Endeavoring to Keep the Unity of the Spirit

Intro: For the last few weeks we have been discussing attitudes – 5 separate lessons (“Walking with an Attitude”) on the specific attitudes in Ephesians 4:2. It is our vocation to be lowly, gentle, longsuffering, and loving. But attitudes are not an end in themselves, nor are they all that our vocation demands. Attitudes are often the manner in which the objective commands of God are properly obeyed. It is in this view that I am considering these verses today. To what purpose do the apostles call on us to be lowly, gentle, longsuffering, and loving?

One way to answer this question is to focus on the verbs of the text: Ephesians 4:2-3 – 2 with all lowliness and gentleness, with longsuffering, bearing with one another in love, 3 endeavoring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. The two verbs phrases are “bearing with” (forbearing) “endeavoring to keep”. The attitudes make it possible to DO something.

1. Last week we discussed the first of these powerful verbs – the call for us to forbear with each other – to put up with each other through a love that puts others before ourselves.

2. Today I want to focus on the second verb of the text. “Endeavoring to keep”. Those who are lowly, gentle, longsuffering and loving are equipped to keep the unity of the Spirit. I want to discuss, not only why this is true, but how we obey this command.

I. What is the “Unity of the Spirit”: It is essential for us to understand what we are to “keep”.

A. The word for unity (henotes – hen-ot-ace’) means “oneness” or unanimity. The word “oneness” is an accurate synonym here considering that the apostle begins a list of imperative ones in v. 4. (one body, one Spirit, one hope, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father)

B. This unity is “of the Spirit” because it was created through the revelation of the Spirit in God’s word. It is clear that the “ones” catalogued in v. 4-6 are all things contained in the revelation of God.

The “one body” is the one body revealed in God’s word; the body of Christ;

The “one Spirit” is the one Spirit revealed to us in God’s word – the Holy Spirit;

The one hope is the hope revealed and defined in the revelation of God’s word. These “ones” are inherent in the revelation of God’s word. They are not arbitrary; neither is their oneness. It is by design, so to speak, that there is only one hope, and one faith, and one baptism.

1. The singularity enumerated in the revelation of God corresponds to the oneness of God Himself (Deut 6:4“Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one!) It also corresponds to, and substantiates the character of objective truth. God’s message (particularly “our calling”) is not a subjective message that can mean different things to different people in different ages. There is one message to all men. There is one way to God, not many.

C. This unity is also “of the Spirit” in that the Holy Spirit has united all of God’s people into a single body. (spiritual work of Christ) The spiritual unity of God’s people is not created through human ingenuity or their ecumenical efforts. It is created through the single message and reconciling work of Jesus on the cross. 1 Cor. 12:12-13 – For as the body is one and has many members, but all the members of that one body, being many, are one body, so also is Christ. 13 For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body — whether Jews or Greeks, whether slaves or free — and have all been made to drink into one Spirit.

1. Consider how Paul references this spiritual unity elsewhere in Ephesians:

• God’s eternal plans for man’s redemption involved a unity (oneness) of all things in Christ. Eph 1:9-10– having made known to us the mystery of His will, according to His good pleasure which He purposed in Himself, 10 that in the dispensation of the fullness of the times He might gather together in one all things in Christ, both which are in heaven and which are on earth — in Him.

• This eternally planned oneness was accomplished in Christ alone: Eph 2:13-16But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. Christ Our Peace 14 For He Himself is our peace, who has made both one, and has broken down the middle wall of separation, 15 having abolished in His flesh the enmity, that is, the law of commandments contained in ordinances, so as to create in Himself one new man from the two, thus making peace, 16 and that He might reconcile them both to God in one body through the cross, thereby putting to death the enmity. The unity of God’s people came through spiritual peace accomplished in the sacrifice of Jesus. We are reconciled into one body through the cross.

• This spiritual unity (unity of the Spirit) is even presented as the basis for personal moral obligations, such as telling the truth. Eph 4:25 – 25 Therefore, putting away lying, “Let each one of you speak truth with his neighbor,” for we are members of one another. The oneness that the Spirit has created cannot be disregarded. It must be maintained. R.H. Lenski says it like this… “The unity (oneness) of the Spirit” (genitive of author) is established by the Holy Spirit when by regeneration, faith, and a new life he joins us all spiritually. Once established, the oneness is not only to remain but is to manifest itself. In v. 13 Paul calls it “the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God.” Doctrine and life, confession and practice are to be one. There are to be no sects, divisions, schisms; also no strife, dissention, and the like. (from New Testament Commentaries, by R. C. H. Lenski,)

II. “Endeavor to Keep” – Our responsibility to the unity of the Spirit is to endeavor to keep it. Other translations say eager to maintain (ESV) or being diligent to preserve (NASU). The words used here are powerful.

