Monday, August 06, 2007

Why "the Unity of the Spirit"?

Sometime back I mentioned that an upcoming presentation has the assigned title "The Unity of the Spirit."

Obviously, this one can start from a lot of different places and go in a bunch of different directions. So I've decided to begin my study and thinking at that place in the New Testament where we actually have the expression, "the unity of the Spirit." Of course it comes from the first paragraph of Ephesians 4:

"As a prisoner for the Lord, then, I urge you to live a life worthy
of the calling you have received. Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit--just as you were called to one hope when you were called--one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all" (verses 1-6, New International Version).

My first question is: Why does Paul refer to unity or oneness in the church as "the unity of the Spirit"? I have some inklings that I want to explore, and would appreciate your feedback.

A concordance search in Ephesians points to the many places in this short letter where the word "spirit" or "spiritual" appear. In the first three chapters of Ephesians, there are several passages where the Spirit of God is said to be the agent or instrument through whom God the Father in Christ Jesus accomplishes certain things in behalf of the church. For example . . .
  • Through Christ, Jew and Gentile Christians "both have access to the Father by one Spirit" (2:18).
  • In Christ, Gentiles are also "being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit" (2:22).
  • The mystery of Christ "has now been revealed by the Spirit to God's holy apostles and prophets" (3:5).
  • Paul reports that he prays for the Ephesian Christians that God the Father "may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being" (3:16).

It seems natural, then, to conclude that (a) if the oneness of Jews and Gentiles in Christ is a oneness that the Father has created, and (b) if the Father's work in Christ is often said to be done by or through the Spirit, then it stands to reason that this unity might be called the unity "of the Spirit."

I've got a bunch of other questions. But I want to stop here. So far so good? What would you add?


Matthew said...

I just finished writing a huge paper on this topic.

Frank Bellizzi said...

Matthew, would you mention a few things you discovered when doing that project? Thanks.

Matt said...

In Galatians, Paul is trying to bridge the groups that have suffered the trauma of the visit by the Jerusalem group and Peter's own mishandling of his fellowship of the Gentiles. He appeals to three things to bring these groups back together and correct the Jewish Christian's view of what is required for the Gentiles to be Christians. It is not the covenantal nomism (which is reflected in the new perspective on Paul that Scot McKnight just posted on over at Instead there are three things that point to the answer (Dunn points these out in his Galatians commentary in the Black's NT Series):

1)it is what was agreed upon at Jerusalem as reflected in Acts 15 (Gal 2:1-10)
2) The common experience of the Spirit among both Jews and Gentiles (Gal 3:1-5 and also reflected in Acts 10-11).
3) an appeal to scripture (Gal 3:6-4:31).

It appears that the common experience of the Spirit among both Jews and Gentiles made it clear that the unity of the Spirit opened the doors for Jews and Gentiles alike to be part of the kingdom without circumcision, etc.

See esp Gal 3:2 - both Jews and Gentiles experienced the same Spirit. Maybe that is the unity of the Spirit that is reflected in Paul's writings in other places as well. I will have to think about that some more. Just thought I would toss it out there.

preacherman said...

I am interested on what you think on this topic are you planning on posting in the future?

Great post.
I believe that it is Jesus desire for us to be united, one, no divisions among us. The prayer he prayed in John 17 demonstrates Jesus desire his desire. I believe it is up to us to be answer to the prayer. There are so many though who try to stand in the way of that prayer being answered, they hinder the bond of peace.

I think you have excellent points. Amen! Would be a great sermon!! :-)

Frank this is one of the best post that you have done.

Frank Bellizzi said...

Thanks for your comments guys.

Matt D.,

I think you're very right to suggest that, in Paul's view, there was a vital connection between the experience and presence of the Spirit on the one hand, and the unity of both Jewish AND Gentile believers on the other.

For Paul, the distancing of different ethnic and religious groups who were in Christ meant an effective renunciation of what he calls "the truth of the gospel."

Part of your comment I didn't understand so well. Along with Wright, the name James Dunn is connected with the New Perspective. Your comments about Dunn on Galatians seem to say that Dunn is contra the New Perspective.

This is something I'm not really up on. Can you fill in some of the blanks?

Stoned-Campbell Disciple said...

Spirit is a major concern in Ephesians. But I have not stopped to reflect on the question in the way you have phrased it "Why did Paul say unity of the Spirit" and not simply unity or unity of the church etc. Perhaps the answer grows out of the first three chapters that that are heavy with indicative verbs. God has created and blessed a people (ch.1, Spirit plays a big role in that). God has raised a people from the dead and placed them in the heavenly realms 2.1-10). God has formed this new humanity to be a people of shalom (2.11-22). Paul became a servant to the gentiles by grace so God could have one giant family on Earth ... this family is strengthened in its inner being through the Spirit (3.16) ...

It seems natural that Paul would follow up that prayer with a call to honor what God has done through the Spirit. And sense, i believe, Paul is using in some sense the creation narratives as a backdrop for his telling of the recreation of a new people that the Spirit of life is an essential part of that story. After all it was the Spirit of Life that was breathed into dirt to form humanity and now it is the Spirit who again breaths new life into the new humanity. Our unity impulse is rooted in the foundational work of God and the Spirit who created us in the fist place. Unity is a call to live out as we have been created in Christ.

Perhaps this makes some sense. But my sermons on Ephesians are online if you care to hear more (off the PV website).

Bobby Valentine

Matt said...

Dunn is part of what has made the new perspective what it is. Let me know what got fuzzy for you and I will see what I was trying to say. If I came across that way it was a misstatement.

Frank Bellizzi said...

Bobby, thanks for your comments and for pointing me to the sermons you've done on Ephesians. I'll give a listen.

Matt, maybe I should just go and read the "New Perspective" articles that you've been pointing out for us. Thanks for what you've mentioned here.