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Author:Rev. Stephen 't Hart
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Congregation:Free Reformed Church of Baldivis
 Baldivis, Western Australia
 frca.org.au/baldivis/
 
Title:The Unity of the Spirit
Text:Ephesians 4:3 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic:Unclassified
 
Preached:2010-05-09
Added:2011-03-07
 

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Psalm 122:1

Psalm 40:4,5

Psalm 16:1,4,5

Hymn 38:1,2

Psalm 122:3

Read:  Ephesians 4:1-16

Text:  Ephesians 4:3

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Stephen 't Hart, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.


Congregation of our Lord Jesus Christ.

If you are one to follow the news, you will find that the personal lives of our politicians are often under scrutiny.  If there is an “abnormality” in the way they invest their money, in the manner in which they conduct themselves inside or outside of marriage, in the number of speeding or parking tickets they receive etcetera, the media will pick it up and turn it into a story.  And there is a reason for this apart from a sense of curiosity or the “need” for news: while many people try to insist that private lives should remain private, we all know that what you do in your so-called private life affects your standing in your public office. 

Our politicians are called “honourable members” and they are expected to be honourable in their dealings both inside and outside of politics.  Failing to act in an honourable manner can bring serious disrepute not just to the person and his or her political party, but to public office, and to our parliament.  I therefore hope that when they go to Orientation Day on their first day of work, it is impressed on our politicians that they must walk worthy of the calling to which they were called.

But it is not just politicians who need to do this.  In Ephesians 4:1 the apostle Paul writes to the Ephesians, “I therefore, the prisoner of the Lord, beseech you to walk worthy of the calling to which you were called.” 

We are not members of parliament, but members of Christ.  We are not politicians, but Christians.  We are not merely honourable members of Christ, but saints, His holy ones.  And because of that high calling to which we have been called, the apostle Paul gives an urgent and earnest plea that we might live in such a way that our office and calling might not be brought into disrepute.  And the way to live then is summarized in verse 3 as follows:  “endeavouring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.”

Living at peace and working hard for the peace of God’s church, for its unity in the Spirit must therefore remain a most central focus in all that we do and say.  This morning I wish to preach to you about that call to live in unity as we’ve read it from Ephesians 4.  I preach to you the Word of the Lord under the following theme:

Be zealous for the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.

1.    This unity is the result of our calling.

2.    This unity is the response to our calling.

 

1. This unity is the result of our calling.

We don’t know too much about what was happening in the Ephesian church.  When it comes to how they related to each other, it could be that there were some interpersonal conflicts going on. We know that was the case in the Corinthian Church and there were also some issues going on between two sisters when Paul wrote his letter to the Philippians.  However the letter to the Ephesians does not say or imply that conflict and disunity was a particular problem.  On the contrary, it appears as though the congregation was enjoying relative peace and harmony.  In Ephesians 1:15, Paul gave thanks to God for “your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love for all the saints.”  In Chapter 2, he wrote that the wall of hostility between the Jews and Gentiles had been broken down.  Now that is not to say that all was well in the Ephesian church:  Paul felt it important not just to call them to live at peace in general, but for this peace and unity to be evident in all aspects of their lives, including their family and work relationships.  But we have no reason to think that Paul beseeched and urged the Ephesians to live in unity because this was a particular problem in the Ephesian church.  There is no reason to conclude that the church at Ephesus suffered more from disunity than, say, Baldivis does.  Thus we should not read this call to unity in Ephesians 4 as being written to deal with a unique problem in Ephesus.  Rather, this call to live in unity is given and is worded so strongly, because being zealous for unity is a necessary consequence or result of your calling to share in the gospel of Jesus Christ. 

We can conclude this because Paul begins his call to keep the unity of the Spirit with the word “therefore”. 

“I, therefore, the prisoner of the Lord, beseech you to walk worthy of the calling with which you were called”.  (Chapter 4:1)  That word “therefore” means that Paul’s reasons for telling us to be zealous for unity and to live in peace was not a new topic he wanted to raise, but the consequence or the result of what he had written before, in chapters 1-3. 

Ephesians 1-3 reflect on and marvel at the wonder and the beauty of the Gospel, and at what a life-changing thing the Gospel is.  Ephesians 2 paints the picture of what we were like before we received the Gospel.  At that time we were dead in our trespasses and sins.  We walked according to the ways of the world.  We were sons of disobedience and slaves to Satan.  We were aliens and strangers and were far off from God, having no hope and being without God in the world.  In these verses Paul paints a picture of fallen mankind in a state of conflict, at enmity with God and with each other.  Humanity was in an absolute mess.  Brokenness, separation and disunity was the state that we were in. 

