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Attitudes: the Petri Dish of Unity

Tom Pennington • Ephesians 4:2

  • 2008-11-23 AM
  • Preserving the Unity of the Church
  • Sermons


It was a year and a half ago that we began our study of Paul's letter to the Ephesians, and we find ourselves beginning in the fourth chapter. And it's been a wonderful and magnificent journey through this great letter of Paul's. And I want us to return there again this morning. Perhaps you have read, as I did this last week, the humorous story that comes to us from Wales. It's recorded in Leslie Flynn's book, Great Church Fights, (not necessarily a book I recommend to you; but nevertheless, an interesting book). And apparently, in Wales, there was a church that was looking for a pastor, and in the middle of looking for a pastor, a feud broke out between the members of the congregation. The tragic news story in the Welsh newspaper read like this:

"Yesterday, the two opposition groups both sent ministers to the pulpit. Both spoke simultaneously, each trying to shout above the other. Both called for hymns. And the congregation sang too, each side trying to drown out the other. Then the groups began shouting at each other. Bibles were raised in anger. The Sunday morning service turned into a bedlam. Through it all, the two preachers continued trying to out-shout each other with their sermons. Eventually, a deacon called for the police. Two policemen arrived and began shouting to the congregation to be quiet. They advised the forty persons in the church to return home. The rivals filed out, still arguing." [And the newspaper article ends with this note]: "Last night, one of the groups called for a reconciliation meeting, but it broke up in argument."

Sadly, scenes every bit as tragically humorous, and frankly disgusting as that, have played out in too many churches. I've mentioned to you, I think, several times before, that I grew up in Southern Baptist churches. And I still have imprinted on my mind to this day, the picture of two grown men, standing in front of the church on a Wednesday night at a business meeting of the church, shouting at each other at the top of their lungs, almost coming to blows. And it was all about where the piano would be placed on the platform. Such disunity and discord may be incredibly common in churches that use the name of Jesus Christ. But the New Testament makes it clear that it is absolutely unacceptable to the Lord of the church.

That's exactly what we're learning from Ephesians 4. Let me remind you that Ephesians 4:1 is a kind of topic sentence for the rest of the book. It is the hinge on which the book turns. In the first three chapters, you have our position in Christ. In the second three chapters in the last part of the book, you have our practice, how we're to live. In the first part of the book you have the eternal plan of God. And then in the second part of the book you have how that plan is to be fleshed out in our daily lives. Chapter 4:1 is an overarching command to walk in a manner worthy of our calling. And the rest of the letter tells us how to do that: how to walk in a manner worthy of our calling. And the very first way that you and I can walk worthy of our calling is to live in unity in the church. That's the theme of 4:2 - 16. Let me read this for you again, to put you in the flow of the context, Ephesians 4:1.

Therefore, I, the prisoner of the Lord, implore you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling with which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, showing tolerance for 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 you were also 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. But to each one of us grace was given, according the measure of Christ's gift. Therefore, it says, "WHEN HE ASCENDED ON HIGH, HE LED CAPTIVE A HOST OF CAPTIVES, AND HE GAVE GIFTS TO MEN." (Now this expression, "He ascended," what does it mean, except He also descended in the lower parts of the earth? He who descended is Himself also He who ascended far above all the heavens, so that He might fill all things.) And He gave some as apostles, and some as prophets, and some as evangelists, and some as pastor-teachers, for the equipping of the saints, for the work of service, for the building up of the body of Christ; until we all attain to the unity of the faith and the knowledge of the Son of God, to a mature man, to the measure of the stature which belongs to the fullness of Christ. As a result, we are no longer to be children, tossed here and there by waves, and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, by craftiness and deceitful scheming; but speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in all aspects into Him, who is the Head, even Christ, from whom the whole body, being fitted and held together by what every joint supplies, according to the proper working of each individual part, causes the growth of the body for the building up of itself in love.

