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How do we maintain unity in the church?
Division is a disease that drains the body of Christ of its strength and makes a church weak when it should be strong. Sometimes the disease of division can get serious enough to render the body of Christ weak and ineffective. At that stage the body needs caring for and instead of doing its ministry it needs to care for itself otherwise it might become terminal. Division in the church is of course the polar opposite of what we are supposed to experience in Christ, which is unity. So how do we maintain unity on the church and how do we replace division with unity?
There are answers to be found to those questions in Ephesians chapter 4. This passage basically makes 3 points. Firstly, it says there is unity to be found in the Christian Church. Then it discusses diversity and tells us how it should be encouraged in the Christian church. Then finally he talks about the purpose of that unity and diversity. It is particularly interesting to know how the biblical concept of diversity stacks up alongside the worlds view of what diversity is.
These opening verses (Eph 4: 4-6) talks about the fact that there is unity amongst us because we were all called by one spirit in one hope to one faith. This Greek word translated hope, means, expectation. Our hope and expectation is in our shared future together. It is these 7 elements that indicate the unity found in the body of Christ. A that unity come from having, one faith, in one Lord, and have been baptized by the one spirit, into one church, we now have one God and father and one hope in which all believers are united.
Unity exists among Christians and believers we do not have to make it or manufacture unity we are just called to maintain it, and what a breadth of unity it is.
Beginning in verse 7 it talks about diversity. (Eph 4: 7-8) By saying Christ has apportioned something he is placing what he is about to say as being God’s gift to His people. We all have been apportioned gifts, but we don't all have the same gift, and that's where our diversity comes in.
There is not only a wide diversity of gifts bestowed amongst us, but there is an element of freewill to how we exercise those gifting. First, he quotes the Old Testament in reference to God giving gifts. What follows is a quotation (Psalm 68:18) about receiving gifts, but the Hebrew word translated as gifts refers to something received in order to be given away again. In other words, any gift of God is given to you, in order, that you should use is for the benefit of other in the church. Paul taking the Psalm and applies it. In his interpretation of the Psalm he cleverly demonstrates the difference between the Old Covenant and the New Covenant.
In the Old Testament Psalms the conquering king demanded and received gifts from men: In the New Testament the conqueror Christ come down offers and gives gifts to people. That is the essential difference between the law and grace. In the Old Testament God insists on tributes and sacrifices from his people. In the New Testament a loving God pours out his love to His people by endowing them with spiritual gifts. That indeed is the good news for us, and it is good news for the church. God today is in the business of pouring out spiritual gifts to his children. The point is that there is unity in the body of Christ, but now he is saying there is also diversity and that diversity is expressed by the breadth and dept of spiritual gifts he has given us all.
Modern society defines diversity through the lens of identity politics. The bible identifies diversity through the people’s talents and the gifts they offer. Diversity in the bible is not based on race, creed, colour, gender or ideology, rather it based upon a diversity of gifts expressed throughout the whole community of faith. So, although here's is unity in the Christian Church but the unity is not uniformity. Our unity is expressed through our diversity. Paul portrays the church as a body the human body working in harmony. Not every part of the human body is the same or perform the same function. We are a living breathing functioning organism. In the body of Christ, which is the church every part is different, every part fits together and fulfils its function. In the body of his church, we all have a gift to express. We may not feel that we can do much but if you're a believer, God has giving you the ability to serve spiritually and you should use that ability for his glory. The important point, your ability is not the same as someone else’s ability.
The question that follows on from that is what is the purpose of this diverse range of spiritual gifts within the church? We discover now in the remainder of this paragraph. (Eph 4: 11-13) God has given gifts to the church but he gave those individuals gifts in order that those gifted people might serve in the church.
The text says he gave some to be pastors and teachers, some apostles, some prophets, some evangelists. He doesn’t say some are to be Pastor’s and some are to be teachers. In other words, pastor and teacher in this passage are linked together. It is possible to have the gifts of teaching without being a pastor. We know that because in Romans 12 teacher is listed as a standalone gifting. However, I believe, and most agree, it's not possible to have the gift of being a church pastor without also having the gift of teacher, they are linked together. The original word for Pastor means shepherd of the flock. So, the pastor is supposed to teach, but he's also the Shepherd of the flock meaning he is to guide the sheep and protect the sheep. I believe this means he does this primarily by teaching and guiding people in the word. The purpose of that guidance is for the equipping of the Saints for the work of ministry for the edifying of the body of Christ. The word equip means to repair to mend. In secular Greek it was used of setting a bone that had been broken Elsewhere in the New testament it was used of repairing a fishing net or repairing the rigging on a ship prior to sailing. So, the pastor/teacher's job is to equip the believer so that they are ready to serve with the spiritual gifts God has given them. The journey is to equip everyone fully by bringing people to independent spiritual insight and maturity. The Pastors role is to teach everybody so that they may do their ministry by expressing their giftings and being like Christ. Therefore, the local church has Shepherd, but every believer in the church is called to minister.
The New Testament concept of ministry is that you all have natural God given gifts. God by his Spirit calls you into service and the churches role, is simply to help equip you to serve others by expressing your gifting. God calls everyone, then by his Spirit he will empower you to express you God given gifting in whatever you have been called to do. Who knows where that may take you? There are multiple needs and opportunities for ministry in this place, and there are multiple needs and opportunities for ministry in the world. We are to all called minister to one another and in doing so we all become more like Jesus. That’s the whole purpose of those spiritual gifts, ministering in our gifting, makes us more spiritually mature.
There is a benefits to that; (Eph 4: 14) One is that we should be no longer be spiritual infants tossed to and fro carried along by every wind of teaching/doctrine or by the latest trendy ideologies. In other words, living this way will mean we will be no longer be spiritually immature, no longer living an unstable life. Spiritually immature people are lured by the tricks and deceptions of this world, maybe even by religious counterfeits and are always in danger of living an unstable spiritual life. Developing spiritual maturity will protect us from this.
There is also an upside to spiritual maturity. (Eph 4: 15-16) Christ like spiritual maturity is about building people up in love. That is how, the whole body, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work.
Paul mentioned love at the beginning of this passage and now in verse 16 he ends the passage with that our goal being Christ like maturity, expressed in love. There's should a great deal of diversity in every church. A wide diversity of gifting all expressing unity toward the goal of spiritual maturity, expressed through love. Different people, from different backgrounds, with different talents, offering different approaches and different expressions of the good news of Christ. But in all of that diversity, striving together, to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. Because we are all members of one body and one Spirit, called to one hope by, one Lord, in one faith, by one God and Father of all. Working toward the same goal namely spiritual Christ like maturity, expressed in love…..
Living in Unity