Summary: So how can a diverse body like the church achieve the sort of unity that God desires? By growing up. By becoming more like Christ as we grow into him. So speak the truth in love, and grow into Christ who is our head, Do your part in bringing the church to
Paul has spent the first three chapters of this letter explaining the mystery of God’s eternal purpose for the world as it’s being worked out in history. He’s given us all the theory, he’s even given us the prayer he prays for his converts, and now he goes on to speak about the practicalities of living out this spiritual reality.
But before we look at that, let’s think back to what we’ve already discovered in Ephesians. You see Paul begins this chapter by reminding them of the calling that they’ve received. I wonder can you tell me what Paul says is the calling of the Church. What is the major task confronting the church? What is the goal towards which we should be working? Part of it, from ch 1, is that we’re to be blameless and holy in his sight, Partly it’s that we might live to His glory. Likewise, in ch 2, we’ve been created in Christ Jesus for good works which God prepared beforehand to be our way of life. But that, I would suggest, is only an adjunct to the real calling that Paul is talking about here. Look at 3:10. Our calling is that through the Church the manifold wisdom of God should be made known to the rest of creation. Go back further to 1:10. God’s plan for the world, and in particular, for the Church, is that all things should be brought together under one head, even Christ.
So the calling which we’ve received is a calling to be the new people of God bound together in unity under Christ; and so Paul goes on to outline how being the new people of God is to be worked out in the down-to-earth, concrete realities of life. As we’ll see over the next couple of weeks, the new society that God is calling into being has two major characteristics. First it’s one people, composed of both Jew and Gentile, without distinction, and secondly it’s a holy people, set apart to belong to God, and therefore showing by its life, a purity and righteousness that befits the people of God.
So today we’re thinking about the unity of the Church. How does that unity arise and how is it to be maintained.
A. It depends on our Christian character.
Paul begins his exhortation by listing 5 characteristics of the Christian that unity depends on: humility, gentleness, patience, mutual forbearance, and love. Let’s think about these for a moment.
Not surprisingly he begins his list with humility. That is, the sort of attitude that Jesus displayed when he became a human being. In fact the word he uses is actually humility of mind. That is it’s an attitude that recognises the worth and value of other people. He begins his list here because humility is essential to unity. Pride almost always results in discord. Think about it for a moment. The people we tend to like are the people who show us the respect we deserve, or at least that we think we deserve. The ones we don’t like are the ones we sense don’t like us, or who won’t put up with our particular quirks. If however, rather than manoeuvring for the respect or regard of others (which is the nature of pride) we give them our respect, because we recognise in them their intrinsic God-given worth, (which is the nature of this humility of mind that Paul’s talking about) then we’ll be promoting harmony in the Church; and of course the unlooked for result will most probably be that they’ll respond to us with the same respect they’ve received.
Gentleness is a tricky word. It’s too easily understood as weakness It’s the word that used to be translated meekness. It’s the quality of moderation, the golden mean. Aristotle described it as "the mean between being too angry and never being angry at all." It was a word that was used of work animals: of oxen or workhorses; even of battle stallions. It had the idea of strength under control. So it’s the characteristic of a strong personality who doesn’t let their strength control them, nor use it to control others. Rather it’s a strength that’s there to serve others. Paul uses the term in his instructions in 2 Tim 2:24,25 about how pastors are to deal with those who oppose the gospel, where he says: (NRSV) "And the Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but kindly to everyone, an apt teacher, patient, 25correcting opponents with gentleness. God may perhaps grant that they will repent and come to know the truth,"
Notice that humility and gentleness form a natural pairing. They’re the words used by Jesus to describe himself "I am gentle and lowly of heart." (Matt 11:29). The next two characteristics also form a natural pairing. Patience is a longsuffering attitude towards aggravating people: the sort of attitude that God has to us I guess, while mutual forbearance is the sort of mutual tolerance without which no group of human beings could ever live together in peace for any length of time.