Church Unity: What Is Needed?
What is needed? New life! — through the death of Christ on the cross for our sins.
Church unity is created and empowered by the gospel. What I mean by that is this: the gospel of Jesus Christ is the news that He has come to take our sins on himself, take our punishment, and offer us forgiveness, freeing us to live righteously before God. (2 Corinthians 5:21) And that righteous living that the gospel enables in us creates in us the attitudes, emotions, desires, and commitments that are necessary for Church unity. So the gospel creates unity. Next week we’ll look at how church unity turns around and proclaims the gospel. It’s a cycle – the gospel creates unity among believers, and that unity turns around and proclaims the gospel more.
READ Colossians 3:12-17
So then, let’s look at the context for the passage for the morning:
Paul begins the letter by rejoicing in the glory of Christ, and moves on to a description of his ministry (which includes pushing the believers to maturity and being knit together in love).
In the middle of chapter 2, he segues into speaking about the life we have in Christ. In verse 12 he reminds the Colossian believers that they were buried with Christ in baptism and then raised out of baptism with Christ. This is what baptism is: a symbol of the fact that we have died to the old way of life, indeed the entire person who we once were before Christ is gone and dead and buried, and coming up out of the water symbolizes the resurrection of Christ, and the fact that we have new life and being because of His resurrection’s power in us.
Then after a brief section addressing a heresy in the Colossian church we come to chapter 3, in which Paul starts off by saying, “So then, if you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above where Christ is…Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth.” So the passage of unity we’re looking at this morning is set in the context of Paul talking about the new birth – if you have been RAISED WITH CHRIST. There is a time before we are Christians, when we are hostile to God and to everything He desires, but when we come to Christ that person is crucified with Christ and is no longer alive. The old person is dead and buried. BUT, just as Christ was raised into new life, we are raised to new life in Him! And Paul starts us off by saying: Listen, if you have this new life in Christ, seek the things OF Christ! Don’t seek the things that you’ve died to. Don’t go after dead things. Set your mind on Godly things. Verse 3 makes it explicit: “For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God.” So the person you were before Christ no longer exists! Some days we may not FEEL like we’re any different than the world, but brothers and sisters the truth is that we ARE. We are hidden in Christ, meaning that we are surrounded and sustained and consumed with Christ, rather than being surrounded and sustained and consumed by sinful things of earth.
Now, that’s not to say that we instantly stop struggling with sin when we’re Christians. No, it is a lifelong struggle, because we live in a fallen world and we are not yet in heaven. This is why Paul spends verses 5-9 encouraging us to kill sin. “Put them to death…!” he says. That’s strong language, and Paul means it to be. John Owen, in writing about sin, said this: “Always be killing sin, or it will be killing you.” Now, it may sound ridiculous, but the best illustration I could think of for this is zombies. In all the movies they attack and overcome people just by sheer numbers, and if the heroes in the movie stop killing the zombies for even a moment, they are overwhelmed and turned into a zombie themselves. They are turned into death that walks around – “the living dead” as the phrase goes. Brothers and sisters, it is the same with sin. There are armies of sin that Satan throws against us every moment of every day, and if we let our guard down for a moment and stop killing sin, we will be overwhelmed. If we do not kill sin, it will kill us. It will destroy our lives and turn us into the living dead – people who have only a grotesque reflection of life. And the glorious truth is that Jesus Christ has given us victory over sin! His death on the cross destroyed any power that sin has over His people, and so we are no longer powerless against the armies of temptation, because we have new life in Christ! So Paul says, “Put to death, therefore, whatever is earthly in you…” and goes through a list of sin-zombies to kill.
But after finishing with the exhortation to kill sin, Paul moves on to speak to us about how we are to replace the sinfulness in our lives. He says: all that earthly stuff is dead to you! So what you should do is “Put on…” the Christ-like things.
So Paul gives us this list of qualities that we should seek to put on. The effort to be more Christlike must be just as constant as the effort to kill sin; in fact they are one and the same. It will do us little good if we kill sin and then do not replace the sin with righteousness. However, it would be impossible for us to pursue these things if we were not born again. The new birth makes it possible for us to display the kind of character Paul calls us to. The gospel equips us for unity by enabling us to act in these ways.
- Put on (clothe yourselves): list, of which most important is forgiveness.
Don’t have time to speak at length about all of these, so let’s just ask some questions:
- Compassion – Do you weep with those who weep and mourn with those who mourn, and do you go out of your way to help brothers and sisters in need
- Kindness – Unity cannot exist without kindness. Do you seek to be extraordinarily kind? Would others agree?
