In our Wednesday night study of ecclesiology we are looking at the issue of church membership. Our discussion last night was so beneficial that it seemed like a good idea to reproduce part of it here.
While there are no passages that instruct us to officially join a church, there are responsibilities given to us in the New Testament that do necessitate a commitment to a particular body of people.
In Ephesian 4:1, Paul exhorts us “to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called…” The preceding context indicates that what Paul has in mind is our calling to live as one regenerate body united in Christ. What follows in ch4 is an explanation of what it looks like to walk in a manner worthy of this call. There are three commitments that are wrapped up in walking in a manner worthy. The first is a commitment to love. Eph 4:1-6:
1 I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, 2 with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, 3 eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. 4 There is one body and one Spirit--just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call-- 5 one Lord, one faith, one baptism, 6 one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.
These verses speak of loving commitment to one another in keeping with the unity that Christ forged when He reconciled us to God. Think carefully about those first few words in v2: with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love. Why are those words necessary? What do they imply? They imply that we don’t always get along. We have different preferences, convictions, and tastes. We sin against one another and offend one another.
All of us could probably testify that those differences and offenses have been present at every church we’ve ever gone to. That seems to be the one constant. We have differences with people no matter where we go. That’s why Paul writes this.
Every church everywhere is a collection of people with different preferences and convictions, who rub each other the wrong way and sin against one another. And we have a sinful tendency when those differences arise to latch onto those differences and make them a serious issue. We allow them to become lines in the sand that separate us into constituencies within the church.
Sometimes, we allow those differences to provoke us to one of two negative reactions. Metaphorically speaking, we resort to either fight or flight. We may decide a preference or conviction is something worth fighting for. And we convince ourselves that we are in the right, not realizing that all we have done is taken our own preferences and convictions and elevated them to the level of essential doctrine for everyone else.
Or we resort to flight. “This place is never going to see eye to eye with me on this. Maybe I don’t belong here. Maybe I should go somewhere where people have the same preferences and convictions.”
Sometimes it’s not preferences and convictions, but rather someone has sinned against us or offended us in some way. We can sinfully resort to those same to negative responses. We can fight and make a war out of it, or we just retreat from the relationship until the other party learns to appreciate us and treat us with respect.
It is to that tendency that Paul writes these words, I urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you’ve been called. When it happens that “you hurt me” or “they’ve offended us” or “we disagree with that,” and we’re tempted to either fight or fly the coop, that’s when this exhortation finds its fullest meaning and most crucial application. That is when we must walk in a manner worthy, walk in committed love for one another.
Our culture seems to have no concept of commitment. I’m committed to you…unless things get difficult. That’s the opposite of commitment. Commitment is undetectable when everything is going well. Commitment proves itself to be commitment when things are not going well, when someone has offended you, when someone has insulted one of your convictions or disagreed with one of your preferences. Walking in a manner worthy is a commitment to love one another no matter how we offend one another or annoy one another.
God spilt the blood of His Son to unite us in one body in reconciliation to the Father, and it should take a whole lot more than personal differences to pry us apart. The gospel constrains us to love one another, with humility and gentleness and patience. “I will bear with you in love.” That is commitment. The unity of the body and the picture of reconciliation that it shows is more important than our preferences and convictions and offenses.
Unregenerate people can remain committed to one another when there’s no friction. But it takes gospel power in the life of a person born again to be committed when there is friction, and that’s precisely why God is glorified when we do it. He is glorified when a body of selfish, crazy people are able to love one another in spite of each other. Only God can do that.
That we are called to humility, gentleness, patience, forbearance, and love assumes two things: 1) We are not going to agree on everything. And (2), we are expected to be committed to one another anyway. And we must keep at the forefront of our minds, when those differences, annoyances, and offenses begin to really bother us, that this is an opportunity to walk in a manner worthy of the gospel.
Whatever things there are that make us different, we can’t allow them to separate us. Why? We have the most important things in common. v6: One Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all. We’re united by the gospel. And that gospel places a heavy responsibility on us, the commitment to love one another.
I mentioned that there are three commitment shown in this passage. We’ll look at the other two next time.
Posted by Greg Birdwell