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The Strength of Unity: Doctrinal Integrity

The Beauty of Unity  •  Sermon  •  Submitted   •  Presented   •  1:00:03
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Ephesians 4:13–14 ESV
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, 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.
Proposition: Unity is secured by the establishment of the saints in the truth and knowledge of Jesus Christ.
As we continue our study of unity, we begin to examine the strength of our unity. We want to explore what grounds and establishes our unity. Furthermore, how do we maintain unity around the truth of the Gospel while not becoming sectarian about secondary issues?
Over the next two Sunday’s we will explore those truths that ought to bring us together, while also exploring those things which ought not to cause us to divide. This week we will examine doctrinal integrity while next week we will explore Christian freedom and personal preference.
Illustration: Surfside Condominium Collapse - On Thursday, June 24, 2021, at approximately 1:25 a.m., a 12-story beachfront condominium in the Miami suburb of Surfside, Florida partially collapsed. Ninety-eight people died. Four people were rescued from the rubble, but one died of injuries shortly after arriving at the hospital. Eleven others were injured.
An investigation, that remains ongoing, is revealing key structural issues that led to the building’s collapse. There were issues with water seepage, structural deterioration of the roof, problems observed in the building’s balconies, amongst other problems. However, investigators are honing in on a portion of a collapsed deck that was poorly designed, and in particular one concrete column, labelled M11.1, that investigators believe was overstressed and likely failed leading to the buildings collapse.
All of the other, relatively minor problems, likely would not have led to the building’s collapse, but when those other issues were combined with a poorly designed and maintained structural support, the integrity of the building was compromised and nearly 100 people died as a result.
Similarly our unity rests on a foundation of a shared faith in the person and work of Jesus Christ. When our faith is poorly grounded in that reality the whole edifice of Christian unity is in serious danger.
Paul has already, in part made this point in verses 4-5 (Ephesians 4:4-5), yet he is going to flesh out for us a picture of how doctrinal integrity secures our unity. He wants us to understand that the believer lives amongst destabilizing influences that threaten to erode our unity, only by being grounded in the person and truth of Jesus Christ will the believing community have the strength to stand in unity.

Doctrinal Integrity Secures Unity

Unity is secured by the establishment of the saints in the truth and knowledge of Jesus Christ. We begin to unpack this idea by first seeing how verse 14 relates to the preceeding text. Paul, in verse 14, is going to describe and illustrate for us the danger posed to the unity of the Christian community, but we need to see how God has equipped the church to remain united in the face of such bitter opposition.
That lesson was in part already taught by the section that Pastor Chris taught last week as he explored Ephesians 4:7-13. We will not go over the entire passage, but will key in on the last verse of that section. However, remember from his message how this text reveals the unique gifts that Christ has bestowed upon his church. These gifts, from the foundation gifts of apostles and prophets, to the continuing gifts of pastor-teacher, are being used by God to equip the saints to do the work of the ministry through each individual’s own spiritual gifting. All of that is driving for an end that is specifically spelled out for us in verse 13.
Individual and Corporate Terminology - Observe for a moment some of the individual and corporate terminology that is used in this text. Last week Pastor Chris observed that there was a movement between words stressing our corporate nature in verses 1-6, that suddenly changed in verse 7 where the focus shifted to how God has individually gifted each member of the church. Now, in verse 13 and 14, Paul is going to make similar, yet significantly different shifts again. In verse 13, notice how Paul returns to corporate terminology. All of those individual gifts that are given serve one focus, and that is to cause us together to become one a the body of Christ. However, you will also notice in verse 14 that he shifts back again to individual terminology, but this time he uses that individual terminology in a negative sense.
As we begin exploring this passage, let us begin by looking at how Paul teaches us that doctrinal integrity secures our unity.

