believers, past, present and future, are brought into the one body. That baptism can never be repeated; and herein lies the difference between the sealing of the Spirit and the baptism of the Spirit. The sealing is individual, the baptism is collective; when a believer is saved he is sealed with the Spirit and automatically he becomes a member of that body inaugurated at Pentecost by the baptism of the Spirit. Some speak of a baptism of the Spirit as a kind of second blessing: they teach that it is necessary to ask for, to wait for, and to expect a baptism of the Spirit after and distinct from conversion. Such teaching has no warrant in Scripture; the Scriptures do not teach a new or second baptism of the Spirit. The baptism of the Spirit was peculiar to Pentecost, and there cannot be a second Pentecost any more than you can have a second Calvary.

We must distinguish between the baptism of the Spirit and the filling of the Spirit; the Scriptures teach one baptism of the Spirit but many fillings. There is no record of the apostles who were baptised on the Day of Pentecost ever being baptised of the Spirit again; but they were filled with the Spirit, and that on more than one occasion. When believers speak of having a baptism of the Spirit as a kind of second blessing, the probability is that they have had the filling of the Spirit, and this we can have, and may need to have, many times. It is a misnomer, therefore, to call it a second blessing.

One other important element of this unity requires our attention here: this unity of the Spirit, the Church, is the unity of one God and Father. Thus we come to the top-stone of this great unity, which is the unity of one all-pervading God and Father. He is the cause, the pledge, and the fountain Head of this unity; it finds its consummation in Him. In this divine system of things He is “above all”, “and through all”, “and in you all”; by the Holy Spirit He rules over all, works through all, and dwells in all its members. In this great unity He is the supreme and only Potentate working all things after the counsel of His own will.

Such is the unity of the Spirit, the Church, as set before us in these verses. What a striking contrast to the glamorized and highly organized religious systems of today! How many have been connected, and how many are connected with these systems, who in spirit know nothing of the one body, the one Spirit, the one hope, the one Lord, the one faith, the one baptism, and the one God and Father!

To be concluded.