Endeavoring to Keep the Unity of the Spirit

Ephesians 4:3  •  8 min. read  •  grade level: 8
The question naturally arises, What is the "unity of the Spirit" we are exhorted to keep? Surely God has not told us to use diligence to keep a unity respecting the nature and extent of which He has given us no instruction. This cannot be; what the unity embraces must be in the Word of God, though it may not lie on the surface.
May we not gather instruction on the subject from the nature and scope of the Scriptures themselves? Let us remember that they were written at different times extending over some two thousand years, written by persons whose status was different, some learned and some unlettered (Acts 4:1313Now when they saw the boldness of Peter and John, and perceived that they were unlearned and ignorant men, they marvelled; and they took knowledge of them, that they had been with Jesus. (Acts 4:13)), written in different styles, and embracing a great variety of subjects; yet there is not throughout a single clash, nor two parts in the least disjointed. It forms one beautiful and perfect whole, evincing in the clearest manner the unity of the Spirit. "Holy men of God spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost." 2 Pet. 1:2121For the prophecy came not in old time by the will of man: but holy men of God spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost. (2 Peter 1:21). "All Scripture is given by inspiration of God"; and "No prophecy of the Scripture is of any private interpretation" (2 Tim. 3:1616All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: (2 Timothy 3:16); 2 Pet. 1:2020Knowing this first, that no prophecy of the scripture is of any private interpretation. (2 Peter 1:20)). It thus all forms one beautiful exhibit of the unity of that Spirit, nothing from the holy men themselves being allowed to come in and mar that unity. The men wrote, but the Holy Ghost guided.
Now will not this help us to answer the question as to what is the unity of the Spirit we are exhorted to keep?
It is clear that if "by one Spirit we are all baptized into one body" (1 Cor. 12:1313For by one Spirit are we all baptized into one body, whether we be Jews or Gentiles, whether we be bond or free; and have been all made to drink into one Spirit. (1 Corinthians 12:13)), we must own every one thus united as being a part of that body, or we shall not "keep" the unity. The unity of the body, we cannot break; but we may break the unity of the Spirit which has formed that body. This would be the case if we held that there were many bodies, or more than one, when God says there is but one.
Another step leads us to the Lord's supper—"We being many are one bread" (1 Cor. 10:1717For we being many are one bread, and one body: for we are all partakers of that one bread. (1 Corinthians 10:17)). If we break bread as a separate body, we are not endeavoring to keep the unity of the Spirit, for God says we being many are one loaf, one body.
If we look into the New Testament it is easy to find examples where the unity was broken, examples which are full of instruction. For instance, the assembly at Corinth was maintaining in their midst a wicked person. Was this keeping the unity of the Spirit? Surely not. Paul demanded that the man should be put out, and we know that Paul was right; so it is clear that the assembly at Corinth was not, for a time, endeavoring to keep the unity of the Spirit, or they would have had the same judgment as Paul, and have acted thereon.
We see here that the unity of the Spirit may at times be maintained only by cutting off a wicked person. And we gather further instruction on this point by the directions given to the elect lady in 2 John John, where she is told not to receive one into her house, nor wish him Godspeed, if he did not bring the doctrine of Christ.
In the first of these cases we see holiness is demanded; in the second truth is demanded. And these exactly agree with the character of the blessed Spirit. He is the Holy Spirit, and the Spirit is truth (1 John 5:66This is he that came by water and blood, even Jesus Christ; not by water only, but by water and blood. And it is the Spirit that beareth witness, because the Spirit is truth. (1 John 5:6)).
Now if these illustrations point out, in some respects at least, the nature of the unity, the question returns, To what extent is this carried? or over what sphere should this unity be looked for?
This leads us to other things named in Scripture. For instance, we are to be of the same mind one toward another (Rom. 12:1616Be of the same mind one toward another. Mind not high things, but condescend to men of low estate. Be not wise in your own conceits. (Romans 12:16)); we are to be joined together in the same judgment (1 Cor. 1:10); we are all to speak the same thing (1 Cor. 1:1010Now I beseech you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that ye all speak the same thing, and that there be no divisions among you; but that ye be perfectly joined together in the same mind and in the same judgment. (1 Corinthians 1:10)); and to walk by the same rule, and mind the same things (Phil. 3:1616Nevertheless, whereto we have already attained, let us walk by the same rule, let us mind the same thing. (Philippians 3:16)). Now how is all this possible when we remember how different our minds and tendencies are as men, except by the fact that we are all indwelt by the one selfsame Spirit who can accomplish in us all this?
