“There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called in one hope of your calling; one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is above all, and through all, and in you all.” (Ephesians 4:4–6, NKJV)
Over the past week we have commented briefly on God’s “One-derful” plan for unity from Ephesians 4:4-6. It is the plan for unity that has God’s endorsement, and which binds Christians together in peace as we diligently guard it (Eph. 4:3). To summarize, God’s platform of unity consists of the following planks: One Body: Unity of Relationship (the church, Eph. 1:22-23); One Spirit: Unity of Life (new life in Christ, revealed in truth, Jno. 3:5; Jno. 16:12-13; Gal. 5:25); One Hope: Unity of Destiny (an eternal inheritance, 1 Pet. 1:3-5); One Lord: Unity of Authority (submission to Christ’s will, Col. 3:17); One Faith: Unity of Revelation (the gospel is the faith once for all delivered, Gal. 1:11, 23; Jude 3); One Baptism: Unity of Forgiveness (God’s plan of salvation, Mk. 16:16; Acts 2:37-38; 10:47-48; 22:16); and, One God and Father of All: Unity of Worship (true worshipers, Jno. 4:23-24). Unity in Christ is possible as we trust and follow the wisdom and word of God (1 Cor. 1:10). Human wisdom leads to hopeless division (1 Cor. 1:11-13). The unity of believers for which Christ prayed honors God, does His will, and blesses every soul who participates in it (Jno. 17:20-21; 14:21, 23-24). May me diligently keep this unity with Christ and His people (1 Jno. 1:3-7; 2 Jno. 9-11).
38 Now John answered Him, saying, “Teacher, we saw someone who does not follow us casting out demons in Your name, and we forbade him because he does not follow us.” 39 But Jesus said, “Do not forbid him, for no one who works a miracle in My name can soon afterward speak evil of Me. 40 For he who is not against us is on our side. (Mark 9:38–40, NKJV)
The twelve apostles often squabbled among themselves over who was the greatest in the kingdom. It is easy to see how they would discount and try to forbid someone who was not of their immediate circle, even when the evidence of heaven’s approval was staring them in the face. Jesus acknowledged this person was casting out demons in His name (v. 39). John and his fellow apostles were zealous of their positions, which led them to reject someone who was faithfully working in Christ’s name. (Note, John did not say, “He does not follow You,” but rather, “he does not follow us.”) Zeal for their own positions was greater than their zeal for the Lord. This passage does not endorse unity in doctrinal diversity. (The man and the apostles were all working in the name of Christ.) Instead, it urges unity among those who faithfully follow Christ because they all work in His name (do His will by His authority, Colossians 3:17). We act with the Lord’s authority to glorify Christ, not ourselves. Another person doing the will of Christ will also be blessed (Mark 9:41). That person deserves to be accepted, not rejected as separate from us (Mark 9:38-39).
3 As I urged you when I went into Macedonia—remain in Ephesus that you may charge some that they teach no other doctrine, 4 nor give heed to fables and endless genealogies, which cause disputes rather than godly edification which is in faith. (1 Timothy 1:3–4, NKJV)
Is doctrine essential or nonessential to your faith and fellowship with God? Undoubtedly, there was a particular doctrine that was to be taught in Ephesus. All other doctrines were to cease. Timothy was to charge teachers to “teach no other doctrine” than the one that produces “godly edification which is in faith.” Doctrine means teaching, and it is essential that one’s teaching (doctrine) conforms with God’s truth, the Scriptures. Therefore, doctrine must be “sound” (1 Timothy 1:10), “good” (1 Timothy 4:6), given attention (1 Timothy 4:13), and continued in (1 Timothy 4:16). Doctrine must be God’s (1 Timothy 6:1), and it must conform to godliness (1 Timothy 6:3). Apostolic doctrine must be “carefully followed” (2 Timothy 3:10). It must agree with the Scriptures (2 Timothy 3:16), and it must not be rejected (2 Timothy 4:3). Anyone who says doctrine is not essential to your salvation and fellowship with God is not teaching and applying 2 John 9 properly: “Whoever transgresses and does not abide in the doctrine of Christ does not have God. He who abides in the doctrine of Christ has both the Father and the Son.” Oh yes, doctrine matters.
