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James Merritt - Keep It Together

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    James Merritt - Keep It Together
TOPICS: Ephessians Bible Study, Unity

This is so great to have you with us today. There are two things I love about our church. Number one, I love our diversity. You probably don't realize it at our Sugarloaf Campus, we're one of the most diverse churches in our entire congregation. 43% of our church is made up of ethnic minorities, which is one of the largest of any church in our convention. But we're really diversified in a lot of ways, frankly, at both of our campuses. I mean, think about it. We're diverse physically. We have tall people, short people, athletic people, geeky people. We have our fair share of annoying people. We're just super diverse. Our personalities are diverse. We've got anxious people, calm people, artistic people, musical people, type A people, type B people, and then whatever letter you assign to people that drive you nuts. We've got all kinds of people. We got diverse political views, you know that. We've got republicans, we've got democrats, we've got independence, we've got libertarians.

And I love our diversity. But the second thing I love even more than our diversity, frankly, is our unity. Because we don't just come together, we are together. And frankly, we don't fake unity. You can't fake unity. People that come into our church, the number one thing said about our church is this, how friendly we are and how much we seem to love each other. And you can't fake that. And you know, we really do love each other. It doesn't matter whether you're African American, Caucasian, Hispanic, Indian, Asian, there is a fellowship and a friendship that people can witness when you walk into our church that's just undeniable. And I love that. I read the other day about a little boy and he was talking to his mom. And he said, "Mom". He said, "Where was I born"? And she said, "Well, you were born in Virginia". He said, "Well, where was Dad born"? And she said, "Well, he was born in Kentucky". He said, "Well, where was baby sister born"? And she said, "Well, she was born in New York". He said, "Well, where were you born"? And she said, "Well, we were born in Georgia". She said, "Why, why are you asking"? He said, "I just got to thinking, Mom, isn't it great that God got us all together"?

Well, it really is great that God has brought us all together, and I don't ever want us to lose our diversity. And frankly, I don't really fear that we will, because we're always going to reflect our community. People of all stripes and colors and political persuasions will always be welcome in our church. And I'm glad for that. But let me tell you one thing that every pastor stays concerned about, and every pastor always has on his radar screen, and it's always on his mind. And that is losing our unity. Benjamin Franklin was present at the signing of both the Declaration of Independence and the signing of the Constitution. As he was about to sign the Declaration of Independence, before he signed it, he put his pen down. He looked at all of those men in that room and he said, "Gentlemen, remember one thing, if we don't hang together, we're gonna hang separately". It's true. He said, "We've got to stay unified".

Then after they signed the Constitution, he walked out of Constitution Hall. There was a lady standing on the street waiting on him. She said, "Mr. Franklin, I've heard about this new document that you signed. So what have you given us"? And Benjamin Franklin famously replied, "Ma'am, we've given you a republic, if you can keep it". And what he understood was, everything will rise and fall on staying united, on being one. And one reason I'm concerned about the unity of our church, not because there's any trouble going in our church, but let me tell you why I always am concerned about unity in our church. That's because the devil is in every church. I got news for you. I've pastored five churches, the devil has been in every single one of them. And you may not know this, but the word devil comes from the Greek word, diabalos, and that word literally means to split. The devil is a splitter. He is a divider. He is a wedge driver.

If you're married, he's got one goal for your marriage. He wants you to split. If you've got children, there's one thing he wants to do between parents and children. He wants them to split. You go all the way back to the Garden of Eden, what's the very first thing that the devil finally accomplished? He split Adam and Eve from God. And today, if you're not a believer in Jesus Christ, he wants you to stay divided from God. And if you are a believer in Jesus Christ, he wants to try to divide you from other believers. And all of that leads us to the fourth chapter of a book that we've been calling Ephesians, that we've been studying. If you're a guest of ours today, we've been calling this series unbelievable. Because when you read the book of Ephesians, you discover two things. You discover just what unbelievable things God has done for those of us who are believers. He created us. He chose us. He called us. He redeemed us. He adopted us.

