The Peacemaking Church The Powerful Witness of Unity
As a prisoner for the Lord, then, I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received. 2Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. 3Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. 4There is one body and one Spirit– just as you were called to one hope when you were called–5one Lord, one faith, one baptism; 6one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.
Ephesians 4:1-6; sermon uses verses 1-16
Purpose: To help believers to understand that true Christian unity enhances the productivity of the church and overflows in a positive witness to the outside world that draws others to Christ.
Key Principle from Small Group Study #2: Living at peace is a key to our Christian witness.
Introduction: Unity has an irresistible power.
One of the most dramatic scenes in ancient war movies is that of a battering ram smashing against the gate of a besieged castle. Whether we are watching an old classic like Ivanhoe or a recent blockbuster like The Lord of the Rings, we all sense that the end is coming … the battering ram is wheeled toward the gate amidst a shower of arrows and smashed against the city’s doors again and again.
These mighty rams provide a vivid illustration of the irresistible power of unity. No army ever broke through a gate by cutting a huge log into pieces and sending its men to beat on the gate with separate sticks of wood! No matter how long or hard they pounded, their individual blows would never carry sufficient force to break down the thick planks of a well-built gate. But if that large log is kept intact and hurled against a gate through the coordinated efforts of many men, its heavy blows will soon shatter all resistance and open the way to victory.
This is the kind of force Jesus calls us to imagine when he describes the irresistible power of his church in Matthew 16:17-18. Responding to Peter’s great confession that Jesus is “the Christ, the Son of the living God,” our Lord said, “’Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by man, but by my Father in heaven. And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it.’”
The church of Jesus Christ has now been smashing against the gates of hell for two thousand years. At times we have seen great victories, with evil and wickedness being overturned, the gospel going forth in power, and many people being rescued from the dominion of darkness and brought into the kingdom of light.
But at other times, the church has not only failed to make headway against the strongholds of darkness, but actually lost ground before its evil forces. The reason for our tragic defeats can usually be traced to our lack of unity.
Instead of smashing against the gates of hell with an irresistible unity, we believers are prone to splinter the body of Christ into individual pieces and pound away at the gates of our enemy with uncoordinated and ineffectual blows. As long as we keep beating away with our little sticks and individual agendas, our witness for Christ is robbed of its power and Satan can watch and laugh at us.
How can we overcome our inclination towards splintering and learn to maintain the unity that will advance the kingdom of God? Listen to what the Lord teaches us through the pen of the apostle Paul in Ephesians 4:1-16. (Read entire passage.)
4 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. 4 There is one body and one Spirit—just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call— 5 one Lord, one faith, one baptism, 6 one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all. 7 But grace was given to each one of us according to the measure of Christ’s gift. 8 Therefore it says, “When he ascended on high he led a host of captives, and he gave gifts to men.” 9 (In saying, “He ascended,” what does it mean but that he had also descended into the lower regions, the earth? 10 He who descended is the one who also ascended far above all the heavens, that he might fill all things.) 11 And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, 12 to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, 13 until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, 14 so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes. 15 Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, 16 from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love.
What is the nature of Christian unity?
The apostle Paul was a constant proponent of Christian unity. In one letter after another, he encouraged and taught the early Christians to maintain and exercise the unity God has built into his church. We see this in the first part of our text for today: “Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace” (Eph. 4:3).
It is essential to realize that people do not create unity—God does. In Ephesians 4:3, Paul does not call us to “create unity,” or “make unity.” Instead he says, “Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace” (emphasis added). True Christian unity originates in the unity of the Holy Trinity: this unity is given to the church by the Father through the Spirit because of what Christ did for us at the cross (see Rom. 15:5; Eph. 2:11-22). As Ephesians 2:22 promises, “And in him [Christ] you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit” (emphasis added).
Since true unity originates in God, we cannot destroy it. It is always there, waiting for us to take hold of it. But even though we cannot destroy unity, we can fail to cultivate it, to experience it, and to demonstrate it. When we do so, we rob ourselves of God’s blessing and weaken our witness for Christ.
