Friday, May 1, 2009

Walk in Unity

Scripture Introduction:
The verses that we will be reading tonight from Ephesians come to us with a sense of urgency from a man in a dangerous location. Ultimately we know that it is God Himself that is giving us this message. But the messenger he is using is a man that is in prison and he is delivering this message with a sense of urgency. The subject of this text tonight might surprise you—it’s not something that you would really think of as urgent. Honestly, I would expect something different here—but it’s not—and I think Paul says what he says for a reason. What we are going to be talking about tonight is extremely urgent.
Up until this point Paul’s tone has been what we would call indicative; meaning he has been using his teaching voice and not so much his preaching voice. Oh, I think Paul has gotten excited a few times as he is talking about the great work of God but he has really only given one directive (a “do this”) up until now. You see the first three chapters is Paul outlining what God has done in the life of believers—it’s a story of redemption if you will—God is redeeming broken people in a broken world.
To really come to grips with what has been said in the first three chapters it is helpful to view the world as if it is made up of two kingdoms: the kingdom of God and the kingdom of the rebellion. The kingdom of God refers to his rule where he is rightfully acknowledged as in power. This kingdom is being established and someday will be fully established. He is the King and there will be no usurpers to His throne. He has created everything and everything is His by virtue of that fact. He is the King and there is no other.
But there is another kingdom that is attempting to gain control of the world. That is the kingdom of rebellion--the kingdom of darkness. This kingdom is under the wrath of God. This is the losing side. So when we think of these two kingdoms we must not think of them as equals with an equal shot at winning. The rebellious kingdom already has its fate sealed—it’s just awaiting its day. This is the kingdom of rebellious sinners (including Satan the prince of this kingdom). Some day this kingdom will be brought to justice. Some day this kingdom will be expelled from experiencing any of the goodness of God and will experience only His wrath.
The biblical picture is that all of humanity--through sin--has sold themselves into the kingdom of rebellion; thus, putting us on the wrong side. We have broken God’s Law and because of this the curse of the Law stands against us. Sin leads to death. We stand as enemies to the rightful King. We are rebels. That is what sin is. No rebellious sinner can enter into the King’s holy kingdom. Now, humanity does rightfully belong to the Kingdom of God, but we have rebelled and have joined ranks with the kingdom of rebellion. The effect of this rebellion is death and separation from the goodness of God. Therefore, if we are to be brought back into his glorious kingdom something must happen.
That “something that must happen” is what Paul has been describing in these first three chapters. The first three chapters tell us what God has done to bring us back into his kingdom. What emerges from these chapters is that God is creating out of the mass of these rebellious sinners a people for Himself that He is going to redeem. God is in the process of redeeming broken people and a broken world. What this means is that he has restored our relationship with Himself through Jesus. And this also means that He has restored our relationship with one another.
God has done it already but it is yet to be fully realized. This is what chapter 4 through 6 is about. 1-3 was about what God has done on our behalf and 4-6 is what we do to live in a manner that reflects that. So, that is the background for our text this evening: Ephesians 4:1-6, so turn there as we read this urgent message.
Sermon Introduction:
This urgent message is that we must live in such a way as to reflect what has actually taken place. God is in the process of redeeming broken people and a broken world—live like it. Live like you have been redeemed. Live like you belong to God’s Kingdom. And Paul begins this section by focusing on what might be the most important thing in reflecting the truth of God’s redemption: unity.
Let’s be careful not to divorce what is being said in this text form our every day experience. Because we live in a broken world with broken people love gets violated. We talked about this last week. When love gets violated people get hurt and disunity happens. Disunity hurts. You know what disunity feels like. You have had this experience with friends or people of the opposite sex or family members. You know the pain of disunity. There is a sense in which I think every person (Christian or not) longs for unity and peace in relationships. I think this is part of the image of God in us that is still retained. We want all of our relationships to be marked with peace and unity. This is indeed the way that God intended.
