A Commentary by John Stott
Ephesians 4:3-6. Christian unity arises from the unity of our God.
Even the casual reader of verses 3-6 (thought by some to be part of a Christian hymn or a creed for catechumens) is struck by Paul’s repetition of the word ‘one’; in fact, it occurs seven times. A more careful reading discloses that three of these seven unities allude to the three Persons of the Trinity (*one Spirit*, verse 4; *one Lord*, verse 5, i.e. the Lord Jesus; and *One God and Father of us all*, verse 6), while the remaining four allude to our Christian experience in relation to the three Persons of the Trinity. This truth can be expressed in three simple affirmations.
First, there is *one body* because there is only *one Spirit* (verse 4). The one body is the church, the body of Christ (1:23), comprising Jewish and Gentile believers; and its unity or cohesion is due to the one Holy Spirit who indwells and animates it. As Paul writes elsewhere, ‘By one Spirit we were all baptized into one body – Jews or Greeks, slaves or free – and all were made to drink of one Spirit.’ (1 Cor.12:13). Thus, it is our common possession of the one Holy Spirit that integrates us into one Body.
Secondly, there is *one hope* belonging to our Christian calling (verse 4), *one faith* and *one baptism* (verse 5) because there is only *one Lord*. For the Lord Jesus Christ is the one object of the faith, hope and baptism of all Christian people. It is Jesus Christ in whom we have believed, Jesus Christ into whom we have been baptized (E.g. 1 Cor.1:13; Gal:3:27), and Jesus Christ for whose coming we wait with expectant hope.
Thirdly, there is one Christian family, embracing *us all* (verse 6) because *there is one God and Father…who is above all and through all and in all*. A few manuscripts read ‘in *you* all’, clarifying that the ‘all’ of whom God is Father means ‘all Christians’, not ‘all people’ indiscriminately, or ‘all things’ (the universe). Armitage Robinson calls this addition of the word ‘you’ ‘a timid gloss’. Perhaps it is; and certainly the overwhelming manuscript evidence omits it. Nevertheless, it is a correct gloss. For the ‘all’ *above, through* and *in* whom God is Father, are his family or household, his redeemed children. (cf. 1:2,17; 2:18-19;3:14-15).
We are now in a position to repeat the three affirmations, this time the other way round and in the order in which the Persons of the Trinity are normally mentioned. First, the one Father creates the one family. Secondly, the one Lord Jesus creates the one faith, hope and baptism. Thirdly, the one Spirit creates the one body.
Indeed we can go further. We must assert that there *can* be only one Christian family, only one Christian faith, hope and baptism, and only one Christian body, because there is only one God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. You can no more multiply churches than you can multiply Gods. Is there only one God? Then he has the only one church. Is the unity of God inviolable? Then so is the unity of the church. The unity of the church is as indestructible as the unity of God himself. It is no more possible to split the church than it is possible to split the Godhead.
In stating the matter thus baldly and dogmatically (as the apostle Paul himself did), it is not difficult to imagine what the reader is thinking. You will be saying to me something like this: ‘It is all very well declaring that we cannot split the church; the truth is we have been extremely successful in doing the very thing you are saying we cannot do!’ How, then, can the evident phenomenon of the disunity of the church be reconciled with the biblical insistence on the indestructibility of its unity?
Tomorrow: Ephesians 4:3-6. 2). Christian unity arises from the unity of our God (continued).
|The John Stott Bible Study is taken from The Message of Ephesians. The Bible Speaks Today John Stott. Used by permission of Inter-Varsity Press UK, Nottingham. All rights reserved.|