Preserving Unity in the Church
Topic: Sunday Sermons Scripture: Ephesians 4:2-3
We come this morning to a passage that has the potential and the power to radically change our lives and to radically set a wonderful trajectory for the long-term future of our church if we would only heed it and appropriate it in our lives and commit ourselves to carrying out the way that it instructs us to live. I invite you to turn to Ephesians 4 with me for our passage this morning.
Two weeks ago, we came to a major transition in the book of Ephesians found in verses 1 through 3 of chapter 4 where the Apostle Paul says,
1 Therefore I, the prisoner of the Lord, implore you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling with which you have been called, 2 with all humility and gentleness, with patience, showing tolerance for one another in love, 3 being diligent to preserve the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.
Now, as always, it's important to know and to remember and to understand exactly who it is that the apostle is writing to here. He is not writing to the world, he's writing to Christians and he's writing particularly to Christians who are gathered together in local congregations as we see at the very beginning of the book of Ephesians 1:1. He says, "Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, To the saints who are at Ephesus and who are faithful in Christ Jesus." Those are the people that he is writing to, people who are genuine Christians, born again by the Spirit of God, gathered together in a local congregation worshiping Christ and living out life together in the bond of the Spirit of God. That's who he is writing to and we need to be mindful of that. This is not an instruction to the world, it's not an instruction to apostate people within the church that are mixed in together. This is written to true Christians and it's built upon his prior instruction in the first 3 chapters of Ephesians.
Having laid out the great mercy of God in salvation, having laid out the great power and sovereignty of God displayed toward sinners who previously were dead in their trespasses and sins, the Apostle Paul now starts to transition and brings out what the implications of that salvation should be. So for those of us who are here today, born again by the Spirit of God, people who profess the name of Christ, who have repented and turned to him for salvation, this is the implication of how we are to live in response to the truth of the first 3 chapters of Ephesians. Basically the way you can sum it up as to say that God calls us to live in holiness in response to his saving mercy. We are to think through, we are to comprehend, we are to appropriate the truth of the first 3 chapters of Ephesians and then realize that that has implications that go everywhere in our hearts and lives and that's what Paul is drawing out for us. He says, verse 1, "Therefore in light of everything I've said in these past 3 chapters, I implore you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling with which you have been called."
Now, what can we say about that great calling? What can we say, those of us who once were dead in sin, who were rebels at heart, who walked in darkness and were by nature children of wrath, having no claim on the mercy of God, having no desire for the mercy of God and yet God by the power of his Spirit worked a desire for repentance and faith in our hearts so that we turned to Christ and were delivered from sin? Our eternal trajectory was changed by the grace of God. Through no merit of our own, through no deserving, through no seeking, God instead just had sheer mercy, unbounded grace, amazing love that he bestowed upon us. How should we then live? How should we respond to that kind of mercy as those who know the name of Christ? Well, Paul says, "You need to walk," that means you need to have a daily life, "that is consistent with the greatness of your salvation." We are to go back and we are to calculate the cost of Christ, the cost upon Christ for our salvation, to remember the love of God and to have that so move and melt and shape the affections of our heart that we are gladly willing to respond to what follows in the final 3 chapters of Ephesians.
Paul tells us how to live in a worthy manner. He doesn't leave it to our speculation, he lays out in these opening verses that which lays a foundation for everything else to come in these next 2 verses. And what we're going to see is this: we're going to see 3 responses to salvation, 3 realms of response to salvation that will shape our lives and strengthen our church for the long-term future and the long-term glory of our Lord Jesus Christ. That as you think through what we are going to see here in verses 2 and 3, as you think through what it means to be a Christian, to be brought into a local church and what it means that the church – mark this, I'll get to this and emphasize this a lot but this is a little bit of a foreshadowing technique here – when you remember that the church belongs to the Lord Jesus Christ and was brought into existence by the power of the Holy Spirit who has bound us together in love to Christ and with one another, when you think through all of those different realms, you realize that there are implications that affect the way that you live. This is very practical. This goes to the way that we think about ourselves, the way that we interact on a horizontal level with one another and perhaps even more importantly, the way vertically we respond to the work of the Holy Spirit in bringing us into the body of Christ. The implications of this go everywhere. There is not a word that you speak, there is not an affection of your heart, there is not a relationship that you have within the body of Christ that is not directly impacted by the truth of what Paul has said in the first 3 chapters of Ephesians.
