The relational function of each member of the body is first with God, and then with one another. Our relationship with one another is based on our relationship with God. The weaker our relationship is with God, the weaker it is with one another. One cannot say he has a relationship with God if he has little or no relationship with his brothers and sisters in Christ. Our coming together in assembly, therefore, is actually a renewal of our relationship with God because we seek to relate lovingly with one another.
The New Testament is not a manual on assembly techniques or a code of liturgy for assembly-oriented religiosity. It is a compilation of Spirit-inspired instructions to encourage us to relate with one another because of how God related to us through the cross. We are called to come into an obedient relationship with God by His call to us through the cross. We are driven to connect with one another, therefore, because God connected with us through Jesus. The fellowship of the saints is no more complicated than that. Christians want to be connected with one another as much as possible because they have an endearing connection with God.
Now when we visit any region or city where there is at least one person who has connected with God through the cross, then it is only natural that we as disciples of Jesus should seek to connect with that person in order to worship and praise the “Divine Connector” of all members of the body. We must never allow our connecting with any group of disciples to exclude us from fellowshipping with other disciples who are also our brethren. If we do so, then we are manifesting a sectarian manner.
When Paul went into any city, he searched for disciples in that city. The first place he searched was the synagogue. We must forget that by the time Paul went on his first and second mission journeys (A.D. 46–49 and A.D. 49–52), it was 15 to 25 years after the Pentecost of A.D. 30 when the church was established in Jerusalem. In other words, 15 to 25 Pentecosts had occurred every year by the time he arrived in the synagogues he visited on his first two journeys (See At 17:1).
During this time, there were Jews annually going to Jerusalem for Pentecosts throughout these years. While in Jerusalem, they had heard the preaching of the apostles who stayed in Jerusalem after the A.D. 30 Pentecost (See At 2:42). To a great extent, therefore, Paul’s regular visits to the synagogues on his mission journeys were actually follow-up studies with Jews who had visited Jerusalem during at least one of the Pentecosts after A.D. 30. This is why Paul went from synagogue to synagogue, searching for those Jews who may have already heard the gospel, as the Ethiopian eunuch who was confused on his way back home after encountering Christians who taught daily in the temple of Jerusalem (At 5:42; 8:26-40).
When Paul came into Corinth, he looked for others in the city who were disciples. Acts 18:2 says that he “found a certain Jew named Aquila … with his wife Priscilla ..” When he once came into Ephesus he again found “certain disciples” (At 19:1). Paul was in the “finding business” because he searched for those, who had in an idolatrous world in some way connected with God. He searched for those who had either obeyed the gospel, or those who had visited Judea during one of the Passover/Pentecost feasts that occurred during the ministry of either John the Baptist or Jesus. The disciples he found in Ephesus may have earlier made contact with John during his ministry.
Paul’s “finding ministry” assumes that one of his responsibilities as a disciple was to connect people with one another in Christ. It is interesting that Aquila and Priscilla had been in Ephesus for at least one year, but they had not found the “certain disciples” that Paul found when he came back to the city after a year in Judea, Syria and Galatia (At 18:22,23). It may have been that Aquila and Priscilla, being Jews, regularly met with other Jews in the synagogue, waiting for an opportunity to find someone as Apollos who was a visiting teacher (See At 18:24-28). But it could also be that the “certain disciples” were Gentiles, and thus they did not meet with the Jews in the synagogue. Or they may have been Jews who believed the message of John the Baptist, and were subsequently kicked out of the synagogue by opposing Jews before the arrival in the city of Aquila and Priscilla. Whatever the case, we must keep in mind that the city of Ephesus at the time was over 250,000 in population. We certainly could not expect Aquila and Priscilla to find all the disciples in the city in the year or so before Paul arrived.
Because of the size of the city of Ephesus, we would naturally assume that a problem of connectivity would develop among all the members of the body in the region of Ephesus. One fact in reference to connectivity between disciples in such a large area would almost be natural. It would be difficult for disciples in a large geographical city area to remain connected. In fact, because local resident disciples can become lost in large metropolitan areas, it was almost impossible for them to stay in contact with one another.
Paul envisioned a separation of disciples within Ephesus that would come after his final visit to the city (See At 20:30). Because of the difficulty of disciples remaining in contact with one another within such large metropolitan areas, we can understand why a letter that was written to the disciples in such an area as Ephesus would include an exhortation that every member in some way strive to stay connected. This is the context of the letter of Ephesians. Paul wrote to the disciples within a large city who had no automobiles, no telephones, no emails, no facebook, no twitter, etc.
