Pastor David B. Curtis

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The Basis of Christian Unity

Ephesians 4:4-6

Delivered 03/30/2014

We are continuing our study of Ephesians chapter 4. We looked at the first three verses last week. We saw that verse 1 was the call to the worthy walk, based on who we are as indicated in the first three chapters. Verse one is a topic sentence that governs the rest of this Epistle. Paul will spell out in detail how we can walk in a manner worthy of our calling, but in the first three verses he is stressing the importance of preserving the unity of the Spirit.

So what does this worthy walk look like? He gives us some aspects of it in:

with all humility and gentleness, with patience, showing tolerance for one another in love, Ephesians 4:2 NASB

These are all attributes that we see continually from everyone who is in the body of Christ—right? Someone asked Gandhi on one occasion, who was not a believer: "What is the greatest hindrance to Christianity in India?" And without hesitation, he answered: "Christians." That wouldn't be the case if these were attributes that all believers worked on. We are called to walk like this so that we will preserve unity:

being diligent to preserve the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. Ephesians 4:3 NASB

Paul's point here is: Although true unity among believers already exists because of the mighty work of the Sovereign Spirit, we must work hard to preserve it. The New Testament holds unity in very high regard. Paul was so concerned with the unity of the church that he brought it up in every letter he wrote to a church. Disunity is always a lurking potential for disaster.

Christian unity is not organizational, it is spiritual. Look at what our Lord prayed:

that they may all be one; even as You, Father, are in Me and I in You, that they also may be in Us, so that the world may believe that You sent Me. "The glory which You have given Me I have given to them, that they may be one, just as We are one; John 17:21-22 NASB

The words "as" and "just as" speak of the nature of our unity. It is to be like that of Yeshua and the Father—a common life; a unity of will, purpose, and goal. It's not people being united because they are in the same container organizationally. It's people who are attracted to each other because they are pulled by the same power.

Back in the 1990's, evangelical leaders Chuck Colson, Bill Bright, J. I. Packer, and others signed the "Evangelicals and Catholics Together Document." It called on Protestants to come together with the Catholic Church in the many areas where we agree, setting aside our differences over matters like justification by faith alone.

Then the Promise Keepers movement added pressure in the same direction. At their national pastors' conference in 1996, popular author Max Lucado called on 40,000 pastors in attendance to set aside the labels of Catholic and Protestant and to recognize that we're all sailing on the same ship with Jesus as our captain.

Many are calling on believers to set aside doctrinal differences for the sake of unity. Today we have the emerging church movement, which pushes Ecumenism. This movement is strongly influenced by the postmodern philosophy that there is no absolute truth, or if there is, we cannot know it with certainty. Thus we are being urged to be tolerant of all that claim to be Christian and even of non-Christian religions. They claim that doctrine is divisive and that those who claim to know the truth are arrogant. Thus for the sake of love and unity, we should set aside our doctrinal convictions and accept one another without criticizing doctrinal beliefs. I talked to a woman who is involved in one of these churches and so was so excited that they had no problem with the eschatology of Preterism. Of course they don't, they don't have a problem with any doctrine. Doctrine doesn't matter; it's all about experience. I am very concerned about those who promote unity with little concern for sound doctrine. We cannot unite over error.

The foundation for our text for this morning is verse 3, where Paul exhorts his readers to be "diligent to preserve the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace." In 4:4-6, Paul describes the basis or elements that make up this foundational unity of the Spirit. Paul sets forth seven elements that form the biblical basis for unity, all prefaced by the word "one." Seven, of course, is the biblical number of perfection. Three elements are in verse 4; three in verse 5; and one in verse 6. In these seven elements we have a perfect basis for unity:

There is one body and one Spirit, just as also you were called in one hope of your calling; Ephesians 4:4 NASB

"One body"Paul tells us what this body is in:

And He put all things in subjection under His feet, and gave Him as head over all things to the church, which is His body, the fullness of Him who fills all in all. Ephesians 1:22-23 NASB

The one body is the church. Look at chapter 2 verse 16:

and might reconcile them both in one body to God through the cross, by it having put to death the enmity. Ephesians 2:16 NASB

"Both" refers to Jew and Gentile. So the one body is the church, which is composed of Jews and Gentiles.

The "body" is one of Paul's favorite analogies to describe the church. It is the body of which Yeshua is the head. In chapter 2, he refers to it as God's Kingdom of which we are fellow citizens, God's household of which we are family members, and God's Temple of which we are His dwelling place in the Spirit. In chapter 5, he will refer to the church as the bride of Christ. But here, he says that unity is built on the fact that we are one body.

