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August 26, 2018 Unity

 

 

Scripture reading: Psalm 133; Ephesians 4:1-7; 11-13.

 

[I. Introduction] Back in the fifteenth century, in a tiny village near Nuremberg, lived a family with eighteen children. Eighteen! In order merely to keep food on the table for his big family, the father, a goldsmith by profession, worked almost eighteen hours a day at his shop and any other paying work he could find in the neighbourhood. Despite their seemingly hopeless condition, two of the eldest children had a dream. They both wanted to pursue their talent for art, but they knew well that their father would never be financially able to send either of them to Nuremberg to study at the Academy.

After many long discussions at night in their crowded bed, the two boys finally worked out a pact. They would toss a coin. The loser would go down into the nearby mines and with his earnings, support his brother while he attended the academy. The winner of the toss will attend the academy first and complete his study. Once, the first winner of the toss completes his study, he will help the other brother to attend the academy and support him financially by selling arts or working at the mines if necessary.

They tossed a coin on a Sunday morning after church. Albrecht Durer, one of the brother won the toss and went off to Nuremberg. Albert, the other brother went to work at the mines and for the next four years, financed his brother, whose work at the academy was almost an immediate sensation. Albrecht’s etchings, his woodcuts, and his oils were far better than most of his professors. By the time he graduated, he was beginning to earn considerable fees for his commissioned works.

When the young artist returned to his village, the Durer family held a festive dinner on their lawn to celebrate Albrecht’s triumphant homecoming. After a long and memorable meal, punctuated with music and laughter, Albrecht rose from his honoured position at the head of the table to drink a toast to his beloved brother for the years of sacrifice that had enabled Albrecht to fulfil his ambition. His closing words were, “And now, Albert, blessed brother of mine, now it is your turn. Now you can go to Nuremberg to pursue your dream and I will take care of you.”

All heads turned in eager expectation to the far end of the table where Albert sat, tears streaming down his pale face, shaking his lowered head from side to side while he sobbed.

Finally, Albert rose and wiped the tears from his cheeks. He glanced down the long table at the faces he loved, and then, holding his hands close to his right cheek, he said softly, “No, brother. I cannot go to Nuremberg. It is too late for me. Look what four years in the mines have done to my hands! The bones in every finger have been smashed at least once, and lately, I have been suffering from arthritis so badly in my right hand that I cannot even hold a glass to return your toast, much less make delicate lines on parchment or canvas with a pen or a brush. My brother, for me, it is too late.”

More than 450 years have passed. By now, Albrecht Durer’s hundreds of masterful portraits, pen and silver-point sketches, watercolours, charcoals, woodcuts, and copper engravings hang in every great museum in the world, but the odds are great that you, like most people, are familiar with only one of Albrecht Durer’s works. More than merely being familiar with it, you very well may have a reproduction hanging in your home or office.

One day, to pay homage to Albert for all that he had sacrificed, Albrecht Durer painstakingly drew his brother’s abused hands with palms together and thin fingers stretched skyward. He called his powerful drawing simply “Hands,” but the entire world almost immediately opened their hearts to his great masterpiece and renamed his tribute of love “The Praying Hands.”

 

This story shows the power of unity and sacrifice within a family. And it is important to have unity, peace, and sacrifice within families. But it is just as important to have unity among God’s people. Indeed, the Scriptures have much to say on the subject. In order to live in obedience to Christ’s will, we must have unity.

 

Behold, how good and how pleasant it is
For brethren to dwell together in unity! (Psalms 133:1; NKJV)

 

[II.] We must dwell together in unity because it is good and it is pleasant! It is simply a fact that division, and that includes heart-felt division (a sense of separation or apartness between you and another brother or sister in Christ) as well as actual division, is bad and it is unpleasant. If it is bad and unpleasant then why do people harbor apartness in their hearts and why do divisions occur? It is because of pride. Most divisions arise because others within the church either believe something that you do not or do something that you deem unbecoming. Since their words or their actions are contrary to yours your pride is touched and you become offended. Unity is lost. But this is a great loss. It is a loss to the cause of Christ on earth and it is a personal loss to all who experience it.

 

Ah! Yet, how good and how pleasant it is  when we live together in unity! I like the way the Passion Translation renders this verse:

 

How truly wonderful and delightful
to see brothers and sisters living together in sweet unity!

