We are in Romans, chapter 15. We missed last Thursday night but we're back to continue tonight. This is the last section in Romans 15. This ends and concludes the section that we began several weeks ago on the weaker brother in Romans 14. It also concludes the section in Romans that began with Romans 12:1-2 so it might behoove us a little bit to go back and look at the introduction so that when we get to Romans 15:15, we'll be starting the conclusion to the epistle.
Romans 1:1-17 is the introduction. Romans 1:18 to Romans 15:13 is the main body of the epistle. The concluding section began in verse 1 of chapter 12 where Paul challenges them. This is an exhortation, which is a personal challenge to obedience in a number of areas. He begins in Romans 12:1 by saying, "I beseech you, therefore, brethren by the mercies of God that you present your bodies a living sacrifice…" I noted at the time that your whole life is to a sacrifice to the purpose and the plan of God for your life. This is something that we all grow into as we mature as believers. It's supposed to be a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is our reasonable or rational service.
What this means is that we're not to be conformed to the world [verse 2] but transformed by the renewing of our mind. Mind first, then action. Mind before emotion; mind before action. We don't just change what we do. We need to change the way we think. One distinction between Christianity and all world religions is that Christianity focuses on an internal change first.
In the New Testament it focuses on an internal change that is empowered by God the Holy Spirit. This is something that has never before happened in human history, and that is that every single believer has God the Holy Spirit indwelling them and filling them so they can walk by means to the Spirit throughout their life. It is God the Holy Spirit who is the energizing, empowerment for the church age believer.
Then this comes as He renovates our thinking, overhauls our thinking according to the Word of God for a purpose "that we may prove something." Our lives are to demonstrate something. It's like an experiment. You go into the chemistry lab and you perform an experiment and one purpose of that is to demonstrate a known truth. So we are to demonstrate in our lives the reality and the value of living according to the will of God. So that is our purpose to prove that the will of God is "good and acceptable and perfect."
Now as we look through this section, there's an emphasis of this whole aspect of the life of the believer within the body of Christ and how we are to serve one another. This comes under the primary command of loving one another. That is repeated several times in chapter 12. Then it's applied in chapter 13 in relation to government. Then it is applied again in terms of dealing with the weaker brother.
So chapter 14 began with the command to "receive one who is weak." This is actually the immature believer who is weak in the faith. We're not to get involved in disputes over debatable or insignificant or unimportant issues which are things that are not directly addressed in Scripture. We may think and come to certain convictions on our own that some behavior or some activities do not conform to the will of God. That's our opinion because it's not specifically stated in the Word of God. So the issue here is that there are those believers who are imposing their convictions on other believers.
The command that Paul gave there was for the more mature believer was to accept into fellowship those who were immature or weak in the faith and who might hold to other convictions that were not important or part of revelation. The more mature believers were to accept them and have this unity. In the conclusion of this section Paul goes back to this same idea. In Romans 15:7-13 he says, "Therefore receive one another just as Christ also received us to the glory of God. Now I say that Jesus Christ has become a servant to the circumcision for the truth of God to confirm the promises made to the fathers. And that the Gentiles might glorify God for His mercy as it is written, 'For this reason I will confess to you among the Gentiles and sing to Your name.' And again he says, 'Rejoice O Gentiles with His people.' And again, 'Praise the Lord all you Gentiles. Laud Him all you peoples.' And again Isaiah says, 'There shall be a root of Jesse and He who shall rise to reign over the Gentiles, in Him the Gentiles shall hope.' Now may the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, that you may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit."
See this ends with this benediction in verse 13 focusing on the fact we cannot do this on our own. The church age is not based on a principle of simple morality. Anyone can be moral. There are many pagan religions that emphasize morality. There are Christian cults that emphasize morality. There are religions like Islam that has a law that purportedly emphasizes morality. Judaism emphasizes the Law of Moses as a standard of morality.
