“Being diligent to preserve the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.”
The word that gives me, and perhaps others, most trouble in this passage is the word ‘to preserve.’ We know we should pursue peace but to be asked to preserve peace is most difficult, especially when there is no peace to start with! How can we keep something that we do not have? A couple has big differences. Dad doesn’t talk to his children. The leaders in a church don’t get along. Is this not the more common situation that we find?
So what did the Apostle Paul mean by saying “preserve the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace?” What did Paul mean? Let's make a few observations.
- Paul was not insulated from divisions and divisive people. He was not protected from the typical stresses and strains we find in relationships today. All we need to do is look at the different letters that he had written to discover that there were many people who not only disagreed with him on certain issues such as reaching out to the non-Jew, but stubborn leaders in churches who refused to implement church discipline when needed. Paul was no hermit protected from the jagged edges of the people about him.
- Paul was not this lovable teddy-bear type of guy. He was aggressive and bold. We should not conclude that it was his personality type that enabled him to speak this way about peace. Harmony involved bringing together those who are different.
- Paul knew the difference between the sense ‘make unity’ and ‘preserve unity.’ Preserve means to keep watch over. We must trust he knew what he was saying. He deliberately used that word.
- Lastly, we must trust what he said was the right way to view this issue. He was not a perfect man, but the Word of God is inspired and develops within us the ability to live good and godly lives.
So now we must ask in all earnestness what he meant. (Other parts of Ephesians 4:3 is discussed in the prior section).
The Meaning of Preserve
The apostle, in writing this book of Ephesians, has told husbands and wives how to deal with each other. Since husbands are in authority, then they need to take initiative to quietly hear out those they are to care for. If they allow problems to develop and not help their wives know about their action plan, then their wives can easily get upset with them. It is true that at times I want to resolve something different than how my wife wants me to handle it. In this case, I should simply tell her that I see the problem, and that I am taking the initiative to handle it. I have worked through many such problems as a husband but have not told my wife. She thought I was not concerned. This was a misunderstanding that caused agitation. A few proper words would have helped her know that I love her by attending to her needs. Husbands should go out of heir way and in love share with their wives how they are handling different situations even if they need to wait a year. This will help preserve peace.
When parents or those in authority know that they should deal with a problem but do not deal with it, they are setting up much greater problems down the road. Fathers are to bring their children up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord (Ephesians 6:4). This modern age, however, strongly persuades us to use alternative ways to handle our children. Many think that the non-confrontative approach is far better than the confrontative approach.
At times, however, we need to be firm and bold in order to get God’s purpose done. If we know something is wrong in the home, then we need to prayerfully correct it.
Some might believe that you will threaten the harmony of the home by making a disturbance. In fact, if there is no peace of heart then there is no peace in relationships. God is bringing about trouble in your home because you are not doing what He wants. Work through these issues, and you will be able to create real honest relationships. You might, for example, simply explain to older children that you have neglected control in a certain area. You have made a mistake. Ask for forgiveness. And then go on and set the standards and tell them from God’s Word why those standards are being set.
At the same time, set consequences for disobedience.
In the church, we also like to pretend peace and harmony. We call it love, but it is a false love unless one forgives another from the heart level. God’s children need to be taught how to handle conflict and differences. This is the wonderful fruit of the Gospel.
This basic rule is an adaption of Jesus’ words to love one another: we should treasure each person. If someone is making a suggestion, then we should look at it as if the Lord is trying to speak to us. Of course, sometimes what is said is not helpful at all. But if we treasure each person, then we will treasure his words. We will put aside suspicion and criticism and instead seek the Lord as to what He might be trying to say to us through them. It no longer becomes, “He is challenging my opinion,” but “what is the Lord trying to say?” This is the way the Spirit speaks through the body of Christ.
Deep down we need to believe that everyone is important and that God can speak through each one, even our children. We need to be alert that some people are not close to the Lord and might be used of the evil one through their comments. If we discredit the words of those under our authority, then we could be ignoring suggestions from the Lord.
I am a bit slow learning this. At times, I just didn’t pay attention to those who disagreed with me. Maybe now, I act like I don’t pay attention to them, but actually I am paying close attention to their words. The more I value the body of Christ through whom the Spirit lives, the more rewarding life becomes. I no longer live in competition with others. I am not threatened by them but at peace with them. This is amazingly true even when they are not at peace with me. I believe that this approach to each other is a key element to preserving the unity of the Spirit. This is true in whatever relational context we find ourselves, whether it be our children, wives or ministry-related situations. Unity is wonderful!
