Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit—just as you were called to one hope when you were called—one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all. (Ephesians 4:3-6)
Next, Paul says to “Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace.” The fact that he calls the Ephesians “to keep” the unity of the Spirit implies that the Spirit had already given unity—they just needed to maintain it. The unity of the Spirit is not something man-made; it is something given by God. Christ prayed for this unity right before going to the (John 17:20-21):
“My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me.”
Christ prayed for God to make the disciples one, and also that they would be “in” the Godhead. God granted Christ’s prayer through the baptism of the Spirit. However, sadly, this has become a divisive doctrine in the church. Some believe it is a second work of the Spirit after salvation, where believers speak in tongues and are empowered to serve God. Those who believe this teach that all Christians should seek this experience. However, Paul teaches that every believer experiences the baptism of the Spirit at salvation, and it doesn’t have to be sought. First Corinthians 12:13 says, “For we were all baptized by one Spirit into one body—whether Jews or Greeks, slave or free—and we were all given the one Spirit to drink.”
Instead of creating two separate types of Christians—Spirit baptized and non-Spirit baptized—the baptism of the Spirit creates the complete opposite. It makes all Christians members of one body in Christ. Paul stresses this throughout Ephesians—believing Jews and Gentiles are no longer separate, but one in Christ (2:11-15, 3:6).
Many seek to create a superficial unity by imposing uniformity. They require all to worship, pray, dress, or give in a certain way. However, unity and uniformity are not necessarily the same. In fact, the metaphor of the body tells us there will be great diversity in the church. A physical body, though one, is made up of feet, eyes, a chest, and legs. Similarly, in a local church body, there will be different cultures, customs, view-points, and gifts. The Corinthian church was noted for not lacking any spiritual gifts (1 Cor 1:7) such as tongues and prophecy, but none of the other NT churches were noted for that. God made each church different, and he made each believer different. We should celebrate this diversity because it glorifies God.
Paul does not tell us to create unity, but he does challenge us to “make every effort” to keep it.
Application Question: How should we “make every effort” to keep the peace?
- We make every effort by seeking to resolve conflict speedily.
“‘Make every effort’ comes from a root word which means to make haste, and thus gives the idea of zealous effort and diligence.”11 Paul says this later in Ephesians 4:26, “‘In your anger do not sin’: Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry, and do not give the devil a foothold.”
Paul says that if we are angry with somebody, we should make it right before the sun goes down. In other words, “Make haste!” The enemy wants to use that door to attack us and others, so we need to close it quickly.
We make every effort by doing as much as possible to resolve conflict.
“Make every effort in the Greek is emphatic. It can also be translated ‘spare no effort’ (NEB).”12 Romans 12:18 says, “If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.” In sparing no effort, we forgive those who hurt us and reach out to those who are angry at us, but we also labor to help others reconcile. Paul says this to a member of the Philippian church in Philippians 4:3: “Yes, and I ask you, loyal yokefellow, help these women who have contended at my side in the cause of the gospel, along with Clement and the rest of my fellow workers, whose names are in the book of life.” In sparing no effort, we must do the same.
We make every effort by persevering and not giving up.
“Make every effort” is a “present participle, it is a call for continuous, diligent activity.”13 In churches or families where there is deep-seated conflict, we must not cease to pray, love, forgive, and pursue reconciliation. Christ says that if somebody hurts us seventy-seven times, we must still forgive (Matt 18:22). In making every effort, we must not give up. Galatians 6:9 says, “Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.” God will bring the harvest in his timing if we persevere.
We make every effort by focusing on our God-given commonalities.
Typically, when division arises, it is partially because people focus on their differences instead of their commonalities. Like one trained in modern day conflict resolution, Paul calls for the Ephesians to focus on their spiritual commonalities. In Ephesians 4:4-6, he notes seven that all believers share: “There is one body and one Spirit—just as you were called to one hope when you were called—one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.” Many scholars believe this was an early church confessional hymn.14
Observation Question: What are the seven spiritual commonalities Paul mentions in Ephesians 4:4-6?
Believers are one in Christ’s body.
