‘Unity of the Spirit’ (Ephesians 4:3) — What Does it Mean?

Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. (Ephesians 4:3; NIV)

It is important to note that in the above scripture, Paul is speaking about the ‘unity of the Spirit’ and not organizational unity. Nor is it about the ‘unity of religions’ or the ‘unity of churches [to form one mother church]’.

On the unity of religions, the bible teaches us that it is not possible for true believers to unite with unbelievers:  Do not be yoked together with unbelievers. For what do righteousness and wickedness have in common? Or what fellowship can light have with darkness? (2 Corinthians 6:14; NIV)

On the unity of churches, it is not written anywhere is scripture that all the world’s churches would or should unite organisationally. In the book of Revelation, when the Lord Jesus addresses the 7 churches, He addressed them separately, and in no occasion had asked them to unite to form a mega-church.

Indeed, the late bible teacher, Derek Prince, did not believe that churches would unite to form one mother church, and is quoted to have said:  “Thank God He didn’t say, “if the churches unite”, or “if the theologians concur”, or “if the bishops permit… Because you know it would never happen…”

In Ephesians 4:2-16, Paul was trying to make his case as to why believers should “live a life worthy of the calling [they] have received” (Ephesians 4:1) and “no longer live as the Gentiles do” (Ephesians 4:17).

He did this by explaining that there is only “one body” of true believers (Ephesians 4:4), and this entity is referred to as “the body of Christ” later in verse 12.

This Body of Christ is not any specific church or denomination; at the same time, true believers who worship at various churches and denominations make up the Body of Christ.

The Body of Christ comprises believers from various dispensations of church history, and is to which “Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers” to build her up (Ephesians 4:11). These ‘apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers’ did not only appear in one time point in history, but the Lord Jesus is faithful, and He has provided these gifted individuals, even today.

Now, what does the scripture “make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace” (Ephesians 4:3) mean?

The NLT translation perhaps is the most insightful, as it reads like this: “Make every effort to keep yourselves united in the Spirit, binding yourselves together with peace.”

The word “yourselves” alludes to the fact that it is the onus of every believer to keep unity with the Body of Christ

You see, churches may close when believers leave it for other churches. Entire denominations may cease to exist due to scandal.

But the Body of Christ is not destroyed or diminished by one’s refusal to keep unity with it — it simply cannot be destroyed by what people may do, or even what the Devil may do.

On the other hand, one’s refusal to keep unity with it ensures that one has no part with it.

And the condition for unity with the Body of Christ is that one must be walking in the light:

But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin. (1 John 1:7; NIV)

The word “IF” in this text denotes conditionality — one qualifies only if the conditions are met, and in this case, one has fellowship or union with the Body of Christ only if one is “walking in the light”.

Again, it is not which church or denomination one attends. It is all about “walking in the light” that bring membership and union to the Body of Christ.