7=1

 

Stop, drop, and make a list. Make a list of every matter over which you know Christians and churches have separated fellowship over. You have sixty seconds.

Go!

I know. You need more time. More like sixty minutes, right? And with some research, you could actually, all too easily, occupy yourself for sixty hours.

Seriously. Sadly.

So, dare to imagine something radically different. Dare to dream something ancient and wonderful. Dare to go where God’s Spirit would take you.

Imagine all Christians everywhere agreeing and uniting on nothing but what the Holy Spirit of God has explicitly defined in Scripture – through the words of the apostle Paul, no less – as the unity we Christians experience, enjoy, and are to maintain.

That’s it. Read that sentence again.

Do you know where you could find such a summation of unity? Can you turn to the text that succinctly describes that which should occupy our maintenance efforts as Christians? If you know where the text is found, could you name those specific matters … because you’re so all about them already … without peeking first? Is this text one of those that is so very dear to you that you have it memorized, virtually upside down and backwards?

You should! Ephesians 4.4-6 is the text and the itemized list consists of a seven matters. That’s right: seven. Not seven thousand, seven hundred, or even seventy. Seven.

Now, again: can you name the seven? Imagine all Christians everywhere, all who seek to live after Christ, declaring and emphasizing, living and serving, with only the following squarely in view through the front windshield.

One body. One Spirit. One hope. One Lord. One faith. One baptism. One God and Father of all.

Or, precisely as the Spirit who is holy put it to us:

“There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to the one hope of your calling, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is above all and through all and in all.” (Ephesians 4.4-6 NRSV)

Now imagine every Christian with such a united vision and laser-like focus on these seven matters that they could come to see the utter and complete simplicity of Christian faith: that the only thing that matters is united faith expressing itself through love on the basis of such (cf. Gal. 5.6). Imagine what could be if Christians everywhere lovingly left everything else to individual conscience. Imagine throwing off everything that has split and divided, fractured and finished off Christians through the ages and hanging onto these few, crucial things that matter.

Can you see the walls coming down? Not only the walls that separate those who believe, but the walls that block out those who would come to believe?

Can you imagine the potency of such a strong witness to Christ and his power? Can you imagine how many would come to proclaim: “Surely God is among you!”? Imagine! What a wonderful Christian world this would be!

Now just do this one thing. Don’t leave it to your imagination. Get after it!

I assure you, should you come to this way of thinking and living a life of faith with love, you will not be alone.

And who knows just what God might do with such a united people?

I hope someday you’ll join us and the world can live as one in Christ.

LIFE group guide: the unity of the Spirit – what exactly are we to maintain?

 

NOTE: Following is the discussion guide we’ll use tomorrow (Aug. 3) in our LIFE groups at MoSt Church. This guide will enable your follow-up of my sermon that morning. To find previous group discussion guides, look under the category title “LIFE group guides” and you’ll find an archive of previous issues.

Reason

Stated in a single sentence, this is the purpose of this morning’s sermon.

To consider the heart of our role in maintaining the unity we experience in Christ Jesus.

Revelation

These Scriptures form some of the foundation of this sermon.

• … when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself. (John 12.32 NIV)

• God’s kingdom is … about righteousness, peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit. (Romans 14.17 CEB)

• … I want to make it clear to you that … no one can say, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ except by the Holy Spirit. (1 Corinthians 12.3 CEB)

• Let me now remind you, dear brothers and sisters, of the Good News I preached to you before. You welcomed it then, and you still stand firm in it. It is this Good News that saves you if you continue to believe the message I told you … I passed on to you what was most important … Christ died for our sins, just as the Scriptures said. He was buried, and he was raised from the dead on the third day, just as the Scriptures said. (1 Corinthians 15.1-2a,3-4 NLT)

• The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love. (Galatians 5.6b NIV)

• … lead a life worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, making every effort to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to the one hope of your calling, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is above all and through all and in all. (Ephesians 4.1b-6 NRSV)

• Beloved, while eagerly preparing to write to you about the salvation we share, I find it necessary to write and appeal to you to contend for the faith that was once for all entrusted to the saints. For certain intruders have stolen in among you … who pervert the grace of our God into licentiousness and deny our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ. (Jude 3-4 NRSV)

Relation

Use one of the following icebreaker questions to prime the pump, to help the conversation begin. Choose one to discuss.

1. What is one of the silliest, most senseless things you’ve ever argued with someone about?

2. As a group, make a list of all the matters you know churches in our heritage have split over.

Research

These exercises/questions are meant to help us grapple with the Scripture(s) related to this sermon.

