Make Every Effort.
In this series of posts we’ve noticed that God’s purpose according to Ephesians is to reconcile the people of the world to himself and to each other and to do it in Christ. God calls us to cooperate with his purpose, based on all he has done for us. Some ways of doing this are to remember where we came from and to learn to live in love. Last week we noted the extreme importance of having right attitudes, including humility, gentleness, and loving patience.
Ephesians 4:3 gives us another vital component to working with God for creating a new, united humanity. It is to be, “eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” (ESV).
The verse indicates that unity is “of the Spirit.” He makes us one in principle by baptizing us all into one body (1 Corinthians 12:12-13), and he will make us one in fact if we listen to him and follow him. We cooperate with him by being eager to maintain that unity. The word for being eager can also be translated “make every effort, be diligent, take pains, endeavor earnestly, be bent on.” We are to exert ourselves mightily to maintain the unity that God’s Spirit has created in the body of Christ.
It’s true that we are to be eager to do other things also. This word “eager” is used elsewhere to describe making a strong effort to remember the poor (Galatians 2:10), to get together with other Christians (1 Thessalonians 2:17; 2 Timothy 4:9, 21; Titus 3:12), to present ourselves as approved workers (2 Timothy 2:15), to enter our rest in heaven (Hebrews 4:11), to confirm our calling and election (2 Peter 1:10), to remind other believers of the qualities we are to have in Christ (2 Peter 1:15), and to be found by the Lord to be spotless and without blemish (2 Peter 3:14). All these things are worthy of strong effort, but it appears to me that our strongest efforts are far too often focused elsewhere, especially when tension or division are brewing.
I invite you to participate in an uncomfortable, convicting exercise: When there is tension or division in your relationships or church …
Are you more eager to preserve the unity of the Spirit or to get your way?
Do you exert more effort toward maintaining the unity of the Spirit or proving you are right?
Do you take more pains to keep the unity of the Spirit or to defend and explain yourself?
Are you more bent on preserving the unity of the Spirit or keeping things the way they are, regardless of the consequences?
Alternately, are you more intent on maintaining unity or changing things, regardless of the consequences?
Do you strive earnestly for unity or do you question the motives of others?
None of the behaviors mentioned in this exercise are included in the list of matters for which we are to earnestly strive, according to the passages just above it. Instead, every effort is to be directed toward unity. Making every effort to preserve unity matches the high value Jesus places on it in his high priestly prayer (John 17:11, 20-21). It is for unity that we are to direct our best efforts.
Yes, truth matters too. We cannot sacrifice truth for unity, and some people refuse to accept the truth. But if we are going to hold on to something even if doing so divides people, we better be absolutely certain it is a matter of truth and not merely preference, opinion or tradition. Nowhere are we told to take pains to get our way in such matters. Unity is a much higher value than these.
Ephesians 4:3 also says we are to make every effort to preserve the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. Peace is another quick casualty in church fights. Yet it is God’s will that the people he is trying to bring together as one share a bond of peace.
We won’t likely have peace in our relationships, however, if we do not first have peace in our own hearts. When I am anxious, upset, or angry, I am touchy and little annoyances are magnified. Too often I respond to others abruptly or bluntly. I may speak truth to them, at least truth as I see it at the moment, but I certainly do not speak it in love. I need peace in my own heart if I am going to respond to others in a way that will maintain a bond of peace with them.
To have peace in my own heart, however, I must first have peace with God. My sin has led to alienation and strife in my relationship with God, but God graciously forgave my sin in Christ so that I can now have peace with him (Romans 5:1; Acts 10:36). When we come to Christ, God gives us peace but this peace must also be assimilated (John 14:27; 16:33; Philippians 4:6-7; Colossians 3:15).
So the sequence is, I surrender to God and so have peace with him. Then, over time, I assimilate his peace into my own heart. This puts me in a much better place to offer and experience peace in my relationships. This precious bond of peace helps hold us together. I must still make every effort to preserve it, but the basis is there.
I am not so naïve as to think this clears up everything related to the tension and division we experience in our relationships, but again, this is the wisdom of God and so it really needs to be heeded. I encourage you you to spend time in Scripture and prayer, seeking to assimilate the peace of Christ. I challenge you to ask God to search your heart to see if you are more intent on unity or getting your way in your relationships and conflicts. Have the humility to consider honestly whether there are any self-centered concerns that are usurping the high place that unity rightfully holds? We will continue to fuss, fight, and divide, until unity and peace become top priorities among us.