This sermon was preached at Peace Hill Christian Fellowship on April 3rd, 2011. To listen to the audio of this sermon, just click on this link – Lent #4 – 2011.
Ephesians 4:1-13 — UNITY IN THE CHURCH
Christians don’t seem very good at being unified. Churches split, or members grow cold toward each other; preachers and authors and Christian leaders condemn each other on the internet, or write book-length attacks and counterattacks. But in today’s passage from Ephesians, Christ’s apostle Paul makes unity a really big deal, saying that there is only “One Lord and one faith” and that we must “grow into unity.” He says that unity is something we already have in Christ (verses 4-6), and it’s also something we’re developing/growing into (verse 13). How can we understand and practice this?
Recognize The Unity We Have What is the unity that we already have with other Christians? Paul lists several things that we have in common:
One Lord: “Lord” here refers specifically to Jesus. We follow the same Master and Lord, and we are each known and loved by him. This is the Lord who prayed that his followers be at one with each other (John 17:20-23). Be encouraged that Christ’s goal is harmony in his church!
One Faith: when we confess the Apostles Creed, or that “Christ has died, Christ has risen, Christ will come again,” we are agreeing together with billions of Christians throughout history and around the world. Though Christians have at times disagreed and still do disagree on small and large issues, there really is a consistent core of Christian belief: that through what Jesus did in his life, death, and resurrection, and through what his Spirit continues to do, we come to know God and to be part of what he is doing to heal the world.
One Baptism: Jesus commanded his followers to baptize new converts in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit (Matthew 28:19). All who are baptized in this name have been marked by a public commitment to follow the teachings of Christ, and have identified with him in his death and resurrection.
One God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all: Christians don’t worship many separate Gods; we worship one God, who is not localized to “our” church or race or nation, but is the same, worldwide. God, the foundation of our oneness, has become a Father to us through Christ (the New Testament calls Christ our “elder brother” who has brought us into God’s family). Verse 13, as well as Romans 8:29, say that God’s not going to quit until the whole family resembles Jesus.
Work to Maintain Unity Are you making every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace? Other people won’t always accept your efforts at peacemaking, but can you honestly say you have done what you could? Are you working toward unity between you and other Christians, or between your church or organization and other churches and organizations? Are you eager for unity? Or, are you weakening it by the way you criticize and shun other believers?
In verses 2 and 3, Paul tells us some of the qualities we should develop, in working for unity:
Humility: Remind yourself every day that you don’t know everything, and that you are a sinner saved by grace (be specific, not general, when you admit you’re a sinner!). Your understanding of other people’s situations is probably incorrect in some big ways. Even where you’re sure you understand the person and the truth, proceed humbly as one who may need to be corrected by that same person tomorrow.
Gentleness: a gentle manner, rather than a suspicious or accusing or harsh or arrogant one, shows that you do not need aggressive intimidation. Jesus, known and remembered for his gentleness (I Peter 2:23), gives his followers that same spirit (Galatians 5:22-23).
Patience: A patient attitude is an act of trust that God is in control, rather than you and your ability to manipulate the situation being in control. It’s also a receiving and reflecting of the patience that Christ shows for you.
Forbearance: This can mean “putting up with each other” and includes the idea of “overlooking” minor offenses. Sometimes, we’re not feeling wonderful about each other but we can graciously trust that others are having a hard time, and that even if we can’t find something lovable about them right now, Jesus calls us to be neighborly (even if we don’t end up as best friends).
Unity does NOT mean “every church and Christian looking the same.” God likes variety; God’s people display “the rich variety of God’s wisdom (Ephesians 3:10-11).” We should enjoy and learn from the diversity of cultural and historical expressions in the church. Unity describes our attitude toward each other and our willingness to work together, rather than in conflict or in competition.
Use Christ’s gifts For Unity, Not Division Christ has, through the Holy Spirit he gave after his ascension, given gifts to the people of his church (verses 7-10). Some are listed here, although others are listed elsewhere…these focus on teaching and leadership. The point of these gifts is not to separate us, or to rank us in order of importance, but to build us up toward unity. How do I need your gifts? How do you need mine? And this applies to groups as well as to individuals: how do we need Mount Pleasant, or Williamsburg Community Chapel, or C.H.A.T., or Liberty Baptist? How do they need us?
The teaching and leadership gifts (verses 11-16) are not given in order to make the gifted people arrogant, or in order to allow a few people (the leaders) to do all the work. They are not given in order to make the truth so complicated that only someone with a PhD or master’s degree can understand it. They are to equip “the saints” (that’s all of us—those who, by Christ’s sacrifice, have been made holy) for the work of service (v. 12). Increased knowledge is given so that we can serve a hurting world and help the church to grow up, into the beautiful and mature family—filled with siblings of Christ—that God destined it to be (verse 13, see also Rom. 8:29).
As we gather to worship God, to hear his promises, and to taste in the bread and wine his love, forgiveness, and patience toward his squabbling children, may we be encouraged in what we share with Christians in this room and around the world, may we repent of our fracturing of church unity, and may we be strengthened for the task of “growing up together” in Christ.