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God's goal for the church- unity (Eph. 3-4)

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The book of Ephesians was a circular letter. It’s a manifesto for the church, which describes the essence and identity.
Who is the church,
how it came about, and
how it must conduct itself as well as
what its mission is
within the larger framework of Christ’s cosmic rule.
We come to chapter 3 which reveals God’s marvelous plan for the Gentiles.
Paul explains God’s plan for the Gentiles with two moves.
First he explains
the mystery of Christ in vv2-6, which focuses on
its revelation (vv3-5) and
content (v6).
Then Paul expands on
his ministry of the gospel (vv7-13),
highlighting the purpose of proclaiming the wisdom of God to the spiritual powers through the church (v10).
highlighting the purpose of proclaiming the wisdom of God to the spiritual powers through the church (v10).
Let’s read . To put it simply, we need this message because two things are true:
Welcome to the first of thirteen classes on our life together as a church. In this introductory class, my hope is to give you some idea of why we as Christians need a class like this in the first place. To put it simply, we need this message because two things are true:
First, God calls Christians to gather together in local churches to worship Him and to reflect His glorious character to the world.
Second, we are still sinners.
Second, we are still sinners.
The million dollar question is, how do these two statements work together?
God calls us to glorify Him by living together in local churches?
How can a still sinful people reflect God?
Unity is Hard
One day, all of God’s people will bow before Him, perfectly righteous because of Christ and perfectly unified in humble worship and praise.
But God still calls us today—the very imperfect people who compose His Church
—to the task of displaying the glory of His perfect character.
The question of how that can happen in the church is the focus of this message.
In particular application, our goal is to understand the opportunities and responsibilities we all have as church members.
How can we, as sinful and selfish people, gather together, not with the forced unity that
denies differences,
not with the forced unity that denies differences, overlooks difficulty, or compromises the message of the gospel, but with unity that preserves the message of the gospel and acts as a compelling testimony to its value? How can we respond to sin in our midst without descending to gossip and slander? How can we trust our leaders but still recognize that they are sinners, too? How can we love people who make us feel uncomfortable because they are so different from us? How can we honestly critique an imperfect church without grumbling?
overlooks difficulty, or
compromises the message of the gospel,
but with unity that
preserves the message of the gospel and acts as a compelling testimony to its value?
Let’s ask ourselves a couple of difficult questions.
How can we respond to sin in our midst without descending to gossip and slander?
How can we trust our leaders but still recognize that they are sinners, too?
How can we love people who make us feel uncomfortable because they are so different from us?
How can we honestly critique our imperfect church without grumbling?
If you’ve been part of a church for any amount of time, you know that these goals are difficult to achieve.
Churches far too often become places of division, complaints, and unhappy people.
I see some of you could easily lean in this direction.
Division, complaining, and unhappiness.
This will cause us to fail to display to the watching world the power of the gospel that should be at work within us.
Therefore they fail to display to the watching world the power of the gospel that should be at work within them.
And when that happens, we don’t fulfill the purpose of God for the church, He simply comes along and removes that church.
Our goal for this series of messages is to explore a practical blueprint of what makes a church strong.
What makes it a community where sound doctrine expresses itself in love that glorifies God?
My prayer is that you will leave this portion of God’s Word, with a better understanding of
what the Bible says about being a strong church, and
also with some clear ideas of what you can do to help build a strong church.

I. GOD’S GOAL FOR THE CHURCH—UNITY ()

I. GOD’S GOAL FOR THE CHURCH—UNITY ()
Let’s begin by considering a foundational question:
Why is the church important?
More specifically, why is it important to God?
To answer that question, let’s look at and 4, where Paul lays out the importance of the church in God’s plan of redemption.
Let’s run through the whole passage, and then summarize some critical takeaway points.

