“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 above all, and through all, and in you all.” (Ephesians 4:4–6, NKJV)
Over the past week we have commented briefly on God’s “One-derful” plan for unity from Ephesians 4:4-6. It is the plan for unity that has God’s endorsement, and which binds Christians together in peace as we diligently guard it (Eph. 4:3). To summarize, God’s platform of unity consists of the following planks: One Body: Unity of Relationship (the church, Eph. 1:22-23); One Spirit: Unity of Life (new life in Christ, revealed in truth, Jno. 3:5; Jno. 16:12-13; Gal. 5:25); One Hope: Unity of Destiny (an eternal inheritance, 1 Pet. 1:3-5); One Lord: Unity of Authority (submission to Christ’s will, Col. 3:17); One Faith: Unity of Revelation (the gospel is the faith once for all delivered, Gal. 1:11, 23; Jude 3); One Baptism: Unity of Forgiveness (God’s plan of salvation, Mk. 16:16; Acts 2:37-38; 10:47-48; 22:16); and, One God and Father of All: Unity of Worship (true worshipers, Jno. 4:23-24). Unity in Christ is possible as we trust and follow the wisdom and word of God (1 Cor. 1:10). Human wisdom leads to hopeless division (1 Cor. 1:11-13). The unity of believers for which Christ prayed honors God, does His will, and blesses every soul who participates in it (Jno. 17:20-21; 14:21, 23-24). May me diligently keep this unity with Christ and His people (1 Jno. 1:3-7; 2 Jno. 9-11).
“one Lord, one faith, one baptism;” (Ephesians 4:5, NKJV)
The one Lord has not sanctioned thousands of conflicting messages. There is one faith, which is the gospel of Christ. When Paul preached “the gospel” he preached “the faith” (Gal. 1:11, 23). We must speak the same faith as we endeavor “to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” (Eph. 4:3). The “one faith” that achieves unity is the revealed gospel that saves those who believe (Rom. 1:16). Nowhere in the Scriptures do we read of “Catholic faith,” “Protestant faith,” “Orthodox faith,” “Mormon faith,” “Evangelical faith,” or any faith capable of saving the soul other than “the faith” that was once for all delivered in the first century (Jude 3). All these are false faiths that impose and codify division (Col. 2:20-23). If they were all “one faith” they would not be separate faiths teaching and practicing different gospels (Gal. 1:6-12). It is an affront to divine truth (and to human logic) to suggest many faiths are somehow one faith. Only the one faith – the gospel of our salvation (Eph. 1:13) – produces true faith that saves from sin (Rom. 1:17). All other faiths are destructive, divisive deceptions (2 Pet. 2:1-3). The gospel call is to walk worthy of the “one faith” that makes known the will of God, and that unites the saved with God and with one another (Eph. 1:9; 4:1, 11-16).
“one Lord, one faith, one baptism;” (Ephesians 4:5, NKJV)
God’s “One-derful” plan of unity continues in Ephesians 4:4-6 with the emphatic declaration there is one Lord. That simple truth is forgotten whenever religious, moral, and social division occurs. I am not Lord. You are not Lord. Not “Lord Krishna,” not “Lord Buddha,” not any other person who has lived or is living now. Only Jesus Christ is Lord (1 Cor. 8:6). Through Him we have life and all things. He alone has been given “all authority in heaven and on earth” by God the Father (Matt. 28:18; Eph. 1:20-23). Christ’s word is truth and settles every issue concerning “life and godliness” (Jno. 1:14; 8:31-32; 2 Pet. 1:3). He rules, and by His authority (the “name of our Lord Jesus Christ”) we can “speak the same thing,” reject dissensions and be joined together “in the same mind and in the same judgment” (1 Cor. 1:10). This takes faithful effort by each Christian, no question about it (Eph. 4:15-16). Division arises when we follow men or women instead of following Christ (1 Cor. 1:11-12). We must ever remember that Christ is not divided (1 Cor. 1:13). Humble submission to the one Lord will guard unity and glorify God: “And whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him” (Col. 3:17).