Now the theme of this paragraph is obvious, both from its structure, and from the repetition. Some nine times in those sixteen verses I just read for you, the concept of "one" or "oneness" occurs. And three times the idea of "one unified body" occurs. Last time, we examined verse 3, where the theme of "unity" is clearly expressed. Notice verse 3, "being diligent to preserve the unity of the spirit in the bond of peace." That participial phrase is the core of this entire paragraph. Verses 1 and 2 build to it, and verses 4 and following flow from it. It's about "unity." The Greek word for "unity" comes from the Greek word for "one." At its heart, "unity" is "oneness." Here in Ephesians, Paul describes what that "oneness" looks like by a series of images. There're the images of the parts of a body working together; the image of stones in a great building, interrelated and interconnected. There's the picture of the members of a family dwelling together in unity and harmony.

Paul's point is this: There is already, existing among Christians a very real, vital unity. And according to verse 3, it is the unity of the Spirit. That is, it is a unity this Holy Spirit produced (as we saw last week), at the moment of salvation, when we were connected to Jesus Christ, and we were connected to each other. There is a real unity that exists. It's not ours to produce. The Spirit produced it. It's our responsibility (verse 3 says) to be diligent to preserve that unity. And the rest of this paragraph tells us how: how to preserve or keep the unity that the Spirit has already created in the church. Now in the verses I just read for you, Paul provides us with three means for preserving that unity, three means for preserving that unity. Today, I want to examine only the first of the three.

To preserve the unity of the Spirit the unity the Spirit has already created among Christians in the church, we must, number one, (in our study for today), "put on the attitudes of unity." "Put on the attitudes of unity." You see, there are certain attitudes that preserve and promote unity. Where those attitudes exist, there will be unity. Where those attitudes are missing, there will conflict and discord and disunity.

Now, when you think about disunity and discord, you have to ask yourself, "What creates that kind of discord and disunity?" Well, there are any number of things, that it's impossible for us to create a comprehensive list. But let me give you a couple of the more common ones.

Pride would be number one on the list. Where there is disunity and discord, there will be pride. There will be disagreements, misunderstandings. There will be the grasp for power either the desire to get power, or the desire to keep power. There will be harsh, angry, bitter interactions. The manner will be harsh. There will be personal wrongs. Either you will be sinning against others, or they will be sinning against you. These things create disunity. There will be a failure to overlook the faults of others that magnify their weaknesses.

Let me ask you. "Are there any legitimate causes of disunity?" In other words, "Are there any actions that, while they may risk upsetting the unity of the church, we should do them anyway, because we're commanded to do them?" The answer is, "Yes, there are." In several places in the New Testament, the Scripture gives us two reasons to act in a way that could disrupt the unity of the church, but we're to do it anyway for the good of the church. There are two of them.

Number one is: confronting a pattern of sin in another Christian's life. Matthew 18 makes this clear. If I know of a pattern of unrepentant sin in a fellow-believer's life, then I'm to go to that person privately. There is a risk, in that, of upsetting the unity of the church. And then it's to keep going. Two or three are to go back. And then it's to come to the church. And, there is certainly a risk in all of that, of disrupting the unity of the church. But the purity of the church is so important, that we're commanded to do it, even at the risk of upsetting the unity. By the way, the same thing is true of elders who sin. First Timothy 5 says, "The elders who go on sinning are to be rebuked before all, so that the others might fear."

There's a second reason the Scripture gives us, for disrupting the unity. And that is, not only confronting a pattern of sin, but correcting false doctrine: correcting false doctrine. In 1 Timothy 1:18 Paul tells Timothy, "Fight the good fight." What did he mean by that? In the church we're to fight the good fight? Well, he goes on to tell him, in those two letters to Timothy, his young son in the faith, he's to defend the truth. He's to defend it against error, against false doctrine. Jude puts it like this, the half brother of our Lord, in verse 3 of his little letter. He says, "… [earnestly] contend … for the faith [because there're] certain … [men who] have crept in [to the church, unawares, who desire to upset the faith of many. But you earnestly] contend for the … [truth."]

You want to read a graphic and compelling illustration of what that looks like? Read Galatians 2 where the apostle, Paul, in a public meeting, stands face to face with Peter, and says, "You are wrong! You are about to lose the Gospel of Jesus Christ." Certainly, potential for disunity. And yet, the truth was more important. Those are the two reasons. Those are the only two reasons for potentially creating disunity in the church is when you're confronting a pattern of unrepentant sin in another believer's life, or when you are confronting doctrinal error when you're correcting false doctrine. Those are the only exceptions.

