Last week we started talking about the biblical image of the church being a body. One of the main emphases in those passages is unity. Notice the emphasis on oneness in these verse we read last week:
1 Cor 12:12-13 Just as a body, though one, has many parts, but all its parts form one body, so it is with Christ. For we are all baptised by one Spirit so as to form one body – whether Jews or Gentiles, slave or free – and we were given one Spirit to drink.
Many parts form one body. That includes parts as divided from each other as Jews and gentiles, slaves and free. Jews did not even associate with Gentiles. There was hostility between them. Slaves did not mix with free people. But, in the church, Jews and Gentiles were brothers and sisters, and slaves were served by their masters. The church was an unbelievable revolution – a different sort of society radically different from the society around it.
Romans 12:4-5 4 For just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, 5 so in Christ we, though many, form one body, and each member belongs to all the others.
Though we are many, we form one body and each member belongs to all of the others. The picture is of huge diversity and yet unity – unity that would leave the watching world amazed. It is a picture of the many and the one. We will be looking at the many – the diverse gifts within the body – but first we will look at the other side of the equation: the one. The many is about you but the one is about us. This scriptural emphasis on unity is clearly important to us. Think, for example, about Jesus’ prayer for unity in the church, at the Last Supper, in John 17. God puts huge stress on unity and the body analogy pictures that unity; the body has many parts but it is one body.
Let me try to show you why unity in the church is so important to God. We are going to look at Ephesians which also uses the body analogy extensively, but it also talks a lot about unity, referring in particular to the new unity, in Christ, of Jews and Gentiles.
Eph 1:8b-10 8 …With all wisdom and understanding, 9 he made known to us the mystery of his will according to his good pleasure, which he purposed in Christ, 10 to be put into effect when the times reach their fulfilment – to bring unity to all things in heaven and on earth under Christ.
Verse 10 tells us God’s master plan. God’s master plan is to bring unity to all things in heaven and on earth under Christ.
The opposite of unity is division, being scattered, separated, antagonism, warfare. Think about the history of division and separation in the Bible:
- the broken relationships because of Adam and Eve’s sin and their being driven from the Garden of Eden;
- one of their sons, Cain, murdering another of their sons, Abel;
- the nations being scattered after the Tower of Babel and the ongoing tensions and warfare between different nations and different people’s;
- Israel dividing into two kingdoms, often at war with one another
The world is divided. Think of the deep chasm in American politics between conservatives and liberals; the fact that Korea is divided and technically at war, and a million other examples. But God’s master plan is to bring unity under Christ. It is in Christ and in Christ alone that there can be this unity. It will not be achieved by the United Nations. It will not be achieved by people of good will. It is Christ who can unite former enemies.
Keep God’s master plan in mind. The reconciliation of Jews and Gentiles was a glowing example of this new unity.
READ Ephesians 2:11-22
The Gentiles had been separated from Christ, not citizens of Israel, foreigners to the covenant, without hope and without God. They were “far away” (v.13) but in Christ Jesus they had been brought near. Jesus made the two one and destroyed the dividing wall of hostility. Do you see how God’s master plan to bring unity to all things was being worked out in real, down-to-earth ways? Jews and Gentiles were made one. Amazing! His master plan is repeated in
Eph 15b-16 His purpose was to create in himself one new humanity out of the two, thus making peace, 16 and in one body to reconcile both of them to God through the cross, by which he put to death their hostility.
The two become one, reconciled in one body. This is reiterated in
Eph 3:6 This mystery is that through the gospel the Gentiles are heirs together with Israel, members together of one body, and sharers together in the promise in Christ Jesus.
The word “together” is used three times in that verse. This is the body of Christ: many diverse people, including former enemies, together. All this is through the gospel. Again, it is not human effort and good will. We are sinful people. We will always find reasons to be divided. It is the gospel that unites. The gospel makes us children of one Father. Whether we are Jews or Gentiles, rich or poor, male or female, through Jesus we are children of God and brothers and sisters of one another.
