Our world is filled with things that divide us. For instance, Our world is filled with things that divide us. For instance,
• Political philosophies – are you a Republican or are you a Democrat?
• Racial dividers – skin color can cause a great deal of hurt in this world.
• Class dividers – the amount of income you make separates you from other people. There are the upper, middle class, and lower class with a widening gap between the lower and the upper.
• Gender dividers as women cry out for equal pay and equal opportunities in the business world.
• Generational dividers between young and old. I remember this statement from when I was a teen: “Don’t trust anyone over the age of thirty.” Now it would probably be, Don’t listen to anyone over the age of thirty.
We have constant misunderstandings – dividers – which can cause division, hostility, hatred, inequality, distrust, resentment, and brokenness in our world and in our relationships.
The sad thing is, this was never God’s intention. God’s original intention in Genesis 1 was for us to live in harmony, love God above all things, and love our neighbor. But then sin entered into the picture and blew it all apart. So in Genesis 1 through 11, we find the destruction of God’s perfect world with brokenness and division by the end of chapter 11 – nation against nation, man against woman, brother against brother, heavenly against the earthly. This wasn’t God’s intention.
Years ago I took a course and then taught it at my own church. It was called “Divine Drama,” and it had a wonderful analogy that describes this reality. It goes like this:
Imagine yourself standing on a hill, looking down into a valley at a beautiful mansion. Suddenly a tornado shows up and begins to rip away at the house. There go the shudders; then the chimney begins to crumble down. Then the roof is blown away. Suddenly the walls are crumbling down and the foundation is being chipped away. Before you know, the whole house is wrecked and the tornado moves on. Along comes a figure in the distance. It begins to take the pieces of that house and put it back together again.
This is what’s going on in Scripture. God built this beautiful place. It was destroyed by sin, but God’s plan is to put it all back together again. Paul tells us in the book of Ephesians, “God has made known to us the mystery of his will according to his good pleasure that he set forth in Christ as a plan for the fullness of time to gather up all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth” (1:9-10). God wants to put it all back together again. His goal is for people to be reconciled to Him and to one another as they worship God and love one another. Paul uses the first three chapters of Ephesians to describe the means God uses to make this happen.
First, he talks about Jesus and the cross. You were dead in your sin, but God in his love for you gave us his Son, Jesus Christ who died on a cross to pay for our sinfulness. God raised Him from the grave and promises that all who place their trust in His Son Jesus Christ can be reconciled to God and become His own once again. The relationship can be restored. So we are saved by grace through faith in the Lord Jesus Christ (Eph. 2:1-6.).
Paul doesn’t stop there. He goes on to talk about the working of the Holy Spirit who calls us together as one community known as the Church, the body of Christ. We know the story from Pentecost – three thousand strangers suddenly became one body through the gospel being preached. They became one, known as the body of Christ, the Church (Eph. 2:11-22). We know that based on the work of Christ, the Spirit calls forth this newly constituted people known as the Church. He makes them a people for His name. He has a high purpose for them.
When I was a kid, I had to memorize most of Luther’s Small Catechism for confirmation; perhaps you did too. Do you remember Martin Luther’s third article of the Apostles’ Creed about the work of the Holy Spirit? “I believe I cannot by my own understanding or effort believe in Jesus Christ my Lord or come to him. But the Holy Spirit has called me through the gospel, enlightened me with his gifts and sanctified and kept me in true faith. In the same way, this Holy Spirit calls, gathers, enlightens, and sanctifies the whole Christian church on earth and keeps it united with Jesus Christ in the one true faith.” We are called, gathered by the Holy Spirit, to be the body of Christ.
Some people these days mistrust the church. They have little regard for it, in fact. But I’m saying to you today – that attitude is disrespecting Jesus himself, because the church is a big deal to Him! He talked about the Church; He established it with His disciples, and Scripture says He loved His Church and gave His life for her.
When Jesus was about to go to the cross, He was with His disciples in the Upper Room and gave them a commandment. “This is my commandment – that you love one another as I have loved you. By this all people will know you’re my disciples” (John 13:34-35). He wanted them together as a community, and He wanted people to know that as they loved one another they would awaken to see they are Jesus’ disciples.
A few couple chapters later Jesus prays for those disciples. He says, “Father, I ask that you would keep them together. May they be one . . .” (John 17:21).
Jesus’ vision was not that they would be separated and each go their own way, but operate as one body, loving one another. Paul picks up this truth in Ephesians. The Church is a major player as the family of God in God’s restoration. Our harmony, our unity, and our life together is a must! So Paul opens Ephesians by saying, “I am so thankful to hear of your love for everyone in your Church” (1:15). He also talks about the cross of Jesus. “For Christ Jesus is our peace. In his flesh, he has made both groups into one – Jews and Gentiles. He has broken down the dividing walls between us. He has taken away the hostility between us. Through him both parties have access in one Spirit to the Father” (2:14, 18).
Jesus came into this world and died on a cross not only to reconcile us to God but to bring us together as one. He tore down the walls of hostility and prejudice so we might be one in Him. One family, loving one another, taking care of one another.
Later on in today’s passage, Paul talks about our foundation. We have this common ground. It is all built on this oneness. He uses seven ones.
One Spirit lavished upon us – the Holy Spirit. He has awakened us to Christ and given us regeneration (made us new). He is growing us in our relationship with Jesus.
One body. We are all one with each another. Every part matters. We belong together.
One Lord, Jesus Christ.
One hope – the inheritance of heaven. The day will come when I will die, and you will die. However, we know we are going to heaven. This is our hope, our confidence.
