As the church of God grows and increases in the world, there will always be problems that are associated with that increase. You cannot have growth in this fallen world without having the associated growing pains. But we want to make sure we pursue the wisdom that knows the difference between a pain that indicates something is wrong and pain that indicates that something is right.
“I therefore, the prisoner of the Lord, beseech you that ye walk worthy of the vocation wherewith ye are called, with all lowliness and meekness, with longsuffering, forbearing one another in love; endeavouring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” (Eph. 4:1–3).
“And he gave some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers; For the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ: Till we all come in the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ” (Eph. 4:11–13).
Summary of the Text
The therefore in v. 1 is the hinge of the book. Because of all the grand indicatives in the first three chapters, Paul says that we are to therefore walk worthy of our vocation (v. 1). We are to walk in patient humility, in meekness, and in love (v. 2), which is how we endeavor to keep the unity of the Spirit (v. 3) in the bond of peace. This is the kind of unity that is kept by personal godliness. It is the kind of unity that is disrupted by personal ungodliness.
After Jesus ascended into Heaven, He gave gifts to men. He did this, equipping the church with apostles, prophets, evangelists, and then pastor/teachers (v. 11). These gifts were given in order that the saints might be perfected, and the body of Christ might be edified (v. 12). The end result of this process of maturation and edification is that we all come into the unity of the faith (v. 13). This unity is not yet here, and it is not supposed to be here yet. A premature insistence on this kind of unity has been, ironically, one of the greatest sources of disunity in the church to date. There is no way to believe that we must have global unity in the church right this minute without taking the next step of expecting everybody else to drop whatever it is they are doing in order to come join your group.
Two Sorts of Unity
The book of Ephesians is divided into two great sections. The first three chapters describe our position in Christ, and gives us scarcely anything to do. The only thing we can do with the great indicative statements there is to believe them. The last three chapters are filled with imperatives, with commands. These are the things we are to obey. These are the things we must do. They are commands, but they are commands built on the foundation of the first three chapters. And as the commands are grounded that way, so should your obedience be. True obedience must always rest on the foundation of grace.
The fourth chapter contains a reference to two different kinds of unity, and consequently two different kinds of commands are associated with them. The first sort of unity is simply given by the Spirit, and we are commanded to preserve it. That is one kind of command—we are to keep and protect what we were given. The second kind of unity is set before us as an eschatological goal, and we are commanded to strive for it, leaning into the long process of edification. This is a command to start running a race; it is not a command to finish it.
So we have two kinds of unity, and two paths are given for us to walk. For the first kind of unity, the task we have is that of preserving it. We already have this unity, as we do in fact have it here in our church community. The way to keep it that way, the way to preserve it, is the way of humble confession when you have done wrong, and humble forgiveness when you have been wronged. The enemy of this kind of unity is sin, unholiness, disobedience. And it is a threat to unity whether or not it is secret or hidden sin. Take care that none of you be found to be nurturing pet vipers in your hearts—resentment, anger, lust, envy, all those little snakes. Great serpents grow up from them, and you will lose the semblance of control that you thought you had. You will lose it, and the unity of the church will be harmed. Repent of your sin. Confess your sins. Deal with your sins like a Christian.
The second path is the way of godly cooperation and competition. This may require more explanation, so I will say a few words about that shortly.
Confession and Forgiveness
“Brethren, if a man be overtaken in a fault, ye which are spiritual, restore such an one in the spirit of meekness; considering thyself, lest thou also be tempted” (Gal. 6:1). Remember the humility Paul urged earlier in our text. Patience. Love. Meekness. Humility. Deal with sin when you sin. And deal with sin when you are sinned against. Fighting sin is strenuous activity whether not you are the one who sinned or the one who was sinned against.
And in a community like ours, where so much good is going on, the great sin to guard against is the sin of envy and striving. “Wrath is cruel, and anger is outrageous; But who is able to stand before envy?” (Prov. 27:4). One of the more common manifestations of this is the idea that you can participate in the Moscow Christian community by means of hooky bobbing. That way you can get down the street, hanging on to the bumper of the car, without being associated directly with that Wilson character.
Cooperation and Competition
But there is also the second path. In the early church, the first thing that happened as they began to grow is that a conflict developed. “And in those days, when the number of the disciples was multiplied, there arose a murmuring of the Grecians against the Hebrews, because their widows were neglected in the daily ministration” (Acts 6:1). But because the church handled it in a godly and responsible way, selecting godly deacons to oversee the work, what was the result? The result was more growth. “And the word of God increased; and the number of the disciples multiplied in Jerusalem greatly; and a great company of the priests were obedient to the faith” (Acts 6:7).
Many of you have heard me say that our congregation has grown to the size of a small town. I mean, look around you. And consider this number over against the total size of Moscow’s population. Not only so, but because of the Puritan hustle that is involved in this project, we have all the problems that come with growth and multiplication, and we are going to continue to have them. Simply with regard to Christian education, we are now an educational boom town—Logos School, Logos Online, Kepler, New St. Andrews, White Horse, Jubilee, and I am sure some others. Do you think there are any opportunities for cooperation and competition there? Why, yes.
When it comes to distributing the biblical worldview by various other means (publishing, video, etc.), we have Canon Press, CCM, Gorilla Poet, Roman Roads, New St. Andrews, Blog and Mablog, and you get the picture.
And then a number of you—wanting to feed your families and all—have started a number of other ventures. We are talking about restaurants, realty companies, medical practices, software companies, light manufacturing, contractors, and so on.
Given this glorious set up, if a bunch of you don’t bonk heads, I will be greatly disappointed in you. But I will be even more disappointed if you don’t handle it the way Christian disciples are called to do. Whenever disciples quarrel on the road about who is to be the greatest, just remember that Jesus is just there ahead of us on that same road. And He is listening to the tone of the conversation behind Him.