Monday, June 5, 2017

Pentecost Sunday

Today is Pentecost Sunday. So, I figured that it would be good to talk to you about the Spirit whom Jesus sent on that first Pentecost. I want to do this because it has become clearer to me lately that we - that’s both you and I - need to do some work on understanding better who the Spirit is and what it is that He does. I’m hoping that what I have to say to you this morning will help in achieving that goal.

Like last week, I’m going to pose a question and then answer it. And it will be pretty much the same basic question. Now that He has been sent by Jesus, what is the Spirit doing? Now, obviously, there are many things that the Spirit is doing. I’m just going to look at one.

To do that we’re going to make use of something Paul wrote. He begins the second part of his letter to the Ephesian church with these words.

I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called …  Ephesians 4:1

This is a simple call to faithful living in light of the Gospel. But Paul, being a wise man, didn’t leave it at that. He gave a list of examples. So, the rest of the letter is Paul’s description of what walking worthy looks like. Here’s one item on that list.

… [be] eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. Ephesians 4.3

This morning we’re going to look at this ‘unity of the Spirit’.

Let’s start by looking at this word, ‘unity’. The basic idea is pretty clear. It’s about being one. But there are different kinds of unity. Consider the U. S. Marine Corps. There is a bond of unity among most Marines. This sense of unity, this being one, is drilled into them from their first days of training. One result of this training is a deep loyalty to each other. That loyalty, that unity, is critically important in battle. It’s the reason why Marines often do some very brave things for the sake of their fellow Marines.

As good as that kind of unity is, the unity of the Spirit is of a very different sort. We are united as a church. But it’s not because of some training we have received. No, it’s because of something that the Spirit did. If I may speak a little loosely, the Spirit has performed a miracle. He has created something supernatural. And that supernatural something is this bond of unity. It’s the Spirit who has made us one.

Listen to something from Paul’s letter to another young church.

For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body - Jews or Greeks, slaves or free - and all were made to drink of one Spirit. 1 Corinthians 12:13

We are one body as a church. We are united because of what the Spirit did. He has made us one. He has created this bond that unites us. 

It’s because of this miraculous bond that Paul can write,

Therefore, having put away falsehood, let each one of you speak the truth with his neighbor, for we are members one of another. Ephesians 4:25

It’s not that we are member of a common group, like being a Marine. We are members of one another. The Spirit has done something so that we are mystically connected to one another. The Spirit has done something so that there is this bond.

So, whenever someone is born again by the Spirit, that new saint, at the same time and by the same Spirit, is united to the rest of the saints. In the same mysterious way that the Spirit causes the new birth, He also causes unity.

So, that’s the first thing I want you to get. The Spirit has created a supernatural connection among Christians, a connection that binds us together into one body.

Here’s the second thing. While it’s true that the Spirit creates this unity all on His own, we have some work to do. Listen again to what Paul wrote. Part of walking worthy is being

eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit …

The Spirit has created the unity, but we need to maintain it. We need to keep it going.

So, what do we need to do to maintain this unity the Spirit has created? Well, we start on this where we usually start. We need to believe the Gospel. We need to believe the part of the Gospel that teaches that this supernatural unity actually does exist. And when we believe it, really believe it, we will live accordingly. We will walk worthy and maintain this unity.

When two people marry, many things change. But here’s the most fundamental change: two have become one. Again, that’s something supernatural the Spirit does. Now, for that marriage to work, these two need to believe that becoming one has actually happened and live accordingly. Before marriage, she decided on her own how to spend her time. After marriage that had to become more of a joint decision. Before marriage, he spent his money as he thought best. After marriage, that also had to become more of a joint decision. Once they were married they needed to believe that they had become one and begin the process of learning how to live accordingly.

The same is true when it comes to the unity of the Spirit. We need to believe that it has happened and then live accordingly.

Let me get specific. Let’s talk about time and walls. What happens when a husband spends hours and hours at work and then comes home to work alone on some hobby in the basement, while his wife has been busy with kids during the day and then goes out with her girlfriends at night? The bond of marriage that was created weakens, and if there isn’t change it just might disappear. That bond needs to be maintained by doing things together and doing things together because the Spirit has done something supernatural. They are no longer two but one. They need to live that way.

