This morning we are going to focus our time together on the first three verses of the fourth chapter of Paul’s letter to the church in Ephesus. As I have studied these three verses this past week I have been drawn again and again to verse 3. Let’s read the first three verses, and as we do, please pay special attention to verse 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. (Ephesians 4:1-3 NIV)
We hear lots of talk today about “unity, peace, and harmony” and yet it seems that regardless of our best efforts unity continues to lie somewhere beyond our reach. It really doesn’t matter whether we are talking about unity on a national or community level, it seems like the more we yearn for unity, peace, and harmony the more convinced we are becoming that it just doesn’t seem possible.
Jimmie L. Hollis is a writer for NJ.com, New Jersey’s online source for news. Mr. Hollis wrote an article on April 18, 2012 called, “Unity Unlikely in a Divided Nation.” Listen to his words,
To say our nation is divided along political and ideological lines states the obvious. At no time is that division more pronounced than during a national election. Some say this division is harmful, others say a certain amount of friction between opposing ideals and views is healthy. After each national election pundits and politicians began calling for unity and coming together. President Bush came into office saying he was a “uniter” not a divider, and we saw how that turned out. President Obama has also said we all need to come together. The same mantra was heard in the Clinton and elder Bush administrations as well, and yet we are as divided now as we ever were, maybe more so. At times it seems the division is tamped down and some of the friction among political and social enemies seem to be under control, but it is always bubbling just below the surface. (Jimmie L. Hollis. NJ.com. http://tinyurl.com/793rz2k.)
There are so many things that divide us, separate us, cause us to rally the troops around our personal pet issues, and point long fingers of accusation at anyone who doesn’t feel the same way that we do. Let me point out the obvious—unity, strictly from a human vantage point, will never happen. I have history on my side. People, if left to ourselves, are much better at breaking things than we are at taking the fragments and putting them back to together.
The good news is that unity has already been accomplished. I’m not speaking about some global initiative or a national or community unity, but what I am referring to is the unity of the Spirit in the Body of Christ. Paul said, “Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace.” He didn’t say “create unity among the Body of Christ,” but he said, “Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit…” The key for us to understand is that this is the unity of the Spirit, the Spirit of God. It is not unity that is brought into being because a group of people get together and decide that they are all going to get along or work towards a common goal—it is the unity of the Spirit. Martyn Lloyd-Jones writes,
Unity is itself inevitable among all those who have been quickened by the Holy Spirit out of spiritual death, and given new life in Christ Jesus. What they have to be careful about is that they don’t allow anything to disrupt it or in any way to interfere with it. The emphasis is entirely upon the word ‘keep’. In order that this may be abundantly clear the apostle again reminds us that it is ‘the unity of the Spirit’. In other words, it is a unity which is produced by the Holy Spirit and by him alone. Man cannot produce this, try as he may. Because of the nature of this unity, because it is a spiritual unity, it can be brought into being only as a result of the operation of the Holy Spirit. The apostle rejoices in this staggering fact, that these people who were once Jews and Gentiles are now one in Christ Jesus. They not only share the same life, they are agreed about their doctrine. They believe the same things, they are trusting to the same person, and they know that he has saved them all in the same way. The middle wall of partition has gone. The Jews no longer pride themselves that they are Jews and that they had the law given to them, whereas the Gentiles were ignorant and were not in the unique position of being the people of God. All these differences have gone, and they are one in seeing their lost estate and condition, their utter hopelessness and helplessness. They are united in their common trust in the Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God, who has purchased them at the cost of his own precious blood. So they are ready to listen to this exhortation which urges them to maintain with great diligence, to preserve and to guard, the unity into which they have been brought by the operation of the Holy Spirit of God.” (D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, “The Basis of Christian Unity,” Banner of Truth, 2003, p.27).
In John 17, Jesus prayed for His followers—His circle of disciples as well as those who would become His followers in generations to come. Jesus’ prayer in John 17 was answered through His work on the cross. Do you know what Jesus prayed in John 17? He prayed that we might be one. As Jesus was in the Garden of Gethsemane praying, knowing that the time of His crucifixion was drawing near, He was praying for His disciples, for you and me, for the whole Body of Christ. Let me show you what He was praying. In John 17:11, Jesus prays,
11 Holy Father, protect them by the power of your name–the name you gave me–so that they may be one as we are one. (John 17:11 NIV)
Jesus doesn’t pray that His followers will give the appearance of being united. He prays that we would be one just as He and the Father are one. Then, just nine verses later, Jesus, in His prayer, prays for our unity once again.
