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Unity is important whenever any group of people get together and want to accomplish something.  Takee pluribus unum the United states of America for instance.  Over the head of the eagle on the one dollar bill and the quarter are the words e pluribus Unum. It is Latin for “out of many, one”.  When the founding fathers got together to decide on a seal to represent their new country, they must have looked around and noticed that there were people from many different countries, religious beliefs and political philosophies, and they realized that if this fledgling nation was going to make something of itself, they would have to somehow become one.  Unity means “one” in Latin.  They founded “one nation under God” and called it the United States of America.

Unity is not only important for making strong nations or businesses, but is also important in making a strong Church Universal, and strong communities of Faith.

I have been studying Ephesians lately, and Paul writes a lot about unity, especially in chapters three and four.  In chapter three he focuses on the unity of the Jews and gentiles that was accomplished by Christ’s work on the cross.  In chapter four he fleshes out what it means for the church at large and for individual communities of Faith to live in unity.  I found ten important keys to unity in chapter four.  In this first part of my study I will list five, and in the second part I will list five more.

Walk Worthy

1.  In order for there to be Christian unity, each individual must walk worthy of the calling that they have received.  That calling is, to quote the Westminster Shorter Catechism, “to glorify God and enjoy Him forever.”  To accomplish that, we must strive to love God with all of our heart, mind, soul, and strength; and to love our neighbors as ourselves.

Be Humble

2.  Paul also writes that we are to completely humble (NIV) .  What does it mean to be completely humble?  I think that there are three ways to look at that.  One is to take to heart what Paul wrote elsewhere – “esteem others better than yourself”(Philippians 2).  We naturally want to think that we are better than everyone else and find fault with others in order to make ourselves seem better than we really are.  That is not being completely humble. Two, Paul also tells Timothy that he, Paul, is the worst of sinners.  To be completely humble we must see ourselves as the worst of sinners, for whom Christ died.  The third, and perhaps best way to be completely humble is to do what C.S. Lewis says, and that is to think of ourselves less.  Put the focus on God and others.

Put  Up  With Each Other

3.  Paul next admonishes the Christians to be patient, bearing with one another.  These two items are so closely related to each other that they can be taken as one item; one coin (or tortilla as my wife likes to say) with two sides.  A translation that I prefer for the idea of “bearing with one another” is “to put up with one another.”  We all know brothers or sisters in Christ who do things that really bother us.  Things they do that we don’t agree with, yet these things that they do (or don’t do) are not specifically mentioned in  scripture.  So what should we do about it?  Put up with it!

This is especially wise advise for those of us who live in community, like those of us who live and work together at FFHM’ s Home For Needy Children in Mexico.  The staff members at the children’s homes typically come from the U.S., Canada and Mexico.  We have different cultures, upbringing and spiritual traditions.  We all do things differently from one another.  Our initial reaction upon encountering others who “do it differently” is to think that they do it wrong and that I do it right. That is exactly what Satan wants us to think in order to foster dissension and division.  To brake up unity and weaken the Body of Christ.  Paul tells us to put up with the people who do it differently.   To do that we need to be patient.  With patience, over time,one of three things will happen-1. God will change the other person, 2. God will change me, 3. God will use our differences, our diversity, to make the community of faith stronger than it would be without the differences.

Make Every Effort

4.  Paul goes on to tell the believers to “make every effort to keep the bond of unity.”  He is telling us that unity is work!  Unity must be intentional.  Unity doesn’t happen naturally.  In fact is usually goes against our sin tainted nature’s.  Almost every action we take or word we speak either strengthens that bond of unity or weakens it.  Everyday we should wake up and ask God what we can do to build up Christian unity, and ask him to reveal attitudes we have that can diminish that unity, and then act on what the Holy Spirit reveals to our hearts.  That is making every effort.

