Ephesians 4:1-6 Study Guide: Christian Priorities in Times of Crisis
Read Ephesians 4:1-6
How do you maintain unity with someone you disagree with as you both follow Jesus?
We could think that the greatest threat to the church right now is the virus’ effects on our members or effect of the economic shut down, but we’d be mistaken. The greatest threat to churches across the world right now is of disunity. Events like the one we are experiencing now become a flashpoint for division. Being unable to gather physically, dealing with fear and uncertainty as a nation, and the stresses of having life disrupted are all big challenges for us to face. However, situations like the one we’re in accentuate the tendency we have to define ourselves by secondary issues. It is all too easy to allow opinions, politics or personal choices to become dividing lines in the body of Christ. Friends, we want to encourage you in this study guide to be on guard and to proactively seek to maintain unity and love in the body of Christ.
Let’s look at two guiding principles and then explore Ephesians 4:1-6.
First, the Bible paints a beautiful picture of the church’s unity in its diversity. Instead of people who are all fundamentally similar gathering together to highlight their sameness, the church is made up of people who are very different from one another in background, ethnicity, experiences and interests. Our culture tends to gather around similarities related to thinks like stage of life, jobs or similar interest in sports or hobbies. Yet the church gathers around faith in Jesus as the unifying factor. The scripture shows us this in many ways. The church is described as one body and many members (1 Corinthians 12:12). Likewise, Ephesians 2:11-22 teaches us that the work of the cross can bring even hostile groups together in unity and peace. That passage explores how the Gentiles were strangers and aliens to God’s promises; likewise the Jews were arrogant and kept their distance from those who were different. However, God called both groups together into the “household of God” (Ephesians 2:19). Finally, we get glimpses of the gathered church in heaven made up of people from every tribe, tongue and nation (Revelation 7:9, Philippians 2:11). The beautiful picture here is that faith in Jesus is the most unifying force in the world, it brings together people who would have no reason to gather apart from a love for God and a desire to grow in Christ.
Second, we need to understand that unity is not uniformity. God’s goal is not for us all to be carbon copies of one another. His goal is that we’d build up one another in love and point each other to Jesus. We are all given varying spiritual gifts, passions, abilities and experience in life. The danger is to use that reality to compare or compete with one another, but instead the call is to value each other and use those differences to serve each other and build up the body of Christ in love. This means that if the church was made up of people who were exactly like you that we’d be lacking in our spiritual growth and witness of the gospel to the world.
With those two important things said, let’s turn our attention quickly to Ephesians 4:1-6 and the question of “how do we live in unity with people we disagree with as we both follow Christ?”
Ephesians 4:1 commands us to walk in a manner worthy of the Lord. These words are less about personal spiritual life and more about how we live in relationship with others in the body of Christ. These words are among some of Paul’s favorite and we find them in places like 1 Thessalonians 2:12, Colossians 1:10 and Philippians 1:27. In each case, Paul’s primary concern is how followers of Jesus are living in relationship with other believers! It is similar to what Jesus told his disciples, that our love for one another would prove that we are his followers (John 13:34-35).
What does this look like? Ephesians 4:2-3 gives us specific character practices for being in Christian community. A Christian in relationship with other christians should first be known by Humility. Philippians 2:3-4 tells us that this is looking to others interests as greater than your own and counting them more significant than yourself. For most people it is genuinely difficult to not be wrapped up in their own world, but throughout this COVID-19 crisis we have an invitation to slow down and get to know our neighbors, listen to the thoughts and opinions of others and we’ve been given a great opportunity to serve. Activities like these build humility in us as we follow Christ. Paul continues with by naming the character trait of “gentleness”, which is not being confrontational or overbearing or as 1 Corinthians 13:5 tells us, “love does not insist on its own way”. Believers are, likewise, to be “patient” and “bearing with one another in love”. If you live in close enough community with other believers they will give you opportunity to be offended or frustrated by things they do or say; and you will probably have opportunity to do the same for them. A Christian who is concerned for unity will use these moments as an opportunity to bond rather than divide. You will either be able to overlook an offense or seek forgiveness for wrongs committed. Paul summarizes this with the unifying idea at the end of Ephesians 4:3, that we are to be “eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.” Notice these things do not come readily or naturally, they need to be eagerly maintained and sought for. As a church, we cannot think of many things that are more important right now for the church locally and globally than to pursue unity right now.
Friends, as this crisis continues we’re going to be confronted with differing opinions on the severity of the disease and how we should or should not reopen the economy. As we get permission to gather together in smaller groups, some will readily jump back into church life while others will stay home. Many will show up wearing face coverings and using more hand sanitizer than any human body was intended to use, while others will act like nothing was ever wrong. Im this season it will be very easy for us to judge one another and to divide over how people are responding. But, the question is, do you love God and your brothers and sisters in Christ enough to be “eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace”? Can you love someone even if you disagree with them? Can you seek their good because you humbly care for them?
These character traits are possible for Christians because of who God is and what he has done to make us one body in Christ. Look at Ephesians 4:4-6 . Just like you are body and spirit, so too is the church. The church is one body, with the Holy Spirit bringing us all together as many parts yet one. We have one Lord and we are all united in Christ corporately in faith and through the expression of being “in Christ”, in one baptism. Finally, we have one God and Father over us all. Followers of Jesus across our city, country and globe all have the same Father, uniting us together in a family of faith. These are the theological realities that bring us together.
In this season remember who you are, and what family you belong to. Keep the main things the main thing and strive to pursue love and unity in Christ.
The body of Christ is made of many parts yet is one. Make it your aim to pursue love, and the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.
At your community group:
Take 15-20 minutes to share about how God has been at work in your life, prayer concerns and pray for one another.
How did God speak to you through the scripture and the sermon this week?
Read Ephesians 4:1-6 as a group.
The church is described with a few different images, like that of one body with many parts, a house built with living stones and as a family. All of these images are meant to communicate that the church is interconnected with many different parts but still one.
Look at Ephesians 4:1-3, how does this passage show us what it means to “walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called”?
Take a few minutes as a group to define each of the actions Paul describes in verse 2-3 (Humility, gentleness, etc). What does it mean and how are these characteristics important for the church body?
Look at Ephesians 4:4-6. What does Paul point us to as a theological reason for our need to pursue these characteristics in our daily life with other believers?
How has God used other believers in your life during this crisis to build up your faith?
Are you facing any challenges with church unity right now? How does this passage encourage you to face those challenges? Are there any specific things we can be praying for?