Please take a moment apart from your busy-ness to read Ephesians 2:11-22 in your Bible. I used the NIV (1984) to prepare these remarks.
Unity in the church is not a luxury; it is a necessity.
One of the best meetings I ever attended was at an elementary school. The principal had called a meeting to discuss how our community might to meet the needs of a family whose poverty was causing the children to fail in school. I had been invited to attend because the mother had identified me as her pastor. I was to bring to the table whatever means our church could offer to support them.
What pleased me so much was the positivity of the meeting. Without any pretense, compliments and praise and gratitude flowed like a river. It was contagious; I found myself looking for praise-worthy things so I could join in the fun of being positive.
The other thing that set this meeting above all others was the focus of the group. We all wanted to help. School faculty and staff, counselors, social workers, and I were compiling all the forms of assistance we could offer in order to keep t kids in school.
Afterward, I was hit with a pang of jealousy. It occurred to me that in all the meetings I had attended for church functions, I had never attended as pleasing a meeting. It was a secular meeting in a secular place, joining people who may have had little or no agreement about God but it shone above all the meetings that supposedly had those advantages.
It may help us to know that God expects us to be in unity and gives us all we need to experience it. Paul wrote to the church in Ephesus and set forth God’s standard.
- Without Christ we are separate from God and from one another.
The Ephesians were Gentiles when Paul wrote these words; GENTILES AND UNCIRCUMCISED, EXCLUDED FROM CITIZENSHIP IN ISRAEL (11-12) but because of Jesus, that distinction no longer mattered. Where birth, ethnicity, and nationality once divided the saved from the unsaved, Jesus came to save everyone. Contrast these strong words describing division with Paul’s promise in v. 19 that all who believe in Jesus are FELLOW CITIZENS.
Before Christ, being Gentile meant you were WITHOUT HOPE AND WITHOUT GOD IN THE WORLD (12). Without Jesus, people have to live in the present without HOPE for the future or God’s grace to forgive their past sins. To be hopeless and godless is horrible; it ought to frighten us into having faith instead.
- Jesus acted to make us one. (He did five things.)
ONE = Jesus sacrificed Himself. God did it THROUGH THE BLOOD OF CHRIST (13) and THROUGH THE CROSS (16). Jesus’ death on the cross paid the penalty for every person’s sins. Since it has been bought at so great a price, we show our gratitude when cherish our unity and protect it, rather than toss it.
TWO = He became OUR PEACE (14+15) and HE CAME AND PREACHED PEACE (17). Unity brings peace and is threatened when the peace is disturbed. Jesus’ presence gives us peace.
These verses agree with Matthew 5:9; “BLESSED ARE THE PEACEMAKERS, FOR THEY WILL BE CALLED SONS OF GOD.” God’s children are characterized as being peacemakers. They will make sacrifices and have courage in bringing people together.
THREE = He DESTROYED THE BARRIER, THE DIVIDING WALL OF HOSTILITY (14) and HE PUT TO DEATH THEIR HOSTILITY (16). On a historical level, this is another way of describing the Jew vs. Gentile dynamic.
On a personal level, we know that unity cannot be found when people have divided into opposing camps. Unity brings people together, destroying barriers/walls, not putting them up.
FOUR = He abolished IN HIS FLESH THE LAW WITH ITS COMMANDS AND REGULATIONS. (15) This verse parallels Paul’s earlier teaching about the BLOOD of Jesus and the CROSS: Jesus’ physical death abolished the Law by meeting all its demands. He was the perfect sacrifice for sin and thereby brought an end to the need for any sacrifice for sin.
As the Law is part of what kept Gentiles and Jews separated (the Jews had it, the Gentiles didn’t), this verse parallels vs. 11+12. Jesus’ sacrifice made this division inappropriate, bringing us all together in one family and citizens of one kingdom (v. 19).
FIFTH = He IS THE CHIEF CORNERSTONE …IN HIM THE WHOLE BUILDING IS JOINED TOGETHER. (21) (We will talk about this later.)
- Descriptions of our unity.
The first benefit of unity is obvious: unity brings us together! Paul wrote, YOU WHO WERE FAR AWAY HAVE BEEN BROUGHT NEAR. (13+17) No matter what measure you use to describe the distance, it no longer exists. The worldly things that ensure separation lose their significance in Jesus and are no longer a reason for keeping us apart.
