In our last post, we undertook a preliminary examination of Ephesians 4:1-16. In this post, I intend to continue to explore the concept of 'unity', in order to understand the full intent of the passage under review.
Most contemporary bible scholars would agree that the main emphasis of verses 1-6 is that of Unity. However, when considering verses 7-16, most then seem to focus almost exclusively on the 'gifted' individuals of verse 11 and the [implied] early church leadership structure. Let's now examine these passages a little more closely.
We note that in verse 3 the reader is implored to: 'keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace'. This is clearly a Pauline concept, reminiscent of much of Pauls writings. [Cf Ephesians 2]. This also implies that such unity has already been achieved, since we are implored to 'keep' or 'maintain' such unity!
Yet, in verse 13; we find Paul, introducing a new 'influence' with regard to the topic of 'unity'; the so-called 'ascension gifts'; here, Paul implies that such 'unity' is something into which we grow?!
Such 'gifts' according to Paul are given in order to: "perfect the saints for the work of the ministry ... edify of the body of Christ ... until we all 'come into' the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a full-grown man, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ".
Paul has now taken us from 'unity', in verses 3 - 6; to the diversity of 'giftedness' in verses 7 - 11.
Commenting on this apparent contradiction, Francis W. Beare points out that:
"The unity is here presented as the goal toward which we strive, whereas in v. 3 it is a possession to be guarded. The two aspects are complementary. That which is given us by God must be made our own by progressive appropriation. What was before described objecively as the unity of the Spirit, in terms of its source and sphere, is now described subjectively, in terms of its content of thought and experience - of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God."
Upon careful examination, an obvious harmony soon becomes apparent between verses 1-6 and 7-16. Both portions of scripture clearly have 'unity' in focus as a central theme.
In light of our present enquiry, we now need to pose the question: How does such 'diversity' promote the cause of 'unity'?
It is here, that Paul's oft-repeated metaphor of the human body being made up of many parts yet each part actively working in harmony, [and resulting in 'wholeness' of effort and purpose] comes to our aid.
The strength of the church's unity [in Paul's mind] is to be found precisely in the diversity which makes it up - a common theme in Paul's epistles, (cf. Romans. 12:4-8; 1 Corinthians 12:12-31). The members of the human body are not identical, nor should they (or could they) be if the body is to function properly. [Unity in Paul's mind does not mean uniformity; it means rather complementarity].
It seems apparent that the 'gift-individuals' [are intended to] promote unity by declaring that which assists the church to grow in Christ; and by inference at least, that which detracts from such growth.
Other believers also play a vital role in promoting unity by receiving and practicing the message of those whom Christ has given, for:
"...the perfecting of the saints for the work of the ministry ... the edification of the body of Christ ... until we all come into the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a full-grown man, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ".
Focus on Unity
It is possible, that the strong focus on unity, as well as correct [and authoritative] teaching, is intended to address:
- The problem of growing disunity between rival factions;
- The inroads of gnosticizing tendencies in Asia Minor; and
- The reversion on the part of some, to their former way of life associated with 'magic'.
This seems quite feasible from what we know of the period in question. Paul does not have to invent the concept of disunity, or of unity. In 4:1-6 he assumes that people become selfish, self-promoting, harsh and unforgiving over a whole host of items, whether trivial or significant.
Consequently, Paul draws on certain ethical concepts to counter those problems - humility, gentleness, patience, loving forbearance - but elevates their significance, by relating them to an exhortation to keep an already existing unity; said to have been created by the Spirit. He then legitimates this exhortation through a string of confession-like statements that all refer to different facets of unity related to the church's common beliefs.
At this juncture, we can conclude that this passage focuses not so much on the existence of the 'ascension gifts' as such; but rather on the contribution that those who are 'gifted' by Christ [inclusive of 'the saints', not just the 'ascension gifts'] make toward strengthening the ties between all believers in the community towards 'true' Christian unity thus ensuring that the message of Christ remains true.