Now think about what that means. That means that if there is disunity, and that disunity is not because you are confronting sin in another believer's life, or correcting false doctrine, then that disunity is what? Sin, sin. And invariably, it will be because one or more of the attitudes that Paul mentions in verse 2 are missing. Now, let me just say at the outset that Paul's primary point in chapter 4 is about unity in the church or disunity in the church.

But the attitudes that he gives us here extend beyond the doors of the church, and ultimately reach into every relationship that you and I have. These extend into your marriage, into your family, into your workplace, into your school, as well as throughout the church and its life. In one verse here, verse 2, Paul identifies those attitudes that breed unity. Where these attitudes reign, there will be unity. Where these attitudes are lacking, there will be discord. There will never be true unity.

Look at verse 2. Here it is: "… with all humility and gentleness, with patience, showing tolerance for one another in love," two prepositional phrases and one participial phrase. Now Paul intends these, while they may be, in form, prepositions and participles, in function, they are imperatives. They are commands. Paul may as well be saying it like this: "I want you to display these attitudes, these virtues." And in this verse, there are four attitudes that he gives us. Four attitudes that preserve the unity of the Spirit that we must "put on." Four attitudes.

You remember when you were in school in science class, and you were given a little Petri dish, and you were told to grow something in there, some sort of culture: a fungus, or bacteria, or a virus, or something or other? Depending on what you planned to grow, you had to make sure that the environment for that thing was just right to grow that particular organism. Depending on what it was, maybe you needed to flood it with light. Or maybe you needed to put it in complete darkness. Maybe the environment needed to be humid. Or maybe the environment needed to be dry. It just depended on what you were trying to grow. It's the same with the church. If you want to grow unity, if you want unity to flourish in the church, you have to provide it with the right environment. And the right environment consists of these four attitudes. Let's look at them together.

The first attitude that breeds unity in any relationship is humility, humility. You see, pride is the enemy of true unity. In Proverbs13:10 Solomon says, "Through insolence [or through pride, that's the synonym for pride through pride] comes nothing but strife," [fighting, arguments, disunity]. In 3 John you remember, the apostle John, is correcting somebody in the church by the name of Diotrephes. None of us ever name our children Diotrephes, because of the connotations of that letter. Listen to what he says about him. He says, "… Diotrephes loves to be first among them…." Here was a man eaten up with pride. And what was the result of that pride? "He doesn't accept what we say." … [He] unjustly accuses us with wicked words; and not satisfied with this, he himself does not receive the brethren, either, and he forbids those who desire to do so and puts them out of the church."

Here you have a man who loves to be first, who's eaten up with pride; and every relationship he touches, he wrecks; because pride is the enemy of unity. So, it's no wonder that when Paul wants to preserve the unity in the church, he begins here with humility. Now, it's interesting that this Greek word, humility, was never considered a virtue, until the New Testament. The Greeks thought it was a demeaning concept. You could tell what they thought about it by the synonyms they attached to it: words like slavish, ignoble, cringing. So, if it didn't come from the Greek culture, where did this concept come from, this concept of humility? Well, it comes from the Old Testament. There was in the Hebrew text of the Old Testament, a different word for this same concept. It was the word, "lowly." It occurs some 270 times in the Old Testament. Let me show you that this virtue that the New Testament calls "humility" was present in the Old Testament, and it's always been important to God.

There're so many examples. Let me just show you a couple in 2 Chronicles, 2 Chronicles 34:27. The prophet says this to Josiah, the good king. He says, "Behold, oh, verse 27 (I'm sorry).

"Because your heart was tender and you humbled yourself before God when you heard His words against this place and against its inhabitants, and because you humbled yourself before Me, tore your clothes and wept before Me, I truly have heard you," … [says] the LORD. [The Lord says,] "I delight in the fact that you made yourself low," is literally what it says. "You made yourself low before me."

You see the same thing in the prophet, Isaiah. Isaiah loves this concept. In fact, in Isaiah 57, Isaiah 57:15 he says, "For thus says the High and Exalted One." [You see, God is the only one who is supposed to be high. He's High and Exalted.] "Thus says the High and Exalted One, who lives forever, [and] whose name is Holy, "I dwell on a high and holy place, And [I dwell] with the contrite and lowly…." You see, you can only dwell with God if you acknowledge that He is the only One who ought to be exalted. And you make yourself low before Him.

