Walking in Unity
February 4, 2018 sermon
By John Ulrich, Lead Pastor
In Ephesians 1-3, studied in a sermon series last Fall, we learned about how to think about the amazing things God has done for us in Christ. Now in Ephesians 4 and 5, Paul challenges us to grow up, respond to these gifts from God, and start walking out our faith in our community and world. From a jail cell, Paul calls all believers to a “worthy” life which balances the blessings of the Gospel with our call to a life of specific God-given good works, displaying the Gospel to all by our actions:
“I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit—just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call—one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.”
- What is Paul calling us to do?
We are called to walk in unity. Whether it is a church, its leadership team, a small group, or your family, nothing will be accomplished without unity. Especially in our multi-ethnic, multi-denominational background church, we must have “unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace”. Christ creates our loving unity, but we believers maintain it. Christian unity even now would be a beacon of light to our disunited nation.
2. How do we maintain this unity of the Spirit?
We walk in unity by thinking, speaking, listening, and responding with Gospel humility, which includes “gentleness”(especially in our manner of speaking), “patience”(slow to anger especially in listening), and “bearing with one another in love”(especially when we feel hurt).
Humility is just a way of thinking that says, “It’s not all about me.” It gently and patiently invites input from others and is open to being wrong, but unlike weakness, it confronts at times when the right thing to do is have a difficult conversation. Without humility, we will never have unity.
Gospel humility frees us up to think humbly because as forgiven sinners through Jesus’ death and resurrection, we have experienced God’s amazing love. As we become more aware of our own need for grace, we are freed to give more grace to others. We can act in humility with others because ,as Christians, we find our security not in others’ opinions of us, but in our Creator who loves us.
3. Why should we walk in unity?
Like no other religion, Christianity is all about unity: “There is one body and one Spirit—just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call—one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.” (Eph. 4:4-6) Christians serve a unified God (Trinity), have a unified future in heaven, serve in a unified body of believers (never isolated), and have a unified confession of beliefs (expressed at baptism).
- Many of us have struggled with believing our lives are unworthy. What does a worthy life look like according to Paul in Ephesians 4? How do we get this life here on earth?
- How does Gospel humility differ from the usual definition of humility?
- Is the cost of showing gospel humility to a world of disunity worth it? As Christ’s followers, do we have a choice?
- What does unity look like in a church like ours? Where might we be tested?
- How are unity and humility related? How are they expressed in your life?
- Why does Paul make such a big deal out of unity? Is it a big deal in your life?
Isn’t it precious to see Baby Sadie? I’d like to thank John and Sarah for doing their part to contribute to our biological church growth here at Perry Creek! The other day when we went up to the hospital to see the Maidens John pointed out to me that he and Sarah had single-handedly increased the size of our Greenhouse ministry, our infants ministry, by 25%! So well done, John! We’re going to grow this thing one way or another!
But seriously I was thinking about it this week: Isn’t it a blessing to watch these little ones grow up? To go through the early markers of their life with them? We get to watch them go from infant to toddler to child. We get to see the special moments of their life, like when they first start to walk.
I can still remember when John Duke took not his very first steps but just about his first steps. He was right over there on a Sunday after church. People were gathered around him. We were cheering him on. You would have thought that he had come out of a wheelchair and that Jesus had healed him the way we were carrying on!
I remember when Brantley Schofield was learning to walk . Richard was holding his hands and running around with him everywhere. We were cheering Brantley on, because we knew it wasn’t going to be long until he was going to start walking on his own. Now there’s no stopping that boy!
It’s an important moment isn’t it when a child learns to walk. I remember when each of my own kids took their first steps. It’s an important moment a moment. We all celebrate, because if you’re going to grow up you have to learn how to walk.
Kelley was talking to someone the other day that was from out of town. This is someone who has a very difficult, kind of immature person in their family. While they were describing this person, they told Kelley “The family legend is that when she was a baby she was so coddled so indulged that she couldn’t walk until she was three. We just carried her everywhere.” Then Kelley’s friend paused and said “Come to think of it, we’ve been carrying her ever since!” It was an important reminder. If you’re going to grow up, you have to learn how to walk.
