THE EARLY CHURCH (5)/ THE DOCTRINE OF THE UNITY OF THE SPIRIT
Pastor (Mrs) Silvia Lia Leigh preached a sermon titled The early Church (5)/ The Doctrine of the Unity of the Spirit. Her main text was taken from the Book of Acts. “When the Day of Pentecost had fully come, they were all with one accord in one place. And suddenly there came a sound from heaven, as of a rushing mighty wind, and it filled the whole house where they were sitting. Then there appeared to them divided tongues, as of fire, and one sat upon each of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance.… he (Peter) testified and exhorted them, saying, “Be saved from this perverse generation.” Then those who gladly received his word were baptized; and that day, about three thousand souls were added to them. And they continued steadfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in prayers. Then fear came upon every soul, and many wonders and signs were done through the apostles. Now all who believed were together, and had all things in common, and sold their possessions and goods, and divided them among all, as anyone had need. So continuing daily with one accord in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, they ate their food with gladness and simplicity of heart, praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to the church daily those who were being saved” (Ac 2:1-4; 40-47).
THE DOCTRINE OF THE UNITY OF THE SPIRIT – WITH ONE ACCORD, IN ONE PLACE
The disciples were waiting for the Promise of the Father, the Holy Spirit, in unity of the Spirit. It was a requirement of Jesus for the Spirit to come and ‘weld’ them into a new Body called the Church. We are told that they were ‘all with one accord in one place’ (Ac 2:1). The early church continued the practice this unity of the Spirit so that the Holy Spirit can work in their midst and thru them. The unity of the Spirit is vital for the organic growth of the Church and for experiencing miracles. One of the most difficult things to do is to keep is the unity of the Spirit!!!
Unity is generally defined as the state of being ONE! It is a condition of harmony, peace, joy, balance, and beauty. Unity is a state when the different parts agree with one another and work for the common good. Unity is togetherness. Unity is power. The opposite of unity is division and confusion. These are the basic attitudes of the world, as the result of the Curse of Babel (Genesis 11). “God is not the author of confusion but of peace, as in all the churches of the saints” (1 Cor 14:33). In Greek, the word ‘confusion’ means disorder, tumult (when a group of restless people argue, and talk loud at the same time). The word peace in Greek (irene) means to have a calm sound mind, and to experience prosperity. Peace is unity and confusion is division of mind. The Church of the Living God is the only gathering of people in the world where there is unity of the Spirit. The Church is blessed, and the curse of Babel is destroyed in her midst. The unity of the Spirit manifests as life, power, and growth! This law applies to godly marriages too. The relationship between husband and wife should be in flesh and Spirit. Then the marriage become ‘born again’, it matures, becoming a source of life and ministry to many.
The doctrine of the unity of the Spirit says that the Church, the Body of Christ, is One! It is composed of all the believers in Christ Jesus, but the Body is One! This supernatural unity is the direct effect of the Baptism of the Holy Spirit. Though One, we are many, collectively following Christ our Head and together fulfilling His purpose and will. “For as the body is one and has many members, but all the members of that one body, being many, are one body, so also is Christ. For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—whether Jews or Greeks, whether slaves or free—and have all been made to drink into one Spirit” (1 Cor 12:12, 13).
The Unity of the Spirit is not a natural desire to stay together, or to try to be friendly to one another. It is said that ‘birds of the same feather flock together’. Christians are ‘birds’ of the same Spirit ‘feather’. It is also said that ‘blood is thicker than water’. It is true. But Spirit is thicker than blood. The unity of the brethren in the Church is the desire of Jesus Christ, the Head of the Church, and it is maintained by the Holy Spirit.
The unity of the Spirit is a peculiar atmosphere among believers based on the same faith in Christ and in His Word. Unity cannot be forced. Unity cannot be achieved by obeying some laws. No man can produce it. It is the unity that only the Holy Spirit can produce. Man is not asked to produce this unity, but man must ‘keep’ it. Sin, especially pride, selfish ambition, hatred and competition, divides, damages, and destroys it. “Nothing will avail to divide the Church as love of power” (Chrysostom, died 407 AD).
