Unity - God’s Goal for the Church 2
Unity - God’s Goal for the Church
Living as a Church Part 2
Sunday, May 18, 2008
Welcome to the first of a series of classes on our life together as a church. In this introductory class, my hope is to give you some idea of why we as Christians need a class like this in the first place. To put it simply, we need this class because two things are true:
First, God calls Christians to gather together in local churches to worship him and to reflect his glorious character to the world. Second, we are still sinners. The million dollar question is, how do these two statements work together? God calls us to glorify him by living together in local churches? How can a still sinful people reflect God?
Unity is Hard
One day, all of God’s people will bow before him, perfectly righteous because of Christ and perfectly unified in humble worship and praise. But God still calls us today—the very imperfect people who compose his Church—to the task of displaying the glory of his perfect character.
The question of how that can happen in the church is the focus of this class. In particular, our goal is to understand the opportunities and responsibilities we all have as church members. How can we, as sinful and selfish people, gather together, not with the forced unity that denies differences, overlooks difficulty, or compromises the message of the gospel, but with unity that preserves the message of the gospel and acts as a compelling testimony to its value? How can we respond to sin in our midst without descending to gossip and slander? How can we trust our leaders but still recognize that they are sinners, too? How can we love people who make us feel uncomfortable because they are so different from us? How can we honestly critique an imperfect church without grumbling?
If you’ve been part of a church for any amount of time, you know that these goals are difficult to achieve. Churches far too often become places of division, complaints, and unhappy people. Therefore they fail to display to the watching world the power of the gospel that should be at work within them.
Our goal for this class is to explore a practical blueprint of what makes a church healthy. What makes it a community where sound doctrine expresses itself in love that glorifies God? My prayer is that you will leave this class with a better understanding of what the Bible says about being a healthy church, and also with some clear ideas of what you can do to help build a healthy church.
I. GOD’S GOAL FOR THE CHURCH—UNITY (EPHESIANS 3-4) Let’s begin by considering a foundational question: Why is the church important? More specifically, why is it important to God? To answer that question, let’s look at Ephesians 3 and 4, where Paul lays out the importance of the church in God’s plan of redemption. I’ll run through the whole passage, and then summarize some critical takeaway points.
• Unlocking the Mystery of the Gospel
• The Purpose of Gospel Unity
• Unity Applied—How Then Should We Live?
• Some Things to Remember
Well, that’s a lightning run through two marvelous chapters of Scripture. Let’s pause for a moment and notice three truths in this passage that are of critical importance:
First, the unity of the church is central to the message of the gospel. One of the great accomplishments of Christ’s work is that he has broken down the dividing walls of hostility that exist—because of sin—between human beings. Through the blood of Christ we are reconciled with God and we are reconciled with one another. It cannot be otherwise.
Second, church unity showcases the wisdom of God. The church isn’t a collection of people who merely tolerate one other long enough to sing some songs and hear a sermon every Sunday; the church is a gathering of people who demonstrates a unity so powerful that it can only have come to pass by the hand of God.
Third, cultivating unity is our responsibility as church members. It is the entire church that has been gifted by the Spirit, and so Paul calls the entire church to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. And, as we see in 1 Corinthians 1 and James 2, the New Testament authors will rebuke the entire church when unity is damaged. Not just church leaders. Church members.
Unity Throughout the Bible
So what is God’s goal for the church? Unity. Why? Because when redeemed sinners with little in common choose to love each other, that displays God’s wisdom and glory like nothing else. This truth is not unique to the book of Ephesians. It is found throughout the Bible. Consider Jesus’ words in John 13:34-35: A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.
Jesus continues this thought in his prayer for believers in John 17: May they be brought to complete unity to let the world know that you have sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me. (v. 23)
Or think of Luke’s description of the early church in Acts 4:
All the believers were one in heart and mind . . . with great power the apostles continued to testify to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and much grace was upon them. (vv. 32-33)
Unity is Not Just an Option
We can see from all this that unity among God’s people is not just an optional addition to our lives as Christians. It is an integral part of our life as God’s people. Remember how starkly John puts this in 1 John 4:20:
If anyone says, ‘I love God,’ yet hates his brother, he is a liar. For anyone who does not love his brother whom he has seen, cannot love God, whom he has not seen.