Motivations for Christian Unity

Very good morning to one and all. This morning’s sermon is entitled Motivations for Christian Unity. Unity has always been an elusive dream of men and of nations. It is now desired even more since the time when the Covid 19 pandemic began. You know, in a recent statement made by the general secretary of the United Nations, he said “Now is the time for unity for the international community to work together in solidarity to stop this virus and its shattering consequences”. And now during the circuit breaker period when everybody must stay in their own homes, there are initiatives being made to unite people virtually. And this can now be done through video conferencing tools such as Zoom, WebEx and Google Meet. And we have a virtual choir that uses such tools to provide the congregational singing of hymns that you hear every Sunday in our online worship. And in last Sunday’s service, we were so glad to see that students of our senior department in the Sunday school using the very same method to present a very meaningful song item to the Lord. And, on a larger scale we have seen unity being expressed on the night of April 25th with the nationwide singing of that favourite song: This is Home Truly. And that certainly has helped to bring a glimmer of hope at a time when the entire world is gripped with a devastating pandemic. Now while all of this demonstrates how well music and singing can unify people together, there is something that’s even better than this in unifying people together. The kind of unity it gives not only transcends physical boundaries; it also transcends the boundaries of time. It unites us even with believers who have lived thousands of years ago. And this special unity is the unity that we have in the body of Christ. This is what we’ll be learning in today’s message as we study the text that is found in Ephesians 4:4-6. Let us read this passage. 

There is one body, and one Spirit, even as ye are called in one hope of your calling. One Lord, one faith, one baptism, One God and Father of all, who is above all, and through all, and in you all.”

May the Lord bless the reading of his holy Word to our hearts. Dearly beloved, the passage that we have just read provides all the motivations that we need to obey the important exaltation that was given just before it in verse 3. 

“Endeavouring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.”

You may recall from our previous sermons on Ephesians that this episode can be divided into 2 parts: the first 3 chapters is all about doctrine and the last 3 chapters it’s all about our duty. And one of the doctrinal truths in the first 3 chapters is that unity that all believers have in Christ. This is what Paul said in 2:13-14b,

“But now in Christ Jesus ye who sometimes were far off are made nigh by the blood of Christ.

For he is our peace, who hath made both one. “

The background for this teaching was the existence of 2 groups within the church; there were Gentile believers and there were Jewish believers. Whenever people from diverse backgrounds regularly meet, there’s always the potential for disagreements and for splits to occur over time. And this happened in Ephesus; signs of disunity began to appear in the church and so Paul had to deal with this matter quite urgently. Otherwise, the church would be disrupted by splits and divisions. And therefore, his plea for unity became one of the first duties that is mentioned in the second half of Ephesians. Now the Ephesians were not the only church that was troubled by disunity. Paul also had to deal with the same problem in the church of Corinth. But the Corinthians were divided for very different reason; that is unity was centred on personalities – when a member aligned themselves to certain leaders whom they loved and respected more than others. Now Paul’s epistle to the Corinthians also reveals that that was envy, jealousy, and pride within the church – and these sinful attitudes are the real root cause of all disunity. This was also something that happened in another church – the Philippian church. That’s why Paul had to write to them (Philippians 2:2-3).

“Fulfil ye my joy, that ye be likeminded, having the same love, being of one accord, of one mind.

Let nothing be done through strife or vainglory; but in lowliness of mind let each esteem other better than themselves.”

This problem of disunity and division is not limited only to these churches in the time of Paul, but in fact churches in every generation. Since that time, churches have been troubled by disunity and division. Every church has its own peculiar weaknesses, its own peculiar fault lines that can easily erupt into disagreements and painful splits and separations. Churches have split over personal misunderstandings over the mismanagement of church property and resources and even over minute details of Bible interpretation. A sad thing is that each time that a church splits, its members are affected. They are hurt, and many people are stumbled. The gospel witness is terribly diminished, and the name of Christ is brought to dishonour. The devastation that disunity leaves behind often takes many years to overcome. This brings out the vast importance of unity and a great need for us to endeavours to keep the unity of the spirit in the bond of peace. Now you may remember Rev Quek mentioned last week what endeavouring here means – sparing no effort and exhausting every means. So, the question that we want to ask is what motivations can be strong enough to make us do this? Well the answer is given in our passage of scripture. 

There is one body, and one Spirit, even as ye are called in one hope of your calling. One Lord, one faith, one baptism, One God and Father of all, who is above all, and through all, and in you all.”

