United in a time of Disunity

United in a Time of Disunity

Christians are united and need to be united. This is especially important in this time of disunity as a country.

In Christ Jesus all—Jew and Gentle, rich and poor, black and white, republican and democrat, Clemson and Ohio State, Steelers and Browns, young and old—are one. That is what Scripture teaches. That is reality.

In Christ, we are one. That is what the Bible tells us. And that’s reality.

Paul highlights that in his letter to the Ephesians. The Ephesian church faced similar difficulties that we face. They lived in divisive days too.

Acts 19 talks about a riot in Ephesus and there may have been divisions when it came to sporting events too. Ephesus had the largest theater in Asia Minor with accommodation for up to 25.000 people. The theater housed sporting events. So, people probably fought about sports then too. Not sure, though, if gladiator games count…

Christians are united in Christ

Jesus’ Kingdom is not divided. Although Jesus’ Kingdom is made up of people from Sierra and Senegal, Armenia and America, China and Chad, Portugal and Pakistan, Mexico and Malaysia (and many many more). In Christ, we are all one. And so, “The Christian’s primary solidarity is not with those who pledge allegiance to a particular flag, but those who confess Jesus as the Lord, regardless of their nationality”[1]

United in Christ

We may not always feel like we’re together or unified, we may not always want to be together, but the reality is that we are. We are united and one in Christ Jesus (Eph. 4:4-7).[2] Believers in Africa and America, Iraq and Iran, Canada and Cambodia, all have the one Spirit in them. Although we look and act and think differently, we all have this in common: We are temples of the living God. More significant than our culture and country is that God lives in us believers.

All Christians have one Spirit and all Christians have one Lord (Eph. 4:5).[3] It reminds me of marching in the army. As we marched together, there was no distinction, in a whole company of 200 soldiers. No matter who you were or where you were from, there was no distinction… When our commander said, “left” we put our left foot down. When he said, “right” we put our right foot down.

We were a lot different, but we all had the same commander and so there was no distinction.

That’s the same for Christians. We all have “one Lord.”[4] And we all march the same. 

Christians are to be United

In Christ we are united and we are to be united (Eph. 4:1-3). Paul says, “keep the unity of the Spirit.” In fact, he says, “make every effort to keep the unity.”

Paul knows it will take effort. That’s why he says, “make every effort.” So, what is the motivation for making this effort? The good news of Jesus.[5]

Gospel Movement in Ephesians

Our motivation is important because unity can be very difficult.[6] Imagine the context and challenges for Paul’s audience: Jew, Gentile, slave, free, lawbreaker, law keeper all in the same church.

That’s actually a good thing though. And a beautiful thing. As Scot McKnight has said, “The church God wants is one brimming with difference.”[7]

Imagine the context now… These are very divided and divisive times. The apparent reality is that Christians have a ton to divide over. But, the theological reality is that Christians are united and one in Christ.

People will know we are Christians by our love for one another. When we have both glaring differences and yet radiant unity we become a mosaic of Jesus’ transforming beauty.

What does it look like to “make every effort”? Paul tells us. Paul gives us five things that are necessary if we are going to be untied. John Stott rightly says that these are the “foundation stones of Christian unity. Where these are absent no external structure of unity can stand.”[8] Those foundation stones are gentleness, patience, love[9] effort, and humility which we’ll be concentrating on. 

Humility: Essential to Unity

Ephesians 4:2 says “Be completely humble.” Stott correctly said, “Humility is essential to unity. Pride lurks behind all discord.”[10] I know that’s been true in my own life.

How can we have humility? Well, for one, we as Christians know we’re not all that. We know we sin. We know we get it wrong sometimes. We all stumble many ways. That should humble us.

And amazingly, the only sinless one, Jesus, the Son of God, the one that never did anything wrong, He humbled Himself. He humbled Himself to the point of death. Even the death of a cross (Phil. 2).

So, we as Christians must practice humility too. That’s part of what it means to “make every effort to maintain unity.” That’s what we’re called to do. Spare no expense. Do what it takes.

Winston Churchill during WWII made things happen. He would sometimes stamp his commands in red with the words “Action this Day.” And that’s what he expected. He expected that command to be done. He expected his people to make every effort, and I literally mean every effort to make sure it what done on that day.

