One God, but three Persons? The Trinity can be a difficult concept to grasp, and yet when we begin to discover more deeply what the Trinity is and what it means for us, we begin to better understand the Holy Spirit.
This week we start in the classroom, thinking about and studying what Scripture has to say about the Trinity . And then we’ll move to real life, and consider what the implications are about the Trinity and the unity of the Spirit for real life. Joins us this week as we continue to explore, and be challenged by, the Spirit.
I’m going to start today by asking you a couple questions about doctrine.
If I were to ask you to explain to someone the doctrine of salvation — of redemption — would you be able to do it?
Maybe you wouldn’t do it perfectly, but would you be able to explain the gospel?
How about the doctrine of sin?
Do you know what sin is? Could you give personal illustrations?
How about the doctrine of the Trinity?
Do you know the significance of the doctrine of the Trinity?
But not the Trinity.
For centuries the church has said, “This is essential information about who God is.”
Why is that?
Why have Christians throughout history drawn a line in the sand on this belief?
Well, that’s what I want to talk about today.
I want to talk about the Trinity and the role of the Holy Spirit within the Trinity.
And this has an implication for you and me, for the church, that is so important I don’t think it can be exaggerated.
And I hope and pray that God speaks through what is spoken today, and you and I are gripped by what this means for us.
So we’re going to start today in the classroom just teaching, and I’m going to ask you to think and study real hard.
And then we’ll move to real life and think about what the implications are about the Trinity and the unity of the Spirit for real life.
So, first the classroom.
I want to start with Ephesians 4.
And I want to ask you to look for the word that keeps repeating. There’s a very important word we’re going to come to over and over again today, and I want you to notice it in the first six verses of Ephesians 4.
This is what Paul writes:
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.
There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to one hope when you were called; one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.
What’s the word?
The word is “one.”
It is, I think, God’s favorite word.
Paul is struck by the oneness that the Christian faith can bring.
Now why is that such a remarkable word when it applies to God?
Well, when it applies to God it’s remarkable because of the doctrine of the Trinity.
God is three persons — the Holy Spirit, who has been in our midst since Pentecost; and the Son, Jesus Christ, who is Lord of all; and the Father.
They are three persons, and yet one. They exist in perfect unity.
Now I’d like to ask you to think for a moment about what life must be like within the Trinity. Have you ever thought about that before?
What must life be like between the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit?
How do they experience each other?
Do you think there’s lots of arguments in the Trinity over who’s the most omniscient or the most omnipresent or who’s the oldest?
It’s an ironic thing — when Jesus came to earth, what was the most common argument among his disciples?
Who’s the greatest.
“The greatest” in our day is kind of associated with a famous boxer. Do you remember who it was that said all the time, “I am the greatest”?
He was getting on an airplane one time, and the flight attendant told him he had to buckle his seatbelt or the plane couldn’t take off.
He said, “I’m not going to buckle my seatbelt.”
And she said, “You have to or we’re not going to leave.”
And Ali said, “I don’t have to do it. I’m Mohammed Ali. I don’t have to do anything. I’m not going to wear a seatbelt.”
She said, “You are or this plane is not taking off.”
Ali said, “I’m not doing it because superman don’t need no seatbelt.”
She looked at him and said, “Superman don’t need no airplane.”
It’s an ironic thing that when Jesus, the Son, lived among human beings, the most common argument was, “Who’s the greatest?”
But I want you to think about what the writers of Scripture teach us about life within the Trinity.
And I want to start with the Holy Spirit in the Trinity.
I have to tell you I’ve been really excited about what we’re going to learn today.
Because I believe I’m going to tell you some of the most wonderful words about God that I’ve ever read.
This is from a New Testament theologian named Dale Bruner. He’s written a little book called “The Holy Spirit: The Shy Member of the Trinity.”
This is what he writes:
One of the most surprising discoveries in my own study of the doctrine and experience of the Spirit in the New Testament is what I can only call the ‘shyness’ of the Holy Spirit.
What I mean here is not the shyness of timidity. After all, Paul, in 2 Timothy 1:7 calls him the ‘Spirit of power.’ He’s not a timid Spirit.
Not the shyness of timidity, but the shyness of deference; the shyness of a concentrated attention on another.
It is not the shyness which we often experience of self-centeredness, but the shyness of another-centeredness. In a word, the shyness of love.
– Dale Bruner
There’s something very striking about the ministry of the Holy Spirit.
But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you.
When the Advocate comes, whom I will send to you from the Father—the Spirit of truth who goes out from the Father—he will testify about me.
But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all the truth.
The Holy Spirit, when he comes to earth, does not clamor to have attention focused on himself.
His constant ministry is to get people to focus on Jesus.
Bruner says it’s as if the Spirit is just pointing people to Jesus, saying, “Look at him. Pay attention to him. Notice him; listen to him; be preoccupied with him; love him; serve him; follow him.”
See, the ministry of the Holy Spirit, amazingly enough, does not need to draw attention to himself. The Spirit’s great desire is that human beings be fully preoccupied with Jesus.
