I, therefore, the prisoner of the Lord, entreat you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling with which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, showing forbearance to one another in love, being diligent to preserve the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit, just as also you were called in one hope of your calling; one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all who is over all and through all and in all.
My Brothers and Sisters in Christ:
I discovered early on that it was pretty easy to tell Missouri Synod Lutherans from almost everyone else. You can tell it by the way they speak, and by the questions they ask. Missouri Synod Lutherans are almost the only ones who ask which Synod you belong to. Occasionally, Wisconsin Synod people ask that question, and the ELS is so small that they seem to know each other, but usually it is a Missouri Synod question. The members of the ELCA don’t use the term much, and when they do, it means the same for them as the word “district” does for us. If you ask someone who calls themselves ‘a Lutheran’ which Synod they belong to, and they give you a funny blank look, they are probably ELCA.
Outside of the world of Lutherans, real and in-name-only, the word is a real shibboleth. You know the story of the shibboleth? It is in Judges 12, when Gilead and Ephraim fought one another. Gilead used a password - shibboleth - because the people of Ephraim would always mispronounce it, saying “sibboleth” instead. The word “Synod” works that way for me. Non-Lutherans, and most of those who call themselves “Lutheran” cannot pronounce it - they say sigh-nod or sin-odd rather than sin’эd. The test is not infallible, but it is pretty reliable. As history has shown us of late, belonging to the same synod is not necessarily a true test of unity. Oneness is what our Epistle Lesson is about this morning, so invite you to consider the words of Paul, inspired by God, this morning with the theme, One.
Paul writes that we are to “walk in a manner worthy of the calling with which you have been called.” Now, this is the point at which so many preachers launch off into the lecture about morality and decency and good works. I imagine you have heard as many of those as I have, so if you want that sermon, just remember to preach it to yourself at home later today. I am not going there today because the Apostle doesn’t take us there in our text. The worthy manner about which Paul writes is the manner of unity in the faith. God instructs us through Paul that we are to be diligent “to preserve the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.”
Notice, first of all, that we are not told to create this unity. Oneness is the gift of God, more specifically, the gift of the Holy Spirit. The cry that we need to create unity is the central cry of the Ecumenical movement, and its central error. We cannot create this one-ness and it already exists by God’s doing. We are united first and foremost by possessing the one Holy Spirit who dwells in each and every one that believes. Although we cannot sense this ordinarily, the Spirit of God literally dwells within each one of us. When we become believers, it is by the working of the Holy Spirit within us, not by our own decision or efforts. We are adopted into the family of God in our Baptism, and He claims each of us to be His son.
Women, please notice that there is no second class here, no differentiation when it comes to salvation. You are all claimed by God to be His son, and treasured by God just as He treasures His only-begotten Son, Jesus Christ. Paul addresses this mystery of the faith in Galatians, where he wrote, “For you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus. For all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free man, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” Of course we know that those distinctions still work, even among Christians, in this world - that’s why we maintain separate restrooms, for example, even in the church. But in the sight of God, pertaining to the issues of forgiveness and salvation, and our standing before God, we are all His Son - each one is His Son individually, and all together we are His Son. That is what was accomplished for us on the cross.
Some call it the great exchange. It was on the cross that Jesus completed the exchange - He became sin for us - in our place and bearing our personal sin as well - who knew no sin (of His own), that we might become the righteousness of God in Him. He took our guilt and shame and the wrath of God against all that we have done, and nailed it to the cross in His flesh. He bore the price of our sins, and the sentence justly pronounced against us was executed on Jesus, so that we might not be punished as we deserve, but take our place under His perfect righteousness and be the beloved of God because He was and is. We are counted righteous with His righteousness, and God pours out His Holy Spirit upon us to guide us and bless us and keep us. Your sins are forgiven - that is how you become the righteousness of God in Him.
“For all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ.” “So then it is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me, and the life which I now live in the flesh, I live by faith in the Son of God who loved me and gave Himself for me.” These passages are not just philosophical tidbits, but realities which transcend our senses and escape our conscious awareness. We are united by Christ. We are all like Him in the eyes of God. We are all accounted as His, and counted as possessing His righteousness and perfect holiness. That is what makes us one. And one and the same Spirit dwells in us all.
Our unity is also that we are part of that “one body” that Paul writes about. He means “the body of Christ”, which is the Church. We share that one Spirit. And we all partake of that one hope - the promise that we shall each rise from our graves, and have everlasting life in glory with Him and with all those who have loved the Lord and shared in this unity. This is the truth, but not the truth of our senses or of our feelings, or of our earthly experience, necessarily. It is the truth of the Word of God.
