Sermon Notes

Ephesians 4:4-6 January 9, 2000
Unity in the Triune God

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In his best selling book, In the Grip of Grace, Max Lucado compares the Church to a ship, the Fellow-ship.

"God has enlisted us in his navy and placed us on his ship. The boat has one purpose--to carry us safely to the other shore. This is no cruise ship; it's a battleship. We aren't called to a life of leisure; we are called to a life of service. Each of us has a different task. Some, concerned with those who are drowning, are snatching people from the water. Others are occupied with the enemy, so they man the cannons of prayer and worship. Still others devote themselves to the crew, feeding and training the crew members.

"Though different, we are the same. Each can tell of a personal encounter with the captain, for each has received a personal call. He found us among the shanties of the seaport and invited us to follow Him. Our faith was born at the sight of His fondness, and so we went.

"We each followed Him across the gangplank of His grace onto the same boat. There is one captain and one destination. Though the battle is fierce, the boat is safe, for our captain is God. The ship will not sink. For that, there is no concern.

"There is concern, however, regarding the disharmony of the crew. When we first boarded we assumed the crew was made up of others like us. But as we've wandered these decks, we've encountered curious converts with curious appearances. Some wear uniforms we've never seen, sporting styles we've never witnessed. 'Why do you look the way you do?' we ask them. 'Funny,' they reply. 'We were about the ask the same of you.'

"The variety of dress is not nearly as disturbing as the plethora of opinions. There is a group, for example, who clusters every morning for serious study. They promote rigid discipline and somber expressions. 'Serving the captain is serious business,' they explain. It's no coincidence that they tend to congregate around the stern.

"There is another regiment deeply devoted to prayer. Not only do they believe in prayer, they believe in prayer by kneeling. For that reason you always know where to locate them; they are at the bow of the ship.

"And then there are a few who staunchly believe real wine should be used in the Lord's Supper. You'll find them on the port side.

"Still another group has positioned themselves near the engine. They spend hours examining the nuts and bolts of the boat. They've been known to go below deck and not come up for days. They are occasionally criticized by those who linger on the top deck, feeling the wind in their hair and the sun on their face. 'It's not what you learn,' those topside argue. 'It's what you feel that matters.'

"And, oh, how we tend to cluster.

"Some think once you're on the boat, you can't get off. Others say you'd be foolish to go overboard, but the choice is yours.

"Some believe you volunteer for service; others believe you were destined for the service before the ship was even built.

"Some predict a storm of great tribulation will strike before we dock; others say it won't hit until we are safely ashore.

"There are those who speak to the captain in a personal language. There are those who think such languages are extinct.

"There are those who think the officers should wear robes, there are those who think there should be no officers at all, and there are those who think we are all officers and should all wear robes.

"And, oh, how we tend to cluster.

"And then there is the issue of the weekly meeting at which the captain is thanked and his words are read. All agree on its importance, but few agree on its nature. Some want it loud, others quiet. Some want ritual, others spontaneity. Some want to celebrate so they can meditate; others meditate so they can celebrate. Some want a meeting for those who've gone overboard. Others want to reach those overboard but without going overboard and neglecting those on board.

"And, oh, how we tend to cluster.

"The consequence is a rocky boat. There is trouble on deck. Fights have broken out. Sailors have refused to speak to each other. There have even been times when one group refused to acknowledge the presence of others on the ship. Most tragically, some adrift at sea have chosen not to board the boat because of the quarreling of the sailors.

"'What do we do?' we'd like to ask the captain. 'How can there be harmony on the ship?'" (pp. 160-162)

The problem of division, of disunity in the body of Christ is nothing new. But it is a problem which we must face square on. It is a problem which Paul confronts in his letter to the church in Ephesus and which we will examine this morning. In this brief letter Paul lays out the theological basis for unity as he describes the work of the triune God in the lives of His people. But God’s work is among a diverse people. The difficulty with the church is that those whom God has called to be His are made up of people from so many backgrounds that division seems likely. For that reason, Paul instructs his readers to better understand the unity they have in Christ and how that unity is to be lived out in our daily experience.

Last week we began the second half of this letter in which Paul moves from the theological basis to the daily implementation of this life. In the first three verses of chapter 4 Paul reminds us that our walk must match our talk, that in light of God’s grace to us, we must be humble, gentle, patient, bearing with one another in love and making every effort to keep the unity God has established through the bond of peace. In order to reinforce that truth, Paul returns to the basis of our unity.

