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    Dec 12, 2010

    United We Stand

    Passage: Ephesians 4:1-6

    Preacher: John Repsold

    Series: Postcards from the Front: A Wartime Romance

    Category: Ephesians

    Keywords: unity, victory, church, oneness, character


    Both Christian character and coomonalities are important to the unity of the family of God. This sermon looks at the 3 character issues Paul talks about as important for God's people to be united as well as the 7 "oneness" factors he mentions.


    United We Stand

    #12 in series “Postcards from the Front:  A Wartime Romance”

    December 5, 2010—Ephesians 4:1-6

    Intro Question:  Why, do you think, the church of Jesus Christ exists?  What are we called to do in this world? 

    Remember the Titans:  In the movie, a newly-racially integrated high school football team is about to destroy itself because the team members are fighting against each other based on the racial prejudices they have picked up from their parents. Denzil Washington plays the new African-American coach who has taken on the responsibility of being the first black coach in the history of the community. 

          He takes his team to football camp where things just go from bad to worse.  So early one morning, before it is light.  He wakes his team at o-dark-30 and takes those boys for a run in the woods.  When they are exhausted, muddy, wet and scraped up from falling down, slogging through creeks and tripping on rocks and branches, he gives them this speech as they reach a clearing:

          “Anybody know what this place is?  It’s Gettysburg.  This is where they fought the battle of Gettysburg.  50,000 men died… right here… on this field, fight’en the same fight that we’re still fight’en amongst ourselves today.  This green…right here…painted red… bubbling red with the blood of young boys… smoke and hot lead going right through their bodies. 

          Listen to their souls, men. “I killed my brother with malice in my heart.  Hatred destroyed my family.”  You listen and take a lesson from the dead. 

          If we don’t come together, right now, on this hallowed ground, we too will be destroyed, just like they were. 

          I don’t care if you like each other right now.  But you will respect each other. And maybe, just maybe, you will learn to play this game like men.” 

          Achieving victory, whether on the ball field or the battle field, demands that participants, whether players or soldiers, be totally committed to some common things. 

    • On the ball field, what must athletes be united on in their commitment?  (Football, for example.)
    • On the battlefield, what must soldiers be united about in order to achieve victory?

    The higher the stakes, the greater the unity required.  Why is that?  (The greater the sacrifice that will be demanded to achieve the objective.)

    Let’s take this battlefield, this ball field analogy over to THE CHURCH. 

    • What’s our objective, our purpose as God’s people, the church?
    • How united would you say the church is today on achieving that objective?  (David Barrett, editor of the World Christian Encyclopedia [2001] estimated there were about 34,000 Christian denominations worldwide 10 years ago.]
    • Are we “winning” the game/battle

    The Apostle Paul clearly understood that, if we are going to experience the level of common commitment, common devotion, common unity required for God’s kingdom to conquer the hearts of sinful people in this world, it would require that we all share some powerful things in common. 

    So in Ephesians 4, he’s going to show us what kind of character and spiritual personality is needed for the church to really accomplish its mission as well as a handful of things we share “in common” that should be more than enough to bind us together with each other. 

    Ephesians 4:1-3

    1 As a prisoner for the Lord, then, I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received. 2 Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. 3 Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace.

    Paul is inviting the whole church to live UP to its family name, “Christians” or “Christ-followers.”  Did you ever feel both the pressure and the pride of living up to your family name?

    ILL:  Being the last of 5 Repsold kids raised in Spokane, I understand both that pressure and that pride.  My parents were the first Repsolds to live in Washington State…ever.  They came to Spokane in 1945 as soon as WWII ended, bought their first little home, started their first law practice and began to raise a family.   That’s when the Repsold family name began to mean something here. 

    I remember going to the bank downtown to cash a check in my teenage years and they would ask, “So, are you Nelson’s son?”  I’d say, “Yes…by his first wife.”  (It was his only too. J)  I’d go to a new school and the teachers would say, “Another Repsold?  I had your brother/sisters years ago.  Are you as hard-working/ smart/crazy as they were?” 

