What Price Unity?
Reading: Ephesians Ch. 4v1-6.
The nature of membership in any organization is that when one joins he or she undertakes an obligation to live and act in harmony with the standards of the group. The aims and objectives of the group become the aims and objectives of the individual. For instance, citizens have an obligation to abide by the laws of their country. Employees are likewise obligated to work by the rules and promote the purposes and goals of the company. Service clubs, like the Lion's Club, expect their members to pull together and promote the worthy causes for which the clubs exist. On an athletic team, members are required to play as the coach directs and as the rules of the sport dictate. Such loyalties and obligations under-gird the social order of human society and no society could function without them.
In the new society, which Christ called into existence, the church, the same principle holds true. We have already seen in the first three chapters of Ephesians that we are now citizens of a New Kingdom and have a New Allegiance, we are members of a New Family and have a New Fellowship, and we are also living stones in a New Temple and have a New Purpose. In these first three chapters, we have seen what Christ has done for us. We have seen our privileged position in Him. We have seen the biblical basis of who we are. The position and privileges of the believer's identity in Christ have been described and now the call comes to live according to who we are.
This from Watchman Nee: “Alone I cannot serve the Lord effectively, and he will spare no pains to teach me this. He will bring things to an end, allowing doors to close and leaving me ineffectively knocking my head against a wall until I realize that I need the help of the Body as well as of the Lord”. End Quote! Watchman Nee: Leadership, Vol. 9, no. 3.
The obligations and requirements of this new society come along with the privilege of being a part of it and for us to enjoy the blessings of being part of the church we must give our best to the church. The text before us, Ephesians Ch.4v1-6, which we will divide into two parts for this message, has some very telling truths which must grip our hearts and minds if we are to enjoy our church life.
What is the preciousness of unity? What is the basis for unity in the church? Upon what does that unity depend? And how are we to maintain that unity? These are important questions, and they are all answered in our text. Here we find what we need in order to walk down the path of unity. But a mere understanding of the concepts will not be enough. What we have before us is a pattern for living. As we fulfil our obligation to obey what we find here, then we will experience unity. We will never become a church that effectively reaches out to those who are missing out if we shoot our wounded and major on the minuses. Instead of being fishers of men, as Christ has called us, we will be keepers of an ever-shrinking aquarium.
Next time you see geese heading south for the winter, flying along in V formation, you might be interested in knowing what science has discovered about why they fly that way. It has been learned that as each bird flaps its wings, it creates an-uplift for the bird immediately following. By flying in a V formation, the whole flock adds at least 71 percent greater flying range than if each bird flew on its own. (Christians who share a common direction and a sense of community can get where they are going quicker and easier, because they are travelling on the thrust of one another.) Whenever a goose falls out of formation, it suddenly feels the drag and resistance of trying to go it alone, and quickly gets back into formation to take advantage of the lifting power of the bird immediately in front. (If we have as much sense as a goose, we will stay in formation with those who are headed the same way we are going.) When the lead goose gets tired, he rotates back in the wing and another goose flies point. (It pays to take turns doing hard jobs--with people at church or with geese flying south.) The geese honk from behind to encourage those up front to keep up their speed. (What do we say when we honk from behind?) Finally, when a goose gets sick, or is wounded by a shot and falls out, two geese fall out of formation and follows him down to help and protect him. They stay with him until he is either able to fly, or until he is dead, and then they launch out on their own or with another formation to catch up with their original group. (If people knew we would stand by them like that in church, they would push down these walls to get in.) You see, all we have to do in order to attract those who are missing back to church is to demonstrate to the world that we have as much sense as geese here at church. That seems little enough price to pay to win the lost and minister to one another. Even geese have sense enough to know it works every time. - James S. Hewett, Illustrations Unlimited (Wheaton: Tyndale House Publishers, Inc, 1988) pp. 125-126.
1. An Exhortation To Unity! Ephesians! Ch.4v1-3.
“I, therefore, the prisoner of the Lord entreat you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling with which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, showing forbearance to one another in love, being diligent to preserve the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace”.
a. Here Is A Powerful Principle: “Walk worthy” v1a.
As this chapter opens, Paul issues a call to a worthy walk. It is, in effect, a plea. It was a plea based on his understanding of what Christ was doing in His church. Paul understood Christ's purpose. And he saw all things as they related to that purpose.
We are to walk worthy of our calling and walk worthy of Christ:
You see the connection is with Him, not each other. A worthy walk with Christ makes possible a worthy walk with Christians. “God is faithful, by whom ye were called unto the fellowship of his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord” (1 Corinthians Ch.1v9). Sometimes we tend to see things only as they relate to us. But that is blurred vision. The challenge for those who lead God's people is to avoid blurred vision to see the broad view of how things impact the whole. So, Paul's plea is based on the overview his position as a leader had given him. The plea is to walk worthy of the calling with which you have been called. Worthy means literally “praiseworthy” it comes from the word “Axios” it is being balanced. In other words, walk what you talk! This is not merely a suggestion by Paul, the word “beseech” could be translated “entreats” us, which means “to call along side” in order to admonish or exhort. As a spiritual leader, he is calling those in the church to live according to the standards of their calling. But he is not calling us to do anything that we have not already been given grace to do. So, what follows is not only what we are obligated to do, but also what we have been given grace in order to be able to do. It is the grace, which enables us to live in such a way that we preserve the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.
b. Here Is A Pertinent Practice: v2.
