Shelby G. Floyd
In his intercessory prayer Jesus prayed for unity (John 17:20-24). Jesus is praying that all his followers will practice unity. It is obvious that today there is the problem of religious division and confusion. Now I want to point out that we have got to make a plea for religious unity.
PLEA FOR RELIGIOUS UNITY
Paul poured out his heart and pleaded for the New Testament church at Corinth to be united. His words were very strong:
1 Corinthians 1:10-13
Now I plead with you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you all speak the same thing, and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be perfectly joined together in the same mind and in the same judgment. 11 For it has been declared to me concerning you, my brethren, by those of Chloe’s household, that there are contentions among you. 12 Now I say this, that each of you says, “I am of Paul,” or “I am of Apollos,” or “I am of Cephas,” or “I am of Christ.” 13 Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Or were you baptized in the name of Paul?
The word plead is a strong word. It means, almost in our language, “I beg of you.” Paul was down on his knees—so to speak, begging those brethren to be united in the name of Jesus Christ. His rhetorical questions were, “is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Were you baptized into the name of Paul?” Of course, the answer is within the question. No, they were not baptized into Paul’s name; therefore, they cannot wear Paul’s name. No, Paul did not die for them upon a cross in order that their sins should be forgiven; and, therefore, they should not wear Paul’s name. No, Christ is not to be divided up into little “bity” pieces. So the answer is “no, Christ is not divided.”
Someone said one time, “I had rather be the soldier that took the spear and pierced the side of Jesus on the cross, than the person who would divide the spiritual body of Christ—the church!” When the soldiers who crucified Christ drove the nails through his hands and pierced his side, there came forth water and blood. But what about those who open up the side of the spiritual body of Christ? The precious blood of Christ is running through the veins of the spiritual body of Christ! Of course, I am using that figuratively. The blood of Christ is still flowing from Calvary. And those who would openly tear apart the spiritual body of Christ, I believe, are as guilty as the man who cast the spear into his side. Therefore, Paul was pleading for these brethren to overcome their dissensions, contentions, and be united even in their judgments and in their mind.
So that shows us how much God wants us to be united together and working together, so that our plea will always be the same plea that Paul made. Therefore, let us stand united, fulfilling the purpose of the work that Christ gave us here on the earth.
PLATFORM FOR UNITY
But in the next place, I want to give you God’s platform for unity. You know, every four years, the political conventions, regardless of how much division they have had, all close ranks, join hands, and present a solid front, a united front when the election rolls around. Again, the children of this world manifest more wisdom than the children of light in their generations. If this is true in the worldly and political realm, how much more should it be true in the spiritual and religious world? God’s people ought to overcome their differences and join ranks, close in, and stand united against the enemy. That is the only way we can win the great battle for the minds of man.
So in Ephesians 4 we have Paul’s platform for unity! It is not a political platform; it is a spiritual platform:
Endeavoring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. 4 There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called in one hope of your calling; 5 one Lord, one faith, one baptism; 6 one God and Father of all, who is above all, and through all, and in you all.
One Body: Unity of Organization
First, there is unity of organization. Paul said there is one body. What is this one body? Our answer is found in the same book of Ephesians:
And He put all things under His feet, and gave Him to be head over all things to the church, 23 which is His body, the fullness of Him who fills all in all.
Here the apostle is talking about the power that God worked when he raised the Christ from the dead and seated him at his own right hand, far above all principality and power. And then he said that the one body is the church. Christ is the head of the church—the body. Any true religious unity must be based upon the fact that there is just one body or one church recognized by Christ.
Now, in view of the fact that there is one body and the body is the church, therefore there is just one church. And how can people say today that “one church is as good as another” or “join the church of your choice” or “it doesn’t make any difference what church you are a member of—because we all are going to heaven”? I cannot reconcile that with the statement—the emphatic statement of the apostle Paul. The divine platform for unity is that every person that obeys the gospel is a member of the one church and the one body. In all of my reading of the New Testament I have never read of more than one church or one body. When Paul said that there is one body or one church he was talking about the unity of organization.
One Spirit: Unity of Life
Paul said there is one body and one Spirit. So in the second place, there is unity of Spirit. Your body has a spirit and when your spirit leaves your body, your body is dead. The Holy Spirit dwells in the spiritual body—the church. To the Corinthian church Paul wrote about those who were destroying the church under the figure of the temple. And he said that those who destroy the temple of God—God will destroy them:
1 Corinthians 3:16-17
Do you not know that you are the temple of God and that the Spirit of God dwells in you? 17 If anyone defiles the temple of God, God will destroy him. For the temple of God is holy, which temple you are.
Now, if God’s Spirit dwells in his temple which is the church, or if you look at it from the figure of a body or a human organism to which the church is compared, the Holy Spirit in the church is like our spirit in our body. Now, some people have quenched the Spirit by quenching the word until they have got a church without the Spirit in it. A church without the Holy Spirit, he is a dead church. The Holy Spirit operates in the spiritual body of Christ through the word of God, which is his instrument. And this is how there can be unity of Spirit.