Content of the Truth

Ephesians 4:13 ESV
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,
Corporate Unity - You will notice, first, that Paul says that these gifts have been given in order that the church might reach a goal. That goal being that the body of Christ might measure up to the stature of Christ. That word, “attain,” points to a goal. It speaks of reaching a destination. “The goal is set, the end determined.” This Paul describes as not an individual goal, but a corporate goal. Paul does not seem to believe that it is enough for individuals to be rightly grounded in the truth, but that the whole body would achieve the unity of the faith. It is not enough that you individually have a refined doctrinal statement, Paul’s desire is that the church, together, would understand and know the truth and that by knowing that truth they would be united together.
Illustration - Cage-Stage Calvinism - “Cage-stage Calvinists are identifiable by their insistence on turning every discussion into an argument for Calvinism, or for making it their personal mission to ensure everyone they know hears—often quite loudly—the truths of divine election." Beyond Cage-Stage Calvinism there is the phenomena I experience in seminary that you can begin to think of yourself as an expert in theology. You can be so obscured by an academic pursuit of theology that you buy the lie that you are more intelligent or unique in your understanding of the word. You can even reach the point where the study of theology becomes an end unto itself that has little relationship with the brother or sister who sits beside you in the pew. THIS IS NOT PAUL’S CONCEPTION OF POSSESSING DOCTRINAL INTEGRITY. Paul conceives of a corporate doctrinal integrity. One in which the individual’s within the community see the necessity of together being grounded in the truth.
Gospel Unity - Paul calls us to possess a “unity of the faith” and of the “knowledge of the Son of God.”
Harkens back to Ephesians 4:4-5 “There is one body and one Spirit—just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call— one Lord, one faith, one baptism.”
In Ephesians 4:3 Paul speaks of us being “eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit.” He tells us that the Holy Spirit has already blessed the church with unity and that believers are to lean, whole-heartedly into striving to maintain that unity. However, now Paul is speaking of unity in terms of the effort that needs to be put into maintaining that unity. Paul is instructing us that we need to be constantly hearing and meditating upon that basic truth of the Gospel and person of Jesus.
Consider the Ordinances… do they not proclaim constantly the foundational truth that we have only one way to God and that is through the person and work of Jesus Christ. That for generation after generation of Christian’s are united in one simple, yet profound truth of Jesus’ death, burial, and resurrection for our sins!
Furthermore, it is not enough for Paul for the church to simply have their doctrinal “i”s dotted and “t”s crossed, but that they come to a knowledge of the Son of God. To know not just doctrinal truth, but to know the person of Christ.
Ephesians 3:17–19 (ESV)
so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith—that you, being rooted and grounded in love,
may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth,
and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.
Notice Paul’s emphasis on knowing Christ “with all the saints.”
Colossians 1:28 ESV
Him we proclaim, warning everyone and teaching everyone with all wisdom, that we may present everyone mature in Christ.
Notice Paul’s emphasis on presenting “everyone mature in Christ.”
If mere, individual, doctrinal knowledge was enough to mature saints and to unite them together, Christ would have said “I will build my library” but instead Jesus said “I will build my assembly.”

Maturing by the Truth

Mutual Maturity: Paul calls us to two more related goals in the second half of Ephesians 4:13. He calls us to a “mature manhood” and to “the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ.”
Notice that he is here not only contrasting not only terms of individualism between verses 13-14, but also contrasting maturity versus immaturity. He is calling the church to a mature manhood (singular) verses an immaturity that is characterized by children (plural).
Paul uses terminology that denotes an individual who is fully grown. The goal to which we are striving is Christian maturity, and not merely individual maturity, but corporate maturity.
Ephesians: An Exegetical Commentary ((3) The Final Goal: Attain Maturity (4:13))
As the body matures unity results. In fact, a sign of immaturity is the disunity of the body. Often we tend to think of spiritual maturity as only individual growth in the Lord, but in this passage the emphasis is on the importance of body growth, resulting in unity. Inversely, immaturity is individual growth not shared with the body with the result that the body lacks maturity. This may render some of its members powerless against the enticements of cunning people (v. 14). Again, as the individual in his or her spiritual growth contributes to the body, the body as a whole can grow.
Beyond that corporate maturity, Paul wants us to be sure we understand the high calling of this maturity by laying out the measuring rod of that maturity. The measuring rod is Christ.
One author put it this way, “The glorified Christ provides the standard at which his people are to aim: the corporate Christ cannot be content to fall short of the perfection of the personal Christ.”
1 Timothy 3:15–16 ESV
if I delay, you may know how one ought to behave in the household of God, which is the church of the living God, a pillar and buttress of the truth. Great indeed, we confess, is the mystery of godliness: He was manifested in the flesh, vindicated by the Spirit, seen by angels, proclaimed among the nations, believed on in the world, taken up in glory.

