This sermon was preached on March 13, 2011.
[Turn with me to the] book of Ephesians, chapter 4. As we’ve been going through this New Testament book, Following Jesus in A Spiritually Hostile World, [we are using the] same text as last week, verses one through six. This is part two of a two-part message. Next week we’ll have part three of a two-part message [and he chuckles]. No, we’ll move on. Ephesians, chapter four. [Normally Pastor would use a headset microphone but today he is using a hand-held mic on a stand and he observes.] Such a big microphone, I can almost hide behind it. [He crouches down.] Can you see me? It’s this [referring to the wind screen]; they want to protect it from all of my spitting and stuff. I’d like to get one of those pencil microphones, like Bob Barker had years ago on “The Price Is Right”, you know, that little tiny thing. [“The Price Is Right” is a television game show which was hosted by Bob Barker from 1972 to 2007. At this writing it is still running, hosted now by Drew Carey.] And then when I say, “Come on down,” everybody would just run to the front, all excited. “Yeah!” [mimicking the reaction of contestants who all selected to appear on the show]. It has to be the microphone.
Anyhow, Ephesians four, verses 1-6. Would you stand with me please, as we honor God’s Word? As a prisoner for the Lord, then, I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received. Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. 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.
[Prayer] Father, we thank You for Your word, and we thank You, in this passage that calls us to unity, that we can have unity with You. Our sin no longer separates us from You. Through the shed blood of Jesus, His forgiveness and cleansing, You’ve made us holy before You. You’ve made us saints unto You. We thank You for that. I pray for anyone today who doesn’t yet know that assurance of being in the family of God, being one with You, will come to know You today. I pray for Your anointing on Your servant, to share what You’ve laid on my heart. I pray for every listener, our ears and our hearts be anointed to receive it, and hear what You want to say to us personally. Please pray with me: Heavenly Father, speak to my heart, change my life, in Your precious name. Amen, amen. You may be seated.
This is one of the many great passages in the Bible for a call to unity. This is very, very clear here that we are called to be one in Christ, so that’s going to be our focus today. What is spiritual unity and how do we maintain it at different levels of living? Before I do that, I want to address one issue here that sometimes comes up when you talk to people who have some real questions about spirit baptism, and sometimes they’ll go to this passage where it says “one baptism”. Now let me step back for just a second and say, if you ever wonder why there are four Gospels that tell the story of the life of Jesus when, you know, you could have one. I mean, it’s all Scripture, it’s all God’s Word. Why do we have four? Well, the Bible says out of the mouths of two or three witnesses, everything is confirmed [several places, including Deuteronomy 19:15, Matthew 18:16 and II Corinthians 13:1]. God goes another step, gives us four, and they don’t use the same words. They’re not duplicates of each other, you understand. They have a different perspective.
Let’s say if there was a car accident somewhere and you have two witnesses, and they give roughly the same description of what happened. They may vary a little bit here or there, and use different words, different terminology, but you think, okay, you’ve got two witnesses. But if they use exactly the same words, what would you say? You’d say collusion, yeah. They’ve gotten together and they’ve memorized what they were going to say, and so not only do you only have one witness, you’re not even sure if that witness is reliable. So we have four Gospels. Now, this one phrase here, “one baptism” gives rise to something that we don’t normally get into, but I’m not going to spend much time. If you want to email me, we can converse about it. Whereas Matthew and Luke use different terminologies for the Kingdom—one says Kingdom of God and one says Kingdom of Heaven—it’s the same thing. It’s interesting, the Apostle Paul never uses the term “baptism of the Spirit”. Luke does in the book of Acts many times, but the Apostle Paul always uses the term “filling”. Be filled, be filled with the Spirit. And so we often use both terms. We use baptism and we use filling, infilling of the Spirit and that’s why, so we have multiple witnesses to what God has done and so here, when the Apostle Paul says “one baptism”, he’s talking about water baptism. We have one faith, [then he recites the verse]: one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.
So we are to have unity in Him through Christ, and that unity, that spiritual unity, transcends all other unity, all other kinds of unity. You know, you can be a fellow Penn State fan, a fellow Steeler fan, a fellow whatever fan, with somebody. That unity is not that important. I hope it’s not to you. The unity that trumps all other unity is spiritual unity, and there’s only two kingdoms in the Bible. There’s the kingdom of light, which is God’s Kingdom, and the kingdom of darkness, which is the enemy’s kingdom, and a person is in one or the other. That’s it, that’s it. And the entryway into the Kingdom of God is through Jesus Christ. He is the way, the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father but by Him [John 14:6]. He is the door.
What we have in common with other people, sometimes, is not that big of a deal. In fact, II Corinthians tells us in chapter 5 [verse 16] that we do not regard others from a worldly point of view. We don’t look at people and rank them, or divide them I should say, by income or education or skin color or anything like that. There’s two kingdoms, the Kingdom of God and the kingdom of darkness, and we are called to unity in the Kingdom of God.
