One (Week 1)
Spirit (Ephesians 4:4-6)
Awhile ago I came across this comic in a book I was reading. The writing can be a little bit small on the screen, the sign on the door say membership class and on the board, it says “Churches and Christian movements throughout history”. The teacher has one of the lines at the end circled and he says “So this is where our movement came along and finally got the Bible right”. To which one of the students replies, “Jesus is so lucky to have us.”
It’s no secret that Christians haven’t always gotten along. A lot of the time, the Church is known by what we’re against rather than what we’re for. And frequently, we’re known for being against other Christians. I read recently that there are currently about 34,000 different Christian denominations in the world. And even within denominations, there isn’t always agreement among ourselves. Two groups will have a different understanding of an issue and instead of working it out they split into two groups. And this happens on both a denominational level as well as at the local church level. I think it’s fair to say that unity is a big struggle for the Church.
This week we’re starting a new series called One, talking about the unity of the church and where that unity comes from. In Ephesians chapter 4, Paul talks about unity and he gives us seven reasons for unity. He says this:
“As a prisoner for the Lord, then, I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received. Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bonds of peace. 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.”
In this passage, Paul gives us seven reasons to “keep the unity of the Spirit”. Over the next seven weeks, we’re going to examine each one of these seven “one’s” and ask how a Christianity that is divided on so many issues can find unity. But before we jump in, let’s go ahead and pray.
There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to one hope when you were called. Today is Pentecost Sunday, so we’re going to change up our order and instead of talking about how the church is one body, we’re going to look at what it means to have one spirit. Pentecost Sunday is the Sunday 50 days after Easter and it comes from the Greek word that means “fifty”. Pentecost was the Sunday in Acts when the first believers were filled with the Holy Spirit.
In Acts 2, we read, “When the day of Pentecost came, they were all together in one place. Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting. They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them.”
So here, 50 days after Jesus was resurrected and some time after he ascended into heaven, all the believers we gathered together in one place. As they were meeting together, the text tells us that something like a violent wind came and they were filled with the Holy Spirit.
Now in Greek, as well as Hebrew, the words for wind and spirit are the same word. In Greek, it’s the word pneuma and in Hebrew, it’s the word ruach and in both languages, these words mean wind, breath and spirit. So in Acts, we see this idea that a violent wind or spirit comes on each of them in the form of what looks like a tongue of fire and they are all filled with the Holy Spirit. Now, the interesting thing about this is how reminiscent this is to another story in 1 Kings 8.
In 1 Kings, Solomon had just finished building the temple and the priests brought the Ark of the Covenant into it. Chapter 8 says, “When the priests withdrew from the Holy Place, the cloud filled the temple of the Lord. And the priests could not perform their service because of the cloud, for the glory of the Lord filled his temple.” Here in 1 Kings, Solomon builds a temple for God and then God fills it with a cloud that represents his presence. The idea is that now God has a permanent home among his people. This is where his Spirit lives to guide Israel.
But in the New Testament, in Acts, we see the same thing happening. Except instead of God’s Spirit filling a temple, it’s now filling people. Paul makes this connection even more obvious in 1 Corinthians 3 when he says, “Don’t you know that you yourselves are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in your midst? If anyone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy that person; for God’s temple is sacred, and you together are that temple.”
Here Paul isn’t saying that each and every one of us individually is a temple of the Holy Spirit. He says “you together”. He’s speaking collectively. He’s saying that we as Christians, all of us together, are the one singular temple of the God in the same way that in the Old Testament all the stone collectively made up the Temple of Solomon. The Church as a whole is the new temple of God filled with his Spirit.
This is also what Peter is referring to in 1 Peter 2 when he says, “As you come to him, the living Stone—rejected by humans but chosen by God and precious to him—you also, like living stones, are being built into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood, offering spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.” Individually, as Christians, we are living stones, built together into the new Temple of God which is filled with the Holy Spirit. And every Christian, every follower of Jesus, is filled with the same Spirit of God.
But of course, that begs the question, “If all of us are filled with the same Spirit of God, then why is there so much disunity?” Why don’t we agree with each other more? I think this comes from a misunderstanding of how the Spirit works.
In John 16 Jesus explains, “I have much more to say to you, more than you can now bear. But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all the truth. He will not speak on his own; he will speak only what he hears, and he will tell you what is yet to come. He will glorify me because it is from me that he will receive what he will make known to you. All that belongs to the Father is mine. That is why I said the Spirit will receive from me what he will make known to you.”
So the Spirit is going to guide us into all truth. There are things Jesus had yet to teach the disciples, but he was confident that his Spirit, the Spirit of Truth, would guide them—and by extension us—into all truth. And yet Jesus also recognized that the Holy Spirit can be mysterious at times. That we don’t fully understand how, when and where the Holy Spirit is going to act.
In speaking with Nicodemus in John chapter 3 Jesus says, “The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit.” Remember, the Greek words for wind and spirit are the same word. So Jesus is kind of making a play on words, but at the same time, he’s saying that in the same way that we cannot tell where the wind comes from or where it is going, the same is true with the Holy Spirit. There is a mystery to how the Spirit of God works.
And so he’s guiding all of us collectively into all truth, but that doesn’t mean it’s always a linear, logical progression. Nor does that mean that the Spirit of God teaches all people the same things at the same time. Instead, he uses Christians to teach each other.
This is similar to what we were talking about in our These Three Remain series. In that series, we talked about how God has intentionally created us with weaknesses that he intends others to make up for. The Spirit guiding us into all truth works in a similar way. Sometimes he teaches me something in order for me to teach you. Other times he teaches you something in order for you to teach me.