The rules for family and church are rules that help frame and protect the unity. I am not speaking about a superficial oneness and its inner bitterness but a real oneness of heart. We can have differences in opinion, be at different stages of Christian growth or simply of a different personality. But in the spirit of this whole chapter, we need to realize that there is only one God the Lord. There is only one Spirit. He has a will and exercises His plan as He sees fit. He works through His people.
As verse 2 says, “with all humility and gentleness, with patience, showing forbearance to one another in love.” When we have the right attitude, valuing those about us, we can begin to straighten out relationships. We can show that those around us are important by trying to listen to what is behind what they are saying. There is much more to say, but let me summarize the main things that have been said.
Unity is the natural state resulting from our salvation. Unity is what God will always helps us work toward. It is like a constant blowing current that keeps pushing in the direction it is moving. Paul says 'preserve' because it is already present.
If we do not have a unity from the heart, then there is no real unity. We need to keep high standards of how we relate, view and treat one another.
If we neglect to deal with differences, strong divisive situations will occur. We need to threaten a so-called peace to obtain peace. It might be something so simple as bringing up some delicate topic with our friend.
Even when things are not going our way, we can be at peace. We need to focus on our responsibility. We humble ourselves, be gentle, patient and show forbearance. In other words, we are to expect challenges to our own ways. That is okay. A good attitude and trust in God through your prayers goes a long ways to accomplishing God’s will.
When we are in authority, whether it be a husband, parent, boss or elder, we need to remember that we are working under the Lord and that the Lord often communicates His will through others under our authority. We are wise when we pay close attention to what they are saying. I find it helpful to ask what leads them to say this or that. We need to both exercise our responsibility as well as learn from those we care for. If we neglect either, then we will err.
Of most importance, we are seeking the Spirit’s will and not our own. God through the Holy Spirit instructs and guides us into His will. If we, either in authority or not, are focusing on our own desires of being complacent, lazy or greedy, we will cause much trouble in God’s house.
God is helping us realize through this passage that we the body of Christ can obtain a peace that the world does not know of. The world is looking for this. Our children are looking for this. Is it not time that we allow the Lord rule through His Spirit?
Below is a followup note from the same person who wrote the former one just after one or two days. We see good changes taking place.
i wanted to add to the message however, on a positive note, that when i prayed about being angry and resentful towards fellow believers he showed me Mat 5: 22-26 i prayed that he would help me find the people that i needed to get in touch with and praise God he has made it possible for a relationship to be restored with christian friend who i hadn’t seen for 15 years. this is the first step. there are more but i know in his time he will make it possible.... i thought that i would never have fellowship again with other believers in Jesus. But where one door may have been temporarily closed, he has opened another....
Wounds from fifteen years ago can be healed overnight. Wounds so severe that make one fearful to go to church can be straightened out through some simple steps as Paul outlines in these verses.
Perhaps, in conclusion, we can think of one relationship that we have with another person that could be better. It might be your wife, child or neighbor. Humble yourself and confess your sin. You might have been rude, uncaring, said a thoughtless word, or just not really listened as if they had anything to say. Turn to the Lord and tell Him you are seeking His ways. You might not be able to change others but you want to be part of that mysterious glue that brings real peace to God’s family. Determine to love that person. Treasure them. Don’t be happy with superficial relationships. We are to watch over our relationships because they are so precious in the Lord’s sight. This is our opportunity to show God’s love. Preserver the unity of the Spirit.
We should see from the accompanying diagram that Jesus Christ through the work on the cross has secured for us the unity of the Spirit. There are two aspects to this unity.
First of all, there is the vertical peace of God secured through the blood of Christ. This is largely discussed in the first two chapters of Ephesians. Secondly we have the horizontal unity. This passage focuses on the peace between brothers and sisters in Christ. This is seen in chapter 3 and further on as we move through the book. We can be at peace with one another. Love prevails through the work of Christ in our lives.
Are you at peace with one another? These are things which Christ has obtained for us. Don’t let the world rob you of another second where worldly peace is tolerated as a substitute for God's genuine peace.
Next => Bible Study Questions on Ephesians 4:1-3
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