First Mennonite Church
September 28, 2014
Unity Is Not Only Good but Necessary
Scripture reading Matthew 12: 22-32; Psalm 133
Before I go on to my central topic of unity, let me make two observation that are important in this text.
The first is what Jesus says in verse 30. Jesus does not make room for a neutral relationship between us and him. We are either for him or against him. There is no room for sitting over the fence. And related to that either or relationship with him is the definition of our actions. What we do and the way we do it determines whether we gather with Jesus or we scatter the work of Jesus. Jesus defines everything we do as either gathering with and for him, or scattering and destroying his work.
The second observation I want to make is regarding the warning against committing the unpardonable sin. This warning has intrigued Christians over the centuries. There have been occasions when Christians had wanted to define which sins could be unpardonable. What is the unpardonable sin?
A simple rule of thumb to remove any anxiety there might be in your heart about unknowingly having committed that sin, is to realize that if in your heart you still worry about the sins you commit and you still feel the need to confess them to God, that means you have not committed the unforgivable sin.
Now Let us get started
In Matthew chapter 12 Jesus went through a series of violations of the order of how things were done. He allowed his disciples, on the Sabbath Day, to pluck out heads of wheat to crush them with their hands and eat the grain; he healed a man on the Sabbath Day; he refused to perform a miracle in order to validate his divine authority, and he carried out an exorcism. And that is our text for today.
I will not center my attention on the casting out of the demon but will focus our attention on what Jesus said about the importance of unity. According to Jesus, unity is the guarantee to remaining strong and standing; division leads to weakness and a crushing fall. This is how Jesus put it: “Every kingdom divided against itself will be ruined, and every city or household divided against itself will not stand.” And although Jesus made this statement in response to accusations that he could cast out demons by the power of the devil, the statement remains true and applicable to every kingdom, city or household. If a household it is united it will remain but if it is divided it will be ruined.
We are God’s household. And let me tell you, the devil does not want us to be united. The devil is seeking ways to divide every Christian community. We need to be constantly aware that we stand in the line of Jesus. We are the fruit of his labor. We are the people who carry forward the light of his kingdom. To us has been entrusted the task and privilege, the commission and the empowerment to live and proclaim the mighty act of him who called us out of darkness into Christ’s marvelous light (1Peter 2:9). This task of proclamation that reaches, affects, and transforms the spiritual realm, yet the evidence is concrete. People around us should be able to see that transforming power in our lives. In other words, we are Christians not for the sake of our salvation only, we are Christians to give witness to the transforming power of Jesus in the world. But in order for our proclamation to be effective we must remain united with Christ and united with each other in his body.
Our easiness to be divided
We all know how easy it is to be divided. It is enough to say that if each of us stick to what we like or what we do not like about church, each of us will not only be standing far away from each other but against each other. I know it does not surprise you if I say that there are things I do not like about church. And I know there are things you do not like about church also. But I do not seize or take hold or demand my preferences. I join in my spirit and effort to carry out the ministry of the church and leave my preferences to the sides. So, what are key ingredients to stay united?
Keys to Unity
The apostle Paul says in Ephesians 4, sometimes called the chapter for church unity:
1 As a prisoner for the Lord, then, I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received. 2 Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love.
Paul self-description “as a prisoner of the Lord” might have been on purpose as we will see. He urged the Ephesian church to lead a life worthy of their calling in Christ. In this passage Paul prescribes the ingredients necessary for unity. He calls the Ephesians to be completely humble.
Dear church, God’s people must be a humble people. The world does not know what humility is. Everyone strives to be above the other—in some way or another. Humility is the freedom to reject personal imposition of our preference on others. Humility is the imitation of Jesus as servant, even though he was Lord of all. Unity is possible when we reject personal preferences and submit to other in the name of Christ. Again, I am sure everyone has something that you do not agree with in the church. One might prefer we change the name, another might prefer we keep it. One might prefer a different kind of worship style or songs we sing or preaching style, etc. What would happen if we impose our preferences or reject and undermine how this or that is done? The answer is we will not have FMC for much time.
Paul also urged the Ephesian church members to be gentle. Gentleness is that inner tranquility that flows to the outside—even in the midst of hardship and aggression. Gentleness is the ready disposition to forgive when wronged, and the eagerness to appreciate the goodness in others. Again, unity in the church is possible when we overcome the feeling of being a victim of hurt and offense by forgiving those who cause them. Gentleness also means being a people person. What will happen if we are all grumpy, contentious, irritating, and divisive? Unity simply vanishes.
And the third call of Paul towards unity is to patiently bear one another in love. Unity cannot be on the basis of “putting up” with one another. If we feel we have to “put up” with someone, time will come when we will not be able to continue doing it. We will get tired of the situation or of the person who is burdensome and we will explode. But if we patiently bear one another in love, we would not only reflect the spirit of Christ to them but we will also call them to repentance, because love will make us to care for each other.
These three key characteristics are essential to unity but Paul made a final and direct appeal: Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. Regardless of how essential these three ingredients are for unity, Paul indicates that the unifying force in the church is peace. He speaks of the bonds of peace—the prison chains or fetters of peace. Paul was in prison when he wrote the letter to the Ephesians, and the word “bonds” of peace has the same root word for prison “desmos.” Either the prison chains or the prison itself that kept Paul confined to a place became a metaphor for what should keep the believers chained together. And that chain that keeps us united is peace, the peace of Christ.
The shalom of God—peace
Peace is complete wellbeing. Peace in the church is revealed when we seek the wellbeing of others and when we live in harmony.
And this leads to look at the Old Testament passage read this morning. In Psalm 133, verses 1 & 2 read:
How good and pleasant it is when God’s people live together in unity!
It is like precious oil poured on the head, running down on the beard, running down on Aaron’s beard, down on the collar of his robe.
When God’s people live together in unity, harmony and wellbeing flow. Psalm 133 describes the beauty there is when brothers and sisters live together in unity. When there is unity among brothers and sister it is like if God is consecrating his servants to royal or priestly service. Pouring oil on someone was also an act of consecration. When kings were enthroned and priests ordained, oil was poured on their head. When we live in unity God does pour his precious oil on us and commissions us to reveal his kingdom and to be priests in our community.
Pouring costly oil on someone was also considered an act of true and joyful hospitality (Luke 7:46). When we as a church family live in unity we overflows with hospitality toward each other. We look forward to meeting together. We rejoice at being together before God. We strive to encourage each other and to support each other. We develop a deep sense of respect, care, and the sacredness of the other. When we as a church live in unity, we genuinely welcome each other and rejoice in and with them that we can share the love of God. When we live in unity we cannot help but see in the face of our fellow brother and sister the image of God engraved in them.
God wants us to live in unity. God desires that we embody the spirit of his Son who was humble, gentle and patient even with those who were against him. God wants us to be united by welcoming each other. Unity is not only good for us but necessary. Any household divided against itself will be ruined, Jesus said. So let us stand united with Jesus. Let us stand united for Jesus. Let us stand united with each other. Amen!