The concord we possess is not created by us, but established by our one God. Paul returns to the theological basis as he uses the Trinity as the form for what our unity is all about. The three persons but one God serves as the foundation for our unity.

1. As a prisoner for the Lord, then, I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received.

2. Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love.

3. Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace.
4. There is one body and one Spirit-- just as you were called to one hope when you were called--

5. one Lord, one faith, one baptism;

6. one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.

Seven times Paul uses the word "one" to emphasize the unity we have. But rather than a diverse list of unrelated topics, Paul interweaves the three Persons of the Godhead in the list. Having just mentioned the unity of the Spirit, Paul begins with the Spirit, moves to the Lord, a term used of Christ and concludes with God the Father. With staccato style and with scarcity of verbs, Paul drives home the foundation of our essential unity. This passage stands as a mocking indictment to the Church in our age.

We are united through the Holy Spirit

One body

Paul begins with the focus of his letter, contrary to popular opinion and the empirical evidence – the church is one, the body of Christ is unified, it cannot be divided. There is one body.

In Ephesians 1:22-23 Paul laid out our organic unity when he said that the Father placed the Son to be "head over everything for the church, which is his body." It is in this body, Paul points out in 2:16, that God reconciles diverse people to Himself through Christ’s work on the Cross. In Romans 12:5 Paul makes a similar statement that in the midst of our diversity, there is a commonality; though different, we belong to one another. Paul is not commanding us in Ephesians 4:4 to be one. This is not an exhortation, but a declaration.

By using the body metaphor, Paul is not declaring a monotony in the church. The very nature of a body means diversity of parts. Conformity in every aspect is not the goal. Cookie-cutter Christians should never be our aim. But seeing the essential coherence we have to one another is absolutely necessary. Singleness of body is not a command to some contrived external organization, not merely a political cohesion, but a well coordinated organism which works in harmony with the other parts.

It is based on this understanding that while the church may appear divided throughout the world, while it is true the church through the ages will speak different languages, worship with different music, serve in different ways – the Church is essentially one.

This is what we confessed earlier in the words of the Nicene Creed. Those words which I know stick in some of your mouths: "We believe in one catholic and apostolic church."

This is not to say we believe we are a part of Rome, that they alone embody the pure Church any more than the Presbyterian Church in America does. Rather, to be catholic, with a lower case "c" means to be universal. Our creed expresses what Paul says here, that there is an invisible Church. The one body is not the outward organization; it is not that your names are recorded in our sessional records books which means you are a part of the body of Christ. Rather, if we are elect of the Father, redeemed by the Son, sealed by the Spirit, we are united together in a Church which has no walls, which is not limited by time or space. Christ is our head and we are a part of the body.

One Holy Spirit

How is it we are all a part of this one body? It is because we are bonded together by one common Spirit.

As there is one body, so there is one Spirit, which is the life of that body and dwells in all its members. Whether one is Pentecostal or Presbyterian, the common Holy Spirit binds us together. Whether Christians are certain that they’ve got to get more Holy Ghost in their life or they possess all they will ever need, what God has done is to cause dissimilar sorts that are to be united together by God’s grace.

This is not about what we manufacture, but about what God has done. Despite our conflicting expressions of spiritual life, expressions that at times may be neither right nor wrong, but culturally conditioned, and at other times may go well beyond what God has commanded, we are united not by the perfection of our theological system; we are united ultimately by God.

I think this truth is tough to swallow for hardcore theological types like us Presbyterians. Our presupposition that our salvation is by God’s grace alone, that our position in Christ is only by a Sovereign God’s choice and not our good works (which include good works of proper and correct theology) means, that while we absolutely must adhere to that which is true, we can never imagine that God’s love or grace rests upon us because of our truth, but God’s sovereign grace alone.

As much as it may annoy us, God does, quite often, pour out His saving grace on loons. In order to dispel any sense of pride for theological accuracy, God saves people such as those who are sitting in this sanctuary. How does God do it? He not only sent His Son to die for hard boiled sinners such as we, but He then sent His Spirit to indwell us in order to make us one.

One Hope

What does this common body joined together by the Holy Spirit mean? It means we have a common goal, a unified hope. Our attention is fixed on something outside of who I am, what my needs are, but is fastened to God’s great plan of giving glory to His name. Though divided through space and time, though approaching God through differing polity and in expressions of theology, what joins us together is the anticipation of a glorious inheritance reserved for us in heaven. We have one hope before us.