    Living up to the family name really wasn’t a burden.  It was something I was proud about.  When your father or mother is respected by just about everyone you meet, you want to carry on that family name…with pride (in the good way, of course). 

    Living, as Paul says here, “worthy of our calling” isn’t like living up to the name “Gates” or “Buffet” or “Rockefeller.”  It’s living up to the “name above all names”—JESUS.  Paul invites us as “Christ-ones”, “Children of God” to live life the same way Jesus did, with the same wonderful nature and stellar character

          That’s what verses 2 & 3 are saying.  They simply cherry-pick a handful of family characteristics that our divine family in Christ should be known for…if we are truly followers of Jesus Christ. 

    • We’re to be completely humble (vs. 2).  Cong. Question: Ever known someone you could say was “completely humble”?  [Dad, Wally Christenson]  What are the accompanying qualities of someone who is a “completely humble person”?  Probably the next 3 qualities Paul gives!  [Have each group come up with 1 question that could be used to help anyone answer whether or not they were walking in Christ-like humility.]
    • We’re to be completely gentle (vs. 2).  What sets gentle people apart from the rest of the crowd?  Their size?  Their power?  Their voice…or quick whit…or educational level?  [Solicit answers.]  No, “gentle” has to do with how you treat others with compassion, kindness, understanding, tenderness, love.
    • We’re to be Jesus-like patient (by “bearing with one another in love.”)  When was the last time you needed someone to “bear with you”?  (Usually when we’ve messed up or been difficult to live with…again.)

    Have you ever experienced a church FULL of people with those dominate qualities (humility, gentleness, patient bearing with one another in love)?  We all want others to treat us that way, don’t we?  So what was your last church experience which required that YOU exercise those qualities? 

          Those very qualities presuppose that we are going to be around people and in relationships that really call for that behavior.  If people acted perfectly towards us all the time, we wouldn’t need humility, gentleness and patience that more than “puts up with” one another—it loves each other deeply. 

          Where did we ever get this idea that the church was a perfect group of people made up of perfectly wonderful people?  That’s a lie from hell…and it’s being used to turn people off to what God has designed to grow us up in Christ.  (The same could be said for marriage and family.  There is absolutely no reason why the marriage of 2 Christians who are displaying these 3 qualities of Christ should ever disintegrate… ever!)

    Humble, gentle and patient are qualities in themselves that we could dwell on a month of Sundays.  But for most of today, I want us to focus on the final godly quality here of “unity of the Spirit.” 

          It’s possible to have unity on a host of different levels, isn’t it?  Last week you came up with whole lists of things that you share “in common” even though you may have been from different families, different parts of the country, different genders, different ages, educational levels, economic situations, etc.  [Share?]

    Just because we call something “united” or “unified” doesn’t mean it is, right? 

    • Take the “United Nations” for example.  Grand idea.  Some united actions.  But there really isn’t any “unity” or “bonds of peace” holding 192 member nations together. 
    • Or millions of marriages in our country.  They have SO much in common—children, memories, bank accounts, home, promises…yet so few seem to have a real unity of spirit…and even fewer a unity of The Spirit. 

          It’s SO easy to focus on what makes us “different.”  Those dissimilar things we naturally feel right away.  Frequently those differences irritate or bother us, don’t they?  We tend to wish one of two things: 

    1.)    either we were more like someone else if we see them as being or having something we don’t have and wish we did (good looks, great sense of humor, confidence, etc.) OR

    2.)    we wish they were more like us when the differences are something that irritates or bothers us.    

    Christian unity…unity of Christ-followers…will require a supernatural effort, truly a work of God.  Paul calls it a unity “of the Spirit.” It is a kind of unity which God himself must be involved in if it is to be what God had in mind.  And what God has in mind is a unity of “peace”—a unity that binds us together peacefully.

