Keeping and Protecting Unity
“with all humility and gentleness, with patience, enduring with one another in love, doing one’s best to guard the unity of the Spirit in the chain of peace.”
Guarding the unity of the Spirit? If we can be honest with one another, I think it is safe to say that we have not done a good job of this task. Every man believes what is right in his own eyes and thus denominations abound, churches pop up on every corner, and it would seem that nobody is in agreement as to what those essential matters are, which define Christian unity. There’s a book in that…actually, there are several books in that. Lord willing we will see a couple of them come to fruition by the end of the year. For the moment, a few points of interest from Paul’s text in these verses.
First, unity is worth defending (and fighting to restore when broken). This does not mean that unity is to be achieved by the wishy-washy ecumenical movement that rejects doctrine and diminishes Christianity to one’s personal preferences. No, that is not the unity that Paul is addressing here in this passage. In fact, that is no unity at all because it is based on a spiritually immature view of the faith (as Paul will further develop). No, unity that is based in the Spirit of God is a unity that binds like a chain — it is strong, unyielding, and will keep those who are prisoners of Christ, well, prisoners of Christ. Indeed, that chain is here described as a chain of peace. Peace is only found in proper relationship with Christ and we will not remain in a bond of peace with one another if that relationship with Christ is not first addressed. No, that is not the unity of ecumenicalism nor is it the unity that is found in much of evangelicalism today. In fact, much of evangelicalism, in their goal to distance themselves both from Rome and from ecumenicism, has turned a blind eye to the whole notion of unity.
You might be tempted to say, but what about the humility, gentleness (πραΰτης — prautes, which refers to strength that is under control), patience (μακροθυμία — makrothumia, which more literally translates to “long-suffering”), and enduring with one another in love? Indeed, all of these are essential to keeping or preserving the unity that is had. Yet, they are unable to produce unity in and of themselves. They are essential once unity is attained, but if unity is not present, they are little more than benevolent feelings and well-wishes.
And so, Paul gives us the basis for how unity is guarded and in the verses that follow, Paul gives us the basis for what unity is in the church of Jesus Christ. The real question is whether or not we are willing to submit to the Word of God and seek that unity as is prescribed in Scripture rather than the unity that is feigned by men.