God’s unity effectively makes us ONE. (14+15) This verse reminds me of the statements made in the Bible about marriage (see Genesis 2:24 & Mark 10:7); the two persons becoming one. Ideally in married life, the partners are to think and act as one. So it should also be in a church. This is Jesus’ PURPOSE: He has worked to make us unified. We are to receive it, then avoid breaking the unity God gives.
Jesus brought us together so that IN THIS ONE BODY (His) He aimed TO RECONCILE BOTH OF THEM TO GOD. (16) Unity is both the product of and the means to reconciliation. Jesus’ greatest purpose is our union with God. That must happen first. Then, the degree to which to which we have union with God, we will experience unity in our church.
A second benefit of unity is that it empowers our prayers. In Matthew 18:19 Jesus promised, “I TELL YOU THAT IF TWO OF YOU ON EARTH AGREE ABOUT ANYTHING YOU ASK FOR, IT WILL BE DONE FOR YOU BY MY FATHER IN HEAVEN.” Here in 2:18, Paul explained how we have that kind of power in prayer: THROUGH HIM WE HAVE ACCESS TO THE FATHER BY ONE SPIRIT. (18)
The word ACCESS refers to prayer. It is having a means of communicating with a king. As Romans 8:26-27 teaches, the Holy Spirit facilitates prayer. Even when we don’t know how to pray, the Spirit makes prayer happen; effective communication with God occurs.
The third benefit to unity is belonging: We are a holy nation, the Kingdom of God. As Paul expressed it here: YOU ARE NO LONGER FOREIGNERS and ALIENS, BUT FELLOW CITIZENS. And YOU ARE…FELLOW CITIZENS WITH GOD’S PEOPLE AND MEMBERS OF GOD’S HOUSEHOLD. (19) CITIZENS have a responsibility to respect one another in civility and keeping the law. More than that, Christians are GOD’S PEOPLE AND MEMBERS OF GOD’S HOUSEHOLD; having relationships deeper than citizenship.
Put another way, we are God’s temple, the people among whom He dwells. GOD’S HOUSEHOLD is BUILT ON THE FOUNDATION OF THE APOSTLES AND PROPHETS. (20) Paul also referred to A CORNERSTONE in vs. 21, which is the most honored part of a building because it is a symbol of the actual and moral foundations on which the building was built. In ancient times, it was also the first part of the building erected.
The rest of the building was measured and built around the fixed point of the CORNERSTONE. In these senses, Jesus is the origin and the most honored part of the church.
In verse 21 Paul wrote that the Church people are A HOLY TEMPLE IN THE LORD. Similarly, in 1 Peter 2:4-5, Peter described the Church as being made up of LIVING STONES. Just as it takes many bricks to create a structure, every church is made up of several individual persons coming together. A stack of bricks is not a building. It is only when the pieces are put together with Jesus they become a place on earth fit for God.
Paul expressed this truth a third way in verse 22: YOU ARE…A DWELLING IN WHICH GOD LIVES BY HIS SPIRIT. God created the Church for many different reasons. However, we must remember that necessity is not one of those reasons. He does not need a place to live but He wants a people in a place that give evidence to the world that He exists and He loves all people. To be a church we have to do more than maintain physical property; we have to BE the people of God in this place. We have to cherish and protect the unity God gives us.
You’ve heard the expression “one and done” used in sports. When teams compete in a single-elimination tournament and are eliminated by losing their first game, we say they were “one and done.”
I want to suggest a variation on that slogan that puts the importance of unity in its biblical perspective. Based on this passage and others, I say “One OR Done.” This means that we are ONE as a church or we DONE being a church. A local body of believers that perpetuates disunity has ceased to be a church and has become something else, something less than what God has commanded.
Unity is a precious gift from God. It is worth every sacrifice, every effort, every slice of humble pie or crow we have to eat to maintain it.
Unity is a precious gift from God. It is worth defending against every pretender, peace-breaker, and offender of the cross.
Unity is received, not achieved. We partner with God when we protect our unity because without it we cannot be a church.
Unity in the church is not a luxury; it is a necessity.
Zondervan Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament: Ephesians, Clinton E. Arnold