Under Construction: A Unified Temple (Ephesians 4:1-6, 11-16)

Series: You Are the Temple of God - 2024 Theme

Ephesians 2:11-22 - One of the most fundamental truths about the church and the temple of God is that they are to be unified. This unity transcends even divisions like ethnicity - like the Jews and the Gentiles (2:11-12). God is reconciling people together through the cross and removing the past enmity that divided us. In one sense, this is already accomplished - “have been brought near by the blood of Christ” and he “made both groups into one”.

But the end of this text shows that there is still a construction process that continues. The whole building is “being fitted together”, “is growing into a holy temple in the Lord” and “being built into a dwelling of God in the Spirit”. Unity is therefore something that has been accomplished in the past, but it is also a present process that God is working to accomplish now in our lives. Unity should be at the core of what we strive for.

Yet, this is something that we struggle with. God is not pleased when we are constantly dividing and not working for unity. Proverbs 6:19 says that God hates the “one who spreads strife among brothers”. When we are not working on this it is confusing to the world (John 17:23) because there is so much division and mixed messages. And sadly, it is evidence that we are carrying out the desires of the flesh and not walking by the Spirit (Galatians 6:16-21). If this is something we do not put to death, it can keep us from inheriting the kingdom of God.

So how can we have unity? What does it look like? How can I agree with people who are christians but see things differently than I do? How can we be a unified temple of God?

Walk in a manner worthy of the calling (4:1-3)

As Paul writes to a church that was made of very different people that had all become christians, he zeroes in on the type of unity that God wants for his disciples. The first element of that centers around a type of lifestyle that comes from attitudes shaped by the gospel. What does it look like to walk worthy of that calling? Ephesians 4:2-3 - humility, gentleness, patience, and tolerance for one another in love.

How does the gospel make us humble? The gospel shows us the effects of our selfishness and sin. Not only does it destroy ourselves, it destroys the people we love, and it made it necessary for Jesus to come and die on the cross. In our pride and arrogance we did what we thought was best and what we wanted, and what was the result? The murder and torture of an innocent man, God becoming flesh.

But more than that, we are humbled because despite our evil and sin, God loved us so much that Jesus gave up heaven and his status with God to come and become a man, to live as a servant, to be obedient to his Father, even to the point of death. See, the gospel does this amazing work of pounding us into the dust, but then lifting us up to heaven. “The gospel is this: We are more sinful and flawed in ourselves that we ever dared believer, yet at the very same time we are more loved and accepted in Jesus Christ than we ever dared hope” - Keller

How does the gospel make us more gentle? How did Jesus come and confront us with our sin? Jesus warned us of hell and the path that we were on, But it was never through arrogance or pride, it was with kindness, concern for us, love for us.

How does the gospel make us more patience and tolerant? Look at the lives of the disciples and you will see a patient savior. Over and over his disciples are making foolish statements and decisions. Yet, Jesus never gives up on them. He challenges and rebukes them, but he is always committed and faithful to them. He understood their weaknesses. He understood the growing process. He knew that they were dust. That should be a great encouragement to us, because how Jesus is with the disciples is how he is with us.

Ultimately, when we really, deeply love someone, these are the attributes the naturally flow from that. And further, these come from a person who understands how loved they are. Instead of being needy for the attention and approval of others, as christians we are known, loved, and valued by the only one that matters - God. We are in relationship with the source of humility, gentleness, patience, tolerance, and love. We then can share with others what we have experienced from God.

This then becomes the core attributes that help us in every relationship we have with others. When people sin against us, we realize that we have sinned against others and against God. When people ask for forgiveness and reconciliation, we had to have those from our Father. These become the oil for the rough parts and people in our lives. They give us the core attitudes we need to be unified with each other.

Be diligent to preserve the unity of the Spirit (4:3-6)

However, Paul is not talking about unity with complete compromise. That would be unfaithful to the gospel as well. The humility that we have from the gospel allows us then to listen to the truths God has revealed that are necessary for our lives and the truths that all of us rally around.

Ephesians 4:4-6 gives us 7 things are unified and that we are to be unified in as believers - One Body, Spirit, Hope, Lord, Faith, Baptism, and God/Father. Paul is not saying you can believe what you want to and be a christian. There are objectives truths that all of us must come to know, and then we are expected to preserve that unity that comes from the Spirit. The problem is people wander away from these truths and when that happens unity breaks.

Now, these are obviously not the only things that we must be unified on, but they do give us the foundation. Paul is striking the balance between the objective and subjective parts of our unity. These are the non-negotiable, necessary facts when someone becomes a christian. These are outside of us, but they are things that all of us must acknowledge individually. Our mission then is to be diligent in preserving this unity. Peace has been secured outside of us and without us. But, it is our responsibility to do the hard work and consistent maintenance of what we have been given by the Spirit.

This is critical for our relationships as well. The reason I am united with you and you are united with me is because we share these things in common. I believe these things and you believe these things. We may have many other things that we disagree on, but these are what we share and we do not share these with the world. That brings an important appreciation and value to each other that we do not have with non-christians.

Until we all attain the unity of the faith (4:11-16)

The final element here is the growth process. When someone becomes a christian they may understand these 7 ones and have the attitudes in basic form, but there will be development overtime. Ephesians 4:11-16 zeroes in on this concept. Christ has given gifts to the local church and some of these are the various leaders - their job is to equip, build up, etc. But notice especially verse 13 - until we all attain the unity of the faith, knowledge, maturity, the fullness of Christ, etc. When does that stop? It never does. It doesn’t matter if you have been a christian for 50 years, you will still be working on these concepts.

