July 21, 2014

Living out our God-given unity

The Bible describes the church as “no longer strangers and aliens” with God, but “fellow citizens with the saints and members” of His household. We are grounded “on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone.” It is in Jesus that the whole structure is “joined together” and growing “into a holy temple in the Lord.” (Ephesians 2:19–21)

It is because of this reality of our identity that the Bible also urges us to “walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called.” As members of God’s family, He calls us to “humility and gentleness, patiently bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.”

We can do this because, “There is one body and one Spirit—just as (we) were called to the one hope that belongs to (our) call” and “one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.” (Ephesians 4:1–6)

God is into unity. The three members of the Godhead are totally united in every way. He created a household of believers that have the Holy Spirit to unite us. He also “gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, 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. Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love.” (Ephesians 4:11–16)

Notice the factors of unity in the above verses. God gives leaders to equip us and build us up so we attain unity. Unity calls for maturity — Christians who are becoming more and more like Jesus. Instead of being waylaid by goofy doctrine, we are no more deceived and drawn into it. We are truthful with one another, loving one another and living ‘properly’ so that this love increases.

As with all ideals, it seems we fall short much more often than we measure up. So many things can disrupt unity. Since it requires being Spirit-filled, if one person in the church is not, there is a ripple. If two are not, the rift deepens. If we are hiding behind a façade, unity cannot happen. If anyone buys into false teaching, our unity is affected. Yet this fellowship with Jesus Christ and with one another is never totally destroyed because it is God-created and God-empowered.

Of course He wants our cooperation. He tells us “to put off our old self, which belongs to our former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires, and to be renewed in the spirit of our minds.” He says also “to put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness.”

Again, unity means behaving in very practical ways. It includes “putting away falsehood . . .  each one speaking the truth with his neighbor . . .  being angry without sin . . .  not letting the sun go down on our anger, giving no opportunity to the devil.”

Unity is about staying away from sins such as stealing and instead working with our own hands, so that we have something to share with anyone in need. It is not speaking in corrupting ways, but in ways that build up, ways that fit the situation and give grace to those who hear. It is about not grieving the Holy Spirit who has sealed us for the day of redemption, but about relying on Him in obedience.

Unity cannot happen if there is bitterness, wrath, anger, clamor, slander and malice in our lives. Instead, unity relies on being kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave us. (Ephesians 4:20–32)

Yesterday, I noticed a sense of great unity with some and not with others. I also noticed that this changes from one week to the next. Not all of us fit the pattern of unity all the time, yet as we learn to “walk in the light, as he is in the light, we do have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin.” (1 John 1:7) This unity is the work of God and “God is faithful, by whom we were called into the fellowship of his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.” (1 Corinthians 1:9) He makes it happen.

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