¡°THE CHALLENGE OF UNITY¡± By Pastor YAU
Text: Ephesians 2:13-18 February 23, 2014
1) Division in the world: It is part of a sinful human nature to build barriers to shut out other people. There were many barriers among the people in the Bible time. There were divisions because of religions, races, classes, sexes and social economic status. The Jews and the Gentiles couldn't get along. The rich and the poor never interact. The slaves didn't know how to behave with their masters in the church. Women were not counted as people when number is concern. Among the nations and cultures, the Greeks were so proud of their language and culture as superior that they considered all others barbarians. They felt it was a God given duty to wage wars, to occupy other countries and to bring the Greek language and culture to the whole world. Politics is another huge barrier that divided people, even in the same family and the same church today.
2) Division in the church: Disunity among God's people has always been a special concern and problem. In the intercessory prayer for his disciples in John 17, Jesus prayed three times that they would be one (vv. 11, 21, 22) and again in v. 23, ¡°They might be perfected in unity.¡± Preserving unity is on the top of his concerns when Paul wrote to the early church, ¡°Being diligent to preserve the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.¡± (Eph 4:3) He reminded the early Christians, ¡°There is one body, and one spirit, just as you were called in one hope, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all who is over all and through all and in all.¡± (4:6) The church is to manifest that oneness ¡°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 fulness of Christ.¡± (4:13)
DIVISION ON HUMAN FAILURE:
1) Division between races: The disunity in the early churches was primarily between the Jews and the Gentiles, the non-Jewish races. In his sovereignty, God chose the Jews to be his instrument of grace to the world. Unfortunately, the Jews never fulfilled that purpose. They preferred to discriminate all other races. The idea of racial segregation was deeply ingrained in the mindset of Peter when God asked him to deliver the gospel message to Cornelius, a Gentile Roman centurion. (Acts 10:9-16) It is sad that race is still a major dividing wall among God's churches today. It is often helpful, and sometimes, necessary to focus on particular national, racial groups for evangelistic work and to devise approaches that are unique to the people. But it is unfortunate that believers who come from different races remain separated and segregated that become divisive in the church. All churches and Christians, regardless of their racial background, cultural and language background should have that sense of unity once they are called and saved in the grace of the Lord and God puts them in the same church. We need to be united in Christ and his church.
2) Division between status: In the early church history in the Roman Empire, another cause of division was social status: the free and the slaves. While the free were mostly richer and the slaves were poorer, the class difference is another distinctive cause of division in the church. Although they all were equal as God's children once they were saved by God's grace regardless of their social status, they couldn't adjust their position in everyday life dealing with each other in the church. The fact that the slaves were equal in the eyes of God didn't mean they were equal in the eyes of the society and the free, particularly their masters. We always have class differences among people, even God's people, anywhere we live, work or worship. We should overcome the conscious or unconscious sense of division in our church when God has called and placed us into the same church. God doesn't care the differences of our education, wealth, social status or other distinction in human eyes, we are one in Christ.
3) Division between position: In the early church time, difference of position was inherited from the Jewish religious system, the priest and the ordinary. When Jesus called all of us as his witnesses to make disciples of all nation, we are all called to be ¡°priests¡± in that sense. In the Old Testament, only the priests occupies leadership position over and above the rest of the people, and the rabbis were given the authority to teach the common. Today, we still see this kind of unseen division in some churches: the ¡°rulers¡± and the ¡°people.¡± This practice wrongly separates people from each other and robs the privilege and opportunity of all people the privilege of serving God in church ministry. We need to encourage all people to take part in the ¡°servant team¡± in all parts of church ministry and operation. There shouldn't be any division of position, but only difference of service. We also ask that all members of God's church to get involved in the ministry and service of your church. Stay on the side-line is not what God wants us to be and is bad for the unity of the church.
4 Division between practices: There were many differences in practice in the early churches: Requirement on circumcision for membership, eating or not eating of food offered to idols, method of electing leaders, rationing of food to widows, moral discipline on violators, just to list a few. All these divided the churches and weakened the effectiveness of their witness. Things like these still divide churches throughout 2,000 years of Christian history till today. Many churches were disrupted, divided, weaken or even completely destroyed because of differences on church practices, ways of doing things. While I believe all Christians love their churches and want to see them do well, but their pride to insist either their way or no way eventually hurting and destroying their churches.
5) Division between leaders: This is more evident at the Corinthian church where people in the church was divided in their loyalty to different leaders. (1 Corinth. 3:3-9) In this case the division wasn't between the leaders but their followers. When leaders and their followers channeled their loyalty to human personality, division will rise and problems will come to hurt the unity of the church. In some churches, division between leaders is a huge problem that hurts the unity and growth of the churches. Some churches even suffer split due to conflicts between leaders. Those who have the honor of being leaders need to be very careful to address this problem and take all measures to stop the process before it becomes irreversible.