Today we start a new sermon series about that very topic., We start a new series today called “Walk This Way!” Now contrary to what you might think if you’re from my generation, this is not a sermon series about the classic rock group Aerosmith. Rather, it’s a continuation of the study of Ephesians that we started last Fall. Last Fall, we looked at Ephesians 1-3 and this spring we are going to look at chapters 4-6.
Ephesians 4-6 is all about how we should walk, how we should conduct ourselves and live as Christians. In the first three chapters of Ephesians, Paul tells us a lot about how to think. Paul talked a lot about some weighty topics, everything from Predestination to the gospel to the relationship between Jews and Non-Jews to cosmic powers in the Spirit World! It really stretched us. It was all about how to think and about what God has done for us in Christ.
With Ephesians 4, Paul is going to shift gears. Starting now , Paul is going to talk less about how to think. He’s going to tell us more about what to do how to walk. He’s going to challenge us to grow up and start walking. Five times in chapters 4 and 5 Paul is going to tell us how to walk, how to live out our Christian life. He’s going to change from all the amazing things God has done for us to how we should respond with our lives.
There will be LOTS of practical instruction. They say Ephesians has more specific practical applications than any other book in the New Testament. That’s pretty amazing, when you consider that some New Testament books have 28 chapters. It’s even more amazing when you realize that all of the practical applications in Ephesians are in the last three chapters! There are 41 commands in Ephesians, and 40 of them are chapters 4-6! So we are going to learn a lot about how to walk! If we’re going to grow up, we have to learn how to walk, and Paul is going to teach us!
Paul is going to start with what may be the most basic instruction of all. What he says in the passage we are going to look at today will undergird everything he says in the next three chapters. This is Paul’s most basic instruction of how to walk. Let me ask you to turn in your Bibles to Ephesians 4:1-6. What we are going to do today is very simple. We are just going to look at three very basic questions about this most basic instruction on how to walk:
- What? What Paul tells us we should do
- How? How we can do that
- Why? Why we should walk the way he wants us to walk.
So What?, How?, and Why?
Let’s read Ephesians 4:1-6. Paul is writing to the Ephesians from jail and he says this:
I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.
– Ephesians 4:1-6
The first question we are going to look at today is the question “What?” What is Paul calling us to do? And what’s calling us to do in this passage is walk in unity.
What? We are Called to Walk in Unity.
In verse 1, Paul gives us a piece of instruction look at what he says:
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
He says we are to walk in a manner that is worthy of a manner that corresponds to a manner that measures up to the calling with which we have been called. The Greek word for “worthy” here is “axiws.” It’s a word that literally means “to balance the scales.” Here’s what Paul is saying: In Chapters 1-3, Paul talked about the incredible calling that we received from God and listen it’s weighty. It’s heavy!
God has given us incredible blessings as part of our calling. We listed 12 blessings that God has given to every single person that has ever trusted in Christ, no matter who you are – everything from being chosen to God’s forgiveness to an eternal inheritance to family to God’s involvement in our lives incredible blessings that are a part of our calling.
Then Paul talked about where we came from – how we were dead in our disobedience and how we were under the influence of the world system and our fleshly desires and even under the influence of the devil. God made us alive through the death of his only Son.
Then Paul talked about what God had called us to – how God had created specific good works for each of us to do, how God has called us all regardless of whether we are male or female, regardless of whether we are rich or poor, regardless of whether we were born in Israel, or America, or Nigeria, or the Philippines. God has called us to be part of one Body. Paul talked to us about how as the church, as God’s people, we are supposed to display the wisdom of the gospel not only to the world, but even to the spiritual world.
If you’re visiting, you just got three months’ worth of sermons in two minutes! Listen that all of that is our calling. Every one of us, no matter how long we’ve been a Christian, has all of that. It’s a weighty calling! It’s substantial!
Now what Paul is saying as he starts the second half of Ephesians is this: Even it up! Balance the scales! Don’t take all that God has done for you and conduct your life as if it was a small thing. Don’t make light of that. Don’t act as if God’s grace is inconsequential. Don’t live your life as if He’s done nothing for you. Walk in a manner worthy of the calling with which you’ve been called!