Unlocking the Mystery of the Gospel

To give you some more context, Paul has spent chapters 1 and 2 describing the power of the gospel—that
though we as Christians were dead in our transgressions,
that though we as Christians were dead in our transgressions,
we are now alive in Christ and reconciled both to God and to each other.
Let’s pick up his train of thought in :
2 "you have heard, haven’t you, about the administration of God’s grace that he gave to me for you? 3 "The mystery was made known to me by revelation, as I have briefly written above. 4 "By reading this you are able to understand my insight into the mystery of Christ.” ()
Surely you have heard about the administration of God’s grace that was given to me for you, that is, the mystery made known to me by revelation, as I have already written briefly. In reading this, then, you will be able to understand my insight into the mystery of Christ. (vv. 2–4)
What is this mystery that Paul understands so well? Skip ahead to verse six:
6 "The Gentiles are coheirs, members of the same body, and partners in the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel.” ()
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.
You see? Paul is excited about the fact that Christianity has united Jews and Gentiles together into one body.
The hatred and enmity which had existed between them for centuries is overcome in the gospel.
As Paul put it a little earlier in 2:14, Christ has “broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility” between Jews and Gentiles.
“coheirs” of the same blessings.
God promised Abraham that he would bless his descendants and that through him all the families of the earth would find blessing ().
Now the divine plan has been revealed that through the gospel all the families of the earth should not only be blessed in Abrahams offspring,
but also be counted among his children.
Each of those marvelous blessings to which you and I are said to participate in, is said to be “in Christ Jesus through the gospel”.
It’s through the gospel.
The basis on which you and I, along with Jews,
become sons and daughters of God, are
made fellow-members of the body of Christ and
receive the promised Holy Spirit is
Christ through the gospel.
It’s in Christ, that is, Israel’s Messiah, and in Him alone, that Gentiles inherit the promises made to Abraham.
All people who hear this message and appropriate it for themselves, are united with the Lord Jesus in His death and resurrection.
The gospel not only declares what is God’s gracious plan, announcing the content of the mystery of Christ;
the gospel is also the instrument by which God achieves His purposes of
bringing all people to faith and incorporating them into His Song.
It’s through the active proclamation of the gospel that God draws men and women to Himself.
Summing up v6, the mystery of Christ is the complete union of Jews and Gentiles with each other through the union of both with Christ.
It’s a double union. We are united to Christ and united to one another.
In verse 8, Paul says that the proclamation of this mystery—
In verse 8, Paul says that the proclamation of this mystery—
Back to chapter 3. In verse 8, Paul says that the proclamation of this mystery—
In verse 8, Paul says that the proclamation of this mystery—
this gospel-induced peace between Jew and Gentile—is central to his ministry:
8 "This grace was given to me—the least of all the saints—to proclaim to the Gentiles the incalculable riches of Christ, 9 "and to shed light for all about the administration of the mystery hidden for ages in God who created all things.” ()

The Purpose of Gospel Unity

But why is unity in the gospel so important? In verse 10, Paul gives us a unique glimpse into God’s purpose:
10 "This is so that God’s multi-faceted wisdom may now be made known through the church to the rulers and authorities in the heavens.” ()
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.
Who are the “rules and authorities” that Paul mentions here?
We don’t really know.
The phrase “in the heavenly realms” suggests that it refers to the spiritual dimension that exists beyond the physical.
What is absolutely clear, though, is that it is through the church—and specifically,
through the unity of Jews and Gentiles within the church—
that God is bringing glory to Himself by showing off to everyone (verse 9) His manifold wisdom.
How does the church display the manifold wisdom of God?
Only an all-wise God could devise a way to reconcile His love and His justice
while saving a rebellious people who are estranged from Him and from one another.

Unity Applied—How Then Should We Live?

Through the rest of chapter 3, Paul prays for the family of God.
He asks God to strengthen them through His Holy Spirit.
He also prays that, as Christ dwells in their hearts through faith,
they would come to understand just how all-encompassing Christ’s love is for them, and thus be “filled with all the fullness of God” (see verses 14–21).
In chapter 4 Paul begins to apply the truths we have just discussed, calling the Ephesian Christians to “live a life worthy of the calling you have received.”
1 "Therefore I, the prisoner in the Lord, urge you to live worthy of the calling you have received,” ()
My guess is that when you hear this exhortation, you probably start to think immediately of your own personal holiness.
But if you keep that exhortation firmly planted in the context of chapter three, it’s clear
that he doesn’t have our individual holiness in mind here
so much as our life together as a church!
Look at verses 2–3, where Paul talks about what should characterize our relationships in the church:
2 "with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, 3 "making every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace.” ()
Paul has more than one person in mind here. He’s talking to a group of people, not just individuals.
Through the next few verses, Paul describes our calling as one body and explains that our unity with each other is
fostered by the gifts God has given to His people (verses 4–11).
And what’s the goal of these gifts? Verses 12–13:
12 "equipping the saints for the work of ministry, to build up the body of Christ, 13 "until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of God’s Son, growing into maturity with a stature measured by Christ’s fullness.” ()