20 “My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, 21 that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. 22 I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one: (John 17:20-22 NIV)
Jesus had been praying for His disciples, but here, in verses 20-22, He prays for us, those who would believe because the message had spread from person-to-person and from generation-to-generation. Isn’t it interesting that Jesus doesn’t ask the Father to bless us with big buildings, effective programs, or bulging budgets, but He asks the Father to make us one “so that the world may believe…”
Given the context of Jesus’ prayer, remember that He knew He was getting ready to suffer like none of us can even imagine, I’m overwhelmed by Jesus’ passion for the unity of His followers. With all of the things that I read and hear today about what is important for evangelism, making Him known to an unbelieving world, I’m stunned to find out that Jesus identified our unity as the crucial component of evangelism.
In John 17:23, Jesus prays for our unity for a fifth time. As we read this verse I want you to notice the “why” of the importance of our unity. Let’s read it together.
23 I in them and you in me. May they be brought to complete unity to let the world know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me. (John 17:23 NIV)
Through Jesus’ death and resurrection God has answered Jesus’ prayer and united us as one Body. The unity of the Body of Christ is the gift of God accomplished through the work of God’s Son. John MacArthur has written,
Paul is not speaking of organizational unity, such as that promoted in many denominations and in the ecumenical movement. He is speaking of the inner and universal unity of the Spirit by which every true believer is bound to every other true believer. As Paul makes clear, this is the unity of the Spirit working in the lives of believers. It does not come from the outside but the inside, and is manifested through the inner qualities of humility, gentleness, patience, and forbearing love. Spiritual unity is not, and cannot be, created by the church. It is already created by the Holy Spirit. (MacArthur, John. The MacArthur New Testament Commentary: Ephesians. pg. 128)
The unity that Jesus is speaking of in His prayer and the unity that Paul writes about when he says that we are to “make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit…” is a unity that has already been accomplished through God’s work and not ours. The unity of the Body of Christ was Jesus’ passion. The unity of the followers of Jesus is God’s will. It has been accomplished, but is it being experienced by the followers of Jesus today? I don’t know anyone who would answer “Yes!” to that question. If God has accomplished this, if He has made us “one,” then why are we not experiencing the unity of the Spirit? That’s a great question and I believe Martyn Lloyd-Jones has already answered the question for us. Remember what he wrote,
What they have to be careful about is that they don’t allow anything to disrupt it or in any way to interfere with it. (Martyn Lloyd-Jones)
Uh oh! There’s the problem isn’t it? The truth of the matter is that we have not made every effort, we have not been careful to maintain the unity, and we have allowed all kinds of things to disrupt and interfere with what God has done. Are we as hopeless as those in society who keep calling for unity but never seem to realize it? I don’t think so. In our Scripture for today we see some key insights into how you and I can work to make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit. Take a look at Ephesians 4:2-3 with me once again.
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. (Ephesians 4:2-3 NIV)
For us as followers of Jesus to experience the unity of the Spirit which God desires for us to experience we must earnestly desire, cultivate, and implement the character qualities listed by Paul in verse 2. Before we look at each of them individually I want to let you know that the qualities listed by Paul are the fruit of the Spirit’s work in our lives. You may have heard of the “Fruit of the Spirit” found in Galatians 5:22-23. Let me read it to you.
22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law. (Galatians 5:22-23 NIV)
You won’t find the words “humility” or “bearing with one another” in these verses, but there is no doubt that they are fruit of the Spirit’s work in our lives.
When Paul wrote to the brothers and sisters in Colosse, he urged them to “clothe” themselves with specific character qualities, qualities that are no doubt fruit of the Spirit’s work in our lives. Read along with me from Colossians 3:12-15.
12 Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. 13 Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. 14 And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity. 15 Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful. (Colossians 3:12-15 NIV)
If we want to live out the unity that God has made available to us through His Spirit then it is imperative that we seek to grow in these areas and implement them into our daily life. Let’s take a look at each of them and try to understand what each one looks like in every day life.
