The Church – Unity
September 20, 2015
Last week we began a series looking at the universal church and at First Baptist Church all at the same time. I spent a little time talking about what makes a church effective and I concluded we could debate all the extraneous stuff — we could talk about all the churchy stuff, we could talk deep theology, we could have lots of videos and do all kinds of stuff . . . BUT what makes a church effective must begin with Jesus Christ.
It’s a church which fully believes in Jesus as Lord and Savior. It’s a church which may not always agree with one another theologically or on some of the churchy issues or on the color of the carpeting . . . BUT it’s a church which is unified as brothers and sisters in Christ. And it starts because of our common faith in Jesus.
Of course things get in the way . . . and what gets in the way of unity is you and I. It’s so easy for a church to begin to fight over the little things and they escalate into the really big ugly brawls.
It’s one of the worst things that can happen in a church. I’ve witnessed them and it’s truly a disgrace to the name of Christ — when people fight one another instead of working together. It happens more often than we realize.
Tradition claims that Jerusalem’s Church of the Holy Sepulchre is built over the cave where Christ was buried. Six Christian denominations — Greek Orthodox, Armenian Apostolic, Roman Catholic, Coptic Orthodox, Ethiopian Orthodox, and Syriac Orthodox — all share jurisdiction of the church. Sadly, they don’t get along with one another.
For example, the Ethiopians control the rooftop. They literally have squatting rights. However, when a Coptic monk on the roof moved his chair into the shade where the Ethiopian monk was sitting, they began trash talking — which led to pushing and shoving and then to an all-out brawl. 11 monks were injured, including one who was taken to the hospital unconscious. And all this took place in a church that’s supposedly built where Jesus was buried.
Another example is this video of a fight between Greek and Areminian Monks in 2011.
It’s really pretty pathetic . . . Can you imagine the fighting? We can show more fights . . . but the goal and the hope is that we can understand that after embracing a life changing relationship with Jesus, that is exactly what is supposed to happen. Our lives are supposed to change. We are supposed to be a different person after we say YES to Jesus.
Last week we were looking at the overall theme of Ephesians 4:1-6, and today we’re going to look only at the first 3 verses to see what makes a church healthy and effective. Let’s look at Ephesians 4 ~
1 I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called,
2 with all HUMILITY and GENTLENESS, with PATIENCE, BEARING WITH ONE ANOTHER IN LOVE,
3 eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the BOND OF PEACE.
So, what’s Paul telling us?
In verse 1, Paul is exhorting and commanding us.
The word URGE shows us the seriousness of Paul’s message. He is urging, commanding, beseeching, and pleading with us. He wants us to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which we have been called. In other words, Christ followers are to live in a manner worthy of being called a child of God. We’ve been adopted into God’s family and we’re to bring joy, glory and honor to God. We’ve been accepted and embraced by the family and now we must demonstrate the love and grace we have received by God to one another and to the world.
Think about when a child does something that shows a lack of respect to their parents. People will often say “Oh, I told you those parents didn’t do a very good job raising little Sally.” Or when a child does well — people may say, “I always said they did a good job raising Sally.”
Whatever we do, we show the world our real character. And it’s a reflection of our relationship with God. If we’re okay with church fights like those monks, that shows who God is in our lives and we are not living a life worthy of the calling we have received.
If we live our faith and seek to make a difference in the world in a positive and constructive way, then the world will see Christ in us in a positive light. Our lives should have been renewed and we need to demonstrate that to the world.
So, whatever we do, we need to ask ourselves . . . “AM I LIVING IN A MANNER WORTHY OF THE CALLING I HAVE RECEIVED?”
Our conduct is to bring honor to Christ. Do you know why living in a manner worthy of our calling is so important? Because one of the greatest reasons people give for not following Christ . . . is the poor testimony of those who claim to be Christ-followers. Far too often we preach love and in reality practice hate. And far too often we are divided over the most trivial issues.
It’s been written that Ghandi said ~ I like your Christ, I do not like your Christians. You Christians are so unlike your Christ.” AND “If Christians acted like Christ, the whole world would be Christian.”
Now Paul begins to spell it out. He gets more specific about how we are supposed to act. He gives us a list of 5 behaviors and virtues.
Paul urges us to live in the manner in which we have been called — doing it —
2 with all HUMILITY and GENTLENESS, with PATIENCE, BEARING WITH ONE ANOTHER IN LOVE,
What does it mean to practice HUMILITY? It’s to have what is called a “lowliness of mind.” It’s to have a mindset of having a humble opinion of yourself. I would add, it’s to have a proper heart attitude as well. You recognize your own littleness. We see too many people who are filled with pride and arrogance because they think they are better than everyone.
The best way to control that is to compare ourselves on a daily basis to Christ — not to others. When we do this, this should help us from having an over-inflated ego. Humility helps us to see our lives as a gift from God. We recognize that all of our abilities are gifts from God.
