Character Traits of Unity
Last week we looked at seven “ones” that form a basis, or foundation for Christian unity. We saw the one body, one Spirit, one hope, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all. These ones supply the substructure for the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace (Ephesians 4:1–6). With so many ones, the pervasive splintering in the body of Christ we see today is unconscionable.
I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit — just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call — one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all. — Ephesians 4:1–6, ESV
Note that the apostle Paul says we are to “maintain” or “preserve” the unity of the Spirit. We do not establish that unity. We do not cause it. It already exists. The only thing humanity can do is destroy that unity, and it has been my observation that many in the body of Christ actively seek out ways/reasons to shred the unity of the Spirit, thinking it makes them distinctive, or right, while everyone else is wrong and drowning in error.
In contrast, we are called to be σπουδάζοντες (spoudadzonteis) — zealous — to preserve that unity. Note, this is not a passive stance wherein we simply tolerate one another, choosing to just put up with each other (though the apostle Paul does call us to do exactly that, as we will see momentarily). This is an active pursuit of unity. We give diligent effort to being unified with other believers.
Maintaining the unity of the Spirit requires some specific attitudes within the Christ-follower. Some refer to these as “Christian graces.”
If we are going to preserve the unity of the Spirit, it is going to require humility. We are not looking for the self-abasing that often parades as humility (Colossians 2:13, 23). True humility is that which makes an honest assessment of one’s abilities as well as their weaknesses. It is knowing yourself, and being okay with that knowledge.This is the antithesis of pride or arrogance, wherein we consider others as more important than we consider ourselves (Philippians 2:13).
For by the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned. — Romans 12:3, ESV
Do not fall for the temptation so see meekness as weakness. Meek is not wimpy. It is power under control. It is the term used to describe a strong horse that has been broken. It is still very powerful, but that power is under control. The apostle Paul used the term hypothetically to contrast his coming at the Corinthians with a rod, as opposed to coming with love and “gentleness.” Jesus self-described as both meek and humble (Matthew 11:29). Meekness, or gentleness is listed with the fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22). Meekness is a soothing medical balm, or a gentle wind.
Allied with meekness is long-suffering or patience. It is the ability or willingness to endure tremendous discomfort without retaliating. Interestingly enough, this is a term often applied to God as he is long-suffering toward us, enduring our repeated disobedience without retaliating (Romans 2:4, 9:22, 1 Timothy 1:16, 1 Peter 3:20, 2 Peter 3:15). This is the long-suffering we are to have toward one another.
In common vernacular, this word simply means “put up with one another.” Despite the fact that people’s actions and attitudes annoy us, put up with them, forbear them. This is the term Jesus used when he became exasperated, saying, “You unbelieving and perverse generation. How long shall I put up with you?” (Matthew 17:17, Mark 9:19, Luke 9:41). It is the idea we express when we tell someone in tough circumstances, “Just deal with it.”
I do not intend to discount the other unifying attributes by emphasizing this one, but I do want you to feel the force of this term. We are zealous for the unity of the Spirit. This goes far beyond simply desiring unity, or liking unity, or accepting unity. We actively, vigorously pursue it. It is the idea expressed by the apostle Paul in Romans 12:18, “If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.”
The verb translated “zealous” is a present, active, participle. This conveys the idea that we are to be constantly striving to maintain unity of the Spirit. This is a disciple’s obligation. This is the “life worthy of our calling.” And bear in mind, the concept of “unity” goes far beyond forbearance, long-suffering, even peace. Unity is alignment!
Finally, we come to the bond of peace. Just as we forbear in love, we maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. It may be that love is the bonding glue of that peace. I want to call your attention to the last statement here, but it seems best to give you the full context, because it ties so beautifully with everything we have discussed so far.
So, as those who have been chosen of God, holy and beloved, put on a heart of compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience; bearing with one another, and forgiving each other, whoever has a complaint against anyone; just as the Lord forgave you, so also should you. Beyond all these things put on love, which is athe perfect bond of unity. — Colossians 3:12–14
Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
Victoriously in Christ!