Unity: God makes it, we maintain it

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Whatever else Ephesians might contain, within just a few chapters, Paul lays an extensive foundation outlining the unity God is creating. One practical conclusion from this letter is that it contains profound implications for ecumenical efforts.

To summarize why Paul broke forth in praise to God as he began Ephesians, Paul’s thoughts were focused upon God’s plan and activity to overcome fractured relationships by heading up all things in Christ –- both those of heaven and on earth.

In essence, the apostle was overwhelmed with God’s determination to achieve a pervasive unity of fellowship.

The cornerstone making possible all that would follow entailed Jesus’ faithful response to God in death. This created the basis for both humanity’s unity with God as well as each other.

Through Christ’s death, spiritually dead humanity, who exists in a state of alienation from God, could be forgiven, redeemed, adopted by God and given new spiritual life.

Furthermore, through Christ’s blood God can unite Jew and Gentile within the oneness of a single corporate community. Such genuine solidarity and fellowship comes not from well-intentioned human efforts, but only from God.

No wonder then, that after having laid this massive foundation of oneness Paul exhorts Christians to live worth of their calling by “making every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” (Ephesians 4:1,3 NET).

Those of God’s workmanship are to work with, not against, God’s efforts.

Paul reminded his readers what God has provided for maintaining this unity. Not only is there only one body, one Spirit, one hope, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all (Ephesians 4:4-6), but Christ had also provided gifts whose function were “to build up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God” (Ephesians 4:12,13).

What does all of this mean for us in practical terms? Throughout the rest of this letter, Paul explains how the Christian ought to live in order to grow up into Christ, who is the head.

To live in God’s light would maintain walking with God and promoting God’s work of solidarity with others. The Christian should not grieve the Spirit through indulging in sin’s destructive work against God’s plans.

Understanding Paul’s message also provides insight into contemporary ecumenical efforts. If God is forging unity through Christ, then only those whom God has claimed for himself in Christ can truly be unified.

Jesus alluded to this principle, when he described some who claimed to know him, but he responded, “I never knew you.”

In other words, if God creates unity, then those who can be unified are those whom God recognizes as being in Christ. We can neither establish our relationship with God nor join others together with us in Christ’s body.

Accordingly, for anyone to redraw the one church’s boundaries either more narrowly or broadly than what God has created is futile.

Regardless of humanity’s noble intentions, when it comes to unity we cannot establish what God has not first made. Therefore, knowing who God claims as his own through Christ becomes paramount to understanding the one church and maintaining unity.

When it comes to the unity God has created, the only work we can successfully achieve involves what Paul commanded. Preserve the solidarity that God has already created through Christ.

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Barry Newton

Married to his wonderful wife Sofia and a former missionary in Brazil, Barry enjoys trying to express old truths in fresh ways. They have two boys attending university.

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