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07.27.08 - Living Together - Unity

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·         My niece Kayla is in the middle of Marine Corp boot camp at Paris Island, South Carolina.

o   She is a “boot” right now; not a Marine.

o   If all continues to go well, she will be a Marine in a few weeks.

o   With that identity comes the challenge to act like a Marine in whatever circumstance she finds herself.

·         My son Nathanael, who shares the same birthday as his cousin Kayla, will be four in three months.

o   He is a child right now; not an adult.

o   If all continues to go well, he will be an adult in approximately twenty years, give or take a few.

o   With the identity of an adult comes the challenge to act like an adult in whatever circumstance he finds himself.

·         Barack Obama and John McCain are presidential candidates.

o   They are candidates only right now; not presidents.

o   If all continues to go way they would like, one of them will be President of the United States in a few months.

o   With that identity comes the challenge of acting like a President in whatever circumstance they find themselves.

·         Our actions are linked to our identities throughout our lives.

o   Kayla will be called on to act like a Marine.

o   Nathanael will be expected to act like an adult.

o   Our president will be expected to act Presidential.

o   Who we are should affect how we act.

·         This is the basic principle the Apostle Paul is drawing from in the opening sentences of Ephesians 4.

Ephesians 4:1
As a prisoner for the Lord, then, I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received. TNIV

·         What is this calling?

o   We were dead in our sin – Ephesians 2:1

o   We’ve been made alive by grace because of God’s love and mercy – Ephesians 2:4-5

o   We’re raised with Christ, seated with Him in heaven – Ephesians 2:6

§  Physically our position is on earth, but spiritually our position is with Christ in Heaven.

o   All of this has been done through Jesus without one bit of help from us – Ephesians 2:7-9

o   We’re now set to join Him in the good work He has prepared for us to do. – Ephesians 2:10

·         So Paul is saying, “Now that you know who you are, be who you are!”

o   Just before chapter four begins, Paul prays this prayer:

Ephesians 3:16-21
I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, 17so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, 18may have power, together with all the Lord’s people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, 19and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God. 20Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, 21to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen. TNIV

o   If you notice the tone of this prayer, its theme is God’s people cannot live out the calling they’ve received under their own power.

o   It is a tall order, an impossible list of characteristics, for a human to manufacture on their own.

o   Trying to live like we’re called without the power and presence of the Holy Spirit functioning in us leads to religious fans of God.

§  I’m an Oakland A’s fan so from time to time I wear and Oakland A’s hat.

·         My life isn’t changed by the logo I wear.

·         I’m not a member of the Oakland A’s.

·         I don’t go to Spring Training to secure my position on the team.

·         I don’t make my living playing baseball for the Oakland A’s.

·         I’ve never been offered a contract to play for the Oakland A’s.

·         My proficiency at third base in church league slow-pitch softball has never attracted the scout’s eye.

·         I’m a fan, but I’m not changed by that fact like I would be if I was given all the resources and benefits of being an authentic part of the Oakland Athletics baseball club.

§  If I changed my interest as a fan to the Seattle Mariners, I might wear a different hat, but my life still hasn’t been changed. 

·         Only the position in the standings of the team I follow.

·         Switching logos isn’t the key.

o   If our life is centered on Jesus, all about Jesus, then it will be a maturing life; your life will be changed.

§  The natural consequence of knowing Jesus is change.

§  The buzz word now is transformation.

·         Becoming more like Jesus and less like our natural self.

·         Personality intact, but transformed.

·         Abilities still functioning, but with changed motivation.

·         Circumstances perhaps the same, but viewed from a different perspective.

·         Good times are still good times, and hard times can still hurt, but our hope is Jesus enables us to persevere in the moment and encourage us as we see a future with Jesus in it to infinity and beyond.

§  Life with Jesus is all about becoming who we really are.

o   What Paul is also addressing is that this process of becoming who we really are takes place in community, not isolation.

§  Two weeks ago: We don’t live in a vacuum.

·         My life impacts your life which impacts my life.

·         That’s the way God designed His church.

o   This means that the health of the local church matters.

§  A healthy church really isn’t about the Sunday morning attendance.

§  It isn’t about the quality of the music or the ability of the day’s speaker to keep you awake.

§  A healthy church will be a place where our lives together create an atmosphere conducive toward the maturation, the transformation, the ability to change more and more into the image of Jesus in each of our lives.

§  Living together as a church means we’re connected in more than just a place where “everybody knows your name.”

§  Living together as a church means we share the calling of God on our lives.

·         As we live together as the Body of Christ, the primary goal for us is to become who God intends for us to be.

·         In order for that to happen, the church has to have some areas in order, unity being one of them.

·         If we’re to be who God intends for us to be and our primary goal as a church is to be evidence that God exists to our community, then our unity will identify who we are.

·         What is unity?

o   It is the blending of people from different backgrounds, personalities, life experiences, gifting and talents into a blend that creates something even greater than what can be created by the individual.

o   It is a condition of harmony.

