Unified (Ephesians 4:1-16)
Good morning. It is so good to be with you this morning and to begin this journey together. I can't tell you how excited I am to get to know all of you on a deeper level and to learn from you as we learn from our studies together. This morning, I would like to look at Ephesians 4 and think about how we can work together to glorify God. I know that you recently studied Ephesians, and we are going to study it again in the future. This book is full of purpose and direction for a church of the Lord's people.
Unity (Ephesians 4:1-16)
In chapters 1-3 he has described what the purpose is and in chapters 4-6 he describes how we must go about accomplishing that purpose. The purpose of the Lord's church is to be to the praise of his glory in all the earth. How are we going to accomplish that? How could we ever be to the praise of God's glory in the earth? The first 16 verses answer that question by saying that we must be united. In a world that is trying to be more isolated and independent, we are supposed to have unity in the work God has given us to do. This morning we will look at three aspects of unity. We will look at the attitude needed for unity, the foundation of our unity, and the work of unity. These three aspects of unity help us understand what unity looks like in the church and how badly we need to be working toward unity.
The Attitude of Unity
Ephesians 4:1--3 (ESV) --- 1 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.
First, Paul wants us to see the attitude of unity. Notice that he is urging the Ephesians to walk in a manner worthy of their calling. What does this mean? It merely means that Paul wants the Ephesians to live in a way that honors God for the blessings he has given them. He wants them to show their appreciation for what they have received by living in a certain way toward one another. The way of unity. How do they live in unity with one another? They need to walk with "all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love." When we think about these things, we see that Paul is asking us to live in a way that sacrifices self.
What does it mean to walk with "all humility?" What is that? How does that look in a local church? Humility is thinking higher of others than of ourselves. How many people think they are humble? If I say, "I'm the most humble man on the planet!" I am deceiving myself. The Lord's church is supposed to be full of humble people, looking to put others before themselves. Having all humility is being entirely focused on others as though they are more important than ourselves. Imagine a church where every member is working and living in this way. Imagine everyone looking for opportunities to serve those around them.
Similarly, I have to focus on the needs of others to be gentle. We can find gentleness throughout the New Testament, but what does it look like to walk in gentleness? If I'm carrying a massive, expensive, and fragile object, I will watch very carefully to ensure that I don't crush it, drop it, or handle it in a way that would cause damage. Paul is telling us to be soft and caring about the potential feelings of others. Can you imagine a church that is full of gentleness and willing to help and serve others in a way that says, "I don't want you to be hurt or damaged in any way. I don't want to put a stumbling block in front of you or cause you to fall." That church will quickly become unified. There will be no divisions when everyone is working with gentleness.
Then, he says, "Patient." To maintain unity, we must be patient with one another. We all know what patience means, but what does it look like to be patient? Have you ever had someone exhibit an extraordinary amount of patience with you? Has anyone ever assumed the best of you when you didn't deserve it? Patience is giving the benefit of the doubt and allowing time for others to correct their mistakes. He joins this with the idea of bearing with one another. We bear with our kids when they don't know any better. We bear with all of those who we believe can do better. A church that is full of patience can develop unity and work together to accomplish more than they could ever achieve by being short-tempered or quick to judge.
Do we see the attitude that is required to stay unified? Becoming humble, gentle, and patiently helps us maintain unity. He wants us to be eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. Are we so eager to be unified that we are willing to become humble, gentle, and patient? The words "bond of peace" should encourage us to do this. We can have a bond of peace with one another. We can work out whatever issues we have with one another. It is not easy to "maintain unity" because it's not easy to be humble, gentle, or patient. However, this attitude is essential for us to unify.
The Foundation of Unity
Having the right attitude is extremely important for there to be unity, but it is not everything. In verses 4-6, Paul explains another piece of the puzzle that is essential for them to be unity.
Ephesians 4:4--6 (ESV) --- 4 There is one body and one Spirit---just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call--- 5 one Lord, one faith, one baptism, 6 one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.
Here Paul transitions from talking about the attitude of unity to describing the structure that the Ephesians must unite in. There is one body, one Spirit, one hope, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, and one God who is over all, through all, and in all. The Christians that meet here are all a small part of that one body. To be united with one another, we need to know our place in the reality that God has set up for us, and we need to be united in our beliefs about that reality. Each of us is just one small part of a tiny part of the body of Christ.
What should a group of people look like who fit into this body? Notice the relationship we have with each other is like being members of a body. Denominationalism and divisiveness go against the foundational reality in which we live. My hand should never want to cut itself off of the body. One member or even a group of members is not over all of the body. We are not the builders or sustainers of the body. God is. He is our Father. Paul wants us to see that this is not OUR body. We do not have the luxury of deciding who is in this body. It's not our place to decide the function of this body. It is HIS body, and he is the one ruling over this body. If we want to be in this body, we have to join ourselves to it. So, we need the scriptures as the primary source for what we do and how we do it. Studying the scriptures is how we become unified. We must all submit to the system he has set up.
