“Keep the Unity of the Spirit”

(Ephesians 4:1-7, 11-16 – Pentecost 10 – August 1, 2021)

Ephesians 4:1-7, 11-16 – 1I, therefore, the prisoner of the Lord, beseech you to walk worthy of the calling with which you were called, 2with all lowliness and gentleness, with longsuffering, bearing with one another in love, 3endeavoring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. 4There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called in one hope of your calling; 5one Lord, one faith, one baptism; 6one God and Father of all, who is above all, and through all, and in you all. 7But to each one of us grace was given according to the measure of Christ’s gift…. 11And He Himself gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers, 12for the equipping of the saints for the work of ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ, 13till we all come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a perfect man, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ; 14that we should no longer be children, tossed to and fro and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, in the cunning craftiness of deceitful plotting, 15but, speaking the truth in love, may grow up in all things into Him who is the head – Christ – 16from whom the whole body, joined and knit together by what every joint supplies, according to the effective working by which every part does its share, causes growth of the body for the edifying of itself in love.

Dear fellow Redeemed, who are united in the Body of Christ by faith:

Psalm 133:1 says: Behold, how good and how pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together in unity!” Thus began a psalm that celebrated the unity of God’s people in Israel as they gathered in His temple for worship. In contrast to all the conflict and division in the world, the people of God could truly come together in fellowship with one heart and mind. For God united them by His Word of truth. God united them by one faith and one hope in His promise of salvation in Christ.

To this day, how good and pleasant it is for us to dwell together in Christian unity! In contrast to the many false spirits and false teachings in this world, that have caused conflict and division even in church bodies, yet the Spirit of God continues to bring His people together in true unity. He unites us by His Word of truth, as we reject falsehood and confess one faith and hope in Christ.

In our text, the apostle Paul urges us as believers to be “endeavoring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” (vs. 3). Let us consider what these words means: “Keep the Unity of the Spirit.” We will see how 1) True unity is God’s gift and 2) Keeping it is our responsibility.

1) True unity is God’s gift

First, true unity is God’s gift. We humans cannot create a true and lasting unity, with people or with God. It is a fact of our sinful condition. Even our best efforts to get along, with people or with God, will at some point be imperfect and fail, because we are sinful and self-centered.

When Adam and Eve ate of the fruit God had forbidden, disunity began. Because of sin, they realized they were naked. For the first time, they felt fear and shame before God and each other. For their sin, they were banished from the Garden, where they used to walk with God. The perfect unity and peace God had created was upset. There began hate and murders; the blood of the slain cried out for justice. There began separate civilizations, each with its man-made gods and goals. All the wars and all the peace treaties to this day have not brought lasting unity between people.

At the tower of Babel, man’s proud efforts to unite as one only resulted in greater disunity. Men came together to build a tower reaching to the heavens, thinking that by an impressive structure built by human hands they could unite as one world. But their plans left God out of the picture.  God quickly put an end to such false ideas of unity by confusing mankind’s language. So much for ideas of a one world government and peace! God will see man’s proud dreams come to confusion.

The sinful nature we have inherited from Adam and Eve causes a lack of unity at every level. How often it plays out in our own daily lives. Even the closest of spouses may nurse selfish interests that lead to competition and contention. Even the sweetest of children may fight over who is first and right. In a variety of relationships, our sinful nature makes us unable to walk continually together, as it says: “with all lowliness and gentleness, with longsuffering, bearing with one another in love” (vs. 2). A home that looks peaceful on the outside can be filled with strife and disunity on the inside. And this can go on indefinitely, unless the members of the household confess their sins to God and each other and share His forgiveness and love in Christ.

So when it tells us to endeavor “to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” (vs. 3), the unity and peace spoken of is not something we create. It is God’s gift, given to us in Christ alone.

God created unity between sinners and Himself when He sent His Son into the world to reconcile us to Himself. On the cross, Jesus took on Himself all our sins – all our selfish, contentious and divisive ways. He paid for them all with His own precious blood. Thus God’s justice and wrath against our sin was satisfied. All that once separated us from God was punished in the death of His Son. In Christ, God has reconciled us to Himself in blood-bought peace.

Now God has graciously called us into this unity and peace He established for us in Christ. God’s Spirit gave us a new birth when we were baptized into Christ and united with Him as God’s children. God’s Spirit spoke to our hearts by His Gospel to create faith and spiritual life in us. God’s Spirit brought us by baptism and faith in Christ into the one true Church of all believers, the eternal church which is the Body of Christ. So God’s Spirit unites us with believers from all time and from all around the world, who share the one hope in Jesus as Savior. As it says: “There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called in one hope of your calling; one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is above all, and through all, and in you all” (vs. 4-6).

Therefore, we give thanks to God our Father for the true and lasting unity He has established for us in the Body of Christ – unity with Himself and with all true believers.

2) Keeping it is our responsibility

Now our text encourages us to endeavor to “keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” (vs. 3). True unity is God’s gift to us. Keeping it is our responsibility.

How do we keep the unity of the Spirit? We do so by remaining true to the pure Word of God and His Sacraments of Baptism and the Lord’s Supper. These are the means by which God’s Spirit created faith in us in the first place; these are the means by which the Spirit unites us with God and all believers in eternal life. We cannot invent a better bond of unity and peace for God’s Church.

