Together in the Spirit

Asbury Free Methodist – By Rev. Dr. Brent Russett

November 21, 2021

Ephesians 4:1-6

            I normally plan what I am going to speak on months and months in advance. I have learned over the years to leave an open Sunday between series to speak into different things I see in our community. Last week we finished our series on prayer. Next week we will begin our Advent series titled “The Jesus you never knew.” Today I want to speak a course correction sermon called Together in the Spirit.

            You heard Ephesians 4 read. Let me re-read the first three verses

Ephesians 4:1–3 (NIV)

As a prisoner for the Lord, then, I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received. Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace.

            Do you know why we need to make an effort to keep the unity of the Spirit? – because it is hard work.

I don’t remember a time when the evangelical church in North America has been so fractured. The last 20 months have highlighted this. There is the masks/anti-mask crowd. There is the vaccine-hesitant, and anti-vaxers versus the “make the vaccine mandatory crowd.” Some churches responded to the lockdown by defying it. Racism has shown up in our response to the black-lives-matter movement and other important news events. Politics has divided people and families.

            I have to say that I have been very pleased with Asbury’s response to all these issues. While we don’t all think the same about these issues, I have not seen a willingness to break fellowship over these issues. I am thankful for that.


            As you probably know, I pastored a church in downtown Ottawa for 28 years, and I have been in Perth for three years. There are some differences that I have noticed pastoring a city church and pastoring a smalltown church.

In a city church, generally, most people know each other through the church. In a small town, many people have a lifetime of history with people who are in the church, but much of that history comes from interactions from outside the church. You have known these people forever.

            That is all good until something goes wrong. It is all good until someone offends you. In the city, you can move churches – but if something goes sideways in a relationship, you usually don’t move out of town. So, you see people around town, and you learn to tolerate people.


            In the city, the number one thing the inhibited people’s spiritual lives was busyness. There wasn’t any margin in their lives to pursue God. In Perth, which is probably the same as most small towns, I would say that the number one thing that inhibits spiritual growth is unresolved relationship issues.

            For the most part, we are not openly hostile to the people who we have been offended by. We are very civil to each other. But we have a way of writing people off. We stay away from them. We hold them at arm’s length. But that is not what Paul means when he says, Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace

            Now here is the problem. When I ask people, have you forgiven that person? The usual answer I get back is – yes. Because we all know that Jesus said that if you don’t forgive other people, you won’t be forgiven. So, we tell ourselves and others that we have forgiven. But when I ask, do you love that person – there is a different answer. You see, you can’t love someone and be indifferent to them. That is impossible.


            Come with me to James 3

James 3:2 (NIV)

We all stumble in many ways. Anyone who is never at fault in what they say is perfect, able to keep their whole body in check.

James 3:2 (AV)

2 For in many things we offend all. If any man offend not in word, the same is a perfect man, and able also to bridle the whole body.

            Here is what the word of God says, “We all” you are included in that, and I am included in that. We all offend. We all stumble in what we say. The word of God declares that if you hang around me long enough and if I hang around you long enough, we are going to offend each other. We are all going to stumble in what we say.

            There are a lot of you here who have been around each other for a long time. The chances are, at one point or another, you have offended each other. That is just the way life works.

            The question is, when you are the one who has been offended, how do you deal with that?

            Let me introduce you to the idea of a grace contingency fund. If you are wise in the way you handle your finances you have a contingency fund, in case something unexpected happens: your car breaks down, your roof springs a leak, you lose your job and have to look for another one. You know that life has a way of throwing you unexpected curve balls. So, if you are wise, you have a rainy day fund.


            Well, how about establishing a grace contingency fund – a rainy day fund of grace – where when you are skating around the community and you get hip checked by an offense – your first response is – I knew that was going to happen sometime, the bible said it would happen – so I am going to just give grace to that person.

            When you know that offenses are going to happen, and you plan on grace – you can be ready for life. The less you expect to be offended, the more likely you will be. But when you know that offences are going to happen, it becomes no big deal.

            I have a slogan that I’ve adopted. I was visiting someone, and she made the comment “people say the stupidest things”. That is Biblical. We all offend, we all stumble. People say the stupidest things. Expect it. We all stumble. We are all going to offend. I have been known to says some stupid things. It is part of the human condition. Accept it, be gracious, now move on.

            Now if you use this sermon as a licence to say stupid things, then you are a fool. But you can expect that sooner or later everyone is going to say something offensive.


            People in community have a tendency to do one of two things if people say something that is offensive. They tend either to back away from the person or confront the person. What I am saying is that neither may be the appropriate response.

