This morning we’re wrapping up our series called “Get Connected” with a message on how to protect your church. This morning when you left your house, you locked the door. When you came to your car, you unlocked the car. Some of you have security systems that you had to disarm. Others of you not only unlocked your car and disarmed your security system, but you had to take the Club off your steering wheel. Now, others of you left your door unlocked and your keys in the ignition and a sign on your dashboard saying, “Please steal me. I need the insurance.” But you know the basic rule:
If it’s valuable, it’s worth protecting.
Psalm 133:1 reads, “How wonderful it is, how pleasant, when brothers live together in harmony!” Many of you have experienced how wonderful church can be when you’re unified. You’ve experienced the camaraderie and health that comes when a church is truly unified.
But others of you have seen the flip side of unity. You’ve seen church fights. You’ve even seen church splits. As a student pastor, one of my first deacon’s meetings was underway when a fight between the pastor and one of the deacons broke out. Now, it wasn’t a fistfight. But in a matter of minutes, angry words were exchanged and both the deacon and the pastor went storming out. The rest of us sat there staring at each other, unsure of what to do. But I’ve seen the flip side of church unity.
Unity is absolutely essential if the church is going to go anywhere. In a family, you need more than the same last name in order to be healthy. In a baseball team, you need more than the same uniform in order to function as a team. And in the church, you need more than attending the same service in order to be unified.
Unity is a key theme in the Bible. The Bible talks more about unity in the church than it does about heaven or hell. It’s that important. Churches are made up of people. And there are no perfect people. So, people get into conflict with each other. We need to learn how to deal with it.
Why is unity important in the church? Five reasons:
1. JESUS PRAYED FOR IT. In John 17:21, Jesus prayed, “My prayer for all of them is that they will be one.” Jesus prayed for unity. The world will be won when they find a church that is one. When you find a church in which the people really love each other, you’ll have to lock the doors to keep people out. They’re looking for a place where there can be love, warmth, acceptance, and healing. Jesus prayed for the unity of the church.
2. THE CHURCH IS A FELLOWSHIP. Acts 2:42 says, “They joined with the other believers and devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, sharing in the Lord’s Supper and in prayer.” In the Bible, the church is called a fellowship. If you destroy the unity and harmony of the church, you destroy the fellowship. If you destroy the fellowship, then there is no church. The church is a fellowship.
3. UNITY IS OUR TOP PRIORITY. Ephesians 4:3 tells us, “Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace.” One of your primary concerns has to be promoting unity within the church. The Holy Spirit has given us unity. Our job is to promote that unity within the church. 1 Corinthians 1:10 says, “Let there be real harmony so there won’t be divisions in the church.”
4. UNITY IS A WITNESS TO THE WORLD. In John 13:34-35, Jesus said, “So now I am giving you a new commandment: Love each other. Just as I have loved you, you should love each other. Your love for one another will prove to the world that you are my disciples.” When a church is loving, there is harmony and unity. When people walk in, they say, “There is something going on here.” They don’t know what it is, but it’s like the air is electric. People who don’t have anything in common and who come from backgrounds love one another. What draws us together is not our common background or common intelligence, or our economic status, race, or whatever. It’s the Holy Spirit in our hearts. That’s what produces unity, and it’s a witness to the world.
5. GOD BLESSES THE UNIFIED CHURCH. Listen to Acts 2:46-47: “They worshiped together at the Temple each day, met in homes for the Lord’s Supper, and shared their meals with great joy and generosity—all the while praising God and enjoying the goodwill of all the people. And each day the Lord added to their group those who were being saved.” When God wants to put a bunch of new believers into a church, it’s as if God looks for the warmest incubator he can find. He looks for a church that he can trust with baby believers. Ten times in the first five chapters of Acts, it says things like, “They met together continually… All the believers were of one heart and mind.” Ten times it talks about unity in the first five chapters of Acts. When a church develops the unity of the book of Acts, along with it comes the power of the church of Acts and the growth of the church of Acts. You can’t stop a unified church. Snowflakes are frail, but if enough of them stick together you can stop traffic. Individually, we can’t do a lot on our own, but together we can make an impact in Toronto.