- Humility – Remember Philippians? “…in humility count others MORE significant than yourselves…” Do you put the needs and desires of the fellowship over your own? Do you count the need for unity as more important than your own desires?
- Meekness – Means gentleness in spirit and action. So when we speak to one another are we gentle in the way we encourage, rebuke, etc?
- Patience – “…bearing with one another…” This is difficult sometimes. There are probably people you’d rather not be around. What God challenges us to do is to patiently pursue unity even with those people we find difficult to bear. “Love is patient…” and so we must be patient, as God is patient with us – when someone says something that sets your teeth on edge; when people don’t get involved like you want; when people take you for granted. Patient!
- Forgive – This 2nd most important! As Christ has forgiven us! Parable of unforgiving servant (Matthew 18) – first was forgiven 5 billion and would not forgive $5000 from the other.
- Look at what Paul says about love: it “…binds everything together in perfect harmony.” Perfect harmony.
- This IS the 2nd greatest command – love people.
- Also says we should seek to love more than we seek to do all these other things. “Above all these…” Last week I was wrong in saying that forgiveness was the chief need for unity. LOVE is the chief need for unity. The sort of love that this is calling us to will, in turn, create these other qualities in us. For those of you who are parents, you have compassion on your children, don’t you. You hurt when they hurt, and you’ll do anything to relieve their hurt, whether that’s soothing them after then fall down as a baby or comforting them when they have their hearts broken as adults. That’s because of the love you have for them. It’s the same way in the body of Christ. If there is truly LOVE, there will be compassion, kindness, humility, patience, etc. All of those qualities grow out of the soil of love. They’re all built on the foundation of love.
- If there is to be unity, there must first and foremost be love.
- What is the peace of Christ? I think the context gives us the answer. Right before Paul is talking about perfect harmony, and then says the peace of Christ is what we’re called to as ONE BODY. So this peace of Christ is talking about the lack of hostility between believers.
- There is a peace which believers have that is more powerful than any division or problem. There is a peace which can overcome differences and anger. It is a peace which passes all understanding, which guards our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.
- It originates in the gospel – Christ brings us peace with God by dying in our place. It is reflected in our unity – we are at peace with God and His people, and so live in perfect harmony as one body.
- If someone from out of town were to come to a church function, would they come away saying, “Wow, they are rich with the Word of Christ.” What if they met with some of you outside Sunday morning or Wednesday evening?
- Sometimes it can be awkward to turn a conversation to Spiritual things. Maybe you worry that people will think you’re being high and mighty. Maybe you don’t know what you’d say. Yes, you may feel awkward sometimes, but don’t let that stop you. Even something as simple as noting an encouraging verse in scripture as you’re reading, then sharing it with someone. “Hey listen, I read this and thought it might…” or “You know I was really encouraged by…”
- Don’t let Satan keep you from ministering to the brothers and sisters in this way. Set your mind on being obedient to let the Word be constantly among you, and there WILL be fruit.
- Doing this constantly will create a bond of fellowship that will breed love. But perhaps more importantly, doing this will help focus the whole church together on the leadership of Christ. As the whole church is constantly encouraging each other with the Word of Christ, the Word of Christ draws their minds and hearts to the purposes of Christ, and that will bring unity.
- Unity is in the name of Christ. The unity of the church is a reflection of Christ, and greater unity means greater glory for the name of our God and Savior.
- Paul doesn’t call the church to unity just for kicks. There is a reason! A major part of that reason is that church unity is a very observable reflection of Christ to the world. When people look at a divided church, it is an excuse for them to dismiss what the church stands for. But when a church is unified, Jesus Christ is glorified. That’ll be next week’s sermon.
- Put on: love, which trumps all
- Peace of Christ rules: in our hearts; between members of the one body
- Word of Christ dwells: the “you” is actually “y’all”. The Word should be a constant fixture when Christians are around each other.
- In Christ’s name: do ALL things – you kill sin, put on love, teach, etc.
Christ is our foremost example is all of these things. He was ultimately compassionate, kind, forgiving, loving, peaceful, and laden with God’s Word. His example gives us a blueprint to look at and live by. But more than that, his sacrifice on the cross in our place paved the way for us to be able to do these things. He not only is our example in how to be compassionate, but His gospel enables us to follow the example. The forgiveness which we are to show was exampled by him first, but we are only able to follow that example because of the new life He gives us.
Here’s what I’m saying: Jesus Christ gives us the example of how to live. And by the gospel Jesus Christ ALSO makes us able to live according to His example. He gives us the example, and then gives us new life through the gospel to live the example.
So, what needs to happen for a church to grow in unity? The church must rely on the gospel and live as new creations, following the example of Christ by the power of the new life that HE gives.