Vol. IX — No. 42 October 20, 1968
I therefore, the prisoner of the Lord, beseech you that ye walk worthy of the vocation wherewith ye are called, With all lowliness and meekness, with longsuffering, forbearing one another in love; Endeavoring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. There is one body, and one Spirit, even as ye are 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.
In Christ Jesus, the Head of the One Holy Christian Church which is His Body, Fellow Redeemed:
If someone asked you, “How is your congregation getting along since you got your new pastor?”—how would you answer? Think about this now. Wouldn’t it be quite natural to answer in a general way: “Things are fine, going along nicely, progressing.” And then if you were asked to illustrate, you might think of the parking lot that was carved out of the hillside, the parsonage that was built, the new members that have been received, the holding steady of attendance and the gradual increase in contributions. But then if you thought again, you would soon realize that all of these things are external matters. Now it is true that the property, attendance and membership figures, and the financial position of a congregation may serve as an index for the internal well-being of a church. But it is also true that the external well-being of a church may be but a veneer covering a malignant spiritual ailment within, which may well be in its terminal stage.
Just how are we getting along in this congregation? I’ll tell you what thrills me and encourages me to work all the harder. It’s when someone says, “I’ve learned more this last year and these last months than I’ve ever learned before.” It’s when people say with appreciation, “I never heard a sermon preached on the Lord’s Supper or Baptism until you came.” These are individual expressions of appreciation of my efforts as your God-sent shepherd, but they reveal something more. They reveal that a spiritual activity has been at work in our midst. We have been studying and learning together. We have been growing in knowledge and understanding together. We have been growing in the unity of faith. Who is responsible for this? How does this come about? This is the work of the Holy Spirit, who opens the eyes of our understanding and who stirs our hearts through the hearing and reading, the studying and learning of the Word of God. The most amazing development in our congregation is not the external progress but the growth in insight and understanding, the appreciation of wholesome doctrine, the development of confessional firmness. Put it all together and it amounts to this: The Spirit of God has been working among us the priceless blessing of unity—so that we believe the same, confess the same, answer questions concerning our faith the same way, hope for the same things.
Our text gives us the Spirit’s own description of the glorious unity of the Holy Christian Church. It is His creation. He would have the unity reflected in the life of every congregation. He urges each child of God to make every effort to preserve that unity. Let us meditate on these things under this theme:
We consider first—
The literary brilliance of St. Paul, guided by the Spirit of God, shines through in these verses as he presents the Holy Trinity as the basis for the unity of the Holy Christian Church. As I read again, notice the three groups of three to emphasize the Trinity, each separate Person of the Trinity heading a group of three: First the Holy Ghost: “There is one body, and one Spirit, even as ye are called in one hope of your calling.” Next the Son: “One Lord, one faith, one baptism.” And finally the Father: “One God and Father of all, who is above all, and through all, and in you all.” There are nine elements used to describe the unity, always in groups of three—to denote the Trinity as the basis for true unity. Now notice another feature, the use of the number seven, which is the sacred number made up of three, the number of the Trinity, and four, the number of the earth. That number comes to the fore in the sevenfold repetition of “one”: one body, one Spirit, one hope, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all. This is Paul’s masterful expression of the unity of the Holy Christian Church.
How let us examine the individual triads. The first Centers in the “one Spirit”—the third Person of the Holy Trinity: “One body, and one Spirit, even as ye are called in one hope of your calling.” Since the curse of Babel race has been set against race, people against people. The Jews called all non-Jews Gentiles. The Romans haughtily called all non-Romans barbarians. Hitler proclaimed the Aryan race the master race. In our country we have today white supremacists and black power people. We have White Anglo-Saxon Protestants and minorities of all kinds. So it has been and so it will continue to the end of time. In contrast to this race against race, nation against nation, majority against minority, man against men stands the one Body, which is the creation of the Holy Spirit—the Holy Christian Church. There is no separate Jewish, Gentile, White, Negro, American, Russian, Baptist, Catholic, Lutheran Christ Church. “One body!” That body is the Body of Christ! It is created by “one Spirit.” The same one Holy Spirit works in the heart of the white man, the black man, the red man, the yellow man. And each one that is called by that “one Spirit” is called to one and the same hope. Each one called by the Spirit of God—regardless of his racial, national, educational, economic background—is called to the hope of eternal life. There are no national barriers in heaven, no segregation patterns, no ghettos, no wrong side of the tracks. This is the glorious unity of the Holy Christian Church—a unity that staggers the imagination in our world of man against man and groups against group.