But that's not spirituality according to the New Testament. Spirituality is based upon our walk by means of the Holy Spirit. Spirituality is based on grace and not based on works. So we start this final section [verse 7] with Paul starting off with the particle do, which draws a conclusion from that which has gone before. He says, "Therefore receive one another…" He uses the word "receive" here twice. He says we are to receive one another first and the pattern for that, the basis for that, is Jesus Christ. "Just as or in the same way as Christ also received us to the glory of God." So we are to receive one another the same way Christ receives us.
Now when we look at this word receive it takes us right back to Romans 14:1 which say, "Receive one who is weak in the faith…" That's the same word, same command. In Romans 14:1 down through 15:6 the focus was on the mature believer accepting and receiving into fellowship the immature believer. Now Paul expands that. He steps it up a notch and he says we are all to receive one another. In context he's not just talking about you and me. He's not just talking about the mature believer and the younger believer. When he develops this, starting in verses 8 and 9, he's talking about Jew and Gentile.
Again, this reinforces the idea that the issue at stake in Romans 14 is that the weaker brother was referring to those from a Jewish background who were still following the Mosaic Law. Not necessarily as a way of spirituality because if they thought it was a way of spirituality, Paul would say they were wrong. That's what he did in Galatians. He said they were wrong, that the Mosaic Law is not a way of spirituality. It's not a way of salvation. He made that exceptionally clear in some very strong language in Galatians.
Here he's talking about the weaker brother as the person who was worried about eating food that was clean, concerned about observing certain days. If his motivation was that made them more spiritual, Paul would have said they were wrong. They're following those because they think it is still significant and important because this was what was drilled into their background when they were children. This is their comfort zone within their orthodox Jewish background. They still believe it's important to observe the dietary laws but not for spiritual reason but for other reasons. If they were spiritual reasons Paul would have come down on them hard. They're still thinking this is right for other reasons and they're trying to impose that on others.
Paul moves from this problem that is apparently occurring between Jewish and Gentile Christians in the Roman church and he's coming to this conclusion that they are to receive one another. We could paraphrase this verse as, "Therefore receive one another into Christian fellowship." The verb PROSLAMBANO has that idea of accepting someone into fellowship, into your social environment, making them part of coming to church with you and be very accepting of one another. So we are to accept them just as Christ also received us into permanent fellowship.
Fellowship is used a couple of times in the New Testament in terms of our permanent union with Christ. That is a permanent fellowship. Most of the times we use the term fellowship in terms of relative fellowship describing our rapport with God. The word is actually used both ways in the Scripture but primarily in 1 John, it is used of that on-going rapport where John talks about the fact that we are to have fellowship with one another for our fellowship is with God. So there's both a horizontal fellowship with one another and a vertical fellowship with God. That vertical fellowship with God is the basis for our horizontal fellowship with one another.
It's interesting that in 1 John that the primary basis for breaking fellowship in 1 John isn't that you've committed a personal sin. Most of us think that's the primary way that we break fellowship with God. I love it when I can say something and watch those of you who've been around for a long time and your face just sort of screws up and you're asking, "What in the world is he talking about?" In 1 John, John is more concerned about doctrine. If you hold a wrong doctrine you're out of fellowship. His primary thing isn't relationship.
Americans emphasize relationship over other things more than other cultures have. That's just your cultural background showing through. In 1 John, John is really concerned first and foremost about right doctrine. It's not that he's not talking about the other. That's clearly there. Wrong doctrine means you're out of fellowship. We rarely hear that emphasized. If you have a heretical view of the person and work of Jesus Christ or a heretical view of God or what Christ did on the cross in terms of substitutionary atonement then you are out of fellowship. As long as you maintain those heretical views you're out of fellowship with God because right fellowship is based on right doctrine. It's also based on walking by the Spirit. But if we're holding the wrong doctrine, consciously believing heretical doctrine, then that excludes that of fellowship.
