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MAINTAINING THE UNITY OF THE CHURCH
Intro: We have spent a considerable amount of time in these verses. Because they are so important to the correct functioning of the church, they are of unimaginable value to us. I would like to continue today to preach under the title Maintaining The Unity Of The Church. As I do so, please allow me to refresh our minds briefly about the truths we have already encountered here.
In verse 1, we are challenged to walk worthy of our high calling in Christ Jesus. Every redeemed child of God has been placed by grace into the body of Christ. We are in Him by faith, and we are to walk like Him as we move through this world. We are to live in a manner that “balances the scales with what Christ did for us when He died for us on the cross. That simply means that we are to give ourselves to Him as completely as He gave Himself for us, Rom. 12:1-2. Verse 1 is Paul’s Challenge To The Church.
In verses 3, we are commanded to walk in unity as a body. In these human bodies we inhabit, there is wonderful unity. If you don’t believe me, take a hammer and strike your thumb. You will be amazed at the unity your body can summon in a moment of crisis like that. Paul illustrates this great truth in 1 Cor. 12:12-26. Verse 3 is The Plea For Unity.
These verses do not state the next truth, but it is implied here nonetheless. If we must do as verse 3 says and “endeavor to keep the unity of the Spirit it must mean that the unity we are supposed to keep can be broken. Sadly, it can, and quite easily at that. The greatest challenge to the unity of the body of Christ are the very people who are the members of that body. The real problem with our unity is in our diversity. We are a different and diverse people with differing opinions, ideas, wants, and methods, which are unique to each individual in the body. The greatest threat to the unity of the church is not the devil or the world, it is the very people who make up the body. Thus, we have The Problem Of Unity.
In the middle verse of this section, verse 2, Paul speaks about The Path To Unity. In this verse, Paul mentions five qualities that each member of the body must possess if there is to be true, lasting unity in the church. The first of those qualities we have already considered. It is the word “lowliness.” This word means, “to think or judge with lowliness; to possess lowliness of mind. It speaks of humility.” Humility, as we learned last time, is “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. It is not thinking little of oneself, it is not thinking of oneself at all! Genuine humility, or lowliness, is the absolute antithesis of pride, which is thinking only of yourself.
The other qualities that Paul mentions in this verse flow from a humble spirit. When we come to the place where we are truly humble, these other qualities will naturally be a part of our lives. Unfortunately, we seem to be in a constant search for humility, thus these other qualities were lacking as well. As elusive as humility and these other qualities are, they are essential if there is to be true unity in the church. When these qualities are a part of each of our lives, unity will be the result. When they are not part of each of our lives, it is an evidence that there is pride within our hearts. When there is pride within us, the very unity of the church is threatened.
I would like to spend our time today in the remainder of verse 2. I want to talk about the four qualities that remain. We have talked about “lowliness.” Now, let’s consider “meekness,” “longsuffering,” “forbearance,” and “love.” Let’s study these qualities together as we consider The Path To Unity - Part 2.
I. The Plea For Unity
II. The Problem Of Unity
III. The Path To Unity - Part 1
IV. V. 2 THE PATH TO UNITY - PART 2
When we hear the word “meekness,” we often think of someone who is weak. We think of someone who is a 90 pound weakling. This word does not refer to some namby-pamby, milquetoast, tree-hugging, crybaby. Weakness has nothing at all to do with biblical “meekness.”
This word carries the idea of gentleness or mildness. It does not speak of weakness, but of power under control of a master. It brings to mind a wild horse that has been broken. The horse, though it has been broken, still retains all the power and wildness that it ever had. Now, that power is brought under control of its master. If you have seen the lions and tigers at the circus, you have seen this kind of meekness in action. Those big cats have the ability to easily destroy the lion tamer, but they dont. They have yielded control of that power to the lion tamer.
Meekness is a direct result of true humility. The meek person has the power to revenge hurts, but they yield that power to their Master, the Lord Jesus Christ. Thus, when they are wronged, they react like Christ would react. There is no anger or retaliation, there is simply forgiveness and love. Meekness is the Spirit of Christ in action. Ill. Luke 23:33-34, “And when they were come to the place, which is called Calvary, there they crucified him, and the malefactors, one on the right hand, and the other on the left. Then said Jesus, Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do. And they parted his raiment, and cast lots.” Even when they came to arrest Jesus and Peter drew his sword to defend the Lord, Jesus responded in meekness, not anger, Matt. 26:49-54.
That is not to suggest that Jesus never became angry. He was angry when He cleansed the Temple, John 2:14-16. He was angry when he confronted the hypocrisy of the Jewish leaders, Mark 3:4-6. The difference between us and the Lord Jesus is the He was sinless. Thus, He was always angry about the right things, at the right times, in the right manner and to the right degree. When we get angry it is because we feel that we have been slighted; our rights have been stepped on; somebody hurt us. Our anger is usually centered on self.