How would we ever expect the disciples in large cities as Ephesus to remain one organic body of Christ when everyone was meeting in homes throughout the city? Even disciples today who are privileged with a vast means of transportation and communication devices often find it difficult to remain in contact with one another within large metropolitan areas. We can only imagine how difficult it was for thousands of Christians to remain in contact with one another in cities as Jerusalem, Corinth or Ephesus. Since they were all meeting in homes throughout these cities, we can assume that they struggled to keep the unity of the faith in the bond of peace.
This brings us to the context of the exhortations of Ephesians 4:1-6. This is an exhortation of only two sentences, both sentences imparting to all of us two simple mandates upon which we can remain the one organic body of Christ, though we may of necessity be scattered throughout hundreds of thousands, if not millions of people in a large metropolitan city or area. It is a context that reminds us that we are working with one another, though we are not in physical contact with one another.
In the first sentence of Ephesus 4:1-6, Paul focused on the personal relationships that Christians are to have with one another in order to maintain unity. He gives the personality skills that enable people to be with one another in a common fellowship regardless of their regular presence in the same assembly.
Therefore I, the prisoner of the Lord, urge you that you walk worthy of the calling with which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, forbearing one another in love, being eager to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace (Ep 4:1-3).
If we have been called through the gospel of peace, then our common obedience to the gospel is the foundation for our fellowship with one another. Our unity is the serendipity of our obedience to the gospel. Paul also wrote, “… that you would walk worthy of God, who has called you unto His kingdom and glory” (1 Th 2:12). Paul had preached the gospel to the Thessalonians (1 Th 2:8). They had obeyed the gospel in order to escape the impending judgment that was coming (2 Th 1:8,9). In his second letter, he was expressing urgency in his call for the Thessalonians to remain faithful to their calling. He reminded them, “… He called you by our gospel, to the obtaining of the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ” (2 Th 2:14).
The common obedience to the gospel of people throughout the world is the foundation upon which unity in Christ is initiated (See 1 Jn 1:3). If one would be found worthy in his obedience of the gospel, therefore, he should be seeking to maintain the unity of all those who have obeyed the gospel. Those who would cause dissension in the body, therefore, are those who are unworthy. They are not worthy because it is the nature of the body to be one, and thus manifest to the world that the Father and Son are one. Those who “walk worthy of the calling” of the gospel, therefore, are walking in a manner that is explained and noted in the following points:
True relationships in Christ can happen only when we humbly submit to one another (See Mk 10:35-45; 1 Co 16:15,16; Ep 5:21). If we seek to bring the arrogant or dominant way of world leadership principles into the body of Christ, then there will never be any true unity. Corporate leadership is based on what the owner of the business decides is best for his company. If he is the owner of a successful company, then the owner can be quite dominant and forceful concerning what he would impose on this employees concerning the operation of the company. This is the way of world leadership.
If we designate authorities among us other than Christ, then we subject ourselves to being called after someone as Diotrephes who sets himself up as the owner of the “church company” (See 1 Co 1:12-14). Whenever there are designated “sheep owners” among the people of God, then the sheep are divided by their allegiance to “owners” of each group of sheep. The result is that each sheep must determine the respective “owner” to which he must submit.
If the disciples designate different groups of authority over different groups of sheep, then the sheep are divided as to which group of authorities they must submit. But if all the sheep walk in submission to the “all authority” of the Chief Shepherd (1 Pt 5:4), then all the sheep are globally united in their common submission to the Chief Shepherd to whom they have all submitted. Our common submission to the authority of Christ, therefore, brings all of us together into a common submission to one another (Ep 5:21).
Unity among all disciples can exist only when there is no competition as to who will warm the chief seats. In fact, among disciples, there are no chief seats (See Mt 23:1-12). We are often amused when visiting numerous assemblies wherein is positioned “chief seats” in front of the assembly. Everyone knows that these seats represent places to which authority is given, and from which authority is manifested by those who occupy them, either on a temporary basis or permanent position among the disciples. We must not forget that among the disciples of Jesus we are all sitting on the same seats. There are no “chief seats” designated for higher authorities among God’s people.
