Sunday Sermon: ‘Maintaining Spiritual Unity’

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Ephesians 4:1 I therefore, the prisoner of the Lord, beseech you that ye walk worthy of the vocation wherewith ye are called, 2 With all lowliness and meekness, with longsuffering, forbearing one another in love; 3 Endeavouring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. 4 There is one body, and one Spirit, even as ye are called in one hope of your calling; 5 One Lord, one faith, one baptism, 6 One God and Father of all, who is above all, and through all, and in you all.

It is God’s will for His children to dwell together in unity. That is part of living a life worthy to be called Christian.

Psalm 133:1 Behold, how good and how pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together in unity!

Some interpret that to mean that unity requires every group that calls itself Christian, to set aside any doctrinal differences, so that they might come together with others as one. Yet the Bible teaches us that unity is not found ‘apart from the truth’, but ‘in the truth.’

Ephesians 4:11 And he gave some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers; 12 For the perfecting (equipping) of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying (building up) of the body of Christ: 13 Till we all come in the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect (full grown, mature) man, unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ:

Yet even among Bible believing people there are sometimes differences of opinions and interpretations. For instance, there are God-fearing men who believe that God has chosen who can and who can’t be saved, and other God-fearing men who believe that salvation is whosoever will. Many such God-fearing men have been debating this for centuries. Why? Because there are verses of scripture within the Bible that seem to say both. To be honest with you, over the years I have at times leaned both ways, depending upon which passage I studied last. Does that mean that I am wishy-washy or that the Bible contradicts itself? No it means that we with minds that are limited, are not able to fully comprehend the mind of God that has no limit. The finite can’t comprehend the infinite. Paul says – ‘For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known.’ (1 Cor 13:12) The thought here is – we’re often trying to understand deep spiritual truths like someone trying reading to read the Bible by looking in a mirror. Even the great apostle Paul confessed that he understood only in part. The person who pretends that he or she knows it all is only revealing their spiritual immaturity and lack of humility. My mom used to tell me a little story about two Quakers who were talking one day and one said to the other – ‘Brother, I sometimes think everyone in this world is a bit strange except for thee and me, and sometimes I wonder about thee!’ In other words – I’m the only one who always has everything right.

Yet the disunity in many churches is not a disunity based upon doctrinal differences, but rather personal opinions and preferences. James teaches us that many of the conflicts that arise among believers is due to the selfish desires that war within us. ‘We want – we think – we feel – we believe!’ More churches are split over the color of the carpet than doctrinal differences, and as we will see in today’s study, we as God’s children have to get over ourselves if we are going to walk worthy of our calling.

Unity in a church is a precious thing. The Psalmist compares it to the fragrant ointment that was used to anoint the heads of priests. Paul teaches us that it is a gift from the Holy Spirit, over which the church must do everything it can to guard and to protect.

Ephesians 4:3 Endeavouring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.

‘Endeavoring to keep the unity of the Spirit’ means that unity is something that we must work at and give every effort to protect. We can’t take for granted that it’s just going to happen. The truth is, Satan is going to do everything he can to disrupt the Spirit’s unity. As we see in a later study, conflict is fertile ground for the devil to set up camp and work. Without this unity in the Spirit, a church cannot grow or accomplish its purpose in reaching the world for Christ. Jesus said, “By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another.” (Jn 13:35)

Paul is going to teach us three great truths about maintaining unity in the church. These three great truths involve our Attitudes, our Actions, and our Affinity.

I. Our Attitude

Paul begins by discussing our attitude.

Ephesians 2:2 With all lowliness and meekness, with longsuffering, forbearing one another in love.

A. Our Attitude About Ourselves

Selfishness is the source of much of the sin in our lives. We’re all naturally selfish, self-centered people. No one has to teach a child to grab a toy and say – ‘Mine!’ That’s part of their fallen nature. Unfortunately, most people never grow up or out of that self-centered attitude and therefore they bring this self-centeredness into their homes, workplaces, and even the church. Therefore the first thing Paul addresses is our attitude about ourselves.

