Eph 4:1-16 is—at least in one sense—the focal point of the letter, since it contains the first and main “Request” of the letter. Everything before it flows toward it, while the exhortations that follow expound the lifestyle necessary to live up to the one, united and equipped community of Christ. So I think we can be fairly confident of the need to apply these teachings to our lives.
Eph 4:1-6 affirms that there is one body and one Spirit, one hope of our calling, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, and petitions the audience to live up to that one calling, with gentleness, humility, and patience, striving to maintain the unity of the Spirit by the bond of peace. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to deduce that God desires oneness in the body of Christ. The principle is load and clear.
God desires unity in the church.
So what does this mean about how Christians should view their relationship with other Christians, other churches, and other denominations? What does it say about the concept of denominationalism? Does it support “ecumenism”? Are there any legitimate boundaries that would cause a person or group of people to separate themselves from or “excommunicate” others from the church? How does one “divide” the body of Christ (to create the lack of peace)? (It might help here to consider the state between Jews and Gentiles that had been overcome in Christ.)
As we work through some of our applications, I think we can use a series of “God desires” statements. God desires unity in the church—so much so that we could see many of the expressions in Ephesians going to support this idea:
Because the church is “in Christ,” God desires . . .
Because the church is the new creation/humanity of God, God desires . . .
Because the church is God’s plan for uniting all things in Christ, God desires . . .
Because the church is the body of Christ, God desires . . .
Because the church is the bride of Christ, God desires . . .
Because God overcame hatred and created peace in the church, God desires . . .
Because the church is the place where God dwells, God desires . . .
Because Christ is dispensing his grace as power upon the church, God desires . . .
Because Christ loves the church (died for and is living for the presentation of her to himself), God desires . . .
Let’s generalize or abstract the teaching further. The implication is that the plan of God for the universe being accomplished in and through the church (according to the will of God) is of utmost importance to God. “Duh!” The church is the body of Christ. So I think we can legitimately say that God (like himself) wants us to value, protect, love, build, and participate in the church (if we want to be a part of what God is doing). Check out the statement a little later in Ephesians: “. . . as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her . . . so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish.”
So, a couple of questions:
What do we think of the church? Do we love the church? What are we/you doing to honor, build, and be a part of the church? Can we be a part of presenting the church to Christ “in splendor,” without sport or wrinkle?
What is the church?