We must also note that Christian unity is radically different from anything the world has to offer. Non-Christians can rally passionately and effectively around any number of causes, including political agendas, moral issues such as poverty or racism, or environmental concerns such as global warming. In contrast, Christian unity is not built around a cause; it is centered on a Person—the Lord Jesus Christ. As we contemplate the immensity of Jesus’ love and sacrifice for us, as well as the glory of his deity, we should be inspired to pursue a unity that far outshines anything the world could possibly contrive (see Phil. 2:1-2).
So how can we define unity? Christian unity is “being one in spirit and purpose” to love Jesus Christ and make him known to others. Consider just a few of the passages that describe our unity in Christ:
“If you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any fellowship with the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and purpose” (Phil. 2:1-2).
“May the God who gives endurance and encouragement give you a spirit of unity among yourselves as you follow Christ Jesus, 6 so that with one heart and mouth you may glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ” (Rom. 15:5-6).
As these passages teach, all Christians should share a unified, passionate desire to love Jesus, to serve and build up his church, and to make his gospel known to others.
Five commitments needed to cultivate, maintain, and demonstrate unity
How do we cultivate, maintain, and demonstrate the unity that God gives to us through Christ? We can begin by committing ourselves to live out five basic principles of church life that are described in our text for today.
First, we need a commitment to love Jesus Christ above all things and to sacrifice all of our mini-agendas for his sake (Eph. 4:1-2, 15-16; Matt. 22:37; Gal. 2:20). It is fine to give yourself wholeheartedly to a particular missions focus, worship style, or moral issue, but every one of these agendas must take second place to the priority of living a life that reflects the love of Christ and models his humility and gentleness towards all who have put their trust in him.
Second, God calls us to be committed to sound doctrine. Many people think that the way to avoid controversy in the church is to avoid serious doctrine. God knows differently. Without sound doctrinal teaching, the body of Christ will dissolve into a myriad of personal opinions on issues that God himself has defined in his Word. This is why he tells us that there is “one body and one Spirit—just as you were called to one hope when you were called—one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all” (Eph. 4:4-6, emphasis added).
Third, unity requires a commitment to develop Christ-like character, especially humility and submission. Pride is the great enemy of unity. This why so many passages in Scripture that call for unity in the church also urge us to cultivate humility and mutual submission. Just before Paul calls us to unity in Ephesians 4:3, he urges us to “Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love” (v. 2). He warns us in Romans 12:3, “Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the measure of faith God has given you” (see also 1 Pet. 3:8). And in Philippians 2:3-4, Paul exhorts us to “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others.”
The fourth way that we can maintain unity in our church is to make a commitment to respect and pursue God-given diversity and accept one another as Christ has accepted us. In verse 11 of our text, Paul teaches that God has given a diversity of gifts and callings to the people in his church. This rich, God-given diversity is also described in Romans 12:3-8, where Paul writes:
For by the grace given me I say to every one of you: Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the measure of faith God has given you. 4 Just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, 5 so in Christ we who are many form one body, and each member belongs to all the others. 6 We have different gifts, according to the grace given us. If a man’s gift is prophesying, let him use it in proportion to his faith. 7 If it is serving, let him serve; if it is teaching, let him teach; 8 if it is encouraging, let him encourage; if it is contributing to the needs of others, let him give generously; if it is leadership, let him govern diligently; if it is showing mercy, let him do it cheerfully.
The same theme appears in 1 Corinthians 12:12-27 and Colossians 3:11. By God’s design, his family is filled with people of all races, ages, and economic classes.
This rich diversity makes the church more interesting, creative, and vigorous. But it can also lead to comparing, envying, and judging (see Rom. 14:10; 1 Cor. 1:10-12). Because of this, God commands us to “Accept one another then, just as Christ accepted you, in order to bring praise to God” (Rom. 15:7).
Please understand that unity is not the same thing as uniformity. Instead of imposing one worship style, one evangelistic technique, or one ministry priority on others, we can delight in and support many different ways to expand God’s kingdom. Therefore, the church at its best is like an orchestra, with many different instruments blending together under one conductor to play complementary parts in one glorious composition.
The fifth element needed to maintain unity is a commitment to strive earnestly and prayerfully to pursue peace, resolve conflict, and preserve relationships despite personal differences. Having planted numerous Christian churches, the apostle Paul knew that conflict frequently threatened the unity and witness of local congregations (see Rom. 14:1-4; 1 Cor. 1:10; Gal. 5:15). Therefore, most of his letters contain an exhortation such as that found in Ephesians 4:2-3: “Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace.”
