The Unity of the Church Part One
For our guests, we are in a series from the book of Ephesians called Life. Powered by grace. This morning we're in chapter four and we're going to read 1-16 but we'll only be looking at verses 1-10 this morning.
As a young kid, one of my favorite comic strips was the Peanuts comic featuring Charlie Brown.
There was one where Lucy walks into the room where her brother Linus is watching TV and she immediately demands that Linus change channels, threatening him with her fist if he didn't. Linus asks her "What makes you think you can walk right in here and take over?"
Lucy answers "These five fingers. Individually they're nothing but when I curl them together like this into a single unit, they form a weapon that is terrible to behold."
"Which channel do you want?" asks Linus. As he walks out of the room, he looks at his fingers and says, "Why can't you guys get organized like that?"
When it comes to the church, there can be a similar frustration: we know from the Bible that the church, unified and empowered by the Holy Spirit, is called to be a dynamic force for Jesus Christ in the world, but all too often the infighting, factions, the denominational walls leave the church fractured and weak, and when we compare the church in the New Testament with the church as we see it today we can be left looking at the church today and wondering why can't you guys get organized like that?
This message is going to be the first part in a two part message entitled The Unity of the Church.
Paul has spent the first three chapters of Ephesians talking about how God has made all believers one in Christ. The unity of the church is a fact because of what Jesus Christ has accomplished on the cross. We don't create the unity of the church - that's why Paul calls it the unity of the Spirit, but we do need to live that unity out. We are responsible to make every effort to keep the unity that the Spirit has created.
How do we do that? How do we live out in our experience what God has made a spiritual reality? Let's consider four points from this passage that help to answer that question. We will get to three points this morning and leave the last point for next week.
I. It takes humility to have unity in the Church (vs. 2)
Paul says in verse 3 we are to be eager (make every effort) to live out our unity, but verse 2 tells us the heart attitude that it takes to live out our unity: [I like the NIV puts it] Be completely humble and gentle (the word is meek, which as I said last week is not weakness but is strength under control), be patient, bearing with one another in love.
It takes humility to have unity. Paul makes a similar connection between humility and unity in 2nd chapter of book of Phil. when he writes to the believers and asks them to have one mind and be in full accord with one another, he immediately counters that with words, do nothing from rivalry or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. (vs.3)
Do nothing from pride - be completely humble. Pride destroys unity, humility promotes unity. Pride is like a wedge that drives relationships apart - Charles Spurgeon (the great 19th century preacher) called pride the "mother of division". Humility is like a mortar that bonds relationships together in unity.
Another look at pride and humility
So what is it about pride that divides? What is it about humility that (overall) has a unifying effect?
In the Philippians passage pride is described as rivalry and conceit. Rivalry describes striving for selfish, self-serving goals, the word conceit describes seeking glory for oneself. In some strange way pride bends our hearts to see life as a rivalry - a competition - and pride craves the glory of winning.
¨ Consider the husband and wife arguing - boil it down, both are fighting for "who's right". Ever notice how rarely anyone ever wins an argument?
¨ Think about the dude who constantly brags about himself - elevate his value in the eyes of others.
¨ How about this: always top other people's stories. I'm afraid I can be guilty of that. I don't say, "that's nothing." But I'm probably thinking it.
¨ Pushing personal agendas - I want something and I use relationships to try and get it.
¨ Or pride can go under the radar by not elevating self, but knocking others down. If can't win the race, knock others out of the race.
A movie that does a good job of illustrating nature of pride is Cars - in the end Lightning McQueen learns the valuable lesson about the emptiness of pursuing his own glory. In the final race, when Chick Hicks pulls a dirty stunt to knock the King out of the race and win the race (get his own glory), Lightning McQueen abandons the pursuit of winning in order to help someone else. In the end, he actually wins the acclaim, gets the promotion offer and most importantly has made some lifelong friends and Chick Hicks is left standing alone.
Humility? Why is the act of lowering ourselves in our sight and looking out for others
interests such a powerful influence for good in relationships?
Humility is the heart of Christ. Jesus is Lord of heaven and earth, yet he says he is meek and humble (lowly) of heart. He came, not to be served, but to serve. When we think of the atmosphere of heaven, we often of love, but its also brimming with humility! If the Lord of heaven is humble, how can the subjects of heaven not be as well?
So it comes down to this: humility is one aspect of love. Serving others, looking out for others, promoting what is best for others. Love. When a church atmosphere is one of humility, rather than people competing with each other, we are seeking to serve one another - and gives room for the love of Christ to bind our hearts together in unity.
It takes humility to have unity in the church.
