Three Marks of a Healthy Church

The world around us values health. From the numerous fitness apps, diet plans, the variety of digital workout regiments, there is no shortage of physical health aids. In fact, to be physically unhealthy opens one up to a variety of health risks, from heart disease, stroke, high blood pressure, diabetes, and numerous other harmful conditions. Physical health should be a priority. We should be diligent in seeking to be good stewards of our bodies.

In Ephesians 4, Paul describes another body that should be healthy: the body of Christ. Yet, how often are we more concerned with the health of our physical bodies that we neglect the body of Christ? In Ephesians 4:1-16, the Apostle Paul outlines three marks (characteristics) of a healthy church. From this passage of Scripture, we see that a healthy church is marked by unity, diversity, and maturity. This post will cover the first mark of a healthy church. We are to be marked by unity.

A Healthy Church is marked by being spiritually unified (v.1-6).

In the fourth chapter of Ephesians, Paul is now moving from right belief (chs.1-3) to right living (chs. 4-6). We see that what we believe should impact the way we live. Our faith should reform our lives. In the first verse, Paul shows us that the body of Christ should be unified in their divine calling.

He says, “therefore I, a prisoner of the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner of the calling to which you have been called (v.1).” The word “walk” means to “conduct one’s life.” Paul wants his readers to live their lives in a way that is consistent with the gospel message. We are tempted to compartmentalize our faith. We may think that we can live as Christians on Sundays and while at church gatherings, but we can live like the world when we’re apart from the corporate gathering of believers. Paul turns his nose up at this idea. For Paul, and for us, we are to live our entire lives in light of the gospel message. We are to walk in step with Jesus Christ in every aspect of our lives from marriage, parenting, employment, relationships, to our private lives; every avenue of our lives should be lived in accordance to the gospel message.

He goes on to say that we (the body of Christ) are united by our divine calling. This calling reaches back to the beginning of Paul’s letter, where he outlines, in detail, how God has called us to Himself, by His divine grace. We are now to live in light of that gracious calling. Paul illustrates this beautifully in the way He describes himself. He points to the fact that he is “a prisoner of the Lord (v.1).” He has surrendered his life to Christ. Now, we may never face the sort of persecution that Paul experienced. We may never be imprisoned for our faith. However, every Christian is called to a life of sacrificial obedience to Jesus Christ.

Therefore, Paul says that we should be united by Christlike living. In verses 2-3, Paul shows us what it looks like to live in a manner worthy of our calling. He outlines five characteristics of a healthy church member (and consequently, every local body of believers).

Humble

He says that we should be humble. For unity to exist within the congregations, people must be willing to live for the good of others. Again, the world around us tempts us to live contrary to this biblical declaration. We are constantly bombarded with messages such as, “exalt yourself, put yourself first,” and, “do what makes you happy.”

However, living humbly means to be filled with God. For Paul, to live in humility means to put others above yourselves. We ought to live in this way because this is what Christ modeled for us (Phil. 2:5-11). According to Tim Keller, “The essence of gospel-humility is not thinking more of myself or thinking less of myself, it is thinking of myself less (Freedom of Self-Forgetfulness, 32).”

How are we doing with this? Do we struggle in this area? Do we struggle to put the needs of others above our own, or are we primarily concerned with our own desires and needs within the body of Christ? Do our wants govern the way we interact and relate to others?

Gentle

Paul goes on to say that we should be united by gentleness. Now, for the “man’s man”, this does not mean that we should live in timidity or cowardice. Essentially, Paul is saying that we should live self-controlled lives. In the OT, Moses is described as “very meek, more than all people who were on the face of the earth (Num. 12:3).” Yet we know that Moses challenged Pharaoh and led the people of God (although imperfectly). We are not to be bullies, but gentle. Are you gentle with those that think differently than you do? How do you talk about those that differ on certain political aspects within the body of Christ? Are you gentle with those that are slow to embrace every belief that you hold?

Patient

If that doesn’t hit us in the face, Paul states that we should be patient. I must admit that I struggle with this. The Lord has been graciously working in my life to rid me of impatience, but it’s difficult for me. We live in a world where we think the microwave is too slow. However, a lack of patience with others demonstrates “a lack of humility and a lack of love (Merida, Ephesians).” In his letter to the Corinthians, Paul says that love is patient (1 Cor. 13:4). I think if we’re honest with ourselves, we would admit that all of us struggle with impatience towards others.

It’s easy to become frustrated at the lack of progress in another’s Christian life. It’s easy to be become annoyed at the constant slips of our fellow believers. We all know that person that seems to be slow to catch on. However, in order to guard ourselves from becoming impatient with others, it’s a good practice to remind ourselves of Christ’s patience towards us. As Peter writes, “The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient towards you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance (2 Pet. 3:9).” How much as Christ put up with in your life? How many times have you had to run to Him for forgiveness? We are not perfect. Yet we are loved and forgiven. May we have the heart and mind of Christ as we seek to live in unity with others.

Bear with One Another

Further, we are to “bear with one another in love (v.2).” This goes with the previous point of being patient with others. Christians are to put up with one another’s shortcomings in love. My wife is a great example of this. She puts up with me more than I would put up with myself. She’s patient and forgiving; understanding grace and forgiveness. Again, remembering the gospel is a helpful remedy against the temptation to push aside those that struggle and fall.

Maintain Unity 

We are to “maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace (v.3).” Did you catch how Paul said what he said? He didn’t say that we should be diligent in “creating unity,” but, we are to “maintain unity.” Unity is a work of the Spirit. He creates unity in the body of Christ; we are called to keep it. We must walk in step with the Spirit as we seek to be faithful in our body.

In order for us to guard against the temptations to forsake these qualities, we must be willing to renounce the opposite of each (Snodgrass, Ephesians). We must renounce pride, harshness, the tyranny of our own agendas, idealistic expectations, and passivity (Merida, Ephesians). Again, I ask, “how are you doing in these areas?” This can be difficult as you assess your own lives, but it can also be a sanctifying time as the Spirit reveals and convicts, in order to make you more like Christ.

Paul moves from gospel conduct and shows how the body of Christ is united by gospel confession in verses 4-6.

Gospel Confession

He says that we are one body, which means that although we are diverse in our backgrounds and giftings, we are one in Christ. We are one in Spirit, which means we share in the unity of the Spirit. He is the one that creates unity and empowers us to keep it within the body. We have one hope. We all (yet different) share in the common hope of the gospel message.

We have one lord. The government is not our lord, the media isn’t our lord, Jesus is. He alone dictates how we live our lives. We have one faith. We are called to profess the same essential beliefs as a body of believers. This is why it’s important for pastors to walk with potential new members, outlining the essential beliefs we hold as a gospel community. We have one baptism. We are spiritually baptized into Christ. We are one with Him. The ordinance of baptism points to this reality. Lastly, we have one God and Father. We are His adopted children, regardless of our differences in ethnicity or background.

What I love about the latter portion of this text is the explicit reference to the Trinity. The Triune God not only creates the unity we have as believers, but also serves as the perfect display of unity. Jesus prayed this in John 17. He prayed, “that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me (v.21).

May we, in all things, be like Christ.

Soli Deo Gloria 

Josh Chambers

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