Excerpts from 

Preserving Unity

By Pastor Steven J. Cole  - January 27, 2008

  Read the entire message at http://www.fcfonline.org/content/1/sermons/012708M.pdf

Emphasis added in bold and italicized letters

...Sadly, down through history the church has remained unified when it should have divided and it has divided when it should have remained unified.

It has remained unified when it should have divided because when professing Christians deny the gospel, deny cardinal doctrines of the faith, or tolerate sins that the Bible condemns, there needs to be division, not unity. When denominations debate homosexual marriage or whether clergy can be practicing homosexuals, true believers need to separate themselves, because such matters are not up for debate if you believe the Bible.

On the other hand, there have been many sad divisions among Protestant churches over minor matters where unity should have been preserved. Often these divisions stem from personality conflicts or matters of opinion on which Scripture is not precisely clear. For the church to divide along racial lines is to violate the core principle of unity between the Jews and Gentiles for which Paul was imprisoned.... But, unity among true Christians is a big deal. We should not divide over minor issues...

To preserve the unity of the Spirit, we need to practice the qualities that preserve unity....

Several of these qualities—love, peace, patience, and gentleness are listed as the fruit of the Spirit (Gal. 5:22-23), showing that we must walk in the Spirit in order to grow in these graces. There are five listed in verse 2:

A. To preserve the unity of the Spirit, we need humility.

Paul says “all humility and gentleness” to show that we can’t be half-hearted about it. Humility is literally, “lowliness of mind.” The Greeks did not regard it as a virtue. It is, of course, the opposite of pride, which is at the root of every sin. Pride is the number one enemy of harmonious relationships. Humility is the recognition that all that we are and have are due to God’s grace. As Paul wrote (1 Cor. 4:7),

‘What do you have that you did not receive? And if you did receive it, why do you boast as if you had not received it?”

...First, humility means being Christ-sufficient, not self-sufficient. The proud person trusts in himself. He thinks that he can do it. You often hear, “you’ve got to believe in yourself.” No, the humble Christian trusts in Jesus. He knows that if he believes in himself, he will fail big-time!

Second, humility does not mean dumping on yourself. Rather, the humble person recognizes that God has graciously given him certain abilities that he is to use for God’s glory and purposes. So, with Paul we can say,

“Not that we are adequate in ourselves to consider anything as coming from ourselves, but our adequacy is from God” (2 Cor. 3:5; see also Rom. 12:3).

B. To preserve the unity of the Spirit, we need gentleness.

The King James Bible translates it as meekness, which we often associate with weakness. But that is not the idea of this Greek word, which is difficult to translate with a single word. It has the idea of “strength under control.” It pictures a person who controls his temper and does not retaliate or seek revenge. ...  Jesus used both humility and gentleness to describe Himself:

“Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.” (Matt. 11:29)

Jesus was tender with the bruised and broken soul, but strong and forceful with the proud, self-righteous Pharisees.

C. To preserve the unity of the Spirit, we need patience.

The word literally means, “long-tempered.” It is the opposite of a person with a short fuse. Thankfully, God is patient towards us (Rom. 2:4; 2 Pet. 3:9). It is the first-listed quality of love (1 Cor.13:4). To preserve unity, we must be patient with one another....

D. To preserve the unity of the Spirit, we need tolerance [forbearance].

I prefer the older NASB translation, “forbearance,” because tolerance has come to mean throwing out all absolute moral standards and not judging anyone for any sin. Clearly, the Bible spells out absolute standards of right and wrong and calls us on lovingly to confront or correct those who persist in evil or serious doctrinal error. But “forbearance” or “tolerance” in the right sense means bearing with someone’s shortcomings or quirks. It means giving the other person room to be different in non-moral areas. Pride makes us think, “Anyone with half a brain could see that my way is the best way to do this.” Tolerance says, “That’s not my preference, but it’s okay.” Finally,

E. To preserve the unity of the Spirit, we need love.

Don’t just “tolerate someone.” Do it “in love.” Love seeks the highest good of the other person. ...

“Being diligent to preserve the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” (4:3).

Diligence implies deliberate effort. It has the nuance of haste or speed, which suggests that we are not to allow disunity to fester. We are to go after it quickly. As Paul says,

“So then, we pursue the things that make for peace and the building up of one another.”  (Rom. 14:19)

Diligence and pursuing both imply exerting the effort to preserve this unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.It won’t happen automatically while we’re passive.

Peace is the quality that binds us all together. Jesus said (Matt. 5:9), “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.” “Bond” is used (Col. 2:19) to refer to the ligaments in the body, that hold the bones together. Paul uses it to refer also to love as “the perfect bond of unity” (Col. 3:14). As Paul has already stated (Eph. 2:14), Jesus Christ Himself is our peace. When Herules as Lord of your life and as Lord of my life, we will enjoy peace between us.

© 2008 by Steven Cole. Used with permission.

Personal note from Berit: These Biblical guidelines recognize our human weaknesses, faults and failures. Though we long to live in total and consistent obedience to our beloved Lord, we stumble and fall. But all the more, I thank Him for faithfully convicting me of my sins, reminding me of the cross, bringing me to repentance, and restoring to me the joy of His presence.

 "If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness." 1 John 1:8-9

  To read the entire message, please go to: http://www.fcfonline.org/content/1/sermons/121805M.pdf

Flagstaff Christian Fellowship

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