Elon, North Carolina
In almost every church, there are two types of people. They are very different. The question is, Which one are you?
Some Christians love to study the Bible. They can do it for hours. They love doctrine. They love to go deep. They love apologetics (defending their faith). They are often not real big on application. That does not excite them much. They do not waste their time reading devotional books. They like to cut their teeth on deep theology.
They are dissatisfied with the church, because much bible study in the church today is very shallow. There is not a lot of depth to it. Many Christians do not know their faith very well. They do not know the Bible well and have no clue how to defend it before the world. Many of these Christians have been in the church for twenty or thirty years and they are spiritual babies. They can only drink milk. They cannot eat meat.
There is another extreme in the church. This group is all practical. They do not want to waste their time on the theoretical. They see hours of intense bible study as pointless. What is the point of mastering all of the mysteries of the Book of Ezekiel or Zechariah? There is no point in trying to figure out what predestination is all about. That only leads to pride. It leads to a big head. Paul said, “knowledge puffs but love builds up” (I Corinthians 8:1).
What really matters is how you live your life. They only want to study the Bible to learn how to live. They want to learn how to control their addictions, how to improve their relationships, how to strengthen their marriage and how to raise their kids. That is all that matters.
Jesus did not say, “They will know you are my disciples by how much you KNOW.” He said, “They will know you are my disciples by how much you LOVE.” Many in the church have this viewpoint. That is why so few in the church have any interest in-depth bible study. That is why we see so few people in Sunday School.
Who is right? They BOTH are. The Bible give us BOTH. It gives us doctrine. Paul said that all Scripture is inspired and some of it is profitable for “DOCTRINE” or teaching. The Bible is also extremely practical. It tells us how to live. It is also profitable for “TRAINING IN RIGHTEOUSNESS” (II Timothy 3:16), not just training in theology. If we do not have both parts, we do not have the whole counsel of God.
We see both in the Book of Ephesians. The first part of the book deals with DOCTRINE. It deals with DUTIES. The first part deals with what we are to BELIEVE. The second part deals with how we are to BEHAVE.
Ephesians 4 is not just another chapter in the book. It starts a whole new section of the book and this section is much more practical. There is one command in the first section and forty in the second section. Notice how the section begins.
I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called (Ephesians 4:1 ESV).
The first part of the book is all about our calling in Christ and what it means to be in Christ. Now Paul says we are to WALK WORTHY of that calling. That is a convicting verse. How many of us walk worthy in our jobs, in our homes, in our marriages? The question is this. Are you walking worthy of the calling to which you have been called? It is not a question of being sinlessly perfect. It is not a question of pleasing God in every area of your life. How do we do that? We will find out in these verses.
Our topic today is Christian unity. This is one of the most important passages on unity on the Bible. In fact, in the Greek New Testament this is the only time that we find the word for unity (ἑνότης) and that Greek word is used twice in this chapter. Paul speaks of “the UNITY of the Spirit” in Ephesians 4:3. He speaks of “the UNITY of the faith” in Ephesians 4:13. We are going to look at what the Bible says about unity and what it does not say.
How Churches are Divided
We live in a day in which the church is completely divided. Today, churches are divided in many ways.
1. Churches are divided by SIZE
There are small churches of just a few people and the mega churches of thousands of people and in some cases ten thousand people.
2. Churches are divided by RACE
There are black churches. There are white churches. There are Hispanic churches, There are Asian churches. Churches today are often divided by race.
3. Churches are divided by DENOMINATION
How many denominations do you think there are in the world today? According to the experts there are about thirty or forty thousand of them.
4. Churches are divided by BIBLE TRANSLATION
Some churches only use the KJV (KJV only churches), while other churches use modern translations. Many of those churches think that if you do not use a King James Bible, you are not a real Christian.
