Pick a side. Politics and society have forced us into that position, haven’t they? You are either left or right, red or blue, Biden or Trump. Everything seems divided. Fifty years ago we were concerned about the gray areas of life, today it seems the grays have just about evaporated.
Conversations at the dinner table quickly turn into heated arguments and an ideological battle. The battleground bears its casualties. Seeds of mistrust lie on the ground next to hurt feelings and harbored resentment. Strained and broken relationships are scattered everywhere.
The website for the Associated Press summarizes the forces that divide the country into ethnicity, faith or philosophies, economics and social forces. America’s melting pot has become a boiling cauldron.
Our discussions for the last several weeks have centered on the biblical city of Ephesus and Paul’s letter to the Christians there. We began by pondering the thought, “How can the church be united among all of the diversities of people and culture?” We asked, “At what point can Christians come together and stand united?”
As we enter the fourth chapter of Ephesians, it is important to revisit the issue and the questions. The inspired apostle Paul saw division throughout the Roman world. But the man who wrote, “There is neither Jew nor Greek, male nor female” probably didn’t perceive of the day there would be Baptists, Methodists and Presbyterians.
If there were only three divisions within the church, the problems might be manageable. But that is not the case. The website, “The Complete Pilgrim,” was created by Howard Kramer, an enthusiast of religious history and architecture. He estimates there are close to 34,000 Christian denominations in the world. The Pew Research Center and the ReligiousTolerance.org website probably more accurately identify the number around 1500.
Paul proclaims the truth that the church is united. As is the case in so many of Paul’s epistles, the apostle turns from an explanation of doctrine to its application. How can the understanding of this truth be applied to daily living? How does the truth need to be lived?
As Paul has explained the core of the belief of “faith alone,” it is only fitting that he exhorts the Ephesians to keep a strong unity within the church. He begins his argument with a personal and emotional appeal. “As a prisoner for the Lord” reminds the Ephesians — as if they didn’t already know — that he is under arrest and constant surveillance because of his faith in Jesus. “Since I am a prisoner for the Lord without freedom, you exercise your freedom in the way you choose to live.” Live a life worthy of your calling.
Paul had begun his discussion about their calling and predestination back in the early verses of chapter one. Notice the applications — humility and gentleness, patience and bearing with one another, and all things motivated by love. Such emotion driving actions will result in unity and peace.
Remember that peace was not how the ministry to the Ephesians started. Turmoil and differences of opinion were present from the beginning. Perhaps the nature of the Ephesian was to quickly take matters in their own hand and administer their understanding of justice.
Paul expounds upon the basis for unity in the church. There is one body, the church. There is one Spirit, who breathes life into the body. He is the thread that ties all of the parts together. We were called to one hope. We have one Lord. There is one faith that unites us. There is one baptism. There is only one God. He is Father to us all. He is over all, through all and in all.
And then Paul applies the icing to the cake. Each of us has been given the exact amount of grace that we needed. Some needed a little — some a lot. The grace was applied to save us from our sins, and to sustain us in our sanctification. I can live a life worthy of my calling, I can bear with one another because of the grace that God has applied to my life through Christ.
The doctrines and teachings of the church have often been used to further divide us. Paul uses the analogy showing the church as a body to emphasize a unity among diversity.
Tom May is a freelance writer who has held paid and volunteer ministry positions at several churches in the tri-state area. Reach him at email@example.com.
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