Scripture: Ephesians 4:1-16
I thoroughly enjoy war movies set in ancient times. One of the most dramatic scenes in them is when a city is being attacked and a battering ram is being used against the gates. When the battering ram is brought towards the gate, the battle usually always reaches a turning point. Despite arrows raining down on the men using the ram, the doors eventually give way to force pounding against it. This battering ram gives an excellent demonstration of the power of unity. If the army attacking the city gave each man a stick, and they each pounded against the gates, regardless of how long they beat on them nothing would happen. It takes everyone working together, combining all their resources, to find the success everyone desires. Many times the difference as to whether we prevail with the cause of Christ or if we fail depends on our unity. Charles Spurgeon once wrote, “The devils are united as one man in their infamous rebellion, while we believers in Jesus are divided in our service of God, and scarcely ever work with unanimity.” So how do we overcome our tendency to split, to splinter, and learn to find unity that will advance the kingdom of God? Our passage gives us some answers on growing in unity.
First of all, to grow in unity, meditate on the Bible. We can’t experience unity until we have a clear understanding of what it is. Verse 3 of our passage says, “…maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.”
Paul also says in 1 Corinthians 1:10, “I appeal to you, brothers, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree, and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and the same judgment.”
Other passages that speak of unity are Romans 15:5, Philippians 2:2, and Colossians 2:2-3. Paul was constantly encouraging Christians to seek unity! It is very important to realize that we cannot create unity, only God can create it. Paul in v. 3 of our passage speaks of the “unity of the Spirit.”
It is not our unity, it is God’s unity. Unity originates through submission to the Holy Spirit – when we surrender to him individually, he brings us together as one body. Unity originates from God, so we can’t destroy it in such a way that it can never be recovered. 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. Tomorrow night the Nitro Mission team will meet here at the church. We are able to work together to accomplish a common purpose despite the differences we have. We focus on what we have in common, the work that needs to be done. People apart from Jesus can rally around a variety of causes. It can be a political agenda, a moral issue, or an environmental concern. Christian unity however, is not built around a cause, it is built around a Person, the Lord Jesus Christ. As we follow Him individually, we experience a unity that far exceeds anything the world can devise. Christian unity then, is being one in spirit and in purpose. Christian unity is loving Jesus Christ supremely and making Him known to others. Here are just a few more passages describing unity:
In John 17:22-23 Jesus prays to his Father, – “The glory that you have given me I have given to them, that they may be one even as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that you sent me and loved them even as you loved me.”
In Philippians 2:1-2 Paul tells us, “So if there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort from love, any participation in the Spirit, any affection and sympathy, complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind.”
Paul also says in Romans 15:5-6, “May the God of endurance and encouragement grant you to live in such harmony with one another, in accord with Christ Jesus, that together you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.”
To grow in unity, meditate on the Bible.
Then unity is developed through commitment. There are at least five commitments important to unity. First commit to loving Jesus Christ above all people and things. Any mini-agendas are to be sacrificed to Him. There isn’t anything wrong with supporting a particular mission focus, a certain worship style, or one treasured aspect of church ministry, but all of these agendas take a back seat to living a life that reflects a love for Christ and that models humility, grace and gentleness.
Second, commit to sound doctrine. Doctrine is what you believe about God, Jesus, sin and yourself based on what the Bible says. vv. 13-16 say, “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, 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. Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, 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.”
It’s important we understand the difference between primary doctrines and secondary doctrines. Primary doctrines are such things as the divinity of Jesus, the ability to be saved from sin only through Jesus and the Bible being the Word of God. Secondary doctrines are things such as mode of baptism and the way the Lord’s Supper is observed. The vital thing to grasp is that sound doctrine never sacrifices the truth, but always prioritizes it in a spirit of grace. Ephesians 4:15 again says, “…speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ,”
Third, commit to developing Christ-like character, especially when it comes to humility towards others and submission to others. Humility is realizing that my way isn’t always the best way or the right way. Submission to others is letting them have their way despite my way being different. Humility is refusing to say, “It’s my way or the highway.” Humility and submission are two vital traits in Christ-like character. The greatest enemy of Christian unity is pride. Romans 12:3 warns, “…I say to everyone among you not to think of himself more highly than he ought…”
Philippians 2:3-4 also tells us, “Do nothing from rivalry or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.” When we commit ourselves to the Christ-like character traits of humility and submission, the gates of Hell begin to shake! Fourth, commit to God-given diversity.
Romans 12:3-8 tells us,
“For by the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned. For as in one body we have many members, and the members do not all have the same function, so we, though many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another. Having gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let us use them: if prophecy, in proportion to our faith; if service, in our serving; the one who teaches, in his teaching; the one who exhorts, in his exhortation; the one who contributes, in generosity; the one who leads, with zeal; the one who does acts of mercy, with cheerfulness. “
The point is that God gives a rich diversity in a church body – commit to celebrating it. It’s vital we understand that unity is not uniformity. Uniformity seeks to make everyone the same – rather than celebrating differences uniformity laments them. “Why can’t we all be the same? Why can’t we have the same preferences for what we wear to church, for the music we sing in church, for the length of the sermon in church? It’s just a terrible thing that people see things differently than I do – it just isn’t right!” Diversity is part of the body of Christ – God has made it that way. Coming together with differences to worship and to serve a common Lord result in unity. Romans 15:7 says, “Therefore, accept one another, just as Christ also accepted us to the glory of God.” (NASB)
Fifth, commit to pursuing peace. Dedicate yourself to resolving conflict and preserving relationships despite personal differences. Paul knew that conflict is present in all relationships, especially churches, so he addresses again and again the importance of responding to it in a godly fashion. Ephesians 4:1-3 is one example. He says there,
“I…urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.” One author said, “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. We will not walk away from our marriages or from our friends. And we will not leave our church just because we’ve been offended or things are not going exactly as we want. Our relationships are a testimony to the reconciling power of the Gospel of Christ, and we will strive with every ounce of strength to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace.” To grow in unity, make the commitment.
Then to grow in unity, model the lifestyle. How do you interact with other people when you have unity? There is a harmony of shared lives – meeting regularly, to eat, pray, worship and make decisions together. There is no discrimination based on race, age, gender, or economic status. People from all walks of life come together and feel welcome. Unity works together to reach a genuine understanding and agreement on controversial issues. Unity doesn’t seek to impose uniformity on others or seek to crush them through power plays. When unity exists, there is freedom to agree to disagree.
Finally with unity, a witness for Jesus is seen throughout the community and the world. Jesus says in John 13:35,
”By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” Unity doesn’t start with the other person however, it starts with you. What will you do today, with God’s empowering help, to cultivate, to maintain and to demonstrate unity in your marriage, in your family, in your workplace, in your school, and even in your church? It all begins with you and whether or not you will surrender to Jesus, who draws you together with other believers as one.
Father, remind us of your word, and the desire you have for your people to come together We commit to coming together. We commit to modeling a lifestyle before others that promotes unity. In Jesus’ name, amen.