And for three chapters, Paul just goes into detail of all the wonderful things God has done for us because of His grace and because of His love. But now today, we're in Ephesians, Chapter 4. And if you have your little discipleship notebook, we're on page 28, the passage is there. And if you don't, we'll throw it up on the screen. But now beginning in Chapter 4, Paul shifts gears. And Paul says, "Now I've told you what God has done for you. Now I want to talk about what God wants to do in you and what God wants to do through you and what God wants to do with you". And it's amazing. The very first thing that Paul talks about is this. He says the first thing God wants to do is just keep you together, just keep you unified, just keep you one.

Now, why does he do that? Because Paul knows something I know. We're different. We're diverse. You know, and so the question is, how do you keep diversity? And how do you keep differences from leading you from discord and division? Because I'm telling you, I've seen this by experience. There's nothing more harmful to the cause of Christ. There's nothing more discouraging to Christians. There's nothing more debilitating to the witness of the church. There's nothing that hurts us worse than the eyes of the outside world than when a church splits, and a church divides, and a church fights, and a church can't get along. So the question is, how do you do that? How do you stay together in light of the fact that we are different, that we don't always see things the same way? How do you keep it together? How do you hold it together? Well, Paul gives us three simple things that we need to do in order to make this happen.

And let me just tell you how divided we are and how careful we are, that we need to be, not to let it divide us. 8:30 last night, I am minding my business. I'm sitting in row section 334, row 18, watching my beloved Bulldogs play football, just being as innocent as I know how to be. I get a text on my phone from a man in this church that I spent a year mentoring. You know what he texted me? Three words, "Go, Notre Dame". He's here today. So let me just ask him one question. How'd that work out for you? That's all I just wanna say. Now, that said, how do you keep it together? How do you hold it together? Paul says there are three things we must always do if we're going to stay together. Number one, we must walk together. We have to walk together. The way that we will keep it together corporately, listen, we got to keep it together individually.

So Paul says this in Ephesians 4:1. He says, "I therefore..." That, what does it mean, therefore? In light of everything that God's done for us, now here's what God wants to do with us. "I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you individually, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called". Let me give you a little story what I'm talking about. I get to take my grandkids to school every now and then. Last week, I was taking my four year old grandson, Connor, to school. And so I always do this. Just before I let him out, I pray with him. And I'll say, "Connor, who are you? And who do you belong to"? We asked the same thing of our three boys growing up. Who are you? Who do you belong to? "Pop, I'm a Merritt, and I belong to God". And I said, "That's right. You're a Merritt. You belong to God". That means what? He says, "That means, Pop, I'm to live like a Merritt, I'm to live like I belong to God". I said, "That's right".

I always tell him that I'm tying to teach him, even now, you got to walk worthy of the God that you say that you... By the way, Paul compares the way we live our lives and the way we conduct ourselves to taking a walk. Seven times in this book, he talks about walking. It's a term that refers to the way we behave and to our conduct, to our manner of life. 'Cause if you think about it, thought about this the other day, has it ever occurred to you that the Christian life begins and ends with a walk? So how do you begin the Christian life? Well, by faith, you walk to the Lord. Then on a daily basis, you walk with the Lord. Then when you're in trouble, you walk for the Lord. At the end of your life, what do you do? You walk to the Lord. So at the beginning, at the end, we're always walking to the Lord. Well, what Paul is talking about here is, this is how you ought to live your daily life. And so he says we're to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which we've been called.

Now that word worthy is a very powerful word. The root idea of that word is weight, and it means to have equal weight or equal worth. Here's the picture of having an accurate scale. You've got this scale, and it's got, it's kind of like this. And whatever weighs one thing on that side of the scale will weigh exactly the same thing on the other side of the scale. And what Paul is saying is we ought to live every day worthy of the salvation that God has given us. We ought to live our lives worthy everyday of the love that God has shown us. We ought to live worthy of the adoption and the redemption and the forgiveness that God has given us. Well, that raises a big question. Well, what does a worthy walk look like? Well, he doesn't leave us in suspense. He says, "Let me tell you what this looks like". He says, "You'll be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love".