So, where do we go? Well, if you look at verses 2 and 3, I'll just give you a little bit of a quick outline, it's very, very remarkable what Paul has done here and this is just an evidence, once again, of the brilliance of the Holy Spirit in inspiring the word of God. In these 2 brief verses, you see Paul speaking to the way that you should think about yourself, the way that you should think about and respond to others in the human realm within the church and the way vertically you respond to the Spirit of God. Look at it in verse 2, this is just a quick overview outline here. Paul says, "walk in a manner worthy of the calling with which you have been called," then he says in verse 2, "with all humility and gentleness," in other words thinking rightly about yourself in the spirit of humility. Secondly, he extends it out and makes it into a relational matter with other believers in the body, "showing tolerance for one another in love," and so we see the response to the others, to the saved that are about us. Then he brings into bear the vertical dimension of the Spirit of God saying, "being diligent to preserve the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace." So what Paul does here, he calls us to think about the way that we esteem ourselves, the way that we esteem others in the body of Christ and the way that we esteem the great work of the Holy Spirit as we move about in the body of Christ here in this local congregation. So inside, outside, up, everything that you would want, everything that you could think comes under the umbrella of these words that he has spoken here. It's all pervasive and it gives us a sense of the proper way to respond to the gift of God's salvation in your life.
The first round that he brings us to think about is for you to make a proper response to self. A proper response to self. How should you think about yourself in light of the cross of Jesus Christ? What should be your self-assessment? What should be your expectation about what comes to you in life? What should be your attitude about your own desires and what you want? Well, Paul lays it out for us with all clarity here in the beginning of verse 2, he says, "with all humility and gentleness, with patience, showing tolerance for one another in love," and in our outline here we are splitting verse 2 into 2 different parts. Paul calls you to a character. He calls you to a kind of moral quality of life, better stated, a moral quality of being that is much different from what you were accustomed to when you were living as an unsaved person in the world. This is a direct call out of the mindset of the world, out of the mindset of your prior selfishness. And we are to think through the implications of the cross in a way that shapes the way that we think about our very selves.
Paul is calling us to character qualities that frame our entire lives and you could put it this way, beloved: Paul starts by calling us to abandon, watch this, Paul calls you as a Christian to abandon your sense of entitlement as you walk through the world and particularly as you are going about life in the body of Christ. He says, "You are to walk with all humility and gentleness." A worthy walk, in other words, a life that is worthy of being called to Christ, of having received the gift of God in salvation, a way to respond that is appropriate and fitting to that great work of Christ in your life is marked by a life of humility. And what humility means, here particularly in the body of Christ, humility means at a most fundamental level that you consider others in the body of Christ as being more important than yourself. That is the only proper way for us to think in light of the cross. The commentator, Charles Hodge, from the 19th century said this. Listen to it carefully as I quote, he says, "Humility is founded on the consciousness of guilt and weakness and a consequent disposition to be low, unnoticed and unpraised. It stands opposed to self-exaltation and attracting honor from men." In other words, Paul says with all humility, you come to the body of Christ, you approach it with the mindset of the fact that, "I am not here in order to get what I can get out of my involvement with the local church. I'm not here so that you can serve me. That's to exalt myself over you." The mindset of everyone in the body of Christ should be, "I have been miraculously saved. I have been called into this glorious bond of humanity, redeemed humanity called the church, and my purpose here is to contribute to the life of the church. My goal here is to serve my brothers and sisters in Christ around me because they are more important than I am." And that is a natural response of someone who is truly born again because as Charles Hodge pointed out, we're just mindful of the guilt and the shame from which we came.