§  Harmony means we’re not all singing the same notes, but our blend creates music.

o   It is continuity without deviation.

o   It is the quality or state of being one.

o   In many areas of life, unity is essential to our effectiveness.

§  Business

§  Sports teams

·         Good people inexplicably coming together for the express purpose of cheering for individuals participating in athletic endeavors under the moniker of water fowl indigenous to the state of Oregon, while wearing combinations of green and yellow.

§  Community

§  Family

§  Politics

o   Unity is not always healthy.

§  NAZI Germany

§  Mobs uniting after sports championships to riot and vandalize their town.

§   Churches uniting to condemn sinners.

o   Unity can bring about great social change and impact.

§  People coming together to help natural disaster victims.

§  People coming together to help those in need in our community.

§  People uniting to vote for certain political candidates or ballot measures.

§  Families that support each other and hold each other accountable.

·         The power of unity is built into our human wiring by God.

o   We’re made to need others… even introverts.

o   Whether you’re a follower of Jesus or not, life is better in a healthy community.

·         Unity is a concept that is not unique to the church, but it is seen at its best in the church.

o   It is organic rather than organizational.

§  I’m a follower of Jesus before I’m a Free Methodist.

§  Even though many in this room consider themselves Free Methodist, our greatest connection is found in our common source of life, in Jesus, than our membership in the denomination.

§  For the Christian, life is in Jesus and connection to other believers is in Jesus.

Ephesians 4:1-6
As a prisoner for the Lord, then, I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received. 2Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. 3Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. 4There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to one hope when you were called; 5one Lord, one faith, one baptism; 6one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all. TNIV

·         Let’s break down what Paul is trying to communicate…

·         The trademarks of the called life

o   Humility

§  This is an understanding of our position before God.

§  I’m not God… God is.

§  It is a realization of our weakness, selfishness and failure in our own lives.

§  Yet, we are still created in the image of God and have no more or less value in God’s eyes than anyone else.

§  It’s recognizing that we are the creation and God is the creator; our lives are in His hands.

§  It means we are willing to prioritize our lives in such a way that we serve God by serving others.

o   Gentleness

§  “Power under control.”

§  The word was used to describe a war horse that went into battle trained to protect its master.

§  A powerful animal under the control of its master.

§  Anger at injustice to others, but not angry about injustice to ourselves.

§  Our emotions are under God’s control; angry at the right time.

o   Patience

§  When you have the power to retaliate but you never do.

§  Handles insult without bitterness.

§  Endures through adversity.

§  A belief that God’s timing is always best, particularly in the lives of people.

§  Responds to unpleasant people with grace and fools without irritation.

§  Perhaps remembering that we may be viewed in the same light by others.

o   Bearing with one another in love

§  Agape love

·         A definition of love that emerged with Jesus.

·         Not based in emotions or the will.

§  Nothing a person can do will make us not seek God’s best for them.

§  This is not touchy feely love based on the good behavior of others.

§  It is love for those who don’t love us and love for those we may not like.

·         Basically, unity begins with the kind of thinking that makes less of ourselves and more of God.

Philippians 2:1-4
Therefore if you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any common sharing in the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, 2then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and of one mind. 3Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, 4not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others. TNIV

o   Making every effort to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.

§  Earlier in Ephesians Paul addresses how important unity is to God.

§  What Jesus accomplished on the cross was not just salvation, but the uniting of Jews and Gentiles in Jesus.

§  There was animosity between Jew and Gentile.

·         The Jew tried to keep the law; life revolved around it.

·         The Gentile could care less about the law; it wasn’t a factor in life.

·         This was a barrier between the two.

§  Jesus brought an end to the law.

Romans 10:4
Christ is the culmination of the law so that there may be righteousness for everyone who believes. TNIV

·         Now animosity between Jew and Gentile could end with the life Jesus makes available to everyone, Jew and Gentile.

·         In Christ one body is made from two, bringing peace.

§  The “one body” is the church.

§  In Christ there is reconciliation and a new creation.

§  All because of the work of Jesus.

§  Reconciliation between people and people as well as between God and people.

§  What this leads to is God’s design for Christ’s body.

§  Spiritual unity comes from the Spirit of God who gives us the bond of peace we share with God and with each other through faith in Jesus.

§  Our challenge is not to create unity, but to preserve and manifest our unity in Jesus through our lives and by the way we live together as Christ’s body.

§  Jesus prayed this for us:

John 17:23
…they may be brought to complete unity. Then the world will know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me. TNIV

·         Unity fueled by the Holy Spirit rather than human effort and will.

1 Corinthians 12:13
For in the one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and we were all made to drink of one Spirit. NRSV

o   Unity is the creation of the Holy Spirit.

o   It originates with Him and is sustained by Him.

o   It begins in the individual and blossoms in the social relationships of the church.

·         One Body

o   Not Jew and Gentile

o   It’s a relationship with God and with His people.

o   The church.

·         One Spirit

o   The Holy Spirit is God’s seal on His people; His identifying mark.

o   It is the presence of the Holy Spirit that gives life to the church.

o   Remember it is organic, spiritual in nature, not institutional.

