Eighth Sunday after Trinity July 25, 1999
For whatever things were written before were written for our learning, that we through the patience and comfort of the Scriptures might have hope. Now may the God of patience and comfort grant you to be like-minded toward one another, according to Christ Jesus, that you may with one mind and one mouth glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.
In the name of the triune God, who is truly one with all believers, dear Christian friends, dear fellow redeemed.
Maybe you’ve heard the saying, “Opposites attract.“ They say it in reference to marriages. But it isn’t always the case with friendships. Typically, our friends are people who share a common interest. Our friendships and other relationships too are based on some type of common ground. A Christian marriage, for example, has common ground in this: the two people believe in the same Lord Jesus. On a broader scale we find common ground in a Christian fellowship, like this congregation.
Let’s think about our church membership for a moment. When you became members of Our Savior’s, you did not join a club. You became part of a family. God led you into His household and linked you together with other believers. Looking around at the other members, you notice a variety of people. Different age groups, different personalities, different looks. Yet you’re all the same according to God’s viewpoint.
God has many things to say on the subject of unity. First off, He doesn’t want any factions in the church. He doesn’t want in-fighting or division among the members. He doesn’t want individuals withdrawing themselves from the group. He wants His family to pull together, stick together and work together as one united congregation. Paul, the writer of our text, also said in Ephesians 4: “I 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.”
Unfortunately, the goal of unity that God has for believers has been disrupted by various things that we have done. Division comes from our sins of selfishness, pride, resentment, and stubbornness, just to name a few. God says pull together, but we go our separate ways. God says help each other, but we serve our own interests. God tells us to yield to each other, to “turn the other cheek” for the sake of harmony, but we insist on our rights. We insist on having it our way. It all stems from the same problem. We have the “common ground” of human nature, the left-over condition of original sin, which is equally entrenched in every person.
The types of sin that we commit will vary. There are different weaknesses, one individual to another. But that doesn’t change the fact that we are guilty. Equally guilty under the Law of God. Can anyone claim to be better than his neighbor? Not according to the judgment God has rendered: “There is none righteous, no, not one; there is none who understands; there is none who seeks after God. They have all turned aside; they have together become unprofitable; there is none who does good, no, not one.” (Rom. 3:10-12) Not only are we sinful to the same degree and condemned by the same judgment; we’re equally stuck in a desperate situation. None of us could ever find the way out of hell or climb our way into heaven.
Notice the common ground. We’re in the same predicament under God’s Law. Thankfully, we find the same refuge under the Gospel. God’s love is applied equally to every sinner, without exception. When the sacrifice of Jesus was made on the cross, everyone was covered by the blood of the Lamb. All the sins were paid for. All the sinners were let off the hook, forgiven, declared not guilty. No matter who we are, we have the same benefit of redemption. We have the same gift of faith. We have the same status in God’s family: each believer a full-fledged son or daughter of God. And of course, God is the perfect Father. He doesn’t play favorites. He gives to all of His children the same promises, the same blessings of grace, and the same inheritance.
When husband and wife make out a will, they might end up treating the heirs somewhat differently. God doesn’t do that with His family. Every heir gets the same inheritance, which includes immortality, a perfect body and a perfect soul, a perfect life with perfect happiness in the everlasting presence of the perfect God. The Lord has brought us together on common ground, the wonderful reality of our salvation. It’s truly an awesome thing. God gave to us what we did not deserve. He brought us into His family at great expense to Himself. And the cost of our adoption was the very life of His own Son.
When you consider the way God treats the individuals in this church, how can we act or think any differently? Every person here is equally loved by God, equally covered by grace, equally saved by Christ. All these different people are one and the same to God. They need to be viewed as one and the same to us. The person in front of you, the person across from you, or three rows back—different individuals to be sure, yet each one is a blood-bought soul that God cared enough to save and to win and to keep for Himself. How can we not care for each other and do whatever it takes to stick together, to stand together on the common ground God has given to us all?
Though the unity is disrupted in various ways, one day it will reach the state of perfection. When heaven becomes our final place of residence, all the members of God’s family will live in perfect harmony. What a glorious moment that will be. We long for that moment to come. But in the mean time the unity of Christian fellowship is not a dream of the future. God has made plans to bring us together right now, here on earth, even in the midst of turbulence. He brings us together on the common ground of His Word.
Paul says in our text: “Whatever things were written before were written for our learning, that we through the patience and comfort of the Scriptures might have hope.” God had you in mind when He wrote the Bible. In this ancient message of the Old and New Testaments, He was giving you a light to get you through the darkness. He was giving you an anchor to keep you from drifting and crashing into danger. The Scriptures were written for the preservation and the perseverance of our faith.
God uses the Word to deliver what we need. He brings us comfort and feeds our souls through the message of the Gospel. He reassures the heart with the promises that He makes in the Bible. To this comfort of the Word, we cling as individual believers. To the comfort of the Word, we rally together as a congregation. When God brings us together, He provides a meeting place where we gather as a group. We meet on the common ground of Holy Scripture.
