9. One Body -- Unity and Diversity (Ephesians 4:1-10)

by Dr. Ralph F. Wilson
Audio (22:54)

Ford Madox Brown, Jesus Washing Peter's Feet (1865)
Humility and service are at the basis of unity in Christ. Ford Madox Brown (British Pre-Raphaelite painter, (1821-93), Jesus Washing Peter's Feet (1865), oil on canvas, Tate Gallery, London. Larger image.
"1As a prisoner for the Lord, then, I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received. 2Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. 3Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. 4There is one body and one Spirit -- just as you were called to one hope when you were called -- 5one Lord, one faith, one baptism; 6one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.
7But to each one of us grace has been given as Christ apportioned it. 8This is why it says:
    "When he ascended on high,
    he led captives in his train
    and gave gifts to men."
9(What does "he ascended" mean except that he also descended to the lower, earthly regions? 10He who descended is the very one who ascended higher than all the heavens, in order to fill the whole universe.) 11It was he who gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers, 12to prepare God's people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up 13until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ." (Ephesians 4:1-10, with verses 11 and 12 for context)

While the first half of Ephesians is has a big-picture, doctrinal orientation, the second half of the letter focuses on practical applications. Paul has worked to develop the theme of unity in Ephesians 1 - 3. Now he explains how that unity can be achieved. The passage we're about to study offers:

  • One Purpose
  • Three Commands
  • Seven Bonds
  • Millions of Unique Giftings

One Purpose

"Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace." (4:3)

Someone once said, "If you find a perfect church don't join it -- otherwise it wouldn't be perfect any longer." Conflict is a fact of life. If you want a harmonious marriage, don't put a man (from Mars) and a woman (from Venus) together. That's a sure recipe for conflict. Instead, put two very mellow people together who are very much the same. It'll be a calm marriage, but they'll probably die early -- of boredom.

Whenever you put differences together -- in a marriage or in a church -- you get conflicts. The purpose here is not to avoid conflict, but to learn how to deal with it so that unity might prevail. Unity is the purpose of this passage and the theme of the entire letter (see the key verse: Ephesians 1:10).

Three Commands (4:1-3)

To bring about this unity, Paul delivers three commands:

1. "Live a life worthy of the calling which you have received" (4:1)

"As a prisoner for the Lord, then, I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received." (4:1)

We've been called to follow Jesus, to be like him. So we are to live our lives in such a way that we bring credit (glory) to him.

I have two big brass belt buckles. The first says, "Praise the Lord." The second says, "Jesus Is Lord." Whenever I wear them I am acutely aware that what I do and say reflects on Jesus. But we don't have to wear belt buckles or T-shirts for our actions to reflect on Jesus. When people know that we are professing Christians they'll be looking at our lives. "Live a life worthy of the calling," admonishes the Apostle. As regards unity, the Master who prayed that we all might be one (John 17:11), expects us to act out that truth in our Christian community. We are called by our Master to be one; let us live a life worthy of that calling.

Verse 1 speaks of the "calling" with which we have been "called." We get our English word "vocation" from Latin vocatio, "summons." The Greek word in our passage is klēsis, "call, calling, invitation to experience of special privilege and responsibility."1 Our calling is a general calling to be disciples, followers of Jesus. This is our "vocation" towards God. The way we "walk" (peripateō, KJV) or "live a life" (NIV), or "lead a life" (NRSV)2 must be "worthy" (axiōs3) of the One who has called us to follow him. Unless we take this seriously, we are just playing at Christianity. (Yes, we fall short at times. Thank God for forgiveness.) But this high calling (Philippians 3:14; KJV) inspires us to our best. And at our best we are to strive for unity with our Christian brothers and sisters.

Q1. (Ephesians 4:1) According to verse 1, what is the standard of our behavior? What is the "calling" to which God has called us?




2. "Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love." (4:2)

"Be completely humble (tapeinophrosunē4) and gentle (prautēs5); be patient (makrothumia), bearing with (anechō) one another in love." (4:2)

Jesus himself established humility and gentleness as virtues. He treated people with gentleness while he healed them with God's power. His humility attracted people. "Come to me all you who are weary and burdened," he said, "and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle (praus) and humble (tapeinos) in heart, and you will find rest for your souls" (Matthew 11:28-29). While we are eager to impress people, he was eager to bless them.

