In our circles we often discuss the issue of community building. And the issue is important. But I am convinced we have failed to think deeply enough about what the letter to the Ephesians calls us to: that if we love the Messiah with whom and in whom we are united in His death and resurrection, we must “be eager to maintain the Unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” (4:3). I am speaking then not of community building, but of community maintenance.
Our Ephesians text reminds those united with Yeshua in His death and resurrection that we participate in seven indissoluble unities established by the Spirit of God:
- One Body
- One Spirit
- One hope of our calling
- One Lord
- One Faith
- One Immersion
- One God and Father of us all who is over all, and through all, and in all
The term for unity used here in Ephesians 4:3, this “unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace,” is henoteis, and it is a term used nowhere else in the B’rith Chadasha but this chapter in Ephesians where it is used twice—in this verse, and again in verse 13, speaking there of when “we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Messiah.” And henoteis is the Greek word which gives us the English word, “unity.” Paul’s two uses of the term, in verses 3 and 13 remind us that this unity is both a God-created reality in which we find ourselves now, which we are called to eagerly, even aggressively maintain, and also simultaneously a goal toward which we are to be progressing, with the help of God. It is both a divinely established condition of life (the unity of the Spirit which we are called to maintain) and a divinely mandated goal of action (tthe unity of the faith toward which we are moving). We are to both maintain and attain.
About Being Eager to Maintain This Unity
Ephesians 4 reminds us to be “eager to maintain (this) unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.” The verb underlying this eagerness is spoudazo, a term used eleven times in the B’rith Chadasha, seven times in the Pauline writings. How is it used? Paul uses it in 2 Ti 4:9 where it is translated as “Do you best” — “Do your best to come to me soon,” and in verse 21, “Do your best to come before winter.” It is also translated the same way in Titus 3:12, where we read, “When I send Artemas or Tychicus to you, do your best to come to me at Nicopolis, for I have decided to spend the winter there.” In Gal 2:10, as here in Ephesians, it has the connotation of being eager, “Only, they asked us to remember the poor, the very thing I was eager to do.”
This eager doing of one’s best is more than an emotional state, but also embraces the will to act, so that we read in 1 Th 2:17, “But since we were torn away from you, brothers, for a short time, in person not in heart, we endeavored the more eagerly and with great desire to see you face to face.”
Hebrews underscores this element of effort when it uses the term to say, “Let us therefore strive to enter that rest, so that no one may fall by the same sort of disobedience.” 2 Peter 1:10 hovers in the same semantic field, translating the term as in the category of diligence. “ Therefore, brothers, be all the more diligent to confirm your calling and election, for if you practice these qualities you will never fall.” And we are told in 1 Timothy 3:15 to “Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth.”
Therefore in our Ephesians text, the recipients, and we by extension, are called be diligent, eager, to make every effort, to do our best, that is to make it a top priority to “maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.”
On Being God’s Maintenance Workers
We’ve looked at unity, and have looked a bit at this eagerness, this readiness, this diligence in pursuing and maintaining this unity as a top priority. But what does it mean to maintain? Oh, that’s the best saved for last. The term used here is tereo. Both the Delitzsch Hebrew translation and the newer IBS (Israel Bible Society) Hebrew translation use the word shikdu, the third person qal plural imperative of shakad, a term used twelve times in the OT. In modern Hebrew it is used of being diligent or industrious. Biblically, the term overlaps with shamar, “to guard or to watch over.” In this semantic field, the term shakad is used by our Hebrew translators to emphasize the element of wakefulness. And William Mounce reminds us that that tereo “conveys the idea of watching over something closely or guarding—‘to keep, obey, guard, protect.’” It is even used in parallel with shamar in a well known verse from Psalm 127 – Unless the Lord watches (yishmar, 3rd person singular kal imperfect of shamar) over the city, the watchman stays awake (shakad, 3rd person singular perfect ) in vain.
So here this term, related in Hebrew to our Greek word tereo, is being used of the attentive watchman staying awake on his watch. It is also a term used in the Septuagint and in the B’rith Chadasha of keeping the commandments: “If you love me you will obey what I command,” and also passages like the Great Commission, “teaching them to observe whatsoever I have commanded you,” and in James 2:10, “ For whoever keeps the whole law but fails in one point has become accountable for all of it.” It is the term used by Paul when he says, “ I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.”
