The Church’s Calling to Be One
Speaker: Pastor Stephen Choy
Passage: Ephesians 4:1-6
Worship Songs: My Hope Is Built (The Solid Rock), O Church Arise; My Worth Is Not In What I Own (At The Cross); Come, Behold The Wondrous Mystery
Paul’s turning minds from theology to ethics (how to think to how to live)—so what we see here is a re-emphasis on what the gospel does to our whole person—the faithful Christian is someone who is transformed completely from the inside-out, so much so that they urgently pursue gospel-unity in their new family as a direct result of the grace they’ve been shown in Christ. He/she is transformed in his/her attitudes (mind/heart) and actions (body). His/her mind is humbled, clothed with meekness, and long-suffering for others. His/her body bears with the pain and trials of fellow brothers and sisters all whilst urgently seeking to do what he/she can to keep the unity of the Spirit intact through reliance on Christ’s binding gospel. This inside-out theme from Paul is carried over in why unity is an essential aspect of the Christian life—we have one Lord in the gospel, which brings us one hope of our future redemption, leading to one invisible Spirit that bears out in one faith for all in Jesus, and resulting in one body, visibly manifested in the world and representationally experienced in one baptism (the inaugurating event into membership of the Church for each believer)—the gospel makes us one new people through and through. It is the gospel of Christ that transforms our life from the inside-out. Where we were once alone and broken in sin, God through his transcendent sovereignty and imminent personality has sent Christ to bring us by his blood into a new covenant community with each other as his holy family. In this family, we love him by serving one another. What a joy it is to be the people of God.
- How has/have the truth(s) of the gospel affected you in your daily walk recently and how you treat other Christians? How has it affected you on an individual level to love Christ more?
- How have you grown cold to the gospel and its life-giving truth, and how has that affected your personal walk, willingness to serve or love others at church, give of your resources to each other generously? Why do you think you’ve grown cold to it?
- In your honest opinion, do you think highly of Christ and the gospel on a regular basis? Is your heart still warmed at the thought and implication of his coming to die for you and save you from sin?
- Do you separate parts of your life in your mind between spiritual things and “other” things?
- Do you separate in your actions the times where you bear with Christians and urgently pursue a gospel-centered unity with them?
- Are you proactive in your week to seek the welfare of your fellow Christians, especially those at TCCBC?
- Where have you seen growth in your humility, gentleness, patience? Where have you desired to see more of these things in your life?
- How can you be serving one another today?
- How can you be serving TCCBC this week?
The Church’s Calling to be One – Ephesians 4:1-6
If I were to ask you what the greatest reveal in cinematic history was, most of you would probably say, Star Wars Episode 2 or 5 depending on what generation you grew up in, and what you think of the prequels. But, as we all know, Luke, who can barely call himself a Jedi at this point, is facing off against Darth Vader—the most powerful Sith in the universe. This battle should have been over within seconds. But it drags on. Lightsabers strike. Things crack and crash. Arms are chopped off. Luke is cornered, and then it happens. “Obi-Wan never told you what happened to your father.” Luke responds, “He told me enough! He told me you killed him!” To which Vader replies, “No, I am your Father.” See, now we get it. We get why Vader petitioned with the Emperor to keep Luke alive and to turn him to the dark side. The fact of Vader’s fatherhood forms the basis for Vader’s desire to keep him alive. The facts dictate the command over his actions. The facts ground the action. If you don’t know the facts, then when you’re commanded to do something, you’ll feel less inclined to do it, because you don’t have all the facts!
Our text today is the start of Paul’s discussion with the Ephesians about how they are to act. They are to act in a certain way because they have received certain facts. In fact, prior to chapter 4, they had been given a total of 1 command in chapter 2:11: Remember who you were, then, as Gentiles, so that you might know who you are now in Christ. The rest of chapters 1-3, Paul gives them facts. They’re packed with theological density. Now, in chapters 4-6:20, Paul wants to give you the commands, and we know that this is the shift that Paul is making because compared with the 1 command in chapters 1-3, you get 40 of them here in chapters 4-6. Now that you know the facts, you ought to know how to act because of those facts. This morning we look at the first command. So, let us now turn to the start of Paul’s imperatives in Ephesians 4:1-6. TWoL.
