I Will Be a Unifying Church Member

I Will Be a Unifying Church Member

A few years ago I met Pastor Tim here in this church’s basement. It was a gathering of area pastors and ministry leaders. I sat by Pastor Tim and listened to him share his passion of being a faithful shepherd. We continued to connect over the months and eventually, he asked if I would serve as an Overseer for Pure Word and I accepted. This connection between two churches in the Lehigh Valley speaks to the unity of the church.

The word “church” is the word “ecclesia” which means a “group of people called out to do a specific work.” The church then is not a building. The church is people. People called out to do the work of God. And the work of God requires unity of the members of the church.

So I was glad and honored to be able to be here today to preach part 2 of your current series: “I Am a Church Member”. Today’s sermon is entitled “I Will Be a Unifying Church Member.”This invitation from Pastor Tim itself is a show of unity. Reaching out to another Pastor shows that your local expression of the body of Christ here at Pure Word is united with the larger expression of the body of Christ in the Lehigh Valley. And of course, all believers make up the entire body where Christ is the head of the church. The church today needs unity.

It’s unfortunate how churches can easily become disunified. Often over silly things. Take for example this church in Colorado.

The church was called Full Gospel Temple in Greely Colorado and it split over a very small issue. The problem arose when the board of elders at Full Gospel Temple budgeted money for a praise banner to hang from the sanctuary ceiling. They wanted the banner to say either “hallelujah,” or “alleluia.” One faction insisted the word be spelled the first way, while the other wouldn’t budge from the second way.

  • Petitions were drawn up,
  • Rallies were held and
  • Late-night threats received by both sides.

This is a true story!

One “alleluia” supporter was nearly clobbered by a rock that came through his window. The rock bore a note that said, simply, “hallelujah!” Both sides were adamant that since they had grown up with a particular spelling, theirs was correct.One “hallelujah” supporter said:  “It makes a tremendous difference, when you open your eyes and see the wrong spelling on the banner! It’s so jarring to see it without the ‘h’ at the beginning. Nobody spells it that way anymore.”

Evelyn Haney, 57, an equally ardent ‘alleluia’ supporter who carried a sign during a recent day of picketing said:  “I was so sick about it I couldn’t sleep.” She continued: “To think some people spell this wonderful word with a ‘j’ in it. It’s not something where I question their salvation, but at times you have to wonder.”

The two churches now meet in separate school auditoriums, and each has fashioned a banner to suit its own preference. “Worship”, says one parishioner, is “much better now.”1

Churches sometimes have great division over silly little things such as:

  • spelling “Hallelujah” or “Alleluia”
  • the color of carpet
  • what was served at the church picnic

It is rare that churches split over important things such as:

  • doctrine
  • morality
  • biblical faithfulness
  • governing authority

Let me ask a question: What determines if a church becomes unified or divided?

The answer is: You and I do!!

You decide whether or not your church is united by whether or not you will act in unifying ways! Are you helping to unify this church?

The apostle Paul writes to the Ephesian church in a New Testament book by that name.

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.

Ephesians 4:1-3

In these verses, Paul adamantly stresses unity of Spirit among God’s people. In verse 1 he “urges” us to walk in a worthy manner in which God has called us. Notice that this is a call to preserve unity by walking in character! Unity will come about by those who demonstrate character traits of humility, gentleness, patience, and bearing with one another in love. We walk worthy of our call by demonstrating these traits in our expression to one another.

Let me ask you: Are you humble and gentle? Or prideful and rough?

Are you patient with one another? Or do you easily give up on people?

Do you display loving tolerance? Or are you judgmental?

You might say, “well, that’s just not me.” 

I hear things like this all the time:

  • “Well, I’m German, we tend to be hot-heads.”
  • “I’m Italian.”
  • “I’m from New York”
  • “I’m a rough person by nature”
  • “I’ve never did have patience for people.”

I understand some of the personality differences, but the scripture here isn’t talking about personality, it is talking about choicescharacter choices! Humility is a choice you make. Responding with gentleness or patience are choices you make. “Bearing with one another” is another choice you make. These are all character choices church members must make as they interact with one another.

I understand that they may not be your personality or upbringing and don’t come as natural responses from you. But as a believer in Christ, you aren’t to walk in the natural realm anymore…you are to walk “in the Spirit”! They may not be YOUR natural characteristics, but they ARE the characteristics of Christ IN you! They CAN come OUT of you!

