The Church – Unity
October 4, 2015
A man died and met St Peter at the gate. Peter asked, “Would you like a tour?” The man said, “Sure.” So, Peter led the man down a long hall with many doors. They stopped at the first door and Peter opened it and said with a whisper, “These are the Pentecostals.” He quietly closed the door and went to the next door. As he opened that door, Peter whispered, “Here are the Baptists.” Again, he quietly closed that door, and this went on door after door.
The man was confused. Finally, Peter whispered, “This is the last one I’ll show you.” He quietly opened the last door and whispered, “Here are some non-denominationalists.”
Peter shut the last door, and led the man back to the pearly gates. He asked Peter, “Why did you have to whisper?” Peter replied, “Because each group thinks they are the only ones in heaven.”
That will lead us into our discussion for today. My focus is pretty specific. It’s about First Baptist Church. It’s about who we are and who we will be. So, the focus is not so much about us against other denominations, it’s really more about us against us. It’s true in most churches, we can easily get caught up in things that are not essential.
The 16th century Lutheran theologian, Rupertus Meldenius wrote ~ “In essentials unity, in non-essentials liberty, in all things charity.”
That’s a great reminder for us. What is essential? Where is our starting point for a church to maintain unity? Meldenius reminds us it’s in the essentials.
For the past 3 weeks we’ve been looking at the church, and the call for unity. For 3 weeks we’ve looked at the passage from Paul in Ephesians 4:1-6. Paul is calling for oneness in the church. He urges us to demonstrate 5 virtues — humility, gentleness, patience, love and peace – which will help us to maintain the unity of the church.
He spoke of our common oneness in the church. We are ONE body, with ONE Spirit, with ONE hope . . . having ONE Lord, ONE Faith, ONE baptism and ONE God and Father who is over all and through all and in all.
Today, I want to start unpacking what the church is supposed to look like. If we are to maintain the unity, how do we accomplish that? It’s not always easy. So, where do we start? I spoke about the 5 virtues last week, but I believe it starts with Jesus and our relationship with Him. If He is Lord of our lives, then we are called to be obedient to Him. In Mark 12, the following took place —
28 And one of the scribes came up and heard them disputing with one another, and seeing that He answered them well, asked Jesus, “Which commandment is the most important of all?”
29 Jesus answered, “The most important is, ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one.
30 And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’
31 The second is this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.” – Mark 12:28-31
That last sentence should strike us. There is no commandment greater than these.
So, our call is to love the Lord our God with everything that we have — heart, spirit, mind and body. Nothing is excluded in our love of the Lord, nothing! I’m quickly moving through this . . . Next Jesus tells us to love our neighbor as we love ourselves. Assuming we love ourselves, we are called to love those around us. That does not mean we get to pick and choose.
We don’t get to say I don’t love that person because they are . . . white / black / red / too skinny / too big / not the right theology / too liberal / too conservative / too open minded / too closed minded (you can fill in the blank).
It also means our actions must be predicated on love. It means we have to find ways to love one another. If we don’t love one another, what are we then doing to one another. In my eyes we are destroying one another. When talking about the royal law, James said it very well —
28 If you really fulfill the royal law according to the Scripture, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself,” you are doing well. – James 2:8
So, the bottom line is a call to love God with all that we have and to love our neighbors. Those are the great commandments and royal law. So, what does all of that mean when we are relating to one another? Especially when we might even disagree with one another. What then do we do?
Believe it or not, the early church was filled with people who didn’t always get it either. That’s one of the beauties of the Bible, God helps us to see that people have always had a sin issue, and we are no different. In Romans 14-15, Paul seeks to build the harmony and unity of the church. There were some issues at hand that Paul had to address so the unity could be maintained.
The differences came as the result of what types of food could be eaten and what festivals were to be celebrated. There were those whom Paul considered weaker in faith and those who were stronger in the faith. This was not meant as an insult, he was simply stating that some who were new to faith in Christ were living their faith differently than those who were more mature in their faith. BUT, and this is crucial, Paul is telling the church neither was wrong.
The disagreement could have been over church governance, it could have been over styles of music or clothes, or the version of the Bible used, or tithing. The list of differences could go on. The important point is how to resolve it.
Paul starts out in Romans 14:1 by stating — 1 As for the one who is weak in faith, welcome him, but not to quarrel over opinions. (ESV) – Romans 14:1
1 Now accept the one who is weak in faith, but not for the purpose of passing judgment on his opinions. (NASB)
As we begin to move through this important section of scripture, I want you to fully understand what Paul wanted the stronger in faith to do. And remember, there are some who are more knowledgeable in the faith. BUT — and understand this very carefully and clearly, they have the same standing — the same salvation as those who had the weaker faith!