Walter Cronkite used to tell the story about when he was sailing through shallow water on the Mystic River in Connecticut. A boat filled with young people sped past him. They were shouting and waving their arms. Cronkite smiled and waved back. His wife asked him, “Do you know what they were shouting?” He said, “They recognized me and said ‘hello Walter.’” She shook her head at him and said, “No they didn’t. They were shouting, low water! Low water!”
Humility isn’t always easy to practice, but we must have a proper view of ourselves, one in which we don’t think too highly of ourselves.
Next, Paul tells us to practice GENTLENESS. Gentleness could also be translated meekness. People often think those who are gentle and meek are weak. But that’s not even close. Meekness is strength under control. The word was used for wild horses that were broken and trained. It is being able to display the right blend of forcefulness and gentleness. Gentleness is a fruit of the Spirit and is not something we accomplish on our own.
When we understand meekness it’s really freeing rather than something which holds us back. We have the freedom to be strong and gentle at the same time. We learn how to be a leader and a servant, at the same time. It’s a gift which we can pass on to others, if we are willing to learn from Christ . . . which takes humility.
Now, after we’re working on humility and gentlesness, Paul urges us to practice PATIENCE. This is not getting any easier, is it?
Literally – patience means to be long passioned; that means we are to wait a sufficient time before expressing anger. Can you imagine if we all practiced that one? It’s not necessarily the yelling and screaming I’m talking about, it’s what happens when we are not practicing humility and gentleness. It’s those types of situations which really hurt the call for unity in the church.
Another way people learn about patience is through the term — long-suffering. When we’re being patient we often feel like we are suffering long. It means we have a long fuse with other people.
Sometimes people are difficult, even Christians can be difficult. People will irritate us. Even Christ followers will irritate us. They’ll disappoint us, too. They’ll do things that hurt us. I’m just talking about within the church. We will hurt one another. Sometimes intentionally and sometimes unintentionally.
Two men were riding a bicycle built for 2, when they came to a very steep hill. It took a great deal of struggle for the men to finally get to the top. When they got there the man in the front turned to the guy in the back and said, “That sure was a hard climb!” The guy in the back replied, “Yes, and if I hadn’t kept the brakes on all the way up I’m sure we would’ve rolled back down the hill.”
UGH! That’s when we need patience! We often come at ministry with noble ideas, but very different ways to accomplish them.
So, we practice humility, gentleness, patience, and now Paul tells us to BEAR WITH ONE ANOTHER IN LOVE.
Relationships won’t always be easy. But to live a life worthy of our calling in Christ means we’ll be humble, gentle and patient with each other. And we’ll bear with each other in love. By God’s grace, we’ll stick together through thick and thin. This is the “for better or for worse” part of marriage applied to the church.
And please notice that we’re to bear with each other. It means we hang in there with one another. It means we accept one another with all of our faults and idiosyncracies. And we bear with one another . . . doing it in love. It’s an agape love, a sacrificial love.
You know, Christians are really good at saying ‘we love one another’ but then we don’t show it. We need to really mean it and not just say the words, but we need to demonstrate that to one another and to the world. That way the world sees how Christ followers really do love one another and are committed to one another.
We’re reminded of this in Colossians 3, when Paul called for the people to ~
12 put on compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience,
13 bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive.
14 And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony.
That sounds very similar to what Paul is telling the folks in Ephesus. Love is the cornerstone. It’s the foundation of all we do as Christ-followers.
Finally, Paul urges us to be 3 eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the BOND OF PEACE.
One of the key points Paul makes in this verse is to tell us to maintain the unity. Notice he doesn’t say to create unity, but maintain unity. We do not create it. The unity comes from our common faith in Jesus Christ, and I believe that part of that unity is also a supernatural gift from the Holy Spirit to us.
So, when Paul says to be eager to maintain the unity — — he’s really referring to our speed and desire at maintaining the unity. We are to be speedy and swift at preserving the unity of the church. It means when there is something wrong, we quickly act to help bring reconciliation.
We are to be diligent and committed to keeping the unity of the Holy Spirit. We are to give full effort — which means we put our heart, spirit, mind and body into maintaining the unity of the church.
Referring to the American Revolution, Benjamin Franklin said, “We must all hang together, or we shall all hang separately.” There’s a similar sense of urgency in verse 3. For the church to be all it can be and for each of us to become all that God intends, we need to hang together.
Well, that’s it for today. I think we bit off a lot. It’s only 3 verses and we could go on, but I want you to really consider what Paul is asking from each one of us ~
Can you walk in a manner worthy of your calling?
Will your walk be evident by your
BEARING WITH ONE ANOTHER IN LOVE,
MAINTAIN THE UNITY OF THE SPIRIT IN THE BOND OF PEACE.