Liberty and Unity
August 1, 2021
I began praying for this church long before I knew the name of this church. I knew that coming straight out of seminary to pastor a church that both the church and I would need particular attributes if we were going to thrive together. Because I didn’t know the particular needs of the church, I prayed in generalities; one desire dominated my prayers: that God would give peace and unity to the church body. (And in God’s grace, He has given us tremendous unity for a great many years.) What motivated that prayer was an awareness of God’s emphasis on the unity of His people in the Bible. Here are just a few examples:
- “For just as we have many members in one body and all the members do not have the same function, so we, who are many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another.…Be devoted to one another in brotherly love; give preference to one another in honor…” (Rom. 12:4-5, 10)
- “For even as the body is one and yet has many members, and all the members of the body, though they are many, are one body, so also is Christ. For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body, whether Jews or Greeks, whether slaves or free, and we were all made to drink of one Spirit. For the body is not one member, but many.” (1 Cor. 12:12–14)
- “For all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free man, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” (Gal. 3:27–28)
- “For He Himself is our peace, who made both groups into one and broke down the barrier of the dividing wall, by abolishing in His flesh the enmity, which is the Law of commandments contained in ordinances, so that in Himself He might make the two into one new man, thus establishing peace, and might reconcile them both in one body to God through the cross, by it having put to death the enmity.…for through Him we both have our access in one Spirit to the Father.” [Eph. 2:14–16, 18)
- “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.” (Eph. 4:1–3)
- “For I want you to know how great a struggle I have on your behalf and for those who are at Laodicea, and for all those who have not personally seen my face, that their hearts may be encouraged, having been knit together in love, and attaining to all the wealth that comes from the full assurance of understanding, resulting in a true knowledge of God’s mystery, that is, Christ Himself…” (Col. 2:1–2)
Along with those reminders of the priority of our unity, the Lord also provides many warnings against factions and disunity (e.g., 1 Cor. 11:19-22; 2 Cor. 12:20; Gal. 5:19-21; Eph. 4:30-32; Tt. 3:1-3; Js. 4:1-4).
Romans 14 was all about liberty. Most of us don’t think too often about the question of liberty, but as Paul thought about the application of the truths of the gospel (Rom. 12-15), the issue he talked about most in those chapters (by far!) was the issue of liberty. It was no insignificant issue in the early church and it should be significant to us as well. As Paul concludes the discussion, we can still say that the theme we identified in Romans 14 carries through the opening section of this chapter:
Use your individual freedoms as a means of preserving the corporate unity of the Body.
While Paul has spoken throughout chapter 14 about how to exercise liberty, here he is particularly overt in talking about how we can preserve unity within the exercise of our liberties. The Lord calls us to unity within the exercise of our liberty — we use our personal liberty in a way that preserves our corporate unity. Corporate unity is more essential than personal liberty. At the end of chapter 14, we considered the goals of unity; here Paul gives us five practices to cultivate unity in the body:
- Cultivate Unity by Carrying the Weaknesses of the Weak (v. 1)
- Cultivate Unity by Working for the Pleasure of Others (v. 2)
- Cultivate Unity by Following the Example of Christ (v. 3)
- Cultivate Unity by Remembering the Hope of Scripture (v. 4)
- Cultivate Unity by Heeding the Prayer of Paul (vv. 5-6)
Download the rest of this sermon on Romans 15:1-6.
The audio will be posted on the GBC website by tomorrow.