However, there is a level of maturity that we can achieve. Notice that we are not to be children that are led away in false doctrine, instead we speak the truth in love. That speaking the truth in love is the means for how we grow. When we each do our part in the local body and we continue speaking the truth to each other and build each other up.

This is where the friction comes in usually. You’ll notice that there are many things not put in that list of seven things - marriage, alcohol, church leadership, etc. Now some could be put in the area of “the faith”, but the idea is that there will be a growing process in all of these various areas. It’s not to say that there isn’t truth on them, but that these are the areas where we need to go back to our attitudes and desire for unity back in 4:1-3. The people we interact with are christians, but they or we may be mistaken and need to grow and mature in various areas. This  requires that we walk in a manner worthy of the gospel, that we are humble, gentle, patient, tolerant, loving, and diligent to preserve our unity.

What does this look like practically?

One of the best examples for us is the church at Corinth. Corinth was a group with many problems, yet notice how Paul speaks of them in 1 Corinthians 1:2. Further, Paul was thankful for this church and was confident God would confirm them to the end, blameless when Jesus returned (1 Corinthians 1:8). How is that possible? Does Paul not know what was going on? This was a church with divisions, they had discipline issues, they were worshipping in idols temples and leading brethren to stumble, they were misunderstanding and misusing spiritual gifts, some of them even said there was no resurrection.

Notice that Paul does not say, “You Jews and Gentiles are so different, you look different, have different preferences, traditions, and languages, you should start separate churches.”He doesn’t say “you faithful ones need to step back and start a new church.” But he also doesn’t say you need to agree to disagree. He lovingly, patiently, and gently works with the church to conform to the absolutes revealed in the gospel while also being patient to allow growth. What we see in this is the balance that Paul describes in Ephesians. Paul has a particular manner and attitude that is worthy of the calling he was called with. Yet over and over again, Paul is holding Corinth to a standard while allowing them time to grow.

The problem in Corinth ultimately was a lack of maturity - 1 Corinthians 3:1-4. There was a fundamental misunderstanding of the gospel that needed to be corrected in the church. They had to do exactly what Paul describes in Ephesians 4 - they had to grow up and no longer be children. How was that done? It was through leaders who speak the truth in love.

The church at Corinth was missing Ephesians 4 on both sides. They did not have the attitudes that come from walking worthy of their calling, and they were rejecting some of the core truths that a christian must affirm. But it gives us insight into our expectations for the church. Many people have an idea of what a church should be like that is not accurate to the new testament. They have created an idol where the church must satisfy my needs and rarely have problems, or I am leaving. Instead, the church is a family where we help each other grow, hold each other accountable, and work together. We must be diligent to keep the church united.

In my experience, what causes divisions in churches, and among brethren, is that they have missed the gospel, they are not focused on the mission and their love is shallow. I was reading about this recently and a man was describing his relationship with his wife. When they are focused on mission, they are unified. The common goals center around reaching the unreached, equipping the saints, and caring for the poor. Further, like in marriage, what would cause you to think dividing the family and separating the kids is a good idea? The reason that happens is when love fades. Churches are to be founded on love and mission, that brings unity.

Notice that Paul is reminding the brethren about these concepts in the book. The church is not a social institution for every need of humanity. It is a called out body for a particular purpose - to reach the lost, to build up the saved, and to help needy brethren. Love then is the driving force behind all of these things - notice these concepts.

Love is the core behind saving others (1 Corinthians 8-10)

Here we have a lot of people who think they know when they do not know as they ought to. The goal of the instruction and measure of maturity is love (1 Corinthians 8:1-3). These brethren were concerned about is pleasing themselves - eating in the idols temple - instead, of being concerned that brethren were falling away from Jesus (8:11-13), and they were not putting every effort into reaching the lost like Paul was (9:12, 19-23). Because they had taken their eyes off their brethren and the lost, and focused on themselves, the church was being divided. The solution then was to be willing to do without for others in matters of judgment and opinion - to not exercise rights. We sacrifice for others even if they’re wrong in order to save them (1 Corinthians 10:31-11:1). In this way we are imitating Christ and walking worthy.

Love is the core behind edification (12-14)

The church at Corinth had turned their worship service into a service about pleasing themselves. They compared gifts and preferred some to others. Some said they didn’t need others. Some said they weren’t important because they didn’t serve like others (12:12-26). Instead of seeking the welfare of others, they were interest in pleasing themselves. The solution was to focus on love (1 Corinthians 13:1-6). The church is not about making a name for ourselves and showing off, it is about building up the church (14:3, 5, 12, 16). That’s what brings about unity in a local body and builds people up to be like Christ.

Love is the core behind benevolence (16)

The church at Corinth has so many problems, yet they were also well off financially. Paul wanted them to participate in helping other christians (1 Corinthians 16:1-4). The reason that we do that is because we should be putting ourselves in their place and feeling their need. When we do that, we will be generous like we should. Love is to be the core of all that we do (16:14).

What was the solution? To remember the gospel (15:1-4). That’s why Paul taught it to them and applied it over and over again. They needed to remember who they were as God’s people, God’s temple, God’s field, Saints, etc, and realize that the way they treated each other was obedience to Christ and what was done to each one was done to Christ. The solution for this church was to go back and partake of the Lord’s supper correctly. It was their inconsiderate and flippant attitude toward this feast that was causing the problem (11:17-34). Yes there will be divisions and factions, but they should only be coming from people that have completely been changed from the gospel and the rejection should be from people who are unwilling to submit to Jesus and be conformed to his image.

This is the answer we need for our churches and relationships today. We can end up fighting and dividing over so many things. We are taking our eyes off of Jesus and the mission, and instead being focused on ourselves, our reputations, and our preferences. We have to give those things up to be unified, to accomplish the mission, and to be pleasing to Christ.