Humility, gentleness, patience, bearing with on another and love aren’t naturally you, but we don’t want you, we want to see Christ who is in you rise to the surface! God puts us individuals together into a church in order to build these characters qualities in us. God gives the church continual opportunities to rely upon the character of Christ in our interactions with one another.

Listen, we all have our flaws and weaknesses. You will have difficult times with others in the church. But when you cross the path of a difficult person, it gives you the opportunity to rely on Christ! Will you respond in a manner worthy, of the call to unity, rather than divisive ways?

Paul is not merely suggesting that unity “would be nice” for us to do. He is imploring (…almost begging) us by saying: “I urge you!”

“I urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling!” And it’s a calling to eagerly “maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.”

“But Pastor Norman, you don’t know that other person. You don’t realize how they’ve hurt me, and done dishonorable things.”

You’re right, I don’t know, but here’s what I do know: As much as we want to blame the devil or other people for our reactions, you and I have the responsibility and the opportunity to promote unity. It is you and I as members of God’s church who are called to “maintain the unity of the Spirit.” I’m not saying that there shouldn’t be accountability and even consequences to their actions. What I’m saying is you can only control your responses. You have to take 100% responsibility to “walk worthy of your calling.” And that calling is a call to unity. A call to, (as far as it lies within you), to promote unity by displaying the character of Christ.

Our model of unity is God himself.

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.

ephesians 4:4-6

The word “one” is repeated seven times! I think the apostle has “unity” on his mind, right?

  • One body – The body of Christ, meaning the church.
  • One Spirit – The Spirit that formed and unites the body.
  • One Hope – The hope of Christ’s return for his church.
  • One Lord – Who is the object of the one faith and one baptism
  • One God – Who is “over” and “through” and “in” the whole family of believers.

God looks at the church as one, because it is one! That is a reality. It may not seem so at times! But when looked at from the spiritual reality that all believers are the body of Christ, as Pastor Tim preached last week, the body is “one”. We are unified in Christ.

See, the problem isn’t the reality on “oneness”. The problem is the visibility! The issue is not the reality of the church’s unity, but the visibility of the church’s unity. The reality is that the church is one, but are we making that oneness visible? The truth of the church’s unity should be seen.

Now, when we speak of unity, we aren’t talking about “everyone thinking the same” on all issues. This is a call to unity of Spirit, not unity of everything about us! It certainly doesn’t mean every member having the same skills and gifts. God actually creates unity from the many diverse personalities, gifts and skills he’s given. The church will accomplish much more if all the different parts of the body are used, as long as the gifts of the church members are united in spiritual purpose.

7 But grace was given to each one of us according to the measure of Christ’s gift. 8Therefore 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.

Ephesians 4:7-10

In these verses, Paul is quoting and using imagery from Psalm 68. The image is of a conqueror going out (descending) to a country and then returning with spoils of war. The conqueror is ascending back to his homeland and leading the captives and their plundered treasure back home. Then the conquering King divides the spoils (gifts) among his subjects. Ephesians makes this connection from Psalms to Christ’s descent. Victory and ascension.

We as God’s church, are the direct beneficiaries of

  • Christ’s descent to earth,
  • victory at the cross and
  • ascension to heaven!

Christ is the victor who then divides the spoils among his people! Christ ascends to his throne and gives gifts to his church. As church members, Christ has given us all gifts that are given to help maintain unity and build maturity in the body.

Paul then lists some of the gifts the body is given.

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,

ephesians 4:11-13

Have you ever thought of apostles, prophets, evangelists and pastor/teachers as gifts? Gifts aren’t just the 9 “spiritual gifts” in 1 Corinthians 12. There are at least 5 lists given in the New Testament. Within those 5 lists are at least 20 distinct gifts. This should suggest to us that there is NO exhaustive list, I’m sure there are gifts and spiritual gifts not even listed in the New Testament!

Here’s what’s fascinating (and frustrating) to me about the church and gifts God gives to us: Somehow, we will even create disunity over gifts! Arguing about which is greater or their precise meaning! Can you imagine people fighting over gifts they are given? Someone gives out gifts to the family and they start arguing over them? Debating what they mean, and who should get which one? And then we use the seemingly more “spectacular” gifts as further dividing points!

