It is time for parents to teach young people early on that in diversity there is beauty and there is strength.
I am somewhat at odds about denominations dictating what is true verses the Holy Bible truth. The diversity illustrated in the bible has nothing to do with denominations. I pray we all would without bias look at true diversity through the lens of truth and get this gospel to the farthest parts of our communities and world together as the family of God.
Paul has spent the first three chapters of this letter explaining the mystery of God’s eternal purpose for the world as it’s being worked out in history. He’s given us all the theory, he’s even given us the prayer he prays for his converts, and now he goes on to speak about the practicalities of living out this spiritual reality.
But before we look at that, let’s think back to what we’ve already discovered in Ephesians. You see Paul begins this chapter by reminding them of the calling that they’ve received. I wonder can you tell me what Paul says is the calling of the Church. What is the major task confronting the church? What is the goal towards which we should be working? Part of it, from ch 1, is that we’re to be blameless and holy in his sight, Partly it’s that we might live to His glory. Likewise, in ch 2, we’ve been created in Christ Jesus for good works which God prepared beforehand to be our way of life. But that, I would suggest, is only an adjunct to the real calling that Paul is talking about here. Look at 3:10. Our calling is that through the Church the manifold wisdom of God should be made known to the rest of creation. Go back further to 1:10. God’s plan for the world, and in particular, for the Church, is that all things should be brought together under one head, even Christ.
So the calling which we’ve received is a calling to be the new people of God bound together in unity under Christ; and so Paul goes on to outline how being the new people of God is to be worked out in the down-to-earth, concrete realities of life. As we’ll see over the next couple of weeks, the new society that God is calling into being has two major characteristics. First it’s one people, composed of both Jew and Gentile, without distinction, and secondly it’s a holy people, set apart to belong to God, and therefore showing by its life, a purity and righteousness that befits the people of God.
So today we’re thinking about the unity of the Church. How does that unity arise and how is it to be maintained.
A. It depends on our Christian character.
Paul begins his exhortation by listing 5 characteristics of the Christian that unity depends on: humility, gentleness, patience, mutual forbearance, and love. Let’s think about these for a moment.
Not surprisingly he begins his list with humility. That is, the sort of attitude that Jesus displayed when he became a human being. In fact the word he uses is actually humility of mind. That is it’s an attitude that recognises the worth and value of other people. He begins his list here because humility is essential to unity. Pride almost always results in discord. Think about it for a moment. The people we tend to like are the people who show us the respect we deserve, or at least that we think we deserve. The ones we don’t like are the ones we sense don’t like us, or who won’t put up with our particular quirks. If however, rather than manoeuvring for the respect or regard of others (which is the nature of pride) we give them our respect, because we recognise in them their intrinsic God-given worth, (which is the nature of this humility of mind that Paul’s talking about) then we’ll be promoting harmony in the Church; and of course the unlooked for result will most probably be that they’ll respond to us with the same respect they’ve received.
Gentleness is a tricky word. It’s too easily understood as weakness It’s the word that used to be translated meekness. It’s the quality of moderation, the golden mean. Aristotle described it as “the mean between being too angry and never being angry at all.” It was a word that was used of work animals: of oxen or workhorses; even of battle stallions. It had the idea of strength under control. So it’s the characteristic of a strong personality who doesn’t let their strength control them, nor use it to control others. Rather it’s a strength that’s there to serve others. Paul uses the term in his instructions in 2 Tim 2:24,25 about how pastors are to deal with those who oppose the gospel, where he says: (NRSV) “And the Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but kindly to everyone, an apt teacher, patient, 25correcting opponents with gentleness. God may perhaps grant that they will repent and come to know the truth,”
Notice that humility and gentleness form a natural pairing. They’re the words used by Jesus to describe himself “I am gentle and lowly of heart.” (Matt 11:29). The next two characteristics also form a natural pairing. Patience is a longsuffering attitude towards aggravating people: the sort of attitude that God has to us I guess, while mutual forbearance is the sort of mutual tolerance without which no group of human beings could ever live together in peace for any length of time.
