Ephesians 4:1-6 I therefore, the prisoner in the Lord, beg you to lead a life worthy of the calling to which you have been called, 2with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, 3making every effort to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. 4There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to the one hope of your calling, 5one Lord, one faith, one baptism, 6one God and Father of all, who is above all and through all and in all.
I am a better pastor because of my relationship with local pastors. When I was trying to decide whether to stay or leave Messiah a few years ago, I had lunch with Pastor Dave DiYanni. Dave founded his church on Palmer, formerly Faith Chapel almost forty years ago. He knows about staying a long time at one church. When Messiah was calling our first associate pastor, Pastor Jeff Greenway at Reynoldsburg United Methodist found time to meet with me to talk about leading other pastors. Jeff has like a hundred and ten pastors on his staff, he knows something about this. I hope other pastors in Reynoldsburg would say the same thing. Pastor Aaron DeLong from Simple Church, took me to lunch to pick my brain about church budgets and encouraging his members to be generous givers. I talked to him about transparency and being ministry focused not money focused.
I am 100% on board with Paul’s teaching today. Paul argues that a life that is worth living strives to maintain a unity of the Spirit in the Church. Think how radical that statement is. More than doing good works or sharing the gospel, simply striving to stay in community with our brothers and sisters in Christ is the most important thing we can do. Unity is not flashy community Thanksgiving worship services, with pastors jockeying to have key roles for them or their church. Unity is Christians of all stripes building a friendship based on love and mutual respect.
Paul’s passion for unity was likely because the Ephesus church was breaking in two. Followers of Jesus who were Jewish and followers of Jesus who had never been Jewish were not getting along. This is understandable. They were raised differently, with different ideas of what is honorable and dishonorable, different visions of who God is and might be, different diets even and definitely different ideas on how to worship God. It was always going to be a hard fit, but Paul was clear, unity was worth the fight.
For us to get along with people we don’t agree with on the most passionate of subjects, religion, we need a strategy. Paul suggests humility and gentleness. Humility is our ability to be open to being wrong. What a quaint notion, right? Humility requires that we take into account the limits of our own experience, our own knowledge, even our own sinfulness, when making decisions about what we believe. Humility in faith takes seriously that God is so awesome and other, that any single idea of who God is and what exactly God wants will never be the only story, the complete story. Humility allows me to see my neighbor with different beliefs and different practices as a unique gift of the same Spirit brought to enrich my life.
Gentleness is the Christian practice of being loving towards those we might not agree. A spirit of gentleness allows us to take a step back, count to ten, and concentrate on the beauty within the brokenness of the child of God before us. A spirit of gentleness keeps our hands in our pockets rather than balling them into fists and striking because being friends is more important than being right. A spirit of gentleness sees the person in disagreement as someone we need to work harder to love. A Spirit of gentleness is God’s grace filled love covering us in our anxiousness when we get in conflict. With humility and gentleness God’s Spirit can bring us unity in the Church.
Paul is arguing for unity though in the church not uniformity. Each of us is given different gifts of the Spirit. We come from different backgrounds and experiences. These varying gifts mean we will never be uniform. Like siblings from the same parent, we look a lot like, share some mannerisms and ways of thinking, but man we can be really different.
This was true in Ephesus between Jews and Gentiles. It is true in Reynoldsburg between Lutherans and Pentecostals. We are never going to be uniform. Lutherans want beautiful music in their worship, but we are uncomfortable when anyone looks like they are enjoying it too much. Pentecostals think it is challenging God’s Spirit to hold them back in worship. Great! It is not so great when we sniff that Pentecostals are crazy holy rollers or they judge that we aren’t really worshipping because we refuse to smile. We can unite by celebrating that the same Spirit leads us to very different ways of worship! And maybe, even learning a thing or two about worship from each other.
A life worth living is one that strives for a unity of the Spirit. Try it on. See how it fits. Pastor Dion is doing great ministry at Reynoldsburg Church of Christ. I know this because I have been in his church, heard a recording of his preaching, listened to his concerns about his congregation as he has listened to mine, asked him to pray for me and he has asked me to pray for him, admired his ministry to the greater community around issues of addictions, race and food insecurity. We don’t agree on fundamental things about the Bible, baptism, worship and church leadership. Not unimportant things, both of us would say. Yet, none of those disagreements lead us from friendship, with humility and gentleness bearing with one another in love.
We are not sure how the crisis between Jews and Gentiles living as one church was resolved. From 2000 years of Christian experience, we can lift up several possibilities. Maybe, they had a huge final fight and Ephesus ended with a second Christian Church that insisted on singing in worship Turkish folk songs with words changed to be about Jesus, instead of those old stuffy Psalms. Maybe, they stayed together uneasily, with fires that sprung up occasionally, and consistent bickering over whether worship is feeling too Jewish or too Gentileish. Maybe, they embraced Paul’s call to maturity in Christ and saw unity as not only a good gift for their congregation, but a good gift for God’s creation. I don’t know.
I do know Paul is right. One Spirit unifies us. We are the body of Christ. God’s Spirit gives us unique and wonderful gifts. Paul’s hope for his beloved church in Ephesus is God’s hope for us. What binds us together is what we share, God’s Spirit, God’s love in this world. Striving for unity with my Christian brothers and sisters has definitely made my life more worthwhile. Amen