Salvation is not contingent on what you know, it’s about who you know! They all claimed Jesus as Lord and Savior and the weaker and stronger in the faith were all Christians. That’s why this was distressing to Paul, they were brothers and sisters in Christ. There should have been unity, they should have been proclaiming to the world with one voice, Christ is Lord . . . but they weren’t because of the discord and divisiveness within the church.
When Paul refers to those who are weak, he’s not talking about physical strength, he’s referring to their spiritual maturity. They had more of a simple faith in Christ.
So, Paul explains these stronger / more knowledgeable Christians are to welcome those who are weaker. When we think of welcome, we may think . . . OK, just say “hello” and all’s good. But that’s not what Paul had in mind. Paul wanted more from these stronger Christians. And frankly, this is where our faith gets put to the test. And so many times we don’t pass the test. We hold onto what we think is our elite status, we hold onto ignorance and arrogance and don’t follow Paul’s words, even when we think we know the word.
Paul wants them to Welcome / Accept / Receive those who are weaker. This is the word welcome in the ESV, but accept in the NASB. In Greek this word literally means ~
Aggressively receive, with strong personal interest. Grant one access to one’s heart; to take into friendship.
Do you hear how we are supposed to act with one another. This is so much more than just a simple “hello,” I did my Christian duty, now let me get to those who are more worthy of my time. You see, when we don’t agree with someone at work, in school or in the church, we tend to shun them. We may view others with the attitude they are not correct, therefore, they are not as good as we are. And Paul is telling us NO WAY!
They are different and we’ll get to that next week. As someone said last Wednesday night at Bible Study, ‘why can’t we just have a simple childlike faith.’ That would solve lots of problems, wouldn’t it? So, our call within the church is to invest ourselves in one another. I love the way the word WELCOME / ACCEPT is defined – – – – to aggressively receive someone, take a strong personal interest in them, grant them access to your heart, to take them into friendship.
It doesn’t mean you are going to convert them to your way of thinking, it is not about that. Actually, getting someone to believe the way you think they need to believe is not that important. Remember, we are going on the basis that the other person is a believer in Christ. It’s about loving your neighbor, because you have experienced the love of Christ.
Now, Paul says don’t quarrel or pass judgement on the other person.
We are not to pass judgement or quarrel with one another over the issues. We can become so focused on wanting to demonstrate and prove we have the answers and we are right. We lose sight of the other person and we show we really don’t care about them because we have never welcomed them into our hearts.
It’s all about us winning the war of who’s right. You may win the battle, but will you win the war? Will you lose that person as a brother or sister in Christ? Will you turn them away from the church because of your attitude? And your need to be right all of the time.
Remember they are weaker in faith, so their faith is raw and not fully developed. It’s not about who’s right and wrong about theology or the way the church is run, about what meat is eaten, or what festivals are celebrated, or anything like that. It’s a call from God, through Paul, not to pass judgement on others. Not to quarrel with others, not to be critical of others because they live their faith in a different manner than you do. Yet in an acceptable manner . . . according to God.
Finally, Paul tells us it’s about the opinions.
The word Paul uses for expressing our opinions is not a positive meaning word. You don’t want someone to use this word to describe your opinions. The word opinion literally means ~
Reasoning that is self-based and therefore confused – especially as it contributes to reinforcing others in discussion to remain in their initial prejudice. The reasoning of those who think themselves to be wise.
So, Paul is telling us that sometimes are opinions are meant to confuse more than help solve a situation. Why does Paul state our opinion is confused? Because it is self-based! It is based not off of the Word of God, but it comes from our own pride or self-righteousness. This is why when we offer an opinion or thought about something which will foster disagreement or divisiveness — — we need to check out who the author of our response is. Again, Paul tells us our opinions are the result of our thinking ourselves to be wise . . . when very possibly our response is more out of foolishness than wisdom.
Are we the author or are our words coming from God? That is a crucial question we need to ask ourselves and it comes from a greater self-awareness of ourselves and a greater awareness of the presence of God in our lives.
We’ve really only started to touch the surface of where we will be at over the next weeks. There is so much more to talk about, but we are going to stop for today.
I want you to walk away today considering how you maintain the unity of the church or how you help bring about divisiveness to the unity of the church. That is a really heavy way to end a sermon, but one I believe is going to help First Baptist Church continue to become more and more the church Christ is calling us to be.
Are you welcoming of others?
Are you freely passing judgement or quarreling?
Are you freely giving your opinions, not God’s statements?
Hopefully you will answer
And you will be able to say yes, I do my best to maintain the unity of the church by living my life with all
humility, gentleness, patience, love and peace