Pride splits churches. People get their toes stepped on, are rubbed the wrong way, don't feel appreciated, and then begin to gossip and complain. To achieve unity we must continually seek humility and gentleness. The desire for power is closely related to pride, and it too infects unwary believers. At the Last Supper the disciples were arguing about which of them would be considered greatest. Jesus told them: "The kings of the Gentiles lord it over them .... But you are not to be like that. Instead, the greatest among you should be like the youngest, and the one who rules like the one who serves" (Luke 22:24-26). To underscore this he took a towel and a basin and began to wash their feet as might a lowly slave (John 13:4-5).

"Be completely humble and gentle," commands Paul (vs. 2a). Without these qualities, unity will escape us.

The next two character traits are just as important: "Be patient, bearing with one another in love" (vs. 2b). The King James translation of "patient" (makrothumia6) is "long suffering," and that is often what patience entails: suffering long. We are quick to dispense with annoyances, but Paul says that patience with each other is essential to unity. So is "bearing with (anechō) one another in love."

Have you ever noticed annoying idiosyncrasies in your spouse or your parents or your pastor? Why do they do that?! We want to set them straight and change them. But ingrained habits are difficult to change. We can split and be alone, or we can "bear with each other" and have unity. Yes, God does change people, but we must allow him to be the Changer, and give up the notion that this is our role.

Jesus accepted people, loved them, and his love changed them. Of course, love is at the core of Paul's command, too. "Be patient, bearing with one another in love."

Q2. (Ephesians 4:2) Why are patience and humility so important to preserving unity? What happens to the reputation of Jesus Christ when we have right doctrine along with a sense of arrogance towards those who disagree with us? How are we to be both "gentle" and to "fight the good fight of faith"?




3. "Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace" (4:3)

"Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace" (4:3)

Let's look at some of the words in this command.

"Make every effort" (NIV), "endeavoring" (KJV), "being diligent" (NASB) translates Greek spoudazō, "hasten, hurry," then "be zealous or eager, take pains, make every effort, be conscientious."8 This is the same word Paul uses in 2 Timothy 2:15 "Study to show thyself approved unto God." It indicates zealous effort.

"Maintain" (NRSV) or "keep" (KJV, NIV) the unity is more active than our English translations often indicate. The NASB translation "preserve" captures some of the active idea of Greek tēreō, a military term: "keep watch over, guard; keep, hold, reserve, preserve."9 We are charged to actively guard this unity!

The idea of "bond" here denotes what keeps together a house, a garment, or different members of the physical body: the wooden beams, the fastenings, or the ligaments.10 (See also vs. 16).

This is an earnest and solemn command: "Be very zealous to guard and preserve the unity of the Spirit," the ligaments which hold together the Body in peace.

"Oh, I am breaking the unity for the sake of truth," proclaims one zealous follower. But our zeal needs to be focused on guarding unity. "I am breaking the unity for the sake of pure doctrine," asserts another. But our purity consists of speaking the truth in love (Ephesians 4:15), and

"Love is patient, love is kind. Love does not envy or boast ... it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. Love always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails" (1 Corinthians 13:4-8)

This doesn't mean that preserving unity is at all easy. We need to be faithful to the truth, to guard the teachings delivered to us from the apostles to pass on to the next generation. We need to contend for the faith once delivered to the saints (Jude 3). But we must keep the unity of the Spirit, and we must do it in love. We must! It is a command.

God cause us to repent of our denominational divorces and pride in our own petty righteousness! Forgive us!

Q3. (Ephesians 4:3) How much energy must we expend on Christian unity? What is "the bond of peace"? How do we strike at peace when we are intent on argument and dissension?