We need church unity.
I thought that this would be a good time to deal with this since there was no major problem going on right now. It’s important to talk about this because if there’s one tool that the evil one is going to use against our church, it is disunity.
Churches are famous for being disunified. One church had a business meeting. When the vote was counted, the moderator reported to the meeting, “Officially, the results of the vote are forty ‘yes,’ seven ‘no,’ and one ‘over my dead body.'” There are some “over my dead body” churches.
One of the factors that attracted me to Richview is the fact that you have never had a church split. As newcomers have come to Richview, they have told me that they feel warmth and a love here. Do we have our challenges? Of course. I was thinking of the differences between Pastor Ed and me the other day. One of us was born in Canada; one of us was born in Angola. One of us likes hair on his head but not his face; the other likes hair on his face but not on his head. One is a golfer; the other is a duffer. We went to different schools. We like different foods. Unity can be challenging when diversity is present. But, as I said at the beginning, “If it’s valuable, it’s worth protecting.”
When a church doesn’t protect its unity, it becomes unhealthy. It begins to disintegrate. People begin to leave the church. Now, people can leave the church in healthy ways. They may leave the church due to illness, job transfers, or because they’re sent out to minister. But people may also leave the church due to divisiveness and unresolved personal conflict. Some people say that unresolved personal conflict is the number one reason why people leave the church.
How can I protect my church? By following God’s commands in three areas:
1. I WILL PROTECT MY RELATIONSHIPS
When I used to go to church, I thought that I came to hear a sermon. I knew that I had friends at church, but I thought that was beside the point. I thought that worship was beside the point. I thought that the main reason I went to church was to hear a sermon every week.
It was a long time before I realized that Christianity is about one thing: relationships. I told you last week that if you don’t have a relationship with Jesus Christ, you’ve missed the whole point of what the Bible is about. Christianity isn’t about theology or Bible knowledge. It’s not about going to church. It’s about only one thing: knowing Jesus Christ. Jesus said in John 17:3, “And this is the way to have eternal life—to know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, the one you sent to earth.” The whole point of the Bible is that you would know Jesus Christ and have a relationship with him. That’s the purpose for which Jesus came to this earth. You can have a relationship with God beginning today. All you have to do is come to him, admit your need for him, turn away from your sins, and fo llow him. You can do this today.
Once you’ve done this, you need to realize that Christianity is about loving others. Galatians 5:14 says, “The entire law is summed up in a single command: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.'” You can’t please God unless you keep this command. Love is the summary of what God expects from you.
The Bible calls the church the “family of God.” 1 Timothy 3:15 says, “I want you to know how people who are members of God’s family must live. God’s family is the church.” Ephesians 2:20 says, “So now you Gentiles are no longer strangers and foreigners. You are citizens along with all of God’s holy people. You are members of God’s family.” It doesn’t say that we are like a family. It says that we are a family.
We are commanded to protect our relationships by taking two actions:
BY ACCEPTING ONE ANOTHER – Romans 15:7 says, “So accept each other just as Christ has accepted you; then God will be glorified.” We need to accept others. This means that we need to accept people where they are and not where we want them to be. It means separating our preferences from right and wrong. It means refusing to major on minors.
Colossians 3:11 says, “Here there is no Greek or Jew, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave or free, but Christ is all, and is in all.” I never knew what a Scythian was until I did a bit of research. The Greek historian Herodotus writes this about Scythians:
In what concerns war, their customs are the following: The Scythian soldier drinks the blood of the first man he overthrows in battle. Whatever number he slays, he cuts off all their heads, and carries them to the king…He scrapes the scalp clean of flesh, and softening it by rubbing between the hands, uses it thenceforth as a napkin…The skull is used as a drinking cup. They do the same with the skulls of their own kith and kin if they have been at feud with them, and have vanquished them in the presence of the king.
When Paul says that there is no difference between a Scythian and a believer, Paul is saying that our acceptance must go beyond national privilege, religious background, culture, and social class. We need to accept others no matter if we would have chosen to or not.