Now I want you to let that soak in for just a moment. I just wanna throw out a hypothetical. What if everybody that was married always treated each other like that? If you're married today, what if towards your spouse, you are always completely humble, you are always gentle, you are always patient. You are bearing with one another in love. Can I be honest? The divorce rate probably would go to zero. There probably wouldn't be any such thing. And so let me give you another example. What if all of our political leaders live like this? What if republicans and democrats and libertarians begin to say, "Hey, why don't we treat each other like that"? I mean, do you think they might get along a little better? You think they might accomplish a little bit more? Do you think they might Tweet less about each other and talk more to each other? And that goes for everybody in both parties.

Hey, what if the leaders of the entire world all over the world, what if they begin to treat each other like that? Do you think there might be less confrontation and more cooperation? I think so. And by the way, those qualities were not chosen at random. Why do you think Paul begins with humility? He said be completely humble. Why do you think he said that? What's humility got to do with unity? Well, the wisest man who ever lived wrote these words. He said, "Where there is strife, there is pride". Every time you get into an argument with somebody, every time you get into a disagreement with somebody, every time there's division between somebody, mark it down, pride is always in the shadows. And here's why. I've seen it in my marriage, I've seen it in debates I've had with other people, because too often we divide over things because we either don't want to admit that we're wrong, or we don't want to admit that the other person is right.

So we'd rather hold on than let go. And that's why Paul says, look, don't just be humble. He says do it with gentleness, do it with meekness. You know what meekness is? It is strength under control. Let me tell you what Paul was saying. This is so brilliant. When you finally decide you're gonna humble yourself, and you've either decided I'm gonna treat other people with gentleness, all of a sudden you discover the secret on how to end any argument. You ready for this? Here's how to end any argument. Just realize you don't have to have the last word. I need this for my own life. You don't have to have the last word. Well, you said, "But wait a minute, Pastor, what if the other person is wrong"? This is America, they have a right to be wrong. You don't have to have the last word. So he says, "Be patient with one another, bearing with one another in word".

There's one word we use today for that. If you wanna know what that is in one word, it's called tolerance. That's real tolerance, when you're patient and you're bearing with one another in love. So we've got a choice. We can do one of two things. And we're seeing it right now played out every day in America. We can either despise each other because of our differences, or we can love each other regardless of our differences. And what Paul is saying is this, humility is not something you're gonna force from the outside, it's something that flows from the inside. And if every day, we'll get up in the morning and we'll say, "Lord, just today, I'm gonna walk in a manner worthy of my calling. I'm gonna do it with humility and gentleness and patience and tolerance". And I'm telling you, if every person in our church would say, "That's exactly what we're going to do," the devil and every demon in hell can never divide our church. But we've got to make up our mind. You know what? We're gonna walk together. But then Paul says it's not enough to walk together. He says you got to work together. You got to work together.

Now let me tell you what we're about to learn. Unity doesn't just happen. I wish I could just sprinkle some unity dust over our congregation and everybody get along. They don't sell it. You can't find it. And let me tell you something. We've been married, my wife and I have been married 43, almost 43 now and a half years, going on 44, and I wanna tell you right now, she'll tell you this. We have a happy marriage, we have a strong marriage, but it takes work. It takes hard work. She tells me a lot of times, "I deserve overtime every day for living with you". Okay? It takes work. And let me tell you something. Let me just say while I'm in the neighborhood, I'm not trying to make anybody feel guilty, I'm just telling you a fact. You know what is true of every single divorce I've ever witnessed? Every time this is true. And you'll just realize it's only common sense.

The reason why, at the end of the day, people divorce is because either one party or both party gave up. Either one party said, "I don't wanna work at this anymore". Or the other party said, "I don't wanna work at this anymore". Now hear me, I know some divorces are justified, I get it. And if you are divorced, it's in the past. I'm not trying to make you feel guilty. I'm just simply saying now you're gonna understand what Paul said about unity. 'Cause listen to how he puts this. He says, "Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace". Now the Greek word there for "make every effort," that's three word in English, it's only one word in the Greek, but it's one of the most intense words in the New Testament. Here's what that word literally means. It means spare no effort. It means giving everything you've got. It means you do it with emphasis.