Some Things to Remember

Well, that’s a lightning run through two marvelous chapters of Scripture.
Let’s pause for a moment and notice three truths in this passage that are of critical importance:
First, the unity of the church is central to the message of the gospel.
One of the great accomplishments of Christ’s work is that he has broken down the dividing walls of hostility
that exist—because of sin—between human beings.
Through the blood of Christ we are reconciled with God and we are reconciled with one another. It cannot be otherwise.
Second, church unity showcases the wisdom of God.
The church isn’t a collection of people who merely tolerate one other
long enough to sing some songs and hear a sermon every Sunday;
the church is a gathering of people who demonstrates a unity so powerful that
it can only have come to pass by the hand of God.
Third, cultivating unity is our responsibility as church members.
It is the entire church that has been gifted by the Spirit, and so Paul calls the
entire church to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace.
And, as we see in and , the New Testament authors will rebuke the entire church
when unity is damaged.
Not just church leaders. Church members.

Unity Throughout the Bible

So what is God’s goal for the church? Unity. Why?
Because when redeemed sinners with little in common choose to love each other,
that displays God’s wisdom and glory like nothing else.
This truth is not unique to the book of Ephesians.
It is found throughout the Bible. Consider Jesus’ words in :
34 "“I give you a new command: Love one another. Just as I have loved you, you are also to love one another. 35 "By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”” ()
Jesus continues this thought in his prayer for believers in :
23 "I am in them and you are in me, so that they may be made completely one, that the world may know you have sent me and have loved them as you have loved me.” ()
Or think of Luke’s description of the early church in :
32 "Now the entire group of those who believed were of one heart and mind... 33 "With great power the apostles were giving testimony to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and great grace was on all of them.” ()
Even in the Old Testament, the mission of God’s people was to reveal—as a corporate body—
God’s character to the nations around them.
When God chose Abraham, his ultimate goal was not to save just Abraham as an individual.
God intended to make of Abraham “a great nation” that would bless all the families of the earth ().
Similarly in , God promises to save and reestablish the nation of Israel so that
all the nations around them would know that He is God.
It was His goodness to the people as a whole that would glorify him in the world.

Unity is Not Just an Option

We can see from all this that unity among God’s people is not just an optional addition to our lives as Christians.
It is an integral part of our life as God’s people. Remember how starkly John puts this in :
"If anyone says, “I love God,” and yet hates his brother or sister, he is a liar. For the person who does not love his brother or sister whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen.” ()
The bottom line is that we need to realize that focusing on “my individual life as a Christian” is fundamentally wrong-headed.
God accomplishes his purposes in believers primarily corporately, not individually.
That’s why the word-pictures the Bible uses to describe the church—
living stones built into a spiritual house,
members of a body, and so forth—
emphasize the communal nature of the church.
God will fulfill His purpose for the church as it acts in unity, as a community of believers.
The church is the only institution that will survive this world and continue to exist in all of its perfected splendor in the next.
That means that the church is supposed to be an outpost in time of what it will one day be in eternity.
We are part of the cultures in which we find ourselves; we exist in time, in this fallen order, in this created and fallen order.
But we also belong to the heavenly realms (see. , ; ; ; ), and
we hunger for what we will become.
The gospel does not only declare us forgiven.
It forges for us a new reality in which we already participate, the
new reality of the dawning of the new age, the
coming of the kingdom, the
formation of the new humanity.
And though
we are not yet what we will be, and
to our shame
we are not even what we should be,
yet by the grace of God
we are not what we were, and
by that same grace we learn to live with eternity’s values in view.
Introduction: Unity, God’s Goal for the Church. (2008). 9Marks Journal, 5(3), 4–7.
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