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Maintaining Church Unity - Pt.1



September 11, 2011

What is the primary value for the Democrat and Republican parties? I realize each party has its ideology, but from my perspective, the primary value is to take and hold onto as much power in Washington as is possible. Each party strategizes on how to gain power. They craft and shape their messages in such a way as to attract votes from those who are more independent in their thinking. So the message changes in order to maintain power.

This morning we come to Ephesians 4. In chapter 4 Paul begins to apply what he has written in chapters 1-3. So in order to appreciate Paul’s words in Eph.4 we need to remind ourselves of the larger context. In chapter 1 we are given a profound picture of the greatness and grace of God in providing our salvation. In chapter 2 we are reminded that all of us were alienated from God and in desperate need of the Savior, Jesus Christ. We also learn that because of sin, Jews and Gentiles were alienated from each other. Not only were they alienated from each other, they hated each other. However, in Christ, Jews and Gentiles have been brought together into one body, the Church. Paul writes that in the Church God is making one new man, a new society in which all barriers are broken down in Christ. In chapter 3 we learn that the church has a pivotal role to play in making known the manifold wisdom of God, not just to people on earth but also to the rulers and authorities in heavenly places. This manifestation of the wisdom of God is accomplished through the love and power of God. This is the context of chapter 4. Something amazing has been accomplished, and if you know Christ you are part of the new people of God in the Church comprised of Jews and Gentiles.

Based on this Paul identifies one of the primary values for Christians. He tells us that maintaining church unity is a primary value for followers of Christ.

I. CHURCH UNITY IS NURTURED BY CHRISTIAN VIRTUES. Eph.4:1-3

In v.1 Paul urges us to live a life worthy of this calling that we received in Christ. What is this calling? From chapter 1, we have been called to be adopted into the family of God through faith in Christ. It’s a calling to receive redemption and the forgiveness of sins. From chapter 2 it’s a calling to be a full participant in the body of Christ, doing the good works that God has prepared for us to do. When we enter into the Kingdom of God, we enter into a whole new way of living. Together with our brothers and sisters in Christ, the new eternal life of Christ is changing us from the inside out. Together we begin living a life that honors God.

Since we are brought into the body of Christ, the church, you can see the importance of unity in the church. Together we have important, eternal work to do. If we are not unified then that work will go undone. And yet, we are all aware of how difficult it can be to maintain unity in the church. We are all flawed people and sometimes we rub each other the wrong way. We don’t agree with each other on how things should be done or what things should be done. Sometimes we are not in a good mood. Sometimes our expectations of others and ourselves are too high. And so we just keep bumping into ourselves and each other.

When Paul urges us to walk worthy of our calling, he identifies a number of necessary virtues. Each of these virtues is relational and contributes to church unity. Paul tells us to be completely humble. Humility has much to do with how we think about ourselves. It is having lowliness of mind.

In an essay called “Communities of Grace” which appears in the book, The Kingdom Life, humility is defined as, “simply trusting God and others with me.” In order to enter into family of God we have to entrust our life to God. We are counting on God to save us through Christ. If we are going to live with God’s people in the church, then we will have to entrust our life to others. Listen to this quote. “Humility is not codependency. But humility spawns an interdependency where those in the community routinely say, ‘I need others to get healthy.’” Can we entrust our lives into one another’s hands? That’s a challenging question. If any of us make a mistake, if any of us loses our temper, can we trust one another to graciously bring correction and encouragement. Can we share truth with one another in love? Are we willing to humbly listen to others in the church?

Even though this is difficult, my sense is that we grow and mature as believers when we can humbly receive constructive encouragement from our brothers and sisters in Christ.

Gentleness describes the virtue of having self control in a way that allows a person to not have to demand his personal rights. Sometimes this word is translated with the word, “meek.” Jesus and Moses were meek. They were strong personalities, but their strength was under control. They were not always asserting their rights. In fact they were willing to be wronged by others, entrusting themselves to God. Paul writes in 1Cor.6:7, “Why not rather be wronged? Why not rather be cheated?” Instead some of the believers in the church at Corinth were taking one another to court and Paul said this should not be happening in the body of Christ.

The next virtue is patience. It means to be long suffering. It means to be able to put up with the annoyances and idiosyncrasies of others. We learn to tolerate one another. Why? Why should we put up with one another? It’s because in Christ we are family. It’s because the love of God has been poured out into our hearts. It’s because as Christians we want to mature in Christ who is patient and long suffering with us. When we are impatient we need to apologize to one another.