THE BLOOD OF JESUS WAS SHED FOR THIS UNITY OF THE SPIRIT
“I do not pray for these alone, but also for those who will believe in Me through their word; that they all may be one, as You, Father, are in Me, and I in You; that they also may be one in Us, that the world may believe that You sent Me. And the glory which You gave Me I have given them, that they may be one just as We are one: I in them, and You in Me; that they may be made perfect in one, and that the world may know that You have sent Me, and have loved them as You have loved Me” (Jn 17:20-23). The Unity of the Spirit in the church is the result of God’s work in Christ. The Blood of Jesus was shed on the Cross for this unity to be given to us as a gift! Jesus requested for it from the Father. This unity reflects the Trinity’s glory and perfection on earth. It is a sign to the unbelievers that God is alive and working in the Church. Unity in the Church is one of the greatest tools for evangelism. Praise the Lord!
The unity of the Spirit is always spiritual and never in the flesh. The unity of the Spirit is always related to unity of faith. The believers are one in the Spirit because they believe the same major doctrines. They may disagree in ‘matters of indifference’ but they agree about the great basic doctrines of salvation. This is a spiritual law: before you can have fellowship with others, you must agree with them in the matter of faith and doctrines. Mind has more power than the emotions! These days, churches desire fellowship at any cost. But that assembly is not blessed by the Holy Spirit because they do not believe the same doctrine. Faith in the Word of God, in truth, is more important than fellowship. Selah!
The Church is made of many believers. There is a spiritual unity among them. It is not like a car that has many parts. It is like a human body that has many organs but the same blood flows thru all. Therefore, the unity of the Spirit is organic, not mechanical, not forced. Each believer is connected directly to Christ, who is the Head of the Church. At the same time, each believer connects to other believers thru the Spirit. This is the result of the Baptism of the Holy Spirit and Fire done by Christ. This is how the Church is a Living organic growing Body. The world is not united. All unbelievers are scattered and divided. When a sinner becomes saved, the Holy Spirit goes inside him and gives him eternal life. That life starts to manifest thru fruits of the Spirit and unity with other believers. Thru the Holy Spirit that new believer is baptized into the Body of Christ. He is not like an addition. It becomes part of the body. God has predestined that believer and has already prepared work for him to do. He becomes a part of the Body of Christ, receives gifts from the Holy Spirit and a vision of his work on earth for the glory of His Savior.
Unity is not conformity. All parts are not the same as biscuits in a box. In unity there is diversity. Like with the human body, some parts, like the eyes, are seen. Other organs, like ‘the private parts’, are covered. Other parts, like the organs inside the body are invisible. But all these parts are necessary to the life of the body. The parts cooperate and do not compete with one another. Each believer is called to be a disciple and a servant of Jesus. He matures spiritually so that he can work for God, do his part in the Body. No believer can survive on his own. The branches of the vine take their life sap from the vine. Jesus is the Vine, and we are the branches. Rebellion and division in the church is like deadly poison. For a believer there is nothing like ‘I do what I want and when I want it’. In the Body of Christ there is submission to God and to His delegated human authority. As each part submits, and grows, the Body becomes stronger. Therefore, there are stronger and weaker Christians. There are also stronger and weaker local Churches. Selah!
THE UNITY OF THE SPIRIT IS A GIFT AND A GOAL
“I, therefore, the prisoner of the Lord, beseech you to walk worthy of the calling with which you were called, with all lowliness and gentleness, with longsuffering, bearing with one another in love, endeavoring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called in one hope of your calling; one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is above all, and through all, and in you all… “till we all come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a perfect man, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ” (Eph 4:1-6; 13).
Apostle Paul is talking to the brethren in Ephesus. He knows that they meet in their houses. They are different in race, social status, and economic status. Some are masters and others are slaves. There are men, women, and children. What keeps them together is the unity of the faith in Christ and the Holy Spirit. In our churches today, we face the same challenges. The church is a mixed multitude. There are people of different races, ages, economic and social status. It has always been difficult to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. It is not easy for people, even for the believers in the church, to relate well to people who are different than they. Paul wrote this letter as a prisoner in Rome. He is pleading with them to walk worthy of the high calling as a Christian. The Holy Spirit is in each believer and in the Church. The Church is the only Body God can use to change the world. The highest gift from God is to be saved and become a member of His Body on earth!