Therefore, I, the prisoner of the Lord, implore you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling with which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, showing tolerance for one another in love, being diligent to preserve the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit, just as also you were 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.
Our proposition guiding our outline for this morning is quite simple: Be Faithful as One in Christ. And there are three components in our proposition: a call to unity or oneness, a call to be faithful, and a call to be in Christ, and this formulates our outline this morning. The proposition answers
- The Who and the What – who issues the call and what is it we are called to?
- The How – how are we to answer the call?
- The Why – why are we called?
1) The What
This first verse in chapter 4 is the topic sentence for the whole section until the end of chapter 6, and like many of his big thematic switches in the middle of his epistles, Paul starts verse 1 with the word, “Therefore.” We’ve come to love this word over the last couple of weeks, haven’t we TCCBC? Because the word, “Therefore, carries so much significance, and it’s no difference in our passage. There’s a switch taking place here, and Paul is saying based on what you were as children of wrath saved by grace through faith in the blood of Christ all of that wasn’t just head knowledge. All of it was not just for the purpose of giving you facts. You’re to take the breadth, length, height, and depth of the knowledge of Christ’s love and allow yourself to surpass it being just mere knowledge. It isn’t just knowledge, it’s the reason for the very life you’re now supposed to live.
And Who reminds us what our call is? It is I, Paul, the prisoner of the Lord, who implores you to live it. Why does Paul talk about his imprisonment here again? Because he wants the Ephesians to know the plight that he’s willingly subjected himself to for the sake of gospel-unity. Because in seeing his willingness and his sustained joy in the gospel, even in suffering, perhaps they might go to similar lengths to proclaim and display Christ in their own lives.
As an apostle, he could demand them to do this, but instead, he uses softer language—he implores them, he exhorts them, he encourages them, he urges them. It’s not “you must,” it’s “you should,” because it’s for your good.
Not only that, but Paul implies that when we see the gospel, there really is only one thing we can do, and that is to walk in a manner worthy of the calling with which you have been called. This is the What of our proposition. What is it that Paul commands us to do? It is to walk in a manner worthy of your calling. Hardship may come, things may be difficult, like they are for Paul in prison, but if you’ve seen the light—if you’ve beheld the radiance and beauty of Jesus—then we are compelled in our hearts in how to respond.
So, what does it mean to walk in a manner worthy of our calling? Well, it means simply that that as we reflect on the facts of God’s salvation in our lives, our unification with Christ in his resurrection and exaltation, our preservation from a wrathful God, our reconciliation with our human enemies, our adoption and access to God and his family, our divinely ordained purpose in the cosmos—when we consider these facts, we might represent how those facts affect our lives in the world. More than this, we’re to represent them worthily—we don’t dishonour the cause of God in Christ. We don’t disgrace the person of Christ. Those of you who are called Christian, BE CHRISTIAN.
In other words, you were called by Christ through Christ in Christ for Christ. It is Christ who called you. It is Christ’s blood that saves you from sin. It is in Christ that you’re granted access to God. It is for Christ that you now live. And as Christ came to give his life as a ransom for many, we are now called to give our lives for one another. This is the effect of the gospel, this is its calling, even for those whom you hate—in fact, especially those whom you hate. The imperative is to live your life in reflection of what Jesus has done for us—that you were saved to God and for God as you lovingly serve others. So, what are we to be? We are to be one as those who have been purchased by the One Son of God.
2) The How
Nevertheless, it’s not a call for us to be one for the sake of being one, or for the sake of simply serving others. It’s a call for us to walk as a gospel-people in a certain way. Verses 2-3 answer how we are to answer the call. And they’re separated between our attitudes, and our actions.
In verse 2, Paul gives us three internal attitudes that we must have in order to walk in a manner worthy of our gospel-unity: the first is with all humility. I like how one lexicon puts it when it says that humility is “a deep sense of one’s moral littleness.” It’s an internal state of being. One is not humble because they are short or skinny, one is humble because inside, we sense no superiority to another. Moral littleness—if we truly thought and felt this way of ourselves—a deep sense of our inadequacy or moral inability to claim our own supremacy or worthiness—would lead to an incredibly different life, would it not? We would serve the Lord and each other on a completely different level if we truly looked at ourselves this way, but the truth is that we don’t. We fall short of this all the time. I hardly think of my own moral littleness. I hardly think of my sinfulness as the great equalizer between me and my neighbour.
