“Make Every Effort for Unity”

Pt. 3 of the series: “What’s a Pastor to Say to His Congregation?”

May 19, 2019

 

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. 2 Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. 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; 5 one Lord, one faith, one baptism; 6 one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.

 

One of the things this congregation is good at is loving and caring for people.  I mentioned this last week when I talked about values.  One of the values of Risen Christ is that we care for one another.  I hear that all of the time from folks.  We love one another and that love is extended to new people walking in the door, too.  And, I would be quick to say that it is not something that originated with this pastor.  It was inherent in the people through the power of the Holy Spirit.  I saw that in the small group of people that made up Risen Christ before I even started here, as I interviewed for this position.  And, I was the recipient of that love last evening.  Actually, truth be told, I have been the recipient of that love for 24 years.  Thank you so very much.  We are pretty good at loving one another.  We are pretty good at maintaining a united congregation.  Unless I am really mistaken, there is not a lot of conflict at Risen Christ.  This is a pretty peaceful place and I have been a part of congregations where there was conflict.  So, if we are so good at loving one another, if we are so good at maintaining unity,

 

  1.  Why am I Preaching About This? 

 

Why have I included this topic as part of this series, as something I think is so important that it is one of the things this pastor wants to say to his congregation?  The answer is;

 

  1.  Change is tough  

 

This congregation is beginning to go through a fairly significant change as we transition pastors.  Change is tough.  Change is tough for individuals and it is tough for organizations and it certainly is tough for congregations.  I have seen congregations go through significant conflict during a transition.  I have seen congregations take sides—“I want this pastor, no, I want that one.  I want a younger pastor, no, I want one who is more mature.  I want a good preach, no, I want one who is better at pastoral care.  I don’t care what pastor we get just so long as he doesn’t preach about ice cream and the Orioles every other sermon.  I mean, we live in New York!  I have seen congregations rebel at a new pastor coming on board because he was going to do things differently than the retired pastor.  Well, in that regard, I have a little news for you-the new pastor of Risen Christ WILL do things differently than Deknatel.  He will.  You can expect that.  I will be talking more about that on June 9.  But, with the change of pastors comes opportunities for members of a congregation to be at odds with each other, for conflict to set in.  Change is tough and 

 

  1.  Satan wants to destroy this church

 

Satan wants to take a vital, alive church like Risen Christ and tear it apart.  Satan wants that and

 

  1.  We, the members of Risen Christ, must strive to keep that from happening 

 

So, the key verse I want to center on this day is verse 3 of Ephesians 4;

 

Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace.”  Ephesians 4:3       

 

Make every effort…”

 

Other translations say, “be diligent to preserve", "endeavor to keep", "do your best to preserve",
"spare no effort”, “make EVERY effort”

 

“… to keep the unity of the Spirit…”

 

The goal is unity, not uniformity! We are not all the same.  The Apostle Paul revels in the fact that the church has a “variety of gifts but the same Spirit.”  We are not all the same.  We don’t have to think alike.  But, believers must sense the need for the health of the church, the unity of the church, and take personal responsibility for its maintenance! This is such a needed truth in our day of individual rights and privileges and personal preferences!

 

 “…through the bond of peace.

 

Commentator Bob Utley wrote; “Believers are personally responsible for the corporate health and vitality of … the church.  This means you!  Only active submission to the good of the whole can maintain peace.” [1]  I really like it when he says, “This means you!”  You, every member, keep, guard, pay attention to, take individual responsibility for maintaining the unity of the Spirit.  Don’t let this slide.  Don’t pawn this off on the Call Committee or Church Council.  As Utley said, “This means you!”

 

  1. What is the Nature of this Unity?

 

  1.  For the worldwide (universal) church

 

What is the basis for this unity?  What are those things that unite us?  Paul tells us;

 

There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to one hope when you were called; 5 one Lord, one faith, one baptism; 6 one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.”  Ephesians 4:4-6

 

Let’s peel this away.

 

  1. One body

 

The church throughout the world is made up of all sorts of people, people with different ethnicity, race, social-economic status, as Paul says in Galatians 3:28, Jew and Gentile, slave and free, male and female, yet, we are all one body in Christ Jesus.  We are one body.  We are bound together.  We are on the same team.  It binds us together.

 

Back in 1945, the owner of the Brooklyn Dodgers baseball team recruited Jackie Robinson to play for them. If you don’t know the name, Jackie Robinson was a black man and black men were not allowed to play ball with white men. Every town the Dodgers traveled to - when Robinson came up to bat - he had to dodge fastballs pitched at his head. And when he played 2nd base, runners would try to cut him with their spikes as they slid into that base. And the crowds would boo him and insult and call him all kinds of nasty things.  One day, the insults and taunts became almost unbearable and one of his teammates, a white southern boy named Pee Wee Reese, called time out and walked over to Robinson… and put his arm around him.  In that simple gesture Pee Wee Reese was telling the crowd, “This is my friend. This is my teammate. And I stand with him.” [2]

 

The church stands together.  We are one body.  Second, we have

 

  1. One Spirit

 

It is the same Spirit who in every single Christian, convicts us of sin, calls us by the Gospel, allows us to know grace, that you can never be good enough to be good enough, allows us to know that Jesus did it all as He died on the cross.  This one Spirit allows us to know that it was Jesus’ blood that cleanses us from all of our sins.

