Lesson 4

The Key to Unity

(Ephesians 4, Romans 14)
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Introduction: A lack of unity can be painful! At a church camp this weekend, a friend threw a football to me. I had to run to catch it, and just as I was getting my hands around it, my foot caught on the ground. Instead of falling forward on my face, I tucked in my shoulder, hit the ground, rolled and came up - still holding the football. It looked pretty good for an old guy like me. But, there was a failure of unity. My foot let me down, and my left shoulder took the kind of force not normally connected with typing! That night was painful! I'm still suffering the consequences. Let's explore what the Bible teaches us about unity in the body of Christ!

  1. Gentile, Humble, Love


    1. Read Ephesians 4:1. Who is the prisoner? (Paul! In our last series of studies in Acts we learned how Paul was periodically confined by Rome. Acts ended with Paul in confinement.)


    2. Read Ephesians 4:2. How does being a prisoner help to make you humble and patient?


      1. What does Paul say should make his readers "completely humble and gentle" and "patient?" ("Bearing with one another in love." Paul tells us that this is consistent with living a life "worthy of the calling you have received.")


      2. Let's explore this. How does love make you humble, gentle and patient?


      3. When I was growing up, my parents complained that I treated friends and strangers better than members of my own family. Since I knew the family, I did not have to be on my best behavior. Thus, I was less humble, gentle and patient with those I loved! Is that also true for you? (If it is, then perhaps it proved that the love of my parents tolerated worse behavior from me.)


      4. It seems to me that when you love someone, do you assume the best of them. (You want to maintain your relationship, therefore you are more patient, gentle and humble than you are with complete strangers.)


    3. Read Ephesians 4:3. What is the "unity of the Spirit?" (This is the Holy Spirit. This is unity that comes from having the Holy Spirit dwell in us.)


    4. Read Ephesians 4:4-6. Why is unity the result of the Holy Spirit dwelling in us?(Paul points out that several different things make us one in the Holy Spirit. These "things" have a single focus. But more than that, we are unified by a God who is "over all and through all and in all.")


      1. Let's ask some hard questions. Are these the points on which the Holy Spirit brings unity - baptism, the Trinity, and Christianity? If so, can we disagree on other issues? (If you think back about our recent study of the Book of Acts, you will recall the Acts 15 meeting where the Church met to resolve the issue of circumcision for Gentiles. That was a huge controversy in the early church.)


        1. Is circumcision mentioned in these verses as a point on which God brings unity? (No. That leads me to conclude that the Holy Spirit should bring unity on points other than those specifically mentioned.)


    5. Let's skip down and read Ephesians 4:11-13. Can we see some aspects of the church for which we should not expect unity? (We are not all unified in our job classifications. We work together, but not every one, for example, is "given" to be a pastor.)


      1. How do we explain this kind of unity? (We have different jobs and positions in the church, but we work together. Paul explains elsewhere that this is like the unity in the human body. See 1 Corinthians 12.)


      2. What specific area of unity is mentioned? ("Unity in the faith and the knowledge of the Son of God.")


        1. Does that mean that we can disagree on some areas, such as who should be a pastor?


      3. Let's look again at a very interesting phrase in Ephesians 4:13. We are to "become mature." If you add maturity to humility, patience, love, and gentleness, will disputes still persist? (That makes disputes much less likely. I think the sense of the Greek is "complete." Thus, "mature" is not simply an attitude, it is an increase in understanding the will of God.)


      4. In my Church today there is resistance to a decision on who can be an ordained pastor. I'm far from certain that everything written on the subject reflects humility or maturity. How do you think humility can help resolve this problem? Does it mean that a member of the church should always submit to duly constituted church authority? Is that what humility requires?


  2. Diversity and Unity


    1. Read Romans 14:1-4. In what way does humility and love play a role in "disputable matters?" (We should not look down on those with whom we disagree. We are all servants of God, and God alone can judge His servants.)


    2. Read Romans 14:13-18. How is unity preserved in situations where we have a clear dispute about the merits of certain food? (Each person is to make up his or her own mind.)


    3. Read Romans 14:22-23. How does Paul suggest we maintain unity? (By keeping our views to our self!)


      1. How would you be able to do that? What kind of character trait(s) would be required? (Certainly humility! A proud person would be sure to express what he believed. Love would be a restraint on expressing your views. The Holy Spirit will change our hearts.)


      2. Does Paul ask us to concede our views? (No. He does not tell us to agree to whatever is the lowest common denominator. Instead, he says keep your views to yourself.)


    4. Is this idea that we can all have different views, but we have unity because we keep our mouths shut, an important part of the answer to church unity? (Re-read Romans 14:1. It has to be a "disputable" matter. I don't think that means that any time a dispute breaks out we should shut our mouth. Instead, I think it refers to an issue on which the Bible is not clear.)


  3. Church Family


    1. Read Ephesians 5:21. How does this work? Have you had the experience of "submitting" to another person at a traffic intersection, or walking down a hall, and being polite meant neither of you made any progress? My wife and I do this all the time when it comes to eating out. We defer to the preference of the other.(You cannot, literally, have mutual submission or we would go hungry, or never get through an intersection. Paul must be talking about an attitude.)


    2. Read Ephesians 5:22-24. Does this clarify Ephesians 5:21? Does it mean that husbands and wives submit to each other, but to be sure we actually eat, I get to make the final choice?


    3. Read Ephesians 5:25-27. We need a discussion about Paul's definition of submission. If husbands are to be like Jesus was to us, that means that husbands are to prefer their wives over their own lives. That is a very unusual definition of submission. I would say that Jesus submitted Himself to us, not the other way around. What do you say?


    4. Read Ephesians 5:28. One of the most important Biblical teachings on marriage is found here: "He who loves his wife loves himself." Can we translate this into resolving church disputes? "He who loves church authority loves himself?" Or, should it be "He who loves church unity loves himself?" The idea is that submitting brings blessings. Does that seem right?


    5. Read Ephesians 5:29-33. Does it seem odd to you that a husband must "love" his wife, while a wife must "respect" her husband? (My daughter talks about this - she wants a husband who she can respect. If you love your husband, but think he is an idiot, your marriage is unlikely to go well. Indeed, you should avoid marrying anyone you do not respect (husband or wife), because of the mutual submission that Paul promotes.)


      1. Notice that verse 32 calls this a "profound mystery." What does that suggest about our understanding of submission in marriage and in the church? (It means the matter is complicated.)


    6. Friend, if unity in the church is complicated, will you ask the Holy Spirit to give you the gifts of humility, love and patience so that you will understand how we must submit to achieve unity?


  4. Next week: The Experience of Unity in the Early Church.

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