The Unity of the Spirit

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

What it Implies.

We have seen what this unity of the Spirit, the Church, is; it is the unity of one body, of one Spirit, of one hope, of one Lord, of one faith, of one baptism, and of one God and Father. These constitute the unifying facts, but there is something essential to, and characteristic of this unity, namely, it is a unity in diversity. In the Church “there are diversities of gifts, but the same Spirit. There are differences of administrations, but the same Lord. And there are diversities of operations, but it is the same God which worketh all in all”, 1 Cor. 12. 4-6. There can be no true unity without diversity; hence it follows that unity is not uniformity. There are religious systems in the world today whose leaders have long boasted of their unity and to this unity they are inviting all and sundry, but when we come to analyse this unity we discover it is just a cold, dead, barren uniformity, and uniformity is produced, not by the Spirit of God, but by the subjection of the many to the domination of the few. The beautiful harmonies of music are not produced by a single note or the same notes, but by a combination of different notes. No real music can be produced by a single note, and there will be very little music for God in that assembly where everybody is expected to do and say the same thing in the same way. This is the teaching of verses 7 to 12 of this chapter; diversity marks the Church of God, even as it marks the works of God. We have a striking example of this in the body described in these verses. The human body has a diversity of parts, and this diversity is not only consistent with, but essential to its unity. Every organ of the human body has a diversity of parts necessary to the unity of the whole. So, also, with the Church, the body of Christ; it is marked by diversity in perfect unity. In this great unity each member has his place and function, and every member is expected to make an active contribution to the well-being of the whole body.

Two diversities are mentioned in Ephesians 4: diversities of grace and diversities of gifts. In verse 7 it is diversities of grace: “But unto every one of us is given grace according to the measure of the gift of Christ”. We are all given the same grace but not the same graces; the grace is given to us, but the graces are measured to us according to our need and with a view to our place and function in the one body. Moreover, the position of each member in the body is determined not by itself, but by the Lord. He it is who chooses and fits each member for his place in the body. In verse 11 it is diversities of gifts. Grace is given to all and special gifts are given to some: “And he gave some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some pastors and teachers”. The apostles and prophets have long since passed away; they were divinely inspired men and there is not the slightest proof that such men exist today. Such men were needed until the whole Word of God was in the hands of the Church, but when the canon of Scripture was completed their work was finished. Apostles and prophets were the foundation gifts upon which the Church was built and now it is the responsibility of the evangelist, pastor and teacher to provide the material for the superstructure.

The evangelist is mentioned before the pastor and teacher for obvious reasons; without the evangelist the pastor and teacher would soon run short of building stones. The evangelist is one of the most precious gifts of the ascended Lord to His Church, and it ought to be a matter for much prayer and heartsearching that there are so few evangelists among us. Of preachers there are many, of evangelists there are few; the true evangelist has that indefinable something which the average preacher has not. He will certainly have an overmastering passion for souls and an unquenchable thirst for their salvation. A divine compulsion will be upon him, and the language of his heart will be, “woe is unto me, if I preach not the gospel”, 1 Cor. 9. 16. The love of Christ, not less than the command of Christ, will constrain him. For this work God needs more men free from business cares; like Philip of the New Testament, the evangelist must be ready to go anywhere and everywhere to preach the Gospel. Such men must be men of the Bible and much prayer, men who are meet for the Holy Spirit’s use. Moreover, evangelistic work is arduous and demanding, and with spirit, soul, mind and body must the evangelist give himself to it. His work will not begin and end with preaching the Gospel; he must be intensely interested in people, and he must get among them and into their homes. We thank God for the brethren among us who are doing this kind of evangelistic work, and we can greatly help them by taking a prayerful, practical interest in their work, remembering, “Even so hath the Lord ordained that they which preach the gospel should live of the gospel”, 1 Cor. 9. 14.

The pastor and teacher are both mentioned together because often these two gifts are invested in the same person. The evangelist works outside; the pastor and teacher work inside. The evangelist seeks out the souls for whom Christ died; the pastor comforts and shepherds the Lord’s flock, and the teacher instructs the children of God in the truth of God. The best way to keep the sheep from straying is to provide them with good pasture; hence the importance of the pastor and teacher. The local Christian assembly without a pastor and teacher will languish or lose its New Testament character. Here also the taught should bear the burden of the teacher: “Let him that is taught in the word communicate unto him that teacheth in all good things”, Gal. 6. 6. Since he ministered to us in spiritual things, we ought to minister to him in temporal things, Rom. 15. 27.

So much for the diverse gifts and graces in these verses in Ephesians 4; in the words of verse 12 they have been given by the ascended Lord to His Church “For the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ”. Thus in connection with the unity of the Spirit, the Church, we have been thinking of What it Is and What it Implies; one other thing remains, we must consider -

What it Involves.

An important obligation is here laid upon us, and that obligation is set before us in the word “keep”. On God’s part, as we have seen, “the unity of the Spirit" is an actual subsisting fact; we did not make it, nor can we break it, but we can let go of it, we can ignore and neglect the principles underlying this divine unity. Hence the exhortation in verse 3 to “keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace”, the operating word being the word “keep”. What does this word mean? For one thing it means that we are to guard it as the banker guards the wealth committed to his care by others. Thus Paul wrote to Timothy, “That good thing which was committed unto thee keep by the Holy Spirit which dwelleth in us”, 2 Tim. 1. 14. The truth underlying the unity of the Spirit, the Church, is a solemn trust, a sacred stewardship, and we must guard it. It is a beautiful treasure committed to our care and we must keep it intact. Again, to “keep" this “good thing" is to maintain it. Many talk about Church truth who do not practice it; they take up a New Testament Church position and then do things inconsistent with it. They play fast and loose with these things, forgetting the judgment seat of Christ. Further, to “keep" the unity of the Spirit, the Church, is to teach it. We must let others into the secret; we are not to hide it, we are to make it known to others. Then they can not only share the blessing it brings, they can also share in guarding, maintaining and teaching it.

How are we to keep the unity of the Spirit, the Church? As to the conditions under which it alone can subsist, we are to keep it “in the bond of peace”. Faction, strife and contention will quickly mar this unity and rob it of its simplicity, its loveliness and its power. In what spirit are we to guard, maintain and teach this unity? The answer is to be found in the first three verses of the chapter now before us. We are to expound this unity of the Spirit, the Church, in a proper manner. There must be none of the schoolmaster with a big stick about this; it must not be done in a judging, criticizing spirit. There is a right and wrong way to “keep" the unity of the Spirit; too often we have forgotten this, and instead of drawing people to the truth we have driven them from it.

If we are going “to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace”, we shall need four things. The first is lowliness, what is lowliness? It is deep humility as opposed to pride, arrogance and conceit. The second is meekness; what is meekness? it is the opposite of a pushful, self-assertive, domineering, argumentative spirit. The third is longsuffering; what is longsuffering? It is the opposite of impatience and irritability. The fourth is forbearing one another in love. It must never be forgotten that love is the great healer of discords. Few can resist the invincible might of love. Thus if we would guard the truth, maintain the truth, and teach the truth in a becoming maimer, we must do it humbly, meekly, patiently and lovingly. In these quiet, gentle, unshowy and unpretending graces we have the best qualifications for all who would expound the truth of the divine unity of the Spirit, the Church.


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