1. With All Lowliness

The Greek word used here refers to something not rising far from the ground. Something low to the ground. That doesn’t mean that we should go through life, always putting ourselves down. It’s not an inferiority complex. This may sound strange, but some people pretend to be humble in order to gain attention. Some people try to mask their self-centeredness with a false humility.

It’s not so much – ‘thinking little of ourselves’ as it is – ‘thinking little about ourselves.’ In other words, get your mind off of yourself. Paul used this same word when he wrote to the Philippians –

Philippians 2:3 Let nothing be done through strife or vainglory; but in lowliness of mind let each esteem other better than themselves. 4 Look not every man on his own things, but every man also on the things of others. 5 Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus: 6 Who, being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God: 7 But made himself of no reputation, (He made Himself as nothing) and took upon him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men: 8 And being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross.

Christ would have never gone to the cross if He had been ruled by self-centeredness. Paul says – ‘Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus…’ In other words – think like Christ, who although He had every right to exalt self, instead chose to humble Himself, so that He might accomplish the will of God and serve others.

2. And With Meekness

Many of your translations say – ‘gentleness.’ One translation refers to is as being considerate of the needs of others. The particular word Paul used here refers to an attitude that is the exact  opposite of self-assertiveness, rudeness, and harshness. It’s a kind, gentle spirit that truly values and cares for others.

In his letter to the Colossians, Paul associates this word with other characteristics such as: mercy, kindness, humility, and longsuffering. Using this same word, Paul instructed Timothy –

2 Timothy 2:24 And the servant of the Lord must not strive; but be gentle unto all men, apt to teach, patient, 25 In meekness instructing those that oppose themselves; if God peradventure will give them repentance to the acknowledging of the truth; 26 And that they may recover themselves out of the snare of the devil, who are taken captive by him at his will.

Most importantly, we should understand that lowliness and meekness are a part of the nature of Christ.

Matthew 11:28 Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. 29 Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls. 30 For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.

B. Our Attitude About Others

In connection with our attitude about ourselves, Paul also instructs about our attitude towards others. Naturally the two go hand-in-hand.

Ephesians 2:2 With all lowliness and meekness, with longsuffering, forbearing one another in love.

1. With Longsuffering

The simplest definition of longsuffering is – ‘willing to suffer for a long time.’ It refers to a spirit that is ‘slow to get angry’, vs. someone who is always ‘quick tempered.’ It’s a word that is often associated with patience and endurance.

The Bible speaks of two kinds of endurance: endurance in a difficult situation and endurance with difficult people. Here Paul is referring to enduring difficult people, which is probably the hardest of the two. One resource says that longsuffering is self restraint which does not hastily retaliate a wrong.

One great truth I have learned down through the years is that you can trust God to always do what is right. Rather than believing that you always have to have a come-back or defend yourself, turn the matter over to God and let Him do the chastening. Believe it or not but it works. God will stand in opposition to the proud, while giving His grace to the humble.

2. Forebearing One Another In Love

To emphasize even more the need of this kind of attitude, Paul adds another word – ‘Forebearing.’  The simplest definition of forebearing is putting up with someone or something. The Amplified Version refers to is as – “making allowances because you love one another.”

A clever little poem says –

To dwell above with saints we love,
O that will be glory
But to dwell below with saints we know,
Well, that’s another story.

II. Actions

Ephesians 4:3 Endeavouring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.

We cannot assume that there will always be peace among God’s children. Unfortunately the old flesh sometimes raises its ugly head and there is conflict in the church. Therefore Paul encourages us to make haste to protect the unity in the church and to do so with great diligence.

One great spiritual truth that I have always tried to keep before me is what Proverbs 6 tells us. “These six things doth the LORD hate: yea, seven are an abomination unto him …” Among the seven things God hates is – “… he that soweth discord among brethren.”

In contrast to that Jesus said, “Blessed are the peacemakers: for they shall be called the children of God.” (Mt 5:9) Not the troublemakers, but the peacemakers.