Be Completely Humble
First of all, Paul says that we are to be completely “humble.” The Greek word that Paul uses, which is translated as “humble,” is “ταπεινοφροσύνη” (tapeinophrosune) and it means, “having a humble opinion of one’s self, a deep sense of one’s (moral) littleness, modesty, humility, lowliness of mind.” Humility is the bedrock of the Christian life. Humility is a quality that when you think you’ve finally got it, you’ve lost it. Throughout history, humility has never really been a highly prized attribute. We value “pride” and “confidence,” but not humility. John Stott writes about the way the ancient world viewed humility, or “lowliness” as the King James Version translates it.
Lowliness was much despised in the ancient world. The Greeks never used their word for humility in a context of approval, still less of admiration. Instead they meant by it an abject, servile, subservient attitude, ‘the crouching submissiveness of a slave.’ Not till Jesus Christ came was a true humility recognized. For he humbled himself. And only he among the world’s religious and ethical teachers has set before us as our model a little child. (Stott, John. The Message of Ephesians. pg. 148)
If you want to know what true humility looks like then all you need to do is read Scripture and learn how Jesus lived His life. Throughout the New Testament God’s people are called to live lives of humility. When Paul wrote to the folks in Philippi, he urged them to resist “selfish ambition” and “vain conceit” and to view others through the eyes of humility. After doing this, Paul holds up the standard. Read along with me from Philippians 2:3-8.
3 Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. 4 Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others. 5 Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus: 6 Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, 7 but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. 8 And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death– even death on a cross! (Philippians 2:3-8 NIV)
He who is God willingly stepped off the throne of glory and clothed Himself in humanity for the sake of sinners like me and you so that He might lift us out of the pit of sin, brokenness, alienation, and self-destruction and reconcile us to Himself. If you want to grow in your humility then fix your eyes on Jesus and what He has done for you. We can see what humility looked like in the everyday life of Jesus by reading Scripture and seeing Him touch the untouchable leper, forgive those who did not deserve forgiveness, and show mercy to those who were expecting judgment. We know what humility looked like in Jesus’ life, but what does it look like in our own life? John Piper writes,
The more highly you think of yourself the more quickly you will think you should be served. “Who do they think they are to keep me waiting like this!” But if you have a disposition of lowliness, it won’t feel so inappropriate when you are not treated like dignitary and when the fruits of your labors are slow in coming. If you have seen the majesty of God’s holiness, you know your own minuteness and sinfulness, and you don’t presume to deserve special treatment. And if you have seen the magnificence of God’s grace, you know he will give you the strength to wait and will turn all your delays into strategic maneuvers of victory. (John Piper. Maintain the Unity of the Spirit. http://tinyurl.com/bubr38c.)
Be Completely Gentle.
Let’s move on. Paul says that we are to be completely gentle. The Greek word translated “gentle” in the NIV and “meekness” in the King James Version is “πραότης” (praotes) and it means, “gentleness, mildness, or meekness.” Oftentimes we think of the word “gentle” as a word used to describe those who are weak. For those of us who are men—the last thing on earth we want to known as is weak. We want to be tough, rugged, strong, and confident. After having come to understand the biblical definition of “gentleness,” I want you guys to know that this is one of the most masculine terms in all of God’s Word. Let me explain.
The Greek word that is used here really means, “power under control.” It is used to describe a powerful horse that is under the control of his owner. The horse is still a powerful animal, full of strength and spirit, but all of his power is now directed by his owner. And so it is with us, men, when we surrender our lives to Christ. When we surrender to Jesus as Lord of our life He doesn’t diminish our strength or power as men. He harnesses it and directs it in a way that turns brute strength and power into a blessing for others.
There is hardly a day go by that I don’t hear stories of men who have brutalized women or children. They were stronger and they used their strength to get what they wanted or to get back at those who have hurt them. That’s not impressive. I’ve known other men, strong men, powerful men, who were just as physically strong, but they had surrendered their lives to Jesus, and as a result, they used their strength to bless others and to protect those who were threatened.