So Paul says we're to receive one another in Christian fellowship, just as Christ also received us into permanent fellowship. Now Christ accepting us into permanent fellowship is based on our faith in Christ. At the instant we trust in Him God imputes to us perfect righteousness. When we have His perfect righteousness then God looks at us, not on the basis of who we are or what we've done, not at all the petty little sins we've committed but He looks at the perfect righteousness of Christ. That perfect righteousness of Christ covers all the nasty little sins in our lives and the fact that we're born spiritually dead and God the Father declares us to be just. It's not because of anything we've done but it's because we possess the righteousness of Christ. At that instant we're accepted into the perfect fellowship with the Trinity: God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit.
Now ask a question here. When this happens upon whose character is this based? When Christ receives us into permanent fellowship upon whose character is that based? It's based on the character of God. It's not based on anything related to us. It's based on Christ's fellowship and the character of God. Therefore when Paul makes this statement that we're to accept one another into fellowship in the body of Christ, that's not based on the character of the people we're accepting into fellowship. It's not based on what they've done. It's not based on what they haven't done. It's not based on their failures in life. It's based on the fact that we need to accept them because they're already accepted by God. If God says they're righteous and they're accepted, who are we to say, "Well you have to clean up a bunch of stuff before I can accept you?"
Someone else can look at our lives and could say, "You've got all these failures so I'm not going to accept you." I think there's a difference between accepting someone into Christian fellowship and accepting someone as your BFF. Your best friend forever. I thought I'd just throw that off in case you weren't paying attention. Someone you want to accept as your friend has to meet other criterion as well. I'm talking about a person who is more intimate with you than someone else.
All of us have circles of intimacy. We have those people we spend a lot of time with and we get to know well. We are much freer with them and we share things, private things that we may not share with other people. That's part of discrimination in the good sense. We all have different degrees of intimacy with people. No one can be intimate with everyone at the same level. I don't even think it's wise to try to be intimate with everyone at the same level because not everyone is necessarily trustworthy in that sense so we have different degrees of closeness and intimacy with different people.
In terms of accepting someone in the body of Christ then we're not to exclude them on the basis of certain sins or certain kinds of behavior. Christ has accepted them so they are acceptable. Now this may apply to some of you and not to others. I've observed people who come from rather large families, whether they have 4, 5, or 6 siblings plus their parents and aunts and uncles and lots of people. But even among families in relatively good harmony there's not the same degree of intimacy between siblings. I know some families where one or two of the siblings may be incredibly close and they're not so close to maybe one or two of the other siblings but they all have a family devotion and loyalty to one another. That's sort of the pattern we should see in the body of Christ.
I'm a little bit hesitant to use as analogies good patterns of human families because the family is such a wreck in the United States. A lot of people have never really experienced a healthy family with two parents and siblings and anything close to stability. They're born into a family with no father or mother or the parents are irresponsible and the fallenness of this world has just impacted their ability to understand family analogies that we have in Scripture. Nevertheless the Bible uses these kinds of analogies. So we're to accept one another into this permanent fellowship.
We know that prior to salvation none of us were very lovely. We were all rather obnoxious. We go back just a few chapters in Romans and we're described as ungodly, sinners, and enemies. Christ died for us. He didn't die for you because you were such a wonderful person. You were so bright and brilliant and had such good ideas, were so successful. He didn't die for you because He knew you would end up being a really good Christian. He died for you as an obnoxious sinner in violation of God's righteousness. This reminds us when we're dealing with other people we have to deal with them in grace.
Grace is the foundation for love. If you don't understand grace you don't love someone. I'm somewhat surprised in some marriages that they manage to survive because neither person understands a thing about grace. Then they don't understand a lot of other things too and they don't know how to communicate with each other. Somehow they just have a partnership that manages to work but it has nothing to do with the kind of marriage that Scripture talks about where there's a level of intimacy and fellowship that goes beyond just traveling down the same road together in the same general direction.
