(Part 2 of 6)
Scripture: Ephesians 4:1-3
Last week the message began focusing on God’s expectations of church members. Based on 1 Corinthians 12, God expects you and me to participate. He expects participation individually, cooperatively and lovingly. When you participate in the church, in the body of Christ as one of the members, you begin experiencing the presence and power of the Holy Spirit in a way you would not experience alone. Other things begin happening, and God expects you to keep in step with him as he moves in the fellowship. As you participate, God begins working to bring his people together, to unify them, to make them into a team. Many of you remember the USA hockey team in the 1980 Olympics. They were the clear underdogs against a much stronger Soviet team. However their coach, Herb Brooks, drilled into them the truth that their individual talents alone would not be enough to succeed. In a famous scene from the movie about the team, Brooks has the team running drills up and down the ice until they are about ready to drop. He tells them, “The name on the front of your jersey is a whole lot more important than the name on the back.” The name on the front was the name of the team, USA. The name on the back was their individual names. They had been doing poorly because they were just playing for themselves. The drills continued, and the assistant coaches thought he was near brutality with the team – he would not stop making them run drills over and over. Finally one of the players who was near exhaustion shouted out his name to the coach. The coach asked him, “Who do you play for?” He said, “The United States of America.” The coach then said, “That will be all gentlemen.” That group of players went on to win the gold in the 1980 Olympics, not because each player was a star, but because they worked together as a team. The name on the front of their jerseys was far more important than the name on the back. In John 17, Jesus prayed for his followers, that they would be one. He knew trials would come their way, he knew there would be hardship, and sticking together would be vital. So the second expectation God has of you as a church member is that you work together. God expects you to be unified. There are at least three things the Bible tells us about Christian unity.
First of all, God expects you to promote unity by patient love for one another. Verse 2 says, “…with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love,” In the ancient Greek and Roman world in which this verse was written, humility was despised. Arrogance and extreme assertiveness were the traits to be possessed. In many ways, not much has changed over the years. Today success is measured much more by status than by service. When it comes to life in the body of Christ however, humble service that promotes unity is what God desires. Jesus says in John 13:34-35, “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” Did you catch the last few words? All people will know you are my disciples, not by the programs you plan or the music you possess or the numbers you post, but by the love you have for one another. It is this Divine love that produces unity, and it is this unity despite diversity that makes others take notice and glorify God. So in other words, your Christian witness to others rises and falls upon how much unity you possess in the body of Christ. Do you want to make an impact in this community for Christ? Then come together and work together in love despite your differences. Do you want to turn off people to Jesus? Then keep fighting and snipping at one another and it will do the trick. God expects you to promote unity by patient love for one another.
Then, second, God expects you to protect unity by healthy talk about one another. Verse 3 says, “eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.” I would say the most damaging practice in churches today by far, the activity that grieves the Spirit of God more than anything else, is unhealthy talk. The guideline God gives for healthy talk, what he expects, is found in Ephesians 5:29, “Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear.” Healthy talk builds up, and it fits the occasion to give grace to the ones who hear it. The problem is that Christians get in the flesh, they allow their lower nature to take control, and they began talking in ways that tear the body of Christ apart. Listen to what James 3:5-9 says about the destructive power of unhealthy talk. “In the same way, the tongue is a small thing that makes grand speeches. But a tiny spark can set a great forest on fire. And among all the parts of the body, the tongue is a flame of fire. It is a whole world of wickedness, corrupting your entire body. It can set your whole life on fire, for it is set on fire by hell itself. People can tame all kinds of animals, birds, reptiles, and fish, but no one can tame the tongue. It is restless and evil, full of deadly poison. Sometimes it praises our Lord and Father, and sometimes it curses those who have been made in the image of God.” (NLT) Gossip is a big part of unhealthy talk, but it goes beyond gossip. Unhealthy talk is any kind of communication that tears others down, and doesn’t reflect God’s grace. In this day and age of technology, it isn’t just speech. Unhealthy talk can be texted, tweeted, and Facebook messaged. It can be done on Instagram and Pinterest. So protect unity by not listening to unhealthy talk – don’t entertain it. Also, protect unity by not doing it. “Well, pastor some people in the church are just ridiculous in their stupidity. Can I make a good joke about them and tell it behind their back? Everyone could use a good laugh.” Are you being condescending in what you say? If so, keep it to yourself. Remember, whatever negative you say about the body of Christ, or any member of it, you are saying against Christ’s bride. He loves the church dearly, so much so that he gave his life for it. Unhealthy talk damages the body, and does your reputation no real good. There is a lot of merit in the saying, “he who throws dirt loses ground.” God expects you to protect unity by healthy talk about one another.
Then, God expects you to preserve unity by repeated forgiveness of one another. Verses 2-3 say, “…bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.” Colossians 3:13 makes it even clearer, “Make allowance for each other’s faults, and forgive anyone who offends you. Remember, the Lord forgave you, so you must forgive others.” (NLT) I don’t know about you, but I’ve been in experiences that I just couldn’t forgive the offense. The hurt went too deep, the pain was too great, the wrong was too severe. If you’re at that place, I know how you feel. I’m only human, I’m flawed, I’m imperfect. I simply can’t bring myself to it, I don’t have enough resources within me to make it happen. It’s in those times I have to lean upon God’s grace. God can empower you to forgive the hurts that you can’t forgive yourself. He not only empowers you to do it once, but to do it over and over. In Matthew 18:21 Peter asks Jesus, “Lord, how often should I forgive someone who sins against me? Seven times?” Peter thinks he is doing pretty well here, for the rabbis taught that only 3 times of forgiveness was necessary. Jesus replies in verse 22, “No, not seven times, but seventy times seven!” Jesus means there is no limit to the forgiveness a disciple shows. The bottom line here is that you will not experience unity if you have an unforgiving heart. You’ll have distance between you and others you love, and there will be distance between you and your heavenly Father. Jesus says in Matthew 6:14-15, “If you forgive those who sin against you, your heavenly Father will forgive you. But if you refuse to forgive others, your Father will not forgive your sins.” You preserve unity by practicing forgiveness. You destroy unity by bearing a grudge. It starts with anger, then goes down deep inside and simmers with resentment. You hurt the church, but the one you damage the most is yourself. Listen to how one author put it, “Of the Seven Deadly Sins, anger is possibly the most fun. To lick your wounds, to smack your lips over grievances long past, to roll over your tongue the prospect of bitter confrontations still to come, to savor to the last toothsome morsel both the pain you are given and the pain you are giving back–in many ways it is a feast fit for a king. The chief drawback is that what you are wolfing down is yourself. The skeleton at the feast is you.” (Frederick Beuchner)
Will you commit as a church member, to seeking the unity of the church? It’s what God expects you to do. It isn’t something optional for you, God is expecting it from you. Through the presence and the power of the Holy Spirit, you can be used to bring the body of Christ together in a greater way.
Promote unity by patient love for one another.
Protect unity through healthy talk about one another.
Preserve unity by repeated forgiveness of one another.
Without God’s help it cannot happen. With God’s help, it will take place. You choose whether or not his power will flow through you.
The Second Pledge
I am a church member.
I will seek to be a source of unity in my church.
I know there are no perfect pastors, staff, or other church members. But neither am I.
I will not be a source of gossip or dissension.
One of the greatest contributions I can make is to do all in God’s power to help keep the church in unity for the sake of the gospel.