2016-1-10 Keep the Unity of the Spirit

Cornerstone EPC                                                                              Sunday morning
Franklin, NC 28734                                                                          January 10, 2016

“Keep the Unity of the Spirit”
Text: Ephesians 4:1-6

We return today, after considerable hiatus, to our sermon series through Ephesians.  Some weeks ago we stopped at the end of this letter’s doctrinal section (i.e., what to know), and today we begin at the start of the ethical section (i.e., what to do in light of what we know).  We have today a wonderful summons from the Lord, and we have excellent grounds for that summons.[1]  Without further ado, then, let us hear the Lord in His Word today.

(HERE READ THE TEXT)

The Holy Spirit—through the Apostle Paul, His inspired penman—calls believers in Christ Jesus to unity (4:1-3).  Paul begins his plea by invoking his current state—Paul, the prisoner for the Lord.  By the time Paul wrote Ephesians, he had been a long-time apostle (probably above twenty-five years) and in custody for a fairly long time (perhaps as much as five years).  Hence, he is suffering as a minister of Christ Jesus.  Due to all the foregoing, his words—humanly speaking—carry great weight.  Add to this fact another fact—the fact that these words are fundamentally God’s Word—and we arrive at an inescapable conclusion: This text (not to mention all of Holy Scripture) carries the weight of ultimate authority from on high.

The Holy Spirit, though Paul, the prisoner of the Lord, calls us to walk worthy of the calling to which we have been called.  Note first the manner in which the Spirit, through Paul, exhorts us.  The language Paul uses here is language of beseeching and strong urging.  This is neither mere casual suggestion nor mere take-it-or-leave-it offering.  Paul pleads with the Church—and her individual members therein—to walk worthy of our calling as Christians.  Let’s next examine the content of the worthy walk in Christ.

One component of worthy walk is humility—and I can think of no better description of humility than the one we find in Philippians 2:3-4.  There, we read that we who are in Christ are to regard others more significant than ourselves.  Also, we consider not only our own interest, but also the interests of others.  A second component of the worthy Christian walk is gentleness.  We may better understand what gentleness is by understand what it is not.  Gentleness is not harshness.  We walk worthy of our Christian calling when we are neither caustic nor corrosive with others.  Our manner must not be abrasive, even brusque, but we are called to Christ’s gentleness as we relate to other people.

A third component of the worthy walk is patience.  Patience, according to one definition, is a state of emotional calm in the face of provocation or misfortune and without complaint or irritation.[2]  Sometimes the provocations are other Christians—and hence patience, as noted in Ephesians 4:2, must carry the nuance of forbearance as well.  Paul states the matter here explicitly for us, “…bearing with one another in love.”  Sometimes, alas, patience and forbearance stretch into longsuffering, but the goal is worth the effort, as we shall see.

These components of the worthy Christian walk, when added together, yield a precious sum: the maintenance of the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.  The above traits, exhibited toward one another in Christ’s Body, will foster unity.  Even God’s Old Testament Church grasped the delight of covenantal unity, as we see from David’s pen: “How good and pleasant it is when brothers dwell in unity” (Psalm 133:1).  We see the delight of unity—and, alas, too many know all too well the bane of disunity in Christ’s Church.  Let’s ground this unity further, in order that we may flee division and embrace unity in Jesus Christ.

The ground for unity (4:4-6) is all of the “ones” listed in these three verses.  We are to pursue unity because Christ’s Body, the Church, is one—before which the very gates of hell tremble (Matthew 16:18).  We also pursue unity because there is one Spirit, the Holy Spirit, Who brings our spirits to concord—with one another and with Him.  We pursue unity with one hope: the hope that someday, somehow, all will be made right and all shall be well.  At the end of this present age this shall come to pass—and this shall never end afterward.  We seek unity with one another because of our joint and several union to our one Lord—Christ Jesus Himself.  We seek unity with one another because of our mutually held faith—the faith once delivered to all the saints (Jude 3).  We also display our unity with one another through one baptism, which is the sign and seal of inclusion in God’s covenant family.  Finally, we pursue unity because the God and Father of us all is one—not three, nor any other number, but one.  This God, moreover, is not ourselves, nor anyone else, nor no one, but the triune God.  These “ones” are enjoyed together by all Christians everywhere in all times—and they together provide powerful ground for our unity in Christ.

This unity, after all, is Jesus’ grand prayer for His Church (John 17:20-26).  On the night in which Jesus was betrayed, likely out at the garden of Gethsemane, Jesus prayed that all who would believe His disciples’ message about Him may be one as the members of the Godhead are one.  That is closeness indeed.  Jesus prays this way to a purpose, namely, in order that the world may believe that the Father sent the Son.  Note further the blessing that unity brings.  It brings to us the peace, the joy, and the love that flow from unity.  It also blesses the world.  They see unity in Christ as desirable, and they also see—as they look at unity in Christ displayed—that their areas of disunity as less than desirable.  Furthermore, they see hope for a change in their station as they look at our unity.  This is a needful, happy ministry to the world in our time.

Note the bane of disunity.  It brings, both in the Church and to our several spheres of influence in this word, turbulence in life and relationships.  It also reveals absence of joy and presence of its opposites—anger, downcast spirit, and the like.  No right-thinking Christian wants such a state in his local church—or anywhere in the visible Church on earth today.  Therefore, let us be eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.  This shall be our joy, and this shall be an important component of our testimony to the world.

AMEN.

[1] For this two-fold division of the text—though others have noted it similarly—I am indebted to William J. Larkin, Ephesians: A Handbook on the Greek Text [one monograph in the series Baylor Handbook on the Greek New Testament] (Waco, TX: Baylor University Press, 2009), 67.

[2] This definition (of the Greek word makrothumia [makroqumia]: patience) occurs from Johannes P. Louw and Eugene A. Nida, Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament: Based on Semantic Domains (New York: United Bible Societies), 1989.

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