The Seventeenth Sunday after Trinity
September 22, 2013
“The Unity of the Spirit in the Bond of Peace”
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. Ephesians 4:1-6
They stood in judgment of Jesus because Jesus discarded their legalistic rules in favor of showing mercy to those in need. His critics promoted themselves while Jesus humbled himself in obedience to his Father all the way to the death of the cross. Christ’s exaltation at the right hand of God the Father validates his words, “Whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.” This is what St. Paul also teaches when he tells us Christians to walk worthy of the calling to which God called us, “with all lowliness and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love.”
Humility and unity go together. Pride causes division in families, marriages, churches, and just about everywhere where people must live together, work together, or worship together. Pride says it must be my way or the highway. I’ll get my way or I’ll take my bat and ball and go home. Humility promotes unity. It endeavors “to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.” Note what the apostle says. He says we keep the unity of the Spirit. We keep it. That is to say, we hold on to it. We guard it. We don’t create it. God creates it. It is the unity of the Spirit. The Holy Spirit is the one who unites the Church. It is human pride that brings about division.
The Bible teaches us about the Church and the Bible is the standard for what the Church teaches. As St. Paul wrote earlier in this Epistle to the Ephesians, the Church is “built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets with Jesus Christ himself being the chief cornerstone.” This means that the Church is not over the Bible, but under the Bible. Listen to what the Bible says about the Church:
We endeavor to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace by living a life of humility, patience, putting up with others, and not being insistent on having our way. We hold on to the unity that the Holy Spirit graciously gives. And how does the Holy Spirit establish this unity of the Church? He calls us in one hope of our calling. We were called. We didn’t call ourselves. God called us. As we confess in Luther’s Small Catechism:
We confess in the Nicene Creed that the Holy Spirit is the Lord and giver of life. He is the One who creates the Church. He is the One who unites the Church as One body. He does so through the gospel and sacraments of Christ. When we try to establish the unity of the Church by our own efforts, disaster is what results. We end up thinking that the unity of the Church consists in agreeing on human arrangements, human traditions, human rules, and other things that don’t really matter that much. What matters is what the Holy Spirit says and does. We confess in the Augsburg Confession:
The unity of the Church is an article of faith. You cannot see it just as you cannot see the Lord Jesus and you cannot see faith and you cannot see God the Father. But you can know you belong to the Church. You can know that you are a member of that Communion of Saints. Do you trust in the Lord Jesus Christ as your Savior from sin and hell? Do you believe that God, for the sake of Christ’s obedience and suffering, forgives you all your sins, reckons you to be righteous in his sight, and promises you eternal life in heaven? Then you belong to the Communion of Saints.
There is one Lord and one faith. There isn’t one Jesus for city folks and another Jesus for country folks. There isn’t one Jesus for the rich and another for the poor. There is one Lord Jesus Christ, who came into this world to save sinners. He lived that life of patience, meekness, and humility to which all Christians are called. Unlike us, however, he lived it without any sin. Where we stood on our pride, he endured abuse without complaint. Where we insisted on our own way, he suffered and died in perfect submission to the will of his Father. And in so doing, he redeemed the whole world. He took away the sin of the world. God reconciled the world to himself through the vicarious suffering and death of Jesus. There is only one Lord Jesus Christ and everyone who believes in him receives eternal life.
That’s the one faith. It is faith in the one Lord. Now if we believe in Jesus we will also believe what he says, will we not? The one faith that believes in the one Lord Jesus also lives on every word that proceeds from the mouth of God. If God says it, that settles it. God’s word is centered on Jesus Christ, the Savior. The central teaching of God’s word is that we sinners are forgiven of all our sins and justified by God, not by our works, but solely by God’s grace for the sake of the obedience and suffering of Jesus and that we receive this forgiveness of all our sins and are saved through faith alone. There is one faith through which we are justified by God. There is one faith. It believes everything God teaches us in the Bible.
There is one baptism. There are not two baptisms: one of water and the other of the Holy Spirit. Rather, the Holy Spirit joins himself to the washing of water by the word and he makes it his own washing of regeneration and renewal. Holy Baptism gives us every treasure that the one Lord Jesus Christ has purchased for us. The little baby, who is baptized in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost, has the same spiritual status as the greatest preacher or the richest benefactor. The one baptism that all Christians everywhere share sanctifies the Church as Christ’s holy bride, setting her spotless and without blemish before him.
The Church is one because God is one and the Church is God’s own creation. There is “one God and Father of all, who is above all, and through all, and in you all.” He is above all. He rules the whole universe, governing all things for the benefit of those he has called. He is through all. Every good deed any Christian ever does in his life is done by God through him. As St. Paul writes earlier in this Epistle, “For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them.” He is in you all. The Father is never without the Son and the Holy Spirit. This Holy Trinity lives within every Christian, and thus keeps the holy Christian Church united as one.
We don’t see the unity. We see pride and the division it causes. We see false teaching, even heresy, dividing the Church. We see corruption, sin, and terrible scandal. Yes, and the unbelieving world sees this as well, and mocks the very idea of one, holy, Christian, and apostolic Church.
But we go by faith, not by sight. We don’t believe in the unity of the Church because we see it. We believe in the unity of the Church because we believe in Jesus and are baptized by his authority. The Holy Spirit has called us to this faith. Here is how we confess it in Luther’s Large Catechism:
God is our Father and the Church is our mother. We pray for the day when our holiness and unity now hidden under faith will be revealed to the whole world. We pray, “Come Lord Jesus, Come quickly. Amen.”
Rolf D. Preus