One Hope: Unity of Purpose
The apostle says that there is one body and one Spirit even as we are called in one hope of our calling. Next, we look at the unity of aspiration or hope. Hope stands for the Christian faith and the Christian system. In other words, there is one hope that stands above all of our hopes and that stands for the Christian system. What is that hope? To Titus, Paul explains what is that one hope of our calling:
In hope of eternal life, which God, that cannot lie, promised before the world began;
What is the hope that is above all hopes? It is the hope of eternal life. And so the fact that all of us have within our breasts that aspiration, that desire, that expectation, that longing for eternal life, it should draw us together in the spirit of our lives together in the service of God. Unity of aspiration! One body, one spirit, one hope! Unity of organization! Unity of spirit! Unity of aspiration!
One Lord: Unity of Authority
But there are four more planks in this divine platform of unity. There is one body and one Spirit even as we are called in the one hope of our calling. There is also one Lord, one faith, and one baptism. Therefore, we look at the unity of authority.
The word “Lord” comes from a word which means Ruler, King, Lawmaker. So Christ is our Lord. He is Lord of lords and King of kings. And that means that he is our Monarch. In order to have true unity, every member of the body of Christ must submit to the authority of the King. Sometimes the spirit of collective bargaining creeps into the church of our Lord. That spirit is this: if I don’t get my way, I will give an ultimatum and then strike against the leaders of the church. That spirit is wrong and sinful. That is not the spirit that should characterize the body of Christ.
We live in a democratic society. But strictly speaking, America is not a democracy—we are a republic. A democracy is where the majority rules, but a republic is where the people are governed not by the majority, but by elected representatives chosen by the majority. So in America we do not have a democracy strictly speaking. Only do we have a democracy in the sense that the majority elects the representatives of the republic. That is the basic difference between a republic and a democracy. The church is not governed by majority rule. Some have the idea that whatever the majority wants, the majority ought to have. But the majority is not always right. The majority wanted to crucify Jesus Christ. Throughout Old Testament history many times the majority wanted to do the wrong thing, and that is the reason Moses said, “You shall not follow a multitude to do the evil.” Christ is the head of the church and he also reigns as Monarch over his kingdom. He is the supreme ruler and head over this organism called the church. And there will only be unity when one submits to his ultimate authority.
One Faith: Unity of Teaching
There is one faith. One faith means that there must be unity of teaching. I have no authority to expound my opinions or to give you my judgments. But I am authorized to preach the gospel. I am also authorized to contend for the faith that has been once delivered to the saints (Jude 3). And that means that we must contend for the unity of teaching or doctrine. The one faith comprehends and incorporates everything that has been legislated in this divine creed book—the New Testament.
One Baptism: Unity of Salvation
There is one baptism. I read in the New Testament of several baptisms. I read about the baptism of suffering. This is a metaphor. Jesus said to some apostles, “Are you able to be baptized with the baptism with which I shall be baptized? Are you able to drink the cup that I shall drink?” Of course, he was figuratively saying, “are you able to be overwhelmed in the suffering that I am going to endure?” Baptism as used here is in the tropical or figurative sense. I read in the Bible where John’s baptism is mentioned. John did preach the baptism for repentance for the remission of sins (Mark 1:4). I also read in my Bible of Holy Spirit baptism (Mark 1:6-8). We also read that some were baptized for the dead (1 Corinthians 15: 29). But most of time when we read about baptism it is a reference to water baptism for the remission of sins (Acts 8:36-38; Acts 10:47-48). Now, out of the five or six baptisms, about which we read in the New Testament, which one was Paul talking about when he said, “There is one baptism?” When Paul wrote the book of the Ephesians he said, “there is one baptism.” What was the one baptism?
Obviously, Paul was talking about the unity of salvation in the church. He was talking about water baptism, because it is by one Spirit that we were all baptized into one body (1 Corinthians 12: 13). Therefore the one baptism is the baptism of the great commission where Jesus gave instructions to the apostles to preach the message of salvation to the whole world:
And He said to them, “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature. 16 He who believes and is baptized will be saved; but he who does not believe will be condemned.”
Therefore, water baptism is the one baptism by which we enter into this one body, where we find the one hope, and where we recognize and submit to the one Lord, and where we follow and obey and learn the one faith. And so, they all go together, just like a glove on the fingers of the hand. You can’t take one away without destroying the others.
One God: Unity of Worship
Finally, Paul says that there is “One God and Father of all, who is above all, and through all, and in you all.” This is unity of worship. Paul did not say that God is one person, but that there is one God and Father. The word God is here used specifically rather than comprehensively. The word God is used here to designate the first person of the godhead which is the Father. And he even explains it to us in that way: “One God and Father of all, who is above all, and through all, and in you all” (Ephesians 4:6). There must be unity in worship. Who are we to worship? We worship God. And those who worship God must worship him in spirit and in truth (John 4: 24). *
*Shelby G. Floyd delivered this sermon Sunday morning, October 24, 2021 in Greenwood, Indiana, and also Sunday evening, August 1, 1976, in Indianapolis, Indiana. At that time I was 39 years old. I still believe what I proclaimed then, and now I am 84 years old. God is good!
Copyright © 2021 Shelby G. Floyd, All Rights Reserved
Shelby G. Floyd
Preach the Word
Heartland Church of Christ
1693 West Main Street
Greenwood, Indiana 46142