A. The word “endeavor” is spoudazo (spoo-dad’-zo); from a root that means to use speed, it means to make diligent effort… to be prompt or earnest. It means to give every effort. Labor.

B. The word “keep” is tereo (tay-reh’-o) – means to guard (from loss or injury, properly, by keeping the eye upon; figuratively, to fulfill a command; It is elsewhere translated as hold fast, watch and preserve.

1. Thus our responsibility is to guard and preserve the unity that the Holy Spirit has created. Note that it is not our prerogative or responsibility to create unity. There is no call for Christians to “find common ground” with those of the world, or engage in ecumenical movements so as to unite ourselves with others.

2. We are to guard the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. The word bond indicates a cementing or gluing. The desire for peace is the glue that makes the maintaining of unity possible. It is not just a creedal unity, or a unity in activity. It is a unity of hearts that are seeking peace with each other.

C. How do we accomplish this? I am convinced that we must guard the unity of the Spirit in both a doctrinal and personal way.

1. We are called upon to contend earnestly for the faith that has been delivered (Jude 1:3) and seek unity through an adherence to the words of scripture. We will discuss this more significantly as we study through the “ones” of v. 4-6 later through the year.

2. The previous context also would suggest that the unity that is under discussion is the personal unity between Christians. The attitudes of lowliness, gentleness, longsuffering, forbearance, and love are essential to being able to preserve the personal unity of Christians.

• Col 3:12-1512 Therefore, as the elect of God, holy and beloved, put on tender mercies, kindness, humility, meekness, longsuffering; 13 bearing with one another, and forgiving one another, if anyone has a complaint against another; even as Christ forgave you, so you also must do. 14 But above all these things put on love, which is the bond of perfection. 15 And let the peace of God rule in your hearts, to which also you were called in one body; and be thankful. Notice that Paul speaks to the value and motivating influence of unity –

• V. 14 – love is the bond of perfection (uniting principle of moral maturity).

• V. 15 – let the peace of God rule (be the moral decision-maker) in your heart… because we have been called in one body. Thus if we put this into practice we protect the unity of the one body. It is in accordance with our calling that we preserve this spiritual unity.

3. Endeavoring to keep the unity of the Spirit involves a constant concern for the spiritual welfare of my brother or sister in Christ.

It means I must think of myself as less than others – (lowliness)

It means that I must not treat others harshly, but with gentleness.

It means I must be longsuffering and forbearing towards their faults or weaknesses

It means I must react with love.

4. Romans 14 – In Paul’s admonition to the brother of stronger faith to respect the conscience of his weaker brother, Paul argues for unity and peace. He also describes the activity of diligently guarding the unity of the spirit.

• Rom 14:1– Receive one who is weak in the faith, but not to disputes over doubtful things.

• Rom 14:3Let not him who eats despise him who does not eat, and let not him who does not eat judge him who eats; for God has received him. The Spirit has created a unity among us through a mutual forgiveness.

• Rom 14:7-9For none of us lives to himself, and no one dies to himself. 8 For if we live, we live to the Lord; and if we die, we die to the Lord. Therefore, whether we live or die, we are the Lord’s. 9 For to this end Christ died and rose and lived again, that He might be Lord of both the dead and the living. Christ’s sacrifice united all.

• Rom 14:13Therefore let us not judge one another anymore, but rather resolve this, not to put a stumbling block or a cause to fall in our brother’s way.

• Rom 14:19-20Therefore let us pursue the things which make for peace and the things by which one may edify another. 20 Do not destroy the work of God for the sake of food. We should pursue the things that make for peace because our unity and salvation is the work of God. It is a unity of the Spirit, and therefore must be preserved, even at the cost of my personal liberties.

Conclusion: Unity is inherent in the work of the Spirit of God. God is one; God’s message is one message; we are one in Him. We are one with each other. What a great responsibility we have to maintain the unity of the Spirit.

In a future lesson we will consider this responsibility from the perspective of the oneness of the Spirit’s revelation. We must guard against divisive doctrines that can destroy our oneness with God and each other.

Are you one with God? Do you have peace with God? Are you in the one body that has been created and unified through the cross?