Christian unity

by Mike Ratliff

7 The end of all things is near; therefore, be of sound judgment and sober spirit for the purpose of prayer. 8 Above all, keep fervent in your love for one another, because love covers a multitude of sins. 9 Be hospitable to one another without complaint. 1 Peter 4:7-9 (NASB) 

Our sanctification is designed by God to transform us unto the image of Christ. The human heart before regeneration is clueless about the ways of God. The unregenerate heart can only comprehend the wisdom of the world. This ‘wisdom,’ such as it is, views the Christian calling as utter foolishness. Sadly, there are innumerable professing Christians in our time who claim that Jesus is their Saviour, but they cling to worldly comforts as they view the self-denied life as peculiar and only for Jesus freaks and fanatics and even go so far as accusing Bible teachers like me of “throwing a lot of law” at Christians. 

In John Bunyan’s classic The Pilgrim’s Progress, the main character, Christian, has heeded the preaching of Evangelist and is on his way to the little wicket gate to knock. When it is opened, he will begin his journey on the narrow path to the Celestial City. However, before he reached the gate he fell into the Slough of Despond. After his rescue, he came across another character. His name is Mr. Worldly Wiseman. He asks Christian, “Who bid thee go this Way to be rid of thy Burden?” Christian responded, “A Man that appeared to me to be a very great and honourable person; his name, as I remember, is Evangelist.” Below is the counsel of the unregenerate religious of this world to all who hear the Gospel and obey it.

Beshrew him for his counsel, there is not a more dangerous and troublesome way in the world, than is that unto which he hath directed thee; and that thou shalt find, if thou wilt be ruled by his counsel. Thou hast met with something (as I perceive) already; for I see the dirt of the Slough of Despond is upon thee; but that Slough is the Beginning of the sorrows that do attend thou; thou art like to meet with, in the way which thou goest, Wearisomeness, Painfulness, Hunger, Perils, Nakedness, Sword, Lions, Dragons, Darkness, and in a word, Death, and what not? These things are certainly true, having been confirmed by many Testimonies. And why should a man so carelessly cast away himself, by giving heed to a Stranger?

Many who give counsel like this claim to be Christians. They see Christian suffering as “bad” and that if believers are right with God then all should go well all the time. Since the call to walk the narrow path and live the denied Christian life often leads to suffering, in their understanding, it could never be God’s will to ‘take that path.’ Are we who seek to not be conformed to this world (Romans 12:2) by being transformed by the renewal of our minds to be united in Christian oneness with those who see that as utter foolishness?

1 Therefore I, the prisoner of the Lord, implore you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling with which you have been called, 2 with all humility and gentleness, with patience, showing tolerance for one another in love, 3 being diligent to preserve the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. 4 There is one body and one Spirit, just as also you were called in one hope of your calling; 5 one Lord, one faith, one baptism, 6 one God and Father of all who is over all and through all and in all. Ephesians 4:1-6 (NASB) 

Paul transitions in v1 from the prior chapters dealing with doctrine to application. Notice that he mentions his imprisonment here. Whatever he is about to share should be examined in light of that. How does the world and those “Christians” who believe that suffering is only for the ungodly view believers who suffer in this world at the hands of unbelievers as was Paul? They see it as a negative, but Paul is using it here to make a point to the Ephesians about how to be the godly Christians they are called to be.  The Greek word translated here as ‘worthy’ is ἀξίως or axiōs. This adverb describes the nature of the Christian walk. In this case, it is defining a walk that is ‘appropriate’ according to the standard of what? Our walk before the face of God should be appropriate in light of ‘the calling’ to which we have all been called. These two words, ‘calling’ and ‘called’ are closely related. The Greek word translated as ‘calling’ is κλῆσις or klēsis. It is a shorter form of καλέω or kaleō, which is translated here as ‘called.’ The KJV and Geneva Bibles translate κλῆσις as ‘vocation.’ I believe that Paul used this word here to refer to the effectual call to salvation that saves. The ‘vocation’ then would be that this walk before the face of God be undertaken in a manner worthy of the call itself.

What is that ‘manner?’ The way we walk before the face of God that brings Him glory and is worthy of the call that saved us is with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. The word Paul used here that we read as ‘humility’ is ταπεινοφροσύνη or tapeinophrosunē.  It means, ‘lowliness of mind, the esteeming of ourselves small inasmuch as we are so; the real estimate of ourselves.’ This is a view of oneself in light of who God is as He is revealed in His Word and through the Lord Jesus Christ. It is a full recognition of one’s sinfulness and unworthiness before God based on one’s own attributes. The Christian who walks before the face of God in humility sees that his or her true value is that their Saviour is Christ Himself. This ‘mindset’ does not promote self. It does not see the pleasures of this world as its due.

The Greek word for gentleness here is πρᾳότης or praotēs. This word can be translated as ‘meekness’ and implies ‘humility.’ In other words, meekness is a product of humility. A meek person is mild-spirited and self-controlled (Matthew 5:5; Matthew 11:29; Galatians 5:23; Colossians 3:12). The Greek word for ‘patience’ here is μακροθυμία or makrothumia. A good translation of this word would be ‘forbearance.’ In other words, this describes the character of one who has self-restraint of the mind before it gives room to action or passion. We are called to be long on patience that is the product of humility and meekness or gentleness. The Greek word translated as ‘bearing with one another’ is ἀνέχομαι or anechomai. This is describing how patience with others works itself out in ‘longsuffering.’ This speaks of endurance and suffering. It is being calm and gentle with others even when they are not. What is the motivation for treating others like this? Paul says we are to do this in ‘love,’ or ἀγάπη, which is, of course, agape. This form of ‘love’ is benevolent. This benevolence is not shown by doing what the one loved desires, but what the one who loves deems is needed by the one loved. This love is only possible in God and the regenerate.

Paul commands us to treat all brothers and sisters in Christ this way, ‘eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.’  The word translated as ‘eager’ means to ‘diligently endeavor.’ In other words, we should take the initiative to ‘maintain’ unity. The Greek word translated here as ‘maintain’ is τηρέω or tēreō.  This word carries the idea of guarding or keeping something valuable safe. What is being guarded? It is unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. This is Spirit-bestowed oneness of all true believers (1 Corinthians 6:17; 1 Corinthians 12:11-13; Philippians 1:27; Philippians 2:2). This unity has created the bond of peace. All genuine believers are bound together in this in love.

14 Beyond all these things put on love, which is the perfect bond of unity. Colossians 3:14 (NASB) 

4 There is one body and one Spirit, just as also you were called in one hope of your calling; 5 one Lord, one faith, one baptism, 6 one God and Father of all who is over all and through all and in all. Ephesians 4:4-6 (NASB) 

My brethren, this is speaking of unity of spirit in the bond of peace between genuine believers. These genuine believers are all called to the same hope to one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all. We are not called to be unified with those who claim to be Christians, but whom through their doctrines, words, and actions reveal that they are not of the same spirit as those who are genuinely called. These often deny the completeness of the Word and that it is infallible. They often deny the deity of Christ. They often deny that exclusivity of justification by faith alone. They deny that the Word of God has authority over all parts of the believer’s life and walk such as an antinomian would do. In other words, these prove by these things that they are not of the same spirit as those who have been effectually called.

Soli Deo Gloria!