The Gravity of Unity
September 13, 2020 | Randy Smith
The Gravity Of Unity
Sunday, September 13, 2020
Pastor Randy Smith
How many things in life can be negatively affected by one person with ease or without them even being aware of what they are doing? Watch the news. Watch how a fraction of society is destabilizing an entire nation. The same can apply to the church. Today I would like to talk about the unity of a church.
It takes many years to build a church culture that is safe, respected by the community, enjoyable and a productive environment for Christ. Yet within the span of weeks, one unchecked selfish person has the ability to destroy it. But it is not just the unwanted negative attacks on our church unity that keeps us vigilant, it is also the desired positive actions to promote our unity that keeps us diligent. Yes, one person can destroy a good church (just as one bad apple can spoil a bushel), but it takes the majority to build a good church.
In this sermon I would like to share with you what church unity is, why it is so important, what spiritual tools we have at our disposal and how we can achieve success for our joy and the glory of God.
Let’s begin with a definition, a brief theological understanding of unity. The unity of the church is to be a reflection of the unity of the one God upon which the church is built. As God is perfectly unified within Himself and we are perfectly unified in Him and with each other in Christ, the church should model that oneness in all our actions. Church unity flows from the fact that we are bound to God and to one another by the Gospel. And the model of church unity presented in Scripture is a unity-in-diversity, not uniformity by looking, thinking and acting alike on all matters, but total agreement in the Gospel and Gospel actions.
So, let’s elaborate on that last sentence. Most organizations find unity when everybody acts the same. For example, it’s fairly easy to be unified if everyone in a group is a white, middle-aged man with facial hair, a few tattoos and enjoys drinking beer, playing pool and riding a Harley.
The goal for the church transcends that. We do not preach uniformity (everybody must look, think and act the same). We preach diversity as God has created us with different skin colors, educational backgrounds, interests, talents, gifts, genders and ages. We celebrate those amoral differences and then show the power of the cross when we, who might have no reasonable reason to get together, can assemble as one, forge strong relationships, enjoy each other, love one another and have a common mission. Yes, that indeed glorifies Christ!
Since unity is so important for reasons we’ll get to in a moment, it should not surprise us that the devil does all in his power to keep us divided. When we are divided, everyone loses. So, we shouldn’t be surprised to read our Bibles and see example after example outlining and warning of conflict in the church.
In Acts 6 there was a complaint by some that their widows were being overlooked. In Romans 14 we read about division over food. And in the Corinthian church – where do you begin? Christian liberties, marriage, church discipline, gifts, even their favorite teachers!
All churches are made of sinners. Therefore, all churches will deal with division. However, what separates the good from the poor churches is that the good churches know how to deal with such division and through the adversity emerge more unified. How does that happen?
First of all, good churches desire unity. Just like good parents are grieved when their children fight with each other, good churches (that understand the cross) sense division and make every effort to bring harmony and reconciliation.
I think of the public faction between two ladies in the Philippian church: Euodia and Syntyche. And what does Paul tell the church? Take care of this situation! 4:3, “Indeed, true companion, I ask you also to help these women.”
You see, the Christian heart has the peace of Christ. We have the Spirit’s fruit of peace. We love peace. We know peace in the world and with the world will never be accomplished, but we also know that for us in the church peace must and can be maintained.
Listen to Paul’s heart in Philippians 2:2. “Make my joy complete by being of the same mind, maintaining the same love, united in spirit, intent on one purpose.” Listen to the heart of Jesus Himself. John 17:23, “I in them and You in Me, that they may be perfected in unity, so that the world may know that You sent Me, and loved them, even as You have loved Me.” Therefore, we should all agree with Psalm 133:1. “Behold, how good and how pleasant it is for brothers to dwell together in unity!”
You see, as Christians walking in the Spirit, it’s as natural as breathing to do God’s will. And just like all of God’s other commands, we delight to do His will and are empowered to do His will because His will is a reflection of His character. So, it shouldn’t surprise us that having a unified church is a commandment. 2 Corinthians 13:11, “Rejoice, be made complete, be comforted, be like-minded, live in peace.” Therefore, God-honoring churches fight for their unity. Romans 14:19, “We pursue the things which make for peace.” Ephesians 4:3, “[We are] diligent to preserve the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.”
So, when we see unreconciled relationships within our church family, we seek to bring harmony. Examples: business partnerships gone wrong, marriages in trouble, friendship jealousy. When we see people leading others astray with divisive convictions that they elevate to Gospel mandates, we confront them (cf. Tit. 3:10). Examples: conspiracy theories, Bible codes, legalistic tendencies. And when we see individuals for whatever reason that make people uncomfortable in this church, we speak to them. Examples: Harassing women, stirring controversy, and the classic gossipers, complainers and negative thinkers.
No doubt it is a tall order. And with a thousand people that call this church home, that’s a lot of people that need to get along with each other. It almost sounds impossible, but thankfully we have great hope because God has constructed the entire system to work when we do it His way.
For example, we are able to see the church as God sees the church. No one is better than anyone else. We are all equal in Christ – equally loved, equally justified, equally baptized into this body and equally as important as each other. In Galatians 3:28 we read, “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free man, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” Acknowledging the reality that we are one in Christ Jesus; we should remove all traces of pride. Without pride we are without division.