Sadly, a lot of marriages are like two people in separate cars speeding down I-10 parallel to each other headed for San Antonio but there's not a lot of interaction between the two. There's not a lot of interaction between them because they're in two separate vehicles isolated from each other. What Scripture portrays is two people who are going to some destination together. They're both in the same car. So we are to be working together and that's the application of fellowship toward one another. The pattern is Christ.
This concept of grace toward one another is something that has played a very large role in this last part of Romans. We've all studied the many, many passages in the New Testament that talk about our responsibilities to one another. We're to teach one another. We're to admonish one another. We're to serve one another. All of these are part of what it means to be in the body of Christ. In the immediate context of Romans 12–15 we see this. In Romans 12:5 at the very beginning of this section Paul says, "So we being many are one body in Christ." I pointed this out several times.
This is somewhat difficult for a lot of American Christians to understand because we have such an emphasis on individualism, rugged individualism. Everyone does their own thing as opposed to being part of a team. If you have a background in team sports or you were in the military environment where you worked as a team, you'll have a better perception of these things. The Scripture says we are members of one another. We're not just living our spiritual life in isolation and autonomy.
While we recognize the importance of privacy and recognizing other people's privacy you can push privacy to the point where there's no one another. The Bible really emphasizes that we are to be a part of one another's life. That's our ontological spiritual reality. There's a good word for you. This is who we are in Christ. We are members, co-dependent, and we have this inter-dependency within the body of Christ. We are members of one another.
Because of that in Romans 12:10 Paul says, "Be kindly affectionate to one another with brotherly love." This isn't just loving one another in a sense of saying "I don't really know you very well but I'm just going to be kind and polite to you and as gracious to you as I possibly can even though I don't really know you." That a sense of impersonal love which we've talked about. This is talking about more of a personal dimension to that love for one another. "In honor, giving preference to one another."
The foundation for that in Scripture is that whoever we are with as a human being is worthy of honor and respect, not because of who they are or what they do but because they are created in the image and likeness of God. That's the foundation for the whole doctrine for the value of human life. It doesn't matter how despicable, obnoxious, dirty they are. It doesn't matter how ignorant, wrongheaded or clouded by religious activism or activities a person is, we are to honor their life because they are created in the image or likeness of God.
It doesn't matter what kind of a religious extremist they are. Even if they're a member of ISIS, if they're attacking the United States, we need to kill them as quickly and efficiently as possible to the glory of God and out of love. That's how you deal with loving your enemy in some contexts. But in other contexts where there's not a combat situation we need to deal with people like that out of love and respect because is how the Lord Jesus Christ did.
It's really interesting when we go through Matthew on Sunday mornings to watch how the Lord deals with the Pharisees because they're an obnoxious, wrong-headed group. Jesus deals with them very sternly and politely. He doesn't back down. He doesn't let them set the agenda but he doesn't lose control. He's not impatient. He's not insulting to them personally. He identifies them as a group as a brood of vipers which is an idiom for the spawn of serpents. That takes it right back to the Garden of Eden. He's honest but he's not being personally insulting or personally hostile in that sense.
He's being accurate and describing the truth. That is described as speaking the truth in love but it's got to be done without a self-absorbed basis for the rest of us. Jesus did it. He didn't have a sin nature. I have trouble with that because my sin nature gets in the way. Romans 12:16 says we are to be of the same mind toward one another. That means we're to exercise humility and grace orientation towards one another.
Romans 13:8 says, "Owe no one anything except to love one another." We looked at that idiom for owing no one anything and we saw that's not a financial term. It's not talking about financial debt. Sin in rabbinical thought was a debt against God. That's basically saying not to sin against each other, just love one another. That's the focal point for "He who loves has fulfilled the Law."
We come to our passage in Romans 15:7 where Paul says, "Wherefore, receive one another just as Christ received us." As we think about having the same mind toward one another and loving one another, this really takes us back to the previous two verses which I covered rather briefly at the end of the lesson. This is a benediction at the end of the section in Romans 14:1 through 15:5 where Paul is pronouncing a blessing, "Now may the God of patience and comfort…" Both of these are emphasized because when you're dealing with someone who is an immature believer just as when you're dealing with an immature child who is out of line you need patience and the ability to encourage them. That's the word comfort there. "May the God of patience and comfort [encouragement] grant you to be like-minded toward one another."
