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Connected in Unity

 

Ephesians 4:1-6
Bible Studies for Life, Sept. 14

 

If you’ve got the money – and I mean, a lot of money – Celebration, FL is quite the place to live.

The city streets are a throwback to a better America. The homes are gorgeous, with perfectly manicured lawns. Sometimes, there’s even a white picket fence.

Celebration is a planned community. It was part of Walt Disney’s dream, and it is part of the Orlando reality. Walk the sidewalks today and you’ll feel safe. Enjoy the children riding their bikes. Wave at the couple choosing to make a run to the grocery with a horse and buggy ride. Check out the trees and the plants. They’re planted in just the right spot, pruned to just the right shape, and casting shade on just the right front porch.

How perfect is Celebration? On chilly evenings in the winter, the town is dusted every hour, on the hour, with artificial snow. In the spring and summer, sprinklers run in sync just before dawn so the flowers will bloom and the grass will stay green, no matter how hot the weather in central Florida.

This is a utopian community spread over 16 acres of Americana. To many, including the Disney Empire, Celebration has all the makings of the perfect community.

But if there had been an illusion of perfection in the Disney neighborhood, it all disappeared in 2010.

First, there was a murder. Three days later, in a separate incident, there was a tense standoff with police. In the second incident, a man barricaded inside his very nice home first took a few shots at law enforcement personnel before taking his own life.

The two tragedies shook the small community and reminded us all that by himself, no man can find the peace that will ultimately satisfy his soul. To find that kind of peace, he’ll have to find a different kind of community. Not one made of streets and sidewalks and houses ... but one made of people doing life together.

One day, both elements of the ideal community will come together in perfect harmony. They will also live in a perfect physical environment. No wonder we call such a place “heaven!”

But for now, we’re stuck in places like Celebration, FL, trying to find out why it’s so hard ... to celebrate.

 

Unity is your responsibility

A newcomer to faith might assume unity is something automatically included in church membership. Someone who’s been a part of a church family for any length of time, however, will know the truth. If a small group or a church has any sense of unity, it’s because the individuals inside that group or church have worked very hard at achieving it.

It’s been like that from the very beginning. Jesus prayed that His followers would be “one,” even “completely one” (John 17:21, 23). As He prayed, Jesus was well aware that His disciples were far from unified. They had even argued among themselves on their final journey to Jerusalem!

... Paul reminds his young church that unity will arrive only when the individuals in that faith community become "completely humble and gentle."

Paul’s first serious instruction to the Corinthians was for unity (1 Cor. 1:10). In his otherwise joyful letter to the Philippians, Paul asks two women – by name! – to “get along in the Lord” (Phil. 4:2).

And in Ephesians, Paul reminds his young church that unity will arrive only when the individuals in that faith community become “completely humble and gentle.” In the focal passage of this week’s lesson (Eph. 4:1-6), Paul told his people that they must be “patient, bearing with one another in love.”

Humility, gentleness, and patience are not easy characteristics to put into action! Maybe that’s the reason Paul paints the picture of the believers “bearing with one another.” If unity were an easy part of staying connected, would there be a reason to “bear” one another?

If you want to be a part of any group, then a huge part of your responsibility will boil down to becoming a positive member of the group. This will not come naturally, and it will not always be easy. But if each member of the group – including you – does his or her part, unity will be the result.

 

Responsibility to restore unity

Most people make good members of the group they choose to join. Whether it’s a social, spiritual, or professional group, most people who intentionally choose a group will be very intentional about being a positive member of that group.

However, it only takes one person to disrupt a group’s unity.

Far too much time and energy in churches today is spent on issues of personal conflict. But rest assured, this is not a new phenomenon.

Time and time again, Paul stopped to challenge troublemakers inside his churches. In Galatians, he railed against the Judaizers. He was stunned that Christians in Corinth were taking one another to Court. The two women in Philippi were behaving like two schoolgirls who needed to be corrected in the middle of a church service! He addressed specific sexual sin in one incident (1 Cor. 5:1), and argumentative individuals in another (2 Tim. 2:23).

Perhaps the most disappointing thing in all of those cases is that the church hadn’t already dealt with the issues of disunity. Jesus had made it clear. When one person is out of line, specific steps are to be taken in order to protect the integrity of the group (see Matt. 18:15-20.)

And perhaps that passage is a good place to close. Since unity is so difficult to maintain, some have joked that the proper translation of Matthew 18:20 might well have Jesus saying, “If two or three of you ever agree on anything, I’ll show up to see it myself!”