    ILL:  It’s like the unseen but very powerful force of magnets.  Normally ball bearings don’t stack very well.  Normally they don’t stack at all!  But magnetize them and there begins to operate between them an unseen force that draws them together. 

    The Holy Spirit is that magnetism that is to draw very different and diverse people of God into very close and real unity.  It is safe to say that the more filled and directed by the Spirit of God people are in a family or a church, the greater the degree of peaceful unity they will experience. 

    • You can have unity without diversity…it’s called uniformity. (Dogs hanging)  Everyone looks the same, acts the same, talks the same.  That’s one of the telltale signs of a cult:  its members must conform in behavior, dress, intellect, etc. 
    • And you can have diversity without unity…that’s called segregation.  [Drinking fountain sign; odd duck out pic]  In that setting people just sort of tolerate each other.  They don’t really like each other and they certainly don’t love each other.  It takes hard work to experience unity between differences of age, generation, gender, culture, race, personalities, preferences, beliefs and dreams.
    • But it has to be a God-thing to have unity with diversity.  It’s supposed to be called “the church.”  The one place everyone in this world is supposed to be able to look at and see that Holy Spirit work in unity is the church of Jesus Christ in every culture, every city, every village and nation. 

    So HOW do we get this kind of “unity of the Spirit”???

    Paul goes on to give us 7 “oneness-factors” that every Christian, every true follower of Jesus Christ, has in-common.  They are things that are designed to pull us together, not fracture us.  They are designed to help us remember how much we have in common.  They are designed to be the foundation of our communion and our common-union. 

    Any church that really experiences these seven unifying bonds will never find itself fragmenting.  And if you are someone in a church who is feeling isolated or disconnected, pay attention to these 7 issues.  Work at them right where you are.  It will change your experience in the family of God. So here they are.

    1.  “There is one BODY….

    Whose body?  Thankfully he’s not talking about any of our bodies. J  Yours might work, but mine is definitely too lanky and aging.  Obviously Paul is using a metaphor here.  He’s talking about the “body” of the church

          In 1 Cor. 12:27, Paul tells us that everyone who is a child of God by faith in Jesus Christ is a part of this “body” called “the church.” 

          “Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it.”

    Paul has been talking about different spiritual gifts that different Christians have and the important role they play in helping the church work well together.  This is what he says in I Cor. 12:20, 24b-26:

    20 As it is, there are many parts, but one body….

    But God has combined the members of the body [church] and has given greater honor to the parts that lacked it, 25 so that there should be no division in the body, but that its parts should have equal concern for each other. 26 If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it.”

    The only way that kind of mutual concern and respect for each other can happen is if we are truly, actually and genuinely “in relationship” with each other. 

          I hear so many complaints about churches being unfriendly or people feeling isolated. But after 30 years of ministry, I’ve decided to adopt one of my wife’s simple sayings: 

    You’ve got to show up to grow up!

    There is no great secret to great connectedness in the church.  Like any significant relationship, significant fellowship takes…

    1.)    Time

    2.)    Consistent connection

    3.)    Determined transparency

    Take any one of those three pieces out of the equation and your sense of being an integral part of the church will suffer.  Can I be so bold as to say, “Stop blaming other people!  Stop blaming “the church!”  Stop blaming anyone.  You will never be able to solve what you blame.

          We all need to stop acting like an amputated finger or toe or hand or ear and START spending significant, regular, consistent and personally transparent time with a handful of other believers…week after week, year after year.  I guarantee you, you will truly feel like you are part of “one body” in Christ. 

    That doesn’t mean you have to be “in-touch” with every other person in the body;  just a handful will be enough.  No appendage or organ in our body touches all the others at the same time. 

    2.  “There is one…Spirit….” The Holy Spirit lives in every single person who has put their faith in Jesus Christ.  That means that God himself lives in every one of us who are Christ-followers…the same God.  The Holy Spirit will not lead any of us to do anything “unholy.” The Holy Spirit will not speak anything contradictory to one member or another.  IF we will follow the Holy Spirit’s leading, we will all be on the same page about things that would normally divide us. 

