In Ephesians 4:1-16, Paul describes an ideal church situation, one in which the ministry of Christ’s servants will know success. A crucial aspect of that ideal situation is unity and Paul refers to it in 4:1-7, and he does so in three ways.
First, there is unity of character, seen especially in humility towards one another, gentleness and patience as we interact with one another, and love as we put up with one another. These features not only produce godly character, they also result in corporate peace. It may help us to understand the importance of unity of character if we imagine their opposites. Think of a congregation in which there is pride and self-centredness, roughness and impatience, and an absence of caring love. There will never be unity in such a congregation. Obviously, it is far better to have a congregation composed of those who have unity of character.
A second principle of Pauline unity here is unity of doctrine. As a body, Paul expected the Ephesians to believe the same truths and mentions seven in particular. He ranges from truths about God to details about Christian practice (baptism) and position (adoption). Doctrinal unity is very important. Obviously a Christian has to be instructed about those doctrines, which leads to the third method of unity.
The third principle of Pauline unity is sharing in Christ’s gifts. Paul refers to this when he writes about the ‘grace given according to the measure of Christ’s gift’. In the context, I would say that the gifts are those who can communicate the word of Christ on his behalf.
In this regard we can think of a minister as an ambassador of a country who conveys the riches of that country to all who want to receive them. Christ gives to congregations the gift of a man who can inform them about the riches of Christ, who can inspire them to seek for those riches, and who can assure them that the riches are free and unending. When Jesus gives a minister to a congregation he is saying, ‘He will tell you about my riches. Believe what he says and come to me and get them.’ Such a reality is wonderful aspect of unity. When that happens, a church is a gathering of bankrupt sinners together participating in the riches of Jesus and enjoying his wealth of blessings.
Such a church has an effective witness. Those outside look on and deduce that the members love one another. They will then conclude that the members are Christ’s disciples, which is the point of their witnessing. In contrast, in a church where there are constant divisions and power struggles rather than unity, all it will produce is nothing of value, and that is what those outside will see as they look in.