Look over at Ephesians 2:1. We must always remember where we came from in order to have our minds properly framed. Remember beloved, that before you became a Christian, chapter 2, verse 1, "you were dead in your trespasses and sins, you used to walk according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air." In other words, you were a child of Satan and you were blinded by him and you were bound by him to do his will. It's the same "spirit that is now working in the sons of disobedience." You were dead in sin. You were dominated by Satan. Verse 3, Paul doesn't exclude himself from what he's saying. He says, "Among them we too all formerly lived in the lusts of our flesh, indulging the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, even as the rest." You come from a background, Christian friend, you come from a background of guilt before God, of condemnation and yet now here you stand completely pardoned by the blood of Christ. You stand with your sins forgiven. The righteousness of Christ imputed to your account. You are now rather than on a trajectory that leads downward into hell, you are now on a trajectory that leads to heaven and that is also completely undeserved. God had mercy on you. God showed kindness to you of an incalculable quality, of an incalculable amount. God showed such mercy to you when you were guilty and undeserving. He came and saved you by the sheer power of his amazing grace. The true Christian looks at that and reflects on that and says, "Wow, such a gift has been given to me and I did not deserve that. Now, being on the end of undeserved grace and mercy, now my disposition is that I am so humbled by the goodness of God in my life, it changes the way that I think about myself. How can I boast in who I am? How can I have a sense of entitlement in light of the great mercy of God? This just humbles me beyond compare. I am in a position of privilege that I did not deserve." And that humbles you. It humbles you in your mind.
Now, let me tell you: that mindset of humility was countercultural in the first century. This mindset of humility and taking on a low view of yourself was something that slaves did. It was never something that the cultured elite would do. But Paul, speaking to all segments of the church, says, "This is to be the mark of all of you." It was countercultural then, it's countercultural now. I don't even have to explain to you how our world is self-promoting and self-obsessed. Look at Facebook. Look at YouTube. Look at the entertainment and everything is about me, not Donald Green, but you know what I mean by that. What Scripture tells us, what the Bible instructs us, what the working out of salvation in your heart means is that you recognize that and say, "I utterly reject that to the uttermost. How could it be about me? How could I promote myself in light of the mercy and grace that I have received through the mercy of Christ?" And it humbles you so that you think differently about yourself. You're not one who boasts in yourself. As Lindsay sang just moments ago, "I will not boast in anything but I will boast in Christ Jesus my Savior." We have abandoned self. We have died to self. We have rejected self when we came to Christ and that works itself out in the whole way that we think about ourselves.
Turn over to the book of Philippians where Paul lays this out and brings it out in even greater detail, pointing us to the example of Christ. When you truly think through the person of Christ and what he did to accomplish salvation on your behalf, you can come to no other conclusion. Philippians 2:3, Paul is inculcating these same principles of character and he says in verse 3, Philippians 2:3, "Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind regard one another as more important than yourselves; do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others. Have this attitude," what attitude? The attitude he was just talking about, about humility and avoiding selfishness and empty conceit. "Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus, who, although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men. Being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross."
What is Paul's saying there? He's saying, "You think through what the Lord Jesus Christ did for you as you are contemplating how you are going to consider yourself and respond to your own existence in this life. Remember," he says, "the Lord Jesus Christ. Remember that before he was born in Bethlehem, he existed as eternal God, in the glories of heaven, receiving the worship of angels and he was the King of heaven, of the unseen angelic realm and ruling over all of the universe and for our sake, for the sake of our salvation, he abandoned that glory for a time and came down to earth and took on the form of a man. He took on humanity. He walked in obscurity for 30 years while all the while his life is moving toward the cross of Calvary. And what humility. What an abandonment of privilege. What an abandonment of entitlement the Lord Jesus Christ did. As eternal God, he comes to earth and he lives on this sod, ultimately going to the cross, laying down even his very life, spilling even his own very human blood for your sake." Paul says, "You remember for that which gave the fountain to your spiritual life, that it came from a great act of self-sacrifice by the Lord Jesus Christ and realize that if you are in Christ, that if you partake of him, if you enjoy salvation in Christ, that there is your model for the whole way that you approach life. It is a matter of setting yourself aside for the sake of Christ, for the sake of his redeemed."
