"Life Together" #79-48
Presented on The Lutheran Hour on August 5, 2012
By Rev. Gregory Seltz, Lutheran Hour Speaker
(Q&A Topic:What Can I Do About Divisions in the Church?)
Copyright 2013 Lutheran Hour Ministries
Text: Ephesians 4:1-16
Christ is risen. He is risen, indeed! And life united with Him by faith blesses our lives together in Him with love. Amen!
"The first time Johnny Johnson laid eyes on Becky Clement, they were working in the heat of a South Carolina peach-packing shed, where fuzz from the peaches had a knack for finding sweaty creases in the skin and itching like the devil."
That's how reporter, Patrick Driscoll, began his article in the San Antonio Express News describing the blossoming love affair of two young people: Johnny and Becky Johnson. The author went on to describe amazing details.
"She was 13 and still in pigtails. He was 14 and working a summer job several hundred miles from his Georgia home. Her dad was the boss man.
"Their romance began on her Dad's front porch, where they sat each night talking and holding hands after dinner.
"And once in a while I would steal a kiss before someone in the house saw us," Johnny Johnson said.
"The peach-packing job lasted only 10 days, but it was enough to bring the two together for a long courtship and an even longer marriage--61 years in all."
Becky and Johnny committed themselves to one another and experienced the wonder of love, the risk of oneness, the adventure and beauty of life together.
How does this kind of together life happen? How does this kind of love endure? A wise man once said, "It's amazing what can happen when you care about someone else more than you care about yourself." That's the key to life, the key to a beautiful life together.
Now, if you think like you're missing out on that life, think again. There is One right now, who cares about you with an infinite, gracious love, One who loves you more than anyone or anything in this world can. Jesus Christ, God in the flesh, come for you. He cared about you more than He cared about Himself. He came to this earth for you. He gave His life on a cross for you. He rose again from the dead for you. He calls your name today, so that you can know Him, believe in Him, and experience a beautiful life together with your Savior--forgiven and filled with new hope. The Bible even compares God's love for you to a "Becky and Johnny" type of love affair. The Scriptures call Jesus the Bridegroom and His people—us, those who believe--His bride. By God's grace, we're given the gift of a beautiful life together with Him. And life together with Him is a remarkable thing.
That life together with Christ, with others, that's what the verses from Ephesians, chapter four, describe today. The Apostle Paul said, "I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace". 4For 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. (vss. 1-5).
Here, Paul describes what life in Christ together with others is supposed to be. Doesn't it sound good to you? Humility and gentleness, patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to be unified and peaceful with each other. He calls us to that kind of life, because Jesus Christ is the source and power of that kind of love for you and me.
Humility, gentleness, patience, Spirit-filled unity, and peace! Doesn't that sound better than the headlines you hear every day? Wouldn't that be nicer than the road rage you experience on the morning commute or the family tension that never seems to go away? Wouldn't peace and patience, love and humility be welcome qualities instead of the hurried and impersonal relationships that happen in the grocery store line, or at school, at work, or even among the people closest to you?
Well, Paul reminds us all that God wants that for you, for all people. Sin doesn't just bring us personal guilt; it also ravages our relationships, too. God wants to overcome our brokenness, our aloneness. In fact, He doesn't want you to be alone. God wants you to experience joy and blessing in your relationships. He wants you to know the gift of friendship. He wants you to see the power of life together lived out in the power that only His love can provide.
In the first six verses of Ephesians four, Paul used the words "unity" or "one" nine times! He said: "There is one body and one Spirit—just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call—one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all" (vss.4-6).
But most importantly, He is the bond, He is the power, He is the blessing that can hold you and your friend, your spouse, your child together like glue. One Lord, one faith, one baptism….His grace holds, my friend. It holds you, it holds others too.
Have you ever heard of the Mattel board game called, "Tribond"? It's the game that asks, "What do these three things have in common?" Each card poses a Threezer as a riddle with 3 clues that have a common bond: For instance, "What do marshmallows, chestnuts, and Friars' Club comedians have in common?" Can you guess, quickly? Would you have said, "That's easy, they all get roasted?!" Or what bonds these three together, "a tree, a car, and an elephant?" Oh, that is an easy one, they all have trunks. Get it right and you move ahead... but get it wrong, and one of your opponents can steal it away from you!