A great example of this is seen in the spirit of two great spiritual leaders of a past century – George Whitefield and John Wesley. Though there were several differences between the two men, most distinctly was that Whitefield was a Calvinist, who believed that God had chosen who would and who wouldn’t be saved; while Wesley was an Armenian who believed that salvation was for – whosoever will.

The doctrinal differences between these two men could have led to great disunity and harm to the cause of Christ. Below is a letter from Whitefield to Wesley concerning this matter –

My honored friend and brother…hearken to a child who is willing to wash your feet. I beseech you, by the mercies of God in Christ Jesus our Lord, if you would have my love confirmed toward you.… Why should we dispute, when there is no possibility of convincing? Will it not, in the end, destroy brotherly love, and insensibly take from us that cordial union and sweetness of soul, which I pray God may always subsist between us? How glad would the enemies of our Lord be to see us divided….Honored sir, let us offer salvation freely to all by the blood of Jesus, and whatever light God has communicated to us, let us freely communicate to others.

The unity in the body of Christ comes through the power of the Holy Spirit; yet as God’s people, we must be the ones to make sure that it is present and active. The verbs Paul uses in this passage are in the active voice, which means we as God’s children, must be active in doing this; and they are in the present tense which means that we must continually be doing this.

‘Guard this unity’ Paul says. That’s what the word  ‘keep’ means. It’s the word often used to refer to a solider who stood guard over something. Many believe that deacons should especially be active in doing this. They are servants who often go around putting out brush fires.

How do we as a body guard the unity that the Spirit seeks to bring? While preparing for this message I was reminded that most problems are started in the church by our tongue. Consider what James says about the tongue –

James 3:5 Even so the tongue is a little member, and boasteth great things. Behold , how great a matter a little fire kindleth!

9 Therewith bless we God, even the Father; and therewith curse we men, which are made after the similitude of God. 10 Out of the same mouth proceedeth blessing and cursing. My brethren, these things ought not so to be.

Paul teaches us that we should ‘Endeavor to keep the unity’. The verbs he uses in this passage are all in the active voice and present tense. That means that we as God’s children must constantly be active in seeking to keep the unity in the church. ‘To keep’ is a term used to describe a soldier who guards over something. Most churches who are good at doing this have an active group of deacons who are full of the Holy Spirit and who are attentive to putting out brush fires.

III. Affinity

The affinity means – kinship. If I have an affinity to something, I have a kinship or connection to it.

Ephesians 4:3 Endeavouring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.

It is the Holy Spirit who brings this unity or bond to the body of Christ. Consider what Paul wrote to the Corinthians –

1 Corinthians 12:13 For by one Spirit are we all baptized into one body, whether we be Jews or Gentiles, whether we be bond or free; and have been all made to drink into one Spirit.

The baptism of the Spirit is when the Holy Spirit brings us all together into one body. On the day of Pentecost, there were 120 individual followers of Christ who were brought together into one unit called the church, by the baptism of the Spirit. Since then, every time someone accepts Christ, they are at the moment of their new birth, baptized into the death, burial and resurrection of Christ and thus made a part of the body of Christ.

Today there are denominations and denominations within denominations. Yet consider what scripture teaches –

Ephesians 4:4 There is one body, and one Spirit, even as ye are called in one hope of your calling; 5 One Lord, one faith, one baptism, 6 One God and Father of all, who is above all, and through all, and in you all.

There is one body – the body of Christ. (Regardless of how many denominations and factions within those denominations men may create, the bottom line is – either a man is in the body of Christ or he’s not.)

One Spirit – the Holy Spirit. (By one Spirit are all true believers made a part of the body of Christ, and it is by one Spirit that all true believers drink from the rivers of living water.)

One hope of your calling – that is forgiveness and eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.

One Lord – Jesus Christ who is the head of the church.

One faith – salvation by grace through faith in Jesus Christ.

One baptism – baptism by the Spirit into the body of Christ.

One God and Father of all – Salvation is being born-again by the Spirit into the family of God and God the Father becomes the Father of them all.

Who is above all, and through all, and in you all – It’s all by Him and for Him.

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