God Is For Us

I'M A CHRISTIAN...NOW WHAT?

THE UNITED FAMILY

A book often suggests its theme by the words it repeats, called "key words." In Ephesians the word "one" stands out as a key word. **{Research topic - "One" in Ephesians: 2:14,15,16,18; 3:6; 4:4-6,25; 5:31 cf. 1:10; 2:19-22; 3:6; 3:3,13.}**

After introducing the wonders of God's choice and our adoption, Paul launches his theme of unity on a grand scale:
"He made known to us the mystery of His will according to His
good pleasure, which He purposed in Christ... to bring all things 
in heaven and on earth together under one head, even Christ" 
(Ephesians 1:9-10). [Ephesians 1:10 literally says, to head up 
all things in Christ.]

FROM DISUNITY TO UNITY


All around us we see what sin does to our world. Nations wage war. Tribes and factions fight. Rivals clash. Homes break up. Children that play together later 'grow up' to hate, despise and divide like their parents. Within each adult a civil war rages, and the bad desires often cast out the good. Confusion and strife tear individuals and societies apart. Think of what you personally see, then multiply that across the entire earth. Then add what fleshly eyes cannot see, the spiritual war in the heavenly realms. [Ephesians 6:12; 2:2; Revelation 12:7-17]


{Picture description 6A - Sculptured stone blocks in Ephesus show warriors (probably gladiators) with swords drawn in combat.  Violent conflict began with the coming of sin, and has continued ever since.}


All these battles are the result of fallen leadership, whether human or satanic. Humans are the rightful rulers of earth. [Genesis 1:26,28; Psalm 8:4-6] Their rule should bless creation and help it to fulfill the description, "It was very good" (Genesis 1:31). But sin ruins human rule. Sin, in effect, hands over control to Satan. Today's newspaper reports of crime, conflict and cruel oppression might as well just say, "It was very bad."


Now God gives the leadership to the new Human, Jesus Christ, whose sacrifice reverses the dividing effects of sin. God enthrones Him as the one Head under whom God can "bring all things in heaven and on earth together." The Son reigns until He destroys all His enemies.  Already, while His enemies yet rage, He does the greatest work of His reign: He transforms broken sinners and gathers them together as one loving family, "one body" (Ephesians 2:16; 3:6; 4:4,25; Colossians 3:15). This body's members come from all nations, [Matthew 28:18-19; Revelation 5:9; 7:9 cf. Isaiah 2:1-4; 11:1-10] even the nations most hostile to each other. 

THE DIVIDING WALL


Paul knows, from personal experience, the bitter enmity between Jews and Gentiles. From the time of Abraham his people experience conflicts with neighbors: Palestinians, Egyptians, Syrians, Midianites, Edomites and others. Jews suffer insults and tortures from supposedly 'superior' invaders: Assyrians, Babylonians, Persians, Greeks, and now Romans. The Jews, for their part, keep racially and religiously pure by shunning Gentiles. In Peter's words, "It is against our law for a Jew to associate with a Gentile or visit him" (Acts 10:28). [Acts 11:2-3; John 18:28; 4:9] 
This is the reason Paul wears chains in Rome and now writes his Prison Letters. For when Paul visited Jerusalem he was seen with "Trophimus the Ephesian" (Acts 21:29) [Acts 20:4; 2Timothy 4:20].  The Jews falsely accused Paul of taking this Gentile friend into the temple. The Jews rioted so violently that Roman soldiers intervened, which eventually led Paul into a Roman prison.  Now Paul, who carries scars from both Gentiles and Jews, writes that Jesus "has made the two one."


"For He Himself is our peace, who has made the two one and has 
destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility, by 
abolishing in His flesh the law with its commandments and 
regulations. His purpose was to create in Himself one new Man out 
of the two, thus making peace, and in this one body to reconcile 
both of them to God through the cross, by which He put to death 
their hostility" (Ephesians 2:14-16).


"The dividing wall" reminds us of the temple in Jerusalem. In Paul's day, the temple's structure is a series of barriers dividing priest from non-priest, Jew from Jewess, and especially Jew from Gentile. A literal wall with armed guards keeps Gentiles at a distance, and carries warnings: "No stranger [i.e. Gentile] may enter within the railing around the sanctuary and within the enclosure. Whoever is caught doing so will be responsible for his own death, which will inevitably follow." 