Beloved, mark this: the worthy walk of which Paul speaks in Ephesians 4:1, what's an appropriate manner to respond? What's a fitting way to respond? Paul says, "What's fitting is for you to esteem yourself like Christ did. Christ was willing to lay everything aside." He says, "There is your example. You be like Christ even deep in your heart." That's the way that you think about yourself. "This is not about me. This is not about my self-fulfillment at all." You esteem others more highly than yourself because you find that example in Christ. And not only do you find that example in Christ, you find that example in Christ on your behalf. He left heaven, if you're a Christian, he left heaven for you and we bow before that. We are humbled by it. "But I was the rebel against you, Lord Jesus. I cursed your name. I persecuted your people," the Apostle Paul could say. And even in our sin and guilt, the Lord Jesus Christ humbled himself to be our servant at the cross in the most eternally significant way that we could possibly fathom. And in response to Christ then, we say, "Oh, that's to be the way that I regard my own privilege and position. I am willing to lay it aside for the sake of the purpose of the Gospel."
Now, with that in mind, go back to Ephesians 4:2. Paul has given us an illustration in Philippians about what this looks like. The power of the example of Christ has moral persuasion on our own heart. Listen, it's binding on our conscience that we would be that way. We say, "Of course. My conscience can't, I can't elevate myself and view myself in a way that even Christ didn't treat his own blessed person. Who do I think that I am that I would assert myself in light of the Christ who laid himself down like a lamb led to slaughter?" No, we must think rightly about ourselves. It's not about you and it's not about me. Not at all, and that's the sense of humility of which Paul speaks.
He goes on and he says, look back at Ephesians 4:2 now. He says, "with all humility and gentleness," it's a word that is sometimes translated "meekness." This gentleness that he is speaking of, it refers to someone who is under control, someone who has a sense of spiritual composure because they trust Christ, they are resting in the sovereignty and the love of God and therefore there is a sense of composure that marks them when they interact with others. We don't have to be quickly offended by what someone says or does to us because there is a spiritual composure. There is a gentleness. There is a strength at work in our heart that understands that we're going to be offended as we go through this life and we're not going to react and retaliate against it. There is a mildness. There is a gentleness about it. One writer said, "It's not weakness but it is strength that is harnessed to live in a godly way." Continuing the quote, listen to this, "Gentleness accepts the faults of others without irritation or resentment." A gentle person realizes that there are things that happen within the church in relationships that aren't like what we want but maybe initially we say, "Oh!" then you just back off and in gentleness say, "You know what? Christ overlooked so many of my sins and faults to save me, the least that I can do is to overlook lesser faults and offenses committed against me. I can just let that go for the sake of the unity of the people for whom Christ died." We lay those things down.
The church, listen beloved, the church, this local body, is not meant to be a place where people are quickly offended. You should not be a person who is constantly on edge. You should not be someone who is known and your reputation is, "Whatever you do, you don't cross John because John will level the score with you." That is the utter antithesis. It is the exact opposite of what being a Christian should be like. There should be such a humility and gentleness that marks a congregation of believers in Christ where we understand that sometimes offenses will take place, that they'll be met with the response of love and mercy and just as you have mercy toward me and kindness toward me and my many faults and weaknesses, you have a confidence that that's going to mark my response to you as well. That's the way that we interact with each other because we are born from a self sacrificial act of Christ who did not hold our sins against us and does not hold them against us now.
Think about it, beloved: the Lord Jesus Christ has metaphorically speaking taken your sins and buried them in the depths of the sea. He has taken your sins and separated you from them as far as the east is from the west. In other words, God deals with you in a manner in which he does not hold your sins against you. He does not take your sins into account. He is not continually bringing them up and dealing with you according to your sins and failures. No, he deals with you in grace and unbounded love and when we have received that kind of grace and forgiveness, we say, "Well, of course, the only thing that I could do is turn and extend that into the realm around me and therefore my goal in life is not to make sure that everybody treats me with the respective that I deserve." We just abandon all of that and that realm of thinking doesn't even affect the way that we view life. We view ourselves as recipients of mercy. We are humbled by the kindness of God to ourselves and we are prepared then to move and to extend it to others. That is the worthy way that Paul says you are to respond. It begins with the way that you think about yourself at the most fundamental level possible.