Paul will explain what it means to live worthy of our calling in many different ways in chapters 4-6. If we jump down to verse 3 of our passage, we can see the very first way Paul gives us to live worthy. Look at what he says there:
Be eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace
– Ephesians 4:3
The very first instruction that Paul give us in how to walk, the very first place he goes in these three chapters on how to walk, is that we should walk in unity. That’s where a worthy walk begins with unity.
The word is “henotes.” It is hardly ever used in the New Testament. Paul is the only one who uses it, and he only uses it two times. But it means literally “one-ness.” It speaks of agreement of harmony of supporting one another being for one another as we strive for the same goal. It speaks of living out in a visible way, the reconciliation that we have received in the gospel.
So unity. That’s where Paul starts. The first way we walk worthy of our calling is to walk in unity. I don’t know if that’s the place that you would start if you were writing to a church telling the people there how to live their Christian life. But that’s where it started in the book of Acts! I don’t know if you remember that, but right before the Holy Spirit comes to the church and the church explodes in growth, Luke tells us “they were all in one Accord.” They were in unity! If you’ve ever seen a church or a family or small group that was in dis-unity, you can understand why Paul starts there!
If the church is going to accomplish anything, it has to have unity. If Perry Creek is going to do what God is calling us to do, we have to have unity as a church and in the various parts of our church. We have to have unity. We have to have unity on our Lead Team, if we’re going to do what God has called us to do. We have some strong personalities on our lead team! We have multiple people at least three that I can think of that have started businesses from scratch! That takes moxie, whatever that is! You’ve got to be tough! We have people on our Team that are passionate about serving God! We have to have unity on our Lead Team or we’ll wear each other out.
In our multi-ethnic, multi-generational, multi-denominational background church, we have to have unity. We’re going to have different assumptions and different viewpoints on how things work and what success looks like. We’re not uniform! So we really need unity.
In our Small Groups, we have to have unity. If we’re going to be authentic in our small groups, we’re going to be speaking into each other’s lives, both into the pretty parts and into the parts that aren’t so pretty! That’s risky, so we need to have unity.
If our families are going to be Christian families, families where we invest in each other and support and love and forgive each other, we need unity! If our church is to walk in a manner worthy of our calling, we need unity.
Let me ask you a question this morning: Aren’t you tired of all the dis-unity that you see around you in your day to day life? Aren’t you tired of the dis-unity that’s in our society in our nation?
This week was the State of the Union Address. I’ve got to be honest. I don’t always watch the whole State of the Union address. But this year, it just made me sad. I didn’t want to watch it at all. I didn’t want to watch the buildup or the speech or the rebuttal or the press. Not because I’m on one side or the other, just because the disunity can be so discouraging. I wonder what’s happened to our nation. Do you ever feel that way?
Listen, this is our chance to be different. This is the church’s moment to shine. Jesus said “THIS is how all people will know that you are MY disciples, if you have love one for another.” This is our chance. Black and white, wealthy and not-so-wealthy, male and female, Democrat and Republican, Millennial and Builder and Boomer and whatever is in-between. This is our chance to be different. This is our chance to be unified. This is so important. We, as the church, can give people the hope they so desperately need, and they can see it by the way we live with others.
Look at verse 3 again. Paul says we should be eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. Notice Paul doesn’t say “eager to create the unity of the Spirit.” He says “eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit.”
We don’t have to create the unity. It’s already been created for us. We have everything we need to have true, loving unity with one another. The Father has already chosen us and drawn us to himself and given us a common destiny. The Son has already given his life to break down the dividing wall of hostility and make us into one new people. The Spirit has already come to us. He’s already taken the gospel from one group of people to another to another to show us there’s no difference. He’s already come to move among us and guide us together. We don’t have to create the unity. All we have to do is maintain it. We have to walk our walk of faith in such a way that the unity is not damaged not destroyed. We are called to walk in unity.
Now how on earth do we do that? How do we maintain the unity that God has created among us? There are a lot of things that Paul could have said, but what he does say really boils down to just one thing. How do we maintain the unity of the Spirit? Through gospel humility.
How? We walk in unity by thinking, speaking, listening, and responding with Gospel humility.
