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Author:Rev. Reuben Bredenhof
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Congregation:Free Reformed Church of Mt. Nasura
 Mt. Nasura, Western Australia
 frca.org.au/mountnasura/
 
Title:Endeavour to Keep the Unity of the Spirit in the Bond of Peace
Text:Ephesians 4:1-6 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic:Church Building
 
Preached:2018
Added:2018-12-16
 

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Ps 133:1,2                                                                                

Ps 34:4,5                                                                                            

Reading – Ephesians 4

Ps 48:3,4

Sermon – Ephesians 4:1-6

Hy 52:1,2,5

Ps 122:1,2,3

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Reuben Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.


Beloved in Christ, a long time ago when I was first learning how to write a sermon, our professor said that sermons should have just two kinds of content. There is explanation, and there is application. That is, you first have to explain the meaning of a text: put it in its original context, unpack the different words and phrases, make clear what the Holy Spirit has revealed. And then you apply the text, pointing out how this part of God’s Word relates to the daily life of his people: encouraging, guiding, warning, teaching. First doctrinal, then practical.

We see this two-fold content in Scripture itself. For instance, think of the letter to the Romans, where the first eleven chapters are full of doctrine, careful expositions of key points of Christian teaching, about sin and law, faith and justification. Then there’s an obvious shift to application in Romans 12, with the words: “I beseech you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, that you present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God” (v 1). And for the next four chapters Paul works out what it means to be a living sacrifice of gratitude.

That same division runs right down the middle of Ephesians: chapters 1-3 are a detailed account of God’s saving work, while chapters 4-6 apply this reality to our lives as believers. You can underline the change in 4:1, “I, therefore, the prisoner of the Lord beseech you…” The “therefore” links to what Paul has already said, joining all that weighty doctrine with the serious exhorting he’s about to do.

It’s not a watertight separation, of course, as if the first half of Ephesians is all theory, and the second half is all practice, and they don’t overlap. No, they will always be tightly coupled. For your good creed is totally worthless without a life of good deeds. And if your good life isn’t rooted in faith in Christ, you’re probably just trying to save yourself. You can’t separate grace and gratitude.

So Paul makes his appeal, “I, therefore, the prisoner of the Lord beseech you…” See how he refers to his situation, sitting in prison as he writes this letter. He’s not looking for sympathy. He wants the Ephesians to know that devotion to Christ has come at a cost to him—prison—and it’ll come at a cost to them and every believer. For Christ requires devotion in every area of life.

And as the Spirit teaches us how to live out the gospel, it’s significant that the first area He focuses on concerns relationships in the church—how we function together in Christ. This is our theme from Ephesians 4:1-6,

Endeavour to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace:

  1. the foundation of our unity
  2. the application of our unity

 

1) the foundation of our unity: Church unity is vital. A living fellowship is a delight to God, and blessing to us. We must be determined to accept each other, and to be active in caring for one another. All that is true, and it’s what Paul addresses in verses 1-3 of our text. But we’re going to skip over that to first consider the basis of our unity.

Verses 4-6 are an emphatic statement of what binds us together as church. It’s emphatic because seven times Paul uses the word “one:” one body, one Spirit, one hope, etc. There’s a pattern to these verses too, the same pattern we can see elsewhere in this letter. Call it a Trinitarian pattern, based on what God is doing as Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

There’s the doxology which opens up the letter, where Paul praises each of the persons of the Trinity for their work of election, redemption, and renewal. The Trinity also shapes Paul’s prayer at the end of chapter 3, a prayer to the Father that believers might grow in the love of Christ and increase in the strength of his Spirit. Whenever Paul looks at salvation, he sees it through the lens of what the Triune God is busy accomplishing.

We see it in our text, too. You could divide it in three parts. Verse 4: through the one Spirit, there is one body of believers, and through him we have one hope. Verse 5: through the one Lord (Jesus Christ), we have one faith, and have received one baptism. Verse 6: our one God and Father is above all, and through all, and in us all. In the grace of the Triune God, we have such a strong foundation for unity!