1 And I, brethren, could not speak to you as to spiritual people but as to carnal, as to babes in Christ. 2 I fed you with milk and not with solid food; for until now you were not able to receive it, and even now you are still not able; 3 for you are still carnal. For where there are envy, strife, and divisions among you, are you not carnal and behaving like mere men? 4 For when one says, “I am of Paul,” and another, “I am of Apollos,” are you not carnal? (1 Corinthians 3:1–4, NKJV)
Paul had just identified “spiritual” people as those who “receive the things of the Spirit of God” (i.e., the revelation of the gospel truth through the apostles, 1 Cor. 2:14-15, 10-13). Sadly, Paul could not speak to the Corinthian Christians as spiritual people because they had remained unspiritual – carnal (“consisting of flesh, fleshy”). Failing to grow spiritually after their conversion to Christ, they were still only able to digest the milk of the word (v. 1-2). Their failure to mature in Christ led them to be anti-spiritual – carnal (having the nature and traits of the flesh, the opposite of “spiritual” in 1 Cor. 2:15) (v. 3-4). Their carnality was exhibited through their envy, strife, and divisions. Identifying themselves with men instead of with the “word of the cross” proved their carnality (1 Cor. 1:18). We must grow to spiritual maturity by receiving God’s word and putting away every attitude and action that opposes the word the Spirit revealed (1 Pet. 2:1-2; Heb. 5:12-14; Rom. 8:5-8).
17 Now in giving these instructions I do not praise you, since you come together not for the better but for the worse. 18 For first of all, when you come together as a church, I hear that there are divisions among you, and in part I believe it. 19 For there must also be factions among you, that those who are approved may be recognized among you. (1 Corinthians 11:17–19, NKJV)
The only other time in 1 Corinthians the apostle Paul is inspired to use the word translated “instructions” in verse 17 is in chapter 7:10, where it is translated “command.” The word carries the force of a message that is enjoined upon us, a charge given by the apostle. He was about to charge them with proper attitudes and conduct when they came together to worship. It had been reported to Paul that the worship assembly of the Corinthian church was marred by division. He would rebuke them, not praise them, for their factious conduct when they came together. (The simple and clear truth is that we must discard every practice that cannot be praised by an apostle.) Their divisions over class and wealth were disrupting and perverting their worship. Therefore, verse 19 does not endorse factions in a church, it explains the effect factions have on a church. Factions serve to identify genuine (true) disciples from those in error (which Paul will show in subsequent verses). Our assembled worship must be decent and orderly, characterized by unity in truth, not divisiveness and strife (1 Cor. 14:40; 1:10).
17 Then it happened, when Ahab saw Elijah, that Ahab said to him, “Is that you, O troubler of Israel?” 18 And he answered, “I have not troubled Israel, but you and your father’s house have, in that you have forsaken the commandments of the Lord and have followed the Baals.” (1 Kings 18:17–18, NKJV)
With the influence of his evil wife Jezebel, king Ahab advanced Baal worship in Israel (1 Kings 16:29-33). God sent a drought upon the land for over three years to show His great displeasure (1 Kings 17:1; James 5:17). Ahab blamed God’s prophet Elijah for the trouble, but it was Ahab and his house who had forsaken God’s commands and led the nation into deeper sin. Ahab was the real troubler of Israel. Here is a clear lesson concerning culpability when distress, trials, trouble, and division occurs among Christians. God says the troubler of His people are those who forsake His commandments and follow false ways. Yet, like Ahab, those who “hold fast the pattern of sound words” against the religious innovations borne of human desire and design are still (incorrectly) charged with being troublemakers (2 Timothy 1:13). No, we become troublers of Israel when we go beyond the doctrine of Christ and teach false, misleading things (2 John 9; Acts 20:29-30). False gods and false doctrines still plague the Israel of God (Galatians 6:16-17). Let us never be a modern-day Ahab who defends error while condemning truth and those who uphold it.
