Trinity Seventeen Sermon 2006| Rev. Rolf D. Preus| Ephesians 4:1-6
Jesus died on the cross to take away the sin of the world. On the third day He rose from the dead. He then appeared to His disciples and gave them what is called the Great Commission. He said to them, “Go therefore and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things I have commanded you.” The word “observe” here means to keep or hold on to. Jesus taught His 12 disciples many things. What He taught them He wanted them to teach others. Those others would teach others and so on and so on and so on to the very end of the age. The Great Commission requires of the ministers that they teach the pure gospel of Christ and administer His sacraments, teaching everything that Jesus taught. The Great Commission requires of all Christians that they keep or hold on to everything that Jesus taught. In this way the Church remains united. The spiritual unity that the Holy Spirit establishes within Christ’s church is a unity in teaching. It is unity in the teaching of Jesus. This establishes the church in the saving truth. This teaching keeps the church united in the one true faith.
The unity of the Christian Church is a given. The church is, by its very nature, one, holy, united, undivided, and indivisible. It is the Communion of Saints. Jesus prayed to His Father in heaven that those who would believe in Him through the apostles’ word would be one. Jesus does not have any prayers refused. There is nothing we Christians can do to establish or create the unity of the church. This is the work of the Holy Spirit. We are to hold on to the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.
The apostle says:
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.
Two things go together here: humility and unity. The unity of the church is fractured by pride. The apostle urges us toward lowliness, gentleness, and patient tolerance of one another in love. The unity of the Spirit is maintained as the word of God is held in esteem above our own pride. We humble ourselves. It is in humility that we keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. We set aside our own personal ambitions while holding on tightly to the true teaching taught by Jesus and revealed by the Holy Spirit.
There is a popular but false notion that it is sinful pride to claim to have the truth. We are told that it is a sign of arrogance to insist on knowing the truth. When we refuse to compromise on matters of doctrine we are accused of intolerance and inflexibility. But when it comes to what the Holy Spirit has revealed for our faith to receive we must be intolerant and inflexible. That is, we have no right to tolerate any other teaching that what the Spirit of truth teaches us. We must be tolerant of one another’s weaknesses and errors. After all, at the very center of the divine doctrine is the teaching that God freely forgives us all our sins for Christ’s sake. We reflect our faith in this precious truth when we patiently put up with the faults of our brothers and sisters in Christ. But putting up with false teaching is not a Christian virtue. It is an attack on the faith.
There is one body. The Holy Christian Church is the body of Christ. There is only one body. There is only one church. It may appear that the church is divided into many different churches. But this is not so. Appearances can be deceiving. Here is how we confess the unity of the church in the Large Catechism:
This is the sum and substance of this phrase: I believe that there is on earth a little holy flock or community of pure saints under one head, Christ. It is called together by the Holy Spirit in one faith, mind, and understanding. It possesses a variety of gifts, yet is united in love without sect or schism. Of this community I also am a part and member, a participant and co-partner in all the blessings it possesses. I was brought to it by the Holy Spirit and incorporated into it through the fact that I have heard and still hear God’s Word, which is the first step in entering it. Luther’s Large Catechism under the Third Article of the Creed
There is one body and one Spirit. The Holy Spirit doesn’t create a multitude of sects, each competing with one another. No, the Spirit of truth unites the church of Christ in the one truth. There is one body and one Spirit.
All Christians are called to one hope. Our hope is not in this world. It is not for a heaven on earth. The hope to which we are called is the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting. We confess this hope. We see a dying a decaying world. We look for the resurrection of the dead and the life of the world to come. We don’t put our trust in human striving for a more perfect society here on earth. Nowadays anyone with any political opinions is said to have an ideology. It is as if there is an ideal solution to every social and political problem that besets humanity. But this is not the Christian’s confidence. As the author of the Epistle to the Hebrews says, “We have here no continuing city, but we seek the one to come.”
There is one Lord, one faith, one baptism. Jesus cannot be divided. He has two natures, but the divine nature of Jesus cannot be separated from His human nature. His human nature cannot be separated from His divine nature. There are not two Jesuses: one divine and the other human. God became a man. The Word became flesh. If you want to know God you must look to this man Jesus. He is the Lord God. He is more than a prophet.
Jesus was judged on account of His divine goodness. You’ve heard of the cynical expression, “No good deed will go unpunished.” Well, that’s not just cynicism. The reason Jesus was hated was because he did good. He healed the sick. The face that He did so on the Sabbath caused fierce opposition from the Pharisees. They sought unity on the basis of the law. Christ offered unity on the basis of the gospel. When you seek unity on the basis of the law you distort the church’s very essence. Unity on the basis of the gospel is genuine. It comes from the Holy Spirit. Unity on the basis of the law is always false. You cannot unite sinners together as one without first getting rid of their sin. If you try to impose a unity you will only be imposing a uniformity but the sin that divides will continue to divide. But the unity that comes from the Holy Spirit is grounded on the forgiveness of sins. It is grounded in Christ, the Lord. He gave up His life for the church on the cross and in this way redeemed her, making her holy, and binding her together as one. Only in forgiveness is the division between sinners removed.
There is one Lord and one faith. There aren’t many different and contradictory Christian faiths. There is only one. The Christian faith is centered in the teaching that God freely forgives us all of our sins for the sake of the one Lord Jesus Christ and His living and dying for us. This one Christian faith is the possession of every single Christian in the world. Whether it is faith in the Triune God, the teaching of justification by faith alone, or confidence in the saving power of Holy Baptism, this Christian faith is one, indivisible, and the personal possession of all Christians.
There is one faith and one baptism. Faith and baptism go together. Baptism is God’s act of joining us to the suffering, death, and resurrection of Jesus. We cannot separate faith and baptism. All Christians are baptized into Christ to form one body. There is no higher status in the church than to be baptized. The notion that baptism is the lowest level, after which one can advance through confirmation, election to some kind of board or assembly, ordination, and so forth is a carnal corruption of the truth. Baptism places one into the highest possible status in the kingdom of God. The one who boasts of nothing at all but his own baptism boasts of the greatest wealth anyone could possess, for everyone who has been baptized into Christ has put on Christ.
Finally, there is one God and Father of all, who is above all, and through all, and in all of us Christians. These prepositions cover every possible circumstance and relationship. Our Father in heaven is there with us in our every need and this we know because we belong to the church. I don’t mean that we belong to this or that congregation. I mean that we are joined in that mystical union with our God in which no sin condemns us or keeps us out. Our unity with God makes us one with each other. This is God’s doing. True Christian fellowship doesn’t come about by the rigorous application of certain fellowship principles, as if it is a human achievement. True Christian fellowship is God’s gift. He gives us this gift as He comes to us in the person of His Son, fills us with His Spirit, washes us with His washing, unites us in the true faith, and keeps us trusting in Him until we meet the goal for which we hope: our eternal home in heaven.