To diligently keep the unity, the people of God have to live lives worthy of our salvation. In other words, they have to be true Christians who are humble and gentle and patient and accepting of one another in love. How is unity broken? By taking the completely opposite attitude and behavior that true believers possess. Unity is broken by a lack of humility, a lack of gentleness, impatience and an inability to accept and endure the sins and faults of others.
To hammer this point in, Paul goes on in v4–
4 There is one body and one Spirit—just as you were called to one hope at your calling— 5 one Lord, one faith, one baptism, 6 one God and Father of all, who is above all and through all and in all.
Here, Paul is talking about the universal church, not the local church. The moment you are saved, you have spiritual brothers and sisters around the world who call upon the name of the same Lord and who have the same faith and who were all initiated into the community of faith by the same baptism. Before we talk about unity at the local church level, we have to let this sink in that God’s design is for the universal church to be one. When Jesus returns and establishes his new heaven and new earth, there won’t be Hill Community or Friendship Baptist, there will only be one church. In the end, the body of Christ will be one body and God will eventually assemble representatives from every tribe and language and people and nation and we will gather before one throne in unified worship.
There are churches in the world who live as if they are the only church. They live cut off from all other churches. They only care about what happens within the walls of their church. Other churches are treated like competitors. Why does this happen? They are not humble, nor gentle, nor patient, they lack acceptance. For Christians, we have our differences, but among people who have been called by God unto salvation, we have much more in common than not because we have the same Heavenly Father.
Even in my family, our children look different. Timothy is looks like me, Jeremiah looks like Jackie and Elijah is a genetic mutation. He’s a hybrid of both parents. Actually, I think he is also part beast, but that’s another matter. The point being our kids look different and they have different personalities and different interests. There is diversity in our family, yet there is still unity because we are one family.
The same goes for God’s family, the universal church. Various churches might be different in terms of style. Some are high church, very liturgical and the priests dress up in robes. Others are low church, casual, like us. Some churches serve the poor, some churches serve the community, some churches are very missional. There is great diversity, but at the same time, there is unity because we share the same Heavenly Father.
If you think about it, could it be any other way? God is infinite so can an infinite God be contained in a little box? Can one local church capture the fullness of who God is? Can one denomination represent fully who God is in all His wisdom, power and majesty? Of course not. One Christian that I know described God as a mountain and you have one Christian looking at him from the North and another from the South and another from the East and another from the West.
When someone gets a clear view of God and they forget that God is infinite, then they can become extremely confident that they have the full view of God. If such a person lacks humility, let’s say, the guy who saw God from the North side, then he will think the other 3 Christians are wrong. Humility is saying I only see God from one angle in 2D, but we need the panoramic view. God is 3D, he’s outside of space and time, so he’s probably fourth dimensional and so not even all 4 perspectives is sufficient to fully describe him. God is infinite. Even if we had an eternity to get to know him, still, we would never exhaust nor be able to fully describe an infinite being.
I am not a mathematician and I am a bit nervous using this example in front of Caltech students. But in mathematics, you can’t put a boundary around the number infinity and say, here is the number. No, whatever number you think of, infinity is greater. Even if you count forever and reach the number you think is infinity, there is still infinity + 1. Meaning, you can never reach the boundary and contain the number infinity.
God is the same way. This means we can learn from the Pentecostal brothers and sisters about the power of the Holy Spirit and prayer. We can learn from certain liturgical traditions about God’s holiness. We can learn from churches in the Reformed theological tradition about the high view of Scripture. People can learn from Baptists about missions and church planting. In God’s family, there is great unity in diversity and diversity in unity. We are one because we have one common source, but we are diverse because God is infinite in his character.
Through Daniel and Sora, whom we love and trust, we met Pastor Lee and his family. And within 5 minutes of getting to know them, I felt unity. Because we have the same Lord, the same faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all. It’s the same way I feel toward pastors in our area like Pastor PJ of Crossview Church, a Filipino American, or Pastor Lucious, right here at FBC, an African American, and Pastor Jim who just got hired as the youth pastor of FBC and he’s Caucasian. We look different, we have vastly different backgrounds, yet we are one. We don’t have to spend a lot of time together and we didn’t have to know each other for many years to be one. As long as humility and gentleness and patience and acceptance are present and the Lord is at the center and the Lord is the common goal, unity can be instantaneous.
It starts with unity in the universal church. Now we can talk about unity at the local church level.
7 Now grace was given to each one of us according to the measure of the Messiah’s gift. 8 For it says: When He ascended on high, He took prisoners into captivity; He gave gifts to people. 9 But what does “He ascended” mean except that He descended to the lower parts of the earth? 10 The One who descended is also the One who ascended far above all the heavens, that He might fill all things. 11 And He personally gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers…
God doesn’t just say, go, be diligent and keep the unity and then leave us on our own to figure it out. No, to help us, Jesus gives gifts to His church. To describe what is happening in the spiritual landscape, Paul uses the metaphor from the military. In the Old Testament as well as in Paul’s day, a military general would conquer another army and he would steal all of their possessions and essentially the losing side would become prisoners of war. And so this conquering general would return to his nation and distribute gifts to the king, to the soldiers and the people of the winning side while the losing nation would form a train of captives in chains. Paul makes the analogy that the very same thing happened in the spiritual world when Jesus died on the cross and descended into Hades and rose victorious over sin and death. He defeated Satan and his forces of darkness and they were chained up like prisoners of war. And as Christ ascended into heaven after the resurrection, he distributed the spoils of war by giving spiritual gifts to his people, the church.
We all have gifts. The biggest gift by far is the grace of God which saved us. Salvation is the greatest gift. v7 – the word for “grace” and the word for “gift” in the Greek share the same root. Grace is THE gift. The rest of the spiritual gifts are expressions of this primary gift of God’s grace. Some of the gifts are listed in v11 – apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers.
Is being a pastor or a teacher a calling? Or is it a gifting? I say it’s gifting, but you don’t have to take my word for it. That’s what Scripture says. Our calling is the calling unto salvation. Our gifting are things like the gift of pastoring or shepherding people, the teaching gift, the gift of prophecy, or the gift of evangelism. I left out apostles because I don’t believe there are any present day apostles, but we’ll leave that for another time.
Why does Jesus give gifts to His church? Reason #1 is to help keep the unity relationally that was ushered in when the walls that divided us were torn down by Christ’s death on the cross. A second reason Jesus gives gifts is so that we can reach unity in terms of our faith and in our knowledge of God’s Son, with the ultimate goal of maturity and fullness in Christ.
12 for the training of the saints in the work of ministry, to build up the body of Christ, 13 until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of God’s Son, growing into a mature man with a stature measured by Christ’s fullness.