Paul is not referring to the visible church, but rather to the unseen, spiritual body of Christ, composed of all genuine believers in every time and place since the Day of Pentecost. These believers worship in a multitude of local churches, but corporately they and the saints in heaven compose this one spiritual body of Christ. Paul cannot be talking about the local church, because how he can he say there is one body? There are many bodies in that sense. But we must remember that our church is a local manifestation of the Universal Church.

"One Spirit"how is this one Body formed? It is through the sovereign drawing and regeneration of the Holy Spirit. There is only one Holy Spirit, and He places people into only one Body, and thus all those in that one Body should be unified. True biblical unity rests on the truth that there is one Spirit of God and that He alone imparts life to all who are in the body. Paul said in Romans 8:

However, you are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if indeed the Spirit of God dwells in you. But if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he does not belong to Him. Romans 8:9 NASB

Everyone in that one body has the one spirit dwelling in them.

"One hope of your calling"back in chapter one Paul said:

I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened, so that you will know what is the hope of His calling, what are the riches of the glory of His inheritance in the saints, Ephesians 1:18 NASB

Paul prays that his readers might grasp more fully the hope into which God has brought them by His call. The genitive that follows "calling" is a subjective genitive and should be translated: "The hope produced by His calling."

On this "one hope" a commentator writes, "But all genuine Christians are united on this one fact, that Jesus is coming back bodily in power and glory. It is the Holy Spirit who gives us hope as we believe in the promise of His coming." This is a man who feels that his doctrine is right and anyone who does not agree with him is not a "genuine" Christian. Where does the Scripture say that Christ would return "bodily"? It doesn't! This man doesn't know what time it is, he is waiting for something that happened two thousand years ago.

The Second Coming of Christ was the hope of the early church. But for us today that is a hope that has been fulfilled. We believe that Yeshua returned in the first century, just as He promised He would. So, what is our hope today? For all who have placed their trust in Yeshua the Christ, our hope is heaven—"But if we hope for what we do not see, with perseverance we wait eagerly for it." We don't "see" heaven, but we have an absolute certainty that it is our future destiny.

Gordon Clark, who is a Futurist, commenting on this verse, says, "Here the object hoped for is, presumable, Heaven. This is the one hope of all Christians." The early church's hope was the Second Coming because that coming would give them eternal life and fit them for heaven.

Previously they were separate from Christ, and "had no hope and were without God in the world" (2:12). But now, since they have been joined with Christ's Body through the power of the one Spirit, they have hope because God is faithful.

one Lord, one faith, one baptism, Ephesians 4:5 NASB

"One Lord"—this one Lord is Yeshua the Christ who Himself "is our peace" (Ephesians 2:14). Thus all true biblical unity centers in the person and work of Yeshua the Christ, our eternal Lord:

For this reason also, God highly exalted Him, and bestowed on Him the name which is above every name, Philippians 2:9 NASB

The movement of Philippians 2: 9-11 does not stop at the phrase "bestowed on Him the name," but flows straight on to the universal confession that Yeshua the Christ is Lord, which suggests that the significant thing is the ascription of "LORD" in addition to the names already known.

When the early Christians made their confession — "Yeshua is Lord" — they were actually confessing that Yeshua of Nazareth is the God of Israel, Yahweh, the only true God.

If a person or a group denies what the Bible teaches about the person of Yeshua, that He is fully God and fully man, we are not in unity with them. If they deny His substitutionary death on the cross as the only means by which we can be reconciled to God, we are not one with them.

"One faith"—what is the one faith? It is not simply the subjective act of believing, because such acts are one only as they have the same object. Jews, Moslems, Hindus all believe; but they do not have the same object or the same faith. We lean from the book of Jude that the faith:

Beloved, while I was making every effort to write you about our common salvation, I felt the necessity to write to you appealing that you contend earnestly for the faith which was once for all handed down to the saints. Jude 1:3 NASB

Faith is the body of doctrine within the New Testament. If a person denies any of the core truths of the Gospel, he does not hold to the one faith, and there is no basis for unity with him and us.

So this faith is both subjective and objective. The subjective element of your faith is your personal belief in what Christ has done in His life and death for sins, to be accounted for you before God. The objective element of Faith is the truths that make the subjective element possible.

There is not a faith for the Jews and another faith for the Gentiles; there is one set of facts for all men everywhere. This faith is revealed in the Word of God, there's only one Christianity, one Christian faith.