Unfortunately, for many people the word hope is synonymous with lukewarm optimism. For others, hope is non-existent only because they can not get their gaze off themselves and this present world. But for Paul hope was a blazing certainty that keeps us from becoming preoccupied with the stuff which constantly harps at us, calling our attention away from the reality which awaits us, a reality of heaven. This week, how often have you contemplated heaven? When has the thought of eternal life put a smile on your face? More often than not we look at the future with dread uncertainty, for all we can see is the pain of death without the hope of heaven.

Too often this one hope is shattered by the particulars. While this one hope of heaven is meant to unite, while the glory which awaits should thrill us one and all, our attention is often diverted to that which divides. People will spend an inordinate amount of time splitting the hairs of eschatology trying to figure out what Christ’s return will look like rather than what that return means for all eternity. But no matter what eschatological plan we profess, this one hope we must have in common.

As we grapple with this one hope and set about serving God in our world, we must never allow ourselves to be splintered into various factions, each vying for attention. As we will see in the coming weeks, while there is diversity in our unity, while there is variety in God’s gifts, we must always see ourselves working toward a common goal. Your focus may be working with homeless; attention may be in pro-life; politics may be your arena or it could be evangelism – we are always to be moving toward a common goal. Do we even know what that goal is, though?

We are united through the Lord Jesus Christ

One Lord

The Trinitarian formula moves to the second person of the Godhead. The title "Lord" in the New Testament is reserved for God the Son. That title points to His authority to rule over us as His subjects. This authority is determined not only by His rights as the one through whom God the Father created this world, but through whom our redemption is secured. The focus with this term as well as with all the others constantly directs our attention away from ourselves, our experiences, our predilections and forces us to realize that it is God who is makes us His own.

We all have our special formulas by which we believe God will deal with people. That which I’ve experienced quickly becomes normative for all around me. I become the judge of what is acceptable or not. Any quick reading of the gospels will show us that the way in which Christ dealt with people varied: the questions He asked, how He interacted with them, even the way in which He healed them.

You find yourself at the Jerusalem Hilton 20 years after Jesus ascended. There is a reunion of those who heard Jesus preach, who saw Him do miracles, who were healed by His touch. In one corner is the man, who, years before, shared his lunch of bread and fish. The well dressed man by the punchbowl happens to be the Gerasene demoniac who spent years living naked in the tombs. The one who is footing the bill for this gala is none other than Zaccheus, whose generosity is well known through the region. While everyone is having a wonderful time, you hear at the far end of the room some voices raised. Tension fills the air. You make your way through the crowd to see two men in heated discussion. The one, you’ve read about in Mark 8, is from Bethsaida. Years ago he was a blind man whose friends dragged off against his better judgment to see this new teacher, Jesus. His friends implored the rabbi to heal him. The next thing he hears is Jesus making a guttural sound and feeling warm liquid against his useless eyes. Jesus spat on his eyes, placed His hands on him, and asked him the question: "Do you see anything?" For the first time in his life he can finally make out objects, but what he sees is rather odd. The people whose voices he heard look like trees walking around. Jesus once again places his hands on his eyes, this time without the added spittle. The second time worked like a charm; he could see at last.

All the while he was telling his story, the other fellow just shook his head in disbelief, muttering... "That’s not the way it is at all!" He was Bartimaeus from Jericho, Old Blind Bart they used to call him. He would spend his days sitting along side the road with his hand outstretched waiting for a little silver to grace his palm. One day, he heard that Jesus was coming, so he started to call out at the top of his lungs. But nobody helped him, nobody took him to Jesus. Not only that, when Jesus heard him call, He came to him and asked him politely what he wanted done. When Bart replied, "I want to see" – poof, he saw. No friends, no gross spit, not two-stage healing. He was healed and that is all.

You can imagine the division that would occur. They each dig in their heels; the crowd begins to debate and divide. "Jesus heals with spit," the one man shouts. "If you didn’t get healed like that, I have to doubt whether you can really see!" With that there originated two groups in the early Church, the denomination of the Spitites and the Non-Spitites. Some insisted that those Jesus healed had to be dragged, others came on their own, others fought over multiple stages of healing, a second blessing and others demanded that true healing is completed in an instance.

As silly as that may sound, how often have we looked askew at those whose Christian experience is far too cerebral than ours, or far too emotional? How often have we questioned whether a person whose views may differ, may not line up perfectly with ours – and we wonder, "Do they really see or are they still blind?" This brings us to the next term used: one faith

One Faith

This term may refer to the subjective faith with which it is necessary for one to approach God. Paul may be saying nothing more than sola fide, that faith alone is the means by which we approach God. While that is possible, in this list the context seems to focus more on the objective nature of faith. One faith is the common creed which we all must profess.

