In his letter to the Ephesians, which was written from prison, Paul encourages the young church to look for unity, and to avoid splitting into different groups, divided against itself. In the illustration he gives he is quick to point out that unity does not mean uniformity. Being united does not mean that we must all act the same, do the same things, pray in the same way, and sing from the same hymnbook! Using the analogy of the body Paul points out that each separate part of the body must act according to its function. In another letter, 1.Corinthians, Paul expands the metaphor further. (12.18) '...God has arranged the parts of the body, every one of them, just as he wanted them to be. If they were all one part, where would the body be? As it is there are many parts, but one body.'
But although we can celebrate our diversity we need unity. The church is one body, the Body of Christ on earth, in our communion services each week we say 'We are one body because we share in the one bread'. In the Gospel reading Jesus calls himself 'The Bread of Life'. The people had asked for a sign to convince them that they should believe, they had mentioned the 'manna', bread from heaven that fed the Israelites in the desert after their escape from slavery in Egypt. The provision of 'manna' had acted as a sign of God's approval of Moses, as a leader to the people, just as hitting a rock to let out fresh water had been. In each case the people of Israel were saved but Jesus pointed out that it was not Moses that had provided the bread and water, but God. 'It was not Moses who gave.... It is my father who gives...'. Jesus chose his words carefully. God gives, present tense. Although the physical nature of the bread had changed since the Manna in the wilderness, God continued and still continues feeding his people spiritually. Later in John 6.63 Jesus says 'It is the spirit that gives life; the flesh has nothing to offer. The words I have spoken to you are spirit.'
Returning to the letter to the Ephesians, and Paul's plea for unity, Paul points out that it is the same spirit that holds us together as a body. Our acceptance of the Holy Spirit, of the bread that holds our body together, is our unifying force, our common focus. Through this unity, as a body of Christians, we will '.. become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.' But just accepting the Spirit, as we all do in our confirmation, and expecting this to ensure that we will remain united as a church is not going to get us very far. Paul says 'Do all you can to preserve the unity of the Spirit, by the peace that binds you together.' and earlier, 'Bear with one another charitably, in complete selflessness, gentleness and patience.' Just as the metaphor of the body led us to another of Paul's letters, so these qualities, charity, patience, selflessness, and peace lead us to Paul's letter to the Galatians (5.22) 'The fruit of the spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self control.... Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit.' By treating each other according to the fruits of the Spirit we help to preserve our unity. It follows from this that we need relationship and fellowship with other Christians in order that we can grow both collectively and individually in the Spirit. Without people to show kindness towards, we cannot be kind. We cannot be patient with people if we never give them the time of day in the first place. We need to experience the love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness... of others and express these to others in order that the Spirit be kept strong inside us and as a unifying force within our church.
Failure to live according to the fruits of the spirit weakens the power of that spirit within us. This results in misery, guilt and bad feeling which although we hide away in secret, sometimes even secret from ourselves, we know that God sees. David, meeting with the prophet Nathan, showed he knew the importance of the Spirit within him. He had just offended God in a big way, according to his own understanding of God's law he deserved to die. He knew how much he had neglected the spirit. In a psalm (51.10) He prays 'Create in me a pure heart, and renew a steadfast spirit within me.' Through the human encounter with Nathan came the forgiveness and opportunity for David to start again.
As a church, we need to strengthen ourselves as Christ's body, held together in the Spirit. We are nourished by the bread of life, Jesus, and the words he has spoken to us. The presence of the fruits of the spirit in our relationships, our ability to share in acts of kindness, joy, love, peace and so on, both by giving freely to others and allowing others to give to us, unites us so that as a church we grow closer to God.