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Posted: January 24, 2013 8:37 p.m.

Scharf: True unity in Christ alone

When I look around me at church, I’m often struck by one thing about the people I see. They are different. I know that might not sound like that much of a compliment — but I see it as an amazing gift from God. Truly. The faces in our congregation range from young to old, the voices from weak to strong, the billfolds from thick to thin, the vigor from faint to healthy, the skin tone from black to white and everything in between. We are different.

And we act differently too. There are so many different interests — from Nascar to ballet — and sometimes in the same person. There are artists and fix-it guys, analyzers and creators, tech geeks and builders. We are different.

So now, in our text for today, Romans 15:4-6, when Paul tells us to have true unity — one heart and one mouth — realize how difficult a task that can prove to be. After all, by nature, the only kind of unity our selfish sinful natures want is the unity where everyone else gets on my page, everyone else does what I want. We don’t naturally like to put my own interests behind the good of others, especially not long term. I mean, occasionally, we can act unselfishly as long as we are convinced that we’ll get our way in the end — but look at what Paul is praying for — "endurance and encouragement" not to give up that unselfish living, ever, as hard as that might be.

He writes:

"May the God who gives endurance and encouragement give you a spirit of unity among yourselves as you follow Christ Jesus, so that with one heart and mouth you may glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ." (Romans 15:5-6)

Now, that doesn’t mean that we are all Falcons fans, although after a season like this one, it’s hard not to be. That doesn’t mean we all vote for the same politicians or wear the same type of clothes. It means that we are committed to having the same mind when it comes to what really matters, to everything that really matters, to matters of fact, matters of the truth. It means bearing with one another for everything else, and realizing, true agreement, true unity on what matters could never happen by simply arguing our way to a consensus or agreeing on a favorite "interpretation," because we are just too different for that.

It could only happen where Paul points us to, verse 4:

"For everything that was written in the past was written to teach us, so that through endurance and the encouragement of the scriptures, we might have hope."

Our text comes after Paul did what we just did — noticed how different some of us Christians are from one another. And in the first verses of chapter 15, he urged us to bear with one another and live not to please ourselves but to serve others, reminding us that even Christ did not come to serve himself, just like the Old Testament had prophesied, and he quotes Psalm 69 to prove it.

Here he tells us why he quotes the Bible — because all of it was written to teach us — to give us the answers, not to confuse us or to stump us — to teach us. All of it was written to give us endurance and encouragement toward this unity.

But let’s cut to the chase. Plain and simple, we fail at that unselfishness. When we see differences, our nature tells us to use that to divide instead of unite, to get caught up in jealousy and envy and judging. Time and again, we’ve been selfish. I could list examples of that all day. So just save me that time and admit it to yourself — too often you see things being all about you. And that, my friends is disgusting to God, from whom we couldn’t be more different. He’s holy. We’re not.

But now also, admit what Jesus did about that. He didn’t act like we too often do. Verse 5 said that the God of endurance and encouragement gives unity,

"as you follow Christ Jesus." Literally, it is "in line with Christ Jesus." When our lives are like Jesus’ life, there is unity. How? His life was all about sacrifice. He sacrificed everything for us. Remember what he told us: "the Son of man did not come to be served but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many," for you! He died to put you first. And he rose to show us that that is how God sees us now.

That is why, Paul said, we have the scriptures. It is only in this message of Christ, it is only in living like Christ, it is only in the word of Christ that we have unity. And God’s word is not confusing. It is not subject to various interpretations. It was written very clearly to teach us, so we don’t have to try to manipulate it to make it say what we want — we just listen to it. That’s where the unity at church comes from. Every single member who joins this church promises that they will be in this word regularly — at home yes, but also very specifically in Bible study and worship attendance, so God can get us all on the same page, and then we can celebrate that with that weekly shot of endurance and encouragement for life, strengthened by our Savior and emboldened by our brothers and sisters in him. Now that’s true unity in Christ alone. Come and be a part of it.

After all, the result is beautiful. Paul closes our text with the purpose for our unity:

"So that with one heart and mouth you may glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ." Let’s do it.

Rev. Jonathan Scharf is pastor of Abiding Grace Lutheran Church in Covington. Worship every Sunday is at 10:30 a.m. Full sermons and more information can be found at abidinggrace.com.

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