Again, this refers to how the baptism of the Spirit made all believers—Jew, Gentile, male, female, slave, and free—one man in Christ. We are one in Christ’s body, so we should labor for unity.
Believers have one Spirit.
It is God’s Spirit who indwells believers (1 Cor 6:19), unifies them (1 Cor 12:13), and empowers them to perform Christ’s ministry on earth (Acts 1:8). Only believers drink daily from the Spirit—this should encourage us to preserve the unity he gave us.
Believers have one hope.
This hope refers to Christ’s second coming and all that awaits the believer at his coming—the bodily resurrection, freedom from sin, ruling with Christ, and much, much more. First John 3:2-3 says,
Dear friends, now we are children of God, and what we will be has not yet been made known. But we know that when he appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is. Everyone who has this hope in him purifies himself, just as he is pure.
While the world’s hope is earthly, ours is heavenly—we hope in Christ and his coming. This commonality should encourage us to work for unity.
Believers have one Lord.
This refers to Christ, our Master. First Corinthians 8:6 says, “yet for us there is but one God, the Father, from whom all things came and for whom we live; and there is but one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom all things came and through whom we live.” While those in the world follow their own desires and the desires of others, and worship false gods, we follow Christ.
Certainly, having the same Master should cause us to agree in the Lord (Phil 4:2).
Believers have one faith.
This refers to the body of doctrine passed down to us in Scripture. Jude 1:3 says, “Dear friends, although I was very eager to write to you about the salvation we share, I felt I had to write and urge you to contend for the faith that was once for all entrusted to the saints.” We must contend for the truth and faithfully pass it on. Paul says this to Timothy in 2 Timothy 1:13-14:
What you heard from me, keep as the pattern of sound teaching, with faith and love in Christ Jesus. Guard the good deposit that was entrusted to you—guard it with the help of the Holy Spirit who lives in us.
It is this body of doctrine that teaches our unity and calls for us to preserve it.
Believers have one baptism.
This could mean either the baptism of the Spirit by which we become members of the body of Christ, or water baptism as a person confesses his identification with Christ’s death, burial, and resurrection (cf. Rom 6:4). It is essentially the believer’s wedding ceremony, as he publicly professes the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit (Matt 28:19).
Believers have one God and Father of all.
The Believer’s Bible Commentary adds:
Above all—He is the supreme Sovereign of the universe. Through all—He acts through all, using everything to accomplish His purposes. In you all—He dwells in all believers, and is present in all places at one and the same time.15
In considering all our commonalities as believers, let us make every effort to preserve the unity of the Spirit.
How else should we make every effort to preserve this unity, as laid out in Ephesians 4:3-6?
- Believers make every effort by not compromising foundational truths.
An implication of Paul’s focus on these seven spiritual commonalities is the need to maintain the basic foundational truths of Christianity. Paul is not promoting unity at any cost, but rather unity based on truth and righteousness. When someone teaches a different Lord other than Jesus Christ, he is not a Christian and should not be accepted as such. The apostle John says, “But every spirit that does not acknowledge Jesus is not from God. This is the spirit of the antichrist, which you have heard is coming and even now is already in the world” (I John 4:3).
Similarly, in Galatians 1:9 Paul calls for anyone who teaches another gospel to be accursed. Some think we should seek unity by all means necessary. However, this is incorrect. If professed believers teach a different Lord, a different God, or a different gospel, we should not unite with them. In fact, this is not only true when a professed believer teaches heresy verbally, but also when he teaches it by ungodly living. First Corinthians 5:11-13 says,
But now I am writing you that you must not associate with anyone who calls himself a brother but is sexually immoral or greedy, an idolater or a slanderer, a drunkard or a swindler. With such a man do not even eat. What business is it of mine to judge those outside the church? Are you not to judge those inside? God will judge those outside. “Expel the wicked man from among you.”
There can be no unity where foundational doctrinal truths or the practical righteousness resulting from them are compromised. This requires wisdom and discernment. It has commonly been said, “In essentials, unity. In doubtful questions, liberty. In all things, charity.”16