So, I know we sometimes get real hepped up [a rural Pennsylvania way to say enthusiastic or excited] about national unity. Let me ask you. Let’s say, I’ll pick one name. I struggled with what name to pick. Let’s say Hugh Hefner [born 1926, American businessman and publisher, most well known for creating Playboy, a controversial magazine and for promoting a hedonistic lifestyle]. What do I have in common with Hugh Hefner except that we’re males who were born between Mexico and Canada? You know, what else do I have in common? Well, I guess there are a couple things. I’m heterosexual, uh, too. [He chuckles.] There, I publicly confessed that. [Congregation laughs.] And we both used to be good-looking, I guess, if we’re going to push it. Not much in common, not much in common. So how can I be one with Hugh Hefner? I mean, Biblically speaking, how can we even go there? How do we think in those terms?
The oneness that we have is in Christ, in Christ, where we lose ourselves and we find our true identity in Him. In fact He’s already given us that unity. It says: Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. Keep the unity. When you come to Christ and when you surrender your life to Him, you are one with brothers and sisters in Christ around the world. So when God looks at the globe, He looks at those who are His children and those who are not. And our goal is to redeem people, to rescue people, from the kingdom of darkness and bring them into the kingdom of light. Amen? That’s our goal.
So I don’t think God’s all that concerned about how Nigeria is getting along with Cameroon, their neighbor. He’s concerned about us being in Him, following Him, and rescuing the perishing, as the old hymn said years ago [“Rescue the Perishing”, words by Frances J. Crosby, set to music by William H. Doane in 1869]. Rescue the perishing, care for the dying. I grieve in Japan not only for the physical tragedy that’s happened there but for the spiritual tragedy. [On March 11, 2011, a magnitude 9 earthquake struck near northeastern Japan, which triggered a huge tsunami that caused $300 billion in damage, and over 15,000 people lost their lives.] So many people in a wealthy nation that has so much education, so much creativity, but they never knew Jesus. Japan is so resistant to the Gospel, and we need to pray that it will open to the Gospel, much like in Indonesia some years ago with the tsunami. [After a tsunami struck the west coast of Sumatra on December 26, 2004, Indonesia willingly accepted aid from Christian organizations, including Assembly of God’s benevolence arm, Convoy of Hope, and that opened the doors for Christianity. Since then, many churches have been built.] There was an openness that came. So spiritual unity, we are to maintain it.
Now, I have spoken many, many times about spiritual unity in State College with other believers, that when God looks at State College He only sees one church, many congregations but only one church. And that rightly should be a focus of my attention and our attention. But there’s unity at many levels, congregational unity. Now we are blessed. We have had unity, a great level of unity for many, many years, and you are to be commended. Leadership, we’ve tried to make sure that no molehills have ever grown into mountains. You know, take care of stuff when it’s small. But you are to be commended as a congregation—we just had an annual membership meeting—that you don’t make mountains out of molehills. You with me? And molehills happen, right, in life? They happen at home, they happen in churches, and you deal with it. But God wants us to walk in unity.
But I think the toughest unity to have is unity in the home, unity in the home. You have unity in the church, unity in State College, maybe, among believers. But what good is it if we have strife and division at home? And here’s where, I think, the rubber really meets the road. Unity means surrendering our identity to discover God’s identity. Now we’re going to get into that in the next week or so of giftedness. We are gifted. We are blessed by God, by His grace, and discover those gifts. But first of all, we have to get rid of ME-ity to have unity. Now if you were to take your dictionary and open it up, there’s probably—my guess is and I haven’t actually checked this out but—there’s probably no two letters in the alphabet that start more words than the letters “u-n”. Right? I mean, un-whatever, unrelenting, unable, it just goes on, page after page after page of un-words. Well, unity is un-I. [He pronounces this un-eye here and many times throughout the sermon.] Think about it. Un-I-ty. It’s not all about me. You can’t have unity when it’s all about us. Unity means I surrender part of my identity or my rights for the greater good.
Now, there’s two groups of people that understand this, that their identity is kind of swept away. One is prisoners. You go to a jail, everybody has the same wonderful orange color on. They all shop at the same store, obviously. And they may have a number but it’s not huge. They don’t have a name on. Their identity is almost taken from them and in this text Paul uses “as a prisoner for the Lord”, in verse one, “as a prisoner for the Lord”. It’s not about me, it’s about the Lord. But he also uses it later in the full armor of God, in chapter six, and also in I Timothy, he uses a military imagery, and this is what some of us can relate to more. When you go into the military–and I really considered this in high school. My oldest brother tried to get into the Air Force Academy and he was the first alternate, but he didn’t make it. And when I was in high school I was considering trying to apply, seeing if I could get into West Point. I was seriously considering a military career, and my aptitude test said that I would be good at that. But it wasn’t God’s will for me. But when you go in the military, they kind of sweep away your identity. Your hair style is gone, you know? And they wear you down, and then they build you up. But they wear you down where your rights, your personhood, everything is melted down so that they can have unity. You with me? If you have troops who all want to do their own thing, you’re going to lose. They have to be able to follow orders and surrender their identity.
