The Unity of the Spirit

A Sabbath Afternoon Reflection by Ps Jeff O’Neil

Come my soul and meditate on this portion of God’s word as given by brother Paul in his Ephesian letter in ch. 4, v. 3,—"Endeavouring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace."

The Apostle, in writing this epistle, is fully aware that the Church was comprised of different races, Jew and Gentile; different backgrounds; disparate personalities and states of grace, and that such racial temperaments could come into collision, so causing division and dissension. There are always different tastes, intellects and passions in the society of saints. He teaches the similitude of the body in order to describe the oneness and organism of the Church, that appears in v. 4, and he develops it in ch. 4, v. 16; ch. 5, v. 30; and in 1 Corinthians 12:12. His concern is that there be no dislocation within the body, no fragmentation of the membership.

Unfortunately, disruption amongst God’s people has always been the bane of the Church down through the ages. The people of God seem to have a propensity to self-destruct. Generally, this is caused by an insistence of an individual, or party within the ranks, to try and force a particular emphasis. It might well be legitimate, but by pragmatically dogmatising without a concensus of agreement, division is caused. Instead of a bond of union, there are fights over a bone of contention.

John Owen could write, even in his day, "It is generally acknowledged that there is a great decay of love, a great want of peace and unity among professors of the Gospel in the world." This repeats itself from generation to generation, and from church to church. Notwithstanding, it is frequently warned against in Scripture, and the saints encouraged and commanded otherwise, as in the verse before me. True unity is a spiritual unity, and it is a unity of faith (v. 5), for there is one faith and one baptism. This is as a consequence of being united to one Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ. Unified in Him and by Him. Unified in the fundamental doctrines, and charitable in secondaries. Such unity arises from the love of God being shed abroad in our hearts.

But when I look at this verse, it does not speak of a unity to be acquired, discovered or fabricated, but presupposes that unity already exists! Indeed, when someone is converted there is an immediate spiritual unity with Christ, and consequently integration and engrafting into the Body of Christ. Now this thought discovers the fallacy of the Ecumenical Movement, in that it organizes meetings in order to work toward unity: whereas true spiritual oneness already exists amongst those who have experienced salvation through Christ.

Paul then, is encouraging the Ephesian Christians to keep this unity. He writes, "Endeavour to keep," i.e. preserve what already is true. This word, ‘endeavour’ does not totally capture the import of his exhortation, for it can carry with it a possibility of failure. Rather it means, "Spare no effort," and carefully guard what is in being. It also means, to be promptly earnest and diligently hold fast. It has a sense of ‘to labour,’ which is an industry for every one of us without exception.

Now this unity is a unity of the Spirit, which can have a two-fold meaning. It can mean, ‘the Holy Spirit,’ who graces the life of every believer and must not be grieved. Or rather, it could mean, to keep a spiritual unity, having the same sentiments, desires and ambition, thus, being of one mind and one spirit. It is not solely a matter of having a uniform outward connection, or the same confession, but an inward like-mindedness, and Christ-likeness.

But such oneness is to be kept in the bond of peace, or translated, ‘by the bond of peace.’ A quietness of spirit, that engenders a spiritual calm between the members of the body. The word ‘bond’ here, means to ‘tie together.’ A bond of peace, that binds hearts together in Christian love. Without peace there is fractiousness, discord and contention, but a peaceful disposition creates an atmosphere of well-being between each other. Heart answering to heart in love. A oneness, that is an imitation of the environment of Heaven.

How then, to promote this climate of peace and unity? Well, verse 2 gives a collection of self-abnegating graces that are grounds for this beautiful plant to grow in. If we could outvie each other in these, what grace would reign, what love be experienced, and what peace would ensue, "With all lowliness and meekness, with long suffering, forbearing one another in love" (v. 2). Matthew Henry writes, "The more lowliness the more like-mindedness."

But when contention unmasks its ugly face, each party must realize that each has the One Lord, the One God and Father, the One Spirit, One Faith and One Baptism, One Hope and the One engrafting into the One Body. It is only then, upon the realization of this, experimentally and practically, that I can walk worthy of the vocation wherewith I am called.

Behold, how good a thing it is,

and how becoming well,

Together such as brethren are

In unity to dwell.