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MAINTAINING THE UNITY OF THE CHURCH - PART 2
Intro: In our last study of this chapter, we talked about the unity of the church. We spoke specifically about the plea for unity issued by Paul in verse 3. In that verse, Paul challenges the church to work toward the goal of “unity”, or “agreement”, within the church. He goes on to tell us that this is only possible when we allow the Spirit of God within us to cause us to walk together as one.
By the way, some listened to that sermon from Eph. 4:3, and came away thinking that I was implying that there were problems in our congregation. If I gave that impression, that was not my intention. My goal was to deal with the next text in the book we are passing through, and to use that text to instruct our church concerning one of the most important truths in the life of the church. The fact is, we do not have to walk in absolute lockstep, but unless there is unity within the church, there will be no power within the church! So, consider this teaching as preventive maintenance and nothing more!
At the end of the day, unity in the church comes down to two great essentials. First, we must love one for another like God commands us to, Matt. 22:39; John 13:35. Second, we must yield to the control of the Holy Spirit Who dwells within every child of God. When we submit to His control, He will cause us to live out the “Fruit of the Spirit,” Gal. 5:22-23, which will cause us to walk together in love, peace and unity.
With that in mind, I want to probe deeper into this passage. I want to continue to talk to you about Maintaining The Unity Of The Church. Having considered The Plea For Unity, let’s look next at The Problem Of Unity.
II. THE PROBLEM OF UNITY
I will just touch on this thought, because it is not explicitly mentioned in this text. It is, however, clearly implied. In verse 3, Paul commands us to be about the business of “endeavoring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.” If we have to work to guard the unity of the church, then it seems to me that this unity must be a fragile thing. The unity of the church must be something that is easily forfeited.
Since we are commanded to work to guard the unity of the church, it stands to reason that we are the ones who can cause the unity of the church to become fractured. The problem with unity in the church is this: the church is made up of people. I have heard it said, and have said it myself, “if it weren’t for the people, the church would be a great place.” That is said in jest, because without the people, there is no church. To put it plainly, the people are the church.
While the we the people are the church, we the people are also the problem. We, the people who make up the local church, are the guardians of the unity produced within us by the Holy Spirit, but we are also the greatest danger to that unity. Why is that? Many reasons could be listed, but I will mention just a few for the sake of time.
To sum it up in a sentence, we are different one from another, and that is the greatest threat to the unity of the church. That is always the problem in a nutshell.
I. The Plea For Unity
II. The Problem Of Unity
III. V. 2 THE PATH TO UNITY
Let’s back up to verse 2 and talk about The Path To Unity. In this verse, Paul mentions several characteristics that should be true of each of us. These characteristics, if they are true in your life and mine, will go a long way to helping us “keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.”
The only way we will ever fulfill the challenge of verse 1, which says, “I…beseech you that ye walk worthy of the vocation wherewith ye are called,” is to be sure that the following characteristics are true in our lives. It is the only was we can ever hope to “balance the scales,” which is what the word “worthy” means.
If we really want to live lives that are pleasing to the Lord, and that help the church walk in unity, we must be sure that our lives are marked by the characteristics Paul lists in verse 2. Since they are so vital, we will take the time to consider each of them and what they teach us about the kind of people we should be for the glory of God.
Lowliness - This word means “to think or judge with lowliness; to possess lowliness of mind.” It speaks of “humility.” This word, in its Greek form, was never found in secular writing. It was a word coined by Christians. Roman and Greek society had no concept of humility. The person who placed others ahead of self was considered weak, a coward, and unnatural. They looked at anyone who was humble as being weak. So, when Paul wanted a word to describe the humble person, he had to invent the word. The Greeks and Romans believed that people should be proud and self-satisfied. They believed that anyone who took a low view of themselves was warped. This word was later picked up by some secular writers, and it was always used in a derogatory fashion to describe Christians as weak.
The world might look upon humility as a weakness, but it is the most fundamental of Christian virtues. Without humility we can never please the Lord. Without humility, we can never be like Christ, Phil. 2:5-8.
Humility is the opposite of pride. Pride is defined as, “a high or inordinate opinion of one's own dignity, importance, merit, or superiority, whether as cherished in the mind or as displayed in bearing, conduct, etc.”
Pride is essentially thinking more of yourself than you have a right to. Ill. Romans 12:3, “For I say, through the grace given unto me, to every man that is among you, not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think; but to think soberly, according as God hath dealt to every man the measure of faith.”
Our world is filled with pride. People talk all the time about being proud of their jobs, their possessions, their families, their job, their children, etc. The world is all about boasting and bragging and posturing. That attitude has even infiltrated the church. We give awards, plaques, degrees and applause to one another, and it’s all done in a way that makes pride acceptable to us.
Let me share with you some of the characteristics of pride. When any of these are true in our lives, there is an issue with pride.
I confess that I have, or have had, a problem with several items on that list. Pride is a problem we will deal with unto we are delivered from these bodies, Rom. 7:25.
