Devoted to the Propagation and Defense of New Testament Christianity
NUMBER 23, PAGE 2,10a

The Unity Of The Spirit -- Part Three

L. A. Mott, Jr.

Paul's discussion of the divine plan for unity in Eph. 4:1-16 has three major points. First is the appeal that Christians "walk worthily of the calling wherewith (they) were called." with the specification under this general heading that they give "diligence to keep unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace" (vv. 1-3). Second, Paul discusses the foundation upon which they are to carry out this instruction (vv. 4-6). Third, Paul shows God's plan in accord with which Christians, who are already in the body of Christ, can 'keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace" (vv. 7-16). In this section he shows how God intends that this be done.

It is important to realize that the people being addressed by Paul are Christians — people who have existing between them the seven bonds of union listed in vv. 4-6. Even though a large number of people are all in the one body of Christ differences will exist between them. Even though all of them are members of the same body, have dwelling within them the same Spirit, have beating in their breasts the same hope, are all slaves of the same Lord, have the same faith in their hearts, have all received the same baptism, and all acknowledge and worship the same God, there will be differences between them. These differences will be due to a number of factors. One is the religious background of the people. Jews will have grown up in the traditions peculiar to their previous religion; for instance, the restrictions concerning meats. Gentiles will have come from the practices of heathenism, and will have to be taught. They will not have a complete understanding of the truth on all points when they first become Christians. So the differences between brethren will mostly be due to differences in knowledge and understanding.

Such differences were evidently to be found among the brethren at Rome. Some knew that all meats are clean; others felt that one must abstain from meats.

In view of such differences as these between brethren, all of whom have been baptized into the one body, how is the complete unity of the Spirit to be developed and maintained? This I; precisely the point with which Paul deals in vv. 7-16 of our text!

The Unifying Gifts

Paul's point in vv. 7-16 is that God has given certain gifts to the church. The result which God intended to obtain by giving these gifts is ''the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God."

Verse 11 lists these gifts. God gave apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers. These are God's gifts to the church. "But unto each one of us was the grace given according to the measure of the gift of Christ." (v. 7). So these gifts were given to each one of us. Each gift was designed for the benefit of all the saints.

It is clear upon even a casual glance at the list of offices named in verse 11 that we have here a complete catalog of the revealers and instructors of the word of God. In fact, it is the judgment of this writer that the word of God could be inserted at verse 11 in place of the list of offices without doing violence to or even changing Paul's thought.

At verse 12-16 we have God's purpose in the giving of these gifts to the church. At verse 12 we come to a point which has been the subject of much dispute between the commentators. Let us first get the verse before us:

"for the perfecting of the saints, unto the work of ministering, unto the building up of the body of Christ:"

The disputed point has to do with the relationship between the three phrases of this verse. Most of our brethren have followed the view of those commentators who feel that these are three coordinate phrases. Thus, they conclude that we have here a three-fold work of the church outlined. This, in my judgment, is incorrect, and causes a misunderstanding of Paul's thought. Instead of viewing these three phrases as three coordinate phrases, they should be viewed as each one dependent upon the previous phrase. This is a simpler construction of the passage and gives a sense which is more in harmony with the thought of the entire text.

The word "perfecting" is the translation of the Greek noun katartismos. The word "denotes ... a fitting or preparing fully" (Vine, Exp. Diet.). Arndt and Gingrich (Grk-Eng. Lex.) say it means: equipment; equipping for something. They say that the meaning of the first two phrases of verse 12 is to equip the saints for service. This agrees with the view of Salmond (Exp. Grk. Testament). who translates the first phrase of verse 12 "with a view to the full equipment of the saints:"

This phrase gives the purpose of God's gifts to the church. Why did God give apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastor; and teachers to the church? In order that the saints might be fully equipped or completely outfitted.

"Ministering" (diakonia) is a word of broad application. The nature of this ministering or service is to be determined from the context in each occurrence. The word has nothing whatever to do with benevolence or the relief of physical needs in the present context. It has a more lofty application here than that. It refers to a spiritual ministering — that which results in the edification of the church.

The relation between the various parts of our passage is clear thus far. The apostles, prophets, etc., were given to the church in order that the saints might be fully equipped (completely outfitted or qualified) for the work of ministering. Now add the third phrase. The purpose of this ministering is "the building up of the body of Christ."

This passage teaches the responsibility of the church (the saints) to build itself up (verse 16). Verse 16 is a repetition of this concept. The purpose of the gifts was to fully equip the saints for the work of ministering, the purpose of which is building up (edification, spiritual body building) of the body of Christ.

The goal of this ministering and building up is stated in verse 13. It is stated in three different ways. We thus have a complete description of the goal. Verse 13 answers the question. When will the work described in verse 12 be complete?

We are presently concerned only with the first description of the goal. The other points in verse 13 are only a restatement of the same thing in other words. The goal is: "till we all attain unto the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God."

Though all Christians are in one and the same body, some are babes; they are deficient in faith and knowledge. All members of the body are to strive toward the goal of complete faith and knowledge. Before that point is reached there will be differences. But when that goal is reached there will be unity of faith and knowledge. In one sense the goal is never reached: All Christians will never be full grown at one time; in another sense the goal is never reached as it is attained in the lives of individuals.

As this article is concluded let me summarize the main point. All Christians have between them seven bonds of union (vv. 4-6). Upon that foundation we are to strive for unity, for division between brethren is absurd in view of these seven bonds. God has given the necessary resources to the church to effect this unity. He gave gifts to the church (v. 11), the purpose of which is that the saints might be fully equipped for the work of ministering, which is designed to build up the body of Christ (v. 12), which, in turn, will result in "the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God" (v. 13). This is God's complete plan for unity in the body of Christ.

We now have the major part of our work done. The text has been analyzed. A few things remain to be said by way of application and observation. One more article will conclude this series.

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