This doesn't mean we're going to agree on these debatable areas but we're going to agree to disagree and not make issues out of non-essentials and focus just on the essentials that are a part of Scripture. It's hard enough just to focus on just the essentials that are a part of Scripture and what God has specifically told us to do and not to do without introducing a lot of secondary issues into those commands that aren't really part of Scripture.
Paul says, "Also may the God of patience and of comfort grant you to be like-minded toward one another." This is the real basis of unity. Unity is grounded in our relationship to God. There's a lot of talk about unity in Christianity that is completely fraudulent. People look out and say, "Well, there are so many denominations." There's a reason why there are so many denominations. It's not necessarily a good reason. In some cases it is. The reason you have a lot of denominations in Christianity is because of people who are self-absorbed and have let their thinking dominate their minds in terms of doctrinal things or the way in which they've handled their authority in a local church.
For roughly 1500 years or a little less there was only one denomination, basically. There were all kinds of problems within that denomination. There were groups and subgroups and all kinds of sects in what became known as Roman Catholicism. There was a lot of division. In fact, if you can break down within Roman Catholicism from roughly 600 to 1500 and you can identify almost as many different subsets of Roman Catholics as you later developed among Protestants. It's just that they didn't all separate out into autonomous groups. That had to do with how the church was united with the state. Once you separated out it was viewed by the political leaders as an act of treason as well as a religious act.
When Martin Luther led the Protestant reformation in 1517 it was at a time when political leaders were flexing their muscles and breaking out from the domination by the Roman Catholic Church. So it was the right time for these kind of splits to take place. When Luther started by nailing his 95 theses onto the church in Wittenberg he was not intending to leave the Roman Catholic Church. His intent was to reform the Roman Catholic Church. He wanted to have a debate about it but the powers that be said they didn't want to talk about it. They intended to do things the way they wanted to because they were so corrupt. That was one of the most corrupt periods of the Roman Catholic Church. They just didn't intend to pay attention to the authority of Scripture. They were forced to separate.
You had the original separation of Lutherans. That was pretty much confined to Germany and areas in Scandinavia where Lutheran missionaries went. Then you had the development of Calvinism, the followers of John Calvin, in French speaking Switzerland and France. They also had a heavy influence among a lot of British clergy in what became known as the Anglican Church. Then later on you had the development of the Anabaptist movement, a movement that means to be baptized again. Everyone was being baptized as an infant. That was a part of their introduction into citizenship as well as into the church. The Anabaptists came along and said that had no spiritual value because baptism is supposed to be a statement about your personal faith in Christ as Savior. These are your basic groups that split out.
Because you still had this orientation and uniting of church and state in Germany, France, and England where even today the king or the queen of England is the head of the Anglican Church, you still had these state religions. You had German Lutheranism and Swedish Lutheranism and you had Dutch Reformed and French Reformed and Scottish Reformed and all these different things.
Then in the United States after the American War for Independence there's no state identification with the denominations, they splintered into all kinds of different ways. It could be as trivial as this person looked cross-eyed, that person didn't read his Bible the same way another person did, and they fragmented into different groups. But you still had your major denominations. You had one Presbyterian Church. You had some Cumberland Presbyterians and a few others. You had basically one Baptist denominations with a couple of smaller ones. You had these subgroups, the freewill Baptists and a few others. You had the development of the Methodist Church which was a break off from the Anglican Church starting in the late 1700s.
You had all these different groups but then they split again at the time of the Civil War. You had Northern Baptists, Southern Baptists, Northern and Southern Presbyterians, Northern Church of Christ and Southern Church of Christ so everything just multiplied more and more and more. Then with the introduction of 19th century liberalism your northern denominations tended to go liberal and reject the authority of Scripture faster than your southern groups.
