Ephesians 4:3-6 “Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit– just as you were called to one hope when you were called – one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.”
Each Friday morning a dozen of us meet at 7 a.m. in one of the Anglican church halls and we pray for God to revive his work, and that the gospel pulpits of the town might enjoy times of new refreshing from the presence of the Lord and thus the congregations be changed. At that meeting there are people from five different groups, the Salvation Army, the Welsh Congregationalist Church, Holy Trinity Anglicans, the Welsh Evangelical Church and ourselves. That prayer meeting has been held for many years. On Tuesday morning five of us ministers will drive for an hour across the mountain to Newtown where we will meet with another five or six men from different denominations. Ten of us from right across mid-Wales will spend the morning studying the first letter of John, sharing the news and needs of our congregations, and praying together. We do this each month.
However, this church is not a member of the Aberystwyth Council of Churches; it has no sympathy with the ecumenical movement as that is expressed in the World Council of Churches or the British Council of Churches. We don’t believe that pursuing the sort of unification into a hyper-denomination is defensible from the Bible, in other words, that it is not a form of religious cooperation that glorifies God or with which the Lord is pleased. In fact much of it opposes what the Lord Jesus and his apostles warned about. He told us to beware of false prophets, and false teachers coming into the church and denying the Lord who had bought his people. It is wrong for churches who believe and preach the Bible to be joined together with men who oppose what the Bible says. I don’t think it would be helpful for the Christian Union at the University to hold an occasional joint meeting with the Methodist Society or the Catholic Society. If ever that were done it would give out wrong signals and it would confuse, and I want to show you tonight from this passage of Scripture what is our true unity, and incidentally prove to your entire satisfaction that the decision of this congregation and the Welsh Evangelical Church not to be a part of the ecumenical movement is absolutely correct. Belonging to fellow gospel churches is the position that honours God, and any other approach would grieve the Holy Spirit of Jesus Christ.
You see from our text how important Christian oneness is to the apostle Paul, that in no less than seven places he repeats the number ‘one;’ “one body and one Spirit . . . one hope . . . one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all” (vv. 4&5). So for a congregation to say to another professing church, “We are not in fellowship with you; we are not united to you,” that action must be grounded in something very conclusive. Whatever is the reason?
1. CHRISTIAN UNITY IS GROUNDED IN CHRISTIAN TRUTH.
Let me remind you that the key to understanding this fourth chapter of the letter to the Ephesians is the little word ‘then’, or ‘therefore’ in the first verse. We often hear this phrase, “when you read the word ‘therefore’ in Scripture you must ask what it’s there for.” Of course this word ‘then’ points back to the first three chapters of this letter, and everything that follows those three chapters is a consequence of what Paul has already written. He has been telling the Ephesians the way that God through his Son Jesus Christ broke down the enormous barrier between Jew and Gentile, and how he has brought people from both races into one new body, which is the church.
As I have perhaps laboured to say to you, this is typical of the New Testament approach to daily living. Our new conduct as Christians follows from the truths we have come to believe. We believers have been given a certain illumination about Jesus Christ who he is, why he came into the world, that he died on the cross as the lamb of God to take away our sins. Through faith in him we have forgiveness and everlasting life, and then these moral exhortations follow to be living a life worthy of that. In the light of what Christ has done for all of you then you must keep the unity of the Spirit. Throughout these chapters Paul has been speaking about a certain constituency, the people of God. See how he describes them in chapter two, “Now in Christ Jesus you who once were far away have been brought near through the blood of Christ. For he himself is our peace, who has made the two one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility, by abolishing in his flesh the law with its commandments and regulations. His purpose was to create in himself one new man out of the two, thus making peace, and in this one body to reconcile both of them to God through the cross” (Ephs. 2:13-16). This is what God did for these people. The actions were all divine and the only response for these people was to cast themselves on Christ and his precious blood. They had been reconciled through him to God, and they were also reconciled to one another. The Christian Jew looked into the face of the Christian Roman and he said, “My brother!” These are the people Paul is addressing. He is not urging them, “Now you must produce a unity!” nor to create a unity, not to arrive at a unity, but to keep the unity that already exists in them all through the work God has done.
Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones speaks so helpfully about this. He says that such “unity is itself inevitable among all those who have been quickened by the Holy Spirit out of spiritual death, and given new life in Christ Jesus. What they have to be careful about is that they don’t allow anything to disrupt it or in any way to interfere with it. The emphasis is entirely upon the word ‘keep’. In order that this may be abundantly clear the apostle again reminds us that it is ‘the unity of the Spirit’. In other words, it is a unity which is produced by the Holy Spirit and by him alone. Man cannot produce this, try as he may. Because of the nature of this unity, because it is a spiritual unity, it can be brought into being only as a result of the operation of the Holy Spirit. The apostle rejoices in this staggering fact, that these people who were once Jews and Gentiles are now one in Christ Jesus. They not only share the same life, they are agreed about their doctrine. They believe the same things, they are trusting to the same person, and they know that he has saved them all in the same way. The middle wall of partition has gone. The Jews no longer pride themselves that they are Jews and that they had the law given to them, whereas the Gentiles were ignorant and were not in the unique position of being the people of God. All these differences have gone, and they are one in seeing their lost estate and condition, their utter hopelessness and helplessness. They are united in their common trust in the Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God, who has purchased them at the cost of his own precious blood. So they are ready to listen to this exhortation which urges them to maintain with great diligence, to preserve and to guard, the unity into which they have been brought by the operation of the Holy Spirit of God.” (D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, “The Basis of Christian Unity,” Banner of Truth, 2003, p.27).
Knowing and believing the truth is an essential foundation for unity. Believing these first three chapters leads to living the next three chapters. That is always the order. One day a Jehovah’s Witness comes knocking on your door, and he tells you that the Lord Jesus Christ is not God, and the Holy Spirit is not God, and that there is no hell to flee from. Can there be any meaningful unity in faith and evangelism and worship between the two of you? No. So we are not welcomed into their membership while we hold such views of the divine Christ. They worship in their Kingdom Halls because they reject the truths of historic Christianity. You and they are not one. Or if a Roman Catholic told you that at their masses Calvary was repeated and the priest offered the real presence of the body and blood of Christ at an altar; also that after death you would have to spend time in purgatory but that your years there could be shortened if masses were said for your soul, and that you should pray to Mary to intercede to God on your behalf, and so on, you would find it hard to reconcile those beliefs with the teaching of the Bible. They do not worship with you because they believe in those traditions. The do not believe that they are one with you. Or if a Baptist told you that we should not refer to Jesus Christ as ‘God’, and that he did not believe in the Old Testament miracles, nor the virgin birth, nor the literal return of Jesus Christ, nor in hell, then you wouldn’t be one with that Baptist at all would you? There could be no unity in Spirit with those who denied the truths which the Spirit of God had breathed out. But we are one with Anglicans and Salvationists and Pentecostals and charismatics who actually do believe the central truths that God has taken such pains to reveal. Christian unity is grounded in Christian truth. Disunity is caused by the denial of truth.
Paul is describing one wonderful result of the unity which the word and Spirit produces: “There is one body and one Spirit– just as you were called to one hope when you were called – one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all” (vv.4-6). This is quite an exalted view of Christian unity, isn’t it? There is something stirring, and almost poetic about that sentence. Paul is not talking about a unity of good vibrations, with a happy atmosphere and a pleasant time being had by all. The mighty Godhead is here – one Spirit, one Lord, and one God and Father who is in all of life – all three members of the Trinity are in this exalted unity. God has made it and God sustains it for ever, so there is oneness! That is beyond dispute. Here is a picture of a whole united company of Christians as a vibrant and active church. They are a force to reckon with in society because they are not at war with one another. Their energies than can be spent looking to heaven and looking to their neighbours. So that is the background in which these words are set, that Christian unity is grounded in Christian truth. Let us proceed to go through these different unities which we experience and enjoy – God’s gift to us.
