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Paul’s letter to the Ephesians talks about unity and challenges us to ask if we can live in ways that demonstrate that unity and bear witness to it in a divided world and a divided church.
Paul emphasizes that it makes no sense for God’s people to divide themselves and work against one another, especially in view of the fact to accomplish his purposes.
No house, no kingdom, and no church can stand if its people do not work together.
Ephesus was one of the most significant centers of first-century Christianity.
With many thousands of residents and serving as a shipping hub for the Lycus River Valley and the Aegean Sea, Ephesus was one of the largest and richest cities in the Roman world.
As a cosmopolitan commercial and religious center, Ephesus was widely known for its religious diversity: Jews lived side-by-side with pagans of all stripes, and occult practices and their accompanying superstitions were prevalent.
The apostle Paul chose Ephesus as a base for evangelistic efforts in western Asia Minor.
He spent almost three years in the city preaching to Jews and Gentiles and sending his own disciples to plant churches in nearby cities like Colossae and Laodicea.
Even though the Ephesian Christians enjoyed strong apostolic leadership, they struggled to live faithfully in a world driven by possessions, pride, and false conceptions of God and his will.
In , some three years before Ephesians was written, Paul warned the elders of the Ephesian church that self-serving leaders would create factions, splitting the body to serve their own purposes.
Reason for Unity -
The word then here marks an important transition in Ephesians.
As a prisoner for the Lord under arrest in Rome, Paul has time on his hands - so he writes letters.
To this point in this letter, he has been addressing profound concepts relating to adoption as God’s chosen children, the relationship between Jews and Gentiles in the plan of salvation, and his own calling as an apostle.
Building these themes, the apostle turns to the practical implications of one’s calling in Christ: God expects his chosen people to use what he has given them to work together in advancing the mission of the church.
Verse 2 defines what it means to live a life worthy of God’s calling as it emphasizes virtues that promote unity.
To be humble is to recognize that everything we have comes from God.
Such humility in turn comes from God.
Such humility in turn influences how we treat others.
Character traits of gentleness, patience, and forbearance are to replace traits of harshness, tendencies to quarrel, and impatience.
We as God’s adopted children are to imitate our heavenly Father in loving one another.
Verse 3 highlights the Holy Spirit working in each person, producing a spirit of unity within the church.
Absence of unity, therefore, means that some are not following the Spirit’s lead.
Paul’s reference to the bond of peace may play on his reference to himself as the Lord’s prisoner in verse 1: like the chains that bind a convict, the Spirit ties believers together in a web of peace.
How might the characteristics listed in verse 2 reveal themselves as we work in unity?
Examples of things said and not said; examples of things done and not done; and examples of nonverbal body language.
Next Paul begins to draw metaphor for the church as One Body.
In this analogy, the parts of the body, each with its own unique function, represent individual Christians with their varied spiritual gifts.
With the reference to One Spirit, Paul begins to use the unity of God as an analogy for the kind of unity he expects to see in the church.
Also, this verse with next two present one of the few places in the Bible that address what later becomes known as the doctrine of the Trinity.
God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit are distinct in their work yet fully united in their purpose.
Since God is one and since there is only one God, there is no room for Christians, as God’s children, to divide from one another.
We fulfill our hope of Heaven as we unite and work together.
What reminders of common ground in Jesus have helped you defuse conflict?
Means to Attain Unity -
In verse 7, Paul refers to a different aspect of God’s grace.
Grace is used here in a more nuanced fashion than in earlier chapters.
In the contexts of and 2:5-8, grace refers to God’s unmerited favor and love - a love so strong that it called unworthy people to be children and heirs.
Here grace still refers to God’s favor, but with a focus on what God does after we are saved: Christ shows favor by granting each of us gifts and abilities that can be used to serve the church.
No one is left out; God views all spiritual gifts, and all people who have them, as equally important to the work of the church.
It is therefore critical that they/we all work together to get the job done.
How should awareness of the source of spiritual gifts affect how we relate to one another?
Through prayer; through service; and through speech patterns.
In verse 8 God the conquering king takes his enemies as captives and receives tribute (gifts) from them as spoils of war.
Paul is apparently drawing on an ancient reading of that proposes that God is not receiving gifts but giving them to his people - gifts plundered from his enemies.
Paul views the psalm as a prophecy of Christ.
Jesus who was powerful enough to ascend higher than all the heavens and was willing to make himself of “no reputation” in descending to the lower, earthly regions in human form is certainly able and willing to gift us to serve his church.
In verse 11 we see that the gifts given to his people are not abilities and talents that individuals have received, but rather are people whom God has put into the church to accomplish its mission.
These people, exercising their God-given talents belong to the church as essential equipment.
Christ intends for all these people to work together toward one unified purpose.
Results of Unity -
The opening phrase of verse 12 helps us to understand the purpose of the gifts and talents.
When God’s gifted people work together for the common good, individual believers become better equipped to serve.
As we each grow, the church as a whole is built up and made stronger, better able to fulfill its purpose of reaching a lost world.
What are some appropriate ways to respond after being blessed by another’s faithful use of spiritual gifts?
In verse 13, the mature believer, and churches composed of mature believers, will be characterized by unity, knowledge of Christ, and imitation of Christ.
In this verse, Paul does not suggest that unity comes at the expense of truth, but rather that commitment to the truth will lead to unity.
According to Paul our knowledge of Christ reaches its pinnacle when we achieve the fullness of Christ.
We move toward that goal as we put away our own desires in order to better think and act as Jesus did.
Attaining Christ fullness will include every aspect of what was and what he did and taught as we try to live daily by his teachings and example.
Even though we can never perfectly achieve this in this life, it remains the goal of those on the path to spiritual maturity.
In verse 13, Paul extends the reference to “knowledge” to stress that the mature church will be doctrinally sound.
The church will be able to discern falsehood and protect itself from those who seek to divide.
When the church is united as all its individual parts work together, it will be much more difficult for self-seeking people to promote their own agendas.
In verses 15 & 16, Paul stresses that unity comes through truth, not at the expense of truth.
The focus here is clearly on how believers within the church interact with one another.
Those who are mature will converse truthfully, guided by a spirit of love that unites.
Such love neither gives nor takes offense when the truth is spoken.
Continuing with the analogy of the church as a human body, Christ as the head is the center of thought, reason, and motivation.
The mature church will be united in purpose and guided by Christ.
Each member of the church may compared to a ligament.
Just as each ligament, joint, and muscle in the human body fulfills a distinct function, each Christian is gifted by the Spirit to fulfill a distinct calling.
When this happens - as each individual part matures and develops - the entire body becomes mature and strong.
What are some practical ways to keep truth and love balanced in our interactions?
Identifying times when truth is expressed in unloving ways; identifying times when love is expressed in such a way that truth is eclipsed.
Farmers measure the quality of soil and seed by crop yields.
Whether plants, animals, or people, growth is a sign of health.
Paul would say that the same is true of the church.
As we grow as individuals, the church collectively grows in maturity and numbers.
When we find that we and/or our church isn’t growing, it may be time for a spiritual checkup to determine whether something is amiss.
We thank you, O God, for the promise of unity that will come in your time.
We know this unity is a mystery, but we rejoice in it.
Enable us to bear witness to this unity in our life as the church.
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