Summary: This passage presents the seven elements of unity for every church.
What is it that unites the Christian church? Is it what verses 2 and 3 have already spoken of? Is it humility, gentleness, patience, forbearance? Is it love? Is it an eagerness about unity? That is scary if such were true. If unity were founded on our ability to be humble and to love with patience, it would be a precarious unity indeed.
To know the answer to this question is to know what matters to God, and it gives the foundation upon which “to do” church, and to carry out the exhortation of this chapter – to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which we have been called. Our passage today speaks to us of seven elements of unity for any Christian church.
There is one body and one Spirit—just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call— 5 one Lord, one faith, one baptism, 6 one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.
Paul defines the church as Christ’s body in 1:23. In chapter 2, verse 16 he explains how, through the one literal body of Christ on the cross, God reconciled to himself both Jew and Gentile. Up until Christ there is a sense in which the two groups of mankind moved along separate paths, with the Gentiles on the low side. But now in Christ both have the same access to God. Are they still two groups, two bodies connected to the same head? No. They are now one body: “the Gentiles are fellow heirs, members of the same body” (3:6). Chapter 2 uses other images: everyone in Christ are “fellow citizens,” “members of the same household of God,” “joined together, grow[ing] into a holy temple in the Lord.” If we are connected to Christ, then we are connected to one another. If we have the same head, we are members of the same body.
What does this mean? It means that the distinctions that we like to make as to whom we are connected with and who competes with us for access to God do not exist. Listen to these words about the oneness in Christ:
“There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3:28).
“Here there is not Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave, free; but Christ is all, and in all” (Colossians 3:11).
Based on the spiritual gifts we have received and the personal callings for ministry, we may have different functions in the body, just as the body has organs with different functions such as the eye and the nose and the foot. But no one is more part of Christ’s body than anyone else. We all have the same DNA of Christ. No one can disclaim another member or purport to be more necessary or have different access to God.
We are further told that there is one body and one Spirit. Similarly to the way we speak of having a spirit that gives life to each body, so there is the one Spirit who gives life to the one body of which we are made members. Indeed, it is through that same Spirit that we become members of the body. Think of it this way. Jesus Christ did the great work of atonement on the cross to save us from sin. It is the Holy Spirit, whom he said he would send, that applies the work of that atonement to us. Thus, it is the Spirit who breathes life into our dead spiritual bodies that we might hear the gospel and respond to it in faith. It is the Spirit who seals the benefits of Christ’s work (1:13). It is in the one Spirit that we have access to God the Father. “In [Christ] [we] are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit” (2:22). It is the Spirit who has revealed the great mystery that we are all members of the same body (3:6). It is the Spirit who strengthens us with God’s power (3:16). And as we saw in the previous verse, the very unity of the church is the unity of the Spirit (4:3).
This is the one Spirit, the Holy Spirit, the only Spirit of God. There may be many spirits. We do believe in a spiritual world, and Paul makes reference to an evil spirit in 2:2. But there is only one Holy Spirit of God, who indeed is God, the third person of the Trinity. And it is that Spirit which Christ has sent to his people to make them his, to bind us to him and to bind us to one another. If the Spirit is in you then you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons (Romans 8:15). You belong to Christ and to his body.