Doctrinal Instability Erodes Unity

Ephesians 4:14 ESV
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.
Unity is secured by the establishment of the saints in the truth and knowledge of Jesus Christ. We now move to see how Paul foresees a danger that the church faces to their unity, and that is in the susceptibility that church has to their unity if they fall prey to doctrinal instability. This is a concern that we see across the pages of Scripture. Here is a but a sampling of Scripture’s repeated warnings:
2 Peter 3:17–18 ESV
You therefore, beloved, knowing this beforehand, take care that you are not carried away with the error of lawless people and lose your own stability. But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To him be the glory both now and to the day of eternity. Amen.
Acts 20:29–30 ESV
I know that after my departure fierce wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock; and from among your own selves will arise men speaking twisted things, to draw away the disciples after them.
Jude 17–19 ESV
But you must remember, beloved, the predictions of the apostles of our Lord Jesus Christ. They said to you, “In the last time there will be scoffers, following their own ungodly passions.” It is these who cause divisions, worldly people, devoid of the Spirit.
1 John 2:18–19 ESV
Children, it is the last hour, and as you have heard that antichrist is coming, so now many antichrists have come. Therefore we know that it is the last hour. They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would have continued with us. But they went out, that it might become plain that they all are not of us.
Paul is going to use three (perhaps you could say 4) word pictures to help us understand why doctrinal security is so incredibly important. Those three words pictures are that of a child, the storm tossed sea, and two word pictures for cheating. He wants us to understand how immaturity, and in particular doctrinal instability erodes and confuses Christian unity.

Destabilized by Error

Paul’s first two word pictures help us to grasp how error destabilizes the assembly. In particular, how doctrinal immaturity destabilizes the church.
The first word picture he uses is that of a child. This word picture is helpful to us because of how familiar we are with the immaturity of children. A child’s thinking and rationalization develops over time in a consistent pattern that leads them towards maturity. One psychologist described early childhood development in terms of how children use “magical thinking” as they observe the world around them.
Illustration - Peek-A-Boo - When you play peek-a-boo with a baby their little brain literally thinks you are disappearing. They have no basis to recognize that when something disappears that it still exists. In fact, scientist pin-point the age of 7 as being the age at which children first really get to the stage of grappling with rational thoughts. “Around the age of seven, give or take a year, children enter a developmental phase known as the age of reason. ‘The age of reason refers to the developmental cognitive, emotional, and moral stage in which children become more capable of rational thought, have internalized a conscience, and have better capacity to control impulses (than in previous stages),’ explains Dana Dorfman, PhD, psychotherapist. It’s the time when a child starts to truly grasp the difference between right and wrong, and begins to realize that other people have their own feelings that might not match his or hers.”
This word picture of a child is used in Hebrews to speak of individual’s who have not reached a stage a Christian maturity. They have not yet been established in the truth. It points to a very dangerous reality.
Hebrews 5:12–14 ESV
For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you again the basic principles of the oracles of God. You need milk, not solid food, for everyone who lives on milk is unskilled in the word of righteousness, since he is a child. But solid food is for the mature, for those who have their powers of discernment trained by constant practice to distinguish good from evil.
The second word picture he uses is that of a storm-tossed sea. The individual who is not grounded in the truth, who does not possess doctrinal integrity, runs the risk of ship wrecking their faith.
In this word picture Paul uses two terms to further illustrate the danger. One term being the one translated, “tossed,” conveys the idea of the violent movement of the sea. It batters the ship, it moves it off track. The second term being the one translated, “carried about,” is the word used in Greek to described being in turmoil or to be dizzy. It disorients the captain. It causes him to lose sight of the shore and the objective.
In all, this word picture is here for us to understand how incredibly dangerous doctrinal instability is. It throws the church into confusion and it causes it replace primary things with secondary things or even untrue things. As we will see in a few moments, even some of the most pivotal figures in the early church fell prey error.
Again this is a word picture repeated in the New Testament.
Jude 12–13 ESV
These are hidden reefs at your love feasts, as they feast with you without fear, shepherds feeding themselves; waterless clouds, swept along by winds; fruitless trees in late autumn, twice dead, uprooted; wild waves of the sea, casting up the foam of their own shame; wandering stars, for whom the gloom of utter darkness has been reserved forever.
2 Peter 2:17–18 (ESV)
These are waterless springs and mists driven by a storm. For them the gloom of utter darkness has been reserved. For, speaking loud boasts of folly, they entice by sensual passions of the flesh those who are barely escaping from those who live in error.