The final characteristic in his list is love, which is more of an overarching quality that takes in all the other four and I guess actually enables them to be expressed. Paul will speak more of that at the end of this chapter when he speaks of personal holiness, but for now it’s enough to say that it’s the controlling force for everything else we do.
So here are five characteristics which make or break our efforts to live in unity: humility, gentleness, patience, mutual forbearance, and love. Let me ask you, which of those do you lack? Look at them again: humility, gentleness, patience, mutual forbearance, and love. Don’t think about anyone else. They’ll all lack one or more of those characteristics, I’m sure. Just think about yourself. If you fail to show one or more of those characteristics in your relationships with people then repent of it. Ask God to change you, to make you more like Jesus, so you can do your bit to make the Church more of the new creation that God wants it to be.
Well that’s what unity depends on: the nature of our Christian character. But Paul wants to drive home just how important this is, so he reminds us where our unity comes from.
B. It Arises from the Unity of our God
He says this is the reality into which we’ve all been incorporated: There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to the one hope of your calling, 5one Lord, one faith, one baptism, 6one God and Father of all, who is above all and through all and in all.
First of all, notice that this long list of ones centres around the 3 persons of the Trinity, either by referring to them directly or to things they bring about. So, for example, there’s one body because there is only one Spirit who brings the Church about and only one Lord Jesus who is its head. There’s one hope, one faith, one baptism, because there’s only one Lord Jesus who is the way, the truth, and the life. Finally, although he doesn’t say it explicitly, there’s only one family of God because there’s only one Father of all, who is above all and through all and in all.
So our unity derives from the fact that the one Father creates the one family, the one Lord Jesus is the focus of the one faith, hope, and baptism, and the one Spirit creates the one body. When you think of it like that you suddenly realise what someone is doing whose actions damage the unity of the church. What they’re actually doing is attacking the very unity of the Godhead. Of course as you look around the churches today you realise that we’ve been very successful at breaking down this unity, haven’t we? Well, the unity of the Godhead isn’t damaged but its outworking in the churches often is and with it the church’s witness to the world. That’s why Paul makes this paradoxical plea in v3 to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. You’d think the unity of the Spirit would be indestructible, yet we’re told to maintain it. So why does he say it? Because we live in a fallen world where spiritual realities aren’t always seen in the visible church. So we have to work hard if we’re to make the unity of the Church a reality in this fallen world. It’s a bit like this: Imagine we have an average family, Mr & Mrs Jones and their three children, Shane, Jarryd, and Ashley. Now imagine that like so many average families things aren’t going well. In fact they’re going very badly. Father and Mother have been at odds for years until they finally separate, then divorce. Shane, Jarryd and Ashley also argue, first with their parents then with each other, and the family begins to disintegrate. The three children move interstate, Shane to Sydney, Jarryd to Adelaide and Ashley to Perth. In fact they’re so at odds that they even change their names by deed poll so they won’t have to have anything to do with the rest of their family. Now suppose we were cousins of this family. How would we react? Would we just shrug our shoulders and say “Oh well, never mind, they’re still one family, you know”? Well, in a sense they are aren’t they? The facts of birth and heritage can’t be removed. But would we just ignore the situation, deny that this is a tragedy. No, if these were people were close to our hearts we’d do our best to encourage them to be reconciled with each other. We’d urge them to maintain the unity of the family by repenting and re-establishing peace within the family.
Well, that’s what Paul is saying here. Do your best to maintain that which is the spiritual reality of the case. If you call yourself by the name of the one God and Father, by the one Son; if you rely for your spiritual life on the one Spirit, then make sure you live in the church that way.
C. It’s enriched by the diversity of gifts
Thirdly, our unity is enriched and built up by the diversity of gifts in the Church. If you look at the great diversity of people and gifts and personality types in any given church you might well despair of ever reaching unity. You see, although there’s only one Church and one God, one Spirit, one Lord, etc, the church itself is made up of a whole lot of individuals, everyone of us different from all the rest. So how are we to come to unity from that sort of base.