I think Paul is saying something similar to us. I think he’s giving us a stamp in red ink that says: “Action this Day.” He’s saying do it. It’s that important. “Make every effort to keep the unity.”

Being united is part of what it means to walk in a worthy way; “to live a life worthy of the calling you have received” (Eph. 4:1). And that is supernatural. That’s part of what it means to be a city on a hill and a light in the darkness.

It’s abundantly clear that union with Christ implies union with others. The reality is that we are together built into a dwelling of God (Eph. 2:22). We are united and one whether we like it or not. If a person names and follows Jesus, we belong together even if we don’t always like that truth.

It’s also important for us to remember that we get grace from God vertically, but we also get much-needed grace from God horizontally from other people. Even when we don’t always like or agree with them.

Conclusion

Brothers and sisters, we have fellowship with each other and with God through our Lord Jesus! Rejoice in that good news. Division is dead. We are united. So, let’s live together in purposeful unity. It will not be easy, but Jesus’ blood was spilled to welcome us into union with Him and each other. Let’s not disregard Jesus’ great sacrifice for us.

May the God who gives endurance and encouragement give us the same attitude toward each other that Christ Jesus has towards us. Encourage one another, be like-minded, live in peace, be sympathetic, love one another, be compassionate, and humble. And the God of love and peace will be with us. So that with one mind and one voice we may glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. Lastly, accept one another, just as Christ accepted us, for the glory of God.[11]

Jesus prayed that we would be one[12] and He gave us one mission. So let’s work together to accomplish that mission.

Endnotes

[1] Steve Wilkens and Mark L. Sanford, Hidden Worldviews, 76.

[2] Dietrich Bonhoeffer said in his classic book, Life Together, that “We are members of a body, not only when we choose to be, but in our whole existence.” The reality is, as Bonhoeffer also said, “We are bound together by faith, not by experience.”

[3] Paul basically takes the biggest contrast he can think of and in Romans 10:12a says, “For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek.” When we read that we should be surprised. Imagine someone said, “there is no distinction between republican and democrat”? I think we’d be like there clearly is a distinction. But, Paul says the reason there is not a distinction is because “the same Lord is Lord of all, bestowing his riches on all who call on Him” (v. 12b)

[4] We also see that there is “one God and Father of all” (Eph. 4:6). Christians all have same heavenly Father. We’re all family! So, Colossians 3:11 says, that in the new life that we have through Christ Jesus, “it doesn’t matter if you are a Jew or a Gentile, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbaric, uncivilized, slave, or free. Christ is all that matters, and he lives in all of us” (NLT). We’re family.

[5] “Friends, the unity of the church was so valuable to Jesus that he died for it” (Gavin Ortlund, Finding the Right Hills to Die On, 150).

[6] So, as we’ve seen, the spiritual reality is that all in Christ are one in Christ. Realizing the spiritual reality is challenging though. So, as Paul says in Romans 16:17: “I urge you, brothers and sisters, to watch out for those who cause divisions and put obstacles in your way that are contrary to the teaching you have learned. Keep away from them.” The devil wants to destroy and divide. He wants anything but the church being united in this time of disunity. But, when we choose to stand together, stand in Christ and for Christ, we shine and we show the would that there really is something to Jesus. And there really are miracles. And there really is hope for the world. The hope is Jesus.

[7] Scot McKnight, A Fellowship of Differents: Showing the World God’s Design for Life Together

[8] John Stott, The Message of Ephesians, 149. 

[9] Stott, The Message of Ephesians, 148.

[10] What does this love look like? Well, it should look like God’s love. God’s love is the standard of love. “In this is love, not that we loved God but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the payment for our sin” (1 Jn. 4:10). So, we are not to give only our love to the lovely, not only to those that we think deserve it, not only to those we like and agree with. Nope. We are to model the love of God. God loves people like me. He loves the sometimes unlovely. And that is the kind of love we are called to too.

[121] See Romans 15:5-7; 2 Corinthians 13:11; Philippians 2:1-4; 1 Peter 3:8.

[12] Amazingly, as we make every effort to be in unity, we can answer the Lord Jesus’ prayer. Jesus prayed this in John 17:21-23: Jesus said, “that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent Me. I have given them the glory that You gave Me, [why?] that they may be one as we are one—I in them and you in me—so that 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.”

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