Let me show you what I mean look at verse 2. Paul has already said we are to walk worthy of our calling in verse 1. Now look at what he says:
with all humility and gentleness with patience bearing with one another in love,
– Ephesians 4:2
Now when I first read the passage and looked at this verse I have to say it just seemed like a random list of nice thoughts that Paul had thrown together, like “sunshine and lollipops and unicorns Eagles winning the Superbowl.” But then I asked myself “What is this list really all about? What holds this list together?” I realized that this list really centers around gospel humility. This is all about humility. Paul lists in this verse four characteristics that describe a worthy walk: humility, gentleness, patience and bearing with one another. All of these words or virtues are just different expressions of the one virtue of humility.
- Paul starts by saying we should walk with “all humility.”
That’s the basic characteristic. Humility is just a way of thinking that says “It’s not all about me.” It is not all about me. I am not the center of the universe. People don’t have to do my bidding. They don’t have to affirm me. It’s not about my reputation. Humility says “I can be wrong. And I can admit it when I’m wrong. My way of looking at things isn’t the only valid way of seeing them. Maybe I have a blind spot.” Humility invites input from other people. So that’s humility.
We need to be careful not to confuse humility with weakness. Weakness doesn’t ever stand up to people. Weakness never confronts people, because weakness says “I don’t want to make people uncomfortable, and I really don’t want to look like the bad guy.” Humility does confront at times. Humility says “There are times when the right thing to do is to raise the uncomfortable issue and have the difficult conversation. Sometimes, the difficult conversation is more important than my reputation. It’s not all about me.
That’s humility. That’s the basic character trait that Paul calls us to have here. Dads, we want that in our homes. Lead Team, God wants that in our meetings. Small Group members, God wants that in your groups. Because without humility, we will never have unity. Because if we don’t have humility, we will think it’s all about us, and we can never have unity while everyone is pursuing their own agenda.
2. Paul says we should walk “with gentleness.”
Gentleness relates to the way we bring things to others. Humility is what I think gentleness is more what I say. It’s humility in the form of speech. Remember how I said humility sometimes calls us to have the difficult conversation? That’s true. Humility sometimes tells me to do that. But humility also tells me how to have that conversation. It tells me not to go in there like a bull in a china shop: “You’re not going to like this but bam!” Humility says I should go in gently. Maybe I’m wrong. Maybe there’s a factor I haven’t thought of. Maybe I’m right, but it’s not as important as I think! We need to be gentle.
- Paul says “with Patience”
Gentleness relates to the way we dish things out. Patience relates to the way we take them. The Greek word is “makrothumia.” Macro means long and thumos means anger. So slow to anger! The idea is that just as humility tells us to be gentle when we are giving the difficult conversation, humility also tells us to be patient when we are receiving the difficult conversation. We receive things patiently. Remember, it’s not all about us. The most important thing in this world is not whether we get the respect we deserve. The most important thing is not whether we defend ourselves. Sometimes if we will just listen patiently, we will find that what seems like an unjust accusation actually has some truth to it. Sometimes, the accusation is not true, but it’s still the right thing to patiently hear it out and just be quiet. Paul says we should be patient in the way we listen.
- Lastly Paul says we should “bear with one another in love’
If we’re going to do life together, there are going to be times when we have to respond to mistreatment. It’s true. No matter how good the people around us are, no matter how Christian they are, there are going to be times when they either intentionally, or unintentionally, hurt us in our families, in the church, in our ministries, in our small groups. Humility encourages us to bear with one another to overlook, to forgive, to give people room to grow as long as it’s healthy. We should bear with one another.
Those are the four characteristics Paul calls us to have. You can see that they all revolve around humility – humility in the way we think, speak, listen and respond.
I call it gospel humility, because it’s the gospel that really frees us up to think humbly. Once I understand the gospel, that I’m a sinner, I’m not everything God made me to be, but that he loves me so much that he gave his only son to die for me, so that I could have all the forgiveness, I’ll ever need and eternity with God, once I understand that – it changes my perspective completely Now the world doesn’t have to revolve around me in order to make me feel secure. I’m secure, because my Creator loves me. Now I don’t have to be right all the time. I can be wrong. I’m just a guy that needs a lot of forgiveness. It’s OK. It’s OK for me to admit that. I don’t have to cover up! When I know how much grace I need, it frees me up to give more grace to those around me. That eases the tension and paves the way for unity. We walk in unity by thinking, speaking, listening, and responding with gospel humility.