5. Churches are divided by MUSIC
Churches are divided by the style of music and the instruments used in worship. Some churches only play hymns and other churches play that evil modern music. The first are usually full of old people. The second group is usually full of young people and hipsters. The Church of Christ is non-instrumental. Their service is all a cappella. They think it is somehow wrong to praise God with musical instruments in church.
6. Churches are divided by DRESS CODE
Some churches are casual churches (come as you are churches). Other churches are what my wife calls “panty hose churches” where all the men wear a tie like they are going to a funeral or a wedding.
7. Churches are divided by THEOLOGY
There are Calvinistic churches and Arminian churches. There are charismatic and non-charismatic churches. There are property churches who teach the health and wealth gospel and non-prosperity churches. There are dispensational and non-dispensational churches. There are liberal and conservative churches, those who believe the Bible and take it literally and those who do not.
8. Churches are divided by SEXUAL ORIENTATION
There are gay churches, LGBTQ churches, or and straight churches. Some churches are known as gay friendly or gay affirming churches.
9. Churches are divided by LEADERSHIP
Some churches have female pastors; other churches have only male pastors and elders. Some churches are ruled by elders and some are ruled by the congregation in a more democratic manner.
Division in some churches can get pretty ugly. Fights break out with other Christians usually over the most trivial things that really don’t matter. Most of them have nothing to do with doctrine. Some of the best fights are church fights.
Sometimes God leads people to leave another church but that often does not happen. What usually happens? One person gets offended about something or hurt, tells his or her friends. That person leaves the church, never talking to the offending party again and five other people leave the church with that person.
What is even worse is when the fight is so bad that it gets out in the media and unbelievers can see how bad things are in the church. That is what has happened recently in Chicago with Harvest Bible Chapel.
Five Truths about Unity
Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. (Ephesians 4:3 NIV)
1) Unity is a need
It is a problem today and was a problem in Paul’s day. Paul would not have given this command unless there was a need for it. Some of the churches started by apostles two thousand years ago had problems. They weren’t perfect churches. Churches in the first century had all kinds of divisions and we have many of those same divisions today. The problem of unity is not just a modern problem.
2) Unity is a command
It is not optional. This is the will of God for every believer. Jesus prayed that we would be one. In fact, He prayed for this three times in John 17 right before He went to the cross (John 17:11, 21, 23). This is something we are called to.
Paul said that there should be NO divisions among us (I Corinthians 1:10), not a few, NONE. In fact, Paul says in Romans 16:17 that we are to AVOID people who cause divisions in the church.
3) Unity involves effort
It requires us to do something. You have to work hard. It does not happen automatically. Paul says that we need to “be diligent to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.” Not only are we to do it, we are to be diligent to keep the unity of the Spirit.
Some are eager to fight with other Christians (the fighting fundamentalists). They love controversy. They love to argue. They love debate. They love a good fight. We are to love unity, not conflict and division.
4) Unity is supernatural
It comes from the Holy Spirit. It is called a “unity OF THE SPIRIT.” This is Holy Spirit unity. He is the one who creates the unity. The Holy Spirit places different people in the body. He creates the unity. We are just commanded to keep it. We are not told to create the unity.
5) Unity results in peace
That is the goal. It is the proof that unity exists. When there is unity, there is peace, people get along. Paul says, “If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone” (Romans 12:18 NIV).
Today, we want to look at two kinds of biblical unity. There are two kinds of unity. What are they and how do we achieve them?
Personal unity is practical unity. It is a unity of people. It is getting along with people you can’t stand in the church. It is getting along with people who get on your nerves. Paul says that this is how we walk worth of our calling. To walk worthy and to achieve personal unity, you have to have four character traits. Every one of us should have these four traits. Three of these four are specifically called Fruits of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22-23)
with all HUMILITY and GENTLENESS, with PATIENCE, bearing with one another in LOVE (Ephesians 4:2 ESV)
This is interesting. The Greeks and Romans had no concept of humility. They worshiped power. They worshiped strength. Humility is not someone that is emphasized in our culture either. This is completely counter-cultural. We emphasize the need to be assertive and stand up for your rights.