2. CHRISTIAN UNITY MANIFESTS ITSELF IN ONE BODY.
When we bring people into membership one of the elders reminds us of the various metaphors for the church found in the Bible, the bride, the temple, the living stones, the mountain of the Lord, the vine, a kingdom, and a family. The best picture is of a body because you can see how a body has many parts and yet they all work together. They are all interdependent and supportive. All are necessary, even the most trivial. When an organ tuner was working on the church organ the pipes were laid out on the pews and tables. A little boy blew one of them and liked the sound; he asked if he could have it because it was so small and wouldn’t be missed from the organ. “No, every one is needed because every one is played,” said the organist. So it is with the body of Christ, everyone, who by the Spirit has been baptized into the body, is needed. Everyone has a part to play. The eye cannot say to the hand, ‘I don’t need you,’ and the head cannot say to the foot, ‘I don’t need you,'”
At the beginning the church was small, just two members, Adam and Eve, and later on it had grown to eight members, Noah and his family, and still later on the church became the line of Abraham. Then it began to grow, but the real body of believers in the Messiah during Old Testament times were always a remnant, but after Pentecost the body began to increase and it spread across Europe and Africa. Today the Christian body is all over the world. I saw a man reading a Christian book on a plane in America and began to talk to him. It was not long before we found we knew the same Christians. I had discovered someone else in the body; he happened to work for the FBI. The church is a body; it is not a computer, or a sea, or a herd; it is not a Lego construction. It is not the joining together of various parts. It is a body that has grown by the multiplication of cells. Dr Lloyd-Jones says, “It is not a question of fingers being stuck on hands, and hands to forearms, and so on. It is all one. All the parts come out of an original cell, as it were an original germ of life, and they are all extensions and manifestations of that. The unity in the church is like that, and whether we like it or not, we have to face that fact” (D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, op cit. p.29).
When we are born again we find ourselves belonging to this body. What odd members are in this body. As a 16 year old teenager I was once on a crowded bus which was going down the Rhymney Valley to Newport on a wet Saturday night. I was returning home to Hengoed from the cinema and when the bus pulled into a little community near Tiryberth three men got on board. They were soaking wet and all three of them wore tight black waistcoats over their raincoats on which they had painted verses from the Bible. They had been giving out tracts for a few hours on an old council estate and talking on the doors with people, and finally they were going home. But their evening wasn’t over; they found seats on the bus and started to talk to the men sitting next to them. People tried to ignore them, and boys laughed at one another about them, but these three men, I knew, were my brothers. We belonged to the same body. I had not chosen them; God had chosen them; Christ had died for them; the Spirit had regenerated them; providence was keeping them and one day we would all be in heaven together. These are my people; members of my body. I saw them for ten minutes fifty years ago and have never washed that memory out of my mind.
Do you look after your body? If you get persistent pain do you ignore it? If you find a lump do you just stick a plaster on it? Do you wash yourself and brush your teeth and cut your hair because it is your body? Do you think that the lump is merely on your little finger so you ignore it, or that the pain is simply on one of your toes and you try to forget about it? No, you don’t ignore it because it is part of your body. We look after and care for the body. God has made every Christian members of this one body. He hasn’t made one a long ranger; not a single one. We can’t resign from it and join another body. Another body doesn’t exist. The sinners in hell are not in a body; they don’t belong to one another. There is no love in hell; everyone is independent. They are not a body of unbelievers in hell. The body is only those joined to Christ, So leaving the body is not an option. There is only one body, and we will be in this body for ever. I wonder whether we have faced up to this, and how much does it affect our attitude to one another?
3. CHRISTIAN UNITY MANIFESTS ITSELF BY ONE SPIRIT.
“There is . . . one Spirit” (v.4). Every single Christian here today is indwelt by the same Spirit. Every single Christian in Aberystwyth has the same Spirit. Every Christian all over the world, millions and millions of them, has the identical same Spirit. Throughout history it has been like that, and it will be like this until the end of the world, and then through eternity. There is just one Holy Spirit who indwells every single Christian, and there are no exceptions or omissions at all. You cannot excuse your behaviour on the fact that you have a different Spirit. A congregation who behaves in some bizarre manner cannot say that it has its own special Spirit. No. There is one Spirit.