1. What connection(s) do you see between the 7 Scriptures above? How do they work together?

2. Note the phrase “the truth” in texts such as Acts 6.7; 13.8; 14.22; 16.5; et al. What is “the truth?”

Reflection

These questions assist our sharing what we sense God’s Spirit is doing with us in our encounter with God’s word.

1. “Most items Christians have split over don’t concern Scripture’s direct commands.” Thoughts?

2. Is it enough for Christians to be united on the “7 ones” of Eph. 4.4-6? Must they agree on more?

3. When Christians needlessly divide with each other over an issue, the world surely thinks ____.

4. Imagine spending all of your time maintaining the unity God made with “the seven ones” rather than fuming/fussing other things as you’d like to have them. How would life change?

Response

These ideas/suggestions are for your use beyond the group meeting; to aid in living out today’s message in the coming days.

1. With your words/ways, creatively emphasize one of “the 7 ones” on each of a week’s 7 days.

2. Memorize Ephesians 4.4-6 and repeat it to yourself daily, indeed, several times each day.

LIFE group guide: doing the most neglected work

 

NOTE: Following is the discussion guide we’ll use tomorrow (July 27) in our LIFE groups at MoSt Church. This guide will enable your follow-up of my sermon that morning. To find previous group discussion guides, look under the category title “LIFE group guides” and you’ll find an archive of previous issues.

Reason

Stated in a single sentence, this is the purpose of this morning’s sermon.

To consider the heart of our role in maintaining the unity we experience in Christ Jesus.

Revelation

These Scriptures form some of the foundation of this sermon. Therefore, as a prisoner for the Lord, I encourage you to live as people worthy of the call you received from God. Conduct yourselves with all humility, gentleness, and patience. Accept each other with love, and make an effort to preserve the unity of the Spirit with the peace that ties you together. …

So I’m telling you this, and I insist on it in the Lord: you shouldn’t live your life like the Gentiles anymore. They base their lives on pointless thinking, and they are in the dark in their reasoning.  They are disconnected from God’s life because of their ignorance and their closed hearts. … But you didn’t learn that sort of thing from Christ. …

Instead, renew the thinking in your mind by the Spirit and clothe yourself with the new person created according to God’s image in justice and true holiness. Therefore, after you have gotten rid of lying, Each of you must tell the truth to your neighbor because we are parts of each other in the same body. … Don’t let the sun set on your anger. Don’t provide an opportunity for the devil. …

Don’t let any foul words come out of your mouth. Only say what is helpful when it is needed for building up the community so that it benefits those who hear what you say. Don’t make the Holy Spirit of God unhappy—you were sealed by him for the day of redemption. Put aside all bitterness, losing your temper, anger, shouting, and slander, along with every other evil. Be kind, compassionate, and forgiving to each other, in the same way God forgave you in Christ. (Ephesians 4.1-3,17-18,20-27,29-32 CEB)

Relation

Use one of the following icebreaker questions to prime the pump, to help the conversation begin. Choose one to discuss.

1. Is happiness something a person should actively pursue or is it a by-product of other things?

2. Which usually motivates to you to do the right thing: being told what to do or what not to do?

Research

These exercises/questions are meant to help us grapple with the Scripture(s) related to this sermon.

1. What four phrases in vs. 17b-18 are virtual synonyms of a life “disconnected from God’s life”?

2. In the passage above, what is God depicted as doing? Jesus? The Spirit? The devil?

3. Locate all of the “Didn’t” and Don’t” statements. What are we emphatically told not to do?

4. Find all uses of “each other” and “each of you.” Imagine a church boldly living so. Thoughts?

Reflection

These questions assist our sharing what we sense God’s Spirit is doing with us in our encounter with God’s word.

1. We’re expected to “live as people worthy of the call.” (vs.1) Why? In context, what’s at stake?

2. Actions, not just intentions, are crucial. How does good intent become good “conduct” (vs. 2)?

3. How/why is it on us to preserve the Spirit’sunity (vs. 3)? He made it, so isn’t it his to care for?

4. A person “created according to God’s image in justice and true holiness” (vs. 24) will _______.

Response

These ideas/suggestions are for your use beyond the group meeting; to aid in living out today’s message in the coming days.

1. Brainstorm practical ways in which you will “renew the thinking in your mind by the Spirit.”

2. Work hard this week to speak “only … what is helpful … so that it benefits those who hear.”