In chapter 62 of Isaiah, (I'm sorry, chapter 66; 66:2) Notice what the prophet Isaiah says, "… Thus, all these things came into being," declares the LORD. "But to this one I will look, To him who is humble, who is lowly and contrite of spirit, and who trembles at My Word." And of course, that familiar passage, Micah 6:8, where we're told what is required of us. One of the things that's required of us is … "to walk humbly with … [our] God." So, this Old Testament concept of "lowly" informs Paul's use of the New Testament Greek word, "humility." The New Testament authors, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, chose the Greek word, "humility," and informed it with all of that Old Testament concept about the lowly person.

In fact, the Greek word for "humility" means "lowly-mindedness". It has to do with thinking rightly about yourself and others. It has to do with a mindset of how you think about yourself. And this is so crucial. This humility is so crucial. This disposition, or this mindset, about yourself is so crucial and so important, that the New Testament says, "It always accompanies the true believer." You cannot be a Christian and not have some measure of humility. You can't get in without humility, because what was the very first beatitude our Lord laid down?

"Blessed are the poor in spirit," the beggars in spirit, the lowly in spirit. But it continues into the Christian life and experience, as well. In two places in the New Testament (in James 4, and in 1 Peter 5), we're told that, once we become Christians, God resists the Christian who is proud, and only gives grace to the humble one. So, humility is a necessary virtue for absolutely every Christian. The Ephesians knew this because this is how Paul served among them. Remember, he lived among them for some eighteen months. And he told the Ephesian elders the very last time he saw them in Acts 20, "I served among you with much humility."

So, what exactly is this attitude of humility? Well, one lexicon defines it like this: "Having a humble opinion of oneself; a deep sense of one's moral littleness, a deep sense of one's moral littleness." Boy, does that run contrary to the spirit of our times, or what? That is the opposite of self-esteem. That is the opposite of human pride, of being proud of yourself, as we hear every person, who ever does anything half-way decent on a football field say, "I'm just proud of myself." That's the opposite of what we are to be as believers. You want to see what it looks like in everyday work-clothes?

Turn to Philippians 2. It's in Philippians 2, Paul defines humility for us. He begins in verse 4, by telling us, (or I'm sorry, verse 3) be telling us the opposite of humility. It's doing what we do from selfishness, or empty conceit. Selfishness was used of the selfish pursuit of political office. It describes the selfish ambition of someone who just wants position and power, without any of the responsibility to serve. The other motive is (that should not be ours), is empty conceit literally "empty glory." Here's a person who is conceited, deluded and ambitious for his own reputation. The first word, "selfishness," is about personal goals. The second word, "empty conceit," is about personal glory. And both of them are built on pride. And unity will only flourish when that kind of pride is replaced by humility. Instead of selfishness and empty conceit, notice Paul says, in verse three, we are to "regard one another as more important than yourselves." The word, "regard" here, is an interesting Greek word. It means "to carefully evaluate the evidence, and to come to a verdict." That's what a judge does. "Evaluate the evidence and come to a verdict." What verdict? Come to this verdict, "The people around us are more important than we are."

Have you ever noticed that we all tend to want to be the leading role, in every scene of life? We want to be "The best!" We want to be the hero, who rescues the person. We want to be the star athlete, who wins the game. We want to be the best student, the valedictorian of the class. We want to be the top of our skills that everyone else looks to as the greatest; and we often think of ourselves as that way. We're the important one, and everyone is there to serve us.

As Garrison Keillor says in his book, (Pride expresses itself like this): "I don't want people to say, 'Good job.' I want to be able to say to them, 'Rise, my people. Lift your faces from the carpet.'" That's human pride! The biblical virtue of humility is evaluating the evidence and coming to the accurate verdict that the people around us are, in fact, more important than we are. Is that how you think of the people around you? Is that how you think of your spouse: as more important than you are? Is that how you think of your children? Is that how you think of your other family members, your friends? Is that how you think of the people in this church? They are really more important than you are? Or do you see yourself as the best, the brightest, the best-looking, the most skilled the most spiritual. "All your children are above average." Listen, if that's how you see yourself, I can guarantee you that your relationships will be filled with discord and disunity; because that's what pride always produces.

