The Foundation of Christian Unity

Christian unity can often seem difficult to achieve. Whether it’s between Christian friends, couples, or churches, there can often seem to be more discord than unity. But the Bible tells us that Christians are united because of our union with Christ. Therefore, believers should strive to display their positional unity in practical ways. Instead of being divided, we should be in fellowship with one another. As we unite around essential truths of the Christian faith, our love is a witness to the watching world that we are God’s people. Ephesians 4:1-6 teaches us the foundation of Christian unity.         

               After discussing doctrine in the first half of his letter to the church in Ephesus, Paul exhorts believers toward Christian living that is doxological. In light of who we are in Christ, we are “to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called” (Eph. 4:1). Walking worthy of God’s call would be impossible without the Spirit of God, who not only calls God’s people, but also conforms us to the image of Christ.

               Paul uses four phrases to describe what it means to live in a way that honors the Lord, and is an important part of the foundation of Christian unity. First, we are to walk with all humility and gentleness” (Eph. 4:2). These two qualities go together and are perfectly exemplified by Christ. Jesus said, Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls” (Matt. 11:29). He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to death on the cross (Phil. 2:8). Is this how others would describe you? When they leave your presence or are under your leadership, do they find rest for their souls? Do you humble yourself in obedience to the Lord, saying, Thy will be done,” or do you say, My will be done?”

               Second, we are to walk with patience” (Eph. 4:2). Think of Pauls life. He hated the church of Christ; indeed, because he persecuted the church, he persecuted Christ (Acts 9:4). But Christ bore with him patiently. Paul testified “that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost. But I received mercy for this reason, that in me, as the foremost, Jesus Christ might display his perfect patience as an example to those who were to believe in him for eternal life” (1 Tim. 1:15-16). Does that describe us? Are we quick to walk away from those who seem hostile to the gospel, or do we bear patiently with them? Let us pray that God will “open their eyes, so that they may turn from darkness to light and from the power of Satan to God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins and a place among those who are sanctified by faith in [Jesus]” (Acts 26:18).

               Third, we are to walk bearing with one another in love” (Eph. 4:2). The believer is to be “patient and kind,” and one who “rejoices with the truth” and “bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things” (1 Cor. 13:4, 6-7). The believer isn’t to “envy or boast,” or be “arrogant or rude,” or “insist on [our] own way,” or be “irritable or resentful,” or “rejoice at wrongdoing” (vv. 4-6). Within the household of God we will need to overlook many offenses. We will need to believe the best about each other. We will need to keep an eternal perspective. We will have to give up our selfish desires. We will have to resist irritability and frustration. We will need to help others walk out of sin and into truth. Since this is beyond our ability, we must ask the Holy Spirit to empower us to do this.

               Finally, we are to walk eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” (Eph. 4:3). This serves as the culmination of the previous three phrases, as well as a transition to verses 4-6. Its a profound truth. We already have unity in the Spirit; therefore, lets live like it. Would others say youre eager to maintain unity and be a peacemaker? Jesus says, Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God” (Matt. 5:9).

               The foundation of Christian unity is not just about the character of Gods people that is a fruit of the Spirits work in their lives, its also, and more importantly, about the character of God (Eph. 4:4-6). Within the Godhead there are three persons—the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Since there is only one Spirit, there is only one body of believers that have been called to be Gods people. Since there is one Lord, there is only one baptism and doctrine of beliefs that Christians share. And since there is one God and Father of all, He is over all (1:22; 3:9, 15), as well as through all and in all (1:10-11).

               With this foundation in place the church should strive to display its positional unity in practical ways. Too often we are fragmented when we should be in good fellowship with one another. We must remember the essentials on which we can all agree and unite around those, so that we can display the unity we already have in the Spirit to a watching world.        

Sarah Ivill (ThM, Dallas Theological Seminary) is a Reformed author, wife, homeschooling mom, Bible study teacher, and conference speaker who lives in Matthews, North Carolina, and is a member of Christ Covenant Church (PCA). To learn more, please visit


Sarah Ivill