Second, because we are in Christ, there are no longer any hostilities in us that will always exist between those in the world. Ephesians 2:14, “For He Himself is our peace, who made both groups into one and broke down the barrier of the dividing wall.” We don’t employ the trite, superficial and flawed tactics of the world. Many of them now championed more than ever in our day. We understand that the blood of Christ has cleansed us from our sin and has adopted us into His family. Thus, we see others different from us as part of the family of God, forgiven as we have been forgiven. We accept each other because God has accepted all of us. Our unity is not what we look like, but rather who we are in Christ. “[Christ] Himself [made] the two into one new man, thus establishing peace, and might reconcile them both in one body to God through the cross, by it having put to death the enmity” (Eph. 2:15b-16).
So, let’s spend the remainder of the sermon getting practical. How do we specifically live this out in our day-to-day operations? Let me fire at you six applicable thoughts that tie into what we have just discussed.
Number one – We need to be focused on our common goal.
Unity is achieved by agreeing up and working toward a common goal. So, what is our purpose at Grace Bible Church? Better yet, what is God’s purpose for Grace Bible Church? Very simple, it is to glorify the triune God. And we do that by creating an environment where people can grow in their walk with Jesus and reach others for Jesus. If we can all agree to that (the preeminence of Christ as seen in the Gospel), live for that and die for that (kind of a wartime mentality), everyone with put their personal petty preferences aside for the greater good.
Listen to these verses from Philippians: 1:27, “Only conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ, so that whether I come and see you or remain absent, I will hear of you that you are standing firm in one spirit, with one mind striving together for the faith of the gospel.” And 2:2, “Make my joy complete by being of the same mind, maintaining the same love, united in spirit, intent on one purpose.”
Number two – We need to be Gospel-centered.
The more we prioritize and understand and live-out the Gospel, the greater will our unity be. Things like forgiveness, grace, kindness, patience and love. A unified environment is guaranteed if we can practice the very things we have been given by Christ.
It’s the satanic traits that divide us. Galatians 5:15, “If you bite and devour one another, take care that you are not consumed by one another.” James 3:16, “For where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there is disorder and every evil thing.”
On the contrary, it’s the Jesus traits that unite us. Ephesians 4:1–3, “Therefore I, the prisoner of the Lord, implore you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling with which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, showing tolerance for one another in love, being diligent to preserve the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.”
Number three – We need to champion diversity.
In 1 Corinthians 1:10 we read, “Now I exhort you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you all agree and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be made complete in the same mind and in the same judgment.”
There are only two ways we can rightly apply this verse to all agree. Either we became exactly like each other or we delineate the things were must find agreement and then in charity respect the convictions of others who might differ from us. In other words, in the Gospel we have unity and we maintain our unity by agreeing to disagree on the less essentials.
Again, the goal is unity. We don’t make everyone the same. Rather we love each other, refrain from judging each other and we celebrate the true unity that is found in embracing differences, accepting the fact that we need each other in our differences to properly function as a body. If everybody was an index finger we would get nowhere.
Number four – We need to follow church leadership.
We covered this last week. The Grace leaders are imperfect men, but by God’s grace He has appointed us to make decisions for the church. If we wish to have any unity (and you know how much I dislike championing myself), we need to submit to the leadership.
Hebrews 13:17, “Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they keep watch over your souls as those who will give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with grief, for this would be unprofitable for you.”
I hope it’s easy to obey the leadership when we give directives directly from Scripture, but the whole concept of biblical submission is following when general decisions need to be made for the sake of the institution. Of course, we should never follow any leader that directly contradicts Scripture, but we should follow leaders who are seeking what’s best for the body.
Number five – We need to respect general consensus.
This does not mean that we should follow the majority in everything. That would be distinctively nonChristian. This means that we as a church often have a collective thought of works best for us here at Grace Bible Church on nonessential issues. Good leaders should take that into account. And people in the church should realize that they can’t always have it their way. You might want Communion every Sunday, begin service at 6am, install traditional pews, double the volume level of the mics, change the church name or haveall children in the service, but I can tell you that’s not majority consensus. I’m sure that there are things each of us would like to do differently at the church – myself included. You can never serve another cup of coffee as far as I am concerned. But for the sake of unity, we work together toward the greater good. We don’t take our ball and bat and go home. We act as team players.
And that leads us to the last guideline.
Number six – We need to be humble.
Philippians 2:3–4, “Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind regard one another as more important than yourselves; do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others.”
If all of us put the needs of others before our own, I can guarantee that our divisive issues would disappear. We have disunity because we have pride. We have disunity because we lack prayer (a sign of pride). What a church we would have if we really live out the humble Gospel commands like being poor in spirit and brokenness and descending to greatness.
1 Peter 3:8, “To sum up, all of you be harmonious, sympathetic, brotherly, kindhearted, and humble in spirit.” Later in 5:5 Peter said, “You younger men, likewise, be subject to your elders; and all of you, clothe yourselves with humility toward one another, for God is opposed to the proud, but gives grace to the humble.”
Jesus said, “By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another” (Jn. 13:35).
May we through our unity glorify the Triune God as we make the glorious Gospel visible to others both within and without the church. May our unity now be a foretaste of our unity to come “until we all attain to the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a mature man, to the measure of the stature which belongs to the fullness of Christ” (Eph. 4:13).