“As a prisoner for the Lord, then, I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received. 2 Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. 3 Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. 4 There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to one hope when you were called; 5 one Lord, one faith, one baptism; 6 one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.” – Ephesians 4:1-6
A lot of Bible translations put a heading over Ephesians 4 something about unity. While Paul has a lot to say about unity in Ephesians 4 it is not his primary point. Unity is one part of a bigger picture that he is talking about from this point in the letter onward. What is that bigger picture? Paul names it in 4:1 – “As a prisoner of the Lord, then, I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received.” (4:1).
Living in line with the worthiness we have received from God is big for Paul. He writes about it often and expects it to be a big part of the community of faith. He wrote something similar to the Philippians (1:27), to the Colossians (1:10) and the Thessalonians (1 Thes 2:12). When Paul wrote to the Christians in Thessalonica a second time he reminded them of the worthy life he called them to live in his first letter but this time he reminded them that while they are to live in a manner worthy of their calling, the One who makes them worthy is God (2 Thes 1:5, 11).
This brings up an important point. There are two things going on here when Paul deals with things like worthiness, unity and even righteousness. It is God who makes us worthy or righteous or unified. It is us who have to then live accordingly to what or who God has made us to be. That last word is an important one. This is about a state of being. This is, then, ontological. Put simply, ontology has to do with the nature of our being or our existence. In other words worthiness is a state of being and not just actions we do. You can imitate the actions without God’s transformative work in your life to make you into someone new (new creation). It is God who makes us worthy or righteous or united (a state of being) and then because that is who we are, as a result we are to live in a manner worthy of the worthiness we have received from God.
This point about ontology is a big one because it is something that plagued their world and plagues ours today as well. It has to do with the essence of who we are as human beings. In the world there are certain states of being in Paul’s day that had rigid defining boundary markers (view as a state of being) – Jew vs Greek, slave vs free, honored (rich and affluent or of high position) vs shamed (poor and marginalized) that were considered states or statuses of one’s life. In Christ God is making a new creation by taking these seemingly unjoinable groups joinable…by taking the many and making one new humanity. It is, seemingly, a change in the nature of our being to be brought into unity with others who the world said had some quality about them that you shouldn’t or couldn’t join yourself to…like the nature of cats and dogs (or biblically the lion laying down with the lamb), always fighting. It seems to be in their nature.
We cannot do anything that makes two or three or ten groups one but that is what God has done through Christ and marks as a reality through the Holy Spirit so that together we can live worthily into the calling that we have received and by we Paul means along with others who I would never have expected received the same calling. God gives us that gift of true unity (even in our being as the body of Christ and as members of a new creation reality). What does God expect of us? To live worthily as He has made us worthy…to live lives that recognize and maintain our unity as He has united us…to live righteously as he has made us righteous and that will require being (not just acting) humble and gentle and patient (4:2) in order to do the second thing God expects of us – maintain the unity He has given us through the Holy Spirit.
If you are at odds with another Christian. If you, right now, have hatred in your heart to another Christian. You need to forgive them or ask them to forgive you…or both! We don’t see the boundary marker lines exactly as they did but we have our own set. Maybe race is a problem for you. Or maybe you are angry at the conservatives or at the progressives. Or maybe you are mad at the elders because of their last decision. Whatever it is in your heart that is pushing others away who are supposed to be one with you in Christ Jesus you need to repent of and seek to be unified even with those you have great difficulty with. Live as we are in the eyes of God. All you are doing is recognizing the unity God has already made between you and them…you have just had a hard time admitting that God has done what God has done and who wants to be in that boat?