So, “meekness speaks of spiritual and moral strength that is not self-assertive, pushy or heavy-handed. We have several biblical examples of this kind of meekness.
People who are angered by every nuisance and every inconvenience know nothing at all about “meekness.” Ill. Pro. 16:32, “He that is slow to anger is better than the mighty; and he that ruleth his spirit than he that taketh a city. The strongest person in the world is not that man or that woman who can put others in their place. The strongest person in the world is that man or woman who control their reactions to all the events of life.
Let me make a few closing observations about “meekness.”
This word literally means, “to be long tempered.” It speaks of “patient endurance of trials, afflictions and others. It is the opposite to that person who has a short fuse; and of that person who flies off the handle with the slightest provocation.
The person who exhibits “longsuffering knows what it is like to be hurt by others. They know what is to be wronged, mistreated, and attacked by others. Yet, this person also knows how to control their reactions to the actions of other people. They endure the hurtful people around them without a desire to retaliate and attack back. Paul, in 1 Thes. 5:14-15 said, “Now we exhort you, brethren, warn them that are unruly, comfort the feebleminded, support the weak, be patient toward all men. See that none render evil for evil unto any man; but ever follow that which is good, both among yourselves, and to all men. That is to be our manner of life.
Longsuffering patiently endures those people who get under our skin; who aggravate us; who hassle us. An great preacher in the early church named Chrysostom said, It is the spirit which has the power to take revenge, but never does. Longsuffering has the power to attack back, but it doesnt! Longsuffering understands the spirit of Romans 12:15-21.
True “longsuffering manifests itself through a life that humbly accepts the bumps in the road without complaint, anger or vengeance. Longsuffering never quits! It patiently serves the Lord in spite of the hardships of the way. Biblical humility causes you to be longsuffering with other people, but it also causes you to be longsuffering to the will of the Lord. This truth is seen in the lives of many of the greatest characters in the Bible. Abraham, Noah, Moses, David, Jeremiah, and Paul are all examples of “longsuffering in action.
This word means “to put up with,” and it speaks of our ability to be tolerant of others. “Forbearance is the ability to accept people just as they are, without wanting them to change in order to be worthy of your love. That is a hard command, because people are weird! People are odd! Its not always easy to put up with people. The hard thing for us to acknowledge is that it may be just as hard for them to put up with us!
The Bible is clear, we are to give people the room to be who they are, Ill. Rom. 14:1-15:7. When we walk in pride, we will judge others if they don’t meet our standards. We will judge them if they aren’t just like us. We will judge them when they are the least bit different. You show me someone who stands in judgment of the actions and lives of others, and I will show you someone who walks in pride!
If we are going to have genuine unity in the church tolerance of others is an absolute essential. If we expect people to conform before we accept them, we have missed the whole point of grace. The Lord did not expect you to change before He loved you, called you and saved you. He knew you couldn’t change. He took in just like you were. He saved you while you were yet in your sins. He didn’t ask you to change a thing before you could come to Him. He just took you like you were and changed your life.
He expects that same attitude to display itself in our lives. True humility will manifest itself in “forbearance,” and “forbearance allows us to love people just like they are! Genuine tolerance is not a facade. That is, we dont pretend to accept and love others outwardly, while inwardly we resent them for who and what they are and do. Genuine tolerance makes allowances for the faults and failures of others, for different personalities, abilities, and temperaments. Genuine tolerance speaks of positive love even to those who irritate us, disturb us, or embarrass us.
This word is really tied to “forbearance.” We are to “tolerate one another in love. This word speaks of our passion one for another. The only way we will ever walk in true lowliness, meekness, longsuffering and forbearance is if we truly love one another like Christ loves us. If I love you like He loves you, then I will accept you like you are, without expecting you to change and to become more like me.
This kind of love, His kind of love, always seeks God’s best for the one who is the object of that love. Thus, when we love someone, we will automatically place them ahead of self, exhibiting true humility, restraint, patience, and loving tolerance.
This kind of love is commanded, Matt. 22:37-39, and it is clearly detailed in 1 Cor. 13:1-8a. A quick refresher from those verses is in order right now.
Conc: If we were honest, we would all admit that this is a hard verse for us. The reason is, none of these qualities are automatic. They require constant work. They require constant effort.
If we would walk in unity as a body of believers in Christ, every one of these qualities is essential to that unity. The only way we will ever achieve the high calling of this verse is for each of us to be filled with the Spirit of God. When we are yielded to the Lord, and filled with His Spirit, we are brought to a place where we cease to matter. When we get there, and nothing matters to us but Him and His will, we will have no problems walking in “lowliness, meekness, longsuffering, forbearance, and love.
Until we get there, true unity within the body of Christ will always elude us.
Maybe the Lord has touched a tender spot in your heart and you would like to talk to Him about your need. You can do that right now.