Today every Christian is as different from every other as one part of the body is different from another part – as different as a finger nail from a tongue. Every Christian has been baptized into the body in a different way. The Spirit of God came to the woman in Philippi possessed with that evil spirit of divination in a different way from how he opened Lydia’s heart, and in a different way again from how the Spirit convicted and changed the jailer. But it was the same Spirit who was responsible for all three entering the body of Christ.
How did the Spirit change the Christians here? Everyone would have a different story to tell. It was the same Spirit at work, but while some can give the date on which they knew he was in their hearts there are others who cannot even tell the year. If I should ask you how you came to see your responsibility to make a break with the world and identify with the church through baptism then each one would describe it differently, but the same Spirit would have been at work in each one. If I asked you what changes God worked in your character, your marriage, in your attitude toward work, and Saturdays, and money, and Sundays you would have slightly different angles but all of you would reflect the work of the Spirit in accordance with the Bible. None of you would say that since the Holy Spirit had entered your life you had become more lazy, and more of a spendthrift, more unhappy, and that you had started to read girlie magazines and now had become crazy about sport and politics since becoming a Christian, and so on. No, there is not a Christian who would speak like that because the one Spirit of God was in each of you. And if I asked you how was your relationship with Christ then every one of you would say that Jesus was your God and that you loved and worshipped him because the one Spirit is the Spirit of Christ. Or if I asked any one of you if you were now sinless then you would raise your eyebrows and protest, “You cannot be serious.” You are discovering new depths of sin in your heart year after year, and every Christian would say this because it is the Spirit of holiness who is in you. No two people are the same, and no two people’s testimonies are the same, but all true Christians are the same in their beliefs and how they live because the one Spirit of God is in each one of us. The same fruit of the Spirit will be found in every Christian – love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faithfulness, meekness and self-control. One fruit, and all produced by the Spirit in every single Christian. We have all come from different places, but because the one and the same Spirit has been at work in us we have all arrived here today on our pilgrimage.
4. CHRISTIAN UNITY MANIFESTS ITSELF BY ONE HOPE.
“you were called to one hope when you were called” (v.4). When God summoned us it was to a life of hope. That hope-creating call of God must be important because it is mentioned twice within eight words. Everyone God calls into fellowship with his Son is given new expectations which God sustains and meets. It has been a week of senseless violence in Britain; a young father in Chiswick stabbed to death in his own home by a burglar who is still at large; a man was kicked to death for protesting at some men who were vandalising cars. Such evil men lack any hope. They have been rightly described this past week in these words: “They are angry, resentful, embittered and incapable of self-examination. They sense they have been sold a bill of goods. By means of advertisements, television and popular entertainment, they are tantalized by a life of abundance, but it dawns upon them that they will never attain it. But they also believe that everything desirable is a right, and a world in which one’s rights are never granted is an unbearable world, a world against which one wished to wreak revenge” (Theodore Dalrymple, “Living for Kicks; the Ugly Face of Britain,” The Times, 22 October, 2004).
Men of dashed hopes; or as the Bible describes them, men without hope and without God in the world. What hope the Christian has. As he faces the future he knows that Jesus Christ will never leave him, and that God will work all things together for his good. He comes to the throne of God with boldness for his advocate there is the Saviour who died to take away all his guilt. His eternity is in the presence of God serving him in a new heavens and earth. That is his hope and it has a glorious impact upon his life. Firstly, it mitigates suffering. Whatever his pain might be how can it compare to the glory that shall be revealed to him? His afflictions are light because they are all temporary afflictions. So the early Christians in the arena looked at the gladiators with their raised swords coming towards them, or the trapdoors opening and the hungry lions pouring forth. “Be of good cheer,” they encouraged one another, “soon we’ll be with Jesus. We’ll see his face for ourselves. His name will be on our foreheads. God will wipe away all our tears. Be brave. Look forward with hope.” Can’t you see again how orthodoxy and orthopraxis hang together? In other words, your ability to hang in there when the going gets tough is directly proportionate to your understanding of Christian doctrine and theology. By the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead we have been born again to a living hope.
