A Commentary by John Stott
Ephesians 4:3-6. 2). Christian unity arises from the unity of God (continued).
Just so, the fact of the church’s indestructible unity is no excuse for acquiescing in the tragedy of its actual disunity. On the contrary, the apostle tells us to be *eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit*. The Greek verb for ‘eager’ (*spoudazontes*) is emphatic. It means that we are to ‘spare no effort’ (NEB), and, being a present participle, it is a call for continuous, diligent activity. Marcus Barth expresses the sense vividly: ‘It is hardly possible to render exactly the urgency contained in the underlying Greek verb. Not only haste and passion, but a full effort of the whole man is meant, involving his will, sentiment, reason, physical strength, and total attitude. The imperative mood of the participle found in the Greek text excludes passivity, quietism, a wait-and-see attitude, or a diligence tempered by all deliberate speed. Yours is the initiative! Do it now! Mean it! *You* are to do it! I mean it! – Such are the overtones in verse 3.’
Where I ask myself, is this eagerness for unity to be found among evangelical Christians today? Is this an apostolic command we are guilty of largely ignoring?
Take the local church first, for presumably it is to this that Paul is primarily referring . Some Christian fellowships are marred by rivalries between individuals or groups which have been allowed to fester for years. How can we possibly condone such things? We need to be ‘eager’ for love. unity and peace, and more active in seeking it.
But Ephesians, as we have seen, may have been a circular letter addressed to several churches. Perhaps even in the city of Ephesus itself there were now so many Christians that they met in several district house churches. We know, for example, that Aquilla and Priscilla had a church in their home when they lived in Rome (Rom.16:3-5), and probably also when they moved to Ephesus (Acts 18:26). So Paul may have in mind the need for unity *between* as well as *within* the churches. If so, his concern would apply to inter-church relationships today. This is not the place to go into the technical terms which are used for various kinds of relations between churches, such as ‘open communion’, ‘intercommunion’, ‘full communion’ and ‘organic union’. There is room for differences of conviction among us as to the precise form or forms in which God wants Christian unity to be expressed. But we should all be eager for some visible expression of Christian unity, provided always that we do not sacrifice fundamental Christian truth in order to achieve it. Christian unity arises from our having one Father, one Saviour, and one indwelling Spirit. So we cannot possibly foster a unity which pleases God either if we deny the doctrine of the Trinity or if we have not come personally to know God the Father through the reconciling work of his Son Jesus Christ and by the power of the Holy Spirit. Authentic Christian ‘unity’ in truth, life and love is far more important than ‘union’ schemes of a structural kind, although ideally the latter should be a visible expression of the former.
Tomorrow: Ephesians 4:7-12. 3). Christian unity is enriched by the diversity of our gifts.