Deceived by Error

Paul’s last word picture(s) is here to help us grasp how error deceives the assembly. This one word picture is described with two different words. The first being translated with the phrase “human cunning” conveys an idea of someone cheating or tricking his opponent. It is a word that elsewhere means “playing the dice.” The second being translated with the phrase “deceitful” conveys the idea of craftiness or laying a trap.
The New Testament describes various ways by which we are deceived.
The first, and perhaps ultimate source of deception, Paul gives us in Ephesians 6 where he tells us that Ephesians 6:12-13 “For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand firm.”
The second, and perhaps least obvious source of deception, is ourselves. 1 John 1:8 warns of this 1 John 1:8 “If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.” as does Jeremiah 17:9 “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?” and James 1:14 “But each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire.”
The third, and most prominent source of deception, is the world in which we live that the Bible describes in places such as Colossians 2:8 “See to it that no one takes you captive by philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the world, and not according to Christ.”
The fourth, and most ominous source of deception, comes from those within the church who would seek to destroy the church. Paul warns against them in Acts 20:29-30 “I know that after my departure fierce wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock; and from among your own selves will arise men speaking twisted things, to draw away the disciples after them.” in 2 Timothy 2:17-18 “and their talk will spread like gangrene. Among them are Hymenaeus and Philetus, who have swerved from the truth, saying that the resurrection has already happened. They are upsetting the faith of some.”
Where do we find then our ability to stand against such threats? 2 Timothy 3:1-17 esp verses 17-17 provide for us the answer. 2 Timothy 3:16-17 “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.”

Case Studies in the Early Church

The Jerusalem Council (Acts 15:1-21)

Apollos, Priscilla, and Aquila (Acts 18:24-28)

Paul Confronts Peter (Galatians 2:11-16)


The Unifying Work of Shared Spiritual Growth

Throughout the New Testament, and especially in Ephesians 4:13-14, we find that believers are called to a shared responsibility for our spiritual growth and establishment in the faith. Gary Thomas said of marriage something that is likewise true of churches, “If married couples do not intentionally choose to keep growing together they tacitly agree to grow apart.”

The Unifying Nature of an Established Faith

Individually and corporately we must be seeking to be established in the faith. We need to deepen our understanding of the Gospel and those truths which unite us together with Christ. We have various avenues at Bethany through which we do this, may I challenge us to engage as fully as we possibly can in this endeavor.

The Divisive Result of Error

We need to realize that refusing to be grounded in the truth is a choice that at some point will necessarily cause us to divide. Truth and error, right and wrong, cannot abide one another.

The Divisive Character of Sectarianism

We need to recognize that replacing the Gospel with other secondary truths likewise will lead to unnecessary, Gospel-destroying division.
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