We get a beautiful intimation of all this unity in Phil. 3:1515Let us therefore, as many as be perfect, be thus minded: and if in any thing ye be otherwise minded, God shall reveal even this unto you. (Philippians 3:15). "Let us therefore, as many as be perfect, be thus minded: and if in anything ye be otherwise minded, God shall reveal even this unto you."
There is no room for the thought that a difference of mind was to continue. The Apostle had the fullest confidence that God would teach others what He had taught him. At times we may not be sure that something we have learned is of God, and therefore we should be glad to know if it commends itself to other godly persons who are also indwelt by the Holy Spirit. If He has taught it to one, will He not teach it to others also?
But let it be noted that this wonderful sameness does not bring all down to one dead level. The Apostle Peter found in Paul's writings "things hard to be understood" (2 Pet. 3:1616As also in all his epistles, speaking in them of these things; in which are some things hard to be understood, which they that are unlearned and unstable wrest, as they do also the other scriptures, unto their own destruction. (2 Peter 3:16)), but this did not create a breach of the unity. A difficulty is not a disagreement. With grace reigning in our hearts, there will be no breach of the unity of the Spirit, though some are much more advanced than others; and these latter should also be desirous of being taught.
There was a breach of the unity exemplified in the history of these same two apostles when Peter, with others, "dissembled"; and Paul had to withstand him to the face because he was to be blamed (Gal. 2:11, 1311But when Peter was come to Antioch, I withstood him to the face, because he was to be blamed. (Galatians 2:11)
13And the other Jews dissembled likewise with him; insomuch that Barnabas also was carried away with their dissimulation. (Galatians 2:13)
). This was not simply because Paul was in advance of Peter, but because the latter dissembled.
It might have seemed a very small thing to Peter to eat with the Gentiles, and then to refuse to do so when some came from James. It was being all things to all men, in a bad sense. But it was not a small thing to break the unity of the Spirit; and the rebuke was not only administered, but it has been handed down to us for our instruction.
In the family of God there are babes, young men, and fathers; but there is nothing in these differences of growth to make a breach of the unity.
There are also different lines of service—evangelists, pastors, and teachers—wherein each has his own work to do, but all leading to one and the same end—"For the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ: till we all come in the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ." Eph. 4:12, 1312For the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ: 13Till we all come in the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ: (Ephesians 4:12‑13).
There are also different parts of the body, each with his own appointed work, but all made to maintain the unity of the Spirit. "There are diversities of gifts, but the same Spirit. And there are differences of administrations, but the same Lord. And there are diversities of operations, but it is the same God which worketh all in all." 1 Cor. 12:4-64Now there are diversities of gifts, but the same Spirit. 5And there are differences of administrations, but the same Lord. 6And there are diversities of operations, but it is the same God which worketh all in all. (1 Corinthians 12:4‑6). Mark how the sameness is here enforced; it is the same Spirit, the same Lord, and the same God. These may all have been in operation in producing the Holy Scriptures; and yet, as we have seen, there is the most perfect harmony in the whole. Will there not in like manner be the same harmony in all the operations of the whole body of Christ, where there is the diligence to maintain the unity of the Spirit? Indeed, this passage proves that where it is God who is working there must be harmony. How sensitive then we should be that when there is not harmony, there must be something of man somewhere; and how slow we ought to be to press our judgment when it does not commend itself to godly Christians. Maintaining the unity of the Spirit is linked with "the bond of peace."
Does not the passage itself show that the "endeavoring to keep the unity of the Spirit" (which, indeed, is only a part of a sentence) should not be confined simply to the question of reception at the Lord's table. Its context exhorts us:
To walk worthy of the calling wherewith we have been called;
To do this with all meekness, long-suffering, bearing with one another in love;
Using diligence to keep the unity of the Spirit in the uniting bond of peace.
There is one body and one Spirit, as ye have been also called in one hope of your calling.
One Lord, one faith, one baptism.
One God and Father of all, who is over all, and through all, and in you all.
The unity of the Spirit then embraces everything in the sphere wherein the Holy Ghost acts, both in the individual Christian—"one toward another"—and in the whole body of Christ in all that pertains to the same.
Using diligence to maintain this unity will surely redound to the glory of God and to the welfare of the saints, while it will also strengthen the "bond of peace."