"One baptism"—the Baptists say, "This is water baptism, baptism by immersion only." The Presbyterians say, "No, you're all wet, sprinkling is the only way." There are other groups that say babies ought to be baptized, while others say, "No, it is only for adults." Conversion to Judaism was done primarily through the act of immersion. So as you can see, there is a lot of disunity on the subject of baptism.

Some say this is referring to water baptism because this is the Son's verse. But I think that the "one baptism" here is the baptism of the Spirit, the real baptism of which water baptism is always a symbol. That baptism is linked here to Yeshua is because it is baptism into His body:

For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body, whether Jews or Greeks, whether slaves or free, and we were all made to drink of one Spirit. 1 Corinthians 12:13 NASB

Or as Paul says in Romans 6, we are "baptized into His death." Paul is focusing on the basic meaning of baptism, namely, identification with Yeshua. This baptism is in the Son's verse because it is this baptism that identifies us with Him. It speaks of our union. One commentator writes, "Baptism in water is not necessary for salvation (to say so would be to commit the Galatian heresy), but it is the necessary result of salvation, which produces obedience to Christ in the hearts of His children." So he is saying, It is not necessary, but it is necessary.

one God and Father of all who is over all and through all and in all. Ephesians 4:6 NASB

"One God and Father"—there is only one God and that God is Father of the Lord Yeshua the Christ. Any God who is not the Father of the Lord Yeshua the Christ is not the true God:

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Yeshua the Christ, who according to His great mercy has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Yeshua the Christ from the dead, 1 Peter 1:3 NASB

This is not talking about the modern doctrine of the universal Fatherhood of God, or the brotherhood of man. God is only the father of those who trust in Yeshua, the one Lord.

"Father of all who is over all and through all and in all"—commentators differ over whether the four "all's" in this verse are masculine, referring to people, or neuter, referring to the cosmos. There is a sense in which both are true, but in the context, Paul is talking about the church. He means that God is the Father of all believers.

Paul's fourfold use of "all" emphasizes the common unity that we share with all true believers. If God is the "Father of all" believers, we are brothers and sisters. If He is "over all," then we all submit to Him as our Sovereign Lord. We hold His Word as the authority for faith and practice. If He is "through all," I must trust that He is working through my brothers and sisters as well as through me. I am not His only servant; He has many others. If He is "in all," then I must respect my brother or sister's experience with God, and I must see God in them. When I serve them, I am serving Him. When I love them, I am loving Him.

Did you notice that these seven elements that are the basis of Christian unity are arranged around each member of the Trinity? The unity of the whole body of Christ is found in these seven things within the Trinity of the glorious Godhead. Since Paul has just mentioned the Spirit in 4:3, he begins with the Spirit (4:4), moves to the Son ("one Lord," 4:5), and ends with "one God and Father" (4:6). We have seen Paul's emphasis on the trinity in several previous texts.

From the blessing of Ephesians 1:3, there flow three amplifying sections: verses 4-6, verses 7-12, verse 13, and 14. There is a kind of refrain that marks these sections, which is given after discussing each person of the Trinity in the order of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Then in chapter 2 he says:

for through Him we both have our access in one Spirit to the Father. Ephesians 2:18 NASB

Here again we have all three persons of the Trinity: through Him (Christ) we both have access through one Spirit unto the Father. So it is through the instrumentality of the Son in the sphere of the Holy Spirit that we are brought to the place where we have access to the Father. All the persons of the Trinity working in beautiful concert: the Son, laying down His life; the Holy Spirit applying the ministry; and it is the Father who has chosen us as He said in the beginning and has determined the whole means by which the program shall be carried out.

Paul's basis for our unity as the Church is found in the eternal unity of the Holy Trinity—Spirit, Son, and Father. We see all three members of the Trinity in other texts as well:

"Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, Matthew 28:19 NASB

The Very first mention of God in the Scripture is in the plural:

In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. Genesis 1:1 NASB

"Elohim" is the Hebrew word that we translate as God in Genesis 1:1. Elohim is the plural of El. Elohim is unique to Hebraic thinking: it occurs only in Hebrew and in no other ancient Semitic language.

Though the word "Trinity" is never found in the pages of Scripture, it is a doctrine that is taught throughout the Scripture. "Trinity" is a word used to express the unity of God subsisting in three distinct persons. It is a word describing the unity of the Godhead as three co-eternal, co-equal Persons, each having the same substance, but distinct persons. It is a word that describes a purely revealed doctrine, indiscoverable by reason, but clearly taught in Scripture.

