Fellowship of Unity
I therefore, the prisoner of the Lord, beseech you that ye walk worthy of the vocation wherewith ye are called, With all lowliness and meekness, with longsuffering, forbearing one another in love; Endeavouring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. (Eph 4:1-3)
If you want to create a conflict, just put three people in a room and sit back and wait. Eventually, sooner or later, there will be some disagreement, and each of the disagreeing parties will be absolutely convinced that the other is wrong. It happens. As I wrote before, we have limited experience and point of view, and conflicts are sure to arise because of that. What, then, are we who are followers of Jesus to do to maintain unity of fellowship among us? That is what Paul takes up in chapter four of Ephesians. The opening sentence sets the issue: keep unity of the Spirit.
Unity among believers is based first and foremost on our mutual faith in Jesus. No matter what other differences in doctrine we may have, it is the reliance on Jesus as our Savior that bonds us to one another. We may disagree on ritual, organization, prophecy, food, clothing, etc., but we all stand in perfect unity on this one thing. Jesus saves. We are saved by Grace, not of our own power, and appropriate that salvation by faith. To any and all that declare Jesus as divine Savior, I can say, "Well met, brother" and mean it from the depth of my heart.
Of course, beyond that core belief there is a lot of disagreement. But those disagreements are due to the need to learn as we go. The deeper meanings of Christianity are learned through experience, prayer and meditation, temptation and overcoming temptation, Bible study, and, "fear and trembling" as we work-out our salvation throughout a lifetime. One purpose of fellowship is to aid in this process of maturity. We can learn from others as we share our experiences with each other. Out of that sharing comes a deeper appreciation for God's ways.
In order for any group of people to work in concert towards a deeper understanding of faith, some structure must be put in place. Therein lies the first problem. Someone has to take on the responsibility, and do the work, to make a place and a time for others to meet. This is not a trivial matter or to be undertaken lightly. Given that the purpose of such fellowship is to increase the knowledge of God, the Adversary will seek to find and attack those places of fellowship. Therefore, no one should seek to create a place of fellowship without understanding that by that very act, he invites attack from spiritual forces working against the Kingdom of God. A naive ignorance of this fact has probably destroyed more Churches that just about any other thing. The members believe they are doing God's work, only to fall into contention, discord, disunity and ultimately dissolution. The devil always seeks to destroy by sowing seeds of division that break apart the unity of faith that binds believers together. To build a place of fellowship requires an understanding and preparation that will guard against disunity. Thus, only a few should undertake this task. That is what Paul makes clear at Ephesians 4:11.
And he gave some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers; (Eph 4:11)
Notice the repeated use of the word "some." Not all are called to these positions of ministry. Not all have the personality, patience and understanding necessary to be in a position of leadership. First, and foremost, is a requirement of humility. We have only one Lord, Jesus Christ, and those called to ministry are called as servants to the Body of Christ, not as masters over the saints. Until that spirit of humility, longsuffering, forbearing, and patience takes hold, anyone attempting to minister to others will find he cannot do so without creating confusion and discord.
One of the common temptations followers of Jesus face is to try and jump into a work of ministry, or exercise judgment over others, without the Lord's calling. All those who love the Lord will desire to preach and to teach, to share the great gift we have been given. That's good. But there must be a humble, patient spirit to go with that fervor. Just because we want to tell the world about the Gospel does not mean we are prepared to do so. Jesus does not call us to ministry without first preparing us and then providing us with the means to accomplish that ministry. Before seeking to minister, we need something else first:
For the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ: Till we all come in the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ: That we henceforth be no more children, tossed to and fro, and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the sleight of men, and cunning craftiness, whereby they lie in wait to deceive; (Eph 4:12-14)
Thus, Paul explains, the purpose of ministers, the reason they are called by Jesus, is to "perfect the saints for works of ministry and edify the body of Christ." The KJV translation is a little misleading due to an extra comma after "ministry" and the use of the word "perfecting." The archaic meaning of perfect is what is intended here. It means complete, with nothing lacking, and is not a reference to the moral condition of the saints. The Greek word translated "perfecting" is katartismos. This is the only place in the New Testament where that word is used (i.e. a hapax legoma) and makes translation of the word difficult because we have no other use of the word to compare with. Looking at the root of the word, and use in ancient Greek texts, we can see that the closest modern equivalent in meaning is "to equip." Modern translations use that in place of "perfecting" for that reason.