Humility does not mean that we have low self-esteem. Jesus was humble. Humility means that we think of others. It means that we treat others better than ourselves (Philippians 2:3). In fact, Paul says that we are to walk, not just with humility but with ALL humility. Are we humble? Is that the way people who know us best would describe us?
Divisions take place because pride. Someone gets offended. Their pride is hurt and they leave. Leaders who are arrogant and dictatorial drive people away. No one wants to be around them if they are domineering or overbearing and all they want to do is criticize people.
Some Christians and some preachers come across as rough or harsh, not gentle. They are at war with everybody. They think kindness and humility mean weakness. They think you can’t be well-liked and respected if you are gentle. They are abusive. They are mean and cruel to the sheep. We are to be gentle. Are we gentle? Jesus was gentle. Jesus said, “I am gentle and humble of heart” (Matthew 11;29 NIV). A bruised reed he will not break (Matthew 12:20 ESV). Jesus was gentle but he also knew how to stand up to the Pharisees.
3) Long suffering
There are a lot of different words we could use here: patient, long suffering, tolerant. To do this, you have to put up with some things. You can’t let every little thing bother you. Divisions take place because Christians are not patient. They are not long-suffering with people. They get upset. They get angry and leave.
This is the word αγάπη. It is not enough to be tolerant. We can tolerate all kinds of people we can’t stand. We also need to be loving. Are we loving? We see these same virtues in Colossians 3:12-14.
12 Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. 13 Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. 14 And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity (NIV).
There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to one hope when you were called; 5 one Lord, one faith, one baptism; 6 one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all. (Ephesians 4:4-6 NIV)
One area of unity in the church is doctrinal unity. This is a unity of truth. These verses deal with seven things that all Christians agree on. The word “one” is used seven times in these three verses and it is used in all three different forms of the word in Greek (masculine, feminine and neuter). These are what James MacDonald called ‘seven non-negotiables.”
In the last chapter, it was described as a building. In this chapter, it is pictured as a body. In the next chapter, he will describe it as a bride but here it is pictured as a body with Christ as the head. Paul says that the church is not only a body, it is ONE body, not a thousand bodies. There are many denominations (thousands of them) but there is only one body.
This is the body of true believers (regardless of denominational label) of all ages. This body is invisible. It is the group of saved people everywhere. If you combined every denomination into one big church (a world church), you still would not have the body of Christ. It would have many saved people but it would have many unsaved people in that group.
These seven elements of unity are grouped around each person of the Trinity. Each verse deals with a different member of the Trinity. They begin with the Spirit (Ephesians 4:4). They move to the Son (Ephesians 4:5) and they end with God the Father (Ephesians 4:6). When we think of the Trinity, we think of the Father, the Son and the Spirit. Paul here goes from the Spirit to the Son to the Father.
That same spirit is in every believer and puts each believer in the body, gives that believer spiritual gifts and empowers every Christian for living. Paul said that we are sealed with the Spirit (Ephesians 1:18). We have access to the Father through the Spirit (Ephesians 2:18). We are a dwelling place for God by the Spirit (Ephesians 2:22) and we are strengthened in the inner man through the Spirit (Ephesians 3:16).
What hope is this? What is the one hope that every Christian has? We are not told. It could be the hope of heaven. It could be the hope of eternal life. I believe it is the hope to one day see Jesus. Jesus is the hope of every man. We will either see Him on earth on in heaven. We will in the clouds if we are raptured. We will see Him at the Second Coming if we are on earth at that time or we will see Him at death when we open our eyes in the afterlife.
Some say that this could not refer to prophecy, because no two Christians can agree on prophecy. Some are pretrib. Some are post trib. Some are midtrib. Some are premillennial. Some are postmillennial. Some are amillennial. That is true but Paul is not dealing with the details. He is just dealing with the blessed hope, looking forward to seeing Jesus.