 

Not only is it good and pleasant, but it is truly wonderful and delightful when we live together in sweet unity! I tell you, not only is it good, pleasant, wonderful, and delightful to us, it is good, pleasant, wonderful, and delightful to God! It is God’s good will that we be in oneness with one another.

 

[III.] We must dwell together in unity because it is a rich perfume, making our worship pleasing to God.

 

It is like the precious oil upon the head,
Running down on the beard,
The beard of Aaron,
Running down on the edge of his garments. (Psalms 133:2; NKJV)

 

Aaron was the high priest in a time when the high priesthood was holy and without blemish. When Aaron was anointed the oil was poured upon his head extravagantly. So much so that it flowed onto his beard and all the way down to the very bottom of his garments.

 

This oil that was used to anoint Aaron was a special, sacred, fragrant, pleasing blend of myrrh, cinnamon, sweet-smelling cane sugar, cassia, and olive oil (Exodus 30:22-25; 30-32).

 

  • Myrrh has antiseptic (bacteria-killing), analgesic (pain relief), and healing properties. It also has a pleasant aroma.
  • Cinnamon also has a pleasant aroma and it has medicinal properties.
  • Cane brings with it a sweet-smelling savor.
  • Cassia is an oil that is related to cinnamon but has a different aroma which has been described as “uplifting.” It is also believed to have a “calming effect” upon those who are anointed and a healing effect if ingested.
  • Olive oil has been used for millennia for skin care and relieves dermatitis, including eczema, and is better for the skin than most lubricant creams on the market.

 

So, we see that the oil that was poured upon the head of Aaron was both fragrant and healthy. This is the way unity is! It is both fragrant and healthy! Division, even if only in the heart, reeks and is unwholesome.

 

It makes our worship acceptable to God!

 

5 Now may the God of patience and comfort grant you to be like-minded toward one another, according to Christ Jesus, 6 that you may with one mind and one mouth glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. 7 Therefore receive one another, just as Christ also received us, to the glory of God. (Romans 15:5-7; NKJV)

God is glorified when we are one! This is true worship.

This passage in Romans is simply the plain meaning of the oil flowing upon Aaron! We must dwell together in unity because it is a rich perfume, making our worship pleasing to God.

[III.] We must dwell together in unity to experience the Lord’s blessing.

It is like the dew of Hermon,
Descending upon the mountains of Zion;
For there the Lord commanded the blessing—
Life forevermore. (Psalms 133:3; NKJV)

That great hymn from the 1800’s, Trust and Obey, contains these words:

Not a burden we bear, Not a sorrow we share, But our toil he doth richly repay;

Not a grief or a loss, Not a frown or a cross, But is blessed of we trust and obey.

The hymn communicates the truth that when we obey the Lord we experience his blessings. Sometimes, obedience results (at first) in burden, toil, or grief. Other times obedience results in immediate joy. Yet, even when we go through toil or grief, there is a blessing that comes afterwards! Yes! Blessings follow obedience. But see in verse 3 that it is not just that blessing will likely follow unity. (Both Proverbs and Psalms reveal principles that are generally true, that is, if you follow the directives given then the positive results stated will most often follow. But there are exceptions.) Here, the Lord commands blessing! There will be blessing! Even life forever!

In this verse, the life spoken of is not the eternal life that we receive upon faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. Eternal life is a gift when we come to the Lord in faith (Ephesians 2:8) and has nothing to do with our obedience or lack thereof (Romans 4:3-6). The life forever spoken of here is the quality of life that issues forth when we have unity. When we are one with one another we experience the flow of life and, as we remain in unity, we will keep experiencing this life because it is the same life that is in the hearts of our brothers and sisters!

We have seen that unity is:

1) good and pleasant

2) that it makes our worship pleasing to God, and

3) that it brings the Lord’s blessing.

How then do we practice it? First, we must see how it is not obtained.

[IV.] Unity is not obtained by doctrinal agreement. The concept that so many people have is that if we can all agree on doctrine then we will have unity. Not only is this not true, but it is refuted by Scripture. There are a few essential doctrines that we must hold in order for there to even be fellowship.[1] All genuine Christians already believe the essentials. When people think that we must have doctrinal agreement they usually mean other doctrines besides the essentials. And so, denominations have arisen by the hundreds all with their differing doctrines which separate them from other brothers and sisters in Christ.

