(Pastor’s note: This sermon is part of a series of messages based on the book “I Am a Church Member” by Thom Rainer.)
Dysfunctional churches are a poor representation of the body of Christ. Churches become dysfunctional when they stop striving to “maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” (Eph 4:3). Instead, they become inwardly focused; elevating their comfort, desires, and preferences before faithfulness to their mission and their calling. When this happens, the suffocating fog of pride, resentment, and bitterness weighs heavily upon the church and they gradually die. Thom Rainer wrote in I Am a Church Member: “Unity is vital to the health of a church. And that means every church member, you and I included, must contribute to the unity of the church.” Let us consider how to be a unifying member:
- Unity and Love. A “triple play” in baseball is a complicated play that requires all the members of the team to be working together to achieve the same goal. Unity, like in baseball, is vital to the health of a church. Paul wrote that we are to “maintain the unity of the Spirit” (Eph 4:3). Churches must remember that our unity is based on the Holy Spirit—given to all Christians—who is the source of our unity. What does a unified church look like? It does not mean that everyone always agrees, but “it does mean that you are willing to sacrifice your own preferences to keep unity in your church” (Thom Rainer). Are you willing to be a unifying force in the church or are you more willing to fight for your own desires and preferences? Is your way better than God’s will?
- Unity and Gossip. Nothing destroys unity more efficiently than gossip. It is the Devil’s preferred tool of mischief and there is no place he loves to use it more than in the local church. The Devil knows that a unified church is powerful. Therefore, he seeks to spread gossip because it is powerfully destructive to a church. Gossip is not insignificant because uncontrolled gossip is the fruit of an unrighteous person (Rom 1:29-31). James tells us that an uncontrolled tongue “pollutes the whole body, sets the course of life on fire, and is set on fire by hell” (James 3:6). Make the commitment to neither be a source or a channel of gossip. Use your tongue as an instrument of love because you will not gossip about those you love. Peter wrote, “For the one who wants to love life and to see good days must keep his tongue from evil and his lips from speaking deceit” (1 Peter 3:10). Are you willing to be a unifying force in the church or would you rather gossip? Is talking about your fellow members more enjoyable than enjoying the love of your fellow members?
- Unity and Forgiveness. If you want to be an instrument in God’s hands to bring unity to the church, you must be willing to forgive those who have hurt you (Matt 6:14-15). Rainer writes: “Unity will not happen if members have unforgiving hearts.” If you are refusing to forgive someone then you are tearing the unity of the church apart. Lack of forgiveness is not an exercise of faith, but an exercise of pride. An unforgiving Christian is an oxymoron and the catalyst of a dysfunctional church. An unforgiving heart is a serious problem because it may indicate that you are not a Christian. A lack of forgiveness is a problem, because it might indicate that you are not a Christian. Paul wrote in Ephesians 4:32, “Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.” Colossians 3:13 says, “Bear with each other and forgive any complaint you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you.” Are you willing to be a unifying force in the church or would you rather hold on to your grudge? Is your resentment worth it?
Grow Group Guide
I Will Be a Unifying Church Member (Ephesians 4:1-3)
As a result of this sermon, prayerfully consider making the following pledge to God to be a unifying Church member:
I will seek to be a source of unity in my church. I know there are no perfect pastors, staff, or church members. But neither am I. I will not be a source of gossip or dissention. One of the greatest contributions I can make is to do all I can in God’s power to help keep the church in unity for the sake of the gospel.
Questions for Reflection:
- What did Paul mean when he said in Colossians 3:14 that love is the perfect bond of unity? What does that mean for the local church today?
- What is the best path to take if someone brings gossip to you in church? What does the Bible say about gossip?
- How is forgiveness related to unity in the local church? What does the Bible say about forgiving one another?
- Look at Matthew 6:14-15. Relate those words to being a church member. What does it mean if one church member does not forgive another?
- Read all of 1 Corinthians 13. Paul wrote the “love chapter” to the church at Corinth where problems with unity were pervasive. What does this chapter mean for church members today? Explain as you go through each verse.
Are you a source of unity in the church or a source of division?