Now look at 3:10-11! This is important.
Eph 3:10-11 10 His intent was that now, through the church, the manifold wisdom of God should be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly realms, 11 according to his eternal purpose that he accomplished in Christ Jesus our Lord.
God’s expectation is that the church will reveal this new unity. The wisdom of God and the purpose of God will be seen in the church. Let the whole world – even the spiritual powers – see and marvel. When they see us loving one another, they will know that we are Jesus’ disciples.
And yet, churches are famous for their splits and divisions and bickering and criticism. At the local level, people are divided from one another and churches split. It is sometimes quoted that there are 30 to 40,000 different Christian denominations, illustrating the propensity of the church to split and split and split. If you research that, you will find that it is wildly inaccurate. There are only perhaps a handful of thousands. So that is some good news. Maybe the church isn’t doing so badly. Maybe the church is modelling unity. But, even a few thousand denominations shows that the church is failing God. The very thing we are meant to model is what we are not modelling. Do we need to repent? I am not pointing the finger at this church in particular. By the same token, are we demonstrating the degree of unity that God expects in His church? If we know that this is God’s plan, how can we more and more be what God wants us to be?
Ephesians 4:3-6 3 Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. 4 There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to one hope when you were called 5one Lord, one faith, one baptism; 6 one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.
This unity – diverse people forming one body – is a unity of the Spirit. God unites us but we are to work very hard to maintain that unity. “Every effort”. If there is more we could have done, then we haven’t made every effort. We are to do everything we possibly can to maintain unity.
Are you following this?
- The world is marked by division
- God’s master plan is to unite all things under Christ
- He has done that, uniting diverse people in the church
- So the church is to model to the world this new unity in Christ
- And so we have the responsibility to do everything we can to maintain the unity God has created
Here’s a little test to help us get a sense of where we are at: four very simple, practical unity questions.
- In this church, how many people’s birthdays do you know?
- How many people in this church have you had into your home?
- How many people in this church have you given money to?
- Do you feel negatively towards anyone in this church?
Are they fair questions? I think so. Those were the practical things that happened in the Acts church and that demonstrated their togetherness and their love for one another.
How can we be that model of unity? The verse prior to the one about making every effort to maintain unity says…
Eph 4:2 Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love.
Of course, there are many, many passages like that about relationships within the church. There is a whole collection of “one another” commands: love one another, forgive one another, be at peace with one another, encourage one another, seek good for one another, confess your sins to one another, etc. There are many because this is so important to God. But even just those four in that verse are profound, are they not? Humility, gentleness, patience, bearing with one another in love.
Much of the nastiness in some churches arises from exactly the opposite of those things: lack of humility (not being willing to serve one another), treating people harshly rather than gently, impatience (criticism of people who don’t get things quite right), rejection of people who make mistakes or don’t do things the way we want them done. Jesus demands of us to something much better than simply mirroring the pettiness we see in the world.
And the passage after that verse talks about each part of the body ministering to the other parts so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ (vv.12-13). We will talk about that more on future occasions when we talk about using the gifts that God has given us. But for the moment, notice that it is through our various ministries that we reach unity. It is as we grow in our knowledge of the Son of God and as we become more Christ-like (“attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ”), that we reach greater unity. That is obvious. As we become more like Jesus, we relate to each other with the compassion and patience and forgiveness of Jesus.
The unfortunate things we sometimes see in churches result from one of two things:
- Those people have not been born again.
This unity is in Christ. Just pulling a bunch of unsaved people together and telling them to behave well will not work. We are not capable of it.
- Or, those people have been born again but are still immature
You know what a mission it is teaching children to share. If toddlers want a toy that another toddler has, they feel they can go and snatch it off him. Likewise, spiritual children have not developed those Christ-like relationship skills (humility, gentleness, patience…) and we end up with fights in the church.
But God has designed the church to consist of many parts with many different gifts which are to be used to build up the body of Christ. That is what we will look at in the weeks ahead.