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TEXT: Ephesians 4:1-3
SUBJECT: Ephesians #7: How to Unify the Church
Today, with God's blessing, we move on in our study of Ephesians, a Letter written to a church on the West Coast of Asia Minor. The author is Paul, and he had a special concern for this gathering of Christians. He himself had founded the church a few years before, and though things were going well at the moment, he feared the string that tied the people together in love was starting to fray. This scared the dickens out of Paul-and it ought to have the same effect on you. Does it? Do you so love the church-your church I mean-that it breaks your heart to see people quitting in anger or drifting away in indifference? The Church is the Family of God, and we must do everything we can to keep it together and do nothing to tear it apart. This means far more than behaving ourselves on Sunday morning. It means loving one another with a fervent charity, as Peter says. The people you're to love are not only the ones you see once or twice a week-but all of God's people, including the ones you live with.
I hope to develop this in a few weeks, but for now, let me ask: Why is it wrong for Christians to divorce? Much can be said here, and has been, but one thing is hardly ever mentioned. Believers should not divorce, in part, because it disrupts the unity of the Church. Even if they keep it as quiet and private as possible. The same thing can be said of husbands and wives who stay married, but fight all the time, or sulk, or become 'roommates'. Because you are a member of the Body, everything you do affects other members of the Body, for good or not so good.
Let us, therefore, take our membership in Christ's Body more seriously than we do. And let us commit ourselves to furthering each other's salvation, and not hindering it.
In the first three chapters of the Book, Paul has emphasized the doctrine of Church Unity. He has told us the Church is one because, it was (a) chosen by God, (b) redeemed by Christ, and (c) indwelt by the Holy Spirit; (d) the unity is possible because the same Power that raised Christ from the dead backs it up, and (e) because Jesus is Lord of all things to effect the Unity He wants. We have no reason to look down on each other because (f) we were all equally dead in trespasses and sins, and are now (g) all equally alive with Christ, and only (h) by God's grace and not our works. Finally, Paul says Church Unity is a magnificent thing because it makes us (together I mean) into (h) the Temple of God, and (i) the Theatre of His glory in the world.
If these doctrines don't make us want to pull together, you have to wonder what will!
Paul assumes we too want unity in the church, but he also knows 'wanting it' and 'knowing how to get it' are two different things. I believe a man can want to be a good husband, but without good examples or under bad teaching, he can go about it in all the wrong ways. His heart can be right, but his head wrong, and he fails to get what he wants, though he sincerely wants it. The same is true in the Church. 'Wanting' unity is something, but it's not everything. We also need the details.. This is what we mostly find in Chapters four to six. If the first three chapters tell us the Church is worth uniting, the next three tell us how to do it.
In coming to this part of the Epistle, therefore, let us be more than learners of the Word, let us be disciples of the Word, willing and eager to do what it says from the heart, and all for Christ.
The first thing you notice in Chapter Four is its tone. Paul was a man of great passion and intellect. When he needed to, he could argue as coolly as a mathametician or as angrily as a man ready for a fistfight. But here's he not a scholar or a boxer. He's a tender father, not commanding his children, but rather, beseeching them, or 'pleading' with them. It's not hard to picture the man, shut up in Caesar's dungeon, with a tear in his eye, but not for himself, but for the people he loves so dearly and is so worried about.
This is not a technique and Paul is not manipulating his friends. While pleading with people is usually more effective than scolding them, this is not why we do it-because it works. We do it because it is fitting, Christlike, and Godlike. Who are we to lower the boom on our brethren? As though we're better than they are? Writing to a people far uglier than the Ephesians, Paul says-
Brethren, if a man is overtaken in any trespass, you who are spiritual restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness, considering yourself lest you also be tempted.
This is the very approach our Lord took with His disciples. Yes, He could bawl them if He needed to, but He rarely did, because they were His friends and He wanted them to do unto others as He had done to them. No one ever hurt the Lord more than His dear friend Peter did. Shortly before He was arrested, He warned the disciples they would all forsake Him, and Peter worse than forsake Him. When Peter insisted He wouldn't, the Lord assured him he would, but He didn't leave it there. He went on to say-
Simon, Simon, Satan has desired you, to sift you as wheat, but I have prayed for you that your faith fail not, and when you are restored, strengthen the brethren.