Secondly, hope encourages expectation. The child waits for the party. The wife waits for her husband to return home from his month on the oil rig. There is eager expectation these days in a home in Nevada in the USA where my niece lives because the five children, her husband and herself are all waiting for the arrival of her parents at the end of next week for a month’s visit. We too are also waiting for the coming of the Saviour, our Lord Christ. At his promised coming his glory will be shown and every eye will behold him. This groaning creation will be regenerated and we shall be changed in a moment and in the twinkling of an eye. We know what the future has in store for us. So hope mitigates suffering and encourages expectation.
Thirdly, hope results in preparation. A special preacher is coming and will be staying at the Manse and so there are activities going on in the light of the immanent arrival of this honoured guest. The magazines and books are tidied; the cobwebs are removed; the carpets are vacuumed; a special shoulder of Welsh lamb is ordered at the butcher’s. Special cutlery is taken out of their box. Everything is sorted out for the arrival of this much loved man. So the apostle John tells us of God coming again, and when we see him we shall be like him for we shall see him as he is. Everyone who has such a hope purifies himself as God is pure, John says. Our behaviour is cleaned up. Impurities are removed; our thought life, our intentions and ambitions are purified. Soon we will be living for ever in a place of utter purity, and so we make preparation for that right now. We know that today we are not living like the citizens of heaven live; we are living too much like worldlings, yet we are going on a wonderful journey; have you made your preparation; is everything ready?
Every Christian has been called to this one identical hope and it is powerful in mitigating our sufferings – they are not worth comparing with the glories to be revealed in us. This hope encourages expectation – we are a Sabbath day nearer the eternal rest of the people of God. This hope results in preparation. We have been called to such a hope.
5. CHRISTIAN UNITY MANIFESTS ITSELF IN ONE LORD.
The basic definition of a Christian is someone who believes in his heart and confesses with his lips that Jesus Christ is Lord. In the Acts of the Apostles from the very origin of the Christian church Jesus of Nazareth was referred to as ‘the Lord’ and ‘the Lord Jesus.’ This was not a title men began to give to him fifty years later. You can see in the earliest New Testament writings, for example, the letter of James which is one of the first Christian writings, and an epistle deeply rooted in the Aramaic-speaking Jewish community which was led by James, the brother of Jesus In the opening words of his epistle he refers to Jesus as ‘Lord,’ and he exhorts them in the opening words of that letter’s second chapter, “My brothers, as believers in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ, don’t show favouritism.” James had shared his life with Jesus in Nazareth for almost thirty years in the most intimate ways, and yet he calls Jesus Lord. What does this title mean?
Firstly, it means ownership. Christ has absolute dominion over us without restraints. We are to forsake all and follow him, even though it means leaving the dead unburied, forsaking houses and lands, abandoning father and mothers, brothers and sisters, and at last, taking up our crosses and laying down our lives. His demands take precedence over all other commitments. He addresses us in terms of categorical imperatives. We are intent on giving him total obedience – this Lord who became the servant and humbled himself even to the death of the cross. He is our Master. So ‘Lord’ means ownership.
Secondly, it means teaching. The title ‘Lord’ and the title ‘Rabbi’ are used interchangeably in the gospels. The teacher is a figure with authority telling us how we should live, what is right and what is wrong, and Jesus Christ is the supreme teacher. For us he can say nothing wrong. In Galilee and Jerusalem he repudiated, innovated, clarified and stipulated in his own name speaking by his own authority – “but I say unto you.” What he did before his death he continued after his resurrection still communicating his words to his apostles. “I deliver to you what I also received from the Lord,” Paul says. The risen Christ is the author of the gospel, but he is also its content. He is both subject and object. So Lord means teacher.