There are two key statements in this passage. Verse 1 will serve as the foundation for chapters 4-6. Where it says, “live in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called” that is simply another way of saying live in such a way that accurately reflects what God has done in your life. If you have been redeemed live like it. If you have been forgiven live like it. If you have been brought out of the kingdom of death and into the kingdom of light live like it. Everything after this verse will be explaining what “live like it” looks like.
The second key statement in this passage is the one that 4:2-17 is all about; you find it in verse 3, “eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace”. That is what this section is about. So the heading for all of these messages would be verse 1: Accurately reflect what God has done in your life. And the very first thing that describes such a life is unity. If God has given access to the Father to all peoples through the same Spirit then we are to reflect that in our unity with one another. This is part of God’s great global plan to unite all things under Jesus Christ. This is his redeeming broken people and a broken world—part of that is redeeming our relationships with one another.
Notice in verse 3 how it says, “maintain”. That means that if you are a believer your unity with other believers is something that has already been bought. We are to “keep” or “maintain” that unity. I love what Martin Lloyd-Jones says on this, “it is a unity which is produced b the Holy Spirit and him alone. Man cannot produce this, try as he may. Because of the nature of this unity, because it is a spiritual unity, it can be brought into being only as a result of the operation of the Holy Spirit.”
Unity is not optional. It is a part of God’s redemptive process. To sow seeds of disunity is to go against the work of God. I like what one bible commentator says on this, “To live in a manner which mars the unity of the Spirit is to do [so in spite of] the gracious reconciling work of Christ. It is tantamount to saying that his sacrificial death, by which relationships with God and others has been restored, along with the resulting freedom of access to the Father, have no [meaning] to us!”
Tonight we will look at two things: how to keep the unity and the reason for such unity. So, how do we keep unity within the body of Christ?
I. The Call to Unity: How to Maintain Unity Within the Body of Christ
Again the key statement here is verse 3, “maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace”. But this statement has four graces that surround it. These four things tell us what maintaining unity looks like and how it happens. These four graces are humility, gentleness, patience, and loving forbearance.
A. Humility
In verse 2 you will see the word humility. I really think the best definition for humility is the one given by CJ Mahaney, “Honestly assessing ourselves in light of God’s holiness and our sinfulness”. Humility does not mean thinking of yourself lower than you actually are—it means viewing yourself accurately in light of your sinfulness and God’s holiness. This is what an old preacher by the name of JC Philpot has said,
“As a general rule, we learn humility, not by hearing ministers tell us what wicked creatures we are; nor by merely looking into our bosoms and seeing a whole swarm of evils working there; but from being compelled by painful necessity to believe that we are vile, through circumstances and events time after time bringing to light those hidden evils in our heart, which we once thought ourselves pretty free from. We learn humility, not merely by a discovery of what we are, but also by a discovery of what Jesus is. We need a glimpse . . . of Jesus, of His love, of His grace, of His blood. When these two feelings meet together in our bosom . . . our shame, and the Lord's goodness; our guilt, and His forgiveness; our wickedness, and His superabounding mercy; they break us, humble us, and lay us, dissolved in tears of godly sorrow and contrition, at the footstool of mercy!”
Humility looks like a turtle on a fence post. If you see a turtle on a fence post you know that somebody must have helped him out. It is the same thing with us. If you see any graces or beauty in our life the humble person will acknowledge that such graces come only from Jesus. Humility comes from recognizing Jesus as the hero of your life.
Humility maintains unity in the body whereas pride kills unity. Humility allows others to be recognized and honored whereas pride must always be in first place. Pride asserts truth to bolster its ego whereas humility asserts the truth to serve Christ. Pride sees those that differ as enemies and humility sees them as an opportunity to learn.
