I, therefore, the prisoner of the Lord, entreat you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling with which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, showing forbearance to one another in love, being diligent to preserve the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit, just as also you were 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 all.
Why do you think Paul starts this section by calling attention to the fact that he is a prisoner? "I, therefore, the prisoner of the Lord, entreat you to walk in a manner worthy of the Lord." I think the answer is that he wants them to feel the truth that it is worth it. Walking worthy of our Christian calling (the calling to glory and everlasting joy with Christ) is worth being imprisoned for and worth dying for.
The Worth of Walking Worthy of Our Calling
Writing from prison means that what he writes is dangerous. It is not a nice, middle class way to solve your problems and be comfortable. Real, radical Christianity is risky and unpopular and dangerous. Jesus had given many warnings that following him was safe in the long run and dangerous in the short run. For example, he said,
They will lay their hands on you and will persecute you, delivering you to the synagogues and prisons, bringing you before kings and governors for my name's sake. It will lead to an opportunity for your testimony. (Luke 21:12–13)
There is something very powerful about a testimony from prison where your life is at stake. That's the power Paul wants to put behind these words. The power we feel when we hear Richard Wurmbrand tell us of Tahir Iqbal, a Muslim convert to Christianity who was imprisoned December 7, 1990, in Lahore, Pakistan, and died in prison July 19 this year. He was a paraplegic and confined to a wheelchair. When asked about the possibility of being hanged he said, "I will kiss my rope, but will never deny my faith."1
That kind of talk from prison is like a stiff, wakening winter wind in the face of our drowsy, television-soaked, self-pitying kind of Christianity. It wakes us up and makes us dress spiritually for the winter battles. That's what Paul wants to happen when we read his testimony from prison.
Preserve the Unity of the Spirit
He pleads with the church to walk worthy of our calling. Specifically, the way he wants to emphasize is that we be "diligent to preserve the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace" (v.3). We walk unworthily of our calling in Christ if we disregard the unity of the body and don't expend any effort to safeguard what Christ died to obtain. "Be diligent," Paul says, "Be eager, be earnest" to keep the unity given by the Spirit of God and obtained with the blood of Christ (2:16).
This is Paul's prison burden for the church at Ephesus. If we have any empathy for a suffering saint, it should make us say, Yes, that is utterly crucial. How, brother Paul? How shall we do this?
His answer is found in verse 2. The character traits that will preserve the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace are humility, gentleness, patience, forbearance, and love. So he says that a life worthy of our calling and leading to unity of Spirit is "with all humility and gentleness, with patience, showing forbearance to one another in love." If you are humble, you will be gentle, and if you are patient, you will be forbearing or enduring. And if you are gentle and forbearing in love, you will be a peacemaker and a unity preserver. So be diligent and eager to be a humble and patient person by the power of Christ.
Humility and Truth
But beware of a modern mistake here. Humble does not mean wishy-washy when it comes to truth. Forbearing does not mean saying: truth doesn't matter. It is a great mistake to confuse humility with uncertainty. But many today do confuse them. They think that the only humble demeanor is the uncertain, vague, iffy demeanor.
Is that what Paul meant? The only way to preserve the unity of the Spirit is to be vague, uncertain in your grasp of truth? He didn't seem to be that way. I think G.K. Chesterton put his finger on our problem 50 years ago in a little book called Orthodoxy:
What we suffer from today is humility in the wrong place. Modesty has moved from the organ of ambition. Modesty has settled upon the organ of conviction; where it was never meant to be. A man was meant to be doubtful about himself, but undoubting about the truth; this has been exactly reversed. Nowadays the part of a man that a man does assert is exactly the part he ought not to assert—himself. The part he doubts is exactly the part he ought not to doubt—the Divine Reason. (G.K. Chesterton, Orthodoxy, p. 55)
I think that's right because later in this chapter Paul says he wants Christians to not be babes any longer blown about by winds of doctrine but to come to the unity of the knowledge of the Son of God (4:13–14). The humility that leads to unity is not uncertainty and doubt and vagueness and confusion. It is the demeanor that says: I am not the center; truth is the center and I submit to the truth and go where it leads. I am not king; God is king. My will is not the law; God's Word is the law. I don't tell God how many faiths are acceptable to him; he tells me. I don't define the foundation of the unity of the Spirit; God does.
The Objective Ground for Our Experience of Unity
That is what he is doing in verses 4–6. Here he gives the objective ground in reality for the subjective experience of unity that we are to pursue. The unity of the Spirit that we should be so diligent for is based on a given, objective unity outside ourselves that we have nothing to do with creating or defining. It is there, and we are humbly to recognize it and submit to it and rejoice in it and live it out.
There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were 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 all.
One body, one Spirit, one hope, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one Father. This is the objective foundation of our diligent efforts to preserve the unity of the Spirit. It is not a fragile or ultimately vulnerable thing. It rests on the oneness of God, the oneness of faith, the oneness of baptism, and the oneness of the body. Those things are one, no matter what you or I do. They are fixed realities. Our task is to walk worthily of them.