That same strength is needed to keep the unity of the Spirit in the Body of Christ. Many churches have split and the unity of the Spirit has been broken because of some issue that came up where people demanded their way. People began to talk behind one another’s backs, arguments ensued, folks got loud, obnoxious, and dug in their heels as they pledged to win at all costs. Most every one of you knows exactly what I am talking about. This method of using power to “settle” church disagreements is all too common. How much different is this than the counsel Paul game to Timothy when he wrote,
24 And the Lord’s servant must not quarrel; instead, he must be kind to everyone, able to teach, not resentful. 25 Those who oppose him he must gently instruct, in the hope that God will grant them repentance leading them to a knowledge of the truth, 26 and that they will come to their senses and escape from the trap of the devil, who has taken them captive to do his will. (2 Timothy 2:24-26 NIV)
How are we to respond to those who oppose us? With gentleness. “Why? Won’t we appear weak?” Maybe, but our goal is not self-promotion, our goal is for others to come to know Jesus as Lord of their life and for the unity of the Spirit to be kept.
Be Completely Patient.
Third, Paul says we are to be “patient.” The Greek word used by Paul is “μακροθυμία” (makrothumia) and it means, “patience, endurance, constancy, steadfastness, perseverance, longsuffering, or slowness in avenging wrongs.” Literally, the word means to “bear up under.” We like to talk about how we have been so patient with someone who is driving us crazy, how we have “put up” with the drama and peculiarities of others, but have you ever stopped to think about how patient God has been with us? Let me just remind you. Take a look at Romans 2:3-4 with me.
3 So when you, a mere man, pass judgment on them and yet do the same things, do you think you will escape God’s judgment? 4 Or do you show contempt for the riches of his kindness, tolerance and patience, not realizing that God’s kindness leads you toward repentance? (Romans 2:3-4 NIV)
We are quick to “judge” the very things in others that are present in our own lives. Paul says that we are showing contempt for God’s kindness, tolerance, and patience with us when we are so harsh with others.
If we are going to keep the unity of the Spirit then we must become more patient with one another. Let’s face it, we are all a mess. When you hold up the mirror of God’s holiness and righteousness to our lives, we are all a mess. If we would simply acknowledge the truth of that statement and focus on the patience of God showered upon each of us, then there is no doubt in my mind that we would be far more patient with one another.
Bear With One Another in Love.
Last of all, Paul says we are to “bear with one another in love.” This phrase, though hardly ever used in our day, is one of the most descriptive phrases of God’s patience with us. Peter wrote,
9 The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance. (2 Peter 3:9 NIV)
Oh, if it were not for the patience of God where would I be? For how many years did the Lord patiently wait on me to recognize my need for Him? For how many years did He work in my life, bless my life, with absolutely no evidence that I was ever going to turn to Him, much less serve Him? But still He worked, He waited, and the day came when I cried out to Him. Still today, there is so much of my life that He wants to change, so much that He wants to teach me, so much that He desires to do in and through me, but I am so slow to learn. And still He works and still He waits.
Just as the Lord has patiently “beared” with us, we are to bear with one another. This is such an essential quality of the followers of Jesus if we are going to keep the unity of the Spirit. I think we all know that, but still the question lurks in the back of our minds, “For how long?” Martyn Lloyd-Jones answers that question by saying,
If you love a child you will be patient with him. He may ask you the same question a thousand times but you will still go on answering patiently. You do something and the child says, ‘Do it again,’ and you do it again, and again; and you go on until you are almost collapsing physically. It is because you love the little child. He does not know, he does not understand; and it would be very wrong to expect him to understand at that age. You have to come down to his level, to put on the apron, to get on your knees, to be one with him. And if you love him you do so readily and gladly. (Lloyd-Jones, Martyn. Christian Unity: Ephesians 4:1-10. pg. 44-45)
We are to be humbled by our place in the Body of Christ, we are to love one another, be patient with one another, be gentle with one another, and bear with one another just as we would if “one another” were our own child. All of these qualities are essential if we want to keep the unity of the Spirit so that an unbelieving world may come to know the love of Jesus for themselves. That really is the issue isn’t it? How will they know unless they see Him working in and through us?
Britton Christian Church
922 NW 91st
OKC, OK. 73114
May 20, 2012