Look at the characteristics of this grace. It seems that unity can only be preserved as we apply words like humility, gentleness, patience, forbearance, love, diligent, and peace to our lives.
Humility means seeing one's self aright. It means being honest with you.
Gentleness could also be translated “meekness.” Meekness is not weakness and gentleness doesn't mean being wishy-washy. The idea behind gentleness is “power under control.” In the Greek language, the word was used of wild horses that were broken and trained.
Patience is sometimes translated by “long-suffering.” Humility and gentleness combine to produce patience.
Forbearance is also a product of humility, gentleness, and patience. The idea here is to hold one another up, or to sustain or support one another. We are told this operates in love or “putting with” for the sake of keeping unity.
All of these are characteristics of Christ. They are the characteristics, which combine to produce the nature of Christ in us. Only as we have these characteristics do we find ourselves in a place where unity is possible!
c. Here Is A Peaceful Purpose: v3.
If these characteristics abide, then we will find ourselves being diligent to preserve the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. The word diligent means that we are eager or zealous in our efforts. We are eager because the unity of the Spirit is worth guarding. The word translated as preserve literally means “to guard” or “to keep.” But we are not guarding organizational unity; we are guarding the unity of the Spirit. The Spirit of God has brought us into the bond of peace by reconciling us to God. Now we enjoy peace with God, the peace of God, and peace with one another. That is what is meant by the unity of the Spirit. And the characteristics of humility, gentleness, patience, and forbearing love, all collaborate together to make us eager to preserve that unity. Unity is greatly disturbed when we stop displaying that meekness and humility Paul speaks, unity is totally fractured when we stop endeavouring to keep that unity.
“And above all these things put on love, which is the bond of maturity. And let the peace of God rule in your hearts, to which also you are called in one body; and be ye thankful” (Colossians Ch.3v14-15).
2. The Essentials Of Unity! Ephesians Ch.4v4-6.
“There is one body and one Spirit, just as also you were called in one hope of your calling; one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all who is over all and through all and in all”.
We have a unity that is based on biblical principles. The ground of our unity is what God has done as it is revealed in His Word and its wholesome ground! That is, it is ground in which something wholesome, good, tasteful, acceptable and precious will grow.
a. The Fullness Of The Spirit:
You can attempt to have unity on grounds that are not biblical. Some people may say, we are not interested in biblical doctrines, but in love. Let's forget our doctrines and just love one another, then we will be united. Outwardly that may sound well and good but Paul did not begin his discussion of unity until he had first laid a biblical foundation. What he mentions here in verses four through six is merely a recap of what he has already established in chapters one through three. He says there is one body. Every believer is placed into the Body of Christ when they are born again. And this one body has its expression in the local church. There is one Spirit. The same Spirit dwells within each believer, so that there is interconnectedness to us all. And it is this Spirit which produces unity.
We were born of the Spirit:
“The wind bloweth where it willeth, and thou hearest the sound of it, but canst not tell from where it cometh, and where it goeth; so is every one that is born of the Spirit” (John Ch.3v8).
We were sealed by the Spirit:
“In whom ye also trusted, after that ye heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation: in whom also after that ye believed, ye were sealed with that holy Spirit of promise, which is the earnest of our inheritance until the redemption of the purchased possession, unto the praise of his glory” (Ephesians Ch.1v13-14).
We are indwelt by the Spirit:
“But ye are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if so be that the Spirit of God dwell in you. Now if any man have not the Spirit of Christ, he is none of his” (Romans Ch.8v9).
We are baptised by the Spirit:
“For by one Spirit were we all baptised into one body, whether we be Jews or Greeks, whether we be bond or free; and have been all made to drink into one Spirit” (1 Corinthians Ch.12v13).
Praise God for the wonderful work of the Spirit in our lives.
Every time we say, "I believe in the Holy Spirit," we mean that we believe that there is a living God able and willing to enter human personality and change it. J. B. Phillips, Leadership, Vol. 2, no. 1.
b. The Focus On The Son:
There is one hope of our calling. This is the hope we have of Christ's return to take us all to heaven. Those who are expecting Christ to return will tend to be peacemakers rather than troublemakers. A firm hope in the return of our Lord Jesus will turn our thoughts from earthly things to heavenly things.
There is one Lord. As believers, we all serve the Lord Jesus Christ. If we serve the same Lord, then we should be able to walk together in unity. But if our Lord is not our own preference and desire, then we will be divided.