The purpose for this unity is to give glory to God and for each believer to become like Christ! How is this unity to be maintained? ‘With all lowliness and gentleness, with longsuffering, bearing with one another in love in the bond (or band). The words describe an attitude of love, peace, humility, and gentleness, typical of a true believer. This attitude is not weakness, but strength. It is being like Jesus who said: “Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light” (Matt 11:28-30).
The unity of the Spirit is described in two ways: a Gift and a Goal! The unity of the Spirit is first a gift from the resurrected Christ. It must be gratefully received, kept, preserved, and protected, by all the believers. At the same time, the unity of the Spirit is a goal to attain. The unity of the Spirit in the Body of Christ is a Unity of Faith and Knowledge of the Son of God. The aim is to mature all believers, to become ‘perfect’, to become like Jesus! In that way, the Body of Christ becomes spiritually strong, pleasing to Christ. In other words, we protect what we have received, and we walk towards this perfect unity of the Spirit. It is like salvation: it is a gift to be received by faith and, thru the process of sanctification we ‘work it out with fear and trembling’ (Phil 2:12). This unity requires the study of God’s Word and prayer. Humility and love are basic attitudes to keep this unity, both in the Church and the marriage relationship. Faith in God is necessary too. Faith comes by hearing God’s Word (Rom 10:17). The knowledge of the Son of God, His life and work to save sinners, is found in the Word of God. Therefore, we can say that the church where the true Gospel, the true doctrines of salvation are preached, that is a church that will experience spiritual maturity, the unity of the Spirit and revival. Any church that preaches false doctrines will remain divided and will not experience unity or revival! The ’holy glue’ that keeps the unity in the Church is LOVE!
THE UNITY OF THE SPIRIT IS LIKE THE HUMAN BODY – THE PARTS ARE THE SAME AND ALSO DIFFERENT
1-We are the same! To fulfill our calling we must be lowly, humble, gentle, and patient, bearing with one another in love. These are the necessary qualities to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. When pride, selfish ambition, and impatience manifest, the unity and the peace is destroyed. It is Christ, thru His shed Blood on the Cross, and by Holy Spirit, that started this unity of the Spirit. When Jesus died, the wall of hateful separation between Jew and Gentile, between different groups of people, was ‘abolished’ (Eph 2:13-18). All the believers, as One Man, together, we have access to God the Father thru Jesus Christ our Lord! Hallelujah!
Our duty is to ‘keep’ this unity, to maintain it. We are all the same, sinners saved by grace! We may differ in some issues but for as long as we believe the major doctrines of salvation, we can keep the unity of the Spirit. The only people we cannot be united with are the people who are not saved, who believe false doctrines. This is a reminder that the single brethren should not marry unbelievers. They will be united in the flesh but not in the Spirit. That marriage cannot be happy or successful. Selah!
2-We are different! God made us different. We are of different races, gender, nationalities, levels of education or social status. In the world, the rich oppress the poor, the educated mock the illiterate. There is racial and gender discrimination. Just because they are different it is hard for men and women to keep the unity of the Spirit. One of the greatest challenges in marriage is to keep this unity of the Spirit. Sexual lust, adultery, greed, pride, and sin in general, destroys the glue of this Unity. Repentance and restitution are necessary for the unity to be re-established. Another area of pride and competition is the manifestation of spiritual gifts in the church. Christ gave each one of the believers’ different gifts. These gifts are for the unity and blessing of the Body. But these are a source of envy and division in the church. It should not be so. We need to acknowledge Christ’ sovereignty, authority, and generosity in giving gifts to men as He pleases. All gifts are for the benefit of the Body. No gift is to be used selfishly or for monetary gain. Don’t envy or despise other people’s gifts. Love and pray for one another!
UNITY OF THE SPIRIT IN MARRIAGE
“The Pharisees came and asked Him, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife?” testing Him. And He answered and said to them, “What did Moses command you?” They said, “Moses permitted a man to write a certificate of divorce, and to dismiss her.” And Jesus answered and said to them, “Because of the hardness of your heart he wrote you this precept. But from the beginning of the creation, God ‘made them male and female.’ ‘For this reason, a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh’; so, then they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore, what God has joined together, let not man separate.” In the house His disciples also asked Him again about the same matter. So He said to them, “Whoever divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery against her. And if a woman divorces her husband and marries another, she commits adultery” (Mark 10:2-12).