What Does This Have to Do with Missions?
Now the question I want to ask this morning is: What does this have to do with missions? What does it have to do with the task of the church to evangelize the unreached peoples of the world?
The answer is that since there is only one God (the Father of all who believe, Ephesians 2:12) and only one Lord (the Lord Jesus Christ, Ephesians 1:2f.), and only one Spirit (the Holy Spirit poured out from the Father by the Son, Acts 2:33) and only one faith (faith in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior, Ephesians 1:13, 15) and only one baptism (into Christ in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, Matthew 28:19f.), and only one body (the church of God gathered with Jesus as the head, Ephesians 4:15)—since there is only one God and one faith, we must take the news of this God and this faith to the nations. "There is no other name under heaven," Peter said, "given among men by which we must be said" (Acts 4:12). Other religions and other lords will not save.
You might think that this text is about church unity, not about missions. But think again. The issue at Ephesus, as we saw back in chapter 2, was the issue of whether Gentiles could be full fellow heirs with Jews in the body of Christ. The answer was that Christ reconciled both in ONE body to God through the cross (2:16). Both have access in ONE Spirit to the Father (2:18). Those who were once far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ and made into ONE new man (2:15). So the issue of unity for Paul is created by the mission of the church to "those who were far off"—the Gentiles, the nations—far off spiritually and far off culturally and sometimes geographically.
In other words, the uniqueness of Christ—the fact that there is only one Christ, and only one God, and only one faith—is the foundation for mission outside the church and the foundation of unity inside the church.
If there were many true gods, and many Saviors, and many valid faiths, and many baptismal entrances into many genuine bodies of redeemed people, there would be little need for missions the way Paul sees the need. But there is only one God and one Lord and one faith and one baptism. And so this salvation truth must be proclaimed to all creation—to all the peoples.
Unique Lordship, Church Unity, and Mission
You can see in Romans 10:12-15 how the singularity and uniqueness of the Lordship of Christ connects the unity of church and mission of the church.
12 For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; for the same Lord is Lord of all abounding in riches for all who call upon him. 13 For, "Whoever will call upon the name of the Lord will be saved." 14 But how are men to call upon him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without a preacher? 15 And how can men preach unless they are sent? As it is written, "How beautiful are the feet of those who preach good news!"
So the truth that there is one Lord, one faith, one baptism, is a truth for inside the church and outside the church. It is the foundation for unity inside and the foundation for missions outside. Since there is one Lord, we should be diligent to maintain the unity of the Spirit under that unifying lordship. And since there is one Lord among all the religions of the world, we should be diligent to spread the news to Muslims and Hindus and Buddhists and tribal religions and atheists.
Counting the Cost of This Truth
I want you to believe this, but I want you to believe it with your eyes open and to count the cost. It is has never been a popular stance—that there is one Lord in all the universe whom all humans must deal with, and that this Lord is the God-Man Jesus Christ who lived and died and rose once for all 2,000 years ago in Palestine; and knowing and trusting him alone is the only way to escape the just judgment of God. The particularity and singularity and uniqueness of Jesus as man's only hope has never been popular, and it is increasingly unpopular today.
If you believe it, you will be called arrogant, and intolerant, and ignorant. You will be opposed by powerful people like British theologian John Hick who argues that different religions are "equals, though they each may have different emphases." Christianity, he says, is not superior, but one partner in the quest for salvation. We are not to seek one world religion but rather we look to the day when "the ecumenical spirit which has so largely transformed Christianity will increasingly affect relations between the world faiths." He likes to quote from the Hindu Bhagavad Gita, iv, 11, "However man may approach me, even so do I accept them; for, on all sides, whatever path they may choose is mine."
One Lord, One Faith, One Baptism
But if it is true that Christ is the way, the truth, and the life, and that knowing and trusting him is the only way to heaven—if it is true, then believing it is not arrogant, but a humble submission to reality. And teaching it is not intolerant except in the sense that doctors are intolerant of poison and tolerant of medicine.
And does it mean that you are ignorant when you say that there is only one way to God—one Lord, one faith, one baptism? Well, every person in the world is ignorant of millions of facts. So yes we are ignorant. But when you are trying to find your way out of the woods, the important thing is not that you know all the trees and streams and birds and rocks and paths. The important thing is that you know one thing—the path that leads to other side.
This is what Jesus came to do—make a path to heaven for rebellious sinners; and there is only one path. If you know Jesus (if the light of the glory of God in the face of Christ has shone in your heart), you know the way. The one Lord, the one faith, the one baptism.
My prayer is that each of us would feel what Paul felt when he discovered this—that he was a debtor to the Greeks and Barbarians, the wise and the foolish—to all those who had not yet named the name of Christ. To know this truth is to be a debtor to all the nations.
1 John Hick, "Whatever Path Men Choose Is Mine," in Christianity and Other Religions, eds. John Hick and Brian Hebblethwaite, Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1980, p. 188.