Clearly then the text is calling the recipients, and by extension, us, to be alert, watchful, to be shomrei achdut—people who maintain, who guard, who stand watch over the unity of the people of God as a religious duty. This admonition to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace has the thrust of being wakefully watchful to guard and protect the unity which God has created through our communal bond with Messiah. As Eph 2:14 puts it, “He is our peace” he is the living link through whom, in whom, by whose death and resurrection, and for whom we should endeavor to maintain this seven-fold Holy Spirit unity.
On Not Popping a Ligament
Let’s look a moment longer at this bond of peace—Franz Delitzsch calls it an agudah, and the IBS translation calls it a kesher—the Greek term is sundesmos. It is used four times in the B’rith Chadasha. In Colossians, it is used in apposition to the term joints to mean ligaments, because it means that which holds things together.
So what does it mean in our context? It means there is a God-ordained, unity that can and does disintegrate when we fail to maintain a state of shalom with all others who are united to us by the same Spirit through Yeshua and His resurrection. This shalom has been established by Messiah, who has broken down dividing walls of hostility that would otherwise separate us into warring and exclusionary factions. Without ligaments to hold things together we cannot walk. Our joints and limbs will not work. And without maintaining this “shalom,” the Messianic Movement is doomed to stumble in its walk and ultimately fall apart.
Bringing It All Home
William S. Campbell writes compellingly about the unity and diversity of the people of God as outlined in the letter to the Ephesians in a marvelous article, “Unity and Diversity in the Church: Transformed Identities and the Peace of Christ in Ephesians.” In his final paragraph, he applies the lessons of Ephesians to the situation in Northern Ireland. We in the Messianic Jewish world would do well to consider how we ought to apply his application of Ephesians to our own context. Here is what he says.
For those of us who were born or reside in Northern Ireland, the vision of Christ as peace-maker between divided communities, as the one who truly can remove the enmity and hostility associated with abiding differences-whether in religious, political or cultural affiliation, the letter to the Ephesians has something significant to say. Christ does not merely bring peace of mind, psychological well-being, but shalom , the total health and well-being of being right with God and finding peace even with enemies. To depict the peace that Christ enables merely as a sentimental, internalized emotion experienced only in worship, is to deny the gospel of Christ and its power to transform even the most depraved societies or individuals. ‘He is our peace’ can be a real political challenge, as dedicated groups and individuals of differing persuasions have already demonstrated in the last three decades without concern for their own welfare. It is a real political and social peace that Christ enables and, moreover, demands of those who truly belong to His kingdom. This cannot be a one-sided peace, favoring one group over another, but must take account of the ethnic/cultural differences that cause hostility and end in death and destruction. As Eph 1-2 indicates, through the power of Christ hostility arising from difference can be turned into a cause of celebration of the blessings of God in Christ.
Have hostilities arising from difference have torn, stretched, or severed the ligament of shalom for the Messianic movement so that we cannot walk well with one another and therefore, with God?
Are we exemplifying that lifestyle of shalom among those who are and who remain different as we walk with other Messianic leaders and Messianic Jewish groups other than our own, with the Church, with the Jewish community and the world around us? In other words, are we taking seriously Paul’s word elsewhere “If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all” (Rom 12:18).
I remember years ago helping at a wedding of a friend. This bride, at her rehearsal, was standing on the platform when her bad knee (with an untended to bad ligament) went out of its socket. I still remember seeing that. It meant she had to hobble in order to meet her bridegroom.
Will the same be true for all of us, as we prepare to meet our Bridegroom? Will we be stumbling and falling because of matters untended to?
How are we doing? And what are the prospects for our movement if we do not do better than we are? The author of the letter to the Hebrews leaves us with a final word about our ligament of peace and how we are walking. . . or not walking well together:
Therefore lift your drooping hands and strengthen your weak knees, and make straight paths for your feet, so that what is lame may not be put out of joint but rather be healed. Strive for peace with everyone, and for the holiness without which no one will see the Lord (Hebrews 12:12-14).