Notice verse 4. Paul adds this: "Do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others." It's our own nature, isn't it, to look out for our interests? But true humility is always looking out for others. We see others as important in this sense: we're always more concerned about what they need, than what we need; about their interests, rather than our own interests. So, do you see here, how Paul defines humility? He says two things. True humility is coming to the verdict that others are more important than I am; and secondly, as a result, looking for a way to serve them. That's humility.

There's another New Testament passage that beautifully illustrates this with, I think, a powerful word picture: First Peter 5, 1 Peter 5. Peter, in the context that dealing with humility, makes this incredible statement in the middle of verse 5, of 1 Peter 5. He turns to the entire congregation, and he says, "All of you, clothe yourselves with humility toward one another…." Clothe yourselves with humility. He uses an interesting word there, "clothe yourselves." It's a word that's only used here in the New Testament. And it was used in secular Greek to mean, "to tie on the scarf or apron of a slave." It's that piece of clothing that distinguished, in the Roman world, the slave from the free man I want you to tie on the apron of a slave.

Well, let me ask you a question. What picture do you think came to Peter's mind when he wrote that? Something from his own experience: John 13, the night before the crucifixion. Jesus gets up from the last supper, takes off his outer clothing and pulls around him the apron of a slave and kneels down, (the Lord of the Universe!) to wash the disciples' feet! So to "clothe yourselves with humility" means to willingly become the slave of other people. In Ephesians 4:2, Paul says, "with all humility. Act toward one another with all humility." Let it permeate every area of your life. You say, "How can I develop an attitude of humility?" Well, I don't have time to develop that. But let me give you a couple of thoughts.

First of all: compare yourself to the perfection of Jesus Christ. Compare yourself to the perfection of Jesus Christ. You see, we have to look at His demands of us, at God's perfect Law, and at Jesus' perfect character to really see ourselves. Stop comparing yourselves to imperfect people! Of course, you do well when comparing yourself with some people! And so, do I. But that's not the standard. And isn't it interesting. We always choose someone who is weaker in those virtues than we are, to compare ourselves against. Start comparing yourself against the glory and perfection of Jesus Christ. There's the standard! And that will humble you!

Secondly: take an honest look at yourself. Be honest with yourself. Isn't it amazing, how we can be so honest about other people's sins and weaknesses, and so dishonest about our own? For a moment, be honest with yourself about the person you are; and it will produce humility. Bernard of Clairvaux defines humility like this: "It is the virtue by which a man becomes conscious of his own unworthiness, as a result of the truest knowledge of himself." When you really look honestly at yourself and your own sin, and your own failings, and your own weakness, guess what? It'll be a whole lot easier to be humble.

Number 3: look at the cross. Look at the cross. Lloyd Jones writes,

"I am told that I am to esteem others better than myself. And there is only one thing that can make me do that. There is only one thing I know that crushes me to the ground, that humiliates me to the dust; and that is to look at the Son of God, and especially to contemplate the cross. Nothing else can do it. When I see that I am a sinner, and that nothing but the Son of God on the cross can save me, I am then humbled to the dust!"

Isaac Watts put it like this:

"When I survey the wondrous cross

On which the Prince of Glory died,

My richest gain I count but loss,

And pour contempt on all my pride."

When we struggle with pride, it's because we haven't recently paused to think about the character of Jesus Christ, to look honestly at ourselves, or to look at the cross. If we had, we would be humble. And when we are humble, the result will be unity.

There's a second attitude that breeds unity: It's gentleness. (These others, we'll look at just briefly). Gentleness: the Greek word translated "gentleness" is a hard word to define. It's perhaps best understood by its antonyms. It's the opposite of being harsh, rough, brusque. It was used of a wild animal that had been tamed, and then fully domesticated, under complete control. As one Greek authority puts it, "It is the quiet and friendly composure which does not become angry or embittered toward unpleasant people or circumstances." Harold Hohner, in his excellent commentary on this book, says, "It is the conscious exercise of self-control, exhibiting a conscious choice of gentleness, as opposed to the use of power." Humility is how we think about ourselves and others. Gentleness is primarily about how we act toward others. But it's not just about our outward behavior. A person who is gentle will treat other people gently.