We need to develop the same understanding of our Spirit, hope, Lord, faith, baptism, or Father through studying the Bible together. Imagine a group that has the same full knowledge of all these things. They would be strong, united, and able to work together.
The Work of Unity (4:7-16)
In this third section, Paul builds on the first two. We must join together with the right attitude and the same foundation because we have work to do to be to the praise of God's glory.
Ephesians 4:7--16 (ESV) --- 7 But grace was given to each one of us according to the measure of Christ's gift. 8 Therefore it says, "When he ascended on high he led a host of captives, and he gave gifts to men." 9 (In saying, "He ascended," what does it mean but that he had also descended into the lower regions, the earth? 10 He who descended is the one who also ascended far above all the heavens, that he might fill all things.) 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. 15 Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, 16 from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love.
Christ has given us all gifts that can be used together to create unity and spiritual growth. In verse 1, he said that we must walk in a manner that honors God by walking with unity. Then in 4-6, he gave us an understanding of the foundation of unity. Now, verse 13 tells us how we become unified in our work. Christ has given us gifts. He says that when we all use our gifts, equipping and being equipped, we will "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." Here he describes our path to honoring God with unity. We must use our gifts to grow into spiritual maturity. When we work together in humility, gentleness, and patience toward the goal of one body as God has established, we grow in maturity from being children to being mature men and women in our faith. Developing in this way honors God.
Are we there yet? Is anyone here spiritually mature? Did you notice how the final goal is to measure up to the stature of Christ? The apostles and prophets have provided evangelists, shepherds, and teachers today with the tools need to equip others to do the work of ministry so that the church can grow to this point. God has set up a system within the body by which Christ can develop through our united effort. It is something that comes about as we learn from those who are more mature than we are.
Notice that God didn't set us up to learn maturity on our own. We may think that it would be easier to grow by ourselves. But isolating ourselves results in what verse 14 warns us against saying they are, "Tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning." Is this not our society right now? Isolation is the opposite of unification. It is only by unifying that we can grow to be like Christ. We need to come together to grow together.
Paul gives us a formula for becoming more mature as Christians and for being transformed into a body that glorifies God. Evangelist (that is me), shepherds (we hope to have those), and teachers are equipping others for their work. Think about this for a second. Imagine a congregation that is doing all that these verses contain. Imagine a church that has evangelists, shepherds, and teachers who are equipping each other and all the members for ministry. Imagine being equipped by those who are humble, gentle, and patient, using the Bible as the basis for growth, and speaking the truth in love. In this text, we have the image of a body that will mature. But how are we going to become a church that looks like this?
We Need Unity
The purpose of looking at this text is for us to see our need for unity. Without unity, we can't accomplish our mission of shining as lights in the world. We cannot become a shining representation of Jesus on our own. We cannot reveal the glory of God to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places on our own. We need unity more than anything. We need to be bound together in peace for us to grow and mature.
One illustration that I think helps us to grasp unity is the picture of marriage. The first years of marriage are a beautiful, if not terrifying, thing. Two people living are living utterly independent of one another (or at least they should) with a completely different understanding of how things ought to be. One has the toilet paper unravel over the other has it unravel under. Each individual has life figured out. They know the way they want things to go and what they want to do. Then, they join together in marriage. All of a sudden, two realities are combined. For those of you who have gone through the first year of marriage, did you struggle to maintain unity? Did you struggle with humility, gentleness, patience, and bearing with one another? Marriage is this fantastic process where two people get together or unite, to become one person and, contrary to fairy tales, it's not easy. We spend our time before marriage, thinking that we have everything figured out. Then, we get married and have to unite to have a successful and happy life together. Most marriages crash and burn because unity is hard. It's hard to stay united, learn humility, gentleness, and patience, and to grow mature. There has to be an eagerness to maintain it. But if we can, life is so much better for us.
The same thing goes for our unity in the church. If it's hard for two people to unite, imagine how hard it is for 70+ people to become unified. Especially with people being added and people moving away. In this text, we understand the attitude of unity, the foundation it must be built on, and the fruit it will produce if we eagerly seek to maintain it. Let's not be isolated like the culture around us. Let's be bound to one another and mentor each other with humility, gentleness, and patience. We can all play a part in the growth of the body, but we must do our share and become equipped for ministry. We need you, and we need our Lord's help in this endeavor. Let's go to God in prayer.
If you are not a member of Christ's body and you know what you need to do, please come forward or see me talk about what the Bible says before it's too late. If you need to go forward and ask for prayers from the congregation, you are welcome to do that as well.