5 This is the message which we have heard from Him and declare to you, that God is light and in Him is no darkness at all. 6 If we say that we have fellowship with Him, and walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth. 7 But if we walk in the light as He is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus Christ His Son cleanses us from all sin. (1 John 1:5–7, NKJV)
What does it mean to walk in the light? This verse gives us a definitive definition: “Practice the truth” (v. 6) is equivalent to “walk in the light” (v. 7). Fellowship with God comes to those who “walk in the light” – those who practice His truth (His word, John 17:17). We lie if we say we have fellowship with God, yet “do not practice the truth” (v. 6). The God of light is found in the light of truth, not in the darkness of error. According to verse 7, two things happen when one walks in the light: 1) He has fellowship with God, and 2) The blood of Christ cleanses him from all sin. This verse does not say the Christian does not sin (see v. 10). It says the blessing of cleansing from sin by Christ’s blood occurs when we walk in the light. Because this person practices truth (walks in the light), he does not deny his sin when it happens, he confesses it, with the assurance of God’s forgiveness (1 John 1:8-9; Acts 8:22-24).
8 And they heard the sound of the Lord God walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and Adam and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the Lord God among the trees of the garden. 9 Then the Lord God called to Adam and said to him, “Where are you?” 10 So he said, “I heard Your voice in the garden, and I was afraid because I was naked; and I hid myself.” 11 And He said, “Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten from the tree of which I commanded you that you should not eat?” (Genesis 3:8–11, NKJV)
God’s constant desire is to dwell with His people. From the days in the garden, when God walked with Adam and Eve before their sin against Him, God has arranged the opportunity for men and women to share in His fellowship. The tabernacle of Moses and Solomon’s temple were places God accepted their service and “dwelt among them” (Exodus 25:8; Deuteronomy 12:5; 1 Kings 8:10-13; 9:3). Of course, these did not contain God (1 Kings 8:27). Today, He walks with His people in His temple, the church (Ephesians 2:16, 21-22). The dwelling places of God anticipate heaven (Revelation 21:3). It is sin that prevents walking with God, now and eternally. Reconciliation with God is available to you through the death of Jesus Christ (Romans 5:6-11). You cannot walk with God while living in sin (1 John 1:6). Today is the day to put away your sin, and walk with God (2 Corinthians 6:16-17, 2).
6 Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of these things the wrath of God comes upon the sons of disobedience. 7 Therefore do not be partakers with them. (Ephesians 5:6–7, NKJV)
Fellowship with sinners in their sin is repeatedly warned against in the Scriptures (Eph. 5:11; 2 Cor. 6:14-7:1; 1 Tim. 5:22; 2 Jno. 9-11). And yet, many Christians refuse to teach on the subject of fellowship, much less follow the New Testament teaching on the subject. This invariably leads to confusion, accommodation with error and compromise with sin. Ultimately, being a “partaker” (co-participant, an associate, a sharer) causes one to be eternally lost. We cannot share in the sins of the disobedient and expect heaven to be our eternal home. Furthermore, we cannot condone or encourage them in their sin – even if we do not overtly commit the sin with them (2 Jno. 10-11). The subtle deception of fellowship with sin convinces many that if they do not commit the sin themselves, then they are innocent. (We ought to remember Pilate, who could not wash the blood of Jesus from his hands when he delivered Jesus over to the Jews to be crucified, Matt. 27:24-26; Jno. 19:16). We cannot share in sin with sinners, and be blessed by God. Neither can we tolerate, condone or accommodate sin, without guilt. Do not be deceived.