Denominations are contrary to the will of God. You may think it odd for me to say that since I am both a member of and preach in a denomination. But the simple fact is that denominations are not found in Scripture and there is no authority to establish them. The reason I support this church and the SBC is because every manifestation of the Lord’s church has flaws and one must pick which flaws they are going to live with. Denominational congregations are still representatives of the Lord’s true church if they hold to the essentials of the faith; and they do seek to carry out the Lord’s commission on earth.

Doctrinal agreement does not bring unity. This is the testimony of the New Testament. Let us see this from the letter to the Ephesians:

I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, 2 with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, 3 eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.[2]

See that in verse 3 we are commanded to maintain the unity of the Spirit in peace. We must be at peace with one another.

Some versions translate the word for unity as “oneness.”

Make every effort to keep the oneness of the Spirit in the bond of peace (Eph 4:3, Amplified)

 

Being diligent to keep the oneness of the Spirit in the uniting bond of peace (Recovery Version)

I like that word oneness. It communicates an even closer relationship with one another than does the word unity. It also reflects more accurately the kind of union that we have with one another when the Lord prayed about it in his wonderful prayer in John 17 (verses 21-26).

But see that we are to maintain our oneness until something happens. That “something” is found in verse 13:

until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, [3]

What does Paul mean by the phrase “unity of the faith?” I will tell you. In just about every instance in the New Testament, when the word faith is a noun and it appears without the article (i.e., “the”), it means our personal faith. That is, our belief or, more accurately, our trust in the Person of Christ. When it appears with the article it often refers to the things we actually believe. In other words, the content of our faith. Some brief examples:

Beloved, although I was very eager to write to you about our common salvation, I found it necessary to write appealing to you to contend for the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints. [4] (Jude 3)

This testimony is true. Therefore rebuke them sharply, that they may be sound in the faith, [5] (Titus 1:13)

7 I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.[6] (2 Tim 4:7)

8 Just as Jannes and Jambres opposed Moses, so these men also oppose the truth, men corrupted in mind and disqualified regarding the faith.[7] (2 Tim 3:8)

O Timothy, guard the deposit entrusted to you. Avoid the irreverent babble and contradictions of what is falsely called “knowledge,” 21 for by professing it some have swerved from the faith. [8] (I Tim 6:20-21)

The apostle is saying that we must keep the oneness of the Spirit until we arrive at a unity in the things that we believe. In other words, the apostle expects that we will not all agree until we arrive at a high level of maturity! We need to grow in knowledge. Until we are done growing we keep the oneness!

We said how we do not maintain the oneness. We do not do it by doctrinal agreement. How do we do it?

[V.] We maintain unity by the Spirit. Paul plainly says this in Ephesians 4:3. We must be eager to maintain the unity and this unity is of the Spirit. The Recovery Version reads that we must be diligent to maintain it.

For some, this is kind of mystical. It is by the Spirit. But are there practical aspects to maintaining oneness? Yes. The Spirit coordinates with our dispositions to bring about peaceful unity. More accurately, our dispositions coordinate with the Spirit! There are two simple things we can do that will bring about oneness. The first one is here in our passage.

[A.] We recognize and love the precious things we have in common with our brother or sister. In verse 4 Paul writes that there is one body and one Spirit. You must know that God has placed your brother or sister in the body of His Son, the church. They are in Christ - in his body - just as you are. There is one Spirit and this Spirit is in them just as it is in you. There is one hope. They have the same hope as you do! Whenever I meet another Christian, whether it is at the coffee shop, some public event, at a conference, or anywhere, I feel a kinship and an affinity that I do not experience with others. There is a love that spontaneously arises within me when I learn that they love Jesus and have the same hope that I have.

One Lord – that is Jesus! One faith! One baptism! This refers to baptism in water and it is by immersion not sprinkling, and it as after repentance and faith, not before repentance and faith. That is simply the plain biblical witness.[9]

So, we recognize and love the things we have in common: one body, one Spirit, one hope, one Lord, one faith, and one baptism.

[B.] Secondly, we think the best about our brother or sister, not the worst. Some have a tendency to think that they know the motives of people’s hearts. Only God knows those. Even outwardly bad behavior may have a good motive behind it and a person may have simply exercised poor judgment.

Once upon a time two brothers who lived on adjoining farms fell into conflict. It was the first serious rift in 40 years of farming side by side. They had been sharing machinery, trading a labor and goods as needed without a hitch. Then the long collaboration fell apart. It began with a small misunderstanding and it grew into a major difference which exploded into an exchange of bitter words followed by weeks of silence.