Seven Bonds (4:4-5)

"There is one body and one Spirit -- just as you were called to one hope when you were called -- one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all." (4:4-5)

Seven elements unite us, says Paul:

  1. One body
  2. One Spirit
  3. One hope
  4. One Lord
  5. One faith
  6. One baptism
  7. One God and Father

He urges us to look at the things which unite us, rather than the things that divide us. Sometimes we view the early church through rose-colored glasses. Those were the days! The church was perfect, the saints were wonderful! I just wish I could recreate the New Testament Church! Right. You don't even have to read very carefully to see division:

  • In Corinth one group was touting the preacher Apollos over the Apostle Paul (1 Corinthians 3:4).
  • In Galatia there was conflict between the Christians who wanted to bring along their legalistic Judaism and those who asserted their freedom in Christ (Galatians 3:1-3).
  • In Rome one group preached while Paul was in prison, just to aggravate him (Philippians 1:17).
  • In Philippi Euodia and Syntyche couldn't get along (Philippians 4:2).

The early church didn't lack conflict, but they worked hard -- with the apostles' urging -- to preserve, guard, and maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace, focusing on the things they did have in common.

One baptism? Don't Christians disagree about baptism? Babies or believers? Sprinkling, pouring, immersion? We do disagree, and it is important to study the scriptures and determine carefully what is right. But baptism is to unite us. "For we were all baptized by one Spirit into one body -- whether Jews or Greeks, slave or free -- and we were all given the one Spirit to drink" (1 Corinthians 12:13). How can we hold our views of baptism higher than the clear command to guard the unity of faith? We must agree to disagree about some things, but continue to hold love as preeminent, and refuse to break fellowship over these things.

Is there a time to break fellowship? Yes. We see this occasionally in the scripture (1 Corinthians 5:1-2; Revelation 2:14-15; etc.). But it is always the time to seek unity.

Millions Of Unique Giftings (4:7)

"But to each one of us grace has been given as Christ apportioned it."

Once Paul has established the groundwork for the unity of the church, now he goes on to explain the diversity within the body. "But to each one of us grace has been given as Christ apportioned it" (4:7). "Apportioned" (NIV) or "given ... according to the measure" (KJV, NRSV) is comprised of three words, didōmi, "give;" kata, "according to;"11 and metron, "measure," here "the result of measuring, quantity, number."12

The spiritual gifts Christ has given cannot be counted. Oh, they can be classified into types and categories. But look at the variety even then. Billy Graham manifestly has the gift of evangelism. In him this gift works through preaching in mass evangelism settings. But the gift of evangelism also worked through Phillip the evangelist who coupled preaching in villages with miracles and personal witness (Acts 8). Are they both valid? Of course. Does Billy's gift have to be like Phillip's? No.

We serve a God who has created categories of trees -- oaks, pines, palms -- but within these broad categories we see individual species. On our property we have about 800 oak trees in three species: Interior Live Oak (Quercus wislizenii), Valley Oak (Q. lobata), and Blue Oak (Q. douglasii). But when you look carefully, you can see that some of the Live Oaks are probably a cross with the California Black Oak (Q. kelloggii) which thrives at a slightly higher elevation. Besides hybridization we have the effects of soil quality and precipitation. Some of our trees grow well on the sandy loam soil. Others struggle to grow in the crevices of granite outcroppings. Some are tall, others are broader, and still others have long branches, which parallel the ground. In the fall, some trees have wonderfully abundant acorn crops, while others will come ripe another year.

Spiritual gifts are no different. God has made human beings wonderfully diverse.

  • Factor 1: physical
  • Factor 2: temperament
  • Factor 3: family environment
  • Factor 4: birth order
  • Factor 5: artistic ability
  • Factor 6: intellectual ability
  • Factor 7: language ability
  • Factor 8: emotional sensitivity
  • Factor 9: spiritual aptitude
  • Factor 10: affluence
  • Factor 11: opportunities for development
  • Factor 12: talents

But spiritual gifts are ... "spiritual," you protest. Talents are "natural." Says who? It is God who has wired us the way we are, and then flooded us with his Spirit. When God is creating, who is to say what is natural and what is spiritual? The result is wonderfully unique and enriching and God-given. How many spiritual gifts are there? Five, nine, nineteen, twenty-six? How about billions!