But that is what God had come to change.  And so the focus of these first chapters in Ephesians is not on our sin and misery, but on the blessed call that God has placed on our lives.  And so Paul begins his letter in verse 3 of chapter 1 by saying, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, for He has blessed us with every spiritual blessing.”  And then Paul begins to list those blessings that we have received in Christ, starting with the miracle of our election.  Out of sheer love, before we were even born, even before the foundation of the world, God predestined us, He chose to call us out of a life of disunity and enmity and separation to be adopted to be His children and heirs of eternal life.  He has redeemed us with the precious blood of Christ, granted us the forgiveness of sins and filled us with His Holy Spirit.

But there is also something else that is stressed in these first chapters of Ephesians.  God has chosen us in Christ not just for our benefit, but “to the praise of His glory”.  (Verse 12 and 14 of chapter 1.)  And God is glorified in our election because it is in this way that He is uniting all things to Himself.  He is doing all this, it says in chapter 1:10, so that “He might gather together in one all things in Christ.”  This restoration of peace, of harmony, or shalom in both heaven and on earth, where all things are united in God through Christ, to His praise and glory, is the plan that God had before Him when He decided to gather His church.  This is explained further in Chapter 1:22,23 –

“And He [that is God] put all things under His [that is Christ’s] feet and gave Him to be head over all things to the church, which is His body, the fullness of Him who fills all in all. 

The Church is Christ’s body and the fullness of Him who fills all in all.  This text is one of the great mysteries of the Bible.  For what it says is that we God’s children have been brought together to become one body, and that this one body is both in Christ and is the body of Christ.  And even more, the Church has become “the fullness of Christ.”  In some mysterious way the united body that is Christ’s Church makes Him complete, makes him whole.  Although Jesus is true God and therefore is self-sufficient and does not need anything, He has chosen to consider Himself complete when His Body the Church is complete and in full unity.  John Calvin writes concerning this verse,

“This is the highest honour of the church, that, until He is united to us, the Son of God reckons Himself in some measure imperfect.    What consolation it is for us to learn that, not until we are in His presence, does He possess all His parts, or does He wish to be regarded as complete.”

So we have been elected to be a part of the Body of Christ.  We as His Church have become one single united body in Him and in this way we become the fullness of Christ to the praise of His glory.  And that’s our calling:  that we might become the fullness of Him who fills all in all. 

In our text Paul calls this the unity of the Spirit.  It is a unity that has been created by God when He chose and gathered us together to become the one body of Christ.  It is a unity that is at the very heart of what it means to be the Church of Christ.

And therefore we are united in one hope, in one Lord, one faith, one baptism.  It can not be that when we are all joined to the One Head, Jesus Christ, that we are not united together at the same time.  As Paul explained in Ephesians 2, Jews and Gentiles, who before were at enmity with each other are now fully united in Christ.  Christ, who is our peace, has broken down the middle wall of separation and so now both Jew and Gentile have been reconciled together and are a part of the one body of Christ, His one Church.  By nature we might be enemies, but in Christ we become His one, united body. 

And therefore, says Paul in chapter 4:1, because of all that, let us now walk worthy of the calling to which we were called.  Let us be zealous for the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.

And that makes the unity of the church a fundamental concern for all of us.  Living in peace and unity as the church, the body of Christ, is the way in which we walk worthy of the calling to which we were called.  For we have been called to be the one body of the one Christ, united in the one faith in the one God and Father of us all, who is above all and through all, and in all.  And therefore, when we live in any way other than endeavouring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace, we bring our calling into disrepute, we bring the body of Christ – that is the church – into disrepute, and in that way we blaspheme the Name of our Holy God, and bring the name of our Lord Christ into disrepute.

That applies to how we live and act together as brothers and sisters in this congregation.  It applies to how we speak to one another, treat one another.  It applies to how we resolve our differences and preferences over small matters.  And it even applies to how we deal with disagreements in the church over large matters, of doctrine and practice. 

Yes, there is one Lord and one faith and one baptism.  And yes, the unity that we enjoy is, chapter 4:13 says, the unity of the faith – even, as our catechism puts it, the unity of the true faith.  Beware of heresy, of every wind of doctrine and the trickery of men lest you be tossed to and fro and carried about by these things and lose the unity you have in Christ.  (Eph. 4:14)  For there is one faith, not two faiths.  There is one baptism, not two baptisms, just as there is one body of Christ and not two bodies of Christ.  Nevertheless, in all our discussions and disputes, even about what the true faith consists of and how we are to practice it, our focus must remain firmly on the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.  When we experience disagreements in the church – and since sin remains with us we will experience disagreements – when we experience disagreements in the church over doctrine or practice or even personality differences and preferences, we must always have the glory of God as our focus.  We must always remember and confess that God is glorified when His body the Church practices the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.