One morning there was a knock on elder brother’s door. He opened it to find a man with a carpenter’s toolbox. “I am looking for a few days of work”, he said. “Perhaps you would have a few small jobs here and there. Could I help you?”

“Yes!” said the elder brother. “I do have a job for you. Look across the creek at that farm. That’s my neighbor, in fact, it’s my younger brother and we don’t get along. Last week he dug a wider passage for water into his farm. But he ended up creating a very wide creek in between our farms and I am sure he did it just to annoy me. I want you to build me something so that we don’t have to stand and see each other’s face from across.”

The carpenter said “I think I understand the situation. I will be able to do a job that will please you.” The elder brother had to go to town for supplies, so he helped the carpenter get the materials ready and then he was off for the day. The carpenter worked hard all that day measuring, sawing, nailing.

At sunset when the elder brother returned, the carpenter had just finished his job. The elder brother’s eyes opened wide and his jaw dropped. It was not what he had even thought of or imagined. It was a bridge stretching from one side of the creek to the other! A fine piece of work, beautiful handrails. And to his surprise, his younger brother across the creek was coming to meet him with a big smile and arms wide open to hug him.

“You are really kind and humble my brother! After all I had done and said to you, you still shown that blood relations can never be broken! I am truly sorry for my behaviour”, the younger brother said as he hugged his elder brother. They turned to see the carpenter hoist his toolbox on his shoulder. “No, wait! Stay a few days. I have a lot of other projects for you,” said the older brother.

“I’d love to stay on”, the carpenter said, “but, I have many more bridges to build!”

 

You see, the younger brother thought the best of his older brother and this brought them together.

 

We keep the oneness by the Spirit, recognizing that we have the marvelous things in common and we think the best about one another. Albrecht Durer’s brother thought the best of him. The farming brother thought the best of his brother across the bridge.

 

[VI. Conclusion] Oh! How we need to be one! Our unity must extend across denominational lines. And, especially, we need to be one with those in our own local church. If we have been experiencing an apartness with anyone in our sphere of fellowship then we need to repent and ask the Lord’s forgiveness. Then we will experience the pleasantness that comes with dwelling together in unity. Our worship will be more acceptable to God. And, we will receive the Lord’s blessing!

 

Are you ready for the Lord’s blessing! Oneness is the way!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

[1] The essential doctrines would be: the gospel (Gal. 1:6-12) which includes the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ (I Cor 15:1-4) and the necessary response of repentance (Luke 13:1-5; 24:45-47; Acts 2:38); the Person of Christ (John 8:24) including his virgin birth (Luke 1:35; Matthew 1:18-23); the reality of the sin nature (I John 1:8; Romans 3:9; 7:14, 17); the inspiration and infallibility of the Bible (I Peter 1:23-25; 2:2; 2 Peter 1:3-4; 19-21; John 10:35); the physical return of the Lord Jesus Christ (Acts 1:11); the divine origin and essentiality of the church (Matthew 16:15-18; Mark 10:28-30; I Tim 3:15); and our own resurrection (I Cor 15:12-19). These essential doctrines are encapsulated in that great creed of the apostolic age called the Apostles Creed. The Nicene Creed provides more detail of the essential doctrines. The Baptist Faith and Message also covers the essentials, found here: http://www.sbc.net/bfm2000/bfm2000.asp

[2] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (Eph 4:1–3). Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.

[3] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (Eph 4:13). Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.

[4] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (Jud 3). Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.

[5] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (Tt 1:13). Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.

[6] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (2 Ti 4:7). Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.

[7] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (2 Ti 3:8). Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.

[8] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (1 Ti 6:20–21). Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.

[9] Whether other modes and orders of baptism qualify as the one baptism is a thorny issue that can lead to division (and has!). The author’s opinion is that, although defective forms of baptism may not qualify as the “one baptism” to which Paul refers, it is still a baptism. And, although baptism is quite important, it is not one of the essentials of the faith. Therefore, I believe that we should still receive believers as brothers and sisters in Christ even if their baptisms were defective and they are not willing to make amends (presumably because they do not see baptism as we do). Becoming a full-fledged member of a local church may require fulfillment of adhering to the biblical mode of baptism, though. (We can still love and have a strong sense of unity with those who belong to Christ but are not ready for membership in the local church.) Minimally, positions of church leadership ought to be reserved for those with a proper understanding of baptism.