 

“For… we have been united with him in a death like his…”  Romans 6:5a

 

It is this one and the same Spirit who works in us to give us new life, to bring us to faith.  That same Spirit who worked in the Paul and Peter and Mary Magdalene, has also given you faith and who this morning has given faith to little Bretton Riley Lawson in the waters of baptism.  That one Spirit filled the Apostles on that first Pentecost and enabled them to speak in all of the languages gathered in Jerusalem and that same Spirit fills each of us producing the fruit of the Spirit like love, joy, peace patience, etc.  .  That one Spirit unites us.  We also have    

 

  1. One hope

 

Hope for a Christian is not wishful thinking.  Hope is to looking forward with confidence.  It is grasping hold of Jesus’ words that He has prepared for us a house with many rooms.  The Christian hope that unites us is the hope of the resurrection. 

 

“For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we will certainly also be united with him in a resurrection like his.”  Romans 6:5

 

  1. One Lord

 

The salvation that unites us is centered on Jesus.  All Christians have Him in common.

 

“Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to mankind by which we must be saved.”  Acts 4:12

 

One commentator wrote; “When the early Christians said, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ they were saying, ‘Caesar is not lord.’… So this was not merely an empty creedal affirmation for early believers. This confession could cause you to lose your head.”  We are united by this one Lord.  We have

 

  1. One faith

 

This refers to the body of truth that we believe.  Oh, there are differences among the various Christian denominations.  You can’t go wrong if you remember that Missouri Synod Lutherans are always right.  There are differences among Christians but we are united among the essentials of faith.  And, the path to erase any differences that there are is to go back to one source which is the Bible.  Any denomination, any preacher, that does away with the teachings of the Bible, is separating him or herself from the one faith of the church.  The path back is to allow the Bible to be the source and norm of our faith.  That will make us united.  We have

 

  1. One baptism

 

This is not about whether infants should be baptized or just adults.  It is not about whether you should get sprinkled with water or immersed.  Baptism here identifies us with Christ.  We are all baptized into Christ.  And, we have 

 

  1. One God and father

 

Christianity is exclusive on this.  We do not believe in multiple gods.  We do not believe in a variety of paths to God.  We don’t believe, as some say, that it doesn’t matter what you believe as long as you are sincere.  We are united around the firm belief that there is one God and only one God who is Father, Son and Holy Spirit.  It is interesting that in these 6 short verses from Ephesians 4, verse 4 refers to God the Holy Spirit, verse 5 refers to God the Son and Verse 6 refers to God the Father.  These are the 7 things that unite all Christians.  All Christians throughout the world are united by these things.   

 

  1.  For the local congregation, Risen Christ

 

There are some other things as well.

 

  1. The mission of the church unites us

 

A congregation will be united that sees that the mission of the church is to make disciples.  Think of the unity when a congregation maintains that the mission of the church is not to make the members comfortable.  The mission of the church is not just to educate our children or to just care for the members of this church.  Those things are important but they are not the mission of the church.  Think of the unity of a congregation that adheres to the mission of making disciples.  One more thing that unites the local congregation, that unites Risen Christ is   

 

  1. The vision and values of a church unites it

 

We talked about the vision and values of Risen Christ last Sunday.  That all of the members are striving to achieve a common vision is a unifying factor.  Look at the people around this room.  If, because of the changes that are beginning here at Risen Christ, if any cracks in our unity come about, go back to what unites us.  Go back to one body and one Spirit and one hope and one Lord, and one faith, and one baptism and one God and Father of all.  Go back to the mission that moves us and the vision that guides us and remember all that unites us.  Let that repair any cracks that may come about due to these changes.  Which brings us to     

 

  1. How to Maintain that Unity

 

  1. Be humble and gentle

 

That’s what Paul tells us on verse 2.  In the world of Paul’s day, humility was not a positive thing.  It was seen as cringing subservience and therefore was despised.  Many times in our world, humility and gentleness is sometimes seen as weakness.  It is sometimes seen as being a doormat.  Author John Stott wrote; “Paul is not urging people to be timid and without convictions.  Gentleness is not a synonym for weakness.  On the contrary, it is the gentleness of the strong, whose strength is under control.  It is the quality of a strong personality who is nevertheless master of him/(her)self and the servant of others.”  Servanthood characterizes the life of a Christian.  Servanthood is a hallmark of the church.  Putting others first, seeking to serve the other members of the church, will keep the church united. 

 

  1. Be patient

 

This word literally means long suffering.  It means, as someone wrote, a long holding out of the mind before it gives room to action or passion.  It is one of the fruits of the Spirit.  Being patient with one another during this transition will preserve the unity of this place.    