That led into what became known as the fundamentalist/modernist controversy. This really hit the north hardest at first. These denominations began to fragment at different times and in different ways but they fragmented over doctrine. You would have a certain number of Christians, for example in the Northern Baptist denomination as they officially went liberal, who would become sort of fed up with where they were going at different times. One group would leave in one decade and another group of conservatives would leave 10 years later and then another group of conservatives would leave ten years later still.
That gave rise to various smaller denominations such as GARB, General Assembly of Regular Baptists, and Conservative Baptists. What happened was the Bible-believing fundamentalist and conservatives always lost. They lost property, church buildings, seminaries, Bible colleges, missionary organizations. They had to start all over again in the early 20th century. Out of that came the development of a lot of conservative fundamentalist seminaries.
The reason they were called fundamentalists is that they believed in the fundamentals of the faith, which meant they believed in the infallibility and inerrancy of Scripture, the substitutionary atonement of Christ, miracles such as the physical, bodily resurrection of Christ, and all of these doctrines were very important. They were published in a book called The Fundamentals of the Faith. If you believed in those things, such as a literal second coming of Christ, then you were a fundamentalist.
It's not something that's militant. It's something that believes in the basics of what the Bible teaches. What happened is that they had to start all over again. You had seminaries, like Dallas Theological Seminary, you had Bible colleges, like Moody Bible Institute which started in the late 19th century but was basically a product of this. BIOLA which is the Bible Institute of Los Angeles, all of these different schools, including Wheaton were started about then. All of these were a product of this new group of fundamentalists/evangelicals.
Then starting about the 1970s, everything sooner or later starts to detonate because of the corruption of sin and you had bad doctrine infiltrate to those different organizations. For the last thirty or forty years some of those stalwart schools no longer believe unequivocally in a literal historical Genesis 1–11. In fact, there's only one faculty member I know of in the Old Testament department at Dallas Theological Seminary who believes in that or in a young earth. It was not that way when I was a student forty years ago. Genesis 1–11 implies a young earth.
The Bible implies a model of the spiritual life that enables a believer to face and handle all problems in life. But now since the 50s or 60s you've had the intrusion of Christian psychology. It's not just enough to know the Bible as a pastor to help people. You have to have subsequent training in counseling and in psychology so you can really, really help people. You not only had the intrusion of human viewpoint science into the creation/evolution issue, you have the intrusion of sociology and psychology into the spiritual life.
And how do you plant churches? How do you develop churches? Modern church growth literature is loaded with sociological, human viewpoint influence. You also have in language study, at the seminary where you study Hebrew and Greek, and your professor has gone off and he's studied linguistics at some place. He's picked up a few ideas here or there that really aren't kosher. He's young and he really hasn't had time to think through a lot of things yet and most linguistic studies today are heavily loaded with presuppositions from post modernism which teaches that language and meaning is fluent. You see this when you hear people talk about that the Constitution is a living document. They believe a postmodern view of language. It's always changing. It's always moving. It doesn't mean the same thing all the time.
So what happened in the fundamentalist/modernist controversy is that you lost everything in the early 20th century. The fundamentalists and evangelicals were rebuilding it in the middle of the 20th century and then they're starting to lose it again. A lot of people don't realize it. We're in the second stage of the fundamentalist/modernist controversy and most evangelical Christians are either ignorant of it or they don't care. That's really sad because every institution that was founded in the early part of the 20th century on a solid biblical basis is no longer there. They have all compromised.
Some have had some good battles and they've recovered. Page Patterson who's the president of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, previously he was at Southeastern Baptist Seminary and he did a great job of reversing those seminaries. In the context of this, these major denominations won and fundamentalists lost. Well, these liberal denominations had compromised so much of faith that they slipped into what is now modern ecumenicalism. Now modern ecumenicalism is the contrast to biblical unity. It says for everyone to get along together and if we have beliefs where we disagree we'll just get rid of them. They believe that what matters is that we all have the same experience and we all love each other.
