Last night I spent some time reading and thinking about an article from 9Marks about biblical unity. The article specifically deals with the issue of living as a church. The purpose of the church is to be a place where Christians gather together locally for the purpose of reflecting God’s glorious character to the world. The challenge in this goal, however, is the fact that the church is full of sinners. This is the Bride purchased by the blood of Jesus. Redeemed sinners called to live together in gospel unity for the purpose of reflecting the character of God in a fallen world.

Sin makes unity hard. It doesn’t just make it hard; it makes it impossible. Why? Because, as the article, and more importantly the Scriptures, point out, sinners don’t play well with others.

How can we, as sinful people, gather together, not with the forced unity that denies differences, overlooks difficulty, or compromises the message of the gospel, but with unity that preserves the message of the gospel and acts as a compelling testimonty to its value? How can we respond to sin in our midst without descending into gossip and slander? How can we trust our leaders but still recognize they are sinners, too? How can we love people who make us feel uncomfortable because they are so different from us? How can we honestly critique an imperfect church without grumbling?

Yes, indeed. How so?

The answer is found in Ephesians 3-4. The mystery of the Gospel is that God has torn down the dividing wall of hostility, not only between God and man, but between Jew and Gentile (2:14). The mystery is that Gentiles, long enemies of God’s people, godless people who despised and spurned God as revealed by creation (Rom 1), have now been made “fellow heirs, members of the same body, and partakers of the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel” (3:6). The beauty of the gospel is the reality that God is taking people who are fundamentally different, even hostile towards one another, and uniting them into the same body through Jesus. He has done this so that “through the church the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places” (3:10).

God is bringing glory to himself in two ways:

  1. Through the testimony pf the church (not simply individuals) to the spiritual realm (3:10). We may not know what this means entirely, but it suggests that we are saying something to creatures in the spiritual dimension beyond the physical about how we love and cheris the gospel through the way that we live together in unity;
  2. God is bringing glory to himself by showing off to everyone in the world his wisdom demonstrated through the way his sons and daughters live in unity (3:9)

On the basis of our unity in the gospel, what kind of reputation do we (the local church) have in our communities and in the heavenly places? This is why the Apostle Paul urges the community of believers to “walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” (4:1-3). This isn’t an individual calling. This calling goes out to all the saints of God who aligned themselves with spectacular display of His glory revealed through a local gathering of redeemed sinners.

Notice how Paul tells us that we can achieve unity:

  1. Through the pattern of our life (“walk”)
  2. With humility towards others and in our view of ourselves
  3. With gentleness (strength under control)
  4. With patience in our dealings with one another
  5. By graciously living with one another in love
  6. With eagerness to maintain our unity in the gospel as we pursue peace

As you think about where God has planted your family to worship locally with other believers, ask yourself this question: Are you doing this with increasing success and effectiveness in your dealings with one another within the local church?