...for the equipping of the saints for the work of service, to the building up of the body of Christ (NASB)
...to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, (NRSV)
...to prepare God's people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up (NIV)
Digging a little deeper into the meaning of katartismos I have found that the root has a basic meaning of "bring together." When preparing to build something, we first have to gather together all the material and tools necessary for the job. That is what Paul is alluding to here in Ephesians. First, we gather together the knowledge we need (equipping) and then "edify" - that is build-up -- the body of Christ in unity. The metaphor that Paul uses is that God is constructing a structure with faith in Jesus as the foundation and the gathered-together believers as the "edifice" of the building. Ministers are called, and given to the Church, for the reason of bringing all together under the authority of Jesus, building up a unity of understanding, so that we may be prepared to do ministry to the world in His name without creating a mass of confusion in the process.
That this "joining together" is what Paul intends is made clear in verse sixteen:
From whom the whole body fitly joined together and compacted by that which every joint supplieth, according to the effectual working in the measure of every part, maketh increase of the body unto the edifying of itself in love. (Eph 4:16)
This is a key point here in Ephesians. The fellowship of believers benefits the members individually, and also has the end goal of preparation for ministry in the name of Jesus. The benefit to individual members is that we gain a mature understanding and are thus protected against all "the sleight of men, and cunning craftiness" of those who seek to confuse and destroy the message of the Gospel. Those young in faith, lacking in experience, are easily knocked about by crafty men who misinterpret the Bible, misrepresent the meaning of God's word, and seek to capture the souls of unwary believers. A unity of fellowship can help guard us against being deceived. Consider this:
Moreover if thy brother shall trespass against thee, go and tell him his fault between thee and him alone: if he shall hear thee, thou hast gained thy brother. But if he will not hear thee, then take with thee one or two more, that in the mouth of two or three witnesses every word may be established. And if he shall neglect to hear them, tell it unto the church: but if he neglect to hear the church, let him be unto thee as an heathen man and a publican. (Mat 18:15-17)
In the mouth of two or three witnesses shall every word be established. (2Co 13:1)
Against an elder receive not an accusation, but before two or three witnesses. (1Ti 5:19)
The law of confirming witnesses goes back to Deut. 19:15 and is the principle that both Jesus and Paul quote. Any of us can have a moment of weakness, slip a little, say something wrong, or just say something stupid and offensive. But no one is to be taken as an authority on anything without some confirming witness. This prevents a single man or woman rising up as a tyrant over a fellowship of believers. We can easily detect most false teachers because they focus on one tiny bit of scripture, ignoring the larger context and repeated message throughout the Bible. They do not use the whole revelation of God, in other words, and lack the confirming witness of multiple passages of scripture. To help prevent the saints from being led astray, we need to hear many voices speaking in unity of understanding, not just one charismatic leader.
For that reason, a fellowship works when all members speak their understanding. But this must be done in an orderly manner:
How is it then, brethren? when ye come together, every one of you hath a psalm, hath a doctrine, hath a tongue, hath a revelation, hath an interpretation. Let all things be done unto edifying. (1Co 14:26)
Let the prophets speak two or three, and let the other judge. If any thing be revealed to another that sitteth by, let the first hold his peace. For ye may all prophesy one by one, that all may learn, and all may be comforted. (1Co 14:29-31)
If any wants to speak, to share an understanding, it must be done with patience towards others who also claim to have an understanding. With patience, honesty, forbearing one another, we can all come to a deeper unity of faith.
But speaking the truth in love, may grow up into him in all things, which is the head, even Christ: (Eph 4:15)
This is what Just Think Out Loud is about. The purpose is to "teach through sharing" where each of the members here can speak his understanding freely without being attacked, give testimony to what God is doing in her life, and edify the faith of other members in the process. The purpose is to share, not to have a debate. If you think others are wrong, state your position without attacking others. Do so with the humble realization that you may be wrong, and are only trying to develop a confirming witness to understand the truth. Do it in an orderly manner, not seeking to judge, divide and conquer others. It really is that simple.
These six things doth the LORD hate: yea, seven are an abomination unto him: A proud look, a lying tongue, and hands that shed innocent blood, An heart that deviseth wicked imaginations, feet that be swift in running to mischief, A false witness that speaketh lies, and he that soweth discord among brethren. (Pro 6:16-19)
Attack on the unity of fellowship comes from these things spoken of in Proverbs six. The devil is crafty, and tries to use our desire for the truth against us. When we see something we think is wrong, the first inclination is to strike it down with fervor. The problem comes when the devil starts fanning the flames of hatred and division. It seems authentic, because the desire is to remove something wrong. But this must be done in love, not anger. When we are angry the devil easily gets a hearing because he will feed that anger. All things said in correction, a witness for the truth and against a falsehood, must be done without anger or malice. Speaking the truth is done with love, not hatred or bitterness or a desire to divide and destroy. Unity is maintained when love, compassion, humility and patience overrides all else. That is the point of Ephesians chapter four. It should be studied from time to time as a reminder.