Sermon Outline (Adult)
United in Peace, for the World, We Are Called to Strengthen the Church
“As a prisoner for the Lord, then, I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received. Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to one hope when you were called; one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all” (Ephesians 4:1-6, NIV).
Every day we seem to come up with new ways to divide ourselves from others—whether by ethnicity, age, gender, sexuality, political party, or whatever other labels we ascribe to ourselves. Unfortunately, the church is not exempt from these divisions. Yet Jesus modeled how unity ought to look as he humbled himself to live among us and join us in the sufferings of this world. As citizens of his kingdom and members of his body, we too are called to humble ourselves and join together with our sisters and brothers.
Introduction: The Church As a Symbol of Unity
We can look to a variety of symbols of unity in our culture:
- Sports teams—A diversity of abilities working together toward a common goal
Sports teams are comprised not just of individual players but of different players with different strengths. A team is at its best when those different players come together to pursue a common goal. American football is an example of this kind of unity. Each team has eleven players filling eleven different roles on the field at one time. In order for a team to be successful, each of those players must perform a unique role according to the playbook. No single player bears the entire load nor does any player expect the other team members to play their role. The team understands that every player in every position plays a vital role. It is reminiscent of Paul’s teaching on unity in 1 Corinthians 12:12-26.
- The raised fist—This image represents not only unity but solidarity and strength.
Similarly, the clenched fist symbolizes strength and unity. Fingers that are individually fragile come together to make a powerful fist. It is a symbol of solidarity for many revolutionaries throughout the world.
- Ants—The selflessness of ants embodies the image of common unity
Ants work as a group to achieve their goals. Ant colonies, regardless of size, organize themselves into unique labor groups. Their ability to coordinate together helps them survive in a number of climates and living conditions. And like an athletic team, the success of the ant colony is dependent upon each ant fulfilling its role and purpose. Because of the unique ability of ant colonies to work together, they are known as “superorganisms.” Because they work in unison the colony has the potential to take on tasks that would appear to be too daunting for such small creatures.
Historically the church has also been a symbol of unity from its inception. “All the believers were together and had everything in common” (Acts 2:44). Yet today that is not necessarily the church’s reputation. Too often now the church is known not for what we stand for but for what we are against. Author Bill Bailey says, “In unity there is strength; we can move mountains when we’re united and enjoy life—without unity we are victims.” In order for the church to be the unstoppable force Jesus spoke about we need to demonstrate the coordinated unity of a sports teams, the solidarity and strength of the raised fist, and the unselfish unity of the ant colony.
We are called not to be “right” but to be “righteous,” conformed to the image of Christ (Romans 8:29). Together we “press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 3:14, KJV).
Outline of Ephesians 4:1-6
- The Calling of Unity
“As a prisoner for the Lord, then, I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received” (Ephesians 4:1, NIV).
Although Paul wrote this letter to the Ephesians in prison, he is not simply referring to his literal captivity here. Even if Paul were free, he would still be a prisoner of Christ as a member of Christ’s body. That bondedness to Christ is the starting point of unity.
As we submit ourselves to Christ, we are then compelled to live a life that reflects our communion with him. Jesus modeled for us the sacrifice necessary for unity by humbling himself unto humanity. Likewise, Paul gave up his freedom for the sake of the unity of the body.
- Communion with Christ is the first call of unity. (Paul identifies himself as a prisoner for the Lord.)
- A worthy life is the reflection of the gift received.
- The Character of Unity
“Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace” (Ephesians 4:2-3, NIV).
Here Paul highlights the character traits of a person who leads a life worthy of the calling we have received. Humility, gentleness, patience, and forbearance are all qualities that require us to consider others above ourselves. Each of those traits may be viewed as weakness in the eyes of culture, but in fact they call for inner strength given only by the Holy Spirit. When a community decides to live out these virtues together, all needs are met and shalom is realized.
- Identify the strengths of character.
- These virtues must be lived out in community.
- We are not called to be right—we are called to be righteous. Unity is the reconciliation of difference.
- The Case for Unity
“There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to one hope when you were called; one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all” (Ephesians 4:4-6, NIV).
In verses 4-6 Paul appeals to the body of Christ on the basis of spiritual unity and oneness.
- The church is one body. Believers may meet in many places, speak different languages, and live in different cultures. None of this difference separates them.
- The church obeys one Spirit. Many people may claim to bring God’s message or teach God’s truth, but we follow one Lord.
- The church lives in the light of its one hope.
- The church proclaims one faith. The crucified, resurrected Lord is the object of our faith.
- Membership in the church comes through one baptism. Each member enters the baptismal waters once to confess the one faith and become a part of the one body.
- The final element of spiritual unity is one God. This concept ties the church to its Jewish heritage. The worship of one God united the church.
- We find God in our unity.
- The Holy Spirit brings us unity (v. 4).
- The Son reigns in our unity (v. 5).
- The Father sustains our unity (v. 6).
- We are called to display what was modeled to us (John 17:20-23).
- The hope of the world is in our unity (vv. 4-5; Matthew 16:18-19).
- Unity begins with personal reflection. Daily we remind ourselves of this great gift (calling) we have received.
- Upon reflection we ask, “Today what can I do to honor the call Christ has placed on my life?”
- Jesus prays that all who believe will be one (John 17:20-21), and Ephesians 4:4-6 is foundational to that unity. Where do we see that oneness lacking in the church today?
- If unity requires effort, what things do you think distract the church from giving our best effort?
- We ask the Holy Spirit to give us strength to be humble, gentle, and patient so that we can bear with one another in love to heal the broken relationships in our lives.
The story is told of a little child in an African tribe who wandered off into the tall jungle grass and could not be found, although the tribe searched all day. The next day all the members of the tribe held hands and walked through the grass together. This enabled them to find the child, but he had not survived the cold night. In her anguish and through tears, the mother cried, “If only we had held hands sooner.”
It is not enough that we all share a common goal. We must all work together to accomplish it without hesitation. Our world needs the church to hold hands again, walking together to find that which was lost, bringing hope where there’s a void and light where darkness prevails.