We’re here today because of the Word. We gather together each week to learn what the Bible says, to draw comfort and hope from the statements and the promises God has made. It’s a group activity that is good for all the members. God doesn’t want us to isolate or withdraw from each other. He brings us together to keep us intact. We can illustrate this fact with the example of burning charcoal briquettes. If you pile up the briquettes and set them on fire, they burn together. If you take one of the embers away from the pile and leave it by itself, the flame will go out. Each briquette stays lit from the heat and the fire of the other briquettes piled together in the grill.
You know the old saying: “United we stand, divided we fall.” Satan knows how true this can be in spiritual terms. If he can separate the Christian from the church, then it’s much easier to rob the individual of his convictions and ultimately his faith. God gives you this group of believers as your spiritual support system. The system works—not because of the people involved or the outward organization or the pastor. The system works because of the Word working in you.
Let’s continue to meet on common ground. Let’s continue to gather at God’s house, where He will comfort and strengthen us by the power of His Word. We can’t possibly go astray if the Word becomes our guiding light. In fact, the Word will hold us together in the right kind of unity. God will gather His people on top of the truth. It’s a very precise foundation on which we stand. God brings us together on the common ground of doctrinal unity.
You may have heard of the “ecumenical movement.” It’s getting to be more popular and spreading greater influence in many places, including Jamestown. Ecumenical gatherings are based on the idea that Christians should get together, even though they believe different things. The ecumenical movement does not have the backing of Scripture. God never said, “Unite in fellowship if you’re half-agreed in doctrine.” God never said, “Get together for worship if you agree on most of the teachings.” By God’s own requirement we must agree on all that we teach as Christian doctrine. What God says in our text is echoed more prominently in other Bible verses, like 1 Cor. 1: “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.” (1 Corinthians 1:10)
In other words, God requires unanimous agreement on every teaching that we profess to believe as the truth of Scripture. If we disagree on creation or baptism, if we disagree on the Lord’s Supper or any other doctrinal topic, then the ground of unity is broken. It’s not there. Let’s say we have a group of people trying to move the structure of a house onto a new location and secure it on a new foundation. When they put the house in place, they miss the foundation just a little bit to the side. Can you imagine the problems they would have if they did not fix the mistake and get the house squarely placed like it should be? Our Christian fellowship has to be squarely based on everything God has said in Scripture, nothing more, nothing less, nothing changed or left out. If we agree to become ecumenical, if we “agree to disagree,” or we gather Christians together in spite of doctrinal differences, then we miss the foundation that church fellowship has to have in order to satisfy God and be faithful to the truth that God has given.
There are many reasons why Christians cave in and practice fellowship where the common ground of unity does not exist. Sometimes it’s easier, more convenient, more comfortable to give in to the wishes of other people. But the wishes of people cannot override the principles of God. Practicing the right kind of fellowship is never easy. It’s something we need to pray for, like Paul did in our text: “May the God of patience and comfort grant you to be like-minded toward one another, according to Christ Jesus, that you may with one mind and one mouth glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.” “With one mind” we agree on every doctrine that we believe. “With one mouth” we put into words what our position is. We clearly state the doctrines that we accept as the truth of Scripture and the doctrines that we reject as errors devised by man.
Let’s make the principle abundantly clear. If we gather for worship, prayer, or Communion, if we unite for the purpose of doing the work of the church, then we need to be in total agreement on everything that the Bible teaches, commands, and forbids. If we don’t have this total agreement, then we shouldn’t practice any kind of fellowship with those who disagree. We don’t do this in judgment on anyone’s heart. We do it because of God’s command. We do it for the sake of the truth and for the sake of our own spiritual good.
Now some would say that we’re expecting the impossible. Some would say that it can’t be done. I would agree to this extent: based on human effort, they’re right—it can’t be done by us. But God is greater than anything human. He will make the truth shine through. His Word is not dark and murky. It doesn’t have hidden meaning. It clearly says what we need to believe. And it has the power of the Spirit to convince us. The prayer will be answered. God will use His Word to build the right fellowship on the right foundation—the common ground of truth, the common ground of doctrinal unity.
God has brought us together by bringing us into His Church, one by one. We see the common ground of our salvation, which gives us cause for daily celebration. We also see the connection that we have with each other. Every member needs your prayers, your support and encouragement, your attention, and your ministry. God makes us responsible to each other, so that individual believers are not lost in the shuffle nor isolated from the group nor left behind. God has yoked us together to pull in the same direction, to strive for the same goal. Of course, we’ll be stuck in neutral if we don’t have something reliable to lead us down the road. God gives us the reliability of His Word, which is the common ground of our doctrinal unity. We fully expect Him to keep us together on that solid, unshakable, common ground that we have in Christ and His precious Gospel truth. Amen.
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