Pagans believed that there are many lords (I Corinthians 8:5) but as Christians we all believe that there is only one Lord (κύριος). That Lord is not Caesar. It is Jesus. There is one head of the church. It is not the pastor. It is not the Pope. It is Jesus.
This is not the Baptist or Methodist faith but the Christian faith. We have one creed or confession, one faith which was once for all delivered to the saints (Jude 3). This faith covers the essentials that all Christians believe. It does not cover the non-essential minor doctrines that Christians argue about.
What is the baptism? Some seem to think that this is Holy Spirit baptism but that is not what this is talking about at all. It is talking about water baptism. How do we know? If it was talking about Holy Spirit baptism, it would be in the verse about the Holy Spirit. Instead, it is in the verse about the Son and this one baptism follows one faith.
In the NT baptism always follows faith and is an outward expression of faith. In the early church, people believed and were baptized. As F.F. Bruce said, there is no such thing as an unbaptized believer in the NT. All NT believers were baptized. If you are a believer and have never been baptized, you need to be. It is part of the Great Commission.
How could baptism be an area of unity in the church today? There are so many different views of baptism in the church. Some believe in sprinkling. Some believe in immersion. Some believe in pouring. Some baptize in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit (following the Great Commission).
Some only baptize in the name of Jesus (following the book of Acts). Some baptize believers and some baptize people who have not believed yet (infants). We may do it in different ways but we all believe in one baptism, one initiatory rite into the visible church. People were baptized and added to the church (Acts 2:41).
Now our pastor sometimes speaks of two Gods working in the world but Satan is a god in the lowercase. He is not really God. He is an angel. He is a created being. Paul says there is only one God. There is not two and there is not three. The Trinity is not the believe that there are three gods. There is only one God and Father.
Acknowledge and take to heart this day that the LORD is God in heaven above and on the earth below. There is no other. (Deuteronomy 4:39)
so that all the peoples of the earth may know that the LORD is God and that there is no other. (I Kings 8:60 NIV)
We are told three things about this God. He is TRANSCENDENT (above all). He is SOVEREIGN (through all) and he is OMNIPRESENT (in all)
Three False Unities
1. A Pluralistic Unity
False unity is a unity of truth with error. We do not have to sacrifice truth for the sake of unity. Pluralism teaches that all views are correct. Every view must be accepted. This is the politically correct unity. That is a false unity. Some think that to have unity, we have to accept every viewpoint. We are to be non-judgmental. We cannot say that anything is false, because that would offend some people and cause disunity. That is not biblical unity. That would mean that we could not criticize the KKK or the Nazis or child abuse or child sacrifice, as D.A. Carson points out. This would be patently absurd.
2. An Ecumenical Unity
False unity is a unity with idolatry and false religion. True unity is not when Christians unite with the Rev. Sung Myung Moon or Hari Krishna. The Bible says that you cannot take the cup of the Lord and the cup of demons (I Corinthians 10:21). The is a unity for Christians who have the same Father and the same Lord. It is a unity of Christians with other members of this family.
We are not to be united with anyone. We are not to be united with false teachers and people who cause divisions in the church. The sheep are not to be united with wolves. They will just devour them.
There are some people that the NT says should be excommunicated. Jesus rebuked one church because they tolerated Jezebel to teach in the church (Revelation 2:20). She was causing believers to sin.
3. A homogeneous unity
False unity is a unity without diversity. Unity does not mean that we cannot have any difference of opinion. There are all kinds of things Christians disagree about on non-essentials but on the essentials there should be complete unity. Some churches do not make this distinction. They leave no room for disagreement, even on non-essentials. If you disagree with anything, you are instantly labeled a heretic.
The truth is that there can be distinction in the body of Christ but not division. Unity is not uniformity. We can have unity and all kinds of diversity (diversity of race, diversity of gifts, diversity of ministries and even diversity of thought). We will see this next week as we continue to look at the topic of spiritual gifts.