As Christians, we affirm that there is one eternal being known as Yahweh. Yet this one eternal being exists in three individual persons: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Logically, in our human minds we cannot entirely understand how one Being can exist in three persons. Yet, as Christians, we affirm both truths to be true. The 1689 "London Baptist Confession of Faith," Chapter 2, paragraph 3 states:

In this divine and infinite Being there are three subsistences, the Father, the Word or Son, and Holy Spirit, of one substance, power, and eternity, each having the whole divine essence, yet the essence undivided: the Father is of none, neither begotten nor proceeding; the Son is eternally begotten of the Father; the Holy Spirit proceeding from the Father and the Son; all infinite, without beginning, therefore but one God, who is not to be divided in nature and being, but distinguished by several peculiar relative properties and personal relations; which doctrine of the Trinity is the foundation of all our communion with God, and comfortable dependence on him (1 John 5:7; Matthew 28:19; 2 Corinthians 13:14; Exodus 3:14; John 14:11; 1 Corinthians 8:6; John 1:14,18; John 15:26; Galatians 4:6 )

The Trinity is one of the distinctive doctrines of Christianity. Just because it's hard for the brain to understand, it doesn't mean we should pretend it's not there. As we look to the Scriptures, I see 4 things that are true about the Trinity.

Number one: We see the Divinity of the Trinity. This is the ultimate question behind the difficulty of accepting and understanding the Trinity. It is ultimately a question of the deity of Christ, and the Holy Spirit. Now the Bible is crystal clear that there is only one God. One divine being:

'See now that I, I am He, And there is no god besides Me; It is I who put to death and give life. I have wounded, and it is I who heal; And there is no one who can deliver from My hand. Deuteronomy 32:39 NASB
"You are My witnesses," declares the LORD, "And My servant whom I have chosen, In order that you may know and believe Me, And understand that I am He. Before Me there was no God formed, And there will be none after Me. Isaiah 43:10 NASB

But the same Bible that says that there is only one God also says that the Father is God. The Son is God. And the Holy Spirit is God. So these persons must be the one true God.

The Scripture recognizes the Father as God:

For when He received honor and glory from God the Father, such an utterance as this was made to Him by the Majestic Glory, "This is My beloved Son with whom I am well-pleased"— 2 Peter 1:17 NASB

If you look at Paul's letters, he starts almost every one by saying, "Greetings in the name of God the Father."

So we know that the Father is God. But there are also a bunch of verses that teach that Yeshua is God. In a prophecy about the coming Messiah, Isaiah calls Him "Mighty God":

For a child will be born to us, a son will be given to us; And the government will rest on His shoulders; And His name will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Eternal Father, Prince of Peace. Isaiah 9:6 NASB

Do you remember the story of doubting Thomas? Do you remember what he said when he saw and touched the risen Christ for the first time?:

Thomas answered and said to Him, "My Lord and my God!" John 20:28 NASB

And Yeshua responded to Thomas, "Good answer! You got it right!"

But of the Son He says, "THY THRONE, O GOD, IS FOREVER AND EVER, AND THE RIGHTEOUS SCEPTER IS THE SCEPTER OF HIS KINGDOM. Hebrews 1:8 NASB

And there are also a few verses that teach that the Holy Spirit is God. You remember in Acts 5 when Ananias and Sapphira lied to the Holy Spirit about how much money they gave to the church? Remember what Peter told them?:

But Peter said, "Ananias, why has Satan filled your heart to lie to the Holy Spirit, and to keep back some of the price of the land? 4 "While it remained unsold, did it not remain your own? And after it was sold, was it not under your control? Why is it that you have conceived this deed in your heart? You have not lied to men, but to God." Acts 5:3-4 NASB

So lying to the Holy Spirit is the same thing as lying to God, because He is God!

The second thing I see is: the Unity of the Trinity, especially in the creation of the world:

Then God said, "Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness; and let them rule over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the sky and over the cattle and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth." Genesis 1:26 NASB

Notice that it doesn't say: Let ME make man. It says, "Let us!" The triune God is involved in the creation of mankind. How do we know He's not referring to the angels? Because in Genesis 1:1, you have God creating the heavens and the earth. And in verse 2, you have the Spirit of God hovering over the face of the waters. And in Colossians, we're told that Christ made the heavens and the earth!

For by Him all things were created, both in the heavens and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities— all things have been created by Him and for Him. Colossians 1:16 NASB

"By Him" goes back to "His beloved Son" in verse 13. The Trinity working together in unity is a beautiful picture of how things should be in the Church.