Up to this point one could conclude that if there is one body, one Spirit, one hope, one Lord, then what ever we believe doesn’t matter. That truth is shelved and we can smile that we are one despite what we believe to be true. But Jude 3 reminds us that there is one faith once for all entrusted to the saints. We do not have the option of thinking the unity we possess is achieved by setting aside truth. John Stott wrote, "Since Christian love is founded on Christian truth, we shall not increase the love which exists between us by diminishing the truth which we hold in common. We must never compromise the very truth on which alone true love and unity depend" (p. 206, Commentary on the Epistles of John).

It is for this reason we confess together our sins in worship, that we recite the Apostles’ or Nicene Creed. This is the reason we catechize our children and study theology. What we believe, what we think, matters. It is at this level that our unity is most clearly celebrated.

The true Church is not a creedless community, not an accumulation of religious miscellanea. The Church rests on what God has done for us in Christ. It is not the subjective experience, not what we conjecture that occurred. What this passage reinforces in our minds is that Christ must occupy the central place, and with Him we are all bound together. We gather not on the basis of our shared experience, an experience which could be produced by the Lord or LSD, by either the Holy Spirit or a host of unholy spirits. Rather our unity is in the articles of Christian unity which are trans-denominational, in those things which Christians through the ages have held to be true, which we call orthodoxy.

This unity of faith is not perfect. That, as the apostle tells us in verse 13, is the goal towards which the Church contends. Perfect unity in faith implies perfect knowledge and perfect holiness. It is only as to fundamental doctrines, those necessary to piety and therefore necessary to salvation, that this unity can be affirmed of the whole Church as it now exists on earth. Within these limits all the true people of God are united. They all receive the Scriptures as the Word of God, and acknowledge themselves subject to their teachings. They all recognize and worship the Lord Jesus as the Son of God. They all trust to His blood for redemption and to His Spirit for sanctification.

One Baptism

To move from a unity of faith, from creedal agreement to agreement on this issue seems almost ludicrous to us today. But the focus here is not on the mode or the age of the recipients, not even the sign of water baptism, but what water baptism and this word points to is that what is signified is what is important. The oneness here is the inclusive nature of baptism.

In Romans 6 Paul describes the inclusion into Christ when he says that we were all baptized into Christ when we were baptized into His death. This same idea is expressed in Galatians 3:27-28. The issue here is not the age (child of the covenant or professing believer) nor the mode (either a few drops or a pool of water) but what is celebrated in any Christian baptism. Just as the water cleanses and the triune name of God is pronounced, that person is to be treated as a part of the body of Christ. Baptism points to the singular nature of our salvation, that God, by His grace, takes us from whatever allegiances we had before and places us in Christ; we belong to Him alone.

We are united through God the Father

We come now to the head of our unity. The basis of our unity is found in the God we worship. Three persons, but one God, unity and diversity without the destruction of either, is how we are joined together. Paul’s reasoning here makes an outrageous claim in his day as in our own.

To write this in the pluralistic culture of the Greco-Roman Empire would appear intolerant. Though an individual may worship only one God, all were forced to acknowledge other deities. Yet Paul brings us back to the uniqueness of the Christian faith, rephrasing the great Jewish prayer, the Shema: "Hear O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one." This daily affirmation is to be a part of our life as well. The oneness of God means we too must be one. We can not with self-centeredness and pride deny God’s grace to those with whom we disagree. While we strive for unity in our profession of faith through diligent study and humble conversations, we must always be mindful of our essential unity which God created.

God’s universality demands it. God is not merely over us; He is not just transcendent, but His imminent pervasiveness causes us to cease our divisive struggles for personal dominance. I can not claim any greater measure of God’s fatherly love for me, even if I am more correct than my errant brother. God is Father of all who are His. Those for whom Christ died are all equally sons and daughters of the Father; all our bound together by the Spirit. Not one of us here in these four walls, or in other places worshipping this same Triune God, who profess the same faith, can ever be classified as second class children.

As you find yourself on God’s vessel, the Fellow-ship, and meet the other passengers who have likewise been called by God to serve Him, remember the unity which God by the very nature of His person has instilled. The unity you have with others is not that which you create through common interests, common culture, common backgrounds. Rather your connection to others on this vessel we call the Church exists by the Triune God who as three Persons, each distinct, are of one essence, one substance, without division. Let us live in light of this truth.

Sermon Notes