{Picture description 6B - Archeologists have recovered part of this warning sign from the Jerusalem temple.  The stone sign forbade Gentiles to enter the temple on penalty of death.}


Such barriers exist because of the Law of Moses. As long as it remains in effect, it is the real "dividing wall" that separates Jews from Gentiles. God uses that separation as a lesson: The holy cannot mix with the unholy. Now, having fulfilled every demand of the Law, Christ removes its rule.   His death reconciles us to our Father and to each other. It brings us all together as brothers and sisters in one body, which is to say one church. [Ephesians 1:22-23; 5:23; Colossians 1:18,24]

OUR PROBLEM


Modern minds struggle with the idea of "one church." To many people "church" means "denomination," some part of a divided Christianity. Anyone insisting that he belongs to "the church" draws suspicion. Either he thinks that only his sect is right, or he is out of touch with modern reality. Another possibility, which is often overlooked, is that he may be in touch with the theme of Ephesians


Our problem is similar to that of children from broken homes. These children have little or no idea how a united family works. How does a husband keep on loving his wife? How do they solve their conflicts? Many children think there are no good answers, for they have never seen answers. Their own marriages, when they grow up, are likely to fail for lack of models to follow.
In the same way, we all grow up in a world of religious "divorce." Every religion has its own sects, and competes with other religions. Strife, division and competing voices seem just as bad in Christendom (that quarter of the world's population that claims to follow Christ). So, when Scripture speaks of unity, we hardly know what that means, much less how it works. We understand so little, and our world offers no good example to follow. Jesus speaks of the kind of love and unity most of us have never seen. The temptation is strong to dismiss it, saying, "That is ideal, but not true for my world." While we think that way, we prolong our patterns of spiritual separation or apartheid. The time has come to hear what Jesus is saying, and to follow His lead. He knows how "to bring all things together," beginning with you and me!

ONE GOD


True unity is based on this foundational fact: "There is one God" (Ephesians 4:6). [1Timothy 1:17; 2:5; 6:15; Deuteronomy 6:4] One God has one mind, which leads us in one direction. To follow the one God is of necessity to be united behind Him. God exemplifies and exalts this truth by the way He reveals Himself as three yet one. Father, Son and Holy Spirit are united in complete unity. In the prayer of John 17, the Son seeks the Father's help for the apostles, "so that they may be one as We are one" (John 17:11). His prayer broadens to encompass all future believers.


"My prayer is not for them [the apostles] alone. I pray also for 
those who will believe in Me through their message, that all of 
them may be one, Father, just as You are in Me and I am in You. 
May they also be in Us so that the world may believe that You 
have sent Me. I have given them the glory that You gave Me, that 
they may be one as We are one: I in them and You in Me. May they 
be brought to complete unity to let the world know that You sent 
Me and have loved them even as You have loved Me" (John 17:20-23).


Every "believer" must take this prayer seriously. Consider who prays it. Consider when He prays it. Our Lord goes to the cross seeking unity for all believers, including every believer now alive. This unity is not shallow or symbolic, just loose alliances of differing factions. It is "complete unity," the kind that the Son enjoys with His Father. "May [they] be one as We are one." The key to this unity is God's presence within each believer - "I in them and You in Me."

 

Later, in Corinth, some members act in ways that disrupt their assembly. Even there, Paul finds the solution in God's nature: "God is not a God of disorder but of peace" (1Corinthians 14:33). Since God loves peace and order, Satan seeks the opposite: confusion and chaos. He works through "acts of the sinful nature [literally, the flesh]," which include, 
"hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition,
dissensions, factions and envy" (Galatians 5:20-21).


Divisions - another word for "discord... dissensions, factions" - resist the very nature of God. If unity leads to faith in Christ [John 17:21,23], then disunity drives people into disbelief and despair. For we see today, not just one disorderly assembly, but disorder across all Christendom.  We see many separate groups constantly splintering. This trend works directly against the goal Jesus pursued through the agony of the cross - to reconcile them to God in one body. [Ephesians 2:16]

UNDERSTANDING "ONE"


As in every spiritual struggle, the question comes down to trust. Do we trust worldly wisdom? Do we, like worldly people, look at mountains of evidence and say, "Real unity is impossible"? Or do we trust the Wisdom of God [1Corinthians 1:24] when He assures us that by His death He creates "in Himself one new man" (Ephesians 2:15).