By the way, this is the word used to describe Moses in that famous passage, in Numbers 12: "Moses was the meekest man on earth." In the Septuagint, it's this word, "gentle." We're told we are to have this quality. Galatians 5 says, "gentleness is a fruit of the Spirit." In Colossians 3 we're told to "put on a heart of gentleness." Titus 3:2 says that we are to "be gentle toward all men." What is gentleness? Gentleness is an attitude of heart that allows you to remain calm and under control in your manner, regardless of how you're being provoked. That's gentleness.

When I was growing up in south Alabama, my whole life at home, we always had a bulldog. And we always named it the same thing, because we didn't want to have to remember a different name. So, we just my whole life, we had the same dog, as it were. And by nature, boxer bulldogs are strong, defensive dogs. But I remember watching one of the litters of puppies that was born to our dog, and thinking, it was interesting how this puppy was abusing this powerful animal that belonged to me. This little puppy was terrorizing his mother. He would bite her, and claw her, and scratch her, and nip her. And in spite of all of the strength she had, the mother dog would just lie there and take it, and always respond to that little puppy with the most gentle of moves.

That's how we're supposed to be with people, even when they nip us, and scratch us, and bite us! We're to keep under control and to be gentle. What is your manner with people? Are you known in your home and at work, and here in the church as a person who is gentle in how you respond to other people? Gentleness will breed unity. But harshness will stir up anger and strife. Proverbs 15:1 says, "A gentle answer turns away wrath; but a harsh word stirs up anger."

There's a third attitude that breeds unity: it's patience, patience, Thayer defines this word as "a slowness to avenge wrongs. It is the self-restraint which does not quickly retaliate for a wrong. It's a slowness to anger, even when anger is deserved." This attribute, by the way, is often attributed to God. In that great self-revelation of Himself in Exodus 34, where He showed Himself to Moses, this word is used. In the Hebrew it says, "I am slow to anger." Literally, it says in the Hebrew, "I am long of nose." I resemble that. It means it takes God a long time to get hot. He doesn't get angry in a hurry. This word is used in that context: God is patient. In the Septuagint, this word is used. God is patient. One writer says, "if God had been like us, He would long ago, in sheer irritation, have wiped the world out for its disobedience."

Listen, folks, if God were not patient, you and I would not still be alive. If God were not patient, not one of us would be in Christ. But God is, by nature, patient. And that same patience is supposed to be a part of our interaction with others. Galatians tells us, this, too, is a fruit of the Spirit Colossians 3 tells us to "put on a heart of patience." If humility is the right mindset about ourselves and others, and if gentleness is interacting in the right manner, patience is the right response when we are wronged. Patience is how we should respond when someone has sinned against us. I hate to break this to you, but people will sin against you. The people who live in your house, the people in this church will sin against you. They will sin against you today, and tomorrow, and the next day, and the day after that and their entire lives. The question is, "How are you going to respond?" Are you going to respond like a human being? Or are you going to respond like a child of God, who is infinitely patient with people? We must exercise patience, giving people who have sinned against us time to repent, time to make it right, even as God is so slow to anger, so patient.

The fourth attitude that breeds unity is found at the end of verse 2: "showing tolerance for one another in love." As we just saw, patience is the right response to the sins of other people. This word, "showing tolerance," is the right response to the faults and weaknesses and flaws of other people. The word literally means, "to hold oneself back." It came to mean in the Greek, what we often say in English: and that is to "put up with someone, or something." That's what it means. Paul is saying, "Put up with one another in love." By the way, this is used of God, as well. In Romans 2, we're told, God is "tolerant". But it's also to be exercised toward others. It involves bearing with another person's weaknesses; not ceasing to love that person or friend because of their faults, which, perhaps offend us, perhaps displease us. John Stott called this attitude, "that mutual tolerance, without which, no group of human beings can live together in peace." Folks, we have to learn to put up with one another. Colossians 3:13 says, "Put on a heart," and then it uses this word in verse 13, "bearing with each other."