You would notice that the key word here is the word “one”. 7 times in 3 verses, Paul emphasizes this word “one” to show the essential unity of the church of Christ. Another word that the apostle Paul repeats here is the word “all”. One God and Father of all who is above all and through all and in you all. This again brings out the idea of unity in the church of Christ. Both words “one” and “all” stress the unity that exists. The 7 instances of the word “one” can be divided into 3 groups. Each group is connected with one of the 3 persons in the Godhead. The first group is connected with the Holy Spirit. One body, one Spirit, one hope. The second group is connected with the Lord Jesus Christ. One Lord, one faith, one baptism. The last group is connected with the Father. One God and Father of all. In other words, in these 3 verses we see the unity of the Godhead – the three in one being expressed. All 3 persons are united in the purpose of making us one even as they are one.  Christian unity arises out of the understanding of this glorious truth. The church is meant to be a reflection, a manifestation of the unity that exists in the Trinity. It is to reflect the wonders of the Triune God Himself, just as we had seen earlier on as we read through John 17 in the High Priestly prayer of Jesus. Hence this spiritual unity is already there! We do not have to create unity; we do not have to engineer it by ourselves since there is already this one body. The apostle is urging us here not to break that unity, not to cause any kind of rupture or schism within the body. And in order to do this, he provides us with 7 solid motivations for Christian unity. 

We return first of all to the first group; here we will find 3 motivations which are connected with the Holy Spirit. The first motivation is found in the truth that there is one body. Now Paul frequently uses the analogy of the human body when he speaks of the church. He had done this in chapter 1 where he says

And hath put all things under his feet, and gave him (that is Christ) to be the head over all things to the church. Which is his body, the fullness of him that filleth all in all” (Ephesians 1:22-23)

And he says it again in the next chapter. Where he said:

And that he might reconcile both unto God in one body by the cross, having slain the enmity thereby” (Ephesians 2:16)

Now we come to chapter 4 where we see that the apostle Paul expounds this concept in detail. The church is this one body. Now, what exactly does he mean by these? He is not referring here to the visible church on earth which consists of many, many local churches, and denominations; whether they are Presbyterian, Baptist, Methodist, Lutheran; brethren of all independent Christian churches. Paul is not speaking here about the visible church on earth. He’s speaking about that invisible, unseen, universal church. He is declaring that there is only one true church. The church is the body of Christ and there is only one body, not 2, not 3 or more. It consists of people of different cultures, different languages, different nationalities but all these external diversities make no difference at all, for there is only one body. It consists of people from different ages of history – the Christians in the early church are in that one body, so are the martyrs of the sixteenth century reformation, they are in that one body and so are Puritans as well as the founding fathers of the BP church. They are all in that one body. The body of Christ spans across the centuries. It consists of people from all social backgrounds. It does not matter whether you’re young or old, whether you are knowledgeable or ignorant. It does not matter whether your tech savvy or a technophobe. It does not matter whether you are wealthy or poor, it does not matter whether you are great or small. The only thing that matters is that you are part of that one body, that unseen, universal church of Christ. When the apostle Paul wrote to the Corinthians, he dealt with the problem of divisions in that church because there were those who said, “I am of Paul, and I of Apollos, and I Cephas and I of Christ” (1 Corinthians 1:12). There were divisions, there were rival factions and opposing parties, there were intense church politics and so Paul tells them that they had forgotten the basic principle that the church is one body. He says to them in chapter 12:21,

And the eye cannot say unto the hand, I have no need of thee: nor again the head to the feet, I have no need of you.”

Do you know dearly beloved, that there’s such amazing diversity and unity within the human body? Each organ in the body is so complex and yet so different from all the other parts. And yet the body is not complete without any part. There is no independence of any part, each part of the human body needs every other part. They belong to each other as essential parts of that one body. Now what is true of the human body is equally true of the church of Christ.  Each part needs all the other parts! You see, if we have a right understanding of the body, we will not despise any part of the body. Every part counts, every single member of Life church is important and there is no such thing as an unimportant member of the church. Other members may appear to have greater gifts than you, have better talents than you, but they cannot function without you. And neither can you function without them. In Life church every single member is vital and is essential to the health of the whole church. Each part in the body has its own function and each part must play its part within the whole body. The church is the body of Christ and each of us are members of it. So, let us therefore be reminded that if one member suffers, then the whole body suffers. It cannot function properly. If we truly understand the doctrine of the church as one body, then we will see why there can be no room for rivalry or self-seeking and for self-importance. Once we realize this doctrine, we shall endeavour to keep the unity of the spirit in the bond of peace. And so, we have seen that the very first motivation for Christian Unity is found in this concept of one body.