Thirdly, it means authority. Jesus is the cosmic Lord. All authority in heaven and on earth is his. He possesses authority over all flesh. He is seated at the right hand of the majesty; he is in the midst of the throne. He is the head of the church and head over all things to the church. He has supremacy over all spiritual powers; he has disarmed the principalities and powers. He has bound Satan. As Lord he is King of his own kingdom. The resurrection is his investiture at which he is appointed Son of God ‘with power.’ He is seated in the very midst of the throne. He is at the heart of God’s providence; he is the one who is continually working all things together for our good. If we have seen Christ then we have seen the Sovereign of the Universe; the sovereignty of God is incarnate in Jesus. God’s love as we see it in him is not fragile, vulnerable and indecisive. It is in a position of dominance. It is the love of the Lord. He moves heaven and earth for man’s salvation. Every demon is at the end of his chain. So the Lordship of Christ involves his ownership, teaching and authority
Fourthly, it involves deity. The pagans called their gods ‘lord.’ Rome called its Caesars ‘lord.’ The Jews called their God ‘Lord’, that is ‘Jehovah.’ “When we say that Jesus Christ is Lord we are saying exactly that Jesus Christ is Jehovah. That may startle us by its very novelty, but it is the truth, and there is nothing more remarkable in the whole history of human psychology that monotheistic Jews of the first century, men like Paul and James, should ascribe to a human being the title ‘Lord’ and go on to apply to him Old Testament verses which in their original context referred to Jehovah, the God of Israel. Let us never forget this simple fact, that when we say ‘Jesus Christ is Lord,’ we are saying, ‘Jesus Christ is Jehovah.’ When we sing, ‘The Lord’s my shepherd,’ we are singing, ‘Jehovah-Jesus is my shepherd.'” (Donald Macleod, “A Faith to Live By”, Mentor, Fearn, 1998, p.112). What glory the tile ‘Lord’ gives to Jesus of Nazareth, but what enrichment to the title ‘Lord’ has Jesus brought to it. Jehovah Jesus took our nature, shared our experience, bore our sins, ever lives to pray for us. No one else ever has or ever will. There is only one Lord.
6. CHRISTIAN UNITY IS MANIFESTED IN ONE FAITH.
There is the faith that God has given to us through prophets and apostles and centring upon his Son Jesus Christ. This faith is what we are to believe concerning who God is and what he’s said and done to save us from our sins. The Christian faith! The Christian creed, that is, true religion. That may not yet be your own personal view of God. We all need to continually correct our views of God and of ourselves and the world around us in the light of what God has told us in the Bible. The Bible calls this ‘the faith’ because our only response to what God has made known to us is to believe it. The Christian faith is right thinking in relationship to God, right feeling in relationship to God, right living in relationship to God. The faith affects our minds, because that’s what we think with. It affects our emotions because that’s what we feel with. It must reach our wills because that’s what determines our actions. I am saying again and again to you that Christian experience is going to be affected by how we are gripped by the Christian faith; that is why these chapters on conduct in Ephesians 4, 5 and 6 follow the first three chapters of this letter.
There are these doctrines or truths that tell us what God is like, that he is Father, Son and Holy Spirit. His Son, Jesus Christ, is both God and man, two natures in one person. We are all sinners and deserve eternal death, but Jesus Christ because he loved us died for us. All who put their trust in Christ are declared righteous and freely justified by God, they are given everlasting life. These are the truths of the faith, and they shape our lives and the life of a congregation. Contend for that faith! Truth is to the Christian what bones are to his body. They structure his whole being and hold his flesh together. I’d hate to have only flesh and no bones. I’d be a blob. And so churches which have no conviction about truth are warm’n’fuzzy gatherings. “What’s wrong with that?” someone asks. This, I tell you, that Golgotha wasn’t warm’n’fuzzy, and the gospel explains why it had to be Jesus’ cross of shame. Our sins had to be atoned for by God the Son. For us he had to taste death itself. It is the Christian faith that gives structure and understanding to the believer and to the church. So a Christian says, “I believe,” and if you ask him what he believes then he can tell you, “I believe in God the Father Almighty maker of heaven and earth, and in Jesus Christ his only Son our Lord . . .” And so on, through the Apostles’ Creed.
