Introduction: A lack of unity can be painful! At a church camp this
weekend, a friend threw a football to me. I had to run to catch it,
and just as I was getting my hands around it, my foot caught on the
ground. Instead of falling forward on my face, I tucked in my
shoulder, hit the ground, rolled and came up – still holding the
football. It looked pretty good for an old guy like me. But, there
was a failure of unity. My foot let me down, and my left shoulder
took the kind of force not normally connected with typing! That night
was painful! I’m still suffering the consequences. Let’s explore what
the Bible teaches us about unity in the body of Christ!

  1. Gentile, Humble, Love

    1. Read Ephesians 4:1. Who is the prisoner? (Paul! In our
      last series of studies in Acts we learned how Paul was
      periodically confined by Rome. Acts ended with Paul in

    2. Read Ephesians 4:2. How does being a prisoner help to make
      you humble and patient?

      1. What does Paul say should make his readers
        “completely humble and gentle” and “patient?”
        (“Bearing with one another in love.” Paul tells us
        that this is consistent with living a life “worthy of
        the calling you have received.”)

      2. Let’s explore this. How does love make you humble,
        gentle and patient?

      3. When I was growing up, my parents complained that I
        treated friends and strangers better than members of
        my own family. Since I knew the family, I did not
        have to be on my best behavior. Thus, I was less
        humble, gentle and patient with those I loved! Is
        that also true for you? (If it is, then perhaps it
        proved that the love of my parents tolerated worse
        behavior from me.)

      4. It seems to me that when you love someone, do you
        assume the best of them. (You want to maintain your
        relationship, therefore you are more patient, gentle
        and humble than you are with complete strangers.)

    3. Read Ephesians 4:3. What is the “unity of the Spirit?”
      (This is the Holy Spirit. This is unity that comes from
      having the Holy Spirit dwell in us.)

    4. Read Ephesians 4:4-6. Why is unity the result of the Holy
      Spirit dwelling in us?(Paul points out that several
      different things make us one in the Holy Spirit. These
      “things” have a single focus. But more than that, we are
      unified by a God who is “over all and through all and in

      1. Let’s ask some hard questions. Are these the points
        on which the Holy Spirit brings unity – baptism, the
        Trinity, and Christianity? If so, can we disagree on
        other issues? (If you think back about our recent
        study of the Book of Acts, you will recall the Acts
        15 meeting where the Church met to resolve the issue
        of circumcision for Gentiles. That was a huge
        controversy in the early church.)

        1. Is circumcision mentioned in these verses as a
          point on which God brings unity? (No. That
          leads me to conclude that the Holy Spirit
          should bring unity on points other than those
          specifically mentioned.)

    5. Let’s skip down and read Ephesians 4:11-13. Can we see
      some aspects of the church for which we should not expect
      unity? (We are not all unified in our job classifications.
      We work together, but not every one, for example, is
      “given” to be a pastor.)

      1. How do we explain this kind of unity? (We have
        different jobs and positions in the church, but we
        work together. Paul explains elsewhere that this is
        like the unity in the human body. See 1 Corinthians

      2. What specific area of unity is mentioned? (“Unity in
        the faith and the knowledge of the Son of God.”)

        1. Does that mean that we can disagree on some
          areas, such as who should be a pastor?

      3. Let’s look again at a very interesting phrase in
        Ephesians 4:13. We are to “become mature.” If you add
        maturity to humility, patience, love, and gentleness,
        will disputes still persist? (That makes disputes
        much less likely. I think the sense of the Greek is
        “complete.” Thus, “mature” is not simply an attitude,
        it is an increase in understanding the will of God.)

      4. In my Church today there is resistance to a decision
        on who can be an ordained pastor. I’m far from
        certain that everything written on the subject
        reflects humility or maturity. How do you think
        humility can help resolve this problem? Does it mean
        that a member of the church should always submit to
        duly constituted church authority? Is that what
        humility requires?

  2. Diversity and Unity

    1. Read Romans 14:1-4. In what way does humility and love
      play a role in “disputable matters?” (We should not look
      down on those with whom we disagree. We are all servants
      of God, and God alone can judge His servants.)

    2. Read Romans 14:13-18. How is unity preserved in situations
      where we have a clear dispute about the merits of certain
      food? (Each person is to make up his or her own mind.)

    3. Read Romans 14:22-23. How does Paul suggest we maintain
      unity? (By keeping our views to our self!)

      1. How would you be able to do that? What kind of
        character trait(s) would be required? (Certainly
        humility! A proud person would be sure to express
        what he believed. Love would be a restraint on
        expressing your views. The Holy Spirit will change
        our hearts.)

      2. Does Paul ask us to concede our views? (No. He does
        not tell us to agree to whatever is the lowest common
        denominator. Instead, he says keep your views to

    4. Is this idea that we can all have different views, but we
      have unity because we keep our mouths shut, an important
      part of the answer to church unity? (Re-read Romans 14:1.
      It has to be a “disputable” matter. I don’t think that
      means that any time a dispute breaks out we should shut
      our mouth. Instead, I think it refers to an issue on which
      the Bible is not clear.)

  3. Church Family

    1. Read Ephesians 5:21. How does this work? Have you had the
      experience of “submitting” to another person at a traffic
      intersection, or walking down a hall, and being polite
      meant neither of you made any progress? My wife and I do
      this all the time when it comes to eating out. We defer
      to the preference of the other.(You cannot, literally,
      have mutual submission or we would go hungry, or never get
      through an intersection. Paul must be talking about an

    2. Read Ephesians 5:22-24. Does this clarify Ephesians 5:21?
      Does it mean that husbands and wives submit to each other,
      but to be sure we actually eat, I get to make the final

    3. Read Ephesians 5:25-27. We need a discussion about Paul’s
      definition of submission. If husbands are to be like Jesus
      was to us, that means that husbands are to prefer their
      wives over their own lives. That is a very unusual
      definition of submission. I would say that Jesus submitted
      Himself to us, not the other way around. What do you say?

    4. Read Ephesians 5:28. One of the most important Biblical
      teachings on marriage is found here: “He who loves his
      wife loves himself.” Can we translate this into resolving
      church disputes? “He who loves church authority loves
      himself?” Or, should it be “He who loves church unity
      loves himself?” The idea is that submitting brings
      blessings. Does that seem right?

    5. Read Ephesians 5:29-33. Does it seem odd to you that a
      husband must “love” his wife, while a wife must “respect”
      her husband? (My daughter talks about this – she wants a
      husband who she can respect. If you love your husband, but
      think he is an idiot, your marriage is unlikely to go
      well. Indeed, you should avoid marrying anyone you do not
      respect (husband or wife), because of the mutual
      submission that Paul promotes.)

      1. Notice that verse 32 calls this a “profound mystery.”
        What does that suggest about our understanding of
        submission in marriage and in the church? (It means
        the matter is complicated.)

    6. Friend, if unity in the church is complicated, will you
      ask the Holy Spirit to give you the gifts of humility,
      love and patience so that you will understand how we must
      submit to achieve unity?

  4. Next week: The Experience of Unity in the Early Church.