If you love sports, that means you gotta give 110%. It means to make haste. It means to be eager. It means you gotta stay on fire, so on fire that you'll put out any fire that will destroy the unity of the church. And do you know why you have to work at it? Because you don't have to do anything to get divided. You just don't do anything. Listen, you just quit working in your marriage, it won't last very long. You don't have to work to divide, you've gotta work to stay together. So let me just be as specific here as I can. Here's what this means. Every one of us individually is to make sure that every one of us stays together corporately. So here's what Paul is saying, and this is big now, it is not my job to keep our church united, it is our job to keep our church united. Unity is everybody's job, it's not just my job. Not everybody's called to preach. Not everybody's called to be a missionary. Not everybody's called to be serving full-time ministry. But every single believer is called full-time to maintain the full unity of the church.

Now again, let me say this. When I talk about unity, I'm not talking about uniformity. 'Cause let me give you a realization that I hope will make everybody in this church feel good. Okay? We don't all have to see the same things the same way. We don't always have to agree on everything. One of the things I'm most proud of when I talk to other pastors and we talk about our churches, I talk about how diverse our church is. And this inevitably comes up and it's come up more now than it's ever come up. They'll say, "Well, you know, you got diversity in your church"? They'll say, "You must have a lot of different political views in your church". I say, "We got them all". He'll say, "Well, how do you handle that? How does your church stay united with all the politics"? And we really got to remember this 'cause we're coming up on an election year.

And here's what I say. You know what? We have a hard and fast rule in our church. We're just not going to introduce politics inside the four walls of these buildings. We're just not gonna talk about politics here. You go out there, you can debate, you can discuss, you can argue, whatever you wanna do, but not in here, because we wanna respect the political views of others. I've pastored this church for 16 years. I've seen every bumper sticker you can imagine I've seen Bush bumper stickers. I've seen Obama bumper stickers. I've seen Trump bumper stickers. I mean, I've seen all the bumper stickers you can imagine. And here's what I want you to remember, and this will really help us going forward. I don't understand why people get so worked up over politics and get angry, and about a repolish. Let me tell you why. I figured this out a while back, it's really helped me.

So let me just give you a news alert, okay? I don't have to give an account for your political views, and you don't have to give an account for mine. I don't have to give an account for the way you vote, you don't have to give an account for the way that I vote. You've got strong political opinions, I've got strong political opinions. Some of you think the government spends too much. Some of you think government don't spend enough. Some of you think we ought to have open borders. Some of you think we ought to have closed borders. Some of you think, you know, government's too big. Some of you think government is too small. Okay? Here's the real issue here. That's fine. Don't make the political personal. Don't do that. Our political preferences don't have to create personal animosity.

In fact, I wanna put this in a statement. Whenever we let political division destroy our spiritual unity, we're guilty of coddle immaturity. We're just not going to do that. I'm telling you, if anybody is ever going to set the example in the toxic atmosphere we've got right now, it better be the church. We better start showing people here's how you handle political diversity, here's how you handle political differences of opinion.

I read the other day, there was a lawyer and a psychologist. They met at a dinner party. And the lawyer said to the psychologist, and he had known him 15 minutes or 20 minutes. He said, "You know, I've been watching how you and your wife interact". And he said, "You know, you just, guys seem to get along so well. How long have you been married"? And the psychologist said, "Well, we've been married 31 years". The lawyer said, "Really"? He said, "Well, do you guys ever have differences of opinion"? He said, "Oh, are you kidding"? He said, "We have deep differences of opinion. I'm conservative, she's liberal. I'm a republican, she's a democrat". And he just went on and on about all these differences. "We got a lot of differences of opinion. We got big differences, but you know what"? He said, "We've learned to get over them just like that". He said, "Really, how do you do that"? He said, "I never tell her about them".

Now there are a lot of things, and you'll learn this as you grow older and get more mature. There are things I would have debated. There were the things I would have got heated about. There were things I'd have gone to war over 30 years ago. I don't do that today, 'cause you know what I've learned? Not every battle is worth fighting. Not every fuse is worth lighting. It's just not. And one of the best ways to fight for unity is not to do anything that would cause disunity, unless now, it is worth dividing over. And yes, there are some things worth dividing over. I love to read history. I'm always reading a history book and I love American history in particular. And I just finished reading a book not long ago on the Revolutionary War. I didn't know this. When the Continental Congress got together and they made George Washington the Commander in Chief, the first thing he did was not ask for more bullets, more ammunition, more guns, or more soldiers.