One faith – the gospel of what Jesus Christ has done for us at the cross. As we place our trust in Him, we share in His victory.
One baptism where we enter into the household of faith as we are brought into a relationship with God and adopted into the family.
One God and Father of us all who loves us and is with us. He sees all and knows all. He is with us wherever we are.
This is what makes us one. It is why we are to be one. We may come from different countries, cultures, churches. We have different temperaments, gifts, and interests. Yet we have this in common – the same God, our heavenly Father; the same Jesus Christ as our Savior Lord; and the same Holy Spirit calling us together. He is our indwelling Comforter and Counselor.
Paul spent the first three chapters of Ephesians laying out this great plan of God. He then moves us into chapter 4 and says in our reading for today, “Now, therefore, (since you know about this great plan, and God has done these great things in your life), I beg of you – I beg of you – to live a life worthy of the calling you have received” (4:1).
We have this high calling. You are the body of Christ through the Holy Spirit. Now be His body so you will shine for the world around you and attract others to Christ as they see you loving God and one another. We are in essence in public relations for the kingdom of God. God is counting on us to get along! If you get nothing else out of this sermon, listen to this again: God is counting on us in the Church to get along if we are to be effective instruments in His plan to save this world.
We play a major role; we’re major players. Think of it, you have this great calling upon your life being connected to a Church, part of God’s plan to save His world through the unity we display as the body of Christ. When people are being loved, word gets out. The reality is, people are attracted like moths to light. As we’re loving one another, people will notice.
I hold a wonderful statement by theologian called Karl Barth close to my heart. It reminds me of what the Church is to be. “The Church is called to be a provisional display of God’s original intention.” I would add to this: The Church is called to be a provisional display of God’s future intentions. Everyone gathered around Jesus Christ, loving God and loving one another. Every knee bowed and every tongue confessing Jesus is Lord, as Paul gives us in the book of Philippians. It doesn’t matter what your background may be, the color of your skin, or what your income statement reads. We are one in Jesus Christ.
This also applies to the Christian home. We are small congregations in our homes, lighthouses in the neighborhood. I love a statement by Dr. David Mason, a marriage counselor, made. He said, “By their gracious influence, Christian homes win more converts than all the preachers put together.” Ouch!
He goes on to say, “Give us enough of them and the world would soon be a Christian world, for the world’s life rises to higher levels only as its homes do.” Paul tells us, “Make every effort to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” (Ephesians 4:3). We are to be unifiers, not dividers.
When people want to join our church, they take a new member’s class where we lay out what the church wants to do for them. During the last part of our class, I say to them, “Now you know what we can do for you. We want you to understand that you are entering into a covenant with us, and there are expectations for the family members here. At the top of the list is unity. You are to be a person who loves, who doesn’t gossip about other people, who forgives, and is a team player.”
Unity means everything! It is at the top of the list. People don’t want to be involved with churches where there’s fighting. They get enough of that from the rest of the world. We are to be a light, an oasis.
I love a statement E. Stanley Jones made many years ago. He said, “Everybody who belongs to Christ belongs to everybody who belongs to Christ.” We belong to one another. We are to be unified!
Paul, in our passage today, lists some ingredients for us to maintain the unity of the Spirit we have been given. He tells us to exercise these things in our relationships, in our church communities, and in our homes. Use a lot of humility. Humility is nothing more than a servant-like attitude. Pride and ego have to be set aside. In the church, there really is no place for prima donnas or people who are more concerned about personal preferences than about the body of Christ and its cause. This person knows the ground is flat at the foot of the cross, and we are all sinners saved by grace. We are called by Jesus to wash each other’s feet, and we need to work together humbly.
Years ago, The Atlantic Monthly published an article about The Three Tenors – Jose Carreras, Placido Domingo, and Luciano Pavarotti who were performing in Los Angeles. When a reporter tried to press the issue of competitiveness among the three men, Domingo said, “You have to put all your concentration into opening your heart to the music. You can’t be rivals when you’re together making music.” Dear brothers and sisters, this is also true in the Church.
Paul also ties gentleness in with humility. It literally means “meekness,” which is strength under God’s control, or controlled by God. It is the opposite of self assertiveness and running over other people. It is a willingness to see even tough people for being permitted by God to come into my life for my own purification, my own spiritual discipline, to grow me in love.
Paul also mentions patience, which means long-tempered, showing self-restraint, and hoping for improvement in relationships you’re struggling with.
Paul finally ties it with up with “bearing one another in love.” Living and enduring difficult people. Some people in the church and in our homes can drive us absolutely nuts. Amen? I remember a statement someone shared with me one time. “The Church is the light of the world. But remember, light attracts bugs. Some people really bug us.” We are to have an enduring love, seeing them as Christ sees them – on their way to heaven, just like you and me. They are to be loved and served.
You might be feeling like, I can’t do this kind of thing! I mean, my pride gets so easily wounded. I have an ego the size of a football field, and I am so impatient with folks. I have a very rough edge. Loving and that kind of stuff is just too hard for me.
Listen, the same Holy Spirit who called you into His family and unified you with others is here to help you and me keep it together. He does not want us to fail. We will never achieve perfection this side of heaven. We know that! But as you call on the Holy Spirit in prayer, as you study God’s Word and apply it in your lives, and as you obey the words of Jesus, the Spirit will shape you and mold you into the image of Jesus Christ. He will turn you into a unifier: a humble, long-suffering, forbearing servant of Christ and others, attracting other people into the kingdom.
That, my dear friends, is what God’s big plans are for his family. Amen.
Rev. Steve Kramer