Well, Paul doesn't play games with us in this text. He tells us straight what bonds us together, what holds. One Lord, one faith, one baptism. Christians don't hold these things in common as much as these common, powerful blessings of the Father hold us and bind us to Him and to one another, by grace!
Paul wants us to get involved in the most important game of all, the game of life. With Christ as our common source and resource together in faith, exercising the common bonds of grace, we roll up our sleeves and we strive to grow up, to eagerly pursue self-sacrificial love that expresses our God-given oneness, our unity in Him that truly lasts.
Becky and Johnny Johnson discovered the joy of that eager pursuit of life together when they first caught each other's glance in that peach-packing shed. Over the years they took the risk of sacrificing everything to be together. After seven years of faithful courtship, Johnny proposed to Becky in September, 1952. They married the following month.
At first, life wasn't glamorous. They didn't have much money or a fancy new house. Johnny had only two hundred dollars in his pocket with another year of college yet to go. Things weren't convenient. But they were committed. They might not have enjoyed luxury at the time and not everything felt good at the moment, but giving of themselves, daily striving to love each other the way that God loved them, that was, for Becky and Johnny, the key, the very point of life together.
Life together, important relationships. What relationship, then, do you think of when you hear about life together? What important person in your life is the one that you want to keep close to, to be at peace with, to stay connected to?
Is it your marriage, with your spouse? Do you think of other family relationships, brothers, sisters, cousins, aunts, and uncles? Is there a friendship that comes to mind? Do you think about getting along with your co-workers or people at your church?
Whatever it may be, God calls you to exercise your faith, humbly, gently, patiently, living out the unity and peace of Christ in a fractured, contentious world.
Don't ever forget….Jesus is the key that opens up such life together to be lived with others. He's the center of such a together life, holding us not only to Himself, but holding us together as well by the power of His Spirit. He literally came down from heaven and ascended again to heaven to pour out His Spirit upon you so that you could live this life with others, now and forever.
Paul gives life-together marching orders when he says in Ephesians 4:15: "speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ."
Growing up in Him for each other. But that's not easy, is it? When it comes to relationships with others, it's not always easy to grow up. In fact, people today have this false notion that merely getting older makes you a grown-up. Years should do that, but that's not always true, is it?
In fact, I heard someone say the other day that the average age of reaching adulthood has moved from twenty-one years old to twenty-nine years old. People are having a more difficult time growing up.
Growing up may be hard to do, but that's the point of faith lived out in love for others. Nobody wants to stay a child forever. Paul is inviting us to the exciting, invigorating faith life of maturing love lived out together with those we care about.
Grow up! That's not a command, that's an opportunity.
There are a lot of obstacles to living life together well. Sinful immaturity often gets in the way. And in our self-centeredness, we can easily refuse to grow up. You may prefer gossip to taking time to find the truth. You may let your temper fly instead of approaching situations gently. You may insist on your own way instead of being open to change and working together. You may feel better about holding a grudge rather than forgiving and starting fresh again.
Yes, there are many ways to be childish and to foster disunity, but that kind of life is ultimately a long, hard road. It's a miserable journey that leads to nowhere. It's a futureless life that results in loneliness and isolation. And it's not what God wants for you.
There's a better way, the way of His grace, maturing faith active in love for others. Becky and Johnny Johnson discovered it. Each lived their life in faith toward God and fervently in love toward each other.
Becky became a stay-at-home mom, raising three children as Johnny's job as a medical administrator for the Army whisked them around the world. In her spare time, Becky did volunteer work at hospitals and at church. She was quiet and caring, always committed. She rooted for the underdogs if they deserved a break, and she didn't appreciate showboating. Johnny said, "She would try to get to know a person and look into their eyes deeply."
Becky would also keep Johnny in line, forcing him to see other sides to people. "She was my adviser and my mentor in handling people," Johnny said. "Neither one of us was in charge. We would do it together."