 

  1. Bear with one another in love

 

“By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”  John 13:35

 

“Whoever claims to love God yet hates a brother or sister is a liar. For whoever does not love their brother and sister, whom they have seen, cannot love God, whom they have not seen.”  1 John 4:20

 

Years ago the Special Olympics was held in Seattle, Washington. One of the races was a 100 yard dash where nine physically and mentally disabled young people gathered at the starting line.

The gun went off, and the nine began to run (as best as they) could toward the finish line. It wasn’t exactly in a dash, but they were obviously enjoying themselves. Then one boy who stumbled on the asphalt, tumbled over a couple of times and began to cry.  The other eight heard the boy cry.  They slowed down and looked back.  Then they all turned around and went back. Every one of them.  One girl with Down's syndrome bent down and kissed him and said, "This will make it better."  Then all nine linked arms and walked to the finish line together.

They say that that day everyone in the stadium stood, and cheered for what seemed like forever.

What those children did that day… is what God calls us to do.  God calls us to love each other so much that when one of us stumbles and falls… we all turn back to help them up. And we link arms and walk together toward the gates of heaven.  And when we do that - all of heaven stands and cheers for what seems like forever. [3]  Paul says, “Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love.”

 

  1. Some practical ways of doing this

 

  1. Strive for open and honest communication 

 

The Call Committee is working hard to keep the congregation informed about its progress.  If you have questions, ask them. 

 

  1. Quash the rumor mill 

 

This goes along with #1.  If you hear a rumor, talk to the person involved. 

 

  1. Put the best construction on everything 

 

Our congregation (and the Call Committee) is made up of good people who love the Lord.  They are trying their best.  Encourage them and lift them up.  Pray for them.  If something is said that doesn’t sound just right, give the benefit of the doubt.  Again, they are good people and want to do God’s will.  They want to do what is best for Risen Christ. 

 

  1. Give the Call Committee your input/opinions when asked 

 

When the Call Committee sends out a survey, take the time to answer it.  Your input is important.  At the end of the day, those who will be calling the next pastor will not be the Call Committee or the Church Council.  Those who will be calling the next pastor will be you.  God will work through you to call the next pastor.  When that new pastor comes, you will be able to celebrate that you had a hand in bringing him here.  Even if he was not your first choice, you still have had your voice heard.  You may have thought that he should be better at caring for the sick than preaching, you may have wanted—like all church members want—someone who is 25 years old with 25 years experience, you may have thought that he should be a Yankee rooter—heaven forbid—but instead he, along with all sane and reasonable people roots for the Orioles, he may not have been your first choice, but you had your say and therefore God was working through you and you were the one calling him to be the next pastor.

 

  1. Come together more and more

 

A man was stranded all alone on a deserted island. He sent smoke signals daily, hoping that someone would see it and find him. Ten years elapsed and finally a ship passed by.  The captain of the ship was notified about the smoke signals, and he decided to see what was going on at the island.  When he got close to shore, he saw a man and three huts. The captain of the ship sent a small boat to rescue the man. When the man got on board the ship, he embraced the captain and thanked him profusely for rescuing him.  “I am glad to be able to help you,” said the captain. “Where are the others?”  “What others?” said the man, “I am alone. I am the only one on this island.”  “Well then,” asked the captain, with a confused expression, “if you are alone, why are there three huts on the island?”  “Oh, that! I can explain,” said the man. “The first hut is my home. That is where I live. And the hut next to it is where I go to church.”  “And the third hut?” asked the captain.  The man said, “Oh! That is where I used to go to church!” [4]

 

This is the time to come together.  This is the time to use your gifts for God’s Kingdom all the more.  I said this last week and I will say it in depth next week, this is the time to step up, not step out.  This is not the time to flee to another church or even to sit back and do nothing.  This is the time to step up what you can do to keep Risen Christ the healthy and vital and mission driven, vision guided church that it is.

 

Risen Christ is a healthy vibrant congregation.  We do well caring for one another.  We do well maintaining the unity of the spirit in the bond of peace.  I think this is a very peaceful congregation.  Yet, we must be vigilant.  We need to remember that Satan wants to tear a church like ours apart.  We need to continue to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. Last week at our Church Leaders Planning retreat, a key phrase came out.  It went like this; “The church should…we should…I should.”  The church should do this.  We should do this.  That requires some ownership.  I should do this.  That requires individual participation.  So, let me leave you with this one thought: What can you do to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace of this congregation?  What can you personally do to make sure of the unity of this place?  And, when that new pastor comes, we will all celebrate, celebrate together, what God has done and continues to do in this place.

 

In Jesus’ name.

 

Amen.

 

[1] From his commentary on Ephesians found at freebiblecommentary.org.

[2] Adapted from the sermon, “Deliberate Unity” by Jeff Strite, found at SermonCentral.com.

[3] Ibid.

[4] From the sermon, Unity” by Freddy Fritz, found at Sermoncantral.com