That is a simple summary of the faith, but over the centuries errors have emerged and attacked the faith so that longer and better definitions of the faith have emerged which declare what the faith of the Bible is. There is the great statement of Chalcedon for the fourth century of church history which declares the divine nature of Christ, and so on throughout its history. There is the sixteenth century magisterial 39 Articles of the Anglican Church – that sets for the Christian faith. There is the Heidelberg Catechism of the same century which our Dutch friends know. In the next century there was the Westminster Confession of Faith and the 1689 Confession which is the faith we teach and believe in this church. If you walk down the main street of Abersytwyth you will see at the end of a chemist’s shop almost opposite the HSBC Bank a little plaque high on the wall which commemorates the writing and acceptance of the 1823 Confession of Faith by the Presbyterians on that spot 180 years ago. That Confession has just been reprinted and it also gives testimony to the one faith. So here are Anglicans and Baptists and Presbyterians and Dutch Reformed and they all hold to the one faith – with some minor differences, of course.
Why do we emphasise the importance of contending for the faith? There was an occasion when the Lord Jesus said to his disciples, “You shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free” (Jn. 8:32). People are in bondage today to all kinds of superstitions; they try to communicate with the dead; attend psychic readings; they read their horoscopes before they act; they put their faith in crystals and aromas; they dabble in New Age fantasies – next week there is a march through Machynlleth in which the children of that town take part, and it is heavily influenced by New Age ideas. What does the Bible say? Have they asked? What is the faith that God has given to us? There is unity in believing that faith and great safety.
7. CHRISTIAN UNITY IS MANIFESTED IN ONE BAPTISM.
When John the Baptist announced the coming of the Messiah he told the crowds that whereas he baptized with water Christ would baptize with the Holy Spirit, and on the day of Pentecost that happened. The exalted Jesus Christ poured out his Spirit on the whole church so that there wasn’t a single Christian in the whole world who didn’t have the Spirit of God. Paul tells the church in Rome that if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ they certainly don’t belong to Christ (Roms 8:9). Paul can say to the entire congregation in Corinth, “we were all baptized by one Spirit into one body – whether Jews or Greeks, slave or free – and we were all given the one Spirit to drink” (I Cor. 12:13). There were no exceptions in the congregation at all, the slaves equally baptized by one Spirit into one body as were the free men and women.
By his use of the ‘baptism’ Paul is writing about a wonderful beginning, the birth from above, the quickening work of the Spirit, men and women being made a new creation, the old heart being removed and a new heart being given, the great metamorphosis by which God deals with the problem of our own ignorance and hostility to his Son. God changes our very natures by a heavenly baptism and so we become one with his people. At conversion we are not baptized into a wilderness but into the body of Christ. That is the only way a man can truly join the church, by this heavenly baptism of the Spirit. Every Christian must have this baptism of the Spirit or he cannot become a Christian. It is essential, this one baptism, and the sign and confirmation of it is seen in water baptism. You see the pattern on the day of Pentecost. Three thousand were baptized in the Spirit, that is, all those men were converted, and immediately they were all baptized in water – it was an outward and visible sign of an inward and spiritual initiation into grace. The Lord’s Supper is something that takes place over and over again throughout our Christian lives, but baptism is once and for all. One baptism in water showing one baptism in the Spirit into the body of Christ. That is the ground of our unity in Christ.
8. CHRISTIAN UNITY IS MANIFEST IN ONE GOD AND FATHER OF ALL.
One God, says Paul, and who is he? What a variety of beliefs exist about God. There are people who think of God (and you can tell they imagine this by the attitude of their lives) as a kind of benevolent grandfather in a rocking-chair somewhere far away in heaven, a nice old man with bonnie white hair and maybe a beard, a twinkle in his eyes, giving the little ones a pat on the head, and turning a blind eye to anything that’s not quite right. There are many people who think of God in that kind of way. It gives them a nice, cozy feeling. Is he the one God of whom the Bible speaks?
What kind of God do you believe in? For many people their home is their god, their job is their god, their children are their god. If you dig deep enough, and especially if they get a little bit annoyed, you’ll find many a time that fundamentally their attitude is, ‘I am my own God.’ That’s exactly why those people have made utter shipwreck of life and of society. There is only one God and he is the one Paul presented to the Athenians as recorded in Acts 17 telling them, ‘The unknown God whom you will not acknowledge, whose glory shines in creation and who speaks to you in your consciences, him declare I unto you.’ In that great chapter in the book of Acts, Paul speaks of God as the God of creation, greater than all he has made, giving to all life and breath and all things. You see, men and women, we can never be self-sufficient; we can never be independent. We can never be master of our own souls. We are all dependent beings, and always the word comes to us from this God who stands over against us, and he searches us, ‘The God in whose hand is your breath and all your ways, you have failed to honour and glorify him.’