Even at this age, I’d still like to join the military just for this moment. I’d like to stand there and when the drill sergeant is in my face, screaming at me–at whatever, you know, my shoes aren’t shined enough or my rifle isn’t clean enough or whatever—and he is screaming in my face, I want to be able to say to him, “You know, you’re hurting my self-esteem.” [Congregation laughs.] And I’m sure the drill sergeant would say, “You know, you’re right. I’m so sorry. I didn’t mean to hurt your self-esteem. We have counselors here that you can talk to. I’m really sorry. I’ve wounded you.”
Well, this me-ity versus unity is huge in our culture. Me-ity. In some ways, it really flip flops what we would think. Now, let me ask you. Let me talk about marriage for a minute here, because this is where there was no model in Scripture more of unity like the Trinity has—Father, Son and Holy Spirit, and we’ll come back to that—than marriage, and the Apostle Paul is going to get into that, the oneness of a man and woman, when they come together and two become one. Now, let me ask you this. Let me say two sentences. One is: My partner is not happy; I wonder what I’m doing wrong. Okay, you hear that? My partner is not happy; I wonder what I’m doing wrong. Second sentence: I’m not happy; I wonder why my partner can’t figure out what they’re doing wrong. Now, of those two sentences, the first and the second, which is more likely to be said by someone who is engaged? Engaged, looking forward to marriage. The first. Which is more likely to be said by someone who is already married? The second.
Don’t we go through these wonderful wedding ceremonies? And we either have candles—the candles are lit, two candles make one candle, blow the two candles out and now we have one candle. Or we may have Communion together. They receive Communion; they are one in Christ. Or becoming more popular [is] the sand ceremony where the sand comes together, or the salt ceremony, where the salt comes together and can’t be divided. So why is it that we tend to think of ourselves more after we say we became one than before we became one? We’re willing to surrender and serve and love, agape love, the other person, when we’re engaged, and once we’re married, it becomes about us? Something is really wrong. It should be the other way around, shouldn’t it? While you’re still single, you’re kind of still thinking about you. When you’re married, you’re one.
We, as a culture, struggle with this because all of the advertisers tell us it’s about us, and they’re manipulating us to buy their product, is what they’re doing. It’s not me-ity, it’s unity, un-I. Un-I. So the Holy Spirit, the Holy Spirit, one of His greatest functions, is to take the kind of unity that Jesus prayed for, that the Trinity has—Father, Son, Holy Spirit–and to bring unity among us, and not just among a congregation or in a city, but believers around the world. So today I think about believers in Japan. I think about believers in Muslim countries often. In Egypt, there’s quite a number of Christians. I think about believers in Iraq and Iran. I think about believers in Israel, believers in Palestinian territory. They are my brothers and sisters in Christ, and we are one.
Spiritual unity, we need to get this concept, and it starts at home. It starts at home, where we make it about the greater good, and we bring glory to God, we bring glory to God. How do we do that? Verse two: Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. Be humble and gentle. Be patient, bearing with one another in love. “Oh, Lord, it’s hard to be humble when you’re perfect in every way.” Right? That’s a country western song, about 20 years ago. [Actually, it’s from 1980, a tongue-in-cheek song about being famous, written by Mac Davis, and titled “Hard to Be Humble”.] Some of you are old enough to remember it. You know, those who think they are humble aren’t, and there are a couple of you, when I give an altar call for pride and you come up here, I want to say, “Get back to your seat. You’re one of the most humble people I know. What are you doing?” Humble people tend not to know that they are humble. They think they are still working on pride issues. But when we truly are that, we are gentle, we are patient, we bear with one another in love.
One Father, one God and Father who is over all, through all and in all. Jesus said if we lose our life, we will find it [found several times–Matthew 10:39, Mark 8:35, Luke 9:24]. A lot of people are trying to find their life, but they are not willing to lose it in Him. Can you lose yourself in Jesus? Lose yourself in the Spirit. Just surrender to Him, fully and completely and be that humble and gentle and patient person, who doesn’t expect life, doesn’t expect this world, to be Heaven. If you know the Lord, this is the only Hell you will ever know. It’s not that bad of a hell, is it? If you don’t know the Lord, this is the only Heaven you will ever know. But I don’t understand when Christians act like this is it, this is it. No, this isn’t it. We’re only here for a while. Let me give you a diagnosis, a prognosis for you. You’re going to die. If Jesus tarries, you are going to die. All of us. This life doesn’t last that long. Let’s be one in Him.
Would you stand with me together please? [Prayer] Thank you, Lord Jesus. [Worship Pastor Wayne Miller begins to sing.] “You’re all I want. You’re all I’ve ever needed. You’re all I want. Help me know You are near.” [Words and music by Kelly Carpenter, copyright 1994 Mercy/Vineyard Publishing. Pastor Grabill joins in singing, and the service ends with Communion.]