Ultimately, those truly humble aren’t only those who recognize their own moral littleness, but those who recognize that this internal sense has only been perfected in Christ. Christ is the only perfect example of humility—for he alone condescended himself by taking on human flesh and humiliated himself by dying on a cross for sinners. The only way to walk humbly is to understand our moral littleness in comparison to Jesus. The only way to satisfy our calling—the only way that we might be united in the gospel together—is to emulate Jesus by humbling ourselves. You see, the gospel doesn’t position us as those morally superior. No, the more we understand the gospel, the deeper we see our sin. The humble man is a man who never places himself above anyone, not even great sinners. Why? Because none can compare with the one who never sinned. He is the standard by which we constantly fail and fall, but praise be to the Lord that he is also the standard by which we are saved and sanctified. In order to answer the call of gospel unity from Paul, we must be humble as Christ is humble.
Next, we must be attitudinally gentle or meek. There’s a progression here. One who is humble, who sees his moral littleness, is inevitably gentle and meek. The meek person is someone who has a high regard for others’ needs while disregarding any sense of their own rights. When we are humble, when we are lowly, we have no rights in ourselves. We are unworthy of anything or anyone, so how do we react with others, even when they harm us? We act with gentleness because we are not impressed by our own self-importance.
Don’t mistake me here. I am not saying that the gentle or meek person is a pushover. There’s an active component to being gentle. We actively must die to self. We decidedly and voluntarily put the welfare of others above ourselves. We do this, ultimately, because Christ has put our welfare above himself. Christ, in his coming, perfectly personifies meekness and gentleness on the cross, and because he’s paid it all as the High King of Heaven now exalted to reign, you better believe that I can be gentle and meek towards others as well. In order to answer the call of gospel unity from Paul, we must be humble and thus gentle as Christ is humble and gentle.
Third, we are called to be patient. The humble and gentle person is a decidedly patient person. This is not just any kind of patience, like someone waiting at a red light to turn green. The other day, Candace and I, were stopped at a red light, when a car drove into the bike lane to go around us and through a red light at blistering speed. He was clearly not patient. But don’t get me wrong, waiting at a red light is ALSO not patience! True patience is an attribute of God as described in the Old Testament. Another word for it is long-suffering.
It describes God’s attitude towards human sin. He is long-suffering, he waits to punish sin, he gives us chance after chance, he offers us a wellspring of grace constantly—and ultimately, he proves his long-suffering by sending his own Son to pay the penalty of our transgressions. Because of what God has done in being long-suffering with us through his Son, so too are we to be long-suffering with one another. In order to answer the call of gospel unity from Paul, we must be humble leading us to be gentle causing us to be patient as Christ is humble, gentle, and patient with us.
In addition to these three attitudes, Paul lists two actions that we must carry out in order to walk worthy of our call, and the first is in the last part of verse 2, by bearing with one another in love.
This word for bearing with is only used in the Bible in connection with suffering and persecution. What Paul is doing is girding up his readers—persecution is coming, and it is going to be tough. When things get tough—when people are in need around you—bear with them—provide for them, give them what they need so that they might press on. And to what extent do we do this? To the extent that you show your love. Remember what it means to love? Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends. By invoking the word “love,” Paul is telling us that the extent to which you bear with one another in trials and afflictions is to the point where you also share in each other’s trials and afflictions. Tim Keller gives a good and simple explanation of this from Galatians 6 when he says that it’s like coming alongside a friend carrying a heavy table on his own—we ought to bear the burden of that friend by sharing the load.
This may sound easy, but in practice it’s hard. It may mean giving money to someone and not expecting to be paid back. It may mean driving someone a far distance sacrificing your time. It may mean holding your tongue and not winning an argument when the victory means a lot to you. There’s a sacrifice on your part, and you ought to know that it’s not just for the sake of sacrifice, but because of a Christ who sacrificed himself for you even when you were lost in sin and enemies of God—it’s part of that dying to self I mentioned earlier, but it’s not just dying, it’s also living, living for Christ by honouring and bearing with others. In order to answer the call of gospel unity from Paul, we must be inwardly humble, gentle, and patient and outwardly sacrificial, because Christ is humble, gentle, patient, and sacrificial for us.