            Here is what the Bible says

Proverbs 19:11 (NRSV)

Those with good sense are slow to anger,

and it is their glory to overlook an offense.

            The Bible says that is to your glory to overlook an offense. It is to your glory to write things off to your grace contingency fund. It is to your glory to instead of taking up an offense you give grace. It is too your glory to say, “people say the stupidest things,”… that was one of them.

            There are times to confront when the behaviour is persistent, and there are injustices being done. But the first response to an offense is to overlook it.


            I was looking through the life of Jesus, there were a number of times when he offended people. (He was the one person who never said stupid things, and yet he offended people.) There was a time when he did what he needed to do not to offend people. But there never was a time when he himself was offended over what was said about him personally.

            Now there were two times when he actually was offended. The time he cleared out the temple, he was obviously offended over what was happening in the temple. They had made a house of prayer into a den of thieves. There was another time when Peter told him that he didn’t have to die, and Jesus replied, get behind me Satan, you are a stumbling block, an offense, to me. (I want to come back to that situation in a moment.)

            But Jesus did not take offense to what was said about him. People called him a drunkard, a friend of sinners, a glutton. That is pretty offensive language. But he didn’t take an offense.

            You have his disciples being offended, his family being offended, the Pharisees were often offended, but Jesus wasn’t offended. That is why he was “full of grace.” He had a grace contingency fund.

            In the New Testament, the word that is translated offense or stumbling block is “skandalon.” Remember when Jesus was offended by Peter when Peter said he didn’t have to die.

Matthew 16:23 (NIV)

23 Jesus turned and said to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me; you do not have in mind the concerns of God, but merely human concerns.”

Jesus said, you’re a stumbling block – the KJV translates it, you are an offense to me – a skandalon to me.

            Have you ever seen someone try to trap a squirrel? The basic trap setup is, you have a box, and you put one end of the box up on a stick. Then you tie the bait to that stick. The theory is when the animal takes the bait, it moves the stick, which causes the box to fall, trapping the animal.

            That stick that holds the box up, in Greek, is called a “skandalon”. Jesus is saying, Peter, you are a trap for me. You are the baited trigger that wants to box me in and keep me from doing the will of my Father. Get behind me.

            In the New Testament, that is what a skandalon is. It is a trap. That is what an offense is. It is a trap.

            You are going to be offended. That is a given. If you choose to use your grace contingency fund, then you have just walked away from a trap. If you choose to forgive, then you have walked away from the trap.


            However, if you take the bait, and take up the offense, and own it as your own, “I’m offended” then the trap falls.

            Let me describe to you what happens when a Christian takes up an offense. They normally harden their heart to that person that offended them, but it usually doesn’t stop there.

Proverbs 18:19 (ESV)

A brother offended is more unyielding than a strong city,

and quarreling is like the bars of a castle.

            We wall ourselves in, and we only let people past when we are really sure they are not going to hurt us. Inside our walls, we brood and harbour offenses Those offenses, whether real or perceived, start to produce unholy fruit. Anger outrage, jealousy, resentment, strife, bitterness, hatred, and envy. Out of these things come insults and attacks, wounding, division, separation, broken relationships, and betrayal.

            It is a trap. But the trap is camouflaged by our pride. We will be able to rationalize why taking up an offense is justified. The religious spirits, and worldly wisdom may even come along and pat you on the back. You should resent what they said about you. All the while you sit in your gilded trap restrained. You will not bear good fruit. You will not know either peace or joy. But you have your offense, and you nurse it.

            If you have a church full of these kinds of people, people who have been wounded and they run into others who have been wounded then there are traps being sprung all over the place. No community happens because everyone is trapped inside their own fortress.


            So, how do we live against this kind of trap. Love you take you back to our passage from Ephesians chapter 4.

            Paul has just finished talking about the magnificent gospel that we have through Jesus Christ. Then he says this;

Ephesians 4:1 (NIV)

As a prisoner for the Lord, then, I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received.

            In light of the gospel that you have received, live a life worthy of the calling. What does that life look like? Verses two and three.

Ephesians 4:2–3 (NIV)

 Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace.

            The way you live a life that doesn’t take the bait – the skandelon – Is to “be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with each other in love.”

            I tend not to be easily offended. But when I have been offended and have taken the bait and then examined my life, here is what I found – Most offenses have their root in pride.

            My reaction to what another person did, says more about who I am than it says about the actions of another person. Your reaction to what another person did to you says more about who you are than it does about the other person.