Now, having said that, Paul calls for more than just a response to self in the way that we think about each other, there is going to be an outworking of the way that this plays out. The worthy walk plays out in relationships within the church. That's point number 2, so point number 2 comes. We have a proper response to self, point number 1, point number 2 is a proper response to the saved. A proper response to the saved, to other Christians, particularly within the local body that God has placed you within. Let's put it this way, beloved: biblical salvation defines the way that you will respond to others in the church. We understand by the nature of salvation, we understand by looking at our own lives that we ourselves are not yet completely sanctified. I only need to read my Bible to know that you still struggle with sins and temptations in your life, that you go through periods of spiritual indifference and spiritual mediocrity, that sometimes it's your temper that is on display, sometimes it's you or the sarcastic cutting word comes out of your mouth. I don't need to know you, although I know many of you and love you, I don't need to know much about your private life. I don't even go behind closed doors because I can simply read my Bible and know what you're like from time to time. You're not yet completely sanctified and neither am I.
Now, understanding that, knowing that, in light of the great salvation that has been given to us, then here's the thing: salvation defines how we start to respond to others in the church. Mark this: we understand about ourselves and about each other that we have not yet been completely sanctified. As we go about life, as our relationships become closer and we interact with each other, you're going to find that I fall short and I'm going to find that you fall short and that's not going to be theoretical, there will be practical examples that we can point to. Now, the question is then: how are you going to respond when that plays itself out in your life in a relationship here in the church? Do you take offense? Do you stir up conflict and tell, "Do you know what So-and-so said about me or what So-and-so did elsewhere?" And you add fuel to the fire, you pour gas on the flame and stir up the conflict even more. No, no, I mean, it's not even appealing to think that way, is it? That's not even an attractive option. That's very distasteful to the true believer.
No, we remember what the Apostle Paul says here. Look at verse 2 with me, Paul says, "with all humility and gentleness, with patience, showing tolerance for one another in love." The first place that this starts to work out once we step out of our reflection on the way that we think about ourselves, Paul calls us to walk in a worthy manner, to think about the way that you are interacting with people within the church and he says, "You have to show tolerance to one another in love if you would respond in a worthy manner to salvation." We will offend each other in time and often we will do it without even knowing it. The question is: how do you respond when it happens to you? When you feel like you're the one that's been neglected or overlooked or insulted or somebody sat in your chair when you came into the service? I'm being silly at that point, although I know exactly where to look and find each one of you in the service. When I picture preaching, you know, during the week, I can just look and I know right where to find each one. I've just got this mental picture and you never disappoint me later on and I love that about you.
But the question is: how do we respond to each other? What does Scripture say? What I want you to see here, beloved, is this: Paul is writing under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. This is God's word that we are reading and that we are studying and that we are proclaiming. This has all the authority of God behind it and we see what God's concern is. We see what Christ's concern is for the church. He, the supreme one, loved each of us enough to take our sins away for us, then the follow through evidently in his mind, his desire, his will for his people is then that we would adopt that same attitude toward one another on a horizontal level as we move forward in the life of the church. This is God saying, "In light of the salvation I have given to you, I want you to show tolerance for one another in love. I want you to be patient with each other." And what is patience except this: patience presupposes, the very principle of patience presupposes that there will be reasons for irritation. You will find reason to take offense and the question is how do you respond to it? And the priority of God is this, is that there would be such a settled, indwelling patience in your heart that you would make allowances for the shortcomings and sins and offenses of others against you, that you would patiently endure the slight, watch this, and not seek retaliation. Not to hold a grudge. Not to lash back. Going the other side of an equally sinful response, not giving someone the silent treatment because you don't like what they said or do or did.
There is no place for that in the body of Christ, beloved, and this is as much, this is as much the word of God, as much of an authority of the word of God as it is when it says that he chose us before the foundation of the world in Christ. This is as equally authoritative as that which would teach us that God chose us by his own sovereign choice of election, this attitude of patience toward one another is equally authoritative. We see our responsibility to live out the practice in light of the principles that have been laid down for us. We see what we are to believe about our salvation and we behave in a way that is under equal authority. We don't have the prerogative or the privilege to set that aside and say, "But you don't know what So-and-so did to me and I will never forgive him for that." No, no, no, no, no. That is not worthy of a Gospel that granted to you the full forgiveness of all your sins. So your grudging attitudes, your silent treatment toward your family or toward someone in the body of Christ, your irritation at the little quirks that people may have is entirely unjustified in light of the reality of salvation, in light of the grace that has been shown to you.