Paul is emphatic here on the unity of the church, which he has been throughout his letter. There’s that striking image in chapter 2 of Jesus tearing down the middle wall of separation, the once-impossible barrier between Jew and Gentile. There it was said of Christ: “He himself is our peace, who has made both one… creating in himself one new man from the two” (2:14-15).

There was probably a local reason for Paul to keep coming back to this idea of unity. There were a lot of Gentiles in Ephesus, alongside some Jews—so, recent believers who probably knew very little about the Bible, alongside people who’d been reading the Scriptures their entire life. You can imagine how this might’ve led to friction or disagreements, so Paul teaches why they should be unified in Christ.

And the church still needs that teaching. Our local church needs it, and the catholic or universal church needs it. In any church will be a wide variety of temperaments and characters. There might be a diversity of backgrounds, a mix of nationalities. We can be quite different from each other, but in Christ there’s far more that joins us, for we’re equal sharers in the privileges of grace. Paul wants to show this, naming all that believers have in common.

First, “there is one body” (v 4). This is a frequent New Testament image for the church, and while it’s familiar, it is profound. For a body is by definition “one.” One head, one body! Like the Spirit explains elsewhere, the different members of the body cannot be in revolt against each other. A body simply will not function if the members are fragmented and uncoordinated.

But under Christ our Head, there is one body. All who believe enjoy a spiritual unity that surpasses whatever other connections we have—and a unity that overcomes whatever divisions there are. We’re members of one another, as truly as our body’s many organs are joined to each other and cannot function without each other. Christ can’t do much with a dismembered body, but when we’re properly joined, the Head can do great things through us.

“There is one body and one Spirit.” He’s essential to our life as church, because without the Spirit, the body is dead. But every member of Christ has his Spirit dwelling in them: the same one who fills you, fills me, and He fills the person beside you—and the Spirit directs each of us and gives faith to each of us.

One body, one Spirit, “just as you were called in one hope of your calling.” Our hope is much more than a faint wish for the future, like something you once jotted down on your bucket list. No, our hope is the sure expectation of what God is going to do for us. Earlier in Ephesians, the Holy Spirit was called “the guarantee of our inheritance” (1:14), or our deposit on the fullness of eternal life.

This hope is something else we share. We’ve all come from different places in life, we’ve been on different journeys, but in Christ we’re all headed to the same destination. We have “one hope,” when we’ll stand—and stand together!—in God’s presence.

We’re also joined together in “one Lord” (v 5). “Lord” here is a reference to Jesus Christ; it’s the basic New Testament confession of faith: “Jesus is Lord.” His lordship means that Jesus owns us forever, because He bought us at a price. Being Jesus’ possession also means we can’t do whatever we want, but we’re in his service. Like Jesus once taught: confessing him is more than saying “Lord, Lord” but it is doing his will in wholehearted devotion.

Brothers and sisters, we have one Lord—a common allegiance to Christ. By faith each of us belongs to him, and each of us gets to serve him. We all have the same fundamental status: we are servants bought with precious blood. And where there is the same status, before the same Lord, and the same purpose in life, there should be no competition, no infighting, but unity.

“One Lord, one faith.” With this word, it’s hard to know if Paul means “faith” as in personal trust and dependence: “I have faith in Jesus as my Saviour.” Or does he mean “faith” as in the content of what we believe, the various truths of “the Christian faith.” In the end, it amounts to something similar—we have a shared belief that Jesus Christ is our Saviour in all that He has done for us.

And this message of Christ is expressed simply but powerfully in an outward sign: “one baptism.” Baptism was instituted by the Lord Jesus himself, and it’s an experience in which every child of God is allowed to share. Each of us has been baptized into Christ, given the outward confirmation of God’s promise to wash away all our sins.

This too, is basis for unity. Just think of how common experiences—both good and bad—will bond people together. A group of friends survives a terrifying car accident, or two mates travel to the other side of the world—this experience becomes something that melds them together. In a similar way, we’ve all experienced baptism. We might not remember it, but we know it happened: God put his covenant mark on you, and He put exactly the same one on me. We’ve each received something precious.

