A Commentary by John Stott
Ephesians 4:1-16. Unity and diversity in the church.
For three chapters Paul has been unfolding for his readers the eternal purpose of God being worked out in history. Through Jesus Christ, who died for sinners and was raised from death, God is creating something entirely new, not just a new life for individuals for a new society. Paul sees an alienated humanity being reconciled, a fractured humanity being united, even a new humanity being created. It is a magnificent vision.
Now the apostle moves on from the new society to the new standards which are expected of it. So he turns from exposition to exhortation, from what God has done (in the indicative) to what we must be and do (in the imperative), from doctrine to duty, ‘from the *credenda… to the agenda*, from mind-stretching theology to its down-to-earth, concrete implications in everyday living.
He begins: *I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, beg you…* He had taught them, and he has prayed for them (1:15-23 and 3:14-19); now he addresses to them a solemn appeal. Instruction, intercession and exhortation constitute a formidable trio of weapons in any teacher’s armoury. Besides, Paul was no ordinary teacher. He uses the emphatic personal pronoun, the *ego* of self-conscious apostolic authority, as in 3:1. And again he describes himself as *a prisoner for the Lord*, using a slightly different grammatical construction but the same *double entendre*, that he is both a prisoner of Christ and a prisoner for Christ, both bound to him by the chains of love and in custody out of loyalty to his gospel. Thus the authority of one of Christ’s apostles and the passionate conviction of a man under house arrest because of his vision of a united church, together undergird his exhortation. *I beg you*, he writes, *to lead a life worthy of the calling to which you have been called*.
What this life is to be like can be determined only by the nature of the divine call of which it is to be worthy. What is this? The new society which God is calling into being has two major characteristics. First, it is ‘one’ people, composed equally of Jews and Gentiles, the single family of God. Secondly, it is a ‘holy’ people, distinct from the secular world, set apart (like Israel in Old Testament days) to belong to God. Therefore because God’s people are called to be one people, they must manifest their unity, and because they are called to be a holy people, they must manifest their purity. Unity and purity are two fundamental features of a life worthy of the church’s divine calling. The apostle treats the unity of the church in verses 1-16 and the purity of the church from 4:17 to 5:21.
During the last half-century and more a great deal has been said and written about the unity of the church. The modern preoccupation with it may be traced to the influential ‘Appeal to all Christian People’ which was issued by the 1920 Lambeth Conference of Anglican bishops under the chairmanship of Randall Davidson, Archbishop of Canterbury. Following this, the movement towards reunion gathered speed, two notable milestones being the inauguration of the Church of South India in 1947 and of the World Council of Churches in 1948. Since then some more united churches have come into being, while other union schemes have founded; and the movement may be said to be in the doldrums. It is all the more important, therefore, to look with fresh eyes at Ephesians 4:1-16, since this is one of the two classic New Testament passages on the subject of Christian unity (the other being John 17). It should prove both a strong stimulus to concern ourselves with Christian unity and a healthy corrective to a number of misleading notions about it.
Paul elaborates four truths about the kind of oneness which God intends his new society to enjoy. They may be stated in the following four propositions:
1). It depends on the *charity* of our character and conduct (verse 2).
2). It arises from the *unity* of our God (verses 3-6).
3). It is enriched by the *diversity* of our gifts (verses 7-12).
4). It demands the *maturity* of our growth (verses 13-16).
It will be observed that charity, unity, diversity and maturity appear to be the key concepts of this section.
Tomorrow: Ephesians 4:2. 1). Christian unity depends on the charity of our conduct.