And how shall they preach unless they are sent? As it is written: “How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the gospel of peace, who bring glad tidings of good things!” (Romans 10:15, NKJV)
From heads of state to lowly peasants, pleas for peace are heard around the world. God, in the gospel of Christ, has sent the world a message of real and lasting peace; a peace that is formed between God and sinners. Peace requires at least two things. First, removal of the adversarial conflict must occur. The fighting must end. Paul draws from the prophet Nahum, who saw the feet of the messenger who announced that God was about to remove brutal Assyria from the scene; God judged and destroyed the adversary (Nahum 1:12-15). Even so, sin has put us at war with God. The oppressive yoke of sin must be broken in order for peace with God to exist. The enemy of sin was defeated at the cross of Jesus. Secondly, sin’s conflict must be replaced with the tranquility of divine fellowship. Even so, Paul calls upon Isaiah 52:7, as Isaiah spoke of the beautiful feet that proclaim salvation to Zion, because, “Your God reigns.” The gospel of Jesus Christ offers forgiveness, replacing alienation with peaceful harmony between God and those who are saved in the Son. What beautiful news of peace we proclaim!
distributing to the needs of the saints, given to hospitality. (Romans 12:13, NKJV)
Christians are to share in addressing and relieving the needs of fellow Christians. “Distributing” is the verb form of fellowship, and urges us to keep having fellowship with needy brethren to reduce their present need. As he wrote this to the Romans, Paul himself was on a trip to Jerusalem, delivering assistance to the needy saints there (Rom. 15:25-27). He also advises that we pursue hospitality (the love of strangers). As strangers and pilgrims in this world, we must show the kind generosity that hospitality affords. It is our calling to lovingly assist strangers. W are to be “given to” (pursue) hospitality as our vocation. Consciously seek opportunities to entertain strangers, even as you share in relieving needy brethren (Heb. 13:2; Gal. 6:10).
9 Whoever transgresses and does not abide in the doctrine of Christ does not have God. He who abides in the doctrine of Christ has both the Father and the Son. 10 If anyone comes to you and does not bring this doctrine, do not receive him into your house nor greet him; 11 for he who greets him shares in his evil deeds.” (2 John 9–11, NKJV)
This passage is not difficult to understand. Yet, failing to obey it continues to prevent fellowship with God, while helping false doctrine to thrive. Christians are warned against going beyond the teaching of Christ; to do so forfeits fellowship with the Father and the Son. To encourage or accept the teacher who is not teaching Christ’s truth puts one in fellowship with their sin. To thwart the force of this passage, attempts are made to redefine “the doctrine of Christ” to mean the teaching about Christ instead of the teaching that belongs to Christ. But, Jesus said, “If you abide in My word, you are My disciples indeed” (Jno. 8:31). We must abide in the word that belongs to Jesus, else, we are not truly His disciples. We do not have fellowship with God (2 Jno. 9). Fellowship is a sharing in common, joint participation. We either participate with God by abiding in His truth, or we share in evil by encouraging and endorsing error and the one who promotes it. There is no third option. Therefore, let us “have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness, but rather expose them” (Eph. 5:11).
29 Then Levi gave Him a great feast in his own house. And there were a great number of tax collectors and others who sat down with them. 30 And their scribes and the Pharisees complained against His disciples, saying, “Why do You eat and drink with tax collectors and sinners?” 31 Jesus answered and said to them, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. 32 I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners, to repentance.” (Luke 5:29–32, NKJV)
Those who broaden fellowship to include those practicing and living in sin, allude to the fact that Jesus ate with sinners as their rationale for accepting into fellowship those who have gone beyond the “doctrine of Christ” (2 Jno. 9-11). By doing so they overlook a seminal point: Jesus used such occasions to call sinners to repentance, not to endorse their conduct. Jesus did not condone, compromise, tolerate and accept sinners “in spite of their sins.” Instead, He was calling sinners to repentance (Lk. 5:32). He came to save sinners from their sins (Lk. 19:10). There were sinners “drew near to Him to hear Him” (Lk. 15:1). The fact that those who plead for tolerance toward sinners today is a prima facie case of not doing what Jesus did. He taught sinners and called them to repentance. They do neither.