OK, so that’s kind of a lot of information to absorb! So let me just slow down and give you an example of what I’m talking about here. I’m going to be kind of vague here, so no one feels singled out. Last week after we finished the service I was talking to someone. This happens to be someone from a different background than I am. As we were talking, he said “Hey, by the way some time when you have a few minutes I think I’d like to share a different perspective with you. It will just take maybe 2-5 minutes, but I want to tell you something.” So we talked for a few minutes. He was very humble, very gentle. He didn’t assume that his viewpoint was the only valid way to look at things. He assumed the best about me and my motives. He wasn’t trying to fight for his personal preferences. He just helped me to see a blind spot. A way that I might come across, that would be a misinterpretation of what I’m trying to say. What he said was very helpful.
Now that’s just a small example, but as I worked on this sermon I thought of that conversation and I thought: “That’s a good example of what Paul is talking about here.” This brother was completely humble in coming to me. He wasn’t there to promote or defend himself or his preferences. He was gentle. I suppose he could have been offended by what I had conveyed, but he wasn’t. He just came to me in a way that was easy to listen to, and he wanted to hear my thoughts on the issue. Look this was an easy thing for me to hear, but I hope I demonstrated a little bit of patience. I didn’t get my back up. Because of that brother’s humility, I think we both walked away glad that we had had the conversation and more unified because we had the conversation.
That’s what Paul is talking about: We are called to walk in unity, and we walk in unity by thinking, speaking, listening and responding with gospel humility. Now that only leaves one more question and that is why? Why should we walk this way?
Why? Because Christianity is all about unity
Paul makes an interesting statement in verses 4-6. With no introduction, or conjunction, or break in the Greek, he just lists seven “ones.” Look at what he says:
There is one body and one Spirit just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all
– Ephesians 4:4-6
Seven “ones.” What is Paul saying? It’s simple. He’s giving us the reason that we should work hard for unity, and the reason is this: Christianity is all about unity. Start to finish. Like no other religion, Christianity is all about unity. We serve a unified God. Paul mentions the Father, the Lord who is Christ, the Son, and the Spirit in this list. That’s the Trinity. The Trinity is all about unity! Such unity that we don’t completely understand it! We don’t understand how the Father, Son and Spirit can be three distinct persons and still agree on everything.
Normally if you put three people in a room, you get four opinions, but not with the Trinity. I don’t understand how the Son could be equal to the Father in every way, and yet submit to him in every way. We don’t understand God’s unity. But this is our God. Everything that Paul is going to teach us about unity here in and in the following chapters is grounded first and foremost in the nature of God. We have a unified God.
Christianity has a unified destiny. We are called to one hope to our calling. Paul is talking about our future and what he’s saying is “Our future is a unified future!” If you don’t like the person sitting next to you now, I’ve got some bad news for you! We’re going to be together for all eternity! So you’d better learn to love them now, especially if it’s your spouse! We have a unified destiny!
We are part of a unified body. Paul says there is “one body.” We will celebrate that very fact in a minute at the Lord’s Table. The fact that we have one body reminds us that we are to be together and work together and hurt together just like a body does. If you are a Christian, you are never called to express your faith in isolation. You’re called to be part of the one body.
Lastly, as Christians, we have a unified confession. Paul says there is one faith and one baptism. We have the same basic beliefs .Baptism is the moment when we declare those beliefs publicly for all to see. It’s the moment we say to everyone “I belong to Jesus.” We have a unified confession.
The point that Paul is making is that Christianity is all about unity. From the God we serve, to the future we hope for, to the Body that we share, to the confession we all made, Christianity demands unity. That’s why the first way Paul calls us to walk is in unity.
Church, God calls us to walk with a unity that is worthy of our calling, a unity that is different from the world around us. A unity that is based on humility and shows people the hope of the gospel, because Christianity is all about unity.