That's not the first thing he did. The moment they made him the Commander in Chief, he issued a proclamation that ordered any colonists who had sworn allegiance to the Crown of Great Britain to report to an American army post by March. This was February, but the beginning of March. And they had to take a loyalty oath to America. They had to swear they would be loyal to America. Now, those who did not report are those who refused to take that oath. They were given a name. They were called Tories. And their families were forced to move to behind British lines, and they were declared common enemies of the United States. And when George Washington issued this proclamation, here's what he said. I'm quoting, "It is necessary to distinguish between the friends of America and the friends of Great Britain".

Well, the amazing thing is George Washington never wavered in his drive for the next seven years. One of his goals was to rid the colonies of Tories. Later on, when he was asked why he was so adamant about this, this is what he said. He said, "I had one rock-ribbed belief that the United States had to be united. We must walk together, we must work together, if we're going to keep it together". He was right then, he was right now. It was right for them. It's right for the church. If we're gonna keep our church together, we gotta walk together, and then we've got to work together. And then here's the last thing, and this is why all this goes together and it's why it's so important. Because if we don't do this last thing, we won't be in business very long. We'll be closing these doors and selling this to somebody else. The reason why we've gotta walk together, and the reason why we've gotta work together is because we must witness together. We got to witness together.

Now let me just make this plain, okay? And for some of you who may be our guests for the first time, and I've met a few of you this morning, some of you I've met a couple of days, been here four or five times, for some of you, this will be very important for you to hear. And I don't want this to be negative, I'm just being realistic. When I get through saying what I'm gonna say, this may not be the church for you, just to be very honest. You may not be comfortable, that's okay. But if we're gonna maintain true unity, we not only need to behave alike, we not only need to belong alike, we really do, on some things, have to believe alike. If we're gonna be one and stay one, there are some one things we've got to hold on to. Paul lays all of them out for us, does us a big favor. Here's what Paul said. There is one body. Say that word with me. I'm gonna point it out, you say it every time. There is... Spirit, just as you were called to... Hope when you were called... Lord ... Faith ... Baptism ... God and Father of us all, who is over all, through all and in all.

You saw it for yourself, the chief characteristic of that verse is one word that Paul uses seven times. It's the word one. And you're going to see he didn't just pick these out, he just pull them out of the air or make them up. Each one builds on the next one so that what we will believe will always make sure we are one. So let's just roll through them real quickly. First of all, there's one body. One body. Now, if you don't know the New Testament, you wouldn't realize this. What's Paul talking about? He's talking about the church. In the New Testament, by the way, the church is never referred to the way we refer to a church. We refer to a church as a building. The New Testament never refers to a church as a building. It is a body. Jesus is the head of the body. We, His people, are the body.

So here's the good news. It doesn't matter what race you are, what culture you come from, where you were born, what language you speak, whether you're educated or ignorant, or rich or poor, democrat, republican, liberal, or conservative, whether you're in heaven, whether you're in earth, doesn't matter. We are part of one body. But now that body is manifested in two ways. There's the universal body, which is made up of every believer everywhere, all over the world, any time, any place, because they've trusted Christ as Lord and Savior. There's the universal body. However, the other manifestation is the local body, a body like this. And the vast majority of time, whenever the New Testament refers to the body of Christ, it's talking about that local body. So this is kind of a paid announcement to you, public service announcement, everybody ought to be a part of His body. Everybody ought to be a part of His body. I mean a part of a local church. An unchurched Christian is an oxymoron. It is a contradiction.

