Devoted to the Propagation and Defense of New Testament Christianity
September 24, 1964

The Unity Of The Spirit

L. A. Mott, Jr.

In recent years there has been an increasing amount of discussion among both Catholics and Protestants on the subject of unity. Roman Catholic authorities, particularly, have made overtures to Protestants on behalf of unity as never before. Perhaps all of this is subject to interpretation, but at any rate, on the surface at least we are witnessing a marked change in attitude among Catholics. But even before the developments of the most recent years, we had only to pick up a newspaper on nearly any given day to find notices of efforts toward unity within Protestantism. We are constantly hearing of efforts between two or more denominations to form some sort of merger.

Is unity in religion a desirable goal? This question cannot be answered with an unqualified yes or no. It is like the question, "Have you stopped beating your wife?" Any yes or no must be qualified. Certainly God desires the unity of all men, but he desires this unity not under just any conditions, but upon his terms. What are his terms? This is a question which, it appears to me, has been neglected by both Catholics and Protestants.

The fundamental passage setting forth God's mind on this subject is Eph. 4:1-16. All religious people would do well to consider this passage and the plan for unity unfolded therein.

The Admonition To Unity

I therefore, the prisoner in the Lord, beseech you to walk worthily of the calling, wherewith ye were called, with all lowliness and meekness, with longsuffering, forbearing one another in love; giving diligence to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.

The passage begins with the fundamental admonition to "walk worthily of the calling wherewith ye were called." If the reader will check Thayer's Grk-Eng Lexicon on the Greek adverb which is here translated "worthily" and its related adjective, he will learn that the idea of weight is involved in this family of words; one thing weighs as much as something else.

Paul has spoken concerning the Christian's "calling" in the first three chapters of Ephesians. It is to be noted that the word "church" itself involves the idea of being called out. The calling of the Christian is equal to the being in the church which was purposed (Eph. 3:8-10). In Eph. 1:3, 5 Paul tells us that we were chosen in Christ "before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blemish before him in love: having foreordained us unto adoption as sons..." The emphasized words point up something of the significance of the calling of the Christian.

What Paul does in Eph. 4:1 is to place our calling in one pan of the scales and our walk (conduct) in the other pan; he then calls upon us to balance the scales.

Next, Paul describes the attitude associated with this walk worthy of our calling. This worthy walk is to be accompanied by lowliness, meekness, long-suffering and forbearance.

Lowliness refers to the having a humble opinion of one's self, a deep sense of ones (moral) littleness. Such terms as modesty and humility help to define this word. "For I say, through the grace that was given me, to every man that is among you, not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think" (Rom. 12:3). ". . . in lowliness of mind each counting other better than himself" (Phil. 2:3). Besides these passages, consider Eph. 2:4-10 in which Paul shows that what we are we are by the grace of God and we therefore have no cause to boast.

Meekness is a word which is best defined by describing its opposite. It refers to the attitude of submissiveness which is opposed to rudeness, harshness, self-assertion, and self-interest.

Longsuffering is the quality of self-restraint in the face of provocation which does not hastily retaliate or promptly punish. It puts up with a great deal before taking action. It is the quality which caused God so long to delay the flood (1 Pet. 3:20). Peter sees the long delay in the coming of the Lord as an evidence of longsuffering on the part of God who does not wish any to perish and so gives all ample opportunity to repent (2 Pet. 3:9).

The "forbearing one another in love" evidently refers to the exercise of longsuffering; the holding up under a load of provocation.

This passage, Eph. 4:1-16, is a comprehensive explanation of God's plan for maintaining unity among brethren. Everything in the passage is important. These qualities, accompaniments of the worthy walk, are absolutely essential to unity. Where they are present brethren will not find it difficult to get along together. But without them unity cannot be long maintained.

Paul is especially concerned with one aspect of the worthy walk and so, in the next place, lists a specification under the general heading of a worthy walk: "giving diligence to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace."

"Giving diligence" means to be zealous or eager; to take pains; to make every effort; to exert one's self. This is not just a negative avoiding of what causes disunity; it includes actively promoting unity.

"To keep" means to attend to carefully; to take care of. The Greek word is used in Matt. 27:36, 54; Acts 12:5, 16:23, and 25:4, 21 of the guarding of a prisoner. Paul is telling us to exert ourselves, to make every effort, to guard the unity of the Spirit.

"Unity of the Spirit" forbids concord in error. Ananias and Sapphira "agreed together" (Acts 5:9). Here was concord or unity, but it was an evil alliance. The more than forty men of Acts 23:12 "banded together" in a plot to kill Paul. We should be concerned, not about unity on just any terms or under just any circumstances, but only such unity as the Holy Spirit inspires or teaches.

In my next article I shall consider the basis of unity laid down by Paul in verses 4-6 of the text.

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