There is, the apostle Paul tells us,
…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 (Ephesians 4:4-6).
His emphasis on “oneness” forms everything in these three verses: God is one, what God does is designed to form oneness. God is not divided; God is palpably one.
Do you prefer the consecutive reading? Why aren’t gifts more often connected to unity?
That oneness does not, however, obliterate distinction or integrity. Each of us remains singular. Paul’s way of saying that is to say that God has given to each of us a gift, an assignment, a task, a role, a place at the party:
But to each one of us grace has been given as Christ apportioned it (4:7).
Oneness includes differentness. The oneness is not identical-ness or same-ness but the fellowship of interpenetrating love and communion. The differentness, then, is designed to contribute to the whole, and this is why Paul puts it this way:
So Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ (4:11-13).
Notice here that it is Christ who distributes these gifts, it is Christ who makes us both one and different at the same time. The gifts mentioned here are the gifts of theological and spiritual formation: apostles and prophets and evangelists and pastor-teachers (it is possible to translate pastors and teachers since there is no absolute rule, though the majority of us think it means pastor-teachers). [My point here is that grammar doesn’t always obey laws.]
Consecutive reading: the gifts equip the people of God and the people do the works of service and those works of service lead to the building up until we become mature. So a chain reaction: gifts, equip, works of service, building up, unity in knowledge and maturity.
Multi-impact reading: these theological and spiritual formation gifts are given by Christ to accomplish four results:
1. They equip the saints.
2. The same gifts are works of ministry (service).
3. The same gifts accomplish building up of the body of Christ.
4. Those same gifts lead to unity in knowledge and maturity.
In this reading, then, the focus is on the designed impact of the gifts of theological and spiritual formation. In the consecutive reading there is a distribution of impact from the leaders to the body and through the body to maturity. The consecutive reading is especially comfortable for those who emphasize “body life” and the ministry of everyone in the church, while the multi-impact reading emphasizes God’s design for those gifted for theological and spiritual formation.
The grammar does not “prove” either reading; the grammar can be read consecutively or as a multi-impact. The absence of “and” before the second item in the listing, however, just causes me to lean in the direction of the consecutive reading. What we must take away, regardless of the reading, is that Christ has given gifts for the people of Christ to become what they are to be: one in Christ and in knowledge and maturity.