B. Gentleness
In the Roman world the words humility and gentleness that Paul uses here were considered vices instead of virtues. Even in our culture the word meek or gentle is sometimes seen as an insult. When you think of someone being meek, mild, and gentle you think of someone that serves as a doormat always getting steamrolled by stronger people. You think of the person that is far too quiet. But that is not really the biblical picture. A good picture of gentleness or meekness is Clark Kent. Outwardly he’s an unassuming nerd but inwardly he is faster than a speeding bullet and stronger than a locomotive.
A.W. Tozer said it best when he said:
Gentleness is having a great consideration for others. It is waving your own rights for the sake of someone else. Rather than making sure that I get what I want it is my ambition to serve others. I also like what Sam Storms says about meekness, it is “the willingness to allow others to say about me the same things I readily acknowledge before God.”
Gentleness maintains unity, whereas violence, rudeness, and forcefulness kill unity.
C. Patience
Have you ever seen an old dog with a little puppy? The little puppy keeps yipping at the big dog and nibbling at his ears. Rather than getting annoyed the old dog maintains its posture and doesn’t bit the puppy in response. He puts up with quite a bit of the annoyance. That’s really what biblical patience looks like. Living around broken people means that they are going to make mistakes and it also means that every person is going to have something annoying about them. If we are going to maintain unity then we are going to need this patience. Patience here is allowing for others shortcomings. Rather than getting upset and responding with frustration and anger we endure a lot of annoyance like the old dog with the little puppy.
Patience maintains unity, whereas impatience kills.
D. Loving Forbearance
“Bearing with one another in love” is quite a bit like patience. This is enduring wrong rather than responding in rage. We spoke last week of love growing when holiness grows. This is really the same thing here. The more we grow in Jesus the more apt we are to respond in love rather than rage.
Allow me to briefly summarize these four things. These four things come from really getting the gospel. This is why Paul begins his letter by telling us what God has done on our behalf. This is also why he prayed as he did in 3:14-21. The more we come to grips with what God has done—the more we “get” the gospel—the more we will see these graces in our lives. Humility comes from understanding the gospel. You cannot rightly understand the cross and respond to people with such pride. So, in light of the gospel and for the sake of unity we must not allow pride to reign. Meekness comes from understanding the gospel. You cannot rightly understand the cross and be forceful and jerky. Anytime we are asserting our rights it means that we do not rightly find our identity in Christ. Patience comes from understanding the gospel. You cannot rightly understand the cross and respond with impatience and frustration at other people’s sin. Do you see the ignorance and arrogance of this? If it were not for Christ you would be doing things far more vile than that person. To get frustrated with their level of growth in Christ is arrogant and ignorant. It’s arrogant because you are forgetting grace and it is ignorant because you are probably blind to the log in your own eye. And lastly loving forbearance comes from understanding the gospel. You cannot rightly understand the cross and respond to people in rage. If you really understand the gospel you will put up with quite a bit of junk because you know the big picture.
This aspect of understanding the gospel is where Paul now turns and we will do so ever so briefly.
II. The Grounds for Unity
In verse 4 through 6 Paul begins a list of seven things that believers have in common. I really like this illustration by Chris Vogel: It is an undoubtedly fictional story of a man that was walking across a bridge one day, only to find a man standing on the edge about to jump. So, this guy runs over and tries to stop the guy. “Stop, Don’t do it”. “Why, shouldn’t I jump”? “Well there’s so much to live for!” “Like what?” “Well, do you believe in God?” “Yes”. “Me too!” “Are you Christian, Buddhist, or something else? “ Christian. “Catholic or Protestant”? Protestant. Me too, Episcopalian or Baptist? Baptist. Me too, Southern Baptist or Northern Baptist? Southern. Me too. Are you a General Southern Baptist or a Reformed Particular Southern Baptist. Reformed Particular Southern Baptist. Me too, Reformed Particular Southern Baptist, Reformation of 1879 or Reformation of 1915? 1915. DIE HERETIC SCUM. And the man helped out the desperate man’s cause—he pushed him off the bridge.