What are we thinking? They are gifts! We should embrace whatever gifts God gives to his church. And this is why, (whether it is these gifts or other gifts from other places in Scripture), we need to gather together. We need these gifts from pastors and others who can help us grow in maturity and unity.

Those who aren’t here aren’t available to be further equipped and built up through preaching and teaching.

By constantly missing services, they are to some degree causing some division, rather than unity. Some people adopt an attitude that they don’t need to sit under the preaching or teaching ministries of the church. They think they will grow just fine if they stay home and “read their Bible”. They think they will grow just fine, since the “spirit can speak to them” at home.

John Calvin doesn’t hold back when he says:

They are insane who neglect (church) and hope to be perfect in Christ, as in the case of fanatics who pretend to secret revelations of the Spirit, and the proud, who content themselves with the private reading the Scripture, and imagine they do not need the ministry of the church.

john calvin

I think Calvin has it right. We cannot “build” the church through those who neglect the church!Unity isn’t helped by those who stay unconnected to the body of Christ. God gave the church gifts and gifted people for a purpose. These five gifts in particular are in place to build and unite the church. These gifts of leadership are also important for the church so that we don’t drift from truth.

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.

ephesians 4:14-16

For us to be a healthy body, it will take everyone working together. Every individual is an important part of the body of Christ. To maintain unity, you have a responsibility made very clear in verse 15. Our English translations: “Speaking the truth in love” doesn’t give as much weight as what this verse is trying to get at.Language isn’t the only thing in view here. The tone of the Greek is actually that we are to be “truthing” in love! Truth should be looked at holistically, not just about our speech.

We are to:

  • live truth,
  • act out truth,
  • maintain truth,
  • AND speaktruth in love.

Truth and love must go together.

Sometimes we really miss the integration of truth and love, don’t we? And that can really bring division in the church, can’t it?

Some people are all about truth.

When they think there’s an error, they raise it to a level of heresy! They are always on the lookout for any deviations to what they consider truth. They take a determined position on “being right”.

Others make the opposite mistake and sacrifice truth because they are afraid of losing love.

They think it’s is more loving to water-down truth. But listen, compromised truth is not a loving approach. Someone said it best when they said: 

Truth becomes hard if it is not softened by love. Love becomes soft if it is not strengthened with truth.

A church is often damaged by legalism, harsh tones and other acts that aren’t loving. A church can also be damaged by refraining to give truth, just because truth is hard to hear. I guess the best way to determine whether you should move forward in engaging someone when things are tense is to ask yourself:

  • Do I love this church member?
  • Do I care for him or her?

And if you can’t bring yourself to love someone, you certainly shouldn’t confront them, even with truth. In all this, we aren’t looking for a flawless church, just a united church.

Perhaps you’ve heard the story of the man who was stranded alone on a desert island. 

The man built shelters and survived without any human contact for many years.Finally one day rescuers arrived on the island. And they noticed 3 buildings. Since he was all alone, they asked him why he needed 3 buildings. The man replied, “Well, the one on the left is my house and the one on the right is my church!”

“Well, what’s the middle one?”, they asked. He replied:  “Oh, that’s where I USED to go to church!”

I hope you know you’re never going to find the perfect church!

But you can find unity in your church. That’s what I want you to walk away with today: “Don’t look for perfection in your church; promote unity in your church.”

We aren’t looking for perfection, but we can do our part to promote unity! To accomplish that we need to see that we need one another, even with our imperfections!

Fortunately, the church is attached to one who is perfect.

We grow up because Christ is the head of the body. Christ as the head of the church gives hope and resource to the members of the body! We won’t be perfect, but we can promote unity by staying close to Christ, the perfect one! And maybe that’s what we need to evaluate: our relationship with Christ.

How is your connection to Christ as head of the church, affecting your union to the rest of the body? The closer you are to Christ, the better you will be at promoting the unity with the rest of the body. Every joint, every muscle, every individual part no matter how imperfect, can still promote a unifying growth within the body. We are held together, we are united by what each imperfect part of the body contributes.

  • What are you contributing to unity today?
  • What are you contributing to Pure Word today?
  • What attitudes and actions of yours are strengthening the growth of others here?

The church will grow into what each member promotes

                        …are you promoting unity today?


1 http://www.larknews.com/archives/84


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