They committed themselves to each other, the way that God committed Himself to them. They gave of themselves completely so that they could live life and face life together. They not only loved one another, they put God's love to work in their lives together.
Now that's a great love story, isn't it? But, I want you to know that there's an even greater one than that. A greater love than even the love of a wonderful husband, wife, or child. It's the perfect love of God in Jesus and the eternal work that He accomplished for you and me.
That's why Paul reminds us that "grace was given to each one of us according to the measure of Christ's gift" (vs.7). Jesus gave Himself for you. His gift was His life! His life given on the cross earned eternal life for you! His life raised up from death broke the bonds of selfishness and inward living and poured grace, the undeserved love of God, into your life. Jesus chose to face life together with you! In doing so, He won the victory for you over sin and death.
That's why the Apostle Paul went on to quote the victory Psalm in Ephesians chapter four. Citing Psalm 68:18 he declared: "Therefore it says, 'When he ascended on high he led a host of captives, and he gave gifts to men.'"
This Psalm asks God to be victorious over that which crushes us and leaves us lonely. It's a Psalm that lets us know we're not alone. The verse that follows the one Paul quoted says, "Praise be to the Lord, to our God our Savior, who daily bears our burdens" (Psalms 68:19 NIV).
That's true love. That's the power to live life together. Paul went on to explain that total commitment of Jesus: "(In saying, 'He ascended,' what does it mean but that he had also descended into the lower regions, the earth? He who descended is the one who also ascended far above the heavens, that he might fill all things.)"
Yes, Jesus descended. He came down from His heavenly home to be with you, to walk with you, to bear your burdens, and to save you. The Son of God literally came to our earthly home, was born in a manger, walked in our shoes, and carried our sin to the cross. But Jesus also ascended. Victorious over sin, death, and the devil, Jesus ascended into heaven to reign over all the earth. Facing life together with you, He now gives you His gifts to sustain you: His life-giving Word, the restoring water of Baptism, and His strengthening presence in the Lord's Supper. The gifts of Jesus don't stop! The love of God in Jesus Christ is boundless!
Do you feel alone today, disconnected? Do you think you're forgotten, all by yourself? Dear friend, think again. Your Savior God is committed to life together with you. He gave it all for you. And He continues to give all that you will ever need. He wants you to know that there is hope for your life, there is peace for your life, there can even be unity in this broken world. How? Receiving Christ's blessings in faith and exercising the One Lord, one faith, one baptism life in love toward one another.
So take stock of your life with others today. How are your relationships going? Are you refusing to be tossed to and fro by confusion? Are you pushing sneaky grumbling aside and, instead, speaking the truth in love? Are you growing up and growing out of gossip, temper, and selfishness? Are you letting the self-sacrificial love of Jesus keep the gift of unity in your relationship with others? Are you letting the maturity of a new life in Christ prevail as you communicate respectfully, patiently, and gently? Will you bear with others and show the commitment of Christ as you face life together instead of tearing life apart?
That's life together by the power of God's Spirit, able to face whatever comes.
After 61 years of life together, Johnny and Becky Johnson ended up facing a great, overwhelming challenge. You see, Becky got sick--very sick. She fell ill with a serious lung ailment. It was even difficult for her to breathe. For three years she struggled and slowly declined. Author Patrick Driscoll ended the story of Becky and Johnny this way:
"Friday, a visiting hospice nurse noticed that her color and breathing didn't look right and called Johnny in from another room. He screamed, and he shook his dying wife, rubbed her, trying to save her. 'All the things you would do if your child was looking blue,' he said. Then he held her tight." The power of life together, even then.
That is life together by faith. That is God's love to face each day no matter what the challenge. Dear friend, the good news for your life is that your Savior holds you tight, like He held Becky and Johnny every day of their lives. As you face challenges and tests in your relationship, you're not alone. As you are challenged to grow up and mature in your life together with other people, Jesus holds on to you. As you build others up, share the love of Jesus Christ and see the joy of living in relationships the way God intends, He never lets go.