Lastly, in verse 3, and this is the height of how to live out Paul’s request, the one who is humble is gentle, the gentle person is patient, the patient person bears with a brother or sister who suffers sacrificially, and one who bears with their family sacrificially is one who eagerly makes every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. Paul very often uses this word for “being diligent” in the NASB as “eagerly” or “making one’s best effort.” There’s a forcefulness behind this action—it’s a “TAKE THE INITIATIVE! DO IT NOW!” as Karl Barth says, and it’s an urgency to keep the unity of the Spirit. A humble, gentle, patient, self-sacrificing Christian realizes there really is nothing in ourselves that can’t also be given up. On our own we’re completely expendable. But because of Christ, because of the urgency by which he came to us, to save us, to give us new life, to bring us into a new humanity and a new family, we are urgent to keep that family intact. We are urgent to make sure we are all striving as one.
And like I said before, it is not just striving together for the sake of togetherness. It is striving together because we’ve been brought together by the Holy Spirit. I ask you here, what kind of Spirit is he? Is he a spirit of lies? No, He is the Spirit of truth. He is the Spirit of the living God. The unity of the Spirit describes the unity within God himself. When the Spirit unites us, he brings us into God—the full Godhead dwells in us. Thus, we can be certain that this unity is a unity that is specific—it is rooted in what is good, in what is right, in what is holy, in what is loving, in what is true. True unity is not passive. The pursuit of unity may, at times, require disagreement, discussion, and maybe even a little debate. This unity is not always agreeable, especially when things are being done that the Bible prohibits, because if the Bible prohibits it, it is not from the Spirit. This is the test as to whether or not we are living in true unity—is it in Scripture? Does it align with the revelation given to us by the Holy Spirit? If it is not, we have an obligation to PURSUE UNITY—THE UNITY PRESENT WITHIN GOD HIMSELF WHERE THERE IS NO HINT OF IMMORALITY OR IMPERFECTION. IT IS THIS UNITY THAT WE PURSUE URGENTLY, FERVENTLY, CONSTANTLY—IT IS OUR CALLING TO DO THIS. THIS IS WHAT GOD INTENDED FROM THE BEGINNING—to give us himself—to allow us to experience him, and as we do, we magnify his character to the world.
To reject this kind of unity, to treat unity as something that means we do not rock the boat is to misunderstand God himself. To reject this unity, is to reject God himself and the reconciling work of Christ, for the Spirit works to bring us into the presence of God as one people walking faithfully together.
As to what is meant by the “bond of peace,” all we have to do is remember that Christ is our peace. He has afforded our peace by his substitutionary death and resurrection. The way that we pursue the unity of the Spirit is by always considering the peace that has been afforded to us by Jesus. While the world does not understand what the church is, we understand what it is, and why we are united because Christ has bought us by his blood, and it binds us together. I have a commonality with my brother or sister in Christ, and that bond is deeper than blood because at its center is the Spirit of God himself upholding us. We pursue the unity of the Spirit eagerly because the peace of Christ has bound us together as brothers and sisters. You are my family forever, and I will fight tooth and nail to make sure it stays that way, and you can be sure that God by his Spirit is doing the same.
These three attitudes and two actions are all summed up in one word: faithfulness. This is why our proposition is a call to Be Faithful as One in Christ, because true unity, true oneness, is brought about through a faithfulness in being like Christ who gave himself up for us—so too do we give ourselves up for one another. Christ’s gospel transforms the whole person, attitudes and actions, to live as those radically unified, and we cannot be unified unless we are faithful to humble ourselves, reflect meekness, exercise patience, give of ourselves sacrificially, and urgently pursue each other as brothers and sisters, for this is what Jesus did for us.
3) The Why
Why are we to Be Faithful as One? Because we are in Christ. Look with me at verses 4-6. See all the one’s—there are seven of them? And you might think that they’re kind of arranged randomly. There doesn’t seem to be much order to them. But if you look closely, you’ll see that they’re actually, at the very least, paired in threes. There is one body, one spirit, and one hope of your calling. Then, there is one Lord, one faith, one baptism. Lastly, there is one God and Father of all, the one over all, through all, and in all. 3 sets of 3.
