Introduction: Have you ever been surprised to hear that two people you knew were getting a divorce. Sometimes that news comes unexpectedly. We might assume that a couple would stay together, but then something happens, and it all changes. That same may be true with churches. Congregations that have been together for many years suddenly (or at least it seems suddenly) experience division. There is a terrifying truth about this… every congregation is potentially just one disagreement, argument, or misunderstanding away from division. We need to be alert and on guard. God provides what is necessary for us to stay together as God’s church. Just as in a marriage, He also commands that we stay together.
I. Guard the Unity: Eph 4:1-3 – I, therefore, the prisoner of the Lord, beseech you to walk worthy of the calling with which you were called, 2 with all lowliness and gentleness, with longsuffering, bearing with one another in love, 3 endeavoring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.
A. This is what might be describes as a transition in the text. It is not difficult to notice that this is the place where Paul goes from presenting doctrine to calling for application of what he has revealed. This is the significance of the “therefore” in verse 1. Based on the glorious provision of Christ in our behalf (He has “blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ” 1:3), the apostle calls on believers to walk worthy of the calling (vocation). The word worthy is also translated as an adverb, worthily, and means in a manner of life in accordance with what the gospel declares; (from Vine’s Expository Dictionary of Biblical Words) The word “walk” refers to the consistent practice. It is the result of one’s continuous choices. The gospel is congruous and consistent with a certain character and practice. God’s people must live by the standard implicit in what God has done for us.
1. At the end of these verses is one of the intended results of this walk: to keep the unity of the Spirit… The language clearly implies that we do not create the unity (it is of the Spirit of God), but we are commanded to keep (guard from loss by keeping an eye on, watch or holdfast) it.
2. In the middle of these verses (between the command and its intended result) is the provision of God. The spiritual qualities mentioned by Paul are necessary to staying together as God’s people. Let’s take a closer look at what we need to stay together.
II. Lowliness: What is this? It is translated as humility. It is a compound word that literally means to think low of oneself. It’s a deep sense of one’s (moral) littleness. It’s the opposite of arrogance, pride. John Wesley observed that “neither the Romans nor the Greeks had a word for humility.” The very concept was so foreign and abhorrent to their way of thinking that they had no term to describe it. Apparently this Greek term was coined by Christians to describe a quality for which no other word was available. To the Greeks humility (thinking low of yourself) was a sign of weakness or cowardice. It was unnatural. It is also a denigrated quality today. We promote a strong self-esteem, many times seeing it as the answer to our problems and the problems of our society.
A. Even Jesus could not have pleased His Father without it – He “emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and… humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross” (Phil 2:7-8). It is also very elusive because if one focuses on being humble, he may become proud of his humility. When I claim it I lose it.
1. But in what way will a spirit of lowliness foster unity? True lowliness disallows any attitude of superiority and creates a practical equality among us. Lowliness is based on reality. Trench says… esteeming ourselves small, as we are so; the thinking truly, and therefore lowly, of ourselves (Trench). All of us are sinners in need of the blood of Jesus. We stand equal before a Holy God. Recognizing this, and living by this recognition, robs Satan of his opportunity to deceive us and lead us to sin against one another.
2. This characteristic, more than any other, is described to us in scripture as the mind of Christ. Phil 2:1-4 – Therefore if there is any consolation in Christ, if any comfort of love, if any fellowship of the Spirit, if any affection and mercy, 2 fulfill my joy by being like-minded, having the same love, being of one accord, of one mind. 3 Let nothing be done through selfish ambition or conceit, but in lowliness of mind let each esteem others better than himself. 4 Let each of you look out not only for his own interests, but also for the interests of others. Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus…
a. Paul references this attitude often in his call for unity and give admonition to proper relationships – Eph 4:25 – Therefore, putting away lying, “Let each one of you speak truth with his neighbor,” for we are members of one another. … Eph 5:21 – submitting to one another in the fear of God.
b. The mind of Christ provides for unity because it is more than an attitude. It will evidence itself in actions of services. This is what the saints did in the first century, Acts 4:34. We will sacrifice our time to visit the weary, or the sick. We will do for others, and those actions will draw us together.
III. Gentleness – This is a powerful word. It can be translated as mildness, or meekness. Prautes refers to that which is mild-spirited and self-controlled. Gentleness is one of the fruits of the Spirit (Gal 5:23).
A. It has nothing to do with weakness, timidity, indifference, or cowardice. It was used of wild animals that were tamed, especially of horses that were broken and trained. Such an animal still has his strength and spirit, but its will is under the control of its master. The horse can run just as fast, but he runs only when and where his master tells him to run. Meekness is power under control. Biblical gentleness is power under the control of God.
1. When the soldiers came to arrest Him in the Garden of Gethsemane and Peter drew his sword to defend His Lord, Jesus said, “Do you think that I cannot appeal to My Father, and He will at once put at My disposal more than twelve legions of angels?” (Matt 26:53). His refusal to enlist divine resources is the supreme picture of meekness — power under control.
B. It’s pretty easy to see the value of gentleness. It’s more conducive to maintain peace when we act this way toward each other. But this can be challenging, especially in the world that we live in. Many feel a right to defend themselves, stand up for their rights. The Xavier and Cincinnati college basketball fight – what was worse was what the players said afterward. Some of the players were proud of what they had done)
1. We need to discipline our emotions even when others do not. We need to guard our words, even when others do not. Eph 4:26 – “Be angry, and do not sin”: do not let the sun go down on your wrath, Eph 4:31-32 – Let all bitterness, wrath, anger, clamor, and evil speaking be put away from you, with all malice. 32 And be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God in Christ forgave you.
IV. Longsuffering: The word longsuffering means patience, forbearance, or slowness to avenging wrong. It is essential to unity and provides the environment for true spiritual growth.
A. God is longsuffering, not wanting any to perish. 2 Peter 3:9. Without this we could not retain a relationship with Him.
B. Patience is vital in every area of our work as a church:
- Patience is needed with new converts as they grow in the faith
- Patience is needed when someone has done us wrong.
- Patience is needed with those who have left the faith and returned,
V. Love – “bearing with one another in love” Elsewhere Paul describes Love as the thing that holds everything else together. By definition love is a deep sense of caring, endearment, or affection. But in its biblical use, it is more. It is best seen in its action.
A. John 3:16 – For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, 1 John 4:9 – In this the love of God was manifested toward us, that God has sent His only begotten Son into the world, that we might live through Him.
B. Love for another is much easier said than done. Love demands certain responses -” doing the loving thing” – this is not some subjective, emotional- oriented response. Love is tied to objective truth. If you love me keep my commandments.
1. Love for one will not do anything to make one another stumble. Love will compel us to avoid gossiping. Love will compel us to go one another when a problem arises, Matthew 18:15-18. Love will demand that we always tell the truth. Love will demand that we hold each other accountable.
Conclusion: united in “the bond of peace” (the “bond” by which “peace” is maintained) the bond we have was created through our mutual relationship with Christ. We are a body, a family, a church. We must treasure this bond, as it is what will maintain the peace we have now; both with each other and with God.
New construction is easier than remodeling. It is better to make the house strong to begin with, than to face costly repairs. So it is with relationships. It is difficult, sometimes impossible, to put things back together. We must guard the unity we have now.