You can be certain. You can trust that, in Christ, life together is a beautiful story, with an eternal never-ending because of Christ's love for you. Trust Him on this, and start living that life together again with those you love.
LUTHERAN HOUR MAILBOX (Questions & Answers) for August 5, 2012
TITLE: What Can I Do About Divisions in the Church?
Announcer: Now, Pastor Gregory Seltz responds to questions. I'm Mark Eischer. We have many divisions and conflicts come up in the church from time to time. How do we solve those problems and create peace?
Seltz: That is a big question, isn't it Mark? God GIVES us unity in Christ as believers. Jesus prayed that His followers are one, just as He and the Father are one. But there are times when we're not so unified in the church, when we fail to cherish the gifts that Christ gives.
Announcer: That not only causes hurt among people, but it compromises the church's witness in the world.
Seltz: It sure can. That's why we are called to face this challenge seriously and diligently. The first thing to realize is that, as human beings, we're going to run into conflict with each other from time to time. We have different opinions and a variety of perspectives. But if we allow our differences to turn into unloving treatment of each other, we're straying from God's calling. Disunity or such things in the body of Christ, those things can always be destructive.
Announcer: What are some key points to remember when differences arise?
Seltz: First, is the WAY you handle differences and conflict. There can be some genuine disagreements among Christians. When it comes to matters that are neither commanded nor forbidden in the Bible, two positions or two different opinions can be valid. A genuine disagreement can happen. But, in the middle of that difference of opinion, God calls us to speak the truth in a loving way. He calls us to be mature, to imitate Christ's sacrifice for us as we completely give ourselves to one another. As Paul said in 1 Corinthians 13, love doesn't insist on its own way. Even when we have a different opinion--especially then--God wants us to build each other up.
Announcer: And, Jesus said, "Blessed are the peacemakers."
Seltz: He sure did. So, the first approach to the differences of an opinion is the WAY you handle them…..The second key point, though, is to determine whether or not the difference of opinion is informed by the Bible. This is the most important step when conflict arises, but I put it second because even when talking about what the Bible teaches, we need to approach it with a spirit of love for the person with whom we are speaking.
Announcer: And some differences may not be simply matters of opinion.
Seltz: That's right. We need to know if the Bible addresses a situation of conflict directly. If someone is speaking against a clear teaching of the Bible, the person needs to be gently guided into the truth. As Jesus talked about in Matthew chapter 18, the first appropriate venue for conversation is with them in private, face to face. Secondly, you might also need to be with some trusted friends and church leaders in that conversation. And finally, it might need to take place in the company of the whole congregation, depending on who is involved.
Announcer: To determine if the issue is Scriptural or not.
Seltz: Right. And then, take it from there. I have to say that, within a congregation, a good number of disagreements may not be Scriptural ones. They may be disagreements about traditions or practices. These, especially, must be addressed in Christian love.
Announcer: What do you mean by "Christian love"?
Seltz: The Bible uses the word "agape." It means self-sacrificial love--giving of yourself as Christ gave Himself for us. So, if two people are willing to give up their own way in order to glorify God and be a witness to others, a good solution will, most likely, be the result.
Announcer: But, how could that unified approach be sabotaged?
Seltz: Well, some dangers to unity include gossip and grudges. It's very tempting to talk behind someone's back and complain about their erroneous opinion, but God calls us to speak to each other in a loving way, keeping our conversation in confidence. We need to work faithfully to come to a solution.
Announcer: That's gossip; what about grudges?
Seltz: It's very important that when personal hurt does take place--which is bound to happen when we have differences of opinion--we humbly bring that hurt to each other in conversation that is kind and gentle. We are called to forgive as God forgives us. So, instead of lashing out or harboring anger, and telling the world about what a lousy person the other one is, we are called to work hard at forgiveness.
Announcer: To forgive, to "let it go," give that hurt to God and refuse to let those wounds change us and break the bond of peace that God wants us to have together.
Announcer: Thank you Pastor Seltz. We praise God that by His Holy Spirit, He leads us into that unity together. This has been a presentation of Lutheran Hour Ministries.