Let us go on now to look at the second Motivation for Unity and that’s found in the words: one spirit. Now we have just seen that the church is the body of Christ, but what is it that enables this body to function? What is it that makes it alive? What is it that animates this one body? Well the answer that Paul gives is one spirit. It is the Spirit. The ministry of the church is the result of the working of the Holy Spirit Himself. He is the one who gives it life. And there are no other spirits except this one Spirit who is at work in the church. Now in contrast to that, there are legions of evil spirits at work in the world. You know when we come later on to study Ephesians chapter 6 we will see that there are principalities, there are powers, there are rulers of the darkness of this world and spiritual wickedness in high places, there are multitudes of unholy evil spirits. But there is only one Holy Spirit, the third person of the Trinity and he’s the one who is at work in the church creating this wonderful unity. In Ephesians chapter 2 verses 21 and 22, Paul uses a different picture of the church. He uses the picture of a building under construction. He says,  

In whom all the building fitly framed together groweth unto an holy temple in the Lord: In whom ye also are builded together for an habitation of God through the Spirit.

Now here, the church is being compared to the holy temple in Jerusalem. It is known that when the temple was being constructed, no noise of hammering was allowed on site. And because of that, stone had to be specially prepared at the quarry where it was taken from before it was brought to the site of the temple. Each stone had to be shaped and trimmed exactly to specifications at the quarry in order that it may fit well in its position in the walls of the temple. Now in the same way, the Holy Spirit has to shape each of us and prepare us so that we can then become lively stones in the glorious temple of God. The Holy Spirit has to work on us and in us and there are 3 aspects of the Holy Spirit’s work. First of all, He convicts us of sin to make us realize how sinful and wretched we really are. And by doing this, the Holy Spirit also humbles us. Without this work of humbling, there can be no unity but if we all brought down to the dust to realize how sinful we really are, then there would be perfect unity. And that is the work of the Spirit. Disunity arises when we are not convicted of our sins. Disunity arises when we keep holding on to things in which we want to boast and glory when we have not been humble to see how wretched we are before God. We need the one Spirit to bring us down, to humble us and convict us of our sins. Now the second thing that the Spirit does is to quicken us together with Christ He causes us to be born again and He makes us new creatures in Christ. It is a special work of the Holy Spirit to glorify the Lord Jesus in us. He causes us to look to the Lord Jesus Christ. You know, division occurs when we begin to look at one another instead of looking at Christ and then we begin to compare ourselves with one another. Dearly beloved, we need to focus and fix our eyes on Christ and not on others. It is the Spirit who quickens us together with Christ. Now the third thing that the Holy Spirit does is to incorporate us into the body of Christ and that’s mentioned in 1st Corinthians 12:13. He says,

“For by one Spirit are we all baptized into one body, whether we be Jews or Gentiles, whether we be bond or free; and have been all made to drink into one Spirit.”

The Spirit unites us to Christ and by doing that He also unites us to one another. You see, the Holy Spirit is the life of the body. He is the unifying Spirit which connects us all together and makes us one. And when the Holy Spirit dwells in us, He produces the very same fruit in all of us – love, joy, peace, long-suffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, and temperance. That’s what we know as the Fruits of the Spirit. And that is the fruit that we will find irrespective of any cultural differences. You see, the fruit of the Spirit is always the same in every generation and in every culture and where such fruit is found and abound, there will be unity. This is the distinctive fruit of the one Spirit. But when you see other fruits such as anger, jealousy, envy, and pride, that is not the fruit of the Spirit. That is the works of the flesh and that would only produce division and disunity. You know each of the 9 virtues that are found in the fruit of the spirit actually help in some way to promote unity. And our part then is to keep bearing the fruit of the Spirit, so that we can then keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. 

Thus far we have seen that there is one body and one Spirit. And both of these are strong motivations for Christian Unity. Let us now go on to look at the third motivation which is stated at the end of verse 4. 

“…, even as ye are called in one hope of your calling;”

Here we see Paul leading us to consider the blessed hope that is before us and he had mentioned it already in Ephesians 1:18 in his prayer for the Ephesians,

“The eyes of your understanding being enlightened; that ye may know what is the hope of his calling, and what the riches of the glory of his inheritance in the saints,”

