Paul watched the same old cycle; one as familiar in our day as his. A move of God, blessed and brilliant, broken by people who cease to follow when the going gets good. The Exodus had been followed with complaining by the newly freed slaves. The Kingship and beginnings of worship had been followed by David’s distraction and failure with Bathsheba. The miraculous return of the exiles had been followed by their refusal at first to build a wall or a temple as instructed. Now centuries later Paul would watch as the Corinthian church drank communion wine to excess, the Philippians would suffer infighting and the Galatians would reintroduce a legal system replacing the Spirit and his gracious leadership with archaic, dried out rules. Disunity and chaos could and at times would take over the Christian church, just as it had its Jewish forebearers.
In Ephesians 4 Paul comes against this problem with a number—a number that to the Jewish mind symbolized the opposite of brokenness and failure. The number “seven” in Jewish thought symbolized completeness, the number of God himself. Something whole, indivisible, in perfect unity could be characterized by the number seven. Seven times in the above passage the word “one” is written. There is one body, Spirit, hope, Lord, faith, baptism and God. Each single word is woven together with the word “one” which itself occurs seven times. And all is held together by the Trinity. Hebraic thinkers loved word art and Paul, a high-achieving product of Judaism, was no exception. His words weave the metaphors and symbols of a broken church (hope, body, faith and baptism) together with the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
Unity always requires diversity. Paul is explaining how the three persons of the Trinity, themselves wonderfully unified as One, can powerfully model oneness to a diverse church. The Father is in all, through all and over all. The Son sits in leadership over the church, entered by baptism and tied to a single set of beliefs and values referred to as “the faith.” Jesus is literally leading his church. Later in this chapter Paul will say He is leading through people, on-earth leaders such as apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers.
So Paul unites us, each of us, in this passage. We are under one God. Our organization, the church, as diverse as it is and as disparate as it may seem is to be led by the Son. But each of us must be led by the Spirit. We must be shepherded kindly through the maze of life’s concerns while abiding in the Spirit at every step as Jesus showed us how.
The unity that Paul sought so eagerly was partially available under leaders who actively were seeking the mind of Christ. But it also required the movement of the Spirit that connects us all. The Spirit makes us one body and gives us one hope. The Spirit empowers the least among us to become the person whom God is calling into being. We are empowered to act as a unified body with a hope only available through direct connection with God. The Kingdom movement Jesus began and Paul spent his life leading and organizing is fueled by followers of Jesus who experience the movement of the Spirit. The church is not merely a movement of called leaders who others gather around. Rather, it is a product of the Holy Spirit’s work in the life of each person. It is not enough to agree to the faith or merely to enter into it. Our connection to the body of Christ resides in the personal work of the Spirit in each of us.
As we pray for TTWM and its remarkable impact on the lives of leaders and ministries, we must pray for more. We must go farther than merely asking for leaders to develop or become connected in a new way. We must pray for the Spirit to work in individual lives connecting each person whether called to lead or not. We must see a church with renewed power in the Spirit to work as one.