It’s really sad that within the church we have so much in common but minor things can cause disunity. Now let’s be clear there are two things being asserted here—one is that believers are united around these essential things and therefore all minor differences must be dealt with in humility, gentleness, patience, and loving forbearance. But there is also something else being asserted here—unity is grounded in truth. Unity for the sake of unity is not what Paul is saying here. This is unity based on something.
1. One body—we have been called into the same group of redeemed believers. There is only one church—one bride of Christ. This is, as Peter O’Brien has said the “heavenly gathering, assembled around Christ, in which believers now participate.” We have been united into this one body. There are no other options. If you are not a part of this body then you are not a part of Christ. Certainly there are local churches and individuals—but this very fact unites us to believers from all around the world. There is only one church.
2. One Spirit—the Holy Spirit indwells every believer. There are not 2 million Holy Spirit’s there is only one. The very same Spirit of God indwells every believer. Therefore we are united in that regard. If you do not have the Spirit of God you are not part of the body of Christ and if not part of the body of Christ you know nothing of the blessings spelled out in Ephesians 1 through 3.
3. One hope—When Paul says in verse 4, “just as you were called in the one hope of your calling” he is pointing to the destination that believers share. We all have the same blessings spelled out in Ephesians 1 through 3. We all have the same destination. We have all been adopted, justified, forgiven, and redeemed. We have the same hope. You do not have your own personal heaven and I do not have my own personal heaven. We each have the same destination.
Again I turn to Peter O’Brien when he says, “As a foretaste of this grand hope the very existence of the church, a society of pardoned rebels, a multiracial unity in the one body, is the means God uses to manifest his richly diverse wisdom…a sense of expectancy, therefore, should motivate and unify their actions.”
4. One Lord—This is a reference to Jesus. We all have the same king, the same Lord, the same Savior. Jesus loves you just as much as he loves me. He does not have higher affections for some and not others. He loves His Bride—every member that comprises the church, the entire body—His Bride.
5. One faith---this either means that it is by the same type of faith that we are saved or it refers to the body of doctrine that all believers hold in common. It would be easier to explain if it were the first one—that it is through the same type of faith in Christ that we are saved, but I think it is actually referring to the body of doctrine. So, what Paul is saying is that as believers we hold to the same basic beliefs.
6. One baptism—this is another difficult thing because we do not all have the same method of baptism. Some baptize babies. Some believe baptism saves you. Some believe baptism is only an outward sign of an inner reality. Some baptize babies believing that this saves them. Some immerse people in water, some only sprinkle, some do both. So, how in the world are we united on this? More than likely what is in view here is not so much the method of baptism (although it could be, because more than likely they were unified in the early church around the method of baptism) but what is in view here is probably the entrance into the kingdom. We all are saved the same way. I know that makes it sound like baptism saves you which is why I do not like that option—but I think what Paul is saying is that we are immersed into Christ in the same way—and I think this is looking back at grace through faith.
7. One God and Father of all—this last one really sums it up. This is a reference to the universal sovereignty and presence of God. Meaning that even if we are not so much united in these other six things we are united in the fact that God is Creator and Lord over all.
So what does all of this mean for us practically? It means that living lives united to other believers is absolutely critical. Perhaps you have heard it said that you will never grow spiritually unless you are reading your Bibles every day. And I think I really agree with that statement. I would like to add another—not as a load or a legalistic regulation, but saying if you want to grow spiritually then you will do it through being united to a local body of believers. You will not grow apart from them. And when you are united then we must see these things cultivated. So, perhaps a good summary would be to say get the gospel—forsake your ridiculous pride and need to be right and get along with other believers. Pursue maintaining unity like your soul depends upon it—that’s the type of urgency Paul is saying these things.
Now this text does not primarily address non-believers but believers. There is a word here for you if you do not know Christ. And that is that what you are looking for is found in these seven things. The peace and unity and redemption that your heart longs for is found in the person and work of Jesus Christ.

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