And here he desires that the Ephesians may fully know the hope to which God has called them so that they might realize and appreciate the grand purpose of God in his great plan of redemption for them. You know, this hope is actually a very tremendous source of motivation for Christian Unity. As Singaporeans, we reunite to sing the song – This is Home truly. But as believers, we can unite to sing – This is Hope truly. All of us share that glorious hope, the same blessed inheritance that is before us and it will be a life that is entirely free from sin, especially from those sins that cause divisions. You know when this hope is realized, all things will then be gathered together in one in Christ and there will be perfect unity. We will all be presented faultless before the presence of His glory with exceeding joy. So, you may ask, since there will be no division between Christians in heavenly glory, why should there be any divisions right now? You see, the problem with us is that we are still very much earth bound in our thinking. We keep looking at all the spots and all the wrinkles and all the blemishes in the life of others and that brings about divisions. The more we look at our differences, the more we divide from one another. We should rather be looking forward to that common hope of God’s calling for us. And therefore, the way for us to maintain church unity is for us to set our affection not on things below, but on things above where Christ sits at the right hand of God. I’d like you to listen to what Paul wrote to the Philippians,

“Brethren, I count not myself to have apprehended: but this one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind, and reaching forth unto those things which are before,

I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 3:13-14)

You know, nothing can encourage Christian unity better than pressing forward to the hope of our calling. This hope should motivate our thoughts and actions. We have all been called to this hope so let us then exert as much effort in pressing toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus as we would do in our own daily work. So thus, we have seen that there is one body, there is one spirit and there is one hope of our calling – all as motivations of Christian Unity. And these 3 make up the first group of motivations which are connected with the Holy Spirit. Now we go on to look at the second group of motivations those which are connected with the lord Jesus Christ. And this is found in Ephesians 4:5,

“One Lord, one faith, one baptism,”

Let’s begin with the first one. Now in verse 4, we saw that the church is pictured as the body of Christ. Right now, we’re looking at the head of that body. Here Paul is emphasizing the unity of the church once again but this time, by presenting the doctrine of Christ to us, he says here that there is one Lord and that itself is a grand motivation to maintain unity. We must keep our eyes on this doctrine of the uniqueness of Christ.

Let us first consider the uniqueness of His Person. You know that has never been anyone else like Jesus Christ, anyone who is the Lord of glory. Our responsibility then is to keep looking to Him alone! You know, the very first 3 verses of the book of Hebrews describes him as,

“Who being the brightness of his glory, and the express image of his person, and upholding all things by the word of his power,…”

There is really no one at all like Him. So, let us understand this well. Christianity is a living relationship with this one Lord. There is only one Lord and if you are united to Him, then by definition you are also united to all others who are united to this one Lord. You know, much of the trouble that is found in churches today can be traced to the fact that Christians have forgotten the Lord Himself. Often, we tend to give other things prominence in our lives and in the church. And these things come between us and that one Lord. And we forget that in all things, Christ alone must have the pre-eminence. Division occurs when Christ is not given the pre-eminence. He deserves now the term one Lord, which also means that Christ cannot be divided. You know when Paul wrote to the Corinthians, he said that,

“Now this I say, that every one of you saith, I am of Paul; and I of Apollos; and I of Cephas; and I of Christ.” (1st Corinthians 11:12)

Is Christ divided? Well, the answer to this clearly is no. It’s unthinkable! But when Christians choose to align themselves behind certain men, then they are guilty of trying to divide Christ – and Christ cannot and will not be divided. He is the same yesterday, today and forever! The one Lord. Now besides considering the uniqueness of his Person, we must also consider the uniqueness of his Work. Jesus is the Saviour of sinners. That’s why the Christian faith is so unique and so exclusive. Jesus himself said,

“…, I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me.” (John 14:6)

And the apostle Peter echoed those words when he says,

“…, for there is none other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved.” (Acts 4:12)

Dearly beloved, it is Christ only and only Christ that saves. There is but one Mediator between God and men – the man Christ Jesus. And so, we have seen that there is one Lord and only one Saviour and Mediator. Divisions and schisms occur when we fail to realize that there is one Lord. One Lord who is unique both in his Person and in his Work. What a great motivation this is for us to endeavour to preserve the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. 