Unity is promoted when we do not approach one another with arrogance, or thinking that we know all the answers. We come to one another with humility in order to study God’s word on the foundation of our love for one another, not with the ambition of proving we are right. A humble person simply states that he does not have all the answers.
Humility is manifested through gentleness. A harsh person is not humble in his relationships with others, and thus, he is not one who encourages unity. It is interesting to note how Paul addressed the Corinthians, among whom were some very arrogant people: “Now I, Paul, personally appeal to you by the meekness and gentleness of Christ …” (2 Co 10:1).
Would a harsh person presume to be in the presence of a gentle Jesus for eternity? The fruit that is produced by those who have relinquished themselves to the guiding of the Spirit, is gentleness (Gl 5:22,23). When we seek to be unified, we will seek to be gentle toward those with whom we may disagree.
If one would be gentle toward his fellow brother in Christ, then harsh retaliation is never justified. “Bondservants, be submissive to your masters with all fear, not only to the good and gentle, but also to the harsh” (1 Pt 2:18). When one responds to harshness with a gentle spirit, then we know that the wisdom of God is within that person (Js 3:17). Therefore, “the servant of the Lord must not quarrel, but be gentle to all …” (2 Tm 2:24).
Paul explained how he and the other apostles behaved in their relationships with others: “… we were gentle among you, even as a nurse tenderly cares for her own children” (1 Th 2:7). They came to the people as Jesus came to us: “Behold, your King comes to you, gentle, and sitting upon a donkey …” (Mt 21:5). Gentleness allows unity to continue among brethren. In order to develop humble gentleness, it might be necessary to take some time to ride around town on a donkey.
No impatient person can be gentle. Impatient people are not gentle toward others in reference to differences. Patience is based on a gentle spirit, and a gentle spirit is based on our humility toward one another. The Holy Spirit gave a blanket command to the Thessalonian Christians: “Be patient toward all men” (1 Th 5:14). This would certainly include our brethren with whom we have a common fellowship in Christ. As disciples in Christ wherever we are, we should be known for our patience with one another as was the reputation of the disciples in the city of Thyatira: “I know your works and love and service and faith and your patience” (Rv 2:19).
Paul exhorted Titus in his leadership among the brethren, “to be peaceable, forbearing, showing all meekness to all men” (Ti 3:2). Impatient people are usually not gentle toward those with whom they disagree. In fact, impatient people are often arrogant, revealing that they come short in humility. When we seek to maintain the unity of the faith, everyone must be forbearing with the differences we have with one another. Through patience we learn how to forbear one another’s growth in the grace and knowledge of Jesus (2 Pt 3:18).
As the fruit of the Spirit that is revealed in Galatians 5:22,23 is based on love, love is the binding cord that holds all our mental attributes together as we forbear one another in our process of growth. When we speak of the church of our Lord, we are speaking of people who love one another (Jn 13:34,35). The people of God cannot be held together as the church without love. They certainly cannot be held together by what everyone pronounces as the correct legal requirements of our assortment of opinions.
Unity is not based on the opinions of one person whose opinions may be cherished and obeyed. Doing such is to denominate the body. One’s opinion on a matter may be right. But when two people disagree on a matter of opinion, one person’s opinion is incorrect. We must be cautious that we do not base our fellowship, or determine the existence of our group, on the opinion of the person who is wrong. In a spirit of humility, therefore, we must be patient with one another while we forbear one another’s opinions. Love is what continues our fellowship with one another as we forbear our differences in opinions.
The foundation for unity must always be our mutual love for one another. It is for this reason that Peter exhorted, “Love the brotherhood” (1 Pt 2:17). In other words, every member must love the brotherhood of members …
… until we all come to the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a complete man, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ (Ep 4:13).
If we love the church, then we will seek to be with the church. We will seek to forbear our differences. We will seek to continue with one another, even in times of conflict (See Ph 4:2,3). We will seek to approach one another in humility with all gentleness. Thus with patience, we will forbear the differences we have with one another in the bond of peace. It is for this that we must earnestly struggle.
Paul’s exhortation to develop Christ-like personality characteristics establishes the foundation upon which all unity among Christians is based. Since Ephesians 4:1,2 reveals the characteristics of those who are in Christ, then it is only natural that those who possess these characteristics would be united in their fellowship with one another. If we are not united as one fellowship in Christ, then we must personally examine ourselves, for in one of the preceding areas of personality we may be lacking.
[Final lecture of series: November 26]