In his commentary on Ephesians, Klyne Snodgrass says this, “We cannot be mature Christians by ourselves, for we cannot give ourselves everything we need for a life of faith. Christ could supply our needs directly, but instead, he has chosen to grace other people so that they contribute to us and we to them. Grace comes from God, but it is also conveyed along horizontal channels.”
Christ could supply all of our needs directly, but instead, he has chosen to grace other people so that they contribute to us and we to them. This is a constant theme in Scripture. God supplies each of us with different gifts, insights, experiences, skills and abilities with the intention that we collectively would come together and glorify him with our unity.
Now, I’ll be honest. This is something I struggle with. A lot of times I can get sucked into believing that I need to be perfect. That I need to be great at all things and know all things. Especially as a pastor, there can be this expectation that I’m great at preaching, great at leading worship, great at administration, great at building relationships, an awesome counsellor, a wiz with finances, a dynamic visionary, always available to meet with anyone and everyone, funny, charming and charismatic… oh, and I need to be a loving husband and father as well.
I recognize that I probably put this pressure on myself more than anyone else puts it on me. And that’s because I don’t like weakness. I hate admitting that I don’t know something or I’m not good at something. But that’s exactly how God has designed us. We can’t be mature Christians on our own. We have to be willing to admit our weaknesses and rely on others.
And we have to recognize that the Spirit of God will continue to guide us all into all truth. And it’s the same Spirit of God in all of us. We do not have different spirits teaching us different things. All followers of Jesus are filled with the same spirit. The same spirit of God fills all Christians who collectively make up the temple of God.
Now, just because the Spirit of God is guiding all of us into all truth doesn’t mean that everything that every Christian believes is true. However, at the same time, we need to be willing to consider that just because someone disagrees with us or believes something different than we do, that doesn’t automatically mean they’re wrong.
What happens so often is that we’re convinced that we’re right on an issue. But another Christian or another group of Christians are convinced that they’re also right. And instead of sitting together, talking about the issue and learning from each other, what typically happens is that we walk away from each other. We get together in our smaller groups of people who already agree with us, talk amongst ourselves and wonder how that other group could ever think or believe that thing. And we do this with all kinds of things.
Some Christians believe that everyone who is filled with the Holy Spirit will speak in tongues, others don’t. So we split and end up talking almost exclusively with people who already agree with us. Or some Christians believe everyone has the opportunity to come to God and be saved. Other Christians believe that only those who have been predestined or elected by God can be saved. And since we disagree we walk away from each other and we quote our select Bible passages at each other.
And what can happen, whatever the issue, is that we can start to wonder how anyone who truly calls themselves a Christian could ever believe that thing when Scripture so clearly teaches this thing. And then we start to think that those people over there, even though they’re calling themselves Christians, can’t possibly really be Christians, otherwise, they would agree with us. And we start to use terms like “liberal” or “conservative” as negative or pejorative words. Labels we put on those people. And what I’ve seen happen when we act like this is that we end up with an increasingly narrow view of who is truly Christian.
First, it starts with the split between the Eastern and Western Church. In Church history, this was known as The East-West Schism and it occurred about a thousand years ago. Then, within the Western Church, we had the Protestant Reformation which occurred about 500 years ago. This is where Martin Luther and the other reformers broke away from the Roman Catholic Church. And since the Reformation we have now split into, broadly speaking, Mainline and Evangelical Protestants. Within the Evangelical Church, we have split between Calvinists and Arminianist. And the list can go on and on and on. And then before we know it, our one denomination is the one true denomination and everyone else is wrong. But when that happens, we end up looking a lot like that comic at the beginning. Insisting that the vast majority of church history got it wrong until finally came along. But that’s not what Paul says.
He says we can be united because we all, collectively, have been filled with the same Spirit of God. For the 2,000 years of church history, all Christians have been filled with the same Spirit. And that Spirit is guiding us all into all truth. That Spirit is working in us both individual and collectively, teaching us and using us to teach each other.
So how can we start to show more unity? How can we keep the unity of the Spirit? More than anything, unity in the Spirit will require us to end the echo chambers. It will require us to meet with Christians who think different than we do. It will mean getting out of our bubbles where everything thinks the same thing.
And when we do, when we meet with Christians who think and act and talk differently than we do, we need to be willing to listen to them, rather than just waiting for our turn to speak in order to tell them why they’re wrong. Of course, what all of this will require is exactly what Paul says in verse two of our Ephesians passage. “Be completely humble and gentle.”
Being humble doesn’t mean that you don’t believe anything or that you’re swayed by every argue someone else makes. But it means being willing to admit when you’re wrong. It means recognizing that God might want to us someone of a different tradition to teach you more about following Jesus. Being gentle doesn’t mean you’re a pushover, but it means not being a bully about your own beliefs. It means treating other Christians with respect even when they read a passage of Scripture radically different than you do.
All Christians are filled with the same spirit of God and collectively we make up the temple of God. And the Spirit that fills all of us is continue to guide us into all truth. The question we have to ask is do we trust that the Spirit is at work in the lives of others? Are we willing to welcome other Christians who don’t think or believe like we do? Can we sit with them in dialogue? Can we recognize that the same spirit of God lives in them even if they come to different conclusions than we do?
If we are willing to be humble and gentle, if we’re willing to end the echo chamber and actually talk with Christians who think different than we do, then we will find greater unity in the Church and the Church will be a better witness to a lost and hurting world around us.