|Volume 18 Number 8 August 2016||
Unity is desirable, and yet, it is often an elusive quality. Disagreements concerning the means to unity can ultimately render the end impossible to achieve. Unfortunately, doctrine itself has become a casualty, caught in the crossfire of increasingly polarized opponents. In the postmodern world, doctrine is often considered a secondary matter and an obstacle to religious unity.
The apostle Paul addressed the connection between doctrine and unity in the epistle to the Ephesians. The Book of Ephesians may be divided into two sections. Chapters 1-3 are focused on what Christ has done for the church, while chapters 4-6 are focused on what the church, in return, should do for Christ. In this context, Ephesians 4:1-6 is a sort of transitional passage linking the two sections. In Christ, men are called into the unity of the Spirit, a perfect fellowship fully realized in God’s eternal plan of redemption. Christians are charged to walk worthy of this calling, “endeavoring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” (Ephesians 4:3).
As indicated by this passage, true unity is the product of God, not man. In one sense, unity might be described as the proper response to God’s grace, which both requires and results from walking in a manner worthy of a Christian. Such a walk involves two elements, the disposition of a servant and the doctrine of the Master.
First, Paul listed a series of Christ-like qualities that must be cultivated in the life of every disciple. These are humility, meekness, patience, tolerance and diligence. The Christian who must always have his way, constantly flies off the handle, holds a grudge or gives up at the first sign of trouble will be a disruption to the life of the church.
Second, Paul revealed a unique series of New Testament teachings that form the foundation of the Christian faith. These are the one God and Father, one Lord, one Spirit, one body, one faith, one baptism and one hope. The seven “ones” provide both a model and a means for the kind of unity required of God’s people. One, by definition, is distinctive and exclusive. It means one and only one. Christians can be kind and courteous toward those who hold different beliefs, but unity calls for both an agreeable attitude and a commitment to truth.
Take, for example, the matter of the one hope. In the New Testament, hope involves a confident expectation of obtaining something real. The Christian’s hope is eternal life in heaven, which is grounded in the reality of the resurrection of Jesus (1 Peter 1:3) and the immutability of God’s promises (Hebrews 6:18-20). Without these facts, however, hope is little more than a daydream. Now, imagine a church in which one man hoped to be reincarnated, another hoped for a millennial reign of Christ and a third hoped for all men to be saved apart from the Gospel. The sad truth is that such a church would be no worse off than one in which everyone believed the same false doctrine.
True unity is more than an effort to get along; it is a purposeful dedication to living the Christian life. The path to unity begins with a desire to know God and to obey His Word. When we agree that the Bible is right, we will eliminate the barriers to unity.
Preach the Word
Terry G. Jones
Paul’s last epistle was the Book of Second Timothy. When we come to Chapter Four of this wonderful epistle, we are faced with the reality that these are the last words that would come from the pen of the great apostle. Paul was confined to a Roman prison while under the constant threat of death. He came to Rome with his mind set on preaching the Gospel (Romans 1:15-16), and that thought was still on his mind. That is clearly seen as Paul said to Timothy, “I charge you therefore before God and the Lord Jesus Christ, who will judge the living and the dead at His appearing and His kingdom: Preach the Word! Be ready in season and out of season. Convince, rebuke, exhort, with all longsuffering and teaching” (2 Timothy 4:1-2). He seemingly wanted to impress upon the mind of Timothy that the world’s greatest need will always be to “preach the Word.”
What does it mean to “preach the Word?” Let us use W-O-R-D as an acrostic to observe four things that are essential to preaching the Word.
Whole Counsel of God
At Paul’s final meeting with the Ephesian elders, he rehearsed how he had openly served among them, “and how I kept back nothing that was helpful, but proclaimed it to you, and taught you publicly and from house to house” (Acts 20:20). A few verses later he explained, “For I have not shunned to declare to you the whole counsel of God” (v. 27). Here we learn that we must not preach certain parts of the Bible while ignoring other parts. We must be willing to preach God’s Word in its entirety, while resisting the temptation to ignore those passages that teach things contrary to what we have believed.
Only the Gospel
The Gospel of Jesus Christ is God’s remedy for sin. Paul said, “For I am not ashamed of the Gospel of Christ, for it is the power of God to salvation for everyone who believes, for the Jew first and also for the Greek” (Romans 1:16). Not only is the Gospel God’s power to save, it is the only power to save. Preaching anything other than the pure Gospel of Christ is of no value. “But even if we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other Gospel to you than what we have preached to you, let him be accursed” (Galatians 1:8).
Paul charged Timothy to “preach the Word! Be ready in season and out of season.” Preachers must not only know the Gospel, but they must be ready and willing to preach it at all times. Paul himself was a great example of this. He said, “So, as much as is in me, I am ready to preach the Gospel to you who are in Rome also” (Romans 1:15).
Too much of modern preaching focuses on a “feel good” Gospel that contains little or no doctrine. Yet, the first century church “…continued steadfastly in the apostles’ doctrine…” (Acts 2:42). Those in Ephesus were charged “that they teach no other doctrine” (1 Timothy 1:3) or “any other thing that is contrary to sound doctrine” (1 Timothy 1:10). Some are of the persuasion that sermons on love ought to be preached but never lessons containing doctrine. Such a philosophy, however, prohibits the ability to preach “the whole counsel of God” (Acts 20:27).
In a time of moral and religious decline, the world’s greatest need is the preaching of the Gospel. The apostle Paul asked, “And how shall they hear without a preacher” (Romans 10:14)?