How do you not love a Man who speaks to you this way? And how do you not take His advice, if not right away, eventually?
Our Lord's humble approach to His people could be taken as a part of His Humiliation in becoming a Man. There's some truth in this, but more needs to be said. Chiefly, our Lord was this way because.God is this way! There's a remarkable passage near the end of Isaiah. God speaking of Himself, says-
I have stretched out my hands all day long to a rebellious people, who walk in the way that is not good, according to their own thoughts; a people who provoke me to anger continually to my face; who sacrifice in gardens, and burn incense on altars of brick; who sit among the graves, who spend the night in the tombs; who eat swine's flesh, and broth of abominable things in their vessels, who say, Keep to yourself, Do not come near me, for I am holier than you!'
Without going into too much detail, note the Divine gesture. He's stretching out His hand to help His people, and when is He doing this? When they're at their worst! They are rebels against their God, and not just mixed up kids. They're not only sinning, but committing sins for which there is no excuse or reason, other than they want to flaunt them! All they're doing, they're doing 'in God's face', that is knowing He knows, and not caring. And, to top it all off, they look down on others for their sin!
If God, who is both Righteous and the Judge, speaks to us gently, how can we who are not righteous and not judges either, correct each other bitterly, harshly, and self-righteously? If Paul prefers pleading to scolding, let us make the same choice. And, just for the record, it works too.-
Harsh words stir up strife, but a soft answer turns away wrath.
By long forebearing a prince is persuaded and a soft tongue breaks the bone.
What Paul wants from his friends is this, that they-
Have a walk worthy of the calling with which you were called.
Some of us squirm when we see that word, worthy. We wonder if we have to make ourselves worthy of God's favor or a place in His Church. Do we? No we don't because, as Paul says back in 1:6-
[God] made us acceptable in the Beloved.
This means we have God's favor and a place in His Church because we are in Christ and Christ is worthy! But this doesn't quite explain what Paul does mean, does it? Look at it this way. Suppose a judge is caught taking bribes. We would say his actions were unworthy of his office. By this, we don't mean, 'not taking bribes' qualifies you to be a judge, but rather, a man in that office ought to live up to it. No one expects him to be perfect, but we have every right to expect him to not take bribes.
Apply this it to our calling. We are called to Christ and together. This imposes obligations on us. Not to be perfect, but to be loyal to Christ and each other. Think about it: If God had wanted us to be divided, resentful, proud, unforgiving, bitter, and partisan, He would have left us alone, for that's the way we were-the way the whole world is-without Christ. In another place, he says-
For we ourselves were also once foolish, disobedient, deceived, serving various lusts and pleasures, living in malice, hateful and hating one another.
In short, Paul wants you to live as though God really called you to Himself and to His Church. In other words, he wants us to live in the truth and not in a lie.
How do we do this? We don't have to guess. Paul names five attitudes we must have if we're going to walk worthily of the Gospel.
The first is humility, v.2a-
With all lowliness. This is not the usual word for 'humility', but something quite a bit lower. The pagans took it for a vice: it means a slavish mentality. Nobody wants to be like that, right? Wrong. I can think of One Man who did want to be this way. And He was the King. One night when the disciples and their Lord got together for dinner, Jesus wrapped a towel around His waist, filled a bowl with water, and washed their feet, a work reserved for the lowest slave in the house, the slaves youngest son for the most part. Though they were all horrified by what He did, one of them spoke up, Peter, of course. He felt he was disgracing the Lord by letting Him wash his feet. But the Lord insisted, and then He explained it to Peter and His friends-
You call Me Lord and Master, and rightly so, for so I am. And if I, your Lord and Master wash your feet, you must wash one another's feet.
What Christ had in full, we must have too. If not in full, then in part for now, and more as we grow in grace.
I'm wondering how a church could split or a couple break up if everyone had a servant's mentality, if each really-and not just verbally-esteemed others better than himself.