          The great need of every believer, every Christian marriage, every Christian family, and every Christian church is to learn to walk in the Spirit moment by moment, day by day, year by year.  A church truly filled up with the life of the Holy Spirit will be a people actually filled up with the presence of God.  Imagine what our worship would look like if we were ALL “filled with the Holy Spirit” every time we came together?  Imagine what our ministry to each other would look like if ALL of us were getting our direction every second we’re together (and apart) from the Holy Spirit?  Imagine what our witness would look like, our love, our spiritual zeal, our mission, our praying, our parenting, our serving!

          We all have the same Holy Spirit IF you are a Christ-follower by faith. That one fact alone  has more power for oneness than we will ever need.  We must all learn to walk in the Holy Spirit if we hope to learn to walk with each other.

    3.  “Just as you were called in one hope when you were called.”  What is the believer’s hope?  Colossians 1:27 leaves no doubt what that hope is:  “…Christ in you, the hope of glory.”  If Jesus Christ IN us is our hope for experiencing all the glory of God in all of eternity, then surely Jesus Christ in us right now is our only hope of experiencing any glory here on earth.  Jesus is our one hope…not my faithfulness or yours, not my stability or yours, not my holy living our yours.  JESUS ever more evident and resident IN me and IN you…that is our only hope of unity as the people of God.  

          That is why whatever we do and whenever we do it, our life together has got to be about experiencing the life of Jesus together.  Programs, sermons, songs, events, service—it all must lead us to more of Jesus in and among us.  We’re doomed if it doesn’t. 

          How about we talk more together about where we see Jesus among us?  How about we talk more about what Jesus is teaching us and how he is training us or disciplining us than about anything else in our life together?  Let’s stop being timid or apologetic about the only hope any of us have for a better future—Christ Jesus IN us.  That’s our one and only hope for the future. 

    4.  “There is…one LORD….” 

    Any questions about who that is?  JESUS!

    Any questions about what a “Lord” means? 

    Any questions about who is in charge when the Lord is around? 

    Any questions about what must be happening if God’s people are experiencing division and isolation?  The “Lord” Jesus obviously isn’t Lord somewhere. 

          There is only one Lord, one “head” of the church.  It isn’t the Pope…or me…or you.  It’s Jesus.  Christians who don’t know what it is like to live submissively under Christ won’t know how to live “in submission” to one another…not in a marriage, not in a family, not in a church.  It’s time we really let Jesus “lord it over us,” especially in our independent, self-sufficient American culture.  Paul is going to tell us what that should specifically look like when we get to chapter 5.  He says there (5:21), “Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.”  ONE Lord…only one!

    5.  “There is…one FAITH….” 

    Paul is going to talk about this “faith” a little more in just a few verses (4:13—“…until we all reach unity in the faith….”).  “Faith” in this sense is the spiritual core of what we believe.  When someone asks, “What faith are you a part of?” our response is, “the Christian faith.”  That is, we are saying we all believe a certain fundamental, core set of spiritual realities about God, about Jesus Christ, about salvation.  There is a core of shared “faith” that every true Christian from every century, every country, every stripe of Christian holds to.  If you don’t, you’re not “of the faith.”

          This is no small issue in Christendom.  What must you adhere to in belief and practice to be in the true Christian faith?  That circle of truth is really pretty small…and pretty agreed upon by most believers.  It has to do with the person and work of Jesus Christ and what any one of us must hold to in order to be considered of that “faith.” 

          Obviously, the more we are in agreement about our understanding of the content of that “faith”, the greater our unity can be.  Make that circle of “faithtoo big and you become a cult.  Make it too small and you become a universalist—one who believes everyone in the world is “in the faith” and will be saved no matter what they believe. 

          This is why we study the Scriptures, why we look at theology, why we seek to grow in our faith.  All true believers in Jesus have ONE faith…not billions of private faiths.  We’ll talk more of this in days to come. 

