True Unity In The Church That Is Produced and Promoted (Ephesians 4:1-7, 11-16)

There is a concept called the, “Friendship Factor.”  The friendship factor says that some 70-80% of people who join a church join primarily for the reason and motive of friendships.  In other words, the power of friendships tends to be a primary reason for people to join and stay in a church body.  I appreciate this and I think that this is a wonderful component to the church body.  I just returned from the Lutheran Brethren Convention in Fergus Falls, MN and found it to be such a blessing to connect with old friends, people that get me and people that I enjoy being around.  It was wonderful to give and receive hugs from people that that affirm me and that I truly enjoy.  It was truly great for me to be around people that accept me and make me feel like I belong.

There is no doubt about it that friendship unites people to a church.  However, is this what truly unites the church… friendship and family?  Or is there something more, something more profound that unites the church than simple blood relationships and common interests?  Is there something more that makes us truly belong and truly affirms us? 

In our text above Paul speaks to the church of Ephesus and shares that true unity of the church is produced by the Spirit of God. In other words, we have been called to the one hope and called together into one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.  My friends we are united together into Christ, with a common gospel, a common baptism and common scriptures.  At the center of this true unity is Christ. 

The downfall of having unity solely based on friendships and common interests is that this does not go far enough.  For example, if people are gathered together in unity on the basis of friendships, then their unity is only as good as the relationships are.  This obviously has some severe problems.   If our unity is based on our friendships and personal common experiences alone, what happens when our friendships reach points of contention?  Unfortunately when unity is based on friendships alone, the church’s unity is fragile.  In other words, if there are personality conflicts, then church unity is very susceptible to being destroyed. 

There is also an aspect of relationships where we surround ourselves with people that we like and people who make us feel good about ourselves.  While it is good to have close confidants and to have joy in shared experiences, friendships will many times come and go.  For example, if our friends seize to be entertaining, enjoyable and encouraging we may choose to cut ties with them and find new friends.  Sadly, our relationships are not as strong as we would hope for and they are often quite temporary. 

There is also another perspective to this.  If unity in the church is based on friendships, newer individuals as well as existing church individuals may find it difficult to connect to the church family.  What if a new person coming to our church does not have family connections to our fellowship or community?  How will they connect?  What if they do not have common interests with you and I?  How will they belong?  What if a person has a difficult time making friends or is an introvert?  How will they find unity here?  Does a lack of family ties, a lack of common interests or a person being an introvert prevent them and us from having unity?

My friends, the church’s unity does not exist nor is based upon friendships solely, nor upon personal interests alone.  Rather, true unity in the church is given and produced by the Spirit of God.  There is a better way to understand unity!  Praise God for this!  What binds us together as a church body here and now is eternal and non-perishing.  What happens is that in the church each of our personal and unique stories are grafted into a grand and divine story; God’s story of redemption in Jesus.  God’s story doesn’t become a part of our story, rather we are gathered together to become a part of the story of Christianity that extends across this world and has extended throughout the ages.  The story of Christianity extends to people of different ethnic backgrounds, people of different personalities, people of different economic statuses, etc…   As members of the church we join together in Christ, as common sinners with a common savior. 

Our unity in the church does not come through a blood line but comes through a faith line; faith in the promised shed blood for us.  Our unity is in one Lord, one faith and one baptism.  It isn’t that friendships and family are not important, rather we are united together in our a family of faith, with our forefathers that went before us, such as Abraham, Moses, Elijah, Rahab, and the Apostles.  Unity in Christ provides a much greater foundation for the church and connects us at a much deeper level.  The Holy Spirit is producing this unity in the church, gathering us around something much more profound than something temporary. 

This kind of unity provides a much greater foundation for the church body and grants the church with the ability to weather the storms of personality struggles and inter-personal conflicts to a much greater degree than simple friendship unity.  This kind of unity is one where we are joined to Christ.  We know that apart from Christ we can do nothing.  However, as we are joined to Christ we are fed, we are forgiven, and we get to bear fruit and good works that were prepared in advance for us to do.  