II. Our unity is built on the big truths of the gospel and the unity of God (vv.4-6)
Need to ask the question: what is Christian unity based on? Do we need to agree on every doctrine to have unity? Do we separate ourselves from anyone who doesn't believe exactly as we do? Sadly there are churches (and even whole denominations) that isolate themselves from everybody who doesn't believe pretty much exactly as they do. we have people in this very church who at one time were in churches that preached and believed that. Sad.
If that is our attitude, the list of potential "unity-busters" is almost endless:
¨ What kind of music do you believe the church should have? Drums?
¨ Do you clap your hands when you sing?
¨ Do you speak in tongues? Do you believe it's the only evidence of being baptized in the Spirit? Or do you believe that all speaking in tongues is of the devil?
¨ Do you use the KJV?
¨ Do you dress formal or casual?
¨ Do you believe the rapture comes before the tribulation? Pre, post, mid, or amillenialist?
¨ Do you believe the baptism of the Spirit happens at salvation or is a second experience?
¨ Do you believe in Calvinism or Arminianism?
Walls go up and rather than unity, churches are isolated from each other.
The other extreme is ecumenicalism - a fancy word that describes a movement to embrace any group that calls itself Christian regardless what they believe. Ecumenicalism reduces faith to the lowest common denominator. Ecumenical movement has moved far away from the gospel and true Christianity and has done much harm.
The unity of the church is based on the big truths of the gospel and the unity of God.
Paul gives us the list in verses 4-6 of Christian unity - it's short and emphatic. Apart from this there is no fellowship. With these truths in place, there should be joyful fellowship and unity. What Christian unity is based on:
One body/One Spirit/One hope/One Lord /One faith /One baptism/One God and Father of all.
No accident emphasis is on word "one". About unity. We see the doctrine of the Trinity woven throughout these verses: one Spirit, one Lord (Jesus Christ), one God and Father of us all. Trinity. One God, Three Persons. God has existed for all eternity in a wonderful state of loving fellowship with Himself as Father, Son and Spirit. Our unity in the church is an extension of the unity of the Trinity.
For He has created one church. There aren't many churches - though there are many local expressions of the church, there is only one church: the church of Jesus Christ. We are one body - the body of Christ. We hold to one hope and faith - the hope of the gospel of Jesus Christ. Trust in His finished work on the cross. We have been baptized in one baptism - the baptism of the Spirit into Christ.
God only sees one church - and it is the church He purchased with His blood. It is the church He calls His bride. He loves His church - we should be careful when tempted to be critical of the church. It's got its problems, but its God's church, His bride, and He loves it and is committed to it. That brings me to the last point of this morning:
III. The church's unity is a unity of diversity (vv. 7-10)
The unity of the church is not uniformity or conformity; it is a unity of rich diversity. Look with me at verse 7-10. Paul will go on to list the five fold ministry and the equipping of the saints and the building of the church through a diversity of gifts that were given by the ascended Christ.
Verse 7 tells us that grace was given to us in different amounts and for different purposes.
Verses 8-10 contain a quote from Psalm 68:18. The picture is of a victorious king coming back from a battle - with the vanquished riding behind him - and then giving out to his people for the spoils of the victory. Christ descended to the lower parts of the earth - that is not a reference to hell, but a reference to his humbling by becoming a man, even a servant, even dying a criminal's death on the cross. It is the same picture found in Phil. 2 where Jesus goes lower and lower in his humility. Therefore God has exalted him above every name. That is described here too - Jesus has ascended victorious and has given gifts to men - gifts of the Holy Spirit.
Diversity. We don't all look alike. We aren't all graced to do the same thing. But there is a strong unity in this rich diversity.
So what about various differences and denominations? Are they sad evidences of the failure of the church to be one? I don't think so. Denominations aren't the problem: a denominational spirit is. There are differences in local churches and how they do things and what they believe about peripheral issues - know what? That's excellent!
While our unity with the universal church is based on the Big Truths, there needs to be a more particular unity on the local church level because we need that to get things done. God calls the church to a mission and we all need to be pulling the oars at the same time or there is chaos.
So we can hold onto biblical and methodological distinctives in a humble way (remember point one) that is both focused and respectful toward those who believe or do things differently.
Unity in the church - humble unity, big truths unity, diverse unity is an important way that we live worthy of the calling we have received. In that way we point people to the Savior who saved us, because ultimately that's what unites us: we were in desperate need of mercy and we received mercy through Jesus Christ. And that mercy is available to all who will call upon the Lord in simple faith and trust.
Jesus died on the cross to pay the price for our sins we could never pay. If you are not a Christian, or you aren't sure, and you would like more information about what it means to be a Christian, we'd like to help you on your spiritual journey and give you some information about the promises of Jesus Christ. I would love to talk to you after the service or you can talk to friend who invited you. If you stop by our book table we have some resources that will help explain what it means to be a Christian.
Next week look at fourth point:
IV. The unity of the church leads to maturity