But if you look even closer, you’ll see that the first three match the pattern of the second three, but the last three seem to stand apart. What we want to do when we look at the Bible is deal with low hanging fruit—things that are more obvious. So, we intentionally, look at the two sets of three that are the most similar first. Do you see any commonalities? I do.
It starts with “one body” in verse 4. The body refers to the church made up of both Jew and Gentile believers throughout the world and represented in our local assemblies like TCCBC. This body, and these local assemblies, represent, broadly and physically, the people of heaven—those who you can see are set apart from the rest of the world.
Now, look with me at the last “one” in verse 5, “one baptism.” Here, Paul is referring to water baptism—the baptism that we practice as Baptists—the baptism that signifies our membership among Christians—it is the physical and visible badge of entrance into the Christian community that every Christian must receive (no matter what denomination you’re a part of). It is the thing that declares to seeing eyes the gospel lived out in us by dying to sin and rising in Christ. This baptism represents, personally and physically, those who belong to heaven. So, you have “one body” that broadly and visibly represents the people of heaven, and you have “one baptism” that personally and visibly confirms that you are set apart as a believer.
Then, look back at verse four with me where it says, “one Spirit.” We have one Spirit that makes us one body and brings us into access with the Father. The Spirit is the one that unites all believers together in applying the gospel to our lives, and this unifying aspect is invisible to the world. Notice with me the completeness of our unity—you are held as one visibly as a body and invisibly through the Spirit. The Spirit upholds us together, broadly, and invisibly, as the people of heaven.
Now look with me at verse 5 where it says, “one faith.” In receiving our Christ, our lord, we receive faith by the Spirit—like baptism, all Christians must be plunged into faith, but invisibly so, to signify the start of our Christian life. Thus, we have one body-broad and visible and one baptism-personal and visible. Then, we have one Spirit-broad and invisible and one faith-personal and invisible.
Then we get to the middle “one’s.” Just as you were called in the one hope of your calling. This one hope rests in our calling in the gospel as the new people of God. It is because God has been faithful in saving us through Jesus that we have the same, collective hope—Christ is coming again to bring us home. We have hope that he will not forsake us because he sent his own Son to die as our assurance. To abandon us is to abandon and make worthless the sacrifice of his own Son.
More specifically, we have “one Lord.” It is through Christ that we receive all of our spiritual blessings, our faith, our new creation, the one who is the ground for our “one hope,” it is by his righteousness that we might live as those faithfully unified. It is our one Lord, his unifying life, death, and resurrection that brings us one hope, that fills us with one, invisible Spirit and one, invisible faith as our internal seal that we belong to heaven, and that places us in the world as one body, each of us baptized by water as our external seal that we belong to heaven.
Do you see? IT IS THE GOSPEL OF JESUS CHRIST THAT UNFIES US AS FAITHFUL BROTHERS AND SISTERS THROUGH AND THROUGH. There is one Lord and hope, which leads to one, internal Spirit and faith, which leads to one, external body and baptism. There is one perfect Christ who has exemplified and enabled us to have the right internal attitudes and external actions—Christ changes us from the inside out—the effect of the truth of the gospel is complete. In other words, we are called to Be Faithful as One in Christ because it is in Christ that we can be faithful, and it is in Christ that we are brought in together as one.
And all of this culminates in that awesome and wonderful plan of our one God and Father of all who is over all and through all and in all. In all of this outworking of the gospel, in all of this calling us to himself to be faithful as one in Christ, God is sovereign over all, and he is also imminent through and in all. It is as Peter O’Brien says, “The unity of the church is the means by which the manifold wisdom of God is being displayed to the universe!” And that manifold wisdom is the gospel of Jesus Christ come to live, die, and rise from the grave to save sinners like you and me. The fact of the gospel grounds Paul’s command to be faithful as one. God has not sent his Son in vain. He has not sent him only for us to recite a creed or give him lip service. No, he sent his Son in his perfect wisdom so that we, too, might behold him and magnify him in the world as one body in one Spirit with one hope in one Lord by one faith and with one baptism. To the praise of his glory and grace.