Some of you have had the opportunity to travel to a country. It doesn’t really matter what country it is, each one is different enough to make you realize that, if you were born in America or have lived here long enough, you really are a child of this culture, much more so than you ever imagined. In the ancient world, as Jews and Gentiles, people from all over the world were coming to Christ; there were many cultural differences that had to be sorted through, lest they become a hindrance to the application of the gospel. The same is no less true today as we turn to God’s word.
4 There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to one hope when you were called; 5 one Lord, one faith, one baptism; 6 one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all. Ephesians 4:4-6
When I order my meal, I don’t have to interact with a person; I can speak into a box, drive up to the window and pick up my food. When I do my banking I can drive up to the ATM and conduct my business with a machine. When you call an institution you can find out all kinds of information without ever actually speaking to a real live person. If you want to avoid the hassle of shopping at the mall this holiday season, you can do all your shopping on the Internet. While these activities are not wrong, I, for example, am not going to get rid of my ATM card, they certainly are a sign of the times. A sense of community is eroding; individualism taken to an extreme creates a population that is increasingly isolated one from another. I do not have to interact with people, I am an American. We are children of our culture. In these verses as well as throughout Ephesians we encounter a central Biblical truth that is very difficult for those influenced by the American culture to grasp. In these three verses the word, “one,” is repeated seven times. Those who believe in Jesus Christ are not merely individuals scattered around the world in different cultures, we are one in the body of Christ. We are one people.
What is the basis of this unity? It is the unity of the triune God. We are told that there is one Spirit, verse 4; one Lord, verse 5; one God and Father of us all, verse 6. God the Spirit. God the Son. God the Father. We believe in the Triune God. One God in three persons. Here is a great mystery: how can there be three persons in the God head? I don’t know, but I do know that this is what the scriptures teach. “Ah,” you might say, “but so what who cares?” We know that God has relationship, fellowship within himself. The Father has fellowship with the Son who has fellowship with the Spirit who has fellowship with the Father. That fellowship, that unity is the basis of the unity of the church, even as Jesus said, “I pray that they may be one even as you and I are one.” The unity of the church is to reflect the character of God.
Thus we have references to the one body, one church verse 4. This is what is asserted in the apostle’s creed, I believe in the Holy Catholic Church, that is, that the one God has one Church. You might quite understandably so, question this assertion. “What are you talking about? Up and down Telegraph Road there are at least 8 churches along a 4 mile stretch of road.” While it is true that the visible unity is obscured by the multiple denominations and by church divisions and splits, yet the scripture asserts that all those who believe in Jesus Christ are members of his body, his one church whatever particular church to which they belong.
There is but one hope, verse 4. No matter how old or young, no matter the economic situation, no matter the country or situation, people have but one hope and that in Jesus Christ. There is one faith, verse 5. Not many faiths, not many paths to God, there is but one found in Jesus Christ. There is but one baptism, verse 5, which reminds us of the cleansing work of Christ, a work which brings us into his one body. We are one because God is one.
What are the implications of this union? I want you to think of those who are different from you. The difference might be in level of education or type of job; it might be their views on the type of education for their children or politics, the place where they live, the clothes they wear, the color of their skin. These are all things that cause separation one from another. Thus they can become sources of ungodly pride, that I am somehow better than you because I went to school here or I live there - thus let me help you, you poor, unfortunate creature. If you were just like me, then your life would be so much better. Yet their hope is not in becoming like us, but it is in Christ. Likewise, our hope is not that we are, in our minds, better than others, but it too is in Christ. In this we are all the same, in this all those who believe in Christ are one. We all desperately need Christ. You and I need to repent of our prejudices and our tendency to judge and view ourselves as better because I am an American, because I am a suburban American. We are one in Christ. God reaches beyond the barriers of culture and brings us together as one people into his body.
As this truth grabs a hold of our hearts, this union, this identification with one another is to be such that when another member of the body is hurting, we all hurt together. As we read earlier, we are called to weep with those who weep. Today there is cause for weeping in the body of Christ. There are members of the body who are hurting, who are suffering because of their faith. I know that is extremely difficult for us to understand, for we are so blessed with religious freedom. We are blessed materially beyond anything the world has ever seen. It too frequently happens that in our relative comfort and extreme individualism, we forget or don’t even think about the rest of the world, we may not even know that our brothers and sisters around the world are suffering. Yet those who study such matters state that more Christians have been martyred in the 20th century than in the past 19 combined.
Ever since the collapse of communism in Eastern Europe, I have noticed a consistent and infuriating error in the press. We read of the “demise of communism” as if it has disappeared from the face of the earth. Yet over 1 billion people live under communism in China. Karl Marx said that the idea of “God is a key note of a perverted civilization and it must be destroyed.” As a natural outgrowth of this fundamental principle, the Chinese government regularly harasses churches and her leaders. Just two months ago, 30 Christian leaders were arrested for conducting an “unauthorized religious activity” such as a worship service. Some of these leaders are imprisoned for years. One pastor, who spent 21 years in a labor camp because he steadfastly refused to register his church with the communist authorities, said, “We are evangelicals, so we do as the Bible teaches.” In the face of prison he says, “We do as the Bible teaches.” We are one with this Pastor and his suffering and stand for the gospel. While such persecution is talking place in China, it seems that the leaders of the free world, be it President Clinton or Republican and Democratic leaders in Congress seem to be more interested in potential profit from business ventures in China than in taking a hard stand against such gross violations against the rights of oppressed people. Thus the church must to stand up in her prophetical role and say to political leaders, “No! It is wrong to turn a blind eye to such atrocities for the sake of personal financial gain.”
Perhaps the most horrifying atrocities occur in Sudan. In southern Sudan Christian men are maimed and tortured, some crucified for their faith. Women are raped. Little children are taken from their parents and sold into slavery. I shared this story with you just a few weeks ago, but we need to hear it again because we are prone to forget and the scripture exhorts us to remember those in prison. A group of 13 boys, including one as young as 5, were taken from their village and tortured, “Deny your faith, deny Christ and the torture will stop” and the 5 year old, the 5 year old refused. Some of those children did not make it out of that camp, but some did to tell the story of these martyrs. We must not forget. Their suffering is our suffering. Today an estimated 300,000 churches are joining worldwide to pray for the persecuted church. We must pour out our hearts on behalf of our brothers and sisters who are being tortured for their faith.
As we do, we must remember that we pray to the God who is over all, verse 6. God is over these governments who seek to destroy the church. He is over those who carry out these acts of brutality. He is over all. In Saudi Arabia it is the law that everyone must be Muslim. Anyone found converting someone to Christianity is subject to the death penalty. How can the gospel spread in that context? The rich, the powerful, the royals in Saudi Arabia hire nannies to care for their children. Many of these domestic workers come from the Philippines where they have been reared in Christianity. One Pilipino pastor has said, “These nannies are rearing on their knees the future royals, executives and national leaders and they are whispering into the ears of these little children the things of Christ.” Yes, the government has tried to crack down on this, but God is over all and such attempts to destroy the church will not succeed. Take off the blinders and see what is going on the world around you. Remember your brothers and sisters in prison. Pray for them. Their suffering is our suffering. For in Christ, we are one people. Let us pray.