And notice this attitude isn't to be expressed grudgingly. You know, I think when I say, "put up with," you get the wrong picture in your mind. Because when I use that expression in English, you think, "Well, it's kind of like gritting your teeth, and tolerating somebody in a sense that you don't express your resentment outwardly. It's O.K. to have it in your heart; you just don't have it outwardly." That's not what Paul means. When he says, "put up with," he adds, "in love." It's the kind of toleration that springs from the heart-motive of genuine love for that person. It's being quick to overlook the faults and weaknesses of others. I'm not talking about overlooking a unrepentant pattern of sin.

Matthew 18 tells us how to deal with that. I'm talking about a spirit that graciously puts up with the weaknesses and flaws and foibles of other people. Again, I hate to bring reality to your world, but everybody you know, everybody who lives in your home, everybody you know here in church has faults, weaknesses and flaws, without exception. How're you going to respond to those? You going to magnify them? You going to focus on them? You going to focus all your attention on those flaws? Or do you patiently put up with the weaknesses and faults of the people around you, because you love them? And you know that, you, too, are flawed.

In my office is a kaleidoscope, on the shelf in my office here at the church. I bought it a number of years ago, because I found myself not tolerating the faults and weaknesses of the people around me at work. Not long after I went to Grace To You, and I was dealing with a lot of the problems that needed to be corrected, and I just was focusing on all the wrong things. And I realized that, one day, that the problem was not so much those other people, as it was me; that I was not doing this very thing. And so, I bought myself a kaleidoscope as a kind of object lesson, to remind me that it was all a matter of how I chose to look at things. If I look at one end of that kaleidoscope, all I saw was a bunch of rocks. Some people live their whole lives looking at the rocks in other people's lives. But if I turned it the other way (and I chose to do that. I chose to look for this, with a different perspective), I saw, instead, a beautiful pattern of geometric color and variety. That's what it means to show toleration for one another. Don't focus on their flaws. Don't focus on their weaknesses and foibles. You have them. They have them. Choose, instead, to "put up with," in love, the weaknesses and failings and faults of another.

Let me ask you a question, this morning. Is there any relationship in your life, right now, in which there is disunity and discord? Maybe in your marriage? Maybe in your family? In your work? In your school? Here in the church, with someone here? Ask yourself this question about that disunity. "Is that conflict because I am correcting false doctrine, or because I have confronted an unrepentant pattern of sin in that person's life?" And the answer is probably, "No, it's not." That means it is sinful disunity. And I can guarantee you: that's there because you are not consistently demonstrating one or more of these attitudes.

And by the way, these are the attitudes that God, Himself, displays. Every one of these qualities, in the Scripture, are attributed to God, and to our Lord. We're simply to be like He is! We're to have the same attitude and spirit He has! As Paul says about humility in Philippians 2, "Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus." This is also a test of the genuineness of your faith. These attitudes are not natural. They are the fruit of the Spirit's presence in someone's life.

And if you're here this morning, and you have to be honest with yourself and admit that these qualities simply are not resident in your life, then it doesn't matter what you may claim, as far as your relationship with Jesus Christ. It means the Spirit is not there! You are not in Jesus Christ! Every believer has some measure of these qualities, if not in perfection, (and we don't), in direction. Examine yourself to see if you're in the faith.

Let's pray together.

Father, thank you for this passage. And yet, Father, even as we look at it, we see how impossible it is. None of us measures up to the standard. Father, we confess that we are, by nature, proud and harsh. We are impatient and quick to anger. We focus on the flaws and faults of others, while we focus only on our strengths.

Father, help us, as believers, to walk in your paths, to imitateYou; to be these things, even as You are these things.

And Father, I pray for the person here this morning, who has had to do an honesty check: to compare himself or herself against this standard and to realize that, in truth, none of these things reside in their hearts at all. Lord, may this be the day that they don't run away from that; that they don't hide from that reality; they don't try to talk themselves out of it. But Father, may they be honest with You and honest with themselves and find a quiet place, and repent of their sins and ask You to change their hearts. Father, may they come to know You, the One who can take a heart of stone and replace it with a heart of flesh that embraces your ways. May that be true, even today.

We ask in Jesus' Name. Amen

Preserving the Unity of the Church