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Eager For Unity


[This article is based on the notes from the devotional given at Redeemer's Quarterly Member's Meeting.]

I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, 2 with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, 3 eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. (Ephesians 4:1-3)

What are you most eager for in the church? For many, they are driven by a metric of success. They are eager to see the church grow in numbers. Some pastors aim for this above all else. For others they are eager to hear the teaching that they particularly like. Finally, a church that says what I like to hear. For others it's an eagerness to receive the programs and music that they particularly like. Finally, this is what I want to sing, this is what I want for my kids. For others it's an eagerness to fellowship with a small subset of the church. To be with their clique, to be with their friends. But according to Paul there is something else that we should be driven towards, something that we are eager to see. The word he uses, eager, refers to being hasty, speedy, or quick towards something. And that precious thing that we should chase after: unity.

Be eager to maintain the unity in your local church. Remember Paul wrote this to the Ephesians. He is saying, I want you guys to watch out for something. Division. Disunity. Things that pull you apart from one another. I want you not to be quick to divide rather I want you to be quick to keep together. Be earnest and eager to preserve a peaceful unity between one another. The Holy Spirit brings you together – work by His power to stay together, and to stay together well.

Now what is it that pulls us apart? Paul writes this not without reason. The fact is that we are easily divided. We can be pulled apart by many things. But most obviously by sin.

As we read in Galatians: 19 Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, 20 idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions… (Galatians 5:19-20)

Note that the list isn't just the big gnarly sins like sorcery and sexual immorality – it includes dissensions, divisions, strife, enmity. We can be driven by our own sinfulness, perhaps by the sin of envy or the sin of pride, to be difficult with one another. To break unity and go our own way.

We can also be pulled apart by diverse teachings, and an unhealthy penchant for playing devil's advocate. Paul says in Philippians, "Complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind" (Philippians 2:2). But many of us struggle with this. We love to be unique. We love to be the one with a distinctive and sophisticated perspective on things. And yet we are told in the Scriptures, again by Paul: "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" (1 Corinthians 1:10). Guys, agree with each other. Get on the same page.

Later in this passage in Ephesians, Paul speaks of them being swayed by different teachings. We are warned that we could be like children tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes.

But the fact that Paul mentions this so many times should tip us off to the reality that this is really hard work. This is not easy. The work of maintaining unity takes time, effort, conversation, good listening, speaking the truth, and above all it takes humility and it takes love. But we must do it. This is who we are in Christ. This is part of what walking in a manner worthy of the gospel looks like.

Jesus said to his disciples: 34 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. 35 By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another." (John 13:34-35)

The work of eagerly maintaining unity in the body is a work of love. And it's not just the work of a pastor, it's the work of the whole body of believers.

In my view, this lack of unity, and this sectarian spirit, is one of the biggest dangers facing more reformed or doctrinally-minded Christians today. We often think that our doctrinal convictions are the most important thing that we need to stand for. And yet, every Christian who reads their Bible would agree that Christian's should be committed to unity, humility, and love. How quickly we can sacrifice those commitments when we elevate certain other doctrinal or philosophical positions in our thinking. It can be regarding church music, baptism, church polity, eschatology, political theory, models of cultural engagement, you name it. But we make that particular issue paramount in our thinking, and we let it divide us from our brothers and sisters.

It is good to be strong on doctrine – but let unity be one of those doctrines that you are strong on. These things take wisdom. To know what the loving course of action will be. Sometimes the best thing we can do is to keep quiet. We hear James say, "let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger;" (James 1:19). And we say, "you know I was going to balance my brother's statement out and add a little disagreement there, but I'm going to slow down, maybe I should just let it be". Or, "I was going to share how I have come to hold a cute little niche theological position about something, but maybe I should talk instead about the central things, the things that we are unified on". We want to run all of our words through the grid of Ephesians 4:29: 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.

This unity is going to take all of us, but note that it is led by the pastors and teachers of the church. 11 And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, 12 to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, 13 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, 14 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.

The people of God are prone to wander, Lord I feel it. Prone to be tossed to and fro and to be carried about by every wind of doctrine. Do you realize how many fads there are in theology? How many fads in church philosophy? How many fads in ministry strategy? We feel the breeze of these things more and more through this age of internet and of ubiquitious online teaching. We can all have a self-curated list of teachers cued up in our ears, saying what suits us. And yet, this is so incredibly dangerous to the unity of a local church. The fact is, God has given to each local church elders and teachers. And they are engaged in teaching and equipping the local Saints under their charge. Each believer should look to their pastors for guidance in the world of online teachers. Why not ask, "Pastor, should I listen to this podcast? Is this solid teaching?" That would go a long way in maintaining unity.

There is much that can pull us apart, but what can bring us together? What brings us together is all of our shared time around the Word, our shared fellowship, our worship of Christ together. The church that learns together stays together. The church that prays together, studies together, worships together, even plays together, stays together. There is no substitute for time spent building one another up. When we come together consistently with humility and a commitment to love one another, God unifies us more and more.

What are you doing to promote unity in the local church? Let us be committed to pursuing unity. But as I close, let us remind ourselves again of where this call to unity comes in. It comes in chapter 4.

I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, 2 with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, 3 eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. (Ephesians 4:1-3)

What is the therefore there for? It is resting this application, these imperatives, these commands, on the gospel that has saved us. Paul laboured wonderfully for three whole chapters explaining all that Christ has done to redeem us. It is finished. We are secure. And it is out of that finished work of Christ that we are called to walk in a manner worthy of Him. He has united us in Christ – let us strive to maintain that unity. We do this not to earn anything or to create something that isn't already there. No, ours is the work of keeping, and maintaining the glorious reality which He has created. And even our maintenance of that unity is done by grace, by the power of the Holy Spirit.

In the end it is this simple gospel that unites us. What brings us together? Christ. We all have come to believe in Him. We all have come to gather around His cross. Let us stay there, together. Let us always maintain that unity.

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Saturday, 15 June 2024