Now we’re going to consider another motivation which is also connected with Christ. Verse 5 tells us that “there is one faith”. And you know, we need to define what is meant by one faith. It refers to the body of truths, all those teachings that Christians believe in like a creed or a confession of faith. But since the one faith mentioned here is meant to promote unity, it must refer to something about which all Christians fully agree, including those who have just been saved. Just like that dying thief on the cross, he was saved, and this means that it must be referring to the faith in Christ that brings salvation to sinners, for we are all saved by the same faith alone! Now perhaps there maybe someone listening to this message who is not yet saved and perhaps you may be asking what exactly does it mean to have faith in Jesus or salvation. Well, first you must accept everything that the Bible says about yourself and about Christ as being true – that Christ is the son of God who came down from heaven to be made a sacrifice for sin, and that you are a sinner who deserves nothing but the wrath of God because of your sins. And then secondly, you need to confess to Him personally that you need His salvation because you’re a sinner. Put your trust in the righteousness of Jesus Christ alone by faith and stop relying on your own righteousness to save you. And third, to have faith in Christ is also to commit your life to Him once and for all with no thought of turning back. Let Christ be your Lord and Saviour from now onwards! And you know, as you trust in Christ for salvation, He will assure you that all your sins are forgiven and that they have all been paid in full by the Lord Jesus Christ Himself. You see, that is God’s way of salvation. It comes only through the righteousness of Jesus Christ! The very heart of the gospel is that God has taken our sins and has imputed them to Christ’s account. And He has punished our sin in Him. God’s wrath was poured out on his Son and Christ bore our punishment by dying on the cross. But that’s not all. God also takes the perfect righteousness of Christ and He imputes it to our account. Christ obeyed the law of God fully in every detail. He lived the life that we ought to have lived. He pleased the father in everything. And then the Father takes all that and he leaves it to our account. Now how should we respond to all this? We ought to greatly rejoice that we have such a privilege to be clothed with the righteousness of Christ Himself. as Isaiah 61:10 says,

“I will greatly rejoice in the Lord, my soul shall be joyful in my God; for he hath clothed me with the garments of salvation, he hath covered me with the robe of righteousness,…”

What a wonderful result this is from that one faith that we have in Him! And in this one faith, we are all united and that makes us one in Christ Jesus. And thus, we have seen 2 wonderful motivations for unity that are connected to Christ there is one Lord and one faith.

And now we come to look at the current motivation mentioned in verse 5, “there is one baptism”. This baptism is one that promotes and encourages Christian unity. However, when you look at the subject of baptism historically, it has caused too many divisions and separations instead of unity. Many churches have split over the mode of baptism or the method of water baptism. And so we must understand that Paul is not speaking here about that. He’s not speaking about the mode or method of baptism. What Paul is speaking about here is what baptism represents. It is only what baptism represents that is able to promote unity. Now on the day of Pentecost, the apostle Peter said, “…, Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins,…” (Acts 2:38). And from this, we know that baptism identifies us with Christ. It represents the removal of our sins through Christ. It means that we now belong to Him! And so, since we are believers in Christ who is one Lord, and since we have been made righteous by the one faith, now we are in Christ as signified by the one baptism. Why then should there be any divisions between us? So, can you see now how these three motivations – one Lord, one faith, one baptism, all work together to motivate us to preserve the unity of the spirit in the bond of peace? Well thus far we have seen the motivations that are connected with the Holy Spirit as well as the motivations that are connected with the Lord Jesus Christ.  

And now we come to look at the third group motivations that are connected with the Father. Now according to verse 6,

“One God and Father of all, who is above all, and through all, and in you all.”

And this verse forms the climax of the passage since it speaks of God the Father who is the source of all things! You see, the ultimate object of our salvation is ultimately to bring us to God so that He will then be glorified in us. And so, we come to the Father through the merits of God the Son and by the work of God the Spirit in us. Now we need to be clear here what the what all means. It is actually limited to the church when Paul says that God is the father of all. He’s clearly not speaking about the world, but about the church. He is writing only about those who belong to that one body, those who are in Christ. We, who are in Christ, need to be reminded that we are the children of God. We have the same heavenly Father over us and that means that we belong to the same family. We are adopted children and what a great motivation this is for us then to preserve all unity. From eternity, God has purposed in Himself to look on us with favour, to redeem us and then to take us out of the dominion of sin and darkness and to put us into the body of Christ and then to adopt us into His own family. Now, we really understand that eternal purpose of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, which is to unite us in one. Then disunity and division should become impossible. If we can only realize the magnitude of this, we will surely spare no effort to maintain the unity of the spirit in the bond of peace. In fact, we should become even more willing to build closer bonds of Christian fellowship with one another and to exercise Christian love for one another. And to facilitate that, we will gladly seek to be meek and lowly like Christ and to be long-suffering and forbearing one another in love. And I believe that there is an urgent need for us to do this at this present time as many will inevitably be adversely affected by the impact of the present Covid 19 crisis and they will need help. Now, dearly beloved, now is the time for unity – Christian Unity. Now is the time for all members of Life church to be working together to help one another, to cope with all the adverse changes that we are going through and with God’s help to hold forth the Word of Life to all who are still unsaved! This morning we have seen all the motivations that should compel us to do this. We have seen that there is one body, one spirit, one hope of our calling, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all who is above all and through all and in us all. So may the Lord help us now to fully commit ourselves to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.