To this Paul adds love; “bearing with one another in love.” This kind of love is intentional and purposeful. It is not based upon feelings and desires. Rather it is seeking the highest good for another. Agape love is sacrificial and often costly.

With these virtues in mind, Paul tells us to, “make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace.” Unity in the church is not something that we manufacture. The unity we enjoy in the church is given by the Holy Spirit. We seek to maintain it and protect it. We maintain it and protect it by exhibiting the virtues just highlighted. We are called to peace and to live peaceably with one another in the church. Humility, gentleness, patience, bearing with one another in love; here are four Christian virtues that will nurture and protect unity in the church.

 

II. CHURCH UNITY IS GROUNDED IN THE UNITY OF GOD. Eph.4:4-6

You might asking, “Why should we care so deeply about the church?” Many of us are very busy. We have many obligations. We have families to provide for. We have jobs that take up much of our time. And then we have many other interests and relationships that are often far more enjoyable than being in church. So why should we care so much about the church? The reason we Christians care so much about the church is because the church is in our spiritual DNA. Let’s read v.4-6

Most New Testament scholars see a clear reference to the Trinity in these verses. In fact these verses are divided into three groups. Throughout the book of Ephesians there are multiple references to the trinity. In v.4 we have one body, one Spirit, and one hope. 1Cor.12:13 says, “For we were all baptized by one Spirit into one body–whether Jews or Greeks, slave or free–and we were all given the one Spirit to drink.” When we call upon the name of the Lord Jesus to be saved, the Holy Spirit baptizes or immerses us into the body of Christ, the Church. This is a spiritual and physical reality for believers. What is true spiritually is expressed physically as we become part of a local church.

And then in Rom.15:13 we read, “May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.” Elsewhere Paul tells us that, “The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children.” Through the Holy Spirit we have a confident hope for the future in Christ. The Holy Spirit who dwells in me, is the same Holy Spirit who dwells in you. We are baptized into the same body, the same family. It is the body, the family of God. There is only one church that meets in many different locations.

Look at v.5. Paul writes, “one Lord, one faith, one baptism. Only Jesus Christ is the savior of the world. He alone died for our sins. He alone rose from the dead. Jesus Christ, alone, is Lord of heaven and earth. Because he is the only one worthy to be called Lord, he is the object of our faith. Jesus is the only one who promises to forgive all our sins when we put our trust in him.

And those who surrender their lives to Christ in faith are baptized into him. Baptism is a public demonstration of the inner transformation brought about through faith in Christ. The person who is baptized is making a public declaration that he or she is in Christ. And to be in Christ is to be in the church. This is why baptism is an ordinance of the church. The person who is baptized is not only showing his or her identification with Christ, but is also showing his or her identification with the body of Christ, his church.

Finally, in v.6 Paul writes, “one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.” All things were created by God. He is sovereign over all things and dwells in all things and yet he is distinct from all things. We don’t believe that all is God and God is all. Those who know Christ have been brought into the family of God and can pray to God as Father. He is our heavenly Father. All Christians have the same heavenly Father, which makes us all brothers and sisters in Christ. Do you see what I mean when I say the church is in our spiritual DNA? Those who know Christ are part of his body. We embody his eternal resurrection life. We embody his Holy Spirit. We not only belong to Christ, we belong to each other.

Now I’ve never asked the question, why should I care about my family? The family I grew up in shaped and defined my life and continues to do so in a more limited way. The family that God has brought about through Angie and me is presently shaping and defining who I am. There were surely times when I wondered what it might be like to be in another family, but even if I could have changed families, I would never be able to erase the impact my family of origin has had on me. And I would never think of leaving my family. My family is part of who I am. That is surely the case with every Christian. Church unity is grounded in the unity of God. If we are in Christ then we are united with God in Christ and his people.

 

Ten years ago today, this country experienced a tragedy unparalleled in our history. We were attacked by terrorists and some 3,000 people lost their lives in New York and Pennsylvania. America was shaken. Many of us felt a sense of fear and insecurity in the following months. Republicans and Democrats came together in unity. In fact the whole country seemed to come together in unity. That unity was seen in the increased attendance at churches throughout this land. Why did people go to church? Clearly because for many people church is a way of connecting with God. That display of unity did not last very long. As life resumed most people did not continue attending church.

We, who profess to know Christ, do not come to church out of fear and insecurity. We come to church because in Christ, we are the church. In Christ we are brothers and sisters, sharing the same eternal life of Jesus and the same Holy Spirit. We are following the same Lord and looking forward to the same future. And so we are called to display this God given unity in the way we conduct ourselves around one another. Maintaining church unity is a primary value for followers of Christ. Amen