Now, here is where it is interesting.  In our text Paul says that the church is unified in one Lord, one faith and one baptism.  However, he goes on to talk about a diversity of callings that he has given to the church body.  Our text says that the Lord has given Apostles, prophets, evangelists, shepherds and teachers and so forth.  In other words, to His church that is unified in Him, the Lord has given individuals with different gifts, different make ups and different areas of calling.  He has given pastors, teachers, and so forth.  Also in several other of his letters, Paul says that God blesses the church and its people with different spiritual gifts.  But doesn’t this lead to division?  We just covered that we are to be unified as a church in one Lord, one faith and one baptism and now the text is talking about a diversity of gifts and a diversity of callings?  What gives?

Now, even though there are different callings and different spiritual gifts, each of these callings are not given to individuals to promote themselves, but rather given to bless the whole church body.  My friends God’s calling and what is often called “spiritual gifts” are not given for our self-congratulation but for building up the whole church body.  In other words, the diversity of spiritual gifts are given by the risen Lord Jesus to build up the church (Ephesians 4:11), to give greater unity and to help the church mature, not create divisions.

My friends, the talents and abilities that God has given you are ‘gifts’ and they are given so that you might bless the body.  Often times in our self-centered, me culture, we believe that we have spiritual gifts to advance our own spiritual projects and our own spiritual endeavors.  We can easily believe that the church needs “me” and that “Me, Myself and I” are God’s gifts to the church which means that everyone needs to look to “me.”  The church does not exist so that you may exercise your spiritual gift to feel worthy.  No, my friends!  We are blessed by God’s spiritual gifts so that we may serve each other and serve our neighbor.  We are given spiritual gifts and called to various callings in the church so that we might “serve” and “bless” one another. 

More specifically, in this text the different offices that are mentioned, are God’s gifts for preserving and promoting unity in the church.  God gives Pastors to the church, he gives teachers, he gives evangelists and so forth.  He gives these different positions in the church to bless the church body and build the church up!

You see, true church unity is promoted by the gifts of God.  God gifts people to prepare His people.  The diversity of gifts and the diversity of callings are not intended nor should they divide the church.  The diversity of gifts and callings are intended to equip the church, to build it up!
As the church of God located here in Sidney here is how it works!  My job as a pastor is not to do all the work of the church but to bless and equip you with the Word.  We have Elders that are to guard the teachings of the church and to protect the flock from false doctrine, and to oversee that the church is a safe environment where the flock can eat.  We have staff people, such as Cheryl who give administrative support to myself and the boards.  Cheryl also is called by the church to do visits and pray with the flock.  We have trustees who are called to oversee the physical structure of the church, to make sure that the flock has a place and structure to meet in.  We have Matthew Nelson who works with the Worship along with Jill Miller, Kirk Cummings, Katie Pust and a host of other people who serve the church with their musical gifts.  We have Sunday School teachers to bless our children.  We have a Board of Christian Education that meets to plan things such as Vacation Bible School.  We have volunteers behind the scenes that serve in bringing food, setting up tables, working on the sound booth, serving as ushers, etc…  We have Sherri Utgaard and Gordon Torgerson who serve with Matt Nelson to love our youth.  Leif Halvorson also teaches some 20-30 kids through CEF twice a month as our church fills with mothers and kids for the MOPS Group that we host.  I am sure that I missed people, but you get the point. 
My job as a pastor is not to do all the work of the church but to bless you and equip you to do the work yourselves.  Your calling is also not to be the entire church but to serve in the church by how you have been gifted.  With the diversity of gifts in this church we serve each other in unity.  These gifts are for the corporate good of the church, to build each other up.
The desired result of pastors serving the flock, as teachers teach the flock, as parishioners serve each other, as the church loves each other in response to the Gospel is that is that we mature in the Christian faith.  As the church being united in Christ serves one another then,
“…we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of men in their deceitful scheming.”
This is a striking image.  As we are united in Christ and as we serve each other, this text reminds us that we will no longer be babies who are bounced around like buoys on a wind-swept sea.

My friends, God is producing unity in the church and promoting this unity to build us up as a church body so we are no longer tossed back and forth.