"And I am no more in the world; and yet they themselves are in the world, and I come to Thee. Holy Father, keep them in Thy name, the name which Thou hast given Me, that they may be one, even as We are. John 17:11 NASB

Unity is what Yahweh wants for His people; Baptists, Lutherans, Evangelicals, Pentecostals, Reformed—all united around the person and work of Yeshua the Christ with the goal of proclaiming the Gospel of Yeshua the Christ. Christian unity should be a reflection of the unity that already exists within the Trinity.

The third thing I see is: the Diversity of the Trinity. The members of the Trinity work together, but they don't always do the same things. Look at salvation. The Father, Son and Spirit; three Persons working together in sovereign wisdom, power, and love to achieve the salvation of a chosen people. The Father elects, the Son fulfills the Father's will by redeeming, the Spirit executes the purpose of Father and Son by regenerating —three very different roles; but all for the one purpose.

Within the body of Christ, the church, there is also great diversity, and yet there is unity. To help us understand this, Paul uses the analogy of a human body. He stands before us a human body and draws lessons from it as to its parallel to the functioning of the Body of Christ:

For even as the body is one and yet has many members, and all the members of the body, though they are many, are one body, so also is Christ. 1 Corinthians 12:12 NASB

The human body is an amazing organic creation of Yahweh. It is marvelously complex, yet unified, with unparalleled harmony and interrelatedness. When the members of the human body do not function in harmony, it is due to disease. It is a sad sight to see a body that, because of disease, will not respond to its head.

For the body is not one member, but many. 15 If the foot should say, "Because I am not a hand, I am not a part of the body," it is not for this reason any the less a part of the body. 16 And if the ear should say, "Because I am not an eye, I am not a part of the body," it is not for this reason any the less a part of the body. 1 Corinthians 12:14-16 NASB

God deliberately made us different so that each one of us can contribute something unique to society. It works the same way with the Trinity. Each member of the Trinity

contributes something special and unique to our lives. Romans 8:28 says that God works for our good. Verse 34 says that Yeshua prays for our good. And verse 26 says that the Holy Spirit helps US pray for our good. This shows the diversity of the Trinity in our lives.

We've seen the divinity of the Trinity, the unity of the Trinity, the diversity within the Trinity, and fourthly , I see: the Intimacy within the Trinity:

"The Father loves the Son, and has given all things into His hand.John 3:35 NASB
but that the world may know that I love the Father, and as the Father gave Me commandment, even so I do. Arise, let us go from here.John 14:31 NASB

This tells me that our God is personal. He's intimate. He's a God who exists in relationship. And the beautiful thing is that Yahweh wants to have the same intimacy with you that He has within Himself.

So the Bible is very clear that there is one God, eternally existing as three persons: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Now how do we explain this to people? Let me caution you by saying that there is no way that feeble human beings can know all that there is to know about Yahweh. You can go to my office, and read every single one of my books, and you would still barely scratch the surface of what Yahweh is all about. Paul put it this way:

For WHO HAS KNOWN THE MIND OF THE LORD, OR WHO BECAME HIS COUNSELOR? Romans 11:34 NASB

Isaiah put it this way:

"For My thoughts are not your thoughts, Neither are your ways My ways," declares the LORD. 9 "For as the heavens are higher than the earth, So are My ways higher than your ways, And My thoughts than your thoughts. Isaiah 55:8-9 NASB

The bottom line is that it is very hard for a human being to totally comprehend the Trinity. It's too big for us. And all analogies really break down. I accept the doctrine of the trinity, not because I can completely understand it, but because I can see that it is taught in the Word of God. The Word of God doesn't stop being true just because there's something in it we don't understand. The Word of God is true whether we understand it or not. I'm perfectly alright with the fact that there are mysteries and puzzles in the Bible—things that I won't understand until I'm dead. I'm okay with that. I've got enough on my plate with things that I DO understand! I'm more concerned about doing what I already know.

Paul closed chapter 2 of Ephesians by saying:

in whom you also are being built together into a dwelling of God in the Spirit. Ephesians 2:22 NASB

So, this is the realization of the relationship of the one body, produced by the Spirit, a habitation of God through the Spirit—it's an expression of unity

Believers, we are called to "preserve the unity of the Spirit" and the basiss of our unity is the seven elements: There is one body, one Spirit, one hope, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, and one God and Father. These form the basis for Christian unity. Let's work to preserve it.

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