Unity with Christ
1As a prisoner of the Lord, I beg you to live in a way that is worthy of the people God has chosen to be his own. 2 Always be humble and gentle. Patiently put up with each other and love each other. 3Try your best to let God's Spirit keep your hearts united. Do this by living at peace. 4All of you are part of the same body. There is only one Spirit of God, just as you were given one hope when you were chosen to be God's people. 5We have only one Lord, one faith, and one baptism. 6There is one God who is the Father of all people. Not only is God above all others, but he works by using all of us, and he lives in all of us.
7Christ has generously divided out his gifts to us. 8 As the Scriptures say,
“When he went up
to the highest place,
he led away many prisoners
and gave gifts to people.”
9When it says, “he went up,” it means that Christ had been deep in the earth. 10This also means that the one who went deep into the earth is the same one who went into the highest heaven, so he would fill the whole universe.
11Christ chose some of us to be apostles, prophets, missionaries, pastors, and teachers, 12so his people would learn to serve and his body would grow strong. 13This will continue until we are united by our faith and by our understanding of the Son of God. Then we will be mature, just as Christ is, and we will be completely like him.
14We must stop acting like children. We must not let deceitful people trick us by their false teachings, which are like winds that toss us around from place to place. 15Love should always make us tell the truth. Then we will grow in every way and be more like Christ, the head 16 of the body. Christ holds it together and makes all of its parts work perfectly, as it grows and becomes strong because of love.
Do you find yourself reading between the lines in this passage and concluding that all was not well among the believers? There certainly seems to have been room for improvement in lifestyles and relationships.
Despite commending them for their faith and love in chapter 1, Paul now begs the believers to live lives worthy of their calling – such pleading surely indicating deep-seated problems. He appeals to them to be humble and gentle, patient and forbearing (v.2), and to try their best to live in peace (v.3). Perhaps we can see why Paul prayed so earnestly for their spiritual welfare in chapters 1 and 3?
It is clear from verse 14 that they needed the Spirit to strengthen them because they were spiritually immature and vulnerable to being lead astray. Having read this section of the letter, we can better understand Paul’s emphasis on power in his prayers to God for them.
Yet, this is a community to whom the Spirit had been given, whose members had been called to a common hope by God. They all have the same Lord, confess the same faith and have shared in the one baptism. Nothing for their good was withheld. And despite their failings, God continues to use them, giving them precious gifts for the blessing of their communities and the spread of the Good News about Jesus.
Using language that reflects Moses going up the mountain to receive the law, Paul writes of Christ’s ascension into Heaven, where He received gifts from His Father. These gifts, which were then distributed to the community by his Spirit, were not given to exalt the receivers – the apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers – but to equip and mature the believers as they served Christ.
Dear Father, We marvel at Your patience. You never give up on us even though, like the Christians who received this letter, we continually let you down. You have provided everything we need to help us mature as believers – help us to avail ourselves of them and to play our part in building up the church in love. We ask this through Jesus Christ our Lord, Amen.
Tom Holland was born in Liverpool during the Blitz. Converted at 15, he studied Theology and was ordained as a Baptist Pastor. Tom received a PhD from the University of Wales and became a lecturer at what is now Union School of Theology, Oxford, England where he taught undergraduates, postgraduates and supervised PhD’s for 25 years. He is now retired and serves as Senior Research Fellow and is involved in writing and itinerant teaching/preaching ministry. He is married to Barbara; a teacher and they have three daughters and six grandchildren. Publications: Contours of Pauline Theology, Fearn, Ross-shire, Christian Focus Publications, 2004; Romans, Hope for the Nations, Apiary Publishing, London, 2018 , Tom Wright and the Search for Truth, Apiary Publishing, London, 2019, Missing Lense, Apiary Publishing, London, 2019, Romans the Divine Marriage, Apiary Publishing, London, 2020.