"I lay down My life for the sheep. I have other sheep that are 
not of this sheep pen. I must bring them also. They too will 
listen to My voice, and there shall be one flock and one 
Shepherd" (John 10:15-16).


"Jesus would die for the Jewish nation, and not only for that 
nation but also for the scattered children of God, to bring them 
together and make them one" (John 11:51-52).


"This mystery is that through the Gospel the Gentiles are heirs 
together with Israel, members together of one body" (Ephesians 3:6).


Hear this vital truth: Jesus unites "through the Gospel." He makes no promise of unity for people while they yet disbelieve and disobey. He unites "children of God," the sheep who, He says, "listen to My voice." Certainly such sheep have human problems. But, if they keep listening, the divine logic always brings them back to unity. 
{Picture description 6C - A modern Greek shepherd leads his sheep, a scene that recalls Jesus words, "There shall be one flock and one Shepherd" (John 10:16).}
There is one Christ, [Matthew 23:10, Galatians 3:16] therefore all in Christ are one. [Galatians 3:26-27]


Paul has that logic in mind when he asks three questions of divisive members at Corinth: 
"My brothers, some from Chloe's house have informed me that there 
are quarrels among you. What I mean is this: One of you says, 'I 
follow Paul'; another, 'I follow Apollos'; another, 'I follow 
Cephas'; still another, 'I follow Christ.' Is Christ divided? Was 
Paul crucified for you? Were you baptized into the name of Paul?" 
(1Corinthians 1:11-13).


Surely we know each answer: No, Christ is not divided! Just as the Head is one, so His body is one. No, mortal leaders cannot take the Savior's place! They may be as devout as Paul, [1Corinthians 15:10] as famous as Cephas (that is, Peter), [Galatians 2:6-9; Matthew 16:19; Acts 2:14; 15:7] as persuasive as Apollos, [Acts 18:24, 27; 19:1; 1Corinthians 3:4-6,22; 4:6; 16:12; Titus 3:13] but they have no right to their own groups. No, baptism is never into human leaders or their parties! Modern groups make their own kinds of baptism as special doors into their denominations. But biblical baptism enjoys the opposite effect. Far from dividing or denominating [to denominate means to name. Here it means to name in ways that separate Christians against God's will cf. 1Corinthians 1:10-12], biblical baptism brings "all" who receive it together "into one body" (1Corinthians 12:13).
"You are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus, for all 
of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with 
Christ.... you are all one in Christ Jesus" (Galatians 3:26-28).


No peoples are further apart than Jews and Gentiles. No cultures clash like those of Greeks, barbarians and Scythians. No social distance is wider than that between slaves and free men, especially masters. Yet all these, and many more, melt together in the one Man, Jesus Christ.  
"Here there is no Greek or Jew, circumcised or uncircumcised, 
barbarian, Scythian, slave or free, but Christ is all, and is in 
all" (Colossians 3:11).


KEEP THE UNITY


Unity takes place wherever people let God do His work "in Christ." Every member enters that unity by entering Christ. And every member should then "keep" that unity and peace.


"The [human] body is a unit, though it is made up of many parts; 
and though all its parts are many, they form one body. So it is 
with Christ. For we were all baptized by one Spirit into one 
body" (1Corinthians 12:12-13).


"Live a life worthy of the calling you have received. Be 
completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one 
another in love. Make every effort to keep the unity of the 
Spirit through the bond of peace" (Ephesians 4:1-3).  

Humans, with all their best wishes and works, cannot create this unity (any more than they can create the family of God). Unity is the Spirit's gift to the family, the birthright of each child born into the kingdom. But each child should "keep" or maintain that wonderful gift. He does so by letting the Spirit develop in him Christ-like attitudes toward all of Christ's brothers and sisters. These attitudes include humility, gentleness, patience and forgiveness.    Indeed, healthy relationships grow by thinking and behaving in family terms at their best:


"Do not rebuke an older man harshly, but exhort him as if he were 
your father. Treat younger men as brothers, older women as 
mothers, and younger women as sisters, with absolute purity"
(1Tim 5:1-2).


