The Pattern for Church Growth (2)
I, therefore, the prisoner of the Lord, beseech you to walk worthy of the calling with which you were called, with all lowliness and gentleness, with longsuffering, bearing with one another in love, endeavoring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. Ephesians 4.1-3
With good reason does he recommend forbearance, as tending to promote the unity of the Spirit. Innumerable offenses arise daily, which might produce quarrels, particularly when we consider the extreme bitterness of man's natural temper…This unity, he tells us, is maintained by the bond of peace; for disputes frequently give rise to hatred and resentment. We must live at peace, if we would wish that brotherly kindness should be permanent amongst us.
- John Calvin, Commentary on Ephesians 4.3
Where truth, grace, and peace combine
Healthy, growing churches require a foundation of unity on which to build toward maturity in Christ (Eph. 4.13-16). Unity arises from the steady confluence of truth, grace, and peace. As God’s people grow in the truth that is in Jesus, His grace abounds in and through them more and more, and peace becomes the defining condition of the congregation.
Unity in the body of Christ must be a constant focus in our ministries. We must not speak only to the spiritual lives of individuals; we must also insist that individual church members make their contribution to the wellbeing of the church as a whole. In the church we are many members, but we must never lose sight of the reality of our being one Body, the Body of Jesus Christ. Jesus prayed that His followers might be one, insisting that oneness is a necessary precondition for a credible witness in the world (Jn. 17.21). No church will long be healthy that does not pay continuous attention to maintaining unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.
Our preaching and teaching must aim at strengthening the unity of the Spirit. For unity, diligently maintained, will bear the fruit of increasing congregational maturity – spiritual discernment, speaking the truth in love, collaborating in the work of Christ, and increasing in love.
Such unity doesn’t just happen. And even when it has been achieved, it does not simply continue. All members of the church must “work hard” – the sense of the Greek, σπουδάζοντες, “endeavoring” – because the law of sin, the distractions of the world, and the enemy of our souls are always conspiring to disrupt a church’s unity and hinder its growth toward maturity in Christ.
But we need to make sure we understand what unity of the Spirit is, so that we can pray and work hard to realize and maintain it.
Unity of the faith
Paul indicates that we must concentrate on maintaining two kinds of unity: unity of the faith, and unity of the knowledge of God’s Son (Eph. 4.13). Pastors and teachers must equip the saints so that these forms of unity come to define the congregation as a whole and provide the foundation on which a mature congregation is built. This has nothing to do with numbers of church members or variety of programs. It has everything to do with focusing the priorities of truth, grace, and peace on helping members and congregation alike grow to maturity in Christ.
Unity of the faith consists of two aspects. First, we must work hard to establish and maintain creedal unity among the members of the congregation. No, it’s not OK for everyone to believe whatever they want, as long we’re all getting along and making space for our differing views. Our confession is true and faithful, and tends to unity, when we understand and embrace such creedal formulas as the Apostles’ and Nicene Creeds. Church members must also be convinced and committed to the Scriptures as the inspired Word of God, the final bar of appeal in all matters of faith and life. We should have the same vision for what constitutes a healthy, growing church and a maturing life of faith, and a common commitment to pursue these together. We must embrace – but not linger around – the elemental principles of the life of faith as these pertain to the life and work of Christ, the necessity of the new birth, and assuming our place in the Body of Christ. Certainly, there will be areas of doctrine and instruction where believers will not see eye to eye, but if these foundational convictions are sure and regularly reinforced, the grace that flows from them will allow peace to obtain and our unity to be kept firm.
The second aspect of the unity of the faith is what we might call practical unity. In Jesus Christ we are one with our fellow believers, and we share together in worship, fellowship, and ministry. We stand ready to help one another in times of need and to join in activities of mutual edification. We are obligated to one another, to teach, admonish, correct, encourage, defer to, and bear burdens as situations require. If we believe that such unity is essential (creedal unity), we will practice that unity as a faithful expression of our common participation in the one Body of Christ (practical unity).
It’s not hard to see how such unity, diligently maintained, creates an environment in which grace flows readily unto peace within the Body of Christ.
Unity of the knowledge of Christ
But such unity must be undergirded, shorn up, and directed by unity of the knowledge of the Son of God. Each of us must grow in the Lord, and each must encourage others to grow in Him as well. Church members must work hard and make the most of every opportunity to help one another connect with Jesus, grow in Jesus, become increasingly transformed into the image of Jesus, and show and tell Jesus to the surrounding community. All believers are called to grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ, for this is eternal life (2 Pet. 3.18; Jn. 17.3). Unity of faith will not suffice to grow a congregation toward maturity. On the foundation of that creedal and practical unity, all must work hard to encourage every member to increase in Jesus and follow in His paths (Jn. 3.30; 1 Jn. 2.1-6).
I cannot stress enough that achieving and maintaining unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God is hard work. Pastors and teachers must attend to it continually, and church members must be alert to every opportunity to reinforce and extend the unity they have with fellow members of Christ’s Body.
If we aim for the truth we preach and teach to achieve and maintain unity, the grace of God can flow freely and fully within and among the members of the congregation, and increasing peace will be the result. For unity exists where truth, grace, and peace are the highest priorities in all our ministry within the Body of Christ.
Pastoral Hope Initiative
Prayer for Revival: A Jonathan Edwards Reader
“In the body it is the living spirit that holds all members together, even when they are far apart. So it is here. The purpose for which the Spirit was given was to bring into unity all who remain separated by different ethnic and cultural divisions: young and old, rich and poor, women and men…Thus he wants us to be bound together with one another, not only to be at peace, not only to be friends, but to be all one, a single soul. Beautiful is this bond. With this bond we bind ourselves together both to one another and to God. This is not a chain that bruises. It does not cramp the hands. It leaves them free, gives them ample room and greater courage.”
- John Chrysostom, Homily on Ephesians 9.4.1-3
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T. M. Moore
Scripture taken from the New King James Version. © Copyright 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved. Unless otherwise indicated, quotes from Church fathers are from The Ancient Christian Commentary Series (InterVarsity Press).
Work Hard at Unity
- T.M. Moore
- June 21, 2018
We know we need it, but are we willing to work hard at it?
The Pattern for Church Growth (2)