All those that believe have the same Lord - the Lord Jesus Christ.
We all confess one faith. Denominational labels do not matter in this. Everyone who goes to heaven believes what we believe, that is to say we share the same fundamental doctrines. It is fair to say that everyone who goes to heaven is a Lutheran, whether they know it or not, because they believe the same Gospel. They hold to the same salvation. They repent. They trust in Jesus alone for their salvation by grace alone through faith alone - or they are not Christians. It isn’t enough simply to know how to pronounce His name. It is here that doctrine comes in. Sound doctrine if vital, for the truth is what unites us and the truth is what sets us free. We must cling tenaciously to the truth. We must know it and confess it! A false faith hopes in that which is not saving and trusts in those things which are not promised to save, such as our works, or our prayers, or our decisions to follow Jesus and make Him Lord of our lives. So the Baptist, or the Catholic, or the Methodist that trusts in Jesus for salvation is Lutheran under the skin and unawares, for they share that one faith of which Paul has written to us.
Each of us shares in the one baptism. It is the Baptism of Jesus, commanded in Matthew 28:19 and Mark 16:16, in Acts 2:38 and Acts 22:16. It is a baptism which clothes us with Christ, washes away our sins, causes us to be born again to a living hope, and makes us members of Christ’s body, the Church. Without that baptism, we are not a part of this thing called the Christian Church. It is the same baptism no matter where it is done or what method one may use - immersion, pouring the water, or sprinkling. It is all the same, as long as it is with water, and in the name of the Triune God, and it is all by Christ’s command and by Christ’s hand - for He calls the hands of the baptizers into His service, and gives them the command - “Baptize them in the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost.”
The church is One. It is not an external and outward unity, however much that would be nice, but a unity of faith and confession. We all worship the same God and have but one heavenly Father who is over all, and in us all, and works through all of us to accomplish His gracious will here on earth. This unity, to which each of us has been called, is what we are called by this text to live in a manner worthy of.
Obviously, then we are not called to live as though we deserved it, but as though we participate in it. We are to live out the one-ness, not live up to it. That means humility will be part of our mind set. Naturally, since we are all one, we cannot be arrogant toward one another, judging one another, or think that we are somehow better than another. Instead we are all in this together, brothers and fellow-redeemed. None of us is better than another - we all deserve death and hell - but all of us have been given the same righteousness - the righteousness of Christ.
Each of us is in the same delicate condition, clinging to a hope which is beyond our power to choose to believe in the first place. We want nothing to shake us, and we want nothing to shake each other. God has given us to one another to help us endure in this evil world. We need one another, and so we are gentle with one another - looking to the needs of the other first. That is where the patience and forbearance comes in. After all, we are all sinners. We will irritate one another at times. Defiance and disunity are natural to us. The American dream of independence is strong in our culture, and strong in our flesh, but it is not a part of the Christian faith.
The Christian Church is about sharing salvation, depending on one another, and trusting God. We are united, not independent of one another. We need the body, and without the body, we die, as pertains to the faith. So we are diligent, deliberate, about preserving the true unity of the church. That is, again, why sound doctrine is so important to us. We are deliberate in love because we possess that unity by the love of God and His Spirit in us works love in us for one another - by this will all men know that you are disciples of mine, if you have love for one another. So all that we work, maintaining this unity, is done in love, because of love shown to us and done in the love given to us with which to love one another.
Our One-ness is like that of ancient Israel. The nation was known by the name of a single individual. God often spoke of the nation as Jacob, or Israel, the same man in the history laid out for us in the Bible. We are all one in the same way, we are all in Christ, connected to Him. God doesn’t see us in our salvation as many individuals, but as united, One, in Jesus Christ, so He deals with us all as Jesus Christ. That is why are called members of one another - the Body of Christ. We are body parts of each other, if you will. If we ignore or deny our one-ness in Christ, we will suffer, and we could even perish! While we remain individuals, physically, we are united in Jesus Christ. For you are all one in Christ, the Bible says. God means that one-ness to be understood in more than a mere metaphorical sense. We share something. We share everything! There is one body and one Spirit, just as also you were called in one hope of your calling; one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all who is over all and through all and in all. That is why we are One, and that leads to the humility and gentleness and so forth, toward one another. It is that one-ness that brings us to pray for our brothers in other parts of the world who are being persecuted with awful, wicked violence by the enemies of Christ.
And it is that humility and gentleness, that patience and forbearance in love that is to mark us as God’s children, and it is these qualities that we are charged here by Paul to apply all our diligence to in order to maintain that unity - God-given unity - of the Spirit in the bond of peace.
In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.
(Let the people say Amen)
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