This sounds great because we don’t have too many Scythians around today. But think of a group that really bothers you, and substitute it for the word “Scythians.” This could be the group that dresses down to church. It could be those who don’t. It could be those who like a different type of music or have different hair. These are our Scythians.
Whenever we get into a dispute, we need to stop and say, “Time out! Let’s look at this. Is this a disputable matter or is it really essential?” If it’s essential, then we need to deal with it. If it’s not an essential, the Bible says accept. “Accept each other just as Christ has accepted you; then God will be glorified.”
A second way to protect our relationships is by…
WATCHING OUR TONGUES – Someone told me the other week that they were out golfing with some friends. Her friend hit a birdie, and someone in the group said, “What an expert shot!” Then, without thinking, this individual said, “Golf is a game that involves a lot of luck.” It’s easy to say words and then wish we could take them back! Words hold great power.
Ephesians 4:29 says, “Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.” The word unwholesome means rotten. It’s not only rotten and putrid, but it also spreads rottenness. In connection with talk, it’s referring to malicious gossip and slander. Anything that injures others and sparks dissension is covered by the expression.
Your tongue can either spread contamination, or it can spread health. The alternative to speaking rotten words is to speak words that will benefit others.
The Bible says to control your tongue. The Bible says in James 3 that’s a mark of maturity. I don’t care how much doctrine I may know, but if I gossip, I’m immature. Gossip is a sign of immaturity.
When we have a problem with someone, what should we do? The Bible gives us the answer in Matthew 18:15-17. It’s God’s method of conflict resolution. Listen to it from the Message paraphrase:
If a fellow believer hurts you, go and tell him—work it out between the two of you. If he listens, you’ve made a friend. If he won’t listen, take one or two others along so that the presence of witnesses will keep things honest, and try again. If he still won’t listen, tell the church. If he won’t listen to the church, you’ll have to start over from scratch, confront him with the need for repentance, and offer again God’s forgiving love.
The guideline is this: if you have a problem with a person, then talk to that person. Gossip is when you’re sharing a problem or criticism with someone who’s neither part of the problem, nor part of the solution. If you have a problem with someone, talk to them. Watch your tongue.
This is the first area in which we can protect our church: by protecting our relationships. The second area is this:
2. I WILL FOCUS ON OUR COMMON PURPOSE
Twice in my life, I have made the same mistake. I arranged a babysitter, but forgot to arrange the place. Usually, when someone baby-sits, they come to your place. But both times, I bundled up my baby and took them to the babysitter’s home. They weren’t there. They were at my house.
Have you ever thought you agreed with someone, but ended up in different directions? 1 Corinthians 1:10 says, “Now, dear brothers and sisters, I appeal to you by the authority of the Lord Jesus Christ to stop arguing among yourselves. Let there be real harmony so there won’t be divisions in the church. I plead with you to be of one mind, united in thought and purpose.” I wouldn’t join a church if I didn’t know where it was going. You wouldn’t get in a vehicle if you didn’t know the destination.
The problem with organizations (and people) is this: they tend to lose focus on their mission and become stagnant over time. Churches need to regularly consult the Bible and to listen to what God says about our church.
How should we be unified? Paul mentions three ways:
- In what we say – He says, “stop arguing.” When you’re arguing, you can’t listen. The rhetoric is flying so fast that you don’t have time to hear what the other person has to say. When disagreements come up, watch what you say.
- In what we join – “Let there be real harmony so there won’t be divisions in the church.” Many times, factions begin to form within the church. We begin to seek out others who think the way that we do, and agree with us on the issues that are important to us. Pretty soon we’re not around those who disagree with us. We become divided. Guard against divisions. Don’t join groups in the church on the basis of disagreements.
- In what we think – “I plead with you to be of one mind, united in thought and purpose.” We need to be united around God’s purpose.
What is the mission of Richview? It’s one that we share with every other church in the world. We may express it differently, but the mission is the same. It’s to lead all people to become fully devoted followers of Jesus Christ. This is God’s eternal purpose for the church – the reason why the church was established.
What’s our vision? In other words, what is God’s specific call for our congregation? We’re in the process of discovering that. It’s “a clear, shared, compelling picture of the preferred future to which God is calling the congregation” (Leading Congregationa l Change, p.51). It’s the process of discovering what God is doing in our church, and joining him. We’re in the exciting process of discovering what God has in store for Richview.