Paul and other New Testament writers knew that Satan is always seeking to sow seeds of conflict, offense, and division in the church, hoping to destroy our witness for Christ (James 4:1-7; Eph. 4:26-27; 2 Tim. 2:22-26; cf. John 13:34-35; 17:20-23). As Paul teaches, the best way to stop these seeds of conflict from growing is to be humble and gentle toward those who irritate us, to patiently overlook minor offenses, to bear with those who disappoint us, and to lovingly correct those whose sins are too serious to overlook (see Prov. 19:11; Luke 6:27-28; Rom. 12:18; Gal. 6:1).
As we embrace these attitudes and practices, we can say with one voice, “Of course we have conflict in our church—what group of normal people doesn’t? But Jesus has transformed the way we deal with conflict. We may discuss our differences candidly and fervently, but we refuse to let them divide us. Our relationships are a testimony to the reconciling power of the gospel of Christ, and we will strive with every ounce of our strength to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace.”
The evidence and fruit of unity
As we pursue unity in Christ, God promises to bless us and improve our ability to demonstrate his love to others. We will all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ. Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of men in their deceitful scheming. Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will in all things grow up into him who is the Head, that is Christ. From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself in love, as each part does its work.
What would our church look like if we drew daily on God’s grace and pursued this kind of unity with all our hearts? What is the evidence and fruit of being united together in Christ?
First, we would see a harmony of shared lives, with people regularly meeting, eating, praying, worshiping, and reaching decisions together (Acts. 1:14; 2:46; Rom. 12:16; 1 Pet. 3:8).
Second, there would be no worldly discrimination based on race, gender, age, or economic status (Gal. 3:26-29). People from all walks of life could walk into our church and immediately feel comfortable and welcome. In fact, rather than waiting for strangers to walk in, we would be deliberately reaching out and inviting people with diverse backgrounds to join us for Christ-centered fellowship.
A third evidence and fruit of unity would be that we would all work together to seek genuine understanding and agreement on controversial issues. We would not try to impose a rigid uniformity on others or to force them out through a political power play (Phil. 2:1-4).
A fourth mark of real unity would be that people would feel a freedom to respectfully disagree with one another (Phil. 3:15).
This spirit of harmony would also enable us to work productively toward common kingdom goals and invest our spiritual and material resources far more effectively (Acts 4:32-37).
Another benefit of true unity would be durable relationships. By God’s grace, we would not give up on difficult friendships or troubled marriages, resign from frustrating ministry positions, and hop from church to church. Our strong relationships would show the world what it means to be committed to one another just as Jesus is committed to us (Eph. 5:25; Col. 3:12-15).
Most importantly, true unity would enhance our witness for Christ and enable us to fulfill Jesus’ prayer for us in John 17:21-23:
[I pray] that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one: I in them and you in me. May they be brought to complete unity to let the world know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me (see also John 13:34-35).
One of the most beautiful descriptions of Christian unity is found in Acts 2:42-47:
They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. 43 Everyone was filled with awe, and many wonders and miraculous signs were done by the apostles. 44 All the believers were together and had everything in common. 45 Selling their possessions and goods, they gave to anyone as he had need. 46 Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, 47 praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.
As this passage shows, true Christian unity can provide a powerful and appealing witness to the world. It reveals the redeeming and reconciling power of the Savior. It shows that relationships can withstand the disappointments and pains of daily life. Unity also enables the church to resist the pressures of the world, to care for those in need, and to take the gospel to the whole world.
Let us commit ourselves to this kind of unity. When we do, God will be pleased to use our church to smash against the gates of hell, to free many people from the bondage of sin and death, and to extend the kingdom of the Son he loves.
Challenge: What will you do today, by God’s grace, to cultivate, maintain, and demonstrate unity in your marriage, family, workplace, or here at church?
This message from Peacemaker Ministries brought to you by Grace Lutheran Church, Web and Park Street, Mountain View, Arkansas. For prayer or more information, contact Pastor Kenneth Taglauer by email: [email protected]. A Pass it On Project