The last piece for our unity’s seven-fold foundation is that there is “one God and Father of all, who is above all, and through all, and in you all” (v 6). Consider for a moment that there is but one God. Mankind has invented many thousands of gods, but they’re all dead and lifeless. There is only one God who is truly divine, eternal, almighty—and He’s known to us! We all have the privilege of knowing the one God.

“One God and one Father,” because all believers in Christ are part of one and the same family. This is why we call each other “brother, sister.” When we say it, it shouldn’t just be a formality, but something real and personal. You are my brother, my sister, because we have one Father. You were adopted, and I was adopted, and we’ve been brought into the same household.

And our Father is majestic in power and dominion: “who is above all, and through all, and in you all.” Being “above all” means the Father rules everything. Being “through all” means the God sustains everything. Being “in you all” means that we all have the Father’s presence with us. He’s not just in the older ones, the wiser ones, the really holy ones, but He’s in you all.

This is the strong foundation of our unity in the Triune God. If we both believe in Christ, then you and I have a communion with each other, a fundamental connection to each other. Only now the question is what this one Body filled with one Spirit is going to do. The question is whether we will live in the unity that we have, and work it out. Will we just talk about this unity, or actually experience it?

 

2) the application of our unity: The Spirit is emphatic about the basis of our unity. Now we can understand why his exhortation in the first few verses is so forceful: “I beseech you.” The Greek word Paul here uses means an earnest plea, a strong urging. He really wants us to pay attention.

“I beseech you to walk worthy of the calling with which you were called” (v 2). He begins broadly, a command to cover every aspect of our lives. “Walk,” the Spirit says—that’s a daily, almost constant activity, the movement of our bodies, so it’s a good metaphor for our life before God, like when someone asks, “How’s your walk with Christ?” Are you going with him?

“Walk worthy,” the Spirit says—you need to go in a fitting direction, in manner that suits a child of God. Don’t wander wherever your heart leads you. Don’t dawdle in the devil’s corner. Don’t get lost, but go in a direction that leads you closer to your Lord.

Yes, “walk worthy of your calling.” Beloved, you have a calling. It’s not just missionaries or ministers who have a calling, or people who do ambitious things for God’s kingdom. You have a calling to be in fellowship with God, to be his child and to serve the Lord Christ. Our duty as Christians flows directly from the huge debt of gratitude that we owe to God for all that we have received in Christ.

As we said before, the next three chapters will explain how this is done. But the first area of application which the Spirit highlights is our fellowship with each other. If a church is going to enjoy the unity that is ours in Christ, if we’re really going to share the privileges that God has given, it’s essential that we cultivate these virtues, living together “with all lowliness and gentleness, with longsuffering, bearing with one another in love” (v 2). Though the church is one, it takes an effort to maintain this unity.

The Spirit mentions four different aspects of how to practice unity. First is “lowliness.” Now, to people in Paul’s time, humility was hardly a virtue—just like it’s not today. Most people can’t imagine how a fulfilling and successful life can involve us giving up our place and position, not pushing ourselves forward. And that’s a heart problem we all have, when we want to see ourselves as the centre of the action, as the star of every encounter. How does this reflect on me? Am I collecting enough “likes” and compliments?

But in Christ, lowliness becomes a virtue. This is how Jesus lived, without any thought for his reputation. Listen to what He says in Matthew 11:29, “Learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart.” He didn’t put himself first, but was willing to serve, and now He calls us to follow in his steps.

This humility requires self-knowledge, when we’re aware of our own unworthiness. To be humble we must honestly face ourselves in all our weakness. And it also requires that we remember God’s great kindness towards us. A believer should know he’s nothing without Christ, so he won’t look down someone else. We should know we’ve received everything from God’s kindness, so we don’t withhold kindness from anyone. You can see then, how lowliness is essential to our unity. If you’re humble of heart, you’ll be willing to serve and care for the people around you.