Pride is something that is easy to see in the lives of others, but nearly impossible to see in self. Pride is at the heart of all our sin, and all our problems in human relationships. It is the reason disunity arises within the body of Christ. It is the reason our services are cold. It is the reason people don’t pray, read their Bibles and attend church like they should. It lies at the heart of every sin.
This passage is not about pride; it is about its polar opposite humility. What is humility. The dictionary defines it as, “the quality or condition of being humble; modest opinion or estimate of one's own importance, rank, etc.”
The word used here for “lowliness” literally means, “a deep sense of ones littleness.”
Let’s talk for a moment about humility. Humility is elusive. When you reach the place where you think you are humble, you just lost it.
Did you hear about the pastor who was voted the most humble pastor in America? His congregation gave him a medal that said, “To the most humble pastor in America.” Then they took it away from him on Sunday because he wore it.
Humility is something that we will never see in ourselves, yet it is something that others see in our lives when it is there. When they mention it, the truly humble person will not see it, because they are incapable of acknowledging it. If they acknowledged the fact that they were humble, that would be pride and humility would be instantly forfeited.
True humility involves two essential components.
First, it involves a proper view of oneself.
Second, it involves a proper view of God.
We must all come to the place where we understand that God is not impressed with our education, our fame, our abilities, our skill, our achievements, what we have done or where we have been. All of that means exactly nothing to God. When we rely on those things, instead of relying on God, we erect an impenetrable barrier between ourselves and Him.
We must be honest about who we are. We are nothing, and there is nothing about us that commends to God on any level. There is nothing in us that causes Him to be pleased with us, to bless us or to save us. We can only be saved when we lay aside all the pretense of our pride and become like a little child, humble before Him, Matt. 18:3. We will only be accepted by Him when we realize that He accepts us by grace through fait, apart from any human effort, Ill. Luke 18:9-14. The truth of Luke 18:14 needs to be driven home in each of our hearts today, “for every one that exalteth himself shall be abased; and he that humbleth himself shall be exalted.”
We are talking about humility and pride because they affect our ability to live like Christ. Pride will cause me to live as if my ways are right. When I walk in pride, I do what I please, when I please, with whom I please. When I am humble, I walk like Jesus, 1 John 2:6.
Pride and humility also affect the way we function together as a church. When I walk in pride, I will demand my own way. I will be offended when I do not get my way. I will wear my feelings on my shoulders and get my feelings hurt easily. I will seek to exalt myself, walkways talking about me, what I think, who I am, and what I have done. All these things, and many more, certainly undermine the unity of the church.
However, when I walk in humility, I will realize that nothing in life is really about me, about what I want, or about how I feel. I will realize that everything is about the glory of God. So, I will not be offended when someone else acts in pride. I will not demand my rights and my way. I will not trumpet my own accomplishments or talk about myself all the time. I will not seek to dominate every conversation and turn it to myself. I will put the good of others ahead of my own good. I will look for ways to honor God with my words and my walk. I will yield myself to the Spirit of God and trust Him to lead me in the right ways.
While God stands against pride, He has promised to bless the humble, Matt. 5:3, James 4:6; 1 Pet. 5:6. When we lose ourselves in Him, we will be used by Him and blessed by Him. But, as long as we continue to walk in pride, we are doomed to failure, and we condemn the church to continuing struggles with unity.
Conc: William Temple said this about humility, “Humility does not mean thinking less of yourself than of other people, nor does it mean having a low opinion of your own gifts. It means freedom from thinking about yourself one way or the other at all.”
So, true humility is not thinking little of yourself and much of others. True humility is not thinking of yourself at all! When we become truly humble, we cease to matter to ourselves.
Andrew Murray described humility like this: “Humility is perfect quietness of heart. It is to expect nothing, to wonder at nothing that is done to me, to feel nothing done against me. It is to be at rest when nobody praises me, and when I am blamed or despised. It is to have a blessed home in the Lord, where I can go in and shut the door, and kneel to my Father in secret, and am at peace as in a deep sea of calmness, when all around and above is trouble.
The humble person is not one who thinks meanly of himself, he simply does not think of himself at all.”
Pride and the lack of humility are devastating to the unity in the church because we all have this tendency within us to promote self. When Jesus spoke of the second commandment, He said, “And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself,” Matt. 22:39. He knew that we had no problem loving self; He knew the real test of our character was loving others to that same level.
Most of the time we do not love to that level. As a result, we are often guilty of putting ourselves and our agenda ahead of what is best for the body of Christ. We must ask the Lord to help us develop true humility of heart so that nothing matters to each of us but the will of God and His glory. When that alone is the desire of every heart, the church will walk in perfect unity to the glory of God.
We will come back next time and consider the rest of these characteristics. I have spent all this time on the issues of pride and humility because they are root of either all our problems or all our successes. When we walk in pride, problems, turmoil and trouble will rule the day. When we walk in humility, God will be glorified and the church will be united. When we walk in humility, meekness, long-suffering and loving forbearance will all be in abundant evidence.