They want to go out and change society. That's what's wrong with modern ecumenism. It began in the early part of the 20th century and it's a counterfeit unity. It gave rise to organizations such as the World Council of Churches and many other organizations like that. Many of them are dominated by socialism and other forms of Marxism. They're also dominated by incipient or overt forms of anti-Zionism and anti-Semitism. They've rejected biblical truth and that's really the unity factor with them.
When we talk about what we've been studying in Romans 15 I went through what appeared to be a digression but we have to understand what it means to be like-minded. There are a lot of Christians out there who want to be like-minded. They're out there in the United Presbyterian and the United Methodist and the United Church of Christ and they're all hugging each other. They've all gone ecumenical in the bad sense of the word.
What about the rest of us who are still trying to be biblical? We understand that the basis for unity is the Scripture. Ephesians 4:1-6 gives us that foundation. Paul says, "I therefore the prisoner of the Lord beseech you to walk worthy of the calling with which you were called. With all lowliness and gentleness and long-suffering…" These are three virtues of the Christian life. These are repeated either in pairs or all together in other passages. Lowliness is TAPEINOPHROSUNE which means humility. Humility was not valued by the Greeks at all. It was not a virtue to be humble so they didn't like it but Paul says with humility and gentleness. Gentleness is the word PRAOTES which is a synonym of TAPEINOPHROSUNE and indicates meekness in a biblical sense.
Meekness means someone who is strong and oriented to authority. This isn't someone who can just be rolled over or taken advantage of. Moses was the meekest man in the Old Testament. Now Moses was taking 3 million rebellious Jews for forty years through the desert. He was not a pushover. He was very strong. What the Bible means by meek is to be oriented to authority. Longsuffering means patience, to endure in difficult circumstances. So this is how we are able to bear one another with love is because it's grounded in basically these virtues of grace orientation. Humility, meekness, and longsuffering.
That means that we endeavor to keep the peace. The word for endeavor is the same word that's translated "study to show yourself approved unto God". It doesn't really mean study but in that context it kind of does because it means to work hard at something, to labor intensely over a particular kind of activity. The context of Timothy is to the idea of reading and getting into the Word. That's why it's translated study there. In Hebrews it has the idea of working hard and endeavoring to keep the unity of the Spirit.
It's not a sociological unity. It's not a unity because we all call ourselves Christians because we're not Jewish and we're not Muslims and we're not atheists and we're not pagans so we're Christians so we can just have an experience of warmth together and just hug one another and say "Oh, wasn't it good to have been together tonight? Let's do this next week. But let's not study the Bible because that will just divide us.'
The unity in Ephesians is a unity of the spirit based on faith. Colossians 3:12 talks about these same three virtues, "As the elect of God [believers], holy and beloved, put on tender mercies, kindness, humility, meekness, and longsuffering." There are those virtues again. They're the foundation for the Christian life. Now back to Ephesians 4:4-6 where Paul talks about this unity. There's one body. There's one spirit. But just because there's one body and one spirit doesn't mean we ignore differences. There are some differences that we have to pay attention to. Those are doctrinal differences. We have to divide over doctrinal issues.
You have to be careful, though. You don't divide over petty things. You don't divide over things that are doubtful things. You don't divide over whether or not you play a piano or some other instrument. You don't divide over the color [and I'm not being facetious here because there are churches who divide over this] what color you paint the church or what kind of steeple you have or whether you have pews or whether you have chairs. You don't divide over a lot of things churches divide over. That's just arrogance that causes that division.
Our unity is based on one Lord, Jesus Christ. We have to have a proper Christology. One faith. That refers to not just believing but a body of doctrine, what is believed. There is one body of doctrine and it's the infallible Word of God. One baptism and that's the baptism by God the Holy Spirit. One God and Father of all who is above all and through all and in all." This is the basis for real Christian unity.