Look at it there again with me in verse 2, "showing tolerance for one another in love." The word has the idea of bearing with one another. We continue to love each other. We refuse to retaliate. We pass over the insults or injuries that we might have sustained. And think about it, beloved: that attitude inevitably produces peace in a congregation. It could be no other way. If I don't assert myself in humility and I pass over the wrongs that you do to me and if you don't assert yourself and you have a forgiving attitude toward me when I fall short, well, then where's conflict going to come from if that's what we've embraced and adopted as a life principle in our church, a life principle in the way that we view ourselves? Then where is the room for conflict? It's only when selfish people gather together and forget the nature of salvation that has been given to them that conflict can take root in the church.
Now look, I feel very privileged to be the pastor of Truth Community Church. I live and breathe what happens in this church. I live and breathe your souls and I care deeply about what happens here and there are some things where the pastor is the last one to know about what happens but generally speaking, I look at our church and I see a peaceful body coming together and growing together in Christ. As I stand here today, I am not aware of any conflict between members of our church, among members of our church. There is no hostility being expressed toward leadership. We have a peaceful congregation here. Here's the thing, beloved, I want you to see a couple of things as we think through that. 1. That is a mark of a true church based on what Paul says here, that that peaceful attitude is a reflection of true peace that has been accomplished in the lives of people individually by the Lord Jesus Christ. That's the mark of a true church. It's the mark of a healthy growing church that there would be that kind of peace. There is no one that I pass in the hallway here and say, "Oh, I don't want to talk to that person." There's not a one of you like that and I trust that for you it's like that with you in the body of Christ as well. But going forward, looking forward, that's kind of a state of the church statement, I guess.
But going forward, beloved, here's what I want you to think: I know for a fact that you see that and you value it also. I know that the peaceful nature of this church and the relationships that we have here, whether you think about it consciously or not, I know that you appreciate that and you value that about the church. Now, here's the thing, here's what that tells us: is that we need to cherish that and realize that we have a responsibility to protect it going forward. I can't control what all of you are going to do but you in your own heart can adopt the mindset that, "If there is going to be conflict in the church someday in the future, I commit myself before the presence of my Lord Jesus Christ that it won't come from me behaving in a sinful, selfish way." You see, it's in a time of peace like we enjoy now where we settle those convictions and drive them deep into our hearts so that when conflict starts to rear its head, we back off and say, "No, no, the priority here is peace, not that I get my way." There is no agenda here in anything that I'm saying other than to try to be faithful to the text that's in front of us and for us to live a life that is faithful of the Lord who saved us. If you love this church and I know that you do, then this is what we embrace. This is what we seek after. This is what we pray for.
The Apostle Paul said similar things to the church at Colossae. Turn to the right in your Bible or scroll down on your iPad to the book of Colossians, a couple, 4, 5 pages, and look at Colossians 3:12. Paul says, "As those who have been chosen of God, holy and beloved, put on a heart of compassion." He's speaking to people within the church. This is not taught to the world. This isn't a command on the world in the sense that the world can do this because this is available, this attitude is only available to those who have been spiritually equipped to do that by the regenerating work of the Holy Spirit.. "So, as those who have been chosen of God, holy and beloved, put on a heart of compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience; bearing with one another, and forgiving each other, whoever has a complaint against anyone; just as the Lord forgave you, so also should you. Beyond all these things put on love, which is the perfect bond of unity. Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body; and be thankful." You see, this teaching of Scripture should just drive out from within us, drive out those vestiges that love conflict, that seek after disunion and the defining mark of the way that we react with one another is this: if you have received forgiveness from Christ, then extend forgiveness to those around you. It could be no other way. Jesus taught the parable of the unrighteous steward. The king forgave him an incalculable debt and he said, "Thank you, King," and then he went out and he found somebody who owed him a few days wages and choked him and said, "Payback what you owe!" And Jesus said, "That's completely inconsistent. Send him off to jail until he pays up the last cent."