The God of creation, the God of history, the God who is the source of all the nations and the governor of the destiny of mankind, is upholding all things by the word of his power. He has sustained and kept you all through your whole lives until now. He is not a God who set the worlds in their place and then left them, but a God who is here ordering, moving, reigning and working his will through all the generations of men one after the other. Why does this mighty God take such an interest in the things of this tiny little planet of ours? We fine an answer in Acts 17. It is that men might seek after him, and find him. That is why this God brought you here tonight. Have you found God? He is not far away, for he’s come right down, right into your experience in a gospel church where two or three gather together in Jesus’ name. He comes to your world and my world in his Son Jesus Christ. He tell us all he has done for us. This is the wonder of God! Jesus has lived and died and risen again for the salvation of men. All that God is in saving mercy, is seen in Jesus. All his love and his power are seen in the cross of Jesus Christ. Golgotha is the final and the absolute indictment of human sin. It is the ultimate proof that you are a sinner and I am a sinner. There is the assessment of what human sin is, and there in the Cross is the declaration of the judgment of God upon sin. None of us will ever plumb the depths of that judgment. For all our time on earth and in eternity we shall ponder the mystery of the word from the Cross, “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me.” That is the judgment of God upon us. There at the cross God was in Christ reconciling the world to himself. Do you believe in a God like that? There’s no other one. There is one God and Father.
9. WE MUST KEEP THE UNITY THAT GOD HAS MADE.
“Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace” (v.3). Here is the indestructible unity that God has made, and we have to make sure that we maintain it. This is like the Christian understanding of marriage; this man and woman who have made their vows are no longer two people but one, and they can’t terminate that oneness when she goes out with her friends or when he goes off to Ireland to watch a rugby match. He is still one with her and she is one with him. In everything they do they do as a united husband and wife. They must remember this always, and strive to keep that unity. So this Church unity created by the Spirit joining every Christian to confess one hope, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of us all we must make every effort to keep through living at peace with one another. We are called to continuous and diligent activity to keep Christians living at peace with one another. Make every effort to do this; get your whole being involved, your will, sentiment, reason, energy and total attitude. Take every initiative to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. There is no place for some in-group in the gospel church; there is no place for rivalries, for stirring up discontent, for looking for people on whom you can pour out your bitterness and disgruntledness. The Spirit has baptized us into one body; he has given to us one faith in one Lord by whom we have been reconciled to one God. Let us strive to keep that unity now, which soon will be perfectly maintained in heaven for ever.
I began by speaking of the drive for a super-denomination, the one great organisation in which every church is a member. Do you see how much more challenging are these verses? You see an ecclesiastical group like the international Anglican church and it is constantly at loggerheads, looking for some formula which can hold together all kinds of philosophies and ideas. Every Christian is called to be in the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. We are bound together by the trinity. In fact, part of the very meaning of being a Christian is that the one God and Father of all, and the one Lord and the one Spirit have taken up their residence in each of us. We have the life of God in our souls. This is surely something of enormous weight. The triune God does not just command us to be one giving his own unity as the model for our unity. He actually makes us one by dwelling in each of us. How can a Christian disdain another human being in whom his very own God and Saviour lives? How can he denigrate him? How can he ignore him?
What a challenge to our unity with other Christians these verses give. It is something more than mere sharing. Paul is describing here a depth of involvement with one another and such a depth of affection and sympathy. If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honoured every part rejoices with it. Similarly, if one Christian is neglecting his proper function, all are weakened, because the church is a body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament. It can only grow when every part does its work. Paul is not describing here a simple bond between Christians. In these verses is a very close bond uniting every single Christian. We are one flesh, deeply involved in one another, and that must show itself in our collective life-style.
24th October 2004 GEOFF THOMAS