UNITY ON DIVINE SUCCESS: (Ephesians 2:13-18)
1) The need of sacrifice: ¡°But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far away have been brought near through the blood of Christ.¡± (2:13) This is about the sacrifice God was willing to give to bring man to a redeeming relationship with hi, and the sacrifice was the blood or life of his Son, Jesus.
Sacrifice sometimes is necessary in order to achieve unity. Under the condition of not violating sound doctrine and moral principles of the Bible, sacrifices of personal pride, over-inflated self-respect, strong opinions, and insistence of ¡°my way¡± need to be put on the altar in order to achieve unity. A heart of humility is the basis of unity. No one may monopolize opinions in the family, at work, in family or the church. Sacrifice sometimes is necessary.
2) Removing all obstacles: ¡°For he himself is our peace, who has made the two one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility. (2:14)
The death of Jesus destroyed or removed the obstacles which divided God from man. In order to achieve unity, we need to know and willing to remove any and all issues, obstacles that divide people at home, at work in family nor church. Focus on issues instead on persons is a better way to resolve division. Too often division occur not because of issues but of personal. We need to have a general trust on each other that we all love God, love the church and love each other and all have a good heart for the good of God's church. Let us remove or alter methods that may divide us for the good of unity.
3) Growing spiritual quality: ¡°By abolishing in his fresh the law with its commandment and regulation, His purpose was to create in himself a new man out of the two, thus making peace.¡± (2:15) ¡°A new man¡± is the key and the purpose of the sacrifice of the life of Christ. This is about spiritual growth in us to achieve unity. Most, if not all, divisions happened because we lack the spiritual capacity to see things through spiritual visions. Spiritual growth means we exalt God, his purpose and hos glory over and above our personal preference. Solving any and all divisive with the goal of keeping peace and harmony is an act of spiritual quality.
Unity didn't come with our depraved human natural. We have to grow a stronger desire of spiritual growth to have the power to overcome divisive issues. This is something no body else can do it for you. It is something we all have to do it on our own: willing to spend time to read Bible, be humble to learn from others in worship and Bible class, willing to obey teachings of the Bible and willing to let go of personal pride in our life decisions.
4) Seek godly purpose of unity: ¡°And in this one body to reconcile both of them to God through the cross by which he put to death their hostility.¡± (2:16) Paul was talking about bring the Jews and the Gentiles to reconcile with God. In any and all divisions, there must be two or more opposing parties on issues that none of the parties is willing to compromise, surrender or give in. Paul wants us to know that God loves both people on both sides and we also need to have that purpose in solving divisions, be it at home or in the church. No one may claim he is representing God and he must on the right side. Bringing both sides to God should be the purpose or goal when we face divisive issues. At no time, we are not going to hate the opponents, say or do anything that may defame the dignity, character and reputation of those who hold different stand from you. Always remember, God wants to see both side be reconciled with him.
5) The ultimate purpose of unity: ¡°He came and preached peace to you who were far away and peace to those who were near. For through him we both have access to the Father by one Spirit.¡± (2:17-18) Paul was talking about the purpose of Christ coming to this world to bring all people, near and far, to be reconciled with God with the gospel message.
This is a very important point on our pursue of unity: We need to keep unity in order to bring all men to God in fulfilling our mission as a church and as individual Christians. Nothing hurts or defames the name of God and the church more than in-fighting, division or ultimate collapse of his church. Jesus built his church by his body to bring the world to God, how can we do anything to defeat his purpose by dividing his church?
APPLICATIONS OF TRUTH:
1) Conquer human failure: ¡°Do not be overcome by evil, overcome evil with good.¡± (Romans 12:21) Division is one of the expressions of the evil side of human nature and it causes so much chaos, suffering and pain in human race. Division in political ideology let to endless war in the world and in nations. Division in society generates so much tension, hatred and crime. Division in the family causes so much conflict, jealousy and pain. Division in the church causes aching of God's heart. The heart aching prayer of Jesus before he went to the cross was not focused on his suffering of the upcoming crucifixion but on the unity of his followers. (John 17:20-23) As children of a loving God, shouldn't we do our very best to overcome all the causes of division in our everyday life at home, in school, at work and in church? While most people in the world are victims of the evil human nature, shouldn't we people of God exercise the power of God in us to overcome the vicious cycle of division in all aspects of our lives?
2) Answer the call of unity: ¡°I in them and you in me. May they be brought to complete unity to let the world know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.¡± (John 17:23) Many doctrinal principles may be derived from this verse, but we are to focus on one of them today: the power of unity comes from Jesus in us. On our own power, desire or determination, none of us may promote unity much less prolong unity anywhere we may exist. The key to real and prolong unity comes from allowing Jesus to live in our life, our heart and our soul. We need to surrender our own pride, selfish desires and arrogance, so, Jesus may take control of our thought and mind. So we may be able to love others, to humble ourselves and to spread the unity of grace between God and man through Jesus Christ.--------ed