We have a responsibility to follow God in this process – to choose God’s purpose for our church over our preferences or our comfort. In politics, unity comes from compromise. But in the church, unity comes from seeking the will of God. We don’t have the right to compromise on the will of God.
God has called us to be obedient to the Great Commission (to make disciples) and the Great Commandment (to love one another). He’s called us, as Pastor Ed said, to be a hospital for sinners, not a hotel for saints. I need to protect my church by focusing together on our common purpose.
There’s one more way that we can protect our church:
3. I WILL SUPPORT MY PASTORS AND LEADERS
Hebrews 13:17 says, “Obey your spiritual leaders and do what they say. Their work is to watch over your souls, and they know they are accountable to God. Give them reason to do this joyfully and not with sorrow. That would certainly not be for your benefit.”
This verse tells us the pastor’s job. What’s the pastor’s job? To watch over your souls. The word has the connotation of staying awake at night – of being spiritually alert. The pastor’s job is to care for the deep issues of your life – to watch over your souls.
This verse also tells us the pastor’s boss. “They know they are accountable to God.” This verse says that one day I will stand before God and give account for how I watched over your souls. God is going to hold the pastors of this church accountable for the spiritual direction and the maturity of those he has brought under my care. We are going to be accountable for the direction of this church.
This verse also tells us your job. “Obey…and do what they say.” The words go against our culture today. They have the meaning of yielding and submitting. It seems that this wasn’t happening among the Hebrews. Your pastors will have to give an account to God for how they watched over you. You will have to give an account to God for how you followed your pastors.
You don’t have to get carried away with praising him. A woman leaving the worship service said to the minister, “I enjoyed the sermon.” “Don’t thank me. Thank the Lord,” said the minister. “It wasn’t that good,” the lady replied.
Another young pastor was making farewell visits to his congregation before moving to another church. Visiting a homebound member, whom he had called on regularly, the pastor carefully explained why he was leaving. The woman sighed deeply and said, “Well, we’ll never have another minister as good as you’ve been.”
The young man blushed, scuffing his feet along the floor. “Oh, I’m sure your next pastor will be excellent.” The woman shook her head with determination. “You don’t understand,” she said. “I’ve been here through five pastors and each one has been worse than the last.”
You don’t have to get carried away in praising your pastor. But you do need to follow and support him. You need to pray for him. You need to learn the art of followership.
God has blessed us at Richview. How can we protect what God has given us? By protecting our relationships. By focusing on our common purpose. By supporting our pastors and leaders. Because if it’s valuable, it’s worth protecting.
If you haven’t yet become part of God’s family, you can join it today. The Bible says, “But to all who believed him and accepted him, he gave the right to become children of God” (John 1:12). All you have to do is to believe in him and accept him – to come to him and admit turn away from your sins. He paid the punishment for all that you’ve done wrong, and he wants you to be part of his family. Pray, “Lord, I come to you and accept you as the Lord of my life. I turn away from all that I’ve done, and pledge to follow you with the rest of my life.”
If you’ve done that, congratulations! You’re part of God’s family.
It may be that you’ve been part of God’s family, but you’ve never taken the step of being baptized or of joining this church. If you’re a follower of Jesus, then you need to be baptized. It’s a command of God. You can be baptized next week. You can join this church; become part of this family. Pray, “Lord, thank you for Richview. Help me as I take the next step in following you.”
Heavenly Father, I thank you for our church family and for the fellowship and the unity that we do have. Thank you that we’ve never had a split in our church, that the fellowship and the harmony have always been maintained and there’s been great joy and your hand has been on our church and you’ve blessed it.
Today we commit ourselves to being agents for unity in the church, to squelch dissention by showing love, by showing an attitude of acceptance, by teaching people the difference between disputable matters and essentials. Help us to model an attitude that shows no gossip in our lives, that shows respect for leadership, that shows willingness to confront individuals when there’s been a problem, but to do it speaking the truth in love. Thank you for our family. Thank you for our fellowship. In Jesus’ name. Amen.