The second triad revolves about the Son: “one Lord, one faith, one baptism.” There is but one Lord and Saviour of all men—our Lord Jesus Christ. “Neither is there salvation in any other: for there is none other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved.” (Acts 4:12) God sent His Son as the divine-human Substitute for all mankind. Jesus lived a holy, righteous life for all. He died because the sins of all mankind were loaded upon Him. He arose again for the justification or forgiveness of all. He ascended as the Lord of all—though not acknowledged by all. He shall come again as the Judge of all. No one is or can be saved without Christ! This stands despite the wisdom of the wise, despite the protestations of the masses of unbelievers here on earth, and it shall stand despite the curses of the damned in hell. “One faith!” Each member of the Holy Christian Church believes the same thing—that he is a lost and condemned sinner saved alone by the grace and mercy of his God which has been revealed to man in and through Christ Jesus. Any “faith” that rests on anything else—pride of race, confidence in self-righteousness, self-denial, religious affiliation or what have you—is a delusion and superstitution. “One baptism!” This is the sacrament that initiates faith in infants and children and seals it unto adults. There is no Catholic, Baptist or Lutheran Baptism. There is only one baptism—the one instituted by our Lord for all nations and all generations of men.
The third triad revolves about the Father—first the unity and then the three elements: “One God and Father of all, who is above all, and through all, and in you all.” There is but one Father, who is above all. His Son taught us to pray: “Our Father which art in heaven.” We conclude that prayer with the doxology: “For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, for ever.” The Father is also through all. His operative power makes us saints. How did the Father achieve this? By the sending of His Son to redeem mankind, to reconcile heaven and earth, to cleanse and purify His Church. The Father is also in all. This is the secret of God’s immanence and indwelling by which God Himself unites Himself with us and dwells in us. To achieve this the Father sent the Spirit to make each member of the Church a temple of God.
This is it! The glorious unity of the Holy Christian Church, created by God the Holy Ghost, resting on the redemptive work of God the Son and sustained ever and always by God the Father. This unity is to manifest itself within a Christian family and within a Christian congregation. This is the goal of the Holy Ghost, but against this goal Satan rages. He dare never be unwary of—
These peace-disturbing tendencies Paul is combating with his exhortation: “I therefore, the prisoner of the Lord, beseech you that ye walk worthy of the vocation wherewith ye are called.” Paul was speaking as a tried and tested veteran of the cross. He was at the time in prison in Rome for the sake of Christ. He pleads, he begs, he admonishes, he encourages the Ephesians to live up to or to walk worthy of their calling. They had been called out of the darkness of sin and guilt into the marvelous light of divine forgiveness and love. They are at all times to reflect their calling in their lives.
Just what Paul had on his mind becomes clear as he continues: “With all lowliness and meekness, with longsuffering, forbearing one another in love: Endeavoring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.” Lowliness and meekness are to combat superiority, pride, boastfulness. These characteristics of the flesh are a special threat to unity of the Spirit, especially when they take on a religious tinge.
It has been said, “A little knowledge is a dangerous thing.” That is true in any field, but especially in religious matters. When a person believes that he has found a basis for his own prejudices in the Bible and when he believes that he has found proof of his own opinions in the Bible, his mind is usually closed. He knows. He knows better than anyone else. He doesn’t want anyone to direct his attention to a passage that will shed light on the subject. He refuses to learn because he may well learn that he is wrong. Such a person and such tendencies in people are a threat to the unity of the Spirit. Paul urges lowliness and meekness—that constant willingness to learn, to be corrected, to grow in knowledge, to deepen one’s insights into the Word.
Paul urges “longsuffering, forbearing one another in love.” Paul urges us to hold out and to hold up under irritations and vexations. The flesh would have us short-tempered, ready to snap at someone, ready to belittle him because of his lack of knowledge or inability to see the matter or issue clearly. This is the sort of thing that destroys unity. He must teach and wait for the Spirit to do His work. He may have to teach again and again—and then wait again and again. There may be irritations, there may be vexations, but longsuffering and forbearance must be our response.
And the aim is always the same: “Endeavoring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.” Sometimes outward peace has to be sacrificed to achieve or retain the unity of the Spirit. Those who contend for the Word are called trouble-makers, peace-destroyers. Our Lord Jesus Christ is the Peace of Peace, and yet He was condemned for stirring up the people. When you people protested error in your former churches, you were accused of disturbing the peace. As we have worked in our congregation here, striving for greater unity in doctrine and practice, we have experienced peace-disturbing incidents. These things do happen. They should make each of us strive all the more to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. That we can do when, with the help of the Holy Spirit, we determine to remain obedient unto the Word of the Lord at all times. Our attitudes are to be like that of young Samuel, who prayed: “Speak, Lord, thy servant heareth.” May we always hear and heed the Hard of our God so that the priceless gift of unity that the Spirit has created and continues to strengthen in our midst may be preserved in the bond of peace. Amen.
Ministry by Mail is a weekly publication of the Church of the Lutheran Confession. Subscription and staff information may be found online at www.clclutheran.org/ministrybymail.
All scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the King James Version.