24 If a kingdom is divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand. 25 And if a house is divided against itself, that house cannot stand. 26 And if Satan has risen up against himself, and is divided, he cannot stand, but has an end. (Mark 3:24–26, NKJV)
The enemies of Jesus charged Him with casting out demons by the power of Satan (Mark 3:22-23). Jesus exposes their error by noting a fundamental principle: Chaos occurs where division exists. If their charge was true, then Satan was fighting against Satan. Division produces chaos, not calm. This principle is noteworthy incentive for us to pursue peace (Hebrews 12:14). A country at war with itself cannot long sustain the chaos of internal conflict. A divided family cannot long endure factious emotions and splintered loyalties. Christ will not indefinitely recognize and identify Himself with a church that is divided in doctrine and practice (Rev. 2:4-5). It is very wrong to think God is pleased with religious division by saying such things, as “join the church of your choice.” The chaos of doctrinal division renders this recommendation inept (not to mention unscriptural, John 17:20-21; 1 Corinthians 1:10; Ephesians 4:3). God’s kingdom is united in truth. Strong families stand on the solid rock of faith. And, God’s house stands on and upholds the truth of God (1 Timothy 3:15). Division is the work of Satan. Unity in truth is the work of God in Christ Jesus.
4 There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called in one hope of your calling; 5 one Lord, one faith, one baptism; 6 one God and Father of all, who is above all, and through all, and in you all. (Ephesians 4:4–6, NKJV)
This is God’s platform of unity for the church of Christ. There is one body, or church, not many churches (denominations) that establish division among believers. There is one Spirit, who leads us and unites us by the gospel truth He revealed, inspired and confirmed. There is one hope reserved in heaven for Christians; not the hope of an idyllic earth for all of humanity (1 Peter 1:3-5). Unity is arranged under the authority of one Lord; Jesus Christ (Acts 2:34-36). Unity is preserved when we do all things by His authority (Colossians 3:17). We do not write or accept creeds to elucidate unity – the faith that was once for all delivered is our sufficient guide (Jude 3). The Great Commission baptism of repentant believers for the remission of sins is the only baptism God recognizes (Mark 16:15-16; Acts 2:37-38; 8:35-38). All other baptisms introduce error and cause division. We have one Father who is in heaven; not many clerical “fathers” on earth (Matthew 23:9). God, our heavenly Father, is sovereign over all things. He pervades and sustains all things. He dwells among His people (Ephesians 2:22). Let us unite on truth. This is the unity for which Jesus prayed (John 17:20-21).
4 For as we have many members in one body, but all the members do not have the same function, 5 so we, being many, are one body in Christ, and individually members of one another. (Romans 12:4–5, NKJV)
The church is depicted as a body – its members having different functions, but all aimed toward the singular, united purpose of serving the will of its head, who is Christ. This picture of the church as a body draws our attention to the unity to which we are called as Christians. Division is roundly condemned in the Scriptures as a work of the flesh (Gal. 5:20). Christians are united in our faith, in our common salvation, and in our mutual care for one another. To the extent that Christians refuse to consider ourselves “members of one another,” they contribute to discord in the body of Christ. The church suffers when fellow Christians will not work and worship together in mutual faith, mutual love and mutual reverence for the Lord. Each Christian has an important place in the body of Christ, which includes “endeavoring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” (Eph. 4:3). Each member of the body of Christ is more effective and faithful as we all remember we are “individually members of one another.”
12 Now I say this, that each of you says, “I am of Paul,” or “I am of Apollos,” or “I am of Cephas,” or “I am of Christ.” 13 Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Or were you baptized in the name of Paul? (1 Corinthians 1:12-13, NKJV)
The rhetorical questions answer themselves (verse 13). Christ is not divided. Paul was not crucified for you. You were not baptized in the name of Paul. Therefore, Christians cannot be “of” men, and also be “of Christ.” Christ is not divided into a multitude of different churches with opposing creeds, confessions, and catechisms. The writers and endorsers of creeds and confessions were not crucified for you. Neither were you baptized in their names. As an example, consider the Apostles’ Creed. The apostles did not die for our sins, nor were we baptized in their names. Why should we pledge allegiance to a creed that bears their name (which they neither wrote nor approved in the first place)? Yet, many will identify you as a heretic if you do not do so. Such a demand is divisive to its core. The Scriptures answer all pertinent doctrinal issues; we care not for the creeds, because they are unnecessary. Creed writers were not crucified for us, Christ was (1 Cor. 15:3). Jesus Christ is the One in whom we are baptized, not churches that were formed under the guidelines of human creeds (Matt. 28:19). In Christ, we unite. In creeds, we divide. Which do you choose?