There is one faith. This is the central body of truth, which Christ has given to His church, and revealed in His Word. Jude calls it “the faith which was once delivered to the saints.” If you depart from “the faith,” then you bring about disunity within the Body of Christ.
There is one baptism. Here Paul is probably referring to the baptism discussed in 1 Corinthians Ch. 12v13. This is the baptism whereby the believer is baptized into the Body of Christ at conversion.
c. The Fatherhood of Sovereignty:
And finally, there is one God and Father. This may be another way of simply saying that we are all in one family. It is the family of God. Those who have been born again can now refer to God as their Heavenly Father. In the Lord's Prayer we do not pray “My Father,” but we pray “Our Father.” In the family of God there is a sense of community. So we see that the ground of our unity is not simply that we all agree, but it is that God has made us one by placing us together in Christ. We have a positional unity in Christ which we are expected to maintain in practical ways. Trying to build the brotherhood of man without the fatherhood of God is like trying to make a wheel without a hub. Trying to build the brotherhood of man without the fatherhood of God is like trying to make a wheel without a hub. This is really very lovely with respect to our Father God. Verse 6 reminds us of our Heavenly Father’s Position “who is above all” our Heavenly Father’s Power “and through all” our Heavenly Father’s Presence “and in you all”. With all Paul has been teaching us here surely we can do no less that put every effort into “keeping the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” Ch.4v3.
"Martin Luther taught the story of Abraham and Isaac this Way:"
Abraham was told by God that he must sacrifice the son of his old age by a miracle, the seed through whom he was to become the father of kings and of a great nation. Abraham turned pale. Not only would he lose his son, but God appeared to be a liar. He had said, "In Isaac shall be thy seed", but now he said, "Kill Isaac." Who would not hate a God so cruel and contradictory? How Abraham longed to talk it over with someone! Could he not tell Sarah? But he well knew that if he mentioned it to anyone, he would be dissuaded and prevented from carrying out the behest.
The spot designated for the sacrifice, Mount Moriah, was some distance away; "and Abraham rose up early in the morning, and saddled his ass, and took two of his young men with him, and Isaac his son, and clave the wood for the burnt-offering." Abraham did not leave the saddling of the ass to others. He himself laid on the beast the wood for the burnt offering. He was thinking all the time that these logs would consume his son, his hope of seed. With these very sticks that he was picking up the boy would be burned.
In such a terrible case should he not take time to think it over? Could he not tell Sarah? With what inner tears he suffered! He girt the ass and was so absorbed he scarcely knew what he was doing.
He took two servants and Isaac his son. In that moment everything died in him; Sarah, his family, his home, Isaac. This is what it is to sit in sackcloth and ashes. If he had known that this was only a trial, he would not have been tried. Such is the nature of our trials that while they last we cannot see to the end.
"Then on the third day Abraham lifted his eyes, and saw the place afar off." What a battle he had endured in those three days! There Abraham left the servants and the ass, and he laid the wood upon Isaac and himself took the torch and sacrificial knife. All the time he was thinking, "Isaac, if you knew, if your mother knew, that you are to be sacrificed."
"And they went both of them together." The whole world does not know what here took place. They two walked together. Who? The father and the dearest son-the one not knowing what was in store but ready to obey, the other certain that he must leave his son in ashes.
Then said Isaac, "My father." And he said, "Yes, my son." And Isaac said, "Father, here is the fire and here the wood, but where is the lamb?" He called him father and was solicitous lest he had overlooked something, and Abraham said, "God will himself provide a lamb, my son."
When they were come to the mount, Abraham built the altar and laid on the wood, and then he was forced to tell Isaac. The boy was stupefied. He must have protested, "Have you forgotten: I am the son of Sarah by a miracle in her old age, that I was promised and that through me you are to be the father of a great nation?" And Abraham must have answered that God would fulfil his promise even out of ashes.
Then Abraham bound him and laid him upon the wood. The father raised the knife. The boy bared his throat. If God had slept an instant, the lad would have been dead. I could not have watched. I am not able in my thoughts to follow. The lad was as a sheep for the slaughter. Never in history was there such obedience, save only in Christ. But God was watching, and all the angels. The father raised his knife; the boy did not wince. The angel cried, "Abraham, Abraham!"
See how divine majesty is at hand in the hour of death. We say, "In the midst of life we die." God answers, "Nay, in the midst of death we live."
Historian Bainton adds: "Luther once read this story for family devotions. When he had finished, Katie said, 'I do not believe it. God would not have treated his son like that.'" "'But, Katie,' answered Luther, 'he did.'"
Martin Luther in "Martin Luther-The Later Years and Legacy," Christian History, no. 39.
Surely, we above all people are so wonderfully privileged to be in Christ and a part of the Church in this wasting howling wilderness of a world as sign-posts to a people who have long ago lost their way and need to be brought to “The Way.” A question Dr. Vance Havner asked, If statistics are correct and there are so many true believers in the world and as believers we are the light of the world and the salt of the earth, why is there so much darkness and why so much corruption?