·         One hope of your calling

1 John 3:2
Dear friends, now we are children of God, and what we will be has not yet been made known. But we know that when Christ appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is. TNIV

Ephesians 1:12-14
part of the overall purpose he is working out in everything and everyone. 13It’s in Christ that you, once you heard the truth and believed it (this Message of your salvation), found yourselves home free—signed, sealed, and delivered by the Holy Spirit. 14This signet from God is the first installment on what’s coming, a reminder that we’ll get everything God has planned for us, a praising and glorious life. The Message

·         One Lord

Romans 10:9
If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. NLT

Romans 10:12
Jew and Gentile are the same in this respect. They have the same Lord, who gives generously to all who call on him. NLT

·         One Faith

o   Confidence in Jesus.

o   The power of faith is not in us, but in the one who is the object of our faith.

·         One baptism

o   Water baptism as a sign of our new live in Jesus.

o   Baptism of the Spirit

·         One God and Father of all, above all, through all, in all.

o   He is sovereign and supreme over all.

o   His power penetrates His church in the presence of His Holy Spirit.

o   His Spirit lives in His people.

·         These truths are what makes the body of Christ, the church authentically one regardless of geography, ethnicity, nationality, or even denominationally.

·         One of the first signs of a willingness to grow in Christ is a desire to experience and participate in authentic unity with the Body of Christ.

o   It will be a high priority in life.

o   It will be more than just superficial; more than just being nice to each other.

o   It means more than an absence of conflict.

o   More than just showing up on Sunday, looking around and feeling you don’t have any enemies.

·         Spiritual unity is the understanding by followers of Jesus that they are connected to every other authentic follower of Jesus.

o   It is spiritual kinship that comes from within, from the presence of the Holy Spirit in our lives.

o   It’s seen in action when we make every effort to maintain it.

o   And it does take effort, because we’re fallible people.

o   Relationships with people can just get messy and inconvenient at times.

§  Sometimes we forget this and use the messy state of other believers to justify avoiding church altogether.

§  I have news for you.  The unfortunate news is every person in this room more than likely has some area of their life that could be classified has hypocritical.

§  Sometimes we need to let God heal us so we can trust again; really so we can just make ourselves vulnerable again. 

·         God never fails, but people do.  There is no way of escaping that fact.

·         If we chose to isolate ourselves from the body of Christ, we’re choosing to stay immature in our faith.

·         We’ve decided that transformation is off the table.

·         We can still grow in knowledge of God’s Word, but we won’t grow where it counts, and that’s in our ability to honor God as we touch the lives of other people.

·         Anybody can feel spiritual in a monastery.

·         It takes guts to let God does His work in and through you in public!

§  It’s as we live together, united in Jesus Christ and our identity in Him that real growth takes place.

·         I learn more of Jesus as we serve together, laugh together, grieve together, come to wholeness together, even come to disagreement together and forgive together.

·         In community we have no choice but to rely on the transforming power of the Holy Spirit to teach us and empower us with His love, joy, peace, patience, self-control.

·         We need a song that celebrates the glorious, messy relationships found in the body of Christ that can honor God as we live in unity.

o   As I close, let me give you some practical advice to help you in your quest to make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace.

§  Remember that your part in the body is essential; it’s not just about you.

§  Follow the advice of James:

·         Quick to listen.

·         Slow to speak.

·         Slow to become angry.

§  Unity in the Spirit of Jesus brings us to a place of maturity in our lives and our church that frees us from feeling as if we need to hold grudges, hang on to past offenses, find fault in others, refuse to make things right when possible.

§  The miracle in all of this is that Jesus takes broken people like me and you and changes us bit by bit into reflections of His love.

o   Next week we’ll go a little further in seeing what unity looks like in the church and what its end result is to be.

o   Here’s a hint: God wants to see that we’re all moving rhythmically and easily with each other, efficient and graceful in response to God’s Son, fully mature adults, fully developed within and without, fully alive like Christ.[1]

Ephesians 3:14-21
My response is to get down on my knees before the Father, 15this magnificent Father who parcels out all heaven and earth. 16I ask him to strengthen you by his Spirit—not a brute strength but a glorious inner strength— 17that Christ will live in you as you open the door and invite him in. And I ask him that with both feet planted firmly on love, 18you’ll be able to take in with all followers of Jesus the extravagant dimensions of Christ’s love. Reach out and experience the breadth! Test its length! Plumb the depths! Rise to the heights! 19Live full lives, full in the fullness of God. 20God can do anything, you know—far more than you could ever imagine or guess or request in your wildest dreams! He does it not by pushing us around but by working within us, his Spirit deeply and gently within us. 21Glory to God in the church! Glory to God in the Messiah, in Jesus! Glory down all the generations! Glory through all millennia! Oh, yes! The Message


[1]Peterson, E. H. (2002). The Message : The Bible in contemporary language (Eph 4:13). Colorado Springs, Colo.: NavPress.

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