The second is gentleness, v.2b-
Gentleness is the fruit of humility. A humble person doesn't think too highly of himself, and therefore, he becomes gentle or meek, that is he doesn't insist on having his way, he doesn't think his needs or wants are more important than others', and he doesn't throw his weight around. He's not a weak man or a coward. Moses was called the meekest man on earth, and he was a heroic man. But, he was also willing to be crossed and to be used without hitting back like a prizefighter or sulking like an angry little boy who didn't get his way.
Here too we recall our Lord Jesus Christ. In the beginning, His voice created the heavens and the earth. But when He came among us, He did not lift up His voice in the street. Voices differ from one another in volume and shrillness, and that's okay, we don't have to go around whispering to be gentle. But we have to listen to ourselves. Do our words drip with resentment, with willfulness, with sarcasm and a martyr's complex? If they do, we need to repent of our pushy ways and learn from the One who was meek and lowly of heart.
Until you do, neither you nor the church will have any peace.
The third thing we need is longsuffering, v.2c-
This word means 'to hold your temper'. It assumes that others are doing things you don't like, and you're tempted to let `em have it! But you don't. And not only do you not let them have it, but you don't gossip about it to others. Good churches are like good marriages. They're made up of sinners. And this means it's easier to find fault than to overlook it and easier to say and do vengeful things than to suffer long with them. But this is what we're called to do: suffer long, with an emphasis on both words. You have to put up with me; I have to endure you; we all have to tolerate each other. If these aren't the words we'd like to associate with the people in our church or family, fine. But they are absolutely necessary; in fact, in telling us what love is and does, Paul starts this way, I Corinthians 13:3-
Love suffers long.
If you've 'had it up to here' with me, you've also had it up to here with love. And with God.
HOW TO-BEARING WITH ONE ANOTHER IN LOVE
If putting up with people is hard, 'bearing with them in love' is harder, v2d. To bear with others is pretty much the same as suffering long with them. But Paul adds, 'in love'. Tolerating one another is not enough; we have to love them-not say we love them-but love them. A commentator says-
It involves bearing with one another's weaknesses, and not ceasing to love because of the faults in them which displease or offend us.
The last thing Paul mentions is plain old effort, v.3a-
Endeavoring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.
The word 'endeavor' is in the present tense and means, 'Keep on endeavoring'-and not till you're tired or discouraged or 'had it up to here'! The word itself means 'maximum effort'. We sometime think any effort at keeping the unity of the church is good enough. It isn't. Every effort is demanded of us. Paul says in another place-
As much as lies in you, live at peace with all men.
Jay Adams is a well-known preacher and counselor who doesn't need Assertiveness Training! One night, while counseling a couple talking divorce, a man next door heard Adams yelling, Where is the blood? Where is the blood? Where is the blood? The man wondered if Adams was doing marriage counseling or investigating a crime scene! When the couple left, the man asked Dr. Adams what he meant. Jay told him, 'I was applying Hebrews 12:4, which says-
You have not yet resisted unto blood striving against sin.
The couple claimed they had done everything they could to save their marriage, but Adams asked them if they had bled for it? No. Then they could have done more, and don't walk out until you have done all you can, and not all you want to!
What Adams said about marriage, Paul says about the Church. The Holy Spirit has united God's People, and He has turned over the maintenance (in part) to us. Now, what are we doing about it? Saying it's hard to fix leaky pipes, or getting in there and doing it-even if it takes all night and bloodies your knuckles?
If the Church were nothing more than a human organization-like the Rotary Club-it wouldn't be worth all your time and effort and prayer to keep it together. But there's the rub: The Church is not a human organization, it is the Body of Christ, the Temple of God, and the Habitation of the Spirit. And, therefore, it is worth everything we've got. It is worth our hospitality and our patience and our prayers and our preferences.
The Lord has burdened us with the upkeep of His Church. Make no mistake about it, it is a burden, and sometimes an awfully heavy one. But this is not all it is, or mainly what it is. Mostly, what it is is our privilege. The Lord has honored us in giving us this work and using our puny efforts to do it. Let us, therefore, be thankful and diligent.
The love of God be with you all. Amen.
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