Well see, we have to think that way. We have to make the connection in our relationships that having received this great forgiveness, then that places a mandate on me, a mandate which I gratefully receive. A mandate on me that just as I have received forgiveness from a holy God, so I extend it even when someone has wronged me. Forgiveness is a meaningless concept if you don't exercise it when someone has done you wrong. What is forgiveness if you say, "We're friends as long as you don't do anything to me." What does that mean? "I'll be unified with you in Christ as long as you do things that please me." That's not how God dealt with you. You see, there is a real moral imperative on our characters.
So let me state it this way, beloved, and just be really, really direct with you: if you are bearing a grudge against someone in the church, if you are refusing to speak to someone because of something that they did to you or if you retaliate against them, let's be really clear, if that's you, you are sinning against God. You are sinning against the Scriptures. You claim to be a Christian, you claim forgiveness but you refuse to extend it. That cannot be and it calls for you to repent and to go and to make amends and to restore that relationship before you leave the building today if there is anything like that. You seek that person out and say, "Look, I want to make things right with you." Maybe it's a little bit awkward but you just say, "Look, I see this and I want to make it right." That's how we preserve these relationships. That's how we live in a worthy manner in response to God's gift of salvation to us, we show tolerance for one another in love.
Why would we do that? Well, we've been alluding to it all along. Let's come to point number 3. To respond to salvation means to do more than to respond to ourselves in the way that we think about ourselves and what our expectations are. It's more than simply living in peace, living in harmony, showing tolerance and forgiveness to one another on a horizontal level. A proper response to salvation includes a proper response to the Spirit of God. It's a proper response to self, point number 1; a proper response to the saved, point number 2; and a proper response to the Spirit of God, point number 3. Oh beloved, I'm trying to speak in the softest, gentlest tone that I know possible because these things are so precious, so personal and yet there is something that is so very basic that it will help keep us on track. Remember this when you think about your relationships within the body of Christ: as you think about other Christians but particularly within the local church environment, remember this: the church belongs to Jesus Christ. It is his church. It's not mine. It's not yours. It doesn't belong to the elders.
The church belongs to the Lord Jesus Christ and I want you to think about something very significant, very basic, that just has a defining impact. If you are a Christian, you belong to a local church. You should be in a local church if you're a Christian and a church that names the name of Christ and you're a true Christian, then there is a sense in which you belong to the church but that's different from saying that the church belongs to you. We realize as we come into the body of Christ and we enjoy the privileges and the benefits and undertake the responsibilities of being part of a local body, we understand that we are here by grace and that means that the one who saved us is the one who is preeminent, that it's not about me and we respond to the fact that Christ purchased the church with his blood, that the Holy Spirit worked a work of regeneration in the hearts of each one who is saved and who is a member of this church. The Spirit did a work and we understand that there is a sense in which, there is a sense in which we look at that and we need to respect the work of the Holy Spirit. We need to defer to him. We need to honor his work because we remember that we once were on the outside looking in spiritually. We, as Ephesians 2:11-22 says, we were separate from the body of Christ. We were separate from the people of God. We were without promise and quite apart from us, quite apart from any contribution of our own making, the Lord brings people to himself and establishes a local church. Then he brings us into it. He graciously adds us into the mix of what he is doing. Well, in that instance, with that understanding, we step back and we take an attitude, we adopt an attitude of reverence for the work of the Spirit. We say, "Oh, this belongs to you. You did that work, that saving, miraculous work in that person's heart and in that family over there and you brought these people together. This is your work. Yes, I belong here but this doesn't belong to me as if it's mine, as if this is mine to have the way I always want it to be." We respond properly to the Spirit. We respond with reverence to his work which he was doing before we ever even came to Christ. It's his work. We defer to that. We respect that. We bend the knee in response.