Well, Paul says, it’s not as bad as it looks at first glance. You see each of us is different, true, we’re all individuals, but we’re different for a reason.. “Each of us was given grace according to the measure of Christ’s gift.” That is, the differences you see are often the result of the different ways Christ wants us to work. Someone once likened the Church to a jigsaw puzzle. You know, one of those puzzles where no two pieces are the same. And not only are the pieces different, but they each have sections that stick out or in, that other pieces link into.
Now if you ever want to really annoy someone who’s a jigsaw freak, give them a large jigsaw puzzle with two or three pieces missing. It’ll drive them crazy! Well, that’s what the church is like. We’re like a jigsaw puzzle where every piece has a place, and where if one piece is missing, the picture is incomplete.
Now I don’t want to go into the bit about Christ descending and ascending, except to say that the picture is of the triumphant Christ pouring out his gifts on his people, Psalm 68 from which he quotes was traditionally used at Pentecost, so clearly Paul has in mind the gifts that accompany the giving of the Holy Spirit.
Notice though, that the gifts that he mentions are of a particular type. These is a different list to 1 Corinthians 12 for example. So what’s the difference? Well, the gifts he lists here are that some would be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers. Not an exhaustive list by any means, but a significant one. Why? Because these are all gifts with the same purpose: to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ. They’re all gifts that in one way or another bring God’s word to people, whether it’s for the first time as in apostles and prophets, or in the form of the gospel in the case of evangelists, or in a systematic and applied way in the case of pastors and teachers. And why is this important? Look back at 2:20: The Church is built upon this foundation: of God’s word left to us by the apostles and prophets. So these gifts are particularly important in the Church for building the church up. That isn’t to say that other gifts aren’t important, but when it comes to the church achieving the unity, and the maturity as we’ll see in a moment, that God desires, these gifts are to be prized by the Church.
D. It demands our growth to maturity.
But notice why these gifts are given They’re no just given so we can be built up. We’re not being built up for fun. No, the body of Christ is being built up until all of us come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to maturity, to the measure of the full stature of Christ. If we’re to achieve unity, then this is what we should be striving for: maturity! To be grown up. It’s what all children long for isn’t it?. But in the case of the Church maturity equates with attaining the full measure of the stature of Christ. That is, the same sort of unity that Christ experiences with the Father. Remember what he prayed for at the last supper? (John 17:20-21 NRSV) “”I ask not only on behalf of these, but also on behalf of those who will believe in me through their word, 21that they may all be one. As you, Father, are in me and I am in you, may they also be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me.” This is what it means to reach the measure of the full stature of Christ. To be one with each other and with God the Father. To be able to stand against all the winds of misfortune, all the blasts of the evil one. “No longer children, tossed to and fro and blown about by every wind of doctrine, by people’s trickery, by their craftiness in deceitful scheming.” he says, “15But speaking the truth in love, we must grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ.” There’s a solidity about those we consider mature, isn’t there? One sign of immaturity is that you’re easily swayed from what’s true. But those who are mature aren’t like that. Rather they stick with the truth, speaking it in love. And how do you stick with the truth? Well, first you have to know it don’t you? That means you have to know your bibles. It’s not enough to know a few key verses. You need to have read the whole thing, over and over and over, until it finally starts to sink in. You need to study it with other Christians so you get your ideas straight. That’s why belonging to a small group is so important. Those who are mature as Christians are generally those who have read and studied God’s word for years and years, who are constantly applying it to their lives, as a corrective, as a guide. They’re the ones who can speak the truth in love and people will listen, because their study of God’s word has led to the sorts of characteristics we started with today: humility, gentleness, patience, mutual forbearance, and love.
And the end result of all this is that as a church we grow up into Christ from whom the whole body, joined and knit together by every ligament with which it is equipped, (notice this) as each part is working properly, promotes the body’s growth in building itself up in love.” Again, every part is needed. Every part needs to be working properly for the body to be built up.
So how can a diverse body like the church achieve the sort of unity that God desires? By growing up. By becoming more like Christ as we grow into him.
So speak the truth in love, and grow into Christ who is our head, Do your part in bringing the church to maturity, to unity, to the full stature of Christ.
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