Summary: "Unity of faith" is value which must be sought and maintained for the church to function, bear fruit, and serve one another in love.
Introduction: It was January 1862, in the heart of the American Civil War, when then Union Army marched its way to the heart of the South where it endured a long fought battle against the Confederate Army in New Orleans, Louisiana. Finally, in April of the same year, New Orleans came under the control of the Union Army. It was then that the Civil War evolved by allowing blacks to fight in the United States Army. Thousands of black freemen and former slaves could have avoided the dangers, fears, and discomfort of being a soldier, yet the black members of the Louisiana Native Guard chose to stay and fight with the Union Army because they wanted and believed in freedom.
The blacks were discriminated against by the white officers of the Union Army. They were given inferior firearms and other equipment, and were sent to front lines of the battles they fought. Yet, these men maintained unity in desire for all black men, women, and children in the United States of America to be free.
Today, here at Bethel Friends, we share a commonality with the heroes of the Louisiana Native Guard. Just as the soldiers experienced unity in their desire to be free, we share a unity of faith in Christ even in the midst of persecution from our friends and neighbors who have abandoned the truth of Jesus Christ. Today we will examine “Unity of Faith” as a core value of our church, based on Ephesians 4:11-16.
I. Unity is facilitated through the Public Ministry (vv.11-12a)
“11 And He Himself gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers, 12 for the equipping of the saints for the work of ministry,…”
In these two verses we learn a primary way unity is facilitated within the Church. Unity is facilitated through the public ministry. The Apostle Paul writes that God gave a variety of spiritual gifts to individual believers for this specific purpose. The list of gifts found in Ephesians 4 is commonly called the “office gifts”, that is public ministry gifts. The office gifts for public ministry include apostles. They were eyewitnesses of the Resurrected Savior, Jesus Christ. Paul was an apostle, having seen Jesus on the road to Damascus in Acts 9. Peter, one of the twelve disciples and author of 1 & 2 Peter in the New Testament, was an apostle because he saw Jesus after His resurrection. John, the author of the Gospel of John, and 1, 2, and 3 John, and Revelation, was an apostle. Prophets were people God chose to be His “mouthpieces” through whom to speak to His people. Their prophecies addressed the past, present and future. The next gift listed is the evangelist. The truth is, there is not much known about this gift, but it probably was not must different than the evangelists of the 20th and 21st centuries where a man will travel from place to place to preach to a multitude. Finally, God gave the gift of pastoring and teaching to some as well. There is some debate whether this is one or two gifts, but the purpose of God’s giving and calling believers to this/these office(s) is the same – to equip all believers for the work of the ministry (v.12). The application of these gifts, as we are about to see, was to grow the church into a more productive and unified body. Similarly, when applied today, such gifts can be the instruments of unity within our church.
II. Unity is a fruit of edification (v.12b)
“…for the edifying of the body of Christ,” (v.12b)
What good is it to give facilitators if they do not facilitate? We have just seen a variety of facilitating gifts, but now the Apostle Paul addresses the way they are to facilitate. The key word is translated as “edifying” in the later part of verse twelve. In the original language, Greek, this word is a compound word - it is composed of two words brought together to form a single word. The word is “οἰκοδομὴν” which is a combination of the words “house” and “build.” Therefore, the word Paul uses for “edifying” literally means “to build a house.” Paul was informing the public ministers and church members that the public ministers were to “build up” the body of believers into an effective harbor of ministry where the whole church was to effectively minister to one another.
Illustration: Joe Torre is one of the greatest and most successful baseball managers in the history of Major League Baseball. He coached the New York Yankees for twelve years from 1995 – 2007. During his time as skipper of the Pinstriped team, his Yankees played in six World Series, winning four (1996, 1998, 1999, 2000). What made Joe a great manager was more than how he substituted his pitchers or had his players steal bases or hit home runs. Joe Torre supported his players and verbally built them up in private and in public. This created an atmosphere of trust and confidence between the players, manager, front office, and fans, and media. Torre was notorious for building up his players up! So it is to be with us in the church. Church leaders are to use their God-given gifts to build up the church.