Look at verse 3 with me again, Ephesians 4:3, Paul says, "being diligent to preserve the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace." Friends, the way that you and I live with others in the church is ultimately a response to the blessed Holy Spirit. Ultimately that's what it comes down to. "I belong here but I do not own it. I must respect the work of the Spirit." And there's something very profound wrapped up in the way that Paul expresses this. Look at it with me again. He says, "be diligent to preserve the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace." He doesn't tell us to make the unity. He doesn't tell us to go out and achieve it. The Spirit of God has already produced that in the people of God when he saved us, when he brought us into union with Christ. There is a pre-existing unity that he has already accomplished. Now our responsibility is not to generate that supernatural unity which is beyond our power to achieve, rather our responsibility is to preserve it. In other words, our responsibility is to not do things that would disrupt it. Our responsibility is to be gracious and forgiving and to serve and to pray in a way that contributes to the ongoing sanctified life of the body of Christ with which and of which we are a part.
The Spirit has bound us together in Christ's love toward us. He established peace, watch this, if you think about this rightly it will put the fear of God in you even: the Spirit of God is doing this work in the church, he does this work amongst the people of God in order to further God's eternal purpose which he established before the foundation of the world. In the councils of the Trinity, in their councils before creation began, the Triune God determined what would happen and part of their determination was there would be this entity called the church where God would manifest his presence. And he brings us into that and we share in that but we need to understand as we come into the life of a church and the life of Christ, we need to understand that there is something very holy and precious to God that is going on and it is not ours to disrupt that. It is not ours to tear that down. It is not ours to challenge that and create disputes. God intends the church to be a place where his love and grace and the unity of the Spirit is displayed for all to see. Well, then that means that we respond when we come and we say, "Oh, I should treat this with reverence and respect. I should treat this like a young man treating a woman that he wants to preserve her honor and dignity in their relationship before marriage." We respect it. We respond to the Spirit and we realize that this is not about us, it's ultimately about the work of the Spirit glorifying Christ among his people in furtherance of the eternal purpose of God. Scripture places a big emphasis on this. It tells us to be united in Spirit, Philippians 2:2. It tells us to be like-minded and to live in peace, 2 Corinthians 13:11.
So in the context of what Paul is saying here, we revere his work, the Spirit's work and we resolve not to disrupt it with our own sinful attitudes or divisive responses to men. That's a positive way to say it. Let me state it in a negative way. Someone who's inner attitude is, "I will have my way. I must have my way. I will assert myself until I get it." Someone like that belongs in the world, not in the church. Let's just be really straight and candid about it. Selfish, assertive, unbending, unyielding people have no place in the body of Christ because we are to live in a worthy manner with humility and gentleness, to show tolerance for one another in love, forgiving as we have been forgiven, being diligent to preserve the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. We're on holy ground here. This is sanctified territory. We are speaking of the church for whom Christ shed his blood and this is the way that he wants it and our response is, "Yes Lord, of course, I will do my part."
So beloved, we could say this: salvation doesn't simply save our souls from hell, it does so much more. Salvation transforms our character. It changes the way that we think and live with each other and this will find myriads of ways to practically apply itself as we go forward. But as we go forward, we do this from a spirit that says, "I see myself in light of the cross and I am humbled. I see the saved and I want to live in union and harmony with them. I recognize the work of the Spirit and I respect it and I will do my part to preserve the unity that he has already established among the people of God by bringing us into union with the Lord Jesus Christ."
We need to let this sift our hearts. In order to do that, please bow with me in prayer. God's word has held up a mirror to your life and to your soul this morning. Does your life reflect the Spirit of Christ? Is it a reflection of the attitudes of humility and tolerance and reverence of which we have spoken? Or do you find yourself trapped in the bitter gall of iniquity, convicted of selfishness and bitterness in your heart and life that are inconsistent with unity? Oh, I realize that we all fall short. We're talking about patterns of conduct, not perfection of conduct. But we are talking about whether there is something specific that the Spirit of God would put his finger on and convict you of here this morning and say, "Your life is inconsistent with this passage." Beloved, if that's you this morning, I encourage you to come back to Christ for further grace, to confess your sinful attitudes and words to him and to take a step, to plant a step even now to respond and to diffuse that and to put that to death to bring your life into conformity with what the Spirit of God would have us all to be.
Our Father, we thank you for your gift of salvation. Forgive us where we fall short. If we need to reconcile with someone, help us to be the ones to say the first word of kindness today before we leave. Yes, Father, grant that each one of us in this room would prove ourselves to be doers of the word and not hearers only who deceive themselves. In the name of our Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, we humbly pray. Amen.