What happened coming out of the early 20th century with the rise of ecumenicalism is that all of these fundamental evangelical churches that were spawned during that time, left their churches because they realized that their pastor didn't believe in the bodily resurrection of Jesus Christ. Or in some cases the church got a new pastor such as a Methodist church that got a new pastor in old Houston Heights in about 1932. He was a classic 19th century Protestant liberal. He didn't believe in the infallibility of Scripture. He didn't believe in the physical, bodily resurrection of Christ. He didn't believe in the substitutionary atonement.
There was a man who taught a Sunday school class there for young couples that was quite large and quite popular. His new pastor called him in and told him he couldn't teach Sunday school anymore because of his fundamentalist beliefs. This man left and he took his Sunday school class with him and they started a new church. He decided to name it after the church he had come from in the Pittsburgh area called Berachah Church.
That's how Berachah Church got started. Their first pastor was a young red-headed guy who played football at Wheaton College named Elwood Evans. He was known as Red Evans. He married John Walvoord's wife's sister. He and Walvoord had gone through seminary together. He was the pastor of that church for about five years but that was really a pattern for how a lot of Bible churches got started in the early 20th century. They had been part of a liberal church and they left.
What happened is these people got their feelings hurt and I mean that mostly in a good way because when you have been maltreated by what you have been devoted to for many years and you were abused and kicked out, you're going to be a little protective at that point. So a lot of these independent churches threw the baby out with the bath water.
The problem with independent churches is they're too independent. They say the problem is denominations. The problem wasn't denominations. The problem was false doctrine so they developed this anti-denominational framework and they all split off into their little atomistic groups. They lost a lot of clout. They lost their buildings. They lost their seminaries.
Some of them would get together in loose associations. They recognized they only had about $4,000.00 to give to missions and another group had $4,000.00 and they could get two other churches and if they co-operated they could support a missionary on the mission field. They all basically believed the same things.
In the Houston area you had churches like Berachah and Minotex which is Fellowship Bible Church of Pearland now, I think. And Almeda Bible Church which has a new name and Spring Branch Bible Church which is now Bridgepoint out on I-10. Spring Branch, Minotex, and Almeda were all started during the era of World War I. They would get together and they supported Dallas Seminary. They supported some of the same missionaries so when those missionaries came back to Houston they could minister in the same four or five churches because that's where they got most of their missionary support. They understood the value of working together in a co-operative way. They didn't sacrifice in any way their independence.
That's a value among believers. We do something like that with Camp Arete. There are people from eight or nine doctrinal churches who all work together to put together a camp every summer. The pastors all work together. They're involved in Chafer Seminary. The problem you run into is that you still have people who think that if one pastor talks to another pastor it's ecumenicalism. That's what's called shooting yourself in the foot. We have to work together. The unity of Christ doesn't sacrifice doctrine. But if you're not sacrificing doctrine, if you're not sacrificing the integrity of the local church, then churches should work together and co-operate together. We're stronger together than we are separately and independently.
You know, pastors are some of the most ego-sensitive people I've ever known. It's real easy for pastors to succumb to competitiveness. There are some pastors who are so competitive they won't have anything to do with any other churches or any other pastors because they're afraid that somehow they won't be thought of very highly. But we're not in competition. We're all serving the Lord. We're all trying to do our best and we should be cooperating with one another. We shouldn't be fighting and dividing over things. The churches are not supposed to be built on isolationism. We should all be supportive.
This is what these scriptures are talking about in terms of being like-minded, having a focus on the Word of God. So unity is fundamental but it's a unity on the basis of doctrine, not at the expense of doctrine. Now that ties us back to verses 5 and 6 which emphasizes the fact we're to receive one another. Then we get into the next section next time where Paul relates what Jesus Christ did to Jew and Gentile. That helps us understand that when he says to receive one another he's saying that there should be unity between Jew and Gentile despite the fact they have different traditions and different cultural backgrounds. They should be united as believers in Rome. So we'll come back and begin at verse 8 next time.