Love

5.  Next Paul talks about One Body, One Spirit, to which you were called in One Hope.  All believers are one body, the body of Christ.  It is the one Spirit that makes the body alive, that gives the body strength and that guides the body.  We were called by the Father to live in and look forward to one hope.   We have the many in this phrase of Paul’s; the body of Christ, the Spirit, and the Father who called us.  It’s the trinity, the ultimate example of true unity, of true and perfect unity to which we were called.  As I mentioned earlier we are ultimately called to glorify God and to enjoy Him forever.  How do we glorify Him and enjoy Him?  Remember the two greatest commandments, Love God with all our being and love our neighbors as ourselves.  In many places where Paul talks about unity, he includes the Word love.  There can be no unity without love.

When most people hear the word “love”, they think about emotion.  That is fine and dandy if we are talking about “Eros” or romantic love, or if the topic under consideration is “phileo ” or brotherly love.  But talking about the great commandments, we are talking about “agape” love, and the foundation for that kind of love is not emotion but devotion.  Devotion to God and doing His will.  Devotion to one another despite our differences, perspectives on life, and world views.  Agape love puts the “other person” first and results in strong chains that build up the body of Christ, glorifies the Spirit, and produces an enduring hope.

To be continued…

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24439834-stairway-into-lightI have been reading Ephesians lately and have been taken with the idea of the heavenly realms.  I have read Ephesians many times before and never noticed how important a place that  the idea, the reality, of the heavenly realms were to Paul, and how important they should be to our thoughts and actions.

The Apostle uses the phrase “heavenly realms” five times in this short letter.  In the first chapter he uses it twice.  In verse three he tells believers that they are blessed in the heavenly realms.  Most of us think mainly of the blessings we receive, or want to receive in the earthly realms.  Paul tells followers of Christ that we are blessed in the heavenly realms, and those blessings don’t just trickle down to us here on earth, but they cascade down upon us from on high, from the heavenly realms.

And why are we so fortunate to receive these blessings?  Paul goes on to say that Christ was raised from the dead and is seated in power at the right hand of the Father.  That same power that placed Jesus on the throne is the power that saves us, forgives us, redeems us and puts us in right relationship with the Father.  What incredible blessings those are!

But wait, there’s more!  Paul writes in chapter two, the famous “Grace” chapter, that even though we were dead in our trespasses and sins, we who have been blessed with His grace and mercy, have also been seated in the heavenly realms.  This signifies that we also have been given power, the power of the throne so to speak.  We are not literally in heaven, just as an earthly king is not literally on the throne all the time, yet he continually has the power of the throne and the crown.  God has endowed us with power from on high to overcome sin and the enemy, which Paul refers to in chapter three and chapter six.

In chapter three Paul begins to write about the gentiles and how through the work of Christ they have been joined with the Jews as God’s chosen people, and this combined group of Jews and gentiles are now called the church, the called out people. They are called out of the system of the world dominated by the “ruler of the air” (chapter two).  Paul tells the Ephesians that the church is to show the wisdom of God to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly realms.  Who are these “rulers and authorities”?  And what does it mean for the church to show them the wisdom of God?  When we have questions about the meaning of a Bible passage, it is best to let scripture interpret scripture, so let’s take a look at the final “heavenly realm” passage in Ephesians.

In chapter six we have the famous passage about our spiritual armor.  What do we need spiritual armor for?  To fight spiritual battles with spiritual enemies.  Paul tells us that the enemies are not flesh and blood, but rulers, authorities, dark powers and spiritual forces in the heavenly realms.  So we learn that everything is not beauty and spice and everything nice in the heavenly realms.  We have enemies to fight, battles to win in the heavenly realms.  We must all put on the armor of God every morning.  Each individual joins the army, the church, to defeat the forces of evil.

I help out in a home for needy children in Oaxaca, Mexico.  Every child that comes into the home is a child saved from the devil, who wants to kill, steal and destroy these precious little ones.  When they come to know Jesus as their Savior, and come to the realization that God loves them and wants them to be happy, it gives Satan a black eye.  It is a setback to his evil hordes.  Each child that is seated in the heavenly realms deals a blow to the plans of the rulers and authorities in high places, showing the wisdom and power of God.

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