Consider the false unity that exists when churches do not keep God’s Word and Sacraments pure. Many seek unity by reducing what they teach to what everyone can agree on. They say, “We can accept other people’s interpretations of the Bible when it comes to Baptism, the Lord’s Supper, the origin of the world, etc. God doesn’t want us to divide over doctrine; He wants us to love one another. So we can unite in our worship and work even if we disagree on points in Scripture.”

It may sound sweet and there may appear to be outward love and unity; but it is doomed to fail. It is the tower of Babel all over again – man working to build his own unifying structure apart from God’s truth. They end up babbling different languages when it comes to the Word of God. They may use similar words, but they actually teach and mean different things. Yet they say “Amen” together as if in agreement in God’s truth. Can duplicity and true unity exist together? That is not how God’s Spirit of truth works, who guides us into all truth by His Word (John 16:13).

When churches allow false teaching to creep in, their members suffer from the devil’s poison. Here is a recipe I saw for cookies: Lots of sugar, flour, eggs, milk, butter, salt, and a little cyanide. Something is wrong isn’t it? No matter how sweet those cookies might taste with all that sugar, who would want even a little cyanide poison mixed into the cookies they ate?

False teachings, like cyanide in cookies, can never give us health. When man tries to create outward unity by giving up the truth and purity of God’s Word, the devil is right there slipping in his own ingredients. No matter how small or sweet his lies may seem, they can only work to poison true faith and destroy true unity between God and us. The devil’s lies steal away certainty of God’s promises and salvation in Christ. The devil’s goal is to get believers to give up more and more of God’s Word, until finally they shipwreck their faith and perish in the eternal death of hell.

To put it in terms used in our text, many unite in visible churches that are like ships being “tossed to and fro and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, in the cunning craftiness of deceitful plotting” (vs. 14). False teachers, who do not honestly subscribe to the Bible as God’s true and authoritative Word, try to unite what God says with what man teaches. That is why churches that used to stand for God’s truth in the sanctity of marriage, now put their blessing on forms of sexuality God’s Word calls sinful. Churches that used to stand for God’s truth in the sanctity of human life, now put their blessings on abortion of the unborn. Churches that used to stand for God’s truth that sinners are saved through faith in Christ alone, now concede that that there are other ways to be saved if a person will just live a life of love. One by one, they throw the truth of God’s Word overboard in an attempt to keep man’s ideas afloat, all in the name of unity and love. They say: “At least we are sailing in one ship together.” Yes, but a leaky and sinking ship, shot through from the inside with the devil’s cannonballs.

How different is the love of Christ, who wants to feed our souls and build up our faith by His truth. 1 Peter 2:2-3 says: “As newborn babes, desire the pure milk of the word, that you may grow thereby, if indeed you have tasted that the Lord is gracious.” Just as it is a sign of good health when an infant longs for his mother’s milk so he may grow strong, it is a sign of good spiritual health when we long for the pure milk of God’s Word so we may grow strong in true faith. Now that we have tasted the grace of God in Christ, who gave His life for our forgiveness and eternal life, how could we want any substitute for our souls? His words are spirit and life (John 6:63).

Each of us as members of Christ’s Body, His Church of believers, has an important part in building one another up in the true unity of the Spirit. As it says: “But to each one of us grace was given according to the measure of Christ’s gift…. And He Himself gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers, for the equipping of the saints for the work of ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ” (vs. 7, 11-12). Christ calls and sends church leaders faithfully to preach His truth alone, through which the Holy Spirit strengthens faith. And as members of His body, we all share in supporting and promoting His pure Gospel, building each other up in His truth, as it says: “till we all come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a perfect man, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ” (vs. 13).

As members of Christ’s Body, we all need each other’s support and encouragement in the faith. If we see a fellow member being carried along by some wind of false teaching, or straying in some path of sin, Christian love cannot lead us to say, “Oh well, each to his own. Bon voyage in that leaky ship!” Rather, God’s Spirit leads us in Christ-like love to go to that brother or sister and lead them to repent and return to the true “unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” (vs. 3). We want to build each other up by sharing God’s forgiveness and blood-bought peace in Christ. We want to share God’s truth which sets us free from Satan’s lies and makes us grow in faith as God’s children.

As we build one another up this way, His purpose is being fulfilled among us, as it says: “that we should no longer be children, tossed to and fro and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, in the cunning craftiness of deceitful plotting, but, speaking the truth in love, may grow up in all things into Him who is the head – Christ – from whom the whole body, joined and knit together by what every joint supplies, according to the effective working by which every part does its share, causes growth of the body for the edifying of itself in love” (vs. 14-16).

Behold, how good and how pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together in unity!” (Psalm 133:1). We thank God for His gift of unity – first the unity He paid for by the blood of His Son, forgiving us and reconciling us to Himself in peace; then the unity He gives us with one another, uniting us by His Spirit of truth in His Church as believers. As we gather around His Word and Sacraments here on earth, let us keep that true unity of the Spirit He gives for the common good; until He gathers us around Himself in His Church in heaven, where we will enjoy the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace forever.

Glory be to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit. As it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be. Amen.