The same is true within a church. The Spirit has created a supernatural bond among the saints, among us. But what happens to that bond if we live as if there is no such bond? The bond that was created weakens, and if there isn’t change it just might disappear. And that doesn’t have to mean that the church closes. But it will not be what Jesus expects of His churches.

One way that believing and living accordingly shows has to do with time. We need to invest time in each other’s lives. That’s one part of our maintaining the unity of the Spirit. But this isn’t about counting the minutes that we spend with each other. We need to consider what we do during that time together. And that gets us to talking about walls. Most of us have been taught to be private. We tend to be pretty careful when it comes to what we let other people know about us. But isn’t that acting as if there were no Spirit-created bond among us? Isn’t that being something other than a church as Jesus defines it? When we live that way, we are making it clear that we don’t believe the Gospel, at least not the part about the unity of the Spirit.

So, consider the various things that we do apart from Sunday worship: Bible studies, men’s breakfasts, women’s get togethers, book discussions, monthly luncheons and the like. What are they? These are opportunities to maintain the unity of the Spirit. They are opportunities to enjoy and strengthen the bond that the Spirit has created among us. These are opportunities to live like Christians whom the Spirit has united.

For this unity of the Spirit to thrive and result in much good, time spent with each other needs to go up and the walls between us need to come down. We need to believe the Gospel about this work of the Spirit. And believing it will show.

There is a third part of Paul’s instructions about this unity of the Spirit. Listen again to what he wrote.

eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. Ephesians 4:3

Let’s consider that last phrase, ‘in the bond of peace’. Here, let me remind you of the difference between peace and a truce. In a truce, we agree not to shoot at each other. We’re still unfriendly, but there are no shots. Peace, on the other hand, is about whole-hearted relationships. It’s about openness and real friendship. The unity that the Spirit has created has nothing to do with any truce. It’s all about enjoying peace with each other.

However, as you know, we still sin. And it’s sin that disrupts and sometimes destroys peace. So, if we are going to be able to maintain this unity, if we are going to be able to enjoy this creation of the Spirit, then we will need to deal with the sins that crop up and cause problems.

I want to speak about just one aspect of this. And the word that I want to use here is ‘resolved’. This is all about finding solutions to problems. Far too often, problems are not resolved. They are ignored and neglected. They might be referred to in passing but still not resolved. They are put somewhere out of sight. But it’s not as if they actually disappear. Unresolved issues hang in the air like clouds. Each one might just be a wispy bit of cloud, you know, not much there. But what happens when one wispy bit of cloud is joined by another and then another. Pretty soon there’s a storm, sometimes complete with lightning and thunder. At that point, forget about peace. There isn’t even a truce. The war has started up again.

People these days are really good at not resolving issues. And these issues might not start out as anything sinful. It just might be about a difference of opinion. But it’s a difference of opinion on something that actually needs to be carefully decided together. But what was at first something that had nothing to do with being sinful soon enough becomes a sin problem because it wasn’t properly dealt with. It wasn’t resolved. Peace is lost. As a result, the unity of the Spirit is eroded. Issues need to be dealt with, resolved. And that needs to be done graciously and patiently so that we can maintain this gift of the unity of the Spirit.

And that gets me to the last idea that I want to mention to you. If this is going to work, if we are going to be able to take seriously Paul’s command to be ‘eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace’, then we are going to have to pray. Nothing happens apart from prayer. Or I should say, nothing good. And our prayers will need to be more than just generic prayers about maintaining this unity.

We will need to pray that the Spirit would show us, individually and as a group, where we are failing to maintain this unity.

We will need to pray that the Spirit would lower those walls of privacy.

We will need to pray that the Spirit would guide us to adjust our schedules so that we can spend quality time with each other.

We will need to pray that the Spirit teach us, experientially, the difference between a flimsy truce and real peace.

And we will need to pray that the Spirit moves us to deal with issues that need to be resolved, and to deal with them until they are completely resolved.

Last week I asked you what you expect of Jesus as He continues to do and teach. Let me tell you one of my expectations. It is my expectation of Jesus that He will teach us, bit by bit, more of what it means to be a church. That’s about believing the Gospel, all of the Gospel, and living what we believe. We can expect Him to do that if we ask Him to do that.  And we need to ask Him to do that because this isn’t our church. It’s His. He gets to define who we are and what we do as a church. He is Lord, and we are His disciples. Living out this unity of the Spirit is part of what it means to be His church.

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