Summary: A deductive exposition of selected texts on church unity and how to protect it.
Introduction: I’d like to take a moment to explain the title of this series of messages – “What’s your commitment to God’s church?”
1. In a group this size at least one person is asking, “Whose church is it anyway?” We often talk about this church – this group of people as “our” church. But is it our church? The Bible tells us that the church belongs to God. The apostle Paul told the leaders of the church in Ephesus, “Keep watch over yourselves and all the flock of which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers. Be shepherds of the church of God, which he bought with his own blood” (Acts 20:28). The letters to the churches in Corinth and Thessalonica are addressed to the church of God (1 Corinthians 1:2; 2 Corinthians 1:1; 1 & 2 Thessalonians 1:1). This church is God’s church and we must never think or act in any other way. If we claim to own it then we are trying to steal it from God.
2. Some one may be wondering, “Why ask about my commitment to God’s church?” “Commitment” is IMPORTANT TO GOD. The Bible tells us that “the LORD keeps close watch over the whole world, to give strength to those whose hearts are [fully committed] to him” (2 Chronicles 16:9 GNB [NIV]). Each Sunday this month, we will discover one commitment you and I can make to God’s church. This week we’ll look at the unity of the church – our relationships to each other.
Thesis: God clearly commands his people to protect the church’s unity. He says, “Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace” (Ephesians 4:3).
Key Question: How can we protect the unity of God’s Church?
God gives the answer in several places. Let’s look at three today.
A. We can protect the unity of the church by acting with LOVE toward each other. The Bible says, “Now that you have purified yourselves by obeying the truth so that you have sincere love for your brothers, love one another deeply, from the heart.” (1 Peter 1:22).
1. The love we have for each other is to be based on obedience to the Bible. It is an act not simply a feeling. This love calls us to help others no matter what it costs us in terms of comfort and time.
2. The love we have for each other is to be “sincere” – literally “without hypocrisy.” It cannot be an act or a put on. It has to go much deeper than mere appearances. We need to truly love and care for each other.
3. The love we have for each other needs to grow until we care for each other deeply and “from the heart.”
B. We can protect the unity of the church by speaking to BUILD others UP. “Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen. Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you” (Ephesians 4:29, 31-32).
1. As God’s people we must focus on “what is helpful for building others up.” Our driving purpose when we speak to each other should zero in on how to meet “their needs” not on what will make us feel good. As we learn to talk to each other this way, everyone who hears our speech will benefit. Some will be instructed. Others will be encouraged. But we will all be healed and will thank God for releasing us from the shame others have heaped upon us.
2. Unfortunately this kind of speech is not natural for us. We live in a world full of “unwholesome talk.” “Unwholesome talk” is sickening speech. It is foul and destructive. It’s as painful to the ears as the stench of rotten fish is to our noses. It pollutes the hearts and minds of all that hear it. It grinds individuals down and fills them with shame.
“Unwholesome talk” is the obviously abusive, vulgar, and degrading talk that hurts. It includes “gossip” which implies telling the truth about someone in order to hurt him or her. It also embraces “slander” which is spreading lies to wound another person. “Unwholesome talk” is seasoned with hatred, bitterness and unforgiveness.
“Unwholesome” talk can be subtle too. A person can be hurt by harsh commands, unsolicited advice, sarcasm, lecturing and unending criticism. All of these obviously hurtful and not so obviously hurtful forms of communication are verbal vandalism. They must not “come out of [our] mouths.”
C. We can protect the unity of the church by FOLLOWING the leaders. The Bible tells us “Obey your leaders and submit to their authority. They keep watch over you as men who must give an account. Obey them so that their work will be a joy, not a burden, for that would be of no advantage to you” (Hebrews 13:17).