Most of us in this room have spent a significant amount of time around our families. Therefore, we all know maintaining unity is difficult. Whether you come from a large family or a small family being unified is difficult. The church is a family, so it is also difficult to maintain unity. What we are talking about today is how we are can maintain unity despite the external and internal conflict we will face.
Attaining mature unity in Christ requires effort and equipping.
1. Unity Requires Effort—Eph 4.1-7.
Paul opens this section encouraging us, “to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called” (Eph 4.1). What does this mean for Paul? Let’s take a moment and see some more of his thoughts—READ Ephesians 4.2-7. It would seem in Paul’s mind walking in a manner worthy of our calling is evaluated in community. This is not something we just internal examine in ourselves. No, this is measure in the context of intimate relationships with other people.
As we consider his exhortation we must begin to ask ourselves, are we gentle, patient, and bearing with each other in love? What does this language sound like? It sounds like covenantal language. While we could spend a great deal of time scowling at each other on whether or not we are walking in this lifestyle, but that would prevent us from living in light of Paul’s exhortation. In a covenantal community it is better to make sure we are fulfilling our covenantal commitments, while we gently, patiently, and loving bear with other persons.
Notice how Paul says we are to do this with “HUMILITY” (Eph 4.2). Why does he feel the need to do that? Well, because it is easy to say in our hearts, “Look what I am doing, and what the other person is not.” In those moments we are not boasting in God but ourselves. So, how can we fight for this humility? I think Paul encourages this through 2 specific words, “bear” and “eager.” There are times in the original Greek were the word “bear” can mean listen. The word “eager” means to put forth effort. If we couple these two exhortations then there is a sense where Paul is encouraging us to pursue humility by putting forth effort to listen to each other. If we want to humbly maintain unity then we will eagerly listen to God and each other.
Finally, when Paul says in the “bond of peace” he is essentially saying a “secure joy.” The only true secure joy is in Jesus Christ. If want to truly help each other secure joy, then we humbly put forth effort to listen well. As we are listening we are attempting to see where they might be tempted to disbelieve the Gospel. As we are listening to our own hearts we are listening for the same thing. Trust me friends, this type of lifestyle DOES NOT come easy. It requires effort.
2. Leaders Equip Our Efforts—Eph 4.11-16.
As Paul continues He reminds us that leaders play an important role in equipping us in these efforts. We can quickly discern the leaders role in this by READING Ephesians 4.12-14. The role of leaders in the church is to equip the saints. Why? So that they obtain unity, have a fuller maturity in Christ, and they are not so easily deceived.
All the leaders listed here do not have the same function. We also know that the list is not exhaustive because deacons are not in the list. But no matter what Paul is telling us the end goal of every leader and office in the local church. God raises up leaders to help equip saints. Notice how they equip them to do the work, not do it for them. I believe Paul understands something very basic here. Leaders do not have a hard doing the work of the ministry. No, the hardest part for a leader is getting others involved. It is helpful to know the leaders role is to equip and the role of the saints to be equipped. When we look at what Paul describes as being equipped it is essentially discipleship. Paul sees the equipping as aspiring to attain unity, grow in the likeness of Christ, and learn basic doctrine so we are not easily deceived.
3. How Jesus Equipped His Disciples.
With that in mind I want to spend the rest of our time fleshing out why and how we are going to do discipleship here at Refuge. We call this a “philosophy of ministry.” Now let we say this disclaimer, there are certain viewpoints we have on these issues that are not shared by other churches and that is ok. How the leaders of other churches decide to discipleship is up to them. I have already told you great deal about some of our philosophies of ministry. Up to this point the majority of them we believe we have strong biblical ground, which means we believe all churches should be practicing them. But there is a great deal of freedom on the 3 philosophies of ministry I am going over today. So the first thing I want to do is examine what Jesus did in His earthly ministry, then I hope that will help explain why we do what we do.
The FIRST ministry we should notice from Jesus is his large crowd ministry. We know from text like Matt 5.25, 14.14, and Mark 8.1 that Jesus would preach and teach in front of large crowds. Another way of saying this is Jesus had a large “Gathering” ministry. The SECOND ministry we see from Jesus is His small group ministry. Jesus would preach and teach to large gatherings of people, but he spent the majority of His time doing intentional, life on life, discipleship with at least 12 men. Matt 10.1-4, Mark 3.13-19, and Luke 6.12-16 all tell us how Jesus gathered 12 men to invest His life in. He ate meals with these men, traveled with them, what Jesus did they did. But FINALLY as take a closer look at that group of men we see Jesus spend even more significant time with 3 men from that group of 12—Peter, James, and John. For instance, these 3 men saw Jesus in all of His glory at the transfiguration in Matt 17 and Luke 9. Paul tells us in Galatians 2 that these 3 men were the pillars of the early church.
Hopefully you are already beginning to see some overlap in what Jesus did and what we do. Friends the thought behind our philosophy of ministry is, “Jesus had ministries to large Gatherings of people, a group of 12 he did life with, and then out of that group he found 3 men who he wanted to intentionally invest more time in. This seemed to work for him. If it is good enough for our Savior then it should be good enough for us.”
4. How We Equip Our Disciples.
Simply put the leadership here at Refuge believes doing ministry the way Jesus did it seems wise. Our leaders believe our Gathering, Refuge Communities, and Doxa groups are a great way to help the saints fulfill Paul’s exhortations in Ephesians 4. As many of you know it requires to sacrificial effort to attend a weekly Gathering, Refuge Community, and Doxa group. All 3 of these philosophies of ministry are opportunities for the leadership of our church to equip the saints for the work of the ministry. All 3 of them are a place where we can put forth effort to humbly walk in a manner worthy of our calling. In all 3 we can eagerly listen to one another and help each other fight for secure true joy in Jesus Christ.
One area our leadership is attempting to improve on is how we measure how we are all growing in “the stature of the fullness of Christ” (Eph 4.13). For all you Refuge Community leaders who have been puzzled by these monthly assessment forms, please understand that is our effort to measure how people are growing into the fullness of Christ. We are working on assessment forms for other areas of ministry as well.
Also, we hope to develop an annual, or semi-annual, personal spiritual assessment form for every member. I believe part of the role of the lay people in every church is holding the leaders accountable to equipping them. So, FIRST, please pray for us as we try to figure these things out. SECOND, ask us about them. THIRD, according to Ephesians 4.7 God has given you gifts that could possibly help your leaders in these efforts. Some of you might have seen an assessment form at work that you really like that could be adapted to a church context for our members. Please share these things with your leaders. Attaining mature unity in Christ requires effort and equipping. I pray we all are holding each accountable to those efforts—this is heartbeat of our covenant.