And that will have an effect on the way that we live and act together.  We will in humbleness place God and His glory first and seek to honour and praise Him by maintaining the unity of the Spirit, that unity that can be found in the one faith in the one Lord, and by maintaining this unity in the bond of peace.

2. This unity is the response to our calling.

So how then should we live as brothers and sisters together as Christ’s Church, His body?

“With all lowliness and gentleness, with longsuffering, bearing with one another in love.” 

When we place God and “the praise of His glorious grace” first in our lives, eager to see the church and indeed the whole world brought into complete submission and unity with Him, it does something to ourselves, and how we conduct ourselves.  We no longer have reason to walk with a swagger, to shout down the opposition, to push ourselves to the front of the line.  Rather, we will be lowly, or humble.  Being lowly is not being weak, nor a push-over, but it is what we will be like when we have a proper sense of self-worth.  When we understand both ourselves and others from God’s perspective, then we will humble ourselves and lift the other up, considering others better than ourselves. 

We will also walk in gentleness, or meekness.  This is not the same as weakness, or being spineless.  Rather it means that we submit ourselves to God and His ways even when someone sins against us.  It means that we are more willing to suffer injury than inflict it.

We will also be longsuffering, or patient.  When we are lowly, we know that we are not perfect.  When we are longsuffering we accept that others in the church also are not perfect.  To be longsuffering is to have thick skin.  It means that we make allowances for other peoples’ sins and shortcomings, being gracious when you see their faults.  We have to do a lot of that when we live together as a close church community. 

And connected to being longsuffering, we must also bear with one another in love.  We have to bear with one another because the Church is not perfect.  We experience clashes of characters.  We see differences in attitudes and in the way that we do things.  Bearing with one another in love means that we fully accept people and love them for who they are in Christ, in spite of their weaknesses and faults.  We love them as Christ loves them.

It is striking that the call to walk in lowliness, gentleness, longsuffering etc. is repeated in many of the letters in the New Testament.  Although we have the unity of the Spirit in principle, it is something we must endeavour to keep.  And we all need to grow in godliness to do that.  For while others in the church might be saints, they still come with sin and weakness.  And more importantly, I and you come with sin and weakness.  And therefore we must strive and work hard and be zealous to keep the unity of the Body through a life of lowliness and gentleness, with longsuffering, bearing with one another in love.

But while there is unity, there is also diversity.  We may be one body, but we are many parts to that one body and we are not all alike.  And we do not have to be all alike either!  We come together as Jews and Gentiles, from different races and nationalities, with different gifts and different interests and different likes and different personalities.  And that is good and wholesome for the church.  But in order for this to work, so that the Body of Christ in all its parts might work in unity and harmony together, God has given office bearers to His church.  Ephesians 4:11, “And He Himself gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers.”  He gave these office bearers to the church – and continues to give us ministers, elders and deacons today – to equip us for the work of ministry, that the body of Christ might be built up, that we might reach for the goal and come to the unity of the faith.  That we might be one in faith.  And then we will speak the truth in love and grow up in all things into Him who is the head – Jesus Christ.  And then when we are in Christ, we will each do our share in the body, working with zeal for the unity of the body and that it might function well.  And in this way we will grow and edify or build ourselves up in love.  (Eph. 4:16) 

And then we will live in the bond of peace.  Then the Church will be as Christ wants it.  United in the Spirit, in love, in one hope, one Lord and one faith.

Can we be such a church?  Can we here in Baldivis enjoy the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace?

We have not arrived.  There is much that we need to do both individually and collectively as a church.  We need to keep striving and endeavouring to keep the unity that Christ has established.  But let’s do it!  Let us press on, remembering that God’s name is glorified when the church lives in unity.  Let us work at being the church that God wants us to be. 

Can we do it?  Can we keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace?  It is and it will be challenging.  It takes great humbleness, gentleness, patience and bearing with one another in love.  But the challenge should not stop us from seeking to walk worthy of the calling to which we were called.  So let’s do it!  Let us grow in love and in faithfulness and in unity.  Let us pray as Paul prayed in Ephesians 3:16-19 that we be strengthened with power through the Holy Spirit: and that Christ may dwell in our hearts through faith, and that we, being rooted and grounded in love may be able to know the love of Christ which passes knowledge; and that we may be filled with the fullness of God.

Can we do it?  Not of ourselves, we can’t.  But it is the unity of the Spirit.  And the Spirit is able.  Ephesians 3:20,  He is able to do exceedingly abundantly above all that we ask or even think, according to the power that works in us.

And moving forward in the power of the Spirit we live and work in unity today, looking towards the future when this unity is complete and we are fully in Christ and He in us.  Amen.




* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Stephen 't Hart, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.
(c) Copyright 2010, Rev. Stephen 't Hart

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