And by the way, I love these people who say, "Well, I'm a Christian, but I don't think you have to go to church to be a Christian". Well, that's true. You don't have to go to church to be a Christian. But here's the question I always ask. If you don't wanna be a part of us down here, why do you wanna be a part of us up there? Oh, and by the way, it gets worse. If you don't like me, I'm a big Georgia fan, you know that, right? Okay, and I made it plain I hate Florida, I hate Auburn, I hate Tennessee. Don't care if you like it or not. Doesn't bother me a bit. Sleep like a baby at night, okay? You say, "Yeah, and that's why, except when I come to church, I stay far away from you as I can". I got some news for you. Up there, you can't get away from me. So if you can't get away from me up there, you might all start wanting to along with me down here. Does that make sense? This is dress rehearsal.

So an unchurched Christian is totally an oxymoron. We believe in one body, the church. Then he says this. He says there's one Spirit. One Spirit. And of course that refers to the Holy Spirit. Here's all he's saying. Jesus is the head of the body, but the Holy Spirit is the heart of the body. He is the rope that holds us together. He is the glue that binds us together. Think about this. The Holy Spirit never fights against Himself, right? Never does that. So here, this is so easy to figure out. If you're full of the Holy Spirit, and I'm full of the Holy Spirit, we may disagree, but we will never divide. We may disagree, but we will never divide. It's the same Spirit that convicts us when we're sinners, convinces us we needed a savior, converts us to salvation. It's the Holy Spirit that brings us together. It's the Holy Spirit that binds us together.

We have one Spirit. Then he says this. He says we've got one hope. What is that Hope? It is the certain hope of the return of Jesus. Our faith is in a resurrected Jesus. Our hope is in a returning Jesus. So let me just kind of, while I'm in the neighborhood, let me just make something very plain. And this is for everybody, no matter where you are in the political spectrum. I am not, and I never have, never will put my hope in any president of the United States. I will not, and never have, put my hope in any political party. I will never, and never have, put my hope in any political philosophy. I'm not going to put my hope in any president of the United States. I'm going to put my hope in the Lord who has got over every president of the United States. I'm not going to put my hope in any kingdom. I'm going to put my hope in a coming King who is going to sit on the throne of every kingdom.

He said there's one hope. Then he says this, I'm getting fired up, he said, "There's one Lord". There's one Lord. Let me tell you what that means. You don't have a choice in the matter. You don't make the call. So there's no such thing where you worship your god your way. Oh, where's your mind gone? No, there's only one Lord. And what that means is very, very simple. Every knee, the Muslim knee, the Hindu knee, the Buddhist knee, the Jewish knee, the atheist knee, the agnostic knee. Every knee is going to bow and confess that Jesus Christ is Lord to the glory of God, the Father. There's one Lord. Just one Lord.

And then we're told there's one faith. One faith. What's he talking about? The faith. He's talking about the Word of God. He's talking about the scripture. He's talking about what Jude, the brother of the apostle James, was referring to when he said this. He said we ought to contend for the faith that was once for all entrusted to God's holy people. So let me tell you what that means for our church. Our church believes in the complete inerrancy, the absolute infallibility, and the unconditional authority of this book. We base everything we believe about everything we believe on this book. So what do we believe about sexuality? Well, what does the Bible say? So, what do you believe about creation? Well, what does God's Word say? So what do you believe about racism? Well, what does God's Word say? We're gonna talk about that by the way later on.

What does God's Word say? We're based on one, one faith. Then he says this. There's one baptism. Now he's not talking about water baptism, he's talking about a spiritual baptism. Here's what he was saying. If you come to that one faith through that one Spirit, through that one baptism, the baptism of that one Spirit puts you into the body of Jesus forever. And then he closes it up by saying this, "There is one God and Father of us all". From the very beginning of this book, we're told there's only one God. And it's because there's only one God and that one God lives in us, we should always be one in Him.

So here's what that means. You can't divide God. So if God lives in you and God lives in me, you can't divide us 'cause there's only one God. So one day, good news, we're all going to be together with that God, and there will be no divisions, no disagreements, and no denominations, none. Just one. So that's what I wanna say to my sweet church. We're one body under one spirit. We play under the authority of one Lord. We play only for one kingdom. We don't play for a republican kingdom or democratic kingdom. We play for the kingdom of God. And I'm here to tell us this morning, if we all remember that, nothing will ever divide us and God will keep us together forever. Let's pray together.
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