The second requirement for unity is “gentleness.” This is being compassionate toward others, being mild in character. It’s interesting that this Greek word is often used to describe an animal that has been disciplined and controlled by its master: gentle. That doesn’t sound so flattering, but he’s saying that our spirit must be marked by submissiveness. It’s when we have our mind, our heart and tongue under control. We shouldn’t lash out according to our instincts and emotions, but must show gentleness.

This attitude is vital in so many settings, of course, like in the home. Children, do you show gentleness toward each other? Or husbands, wives, are you submissive to one another—ready to yield? It’s essential in the church too. We need gentleness when we respond to fellow members who are difficult and aggressive, or who disagree with us. When we’re gentle, we don’t assert our own importance or authority, don’t insist that it has to be done our way, but we do all in consideration of others. We remember how much we share in Christ, that this is my brother, this is my sister.

A third necessity for a church that is bonded in Christ is “long-suffering.” Long-suffering or patience is when we’re slow to react to the offenses caused by other people. A fellow church member might aggravate us, even hurt us, but long-suffering is when we choose not to retaliate. Instead, we pray for them and support them. Think of what it says in 1 Thessalonians 5:14, “Comfort the fainthearted, uphold the weak, be patient with all.” Such a patient spirit will preserve the unity of our church.

A fourth way of practicing unity is “bearing with one another.” To bear with someone is more than just to tolerate them. It’s showing grace to one another. It’s not ceasing to love them because their life is messy and they have lots of needs. It’s being willing to bear their burdens, even to join them in the struggle. There’s much pain in the body of Christ, yet it’s a pain that can be shared, a burden carried together. And it’s our privilege to care for one another. Writes Paul in Romans 12:15, “Rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep.”

This kind of service is possible because of that last thing mentioned in verse 2, “bear with one another in love.” Love is seeking the good of others. Love is an action word, coming across in how we treat the people around us. It’s not a love based on our changing feelings, but it’s permanent and committed.

Here too, Christ showed how active love should be. He healed people, fed and taught and encouraged them. He even died on the cross—unselfishly, for a people not deserving of anything. And then Christ once said, “By this all will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:35). So this is what we need to do for each other in the church: Love others by serving them, and caring for them.

We said earlier that the Spirit is insistent on the matter of unity. He is beseeching us, He said in verse 1, and in verse 3 He calls us to “endeavour to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.” That word “endeavour” doesn’t just mean giving something a go but then dropping it if it doesn’t work out. In the Greek, it means something like, “Make every effort! Give this your urgent attention because you don’t want to fail.”

“Endeavour to keep the unity of the Spirit.” The first point has made clear that we have spiritual unity, and we are linked to one another through Christ—it’s already a reality. What we share in Christ is so strong: remember the seven ones: one body, one Spirit, one hope, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all!

It’s a strong and beautiful basis for unity, which is why Paul says, “Endeavour to keep this unity.” Now we must preserve our unity, maintain and guard it. For there are surely many attempts to take it away. We can be divided by the devil’s attacks on us, or we can be torn apart by the pressures of the world. We’ve also seen that our own heart is an enemy. Unity and oneness cannot exist when we are proud and when we insist on our own way. Unity cannot thrive when we don’t trust each other or when we ignore people outside the circle of our friends and family.

Keeping the unity of the Spirit takes continued work. In means continuing to deny yourself, and continuing to look to the interests of others. Make every effort to live in true and active communion with your fellow believers.

For in Christ we have “the bond of peace.” A bond is something that ties you together, something that forges a strong connection. In Christ Jesus we are bonded with an everlasting bond, for we’re united through the precious peace that He has given. As many different individuals and families, we’ve been knit together in him. Christ has joined us for a reason, that as one people we would glorify his name.

So my brothers and sisters, walk worthy of this calling, with all lowliness and gentleness, with long-suffering, bearing with one another in love. And endeavour to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace!  Amen.




* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Reuben Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.
(c) Copyright 2018, Rev. Reuben Bredenhof

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