Do we truly believe this family exists? Do we believe that unity is its very nature? Then we know to which church we belong, or should belong. There simply is no other church authorized. Scripture recognize no other body. The King builds and saves His own church. [Matthew 16:18; 1Corinthians 3:9-11; Ephesians 5:23] He purposefully trains its members to be "perfectly united," and to have "no divisions."

NO DIVISIONS


"I appeal to you, brothers, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, 
that all of you agree with one another so that there may be no 
divisions among you and that you may be perfectly united in mind 
and thought" (1Corinthians 1:10).


The truth that Ephesians explains in principle, 1 Corinthians applies in practice. Does Paul tolerantly and agreeably urge dividing members, "Go to the division of your choice"? Absolutely not! Then where do modern leaders get their statement, "Go to the church of your choice"? In its usual setting this means, "Choose the division or denomination you prefer." Have we learned nothing from Jesus, who teaches us to pray, "Not my will, but Yours be done"? [Luke 22:42; John 6:38] Can we so easily dismiss His appeal for "complete unity"? [John 17:23; 1Corinthians 1:10] Is His sacrifice for one undivided family now useless? [Ephesians 2:15-16]


Have we learned nothing from Ephesians? Ephesians is emphatic: What matters is God's choice! "He chose us in Him" (Ephesians 1:4). "His purpose was to create in Himself one new man... one body" (Ephesians 2:15-16). In other words, God chooses for us to be united in Christ's church. If true Christians choose anything, surely they choose the one blood-bought body. Surely they "make every effort to keep [its] unity" (Ephesians 4:3). What other choice is there? To choose sinful division is to deny God's very nature. To support division is to war against God's eternal purpose. Paul gives to faction-makers this solemn warning: 
"If anyone destroys God's temple, God will destroy him; for God's 
temple is sacred, and you are that temple" (1Corinthians 3:17).

If certain members at Corinth deserve such a warning, how much more do we?  Despite party tensions, Corinthian Christians still meet as a congregation. Today's divisions not only split congregations but also spawn thousands of separate religious bodies. If it is possible for truth to be truer, then Paul's words are truer than ever: 
"The days are evil. Therefore do not be foolish, but understand
what the Lord's will is" (Ephesians 5:17).

UNDERSTAND THE LORD'S WILL


{Description of pictures 6E & 6F - The Goths destroyed the great temple of Artemis in AD 262.  All that remains is one rebuilt column and blocks of marble - evidence that human gods and temples perish.  God's true temple lives on, and God will destroy anyone who destroys it (1Corinthians 3:17).}

Do we know "the Lord's will" concerning one undivided church? Yes, for He plainly reveals His will, especially in Ephesians and 1 Corinthians. Can we do His will? Yes, for He "works out everything in conformity with the purpose of His will" (Ephesians 1:11). God does not plan "before the creation," just to discover now that His "eternal purpose" fails in our modern mess. He still gives His children "incomparably great power" for reaching His goals. [Ephesians 1:19; 3:16,20; 1Tim 1:12; Philippians 4:13; Colossians 1:28-29] So the real questions come back to each of us: ("Examine yourselves to see whether you are in the faith; test yourselves" 2Corinthians 13:5.)

Am I His child? If I am, then His promises of strength and help apply to me now. 
Do I believe what He reveals? If I believe, then I share the Father's purpose for one united family. I cannot force others to fit that purpose, but I trust God to work out His purpose in me and in each faithful child. 

Am I willing to do His will in this matter also? If I am a true disciple, then I die to what I prefer, and live only for His will to be done. As I count the cost, [Luke 14:28] this matter may prove the most costly of all. Divisions are now deeply entrenched as a way of life (and livelihood). Yet I know that Christ wants me for His church, and not for man-made divisions. So I commit myself to being just a Christian, without membership in any faction. I also encourage the local congregation to belong to Christ, rather than to man-made denominations. Have you noticed? These questions add up to the same question about being chosen.  To borrow words from Ephesians 1:1, "Am I one of 'the faithful in Christ Jesus'"?

 

(Taken from "Family of God" course  Chapter "Unity")

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