The Peacemaking Church

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— 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).

Conclusion

 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

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