God hates divorce (Mal 2:16). Why? Because God invented marriage. God created each man to have his own wife. In God’s original plan, there were not lonely or single people without a mate. Each man had his wife. Each couple had children. There was no sin, no divorce, and no death. There was not an option for polygamy. When the man and his wife got united in marriage they left their families, joined together, and became ‘one flesh’. Number ‘one’ cannot be divided. The children are the product of that ‘one flesh’. As you cannot cut a child into two and the child will still be alive, so, you cannot divorce two people who are already married. God ‘has joined them together’ means that marriage is God’s work and not man’s work. Divorce means to destroy God’s work. Every marriage, every conception in the womb, every delivery of a baby, these are the work of God! In the Old Testament breaking of marriage, or adultery, was punished with death (Lev 20:10). But if a man has sex with a (slave) single woman, the man shall be ‘scourged’ (beaten with 40 stripes) but not killed (Lev 19:20-22). This is to tell you that adultery because it was the breaking of God’s work, had a greater punishment than fornication!!! The last of the Ten Commandments forbade ‘coveting’. Adultery is ‘heart coveting or lusting’ of another man’s wife. This sexual lust is dangerously close to death punishment. Jesus said: “You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I say to you that whoever looks at a woman to lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart” (Mt 5:27, 28). Adultery (in the body or in the heart) is a form of dividing and scattering God’s Work on earth. Repent therefore! The unity of the Spirit in marriage is maintained by the husband loving his wife as Christ loved the Church, and by the wife submitting to her own husband, as unto the Lord Jesus! (Eph 5:22-33). Selah!
BEWARE OF THE SIN OF DIVISION!!!
Dividing people is a work of the flesh. “The works of the flesh are evident, which are: adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lewdness, 20 idolatry, sorcery, hatred, contentions, jealousies, outbursts of wrath, selfish ambitions, dissensions (strong disagreements), heresies, 21 envy, murders, drunkenness, revelries, and the like; of which I tell you beforehand, just as I also told you in time past, that those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God” (Gal 5:19-21).
Division in the Church in a sin. Apostle Paul is asking: “Is Christ divided?” (1 Cor 1:13). Obviously, the answer is No! The unity of the Spirit in the church is the result of preaching the truth, the true Gospel. Preaching false doctrines leads to sin, lawlessness, and division. People who believe the same thing, will stay united. We are of the same Body of Christ, the same Blood saved all of us. We have the same Father therefore we are members of the same spiritual family. Based on this truth, we should be flexible and keep the unity of the Spirit.
The strategy of the devil in Church and in marriages, is this: “Divide and conquer!’ Do not be ignorant on this! There are many warnings against false brethren who infiltrate the church like spies, to find a weakness in the Body, to divide it. These deceivers may behave well, looking so much like true Christians. For a moment, stop admiring their works and listen to their words. You will discover that they believe false doctrines. They reject the true Gospel of Christ Crucified and Resurrected. They pretend to be humble, but they are proud. They pretend to love you, but, in their hearts, they desire that you should backslide. They want you to lose your reward. In the Old Testament, the spirit of Absalom represents the evil spirit of pride, division, selfish ambition, bitterness and unforgiveness, sexual lust, and love for power. He tried to divide the kingdom. He deceived the people of Israel thru lies and flatteries. In this way, he ‘stole their hearts’ (2 Samuel 15:6). He died an untimely, shameful, death. This was God’s punishment. Selah!
A homewrecker is someone who has an adulterous affair with a married person and causes that marriage to fail. He (she) is responsible for a couple’s separation or divorce. He is happy that the couple has divorced. He wants to replace one of the married partners with himself. Apart from human beings, there are other evil activities also called ‘homewreckers’: pornography, alcoholism, drug addiction, gambling addiction, or domestic violence. The opposite of a homewrecker is called a homebuilder. Generally, love and wisdom build a home. Foolishness and selfishness destroy a family. “The wise woman builds her house, but with her own hands the foolish one tears hers down” (PV 14:1). This is a question: If God punishes adultery with death, how much more serious is the sin of church-wrecking? Selah!