The Victor Dispensing Gifts (4:8-10)

"This is why it says:
    'When he ascended on high,
    he led captives in his train
    and gave gifts to men.'
(What does 'he ascended' mean except that he also descended to the lower, earthly regions? He who descended is the very one who ascended higher than all the heavens, in order to fill the whole universe.)" (4:8-10)

Paul begins his discussion of spiritual gifts in verse 8 by using the figure of a military victory procession where the conquering general leads the prisoners of war through the streets of the capital and distributes gifts to his subjects from the booty. He quotes Psalm 68:18:

"When he ascended on high, he led captives in his train and gave gifts to men."

If we were to carry though the analogy (and Paul doesn't), the conquering general is the victorious Christ, the captives are perhaps the vanquished spirits of the evil one (Colossians 2:15), and the gifts are spiritual empowerment to build up and perfect his Body, the church.

Verses 9 and 10 are a parenthesis that interprets the word "ascended" in the quotation from Psalm 68:19. Paul sees the ascension as the resurrected Christ's ascension into God's presence in glory, as opposed to his descent from heaven onto the earth in human form to redeem humanity.

Q4. (Ephesians 4:7-10) Who gives spiritual gifts? Can our "natural" talents be related to our "spiritual" gifts? How? What is the difference between a natural God-given talent and a spiritual gift?




Disciple Lessons from Ephesians, by Dr. Ralph F. Wilson
All the lessons are now available as an e-book or printed book for your convenience.

In the next chapter we'll study five of the gifts which Christ has given to the church, and how they fulfill the purpose of unity. This purpose of the unity of God's people is primary. It is the cause we must strive for. Our goal isn't structural or organizational unity, some kind of world church. Our goal is spiritual: that the Church of Jesus Christ -- in our congregation, between the congregations in our community, and extending to the bodies of congregations throughout the earth -- might practice, with love, the unity of Christ's Body that surely exists in heaven and must exist here on earth so that the world might see Christians who love one another. Jesus put it this way to his sometimes proud and fractious disciples:

"A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another." (John 13:34-35)

Grant this unity based on love, O Lord, in our lives and in our churches.


Dear Lord, help me to love my Christian brothers and sisters -- the ones I agree with and the ones that see some things differently than I do. Help me to simply love and so reflect you. We ask you to heal the scandal of schism in your Church so that Jesus might be seen in us and that people will know that we are your disciples. In Jesus' mighty name, we pray. Amen.

Key Verses

"As a prisoner for the Lord, then, I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received." (Ephesians 4:1)
"Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace." (Ephesians 4:3)


  1. Klēsis, BDAG 549.
  2. Peripateō, "walk" then figuratively, "to conduct one's life, comport oneself, behave, live as habit of conduct." (BDAG 803).
  3. Axiōs here means, "Pertaining to being correspondingly fitting or appropriate, worthy, fit, deserving" (BDAG 93-94).
  4. Tapeinophrosunē, "humility, modesty," from tapeinos, "pertaining to being unpretentious, humble" (BDAG 989).
  5. Prautēs, "the quality of not being overly impressed by a sense of one's self-importance, gentleness, humility, courtesy, considerateness, meekness (in the older favorable sense)." From praus, "gentle, humble, considerate, meek" (BDAG 861).
  6. Makrothumia, is a compound word from makro, "long, large, great" + thumos, "passion." The word carries two ideas: (1) the "state of being tranquil while awaiting an outcome, patience, steadfastness, endurance" and (2) the "state of being able to bear up under provocation, forbearance, patience" (BDAG 612-613).
  7. Anechō, "to regard with tolerance, endure, bear with, put up with" (BDAG 78).
  8. Spoudazō, BDAG 939.
  9. Tēreō, BDAG 1002.
  10. Barth, Ephesians 2:428-429.
  11. The preposition kata has a variety of meanings. Here it probably refers to "a marker of norm of similarity or homogeneity, according to, in accordance with, in conformity with, according to" (BDAG 511-513, 5.)
  12. Metron, BDAG 644.

Copyright © 2020, Ralph F. Wilson. <pastor@joyfulheart.com> All rights reserved. A single copy of this article is free. Do not put this on a website. See legal, copyright, and reprint information.

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