    6.  “There is…one BAPTISM….” 

    But I can think of several different biblical “baptisms” right off hand.  There was “John’s baptism” which was to show that people were repenting of their sins and turning to God.  There is water baptism for anyone who believes in Jesus and is obedient to His call to be baptized publicly.  Then there is what is referred to as “the baptism in the Holy Spirit” by different people, often meaning different things. 

    So what “one baptism” is Paul talking about here?

    • Well, it’s not “John’s baptism” because John isn’t baptizing any more.  He stopped doing that when he was beheaded.
    • I don’t think it is water baptism either, because not every believer in Jesus has been baptized with water…and lots of people who aren’t true believers have been baptized with water but they aren’t part of Christ’s body just by getting wet.

    I think Paul is referring to the ONE baptism every true child of God has “in the Holy Spirit” at the time of spiritual birth, at the time of faith in Jesus Christ.  How else could he say in 1 Corinthians 12:13, “For we were all baptized by one Spirit into one body—whether Jews or Greeks, slave or free—and we were all given the one Spirit to drink.” 

          Not all of us have experienced water baptism or speaking in tongues or any other physical experience someone might be tempted to call baptism.  But all of us…ALL who are “in Christ”…have been “baptized” in (literally “immersed in”) one Holy Spirit and one body of Christ, right?  The youngest child to believe, the weakest adult to believe, the guiltiest sinner, the most spiritual-seeming Christian…we all share one baptism—“by one Spirit into one body.” 

    7.  Lastly, “there is…one GOD and FATHER of all, who is over all and through all and in all.”

    What happens to people who have the same father?  Isn’t there an immediate bond…even when you never grew up in the same household? 

    ILL:  The story came out in England in 2007 about a young man and woman who had met as adults, fallen in love and married.  Both of them were adoptive children.  Only later did they discover the shocking truth that they were, in fact, biological twins.   As they stated to the judge when they subsequently sought a legal annulment of their marriage, while not realizing in any way that they were related to each other, they nonetheless felt "an inevitable attraction".  Common parentage had created an uncanny mystical bond in the hearts of two people who had never known each other except in the womb of their mother. 

    Haven’t most of us had a spiritually surprising encounter with some total stranger who, in the course of conversation, you discover is a brother or sister in Christ.  Immediately there is a connectedness that is beyond culture, beyond language, beyond description. 

          I’ve had that experience in country after country, city after city, airplane after airplane.  I’ve sat in restaurants, watching people interact at tables and thought to myself, “Something is different about that person.  I wonder if they are a follower of Jesus.”  And then the food comes and I see them bow their heads and give thanks to God in the name of Jesus. 

    When you are born to the same family, when you have the same home, live in the same family, share the same inheritance, have the same standing with the same father, something happens.  You are siblings.  You are family.  Blood is thicker than water. 

          And when that father is the perfect Father…when he is the Father who plays no favorites but loves each child specially…when he disciplines each child personally and fairly…when he is “over…and through…and in all” that each child experiences, then that is a family that really has the possibility of being a united family. 

    Brothers and sisters, that IS our family.  We’re it!  We’ve got SO many reasons why we can be the world’s best family. We’ve got SO many things that we share “in common” in Christ.

    What’s stopping us from enjoying this forever family fully? 

          Neglect?  Indifference?  Past wounds?  Present fears? The way church is often structured?  The distance we seem to build between us?  Lack of investing time? 

    God wants our hearts to be bonded together in Christ.  He wants us to experience the same deep love he has for us between ourselves.  He wants his children to really learn to live and love as spiritual siblings.  And he knows life in his family, the church, is where it is meant to happen.   

          We ARE in one body…we do share in one Spirit…we do have one hope…one Lord, one faith, one baptism and one God and Father.  Let’s start living it.  Let’s make our oneness our priority… each week, in the time we spend together, in what we share about, in how deeply we are committed to each other in Christ.