In an age anxiously obsessed with “personal faith,” “personal calling,” and “personal vision,” the letter to the Ephesians points us in a curiously different direction. At the beginning of chapter four, Paul urges believers to “walk in a manner worthy of their calling” (v. 1) — in other words, to live in a way that corresponds to the glorious Gospel he has explicated in the previous chapters. Conventional wisdom might suggest that living as faithful followers of Christ would entail a vibrant personal faith, a strong sense of personal calling, and an expansive personal vision. The text rather directs us beyond ourselves to our interpersonal relationship with other Christians, that we must live “with all humility and gentleness, with long-suffering, bearing with one another in love” (v. 2). Then as he continues his description of faithfulness to God he calls us “to make every effort to preserve the unity of the spirit in the bond of peace” (v. 3). The phrase “make every effort” strikes me. It could alternately be translated “proceed quickly, hurry, be zealous, be eager, be conscientious or take pains.” This eagerness, conscientiousness, zeal and effort is to be directed towards the promotion and preservation of unity amongst Christians. As the previous chapters make clear, this does not only refer to relationships in individual congregations, but to the major divisions that separate Christians. The specific issue in this book is the division between Jew and Gentile (cf. Eph. 2:11ff.; 3:6). In our day, however, Paul’s burden can and must be brought to bear on all kinds of divisions relating to gender, ethnic, cultural, socio-economic, theological, and denominational divisions, as other biblical texts show Paul was already beginning to do (cf. Gal. 3:28; 1 Cor. 12:13). Paul here expresses that a manner of life that is faithful to Christ would “make every effort” to overcome these divisions and experience a loving unity with Christians that are different from ourselves.
My question is, do we really believe that to be faithful to Christ and the Gospel, we must make every effort towards unity? “Making every effort” is somewhat extreme. It’s not something you do once a year at a big event or think about every so often. To “make every effort” means it is one of our highest priorities, a concern that is regularly and consistently on our hearts and minds. It is something we earnestly desire, pray for, and work for. Are we content to see other Christians that are different from us and dismiss them because of their “deficiencies” (translate: the ways they express their Christianity differently than us)? Or are we content to see other Christians as a threat to us and our ways rather than seeing them as key to our experience of the fullness of Christ? When we understand what Paul is saying, we see Christian unity not as a luxury, not as something that might be nice, but as an absolute essential.
Perhaps our difficulty with unity lies in a different conception of Christianity. Paul grounds his appeal to unity and love in a beautiful, almost poetic statement:
One body and one spirit;
Just as you all were called in one hope of your calling.
One God and Father of all
Who is over all, and through all, and in all. (Ephesians 4:4-6)
Where we often talk about a “personal faith” unique to each person, Paul speaks of the Church having “one faith.” We fret over individual callings while Paul speaks of the Church’s one calling. We ground our faithfulness to Christ on having a personal vision for our lives. Paul directs us to faithful living by giving us a common vision for the one Church. While the personal dimensions are important, when they become paramount to the minimization or exclusion of the corporate nature of the Church, its faith, and its calling, our understanding and expression of Christianity is twisted and distorted. Every personal expression of faith, calling, vision, and gifting finds its meaning, significance, and goal within the larger context of the oneness of the Church, rather than vice versa.
While much, much more could be said about this, it at least alerts us that the common attitude of passion for one’s own gifting, vision, and calling, alongside a bitter, critical, or simply indifferent attitude towards “the Church” is thoroughly non-Pauline and entirely discordant with any form of Christianity the apostles would have recognized. It beckons us first and foremost to cultivate a love, vision, and passion for the singular faith and calling of the unified Church whom Christ loved and gave himself for. When our passion is primarily for the splendor and glory of the Church, rather than the expression of our own gifts and callings, we know we are on the right track and are aligned with Christ’s own priorities (cf. Eph. 5:26-27). When this happens, our personal experience of faith, vision, and calling will acquire a beauty, depth, richness, and stability we may have never previously known.