            Let me unpack verse 2. Be completely humble. The idea of humility in scripture is to see yourself as you really are in light of Jesus’s sacrifice for you. If you are humble, you are neither self-deprecating putting yourself down nor are you puffed up. You see yourself as somebody who was saved by grace. You know that you did not earn or deserve God’s forgiveness but that you are indeed forgiven and valued.

            When people say something that you could take offense to, you know that you do not have to because you know your own value, and you also know how much you have been forgiven. You do not feel the need for self-protection.

            When you function out of humility, you can be gentle with others. You know that you do not have to defend yourself, nor do you have to lash out at others. You know who you are in Christ. You do not have to take the bait of taking offense. You can be gentle with others who have not been gentle with you. You have been given grace; you can give grace.

            The verse goes on to say, “be patient.” when people say or do something offensive, it often indicates a discipleship issue that needs to be grown into in their life or a discipleship issue in your life and sometimes both. So, be patient both with others and yourself. Discipleship takes time.

            The text then goes on to say, “bear with one another.” If dealing with people was all sunshine and roses, Paul would not have to have put this phrase in there. But the reason we need to bear with others is that everybody has their stuff. We come from different families, different cultures, different ways of thinking. What is acceptable in one family or culture might be totally offensive in another culture.

            Notice that Paul doesn’t just say bear with one another. But he says “bear with one another in love”. I need to do more than just tolerate you; I need to love you.  This is sometimes difficult if I am trying to bear with you. But this is what it means to live a life worthy of the calling. I think of how much God has had to put up with me. If God treated me the way I wanted to treat an offender, I would be in real trouble. I suspect that is true of you.

            Paul goes on to say, “make every effort to keep the unity of the spirit in the bonds of peace.” It requires effort sometimes. But when we fail to make the effort, the consequences can be brutal.


            For those of you who have been caught in the trap of taking up an offense – there is only one way to get out of bondage – the way out is forgiveness.

Forgiveness is not avoiding or ignoring the hurt that has been done to us. It is not pretending that it never happened or finding a way to excuse it. For forgiveness to be genuine, the person who is forgiving, must first count the cost of forgiving.

            I will probably speak on forgiveness at another time because there is a lot more that should be said. But let me run you through how to forgive someone.

9 Steps to Forgive Others

Step 1: Confess the sin of unforgiveness

Step 2: Stop rehearsing the sin and punishing the offender

Step 3: Listen for what God wants to say about the offender

Step 4: Ask if there is anything you contributed to the problem

Step 5: Listen for how God wants to comfort, heal, and love you

Step 6: Listen for how God wants to turn evil into something good

Step 7: Pray for the offender

Step 8: Bless and do good to the offender

Step 9: Ask Father to heal your heart & fill you with His love for offender

            As I have speaking today, you may see how you have been caught in the trap of taking up an offense. I want to help you get out of the trap this morning.

            So, I want to spend some time in some guided prayer to help you pray through your forgiveness issues.

Let’s pray

Sermon Questions

November 21, 2021 – Ephesians 4:1-3


1. What are you thankful for today?

2. Are you looking forward to Christmas? Why/Why not?

Digging in.

3. What are some of the things that are causing division in the North American church?

4. Read James 3:2-12. What are some of the things that this passage tells us about what we say?

5. Focusing on James 3:2 – It says “we all stumble,” or KJV “we all offend.” How does it make you feel when you hear scripture say, you are going to offend others by what you say, and you are going to be offended by what others say? How can you prepare for this reality?

6. Read Proverbs 19:11 – What does this say about an offense? How can you see this being worked out in real life?

7. Read Proverbs 18:19 – What does this say about a person who is offended. What kind of fruit does a life that holds onto an offense tend to produce?

8. Read Matthew 16:23 – Jesus says to Peter, you are a stumbling block (KJV – offense) to me. What does that mean? (See sermon)

9. Read Ephesians 4:1-3

Define the following and describe what it would look like in someone.

Completely humble



Bearing with another in love.

10. Why do we need to “Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit?

11. If you have taken offense, the only way out is forgiveness. Here are nine steps of forgiveness. Is there any that you don’t understand? What is the hardest one to do?

9 Steps to Forgive Others

Step 1: Confess the sin of unforgiveness

Step 2: Stop rehearsing the sin and punishing the offender

Step 3: Listen for what God wants to say about the offender

Step 4: Ask if there is anything you contributed to the problem

Step 5: Listen for how God wants to comfort, heal, and love you

Step 6: Listen for how God wants to turn evil into something good

Step 7: Pray for the offender

Step 8: Bless and do good to the offender

Step 9: Ask Father to heal your heart & fill you with His love for offender

12. Is there someone you need to forgive.