How good and pleasant it is when brothers dwell together in unity, the psalmist writes in Psalm 133. The same could be said of churches. How good and pleasant it is when churches dwell together in unity. When they live on mission for Christ in unity. The church is called to unity. “Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace” Ephesians 4:3 says. As we saw last month, the only real foundation for unity is the shared foundation of the gospel. But having seen that, the question becomes, how can we create unity? I’ve thought about this allot, as I've thought about the demands for a shared foundation on the gospel, I’ve also been thinking about the things that are required for any church, including our church, to have unity. As I have, I’ve concluded that the first thing to do is actually accept the reality that we can’t create unity. Unity grows naturally as we work for the same ends, we cant manufacture it. But at the same time, there are some keys to unity, there are some things that all followers of Christ can do to help unity grow, things that we can do to contribute to unity within our church.
This month, I want to give you four keys to unity. Next month, I want to give you four more.
The first key I want to mention today is the most important. We must fix our eyes on the work of Christ. If the unity of the church is built on the shared foundation of the gospel, then we need to fix our eyes on Christ. the writer of Hebrews says, in 12:2, “Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfected of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.” This is the starting point to unity in the church. One thing that has always fascinated me is that Paul usually constructs his books by beginning with the vertical, and moving on to the horizontal. He starts with what God has done, and then moves on to how then shall we live in light of the gospel. Truth, application. Which means that any unity that we have, is found in fixing our eyes on Christ and his finished work.
The second key I want to mention today is that we must be forgiving. Paul says in Colossians “Put on then, as God's chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive (3:12-13)”. Jesus makes clear in Matthew that if we do not, we will not be forgiven. He says, right after the Lord’s prayer, that “if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you, but if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses (6:14-15)”. Why is it that this is stressed so powerfully? Because living in relationship requires forgiveness. Think about a marriage. Two people in proximity will rub each other the wrong way at times, and then, there is the need to forgive. Forgiveness is the oil that lubricates relationships. If churches are not marked by forgiveness, they die. It’s that simple. If bickering and wrongs are dealt with, and people don’t repent and forgive, a church will be torn by disunity. As Christians, we are called to repent, and we are called to forgive. It’s a sign that the gospel is at work, that we know and understand and apply the gospel, and a real key to living with unity.
The third key is I want to mention today is that we need to know deep in our hearts and minds that unity is strengthened when we lay down our demand for comfort for the sake of the good of all. Nothing creates disunity like thinking, it’s about me, and seeking our desire, and our likes, and wants, and our felt needs. So often, we push for these things. We want our church to be a place that’s completely comfortable, and work to force our will and desire to the forefront. But it’s terrible for unity within the church, or for that matter, within any relationship. One of the things I like to tell couples I’m counseling for marriage is that marriage demands that you lay down your demand for your rights. Only in that mutual laying down of rights does your marriage have any hope. Only when you are seeking the good of the other, and seeking the meeting of their wants and desire, together, each going after the good of the other, will your marriage thrive and service. That is double true in the church, we all want to create an environment where we are completely comfortable, but when you come into proximity to others, that won’t happen, as anyone who is married can tell you.
Which means we need to lay down our demand for comfort and the meeting of our felt needs and desire for the sake of the good of all. In doing this, we are aiming towards unity, and following the path of our savior, who laid down his rights for the good of all in an ultimate way.
This brings us to the final key I want to mention today. Shared Mission. The final key to unity is that we aim at the same end. A church must have missional unity. We must have missional unity. The point of the church is mission. We are called to live on mission for Christ, seeking to glorify God, build a great community, proclaim the gospel, and build deep disciples who get the gospel, and then live out of the gospel in all of life. This should be the aim of every church. It must be the goal of our church. It must be the aim of every individual, and of the corporate church. if as a church, we do not have missional unity, if we are not aimed at the same end, we are sunk. Think back to back to what I said last month. I noted that liberal churches and gospel centered churches end up as two different teams pulling in opposite directions—each straining at the edges of the tent of the denomination. The same thing happens if we aren’t all aiming at the same end as an individual church. If different parts of the body have different aims, we’re in the same place. Which is why mission unity is essential.
These are just some of the keys to unity. But let me say this as I wrap up part 1. If these keys don’t exist, a church, be it ours or others, will wither, and die. they fragment, and split apart. It starts with the gospel, it flows into how we relate to each other with an other centered ethic, and it culminates in mission.
May our church be marked with unity. At times, we haven’t been, at times we have been. Lately, we have been. I’m so happy to see that as your pastor. May it continue. may we be marked by unity, for the glory of Christ Jesus our savior.