We are commanded to totally separate from false brethren who reject the basic doctrine (or Gospel) of Christ (2 Jn 1:7-11). We are also commanded to note people who divide the body with false teachings, lies and flattery. If they refuse to repent, they will be crushed by the Prince of Peace! Avoid them! “Now I urge you, brethren, note those who cause divisions and offenses, contrary to the doctrine which you learned, and avoid them. For those who are such do not serve our Lord Jesus Christ, but their own belly, and by smooth words and flattering speech deceive the hearts of the simple. For your obedience has become known to all. Therefore, I am glad on your behalf; but I want you to be wise in what is good, and simple concerning evil. And the God of peace will crush Satan under your feet shortly… Amen!” (Rom 16:17-20). Avoid people who are easily offended, over-sensitive, who quarrel, and verbally abuse others, especially the leaders in the church. Divisive people need to be disciplined in the church. “Avoid foolish disputes, genealogies, contentions, and strivings about the law; for they are unprofitable and useless. Reject a divisive man after the first and second admonition, knowing that such a person is warped and sinning, being self-condemned” (Titus 3:9-11). Also, avoid people who gossip and are bitter, unforgiving. “A perverse person stirs up conflict, and a gossip separates close friends” (PV 16:28; NIV). Unforgiveness divides friends. “He who covers and forgives an offense seeks love, but he who repeats or gossips about a matter separates intimate friends” (PV 17:9; AMP). Selah!
JESUS IS THE THREE-FOLD CORD
“Two are better than one, because they have a good reward for their labor. For if they fall, one will lift up his companion. But woe to him who is alone when he falls, For he has no one to help him up. Again, if two lie down together, they will keep warm; But how can one be warm alone? Though one may be overpowered by another, two can withstand him. And a threefold cord is not quickly broken” (Ecc 4:9-12)
The word ‘overpowered’ means to prevail. The word ‘withstand’ means to resist successfully against an attack. The word ‘broken’ means to tear apart, to divide or separate. There is power in unity. This applies to marriage and to church. A lonely Christian is vulnerable specially to attacks. Having another to agree in prayer and encouragement is strength. Two cannot be pushed back. The third cord that binds the other two is Jesus Christ. This is the unity of the Spirit. Two in the unity of the Spirit can be divided only if they damage the unity seal. This is what Jesus said: “Again, I say to you that if two of you agree on earth concerning anything that they ask, it will be done for them by My Father in heaven. For where two or three are gathered together in My name, I am there in the midst of them” (Matt 18:19-20).
HOW DO WE MAINTAIN THE UNITY OF THE SPIRIT?
How do we maintain the unity of the Spirit? By being like Jesus! By dying to self and living to Christ! “Therefore, if there is any consolation in Christ, if any comfort of love, if any fellowship of the Spirit, if any affection and mercy, 2 fulfill my joy by being like-minded, having the same love, being of one accord; of one mind. 3 Let nothing be done through selfish ambition or conceit, but in lowliness of mind let each esteem others better than himself. 4 Let each of you look out not only for his own interests, but also for the interests of others” (Phil 2:1-4).
THE CHURCH IS THE TEMPLE OF THE HOLY SPIRIT
“Therefore, you are no longer strangers and foreigners, but fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, 20 having been built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ Himself being the chief cornerstone, 21 in whom the whole building, being fitted together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord, 22 in whom you also are being built together for a dwelling place of God in the Spirit” (Eph 2:19-22). God builds His Church, like His Holy Temple. God arranges us as living stones, one to support the other. Each believer is a living stone filled with the Holy Spirit. Your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit. But together, as One Body, we become ‘the dwelling place of God’ the Holy Spirit. This Body is alive and growing. This Body changes the world. All things work together for the good of not only individual believers, but for the good of the Church! The Church is The Father’s gift to the Son! The Church is the most expensive thing bought in this universe. Jesus died and shed His Blood to purchase it. The Church is the temple on earth where the Holy Spirit dwells. The Church is God’s greatest treasure. The Church is the foundation and pillar of truth and the best sample of heaven on earth! Worship the Lord!
PRAYER/SONG FOR UNITY OF THE SPIRIT
“Bind Us Together, Lord/ Bind Us Together/ With Cords That Cannot Be Broken
Bind Us Together, Lord/ Bind Us Together/ Bind Us Together In Love!
There Is Only One God/ There Is Only One King/ There Is Only One Body/ That Is Why We Sing” (song by Bob Gillman)
Worship the Lord!