It has often been said that the Holy Spirit is the ‘Cinderella’ of the Trinity—the great neglected person of the Godhead.
But the Holy Spirit’s desire is that we be overcome again, thrilled again, excited and gripped again by the wonder, the majesty, the relevance of Jesus.
The Holy Spirit does not mind being Cinderella outside the ballroom if the prince is honored inside his kingdom.
– Dale Bruner
It’s what he calls the “shyness of the Spirit” — that the Spirit loves to exalt the Son.
But then when we look at Jesus, oddly enough, he didn’t walk around saying, “I am the greatest.”
He said in John 8:54:
If I glorify myself, my glory means nothing.
He says he didn’t come to be served, but to serve.
And he submits to the Spirit. — The Spirit drove him into the wilderness.
And he submits to the Father. — His great prayer is, “Not my will, but Yours be done.”
Jesus too has this same shyness.
And then there’s the Father.
Twice in Matthew, Mark and Luke we hear the voice of the Father — once at the baptism and once at the transfiguration of Jesus. And both times he says, “This is my priceless Son. I am deeply pleased with him. Listen to Him!”
The major fact, bar none, that God the Father wants the world to know is all that we have in God, the Son. Jesus of Nazareth is almost his total preoccupation.
It is worth noticing that the voice from heaven does not say, “Listen to me too. After listening to him, don’t forget that I’m up here too. Don’t be taken up with my Son too much.”
[And then he writes this:]
God the Father is shy too. The whole blessed Trinity is shy. Each member of the Trinity points faithfully and selflessly to the other in a gracious circle.
– Dale Bruner
I was raised, in some ways, to think of God as this proud, almost arrogant being who could get away with it because he was God and so powerful. But it’s not so.
If you want to think about the Trinity, you might think of it like this:
The Son exalts the Father, submits to the Father, and the Father’s delight is to glorify the Son. And the Spirit comes to point not to himself, but to the Son. And the Son submits to the ministry of the Spirit. And the Father sends the Spirit and is delighted in the Spirit. And the Spirit intercedes on our behalf with the Father.
The whole Trinity is this circle of unbroken, mutual submission and mutual servanthood and mutual love and mutual delight — the whole blessed Trinity is shy — Father, Son, and Spirit — experiencing perfect oneness throughout all of eternity.
That’s the God we serve.
And the significance of the doctrine of the Trinity is this amazing truth that God exists in community from all of eternity.
He is not alone, being shut up within himself. God experiences perfect community within himself throughout all of eternity. God is three and yet one.
And because community is such a beautiful thing to God, he creates human beings in his own image. He creates human beings — male and female — in his own image, with the capacity to experience oneness.
That’s why the writer of Genesis said — “And the two shall become one.”
We’re capable of this oneness.
God is three and yet one, and he created human beings in his image “and the two shall become one.” They shall know this kind of oneness.
But we lost this in the Fall. This was lost to us.
And the man and the woman had to leave Eden.
You understand when the writer of Scripture says they left Eden, it’s not just about geographical location. It’s a loss of community.
There was a kind of picture in Genesis 3:24 that says there was an angel set up, and they had to leave to go east of Eden.
And then in chapter four when Cain is a murderer, it says he leaves the presence of God and goes east of Eden.
Now to the east of Israel, of course, is where all their enemies were.
And east of Eden becomes this picture of the horror and the violence and the tragedy that happens when human beings lose community.
And we still live east of Eden.
Just read the news about all the war that goes on in the world. Read about all of the mass shooting in the United States. We still live east of Eden.
This is why loneliness is so painful.
And this is why it’s so powerful to the human heart when we get glimpses of oneness here in this life. —
The oneness you see in a great marriage.
The oneness you see between a parent and a child in a great family.
The oneness you see on a team when they sacrifice together and have that moment where they win the title together, and they’re just one team.
Kind of like the 2016 Chicago Cubs when they won the World Series.
This oneness creates a longing inside of us.
And that longing will never be fully satisfied by any marriage or any family or any team. It will not be fully satisfied until one day when we are part of the fellowship that God himself enjoys eternally — Father, Son and Spirit.
Now I want you to notice something.
This is the prayer that Jesus makes in John 17 about his passion for oneness. Jesus is praying for his disciples and he says:
My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, [Who’s that? That’s us, you and me.] that all of them may be [what? That all of them may be] one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you.
You see, this intense intimacy of the Trinity becomes the picture of oneness that Jesus wants for us. — “That all of them may be one, Father, just as you’re in me and I’m in you.”
Now look at this next phrase:
May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me.
This is a staggering statement.
Jesus says, “May you and I, may we be one, just like the Son and the Father and the Spirit are one.”
And then he says, “May they be in us.”
In other words, the unity, the community, the fellowship that we are to know is the fellowship that is experienced within the Trinity — Father, Son and Spirit — perfect, unbroken, unmarred, unblemished oneness. — “May they also be in us.”
You see, this is what the Trinity is about.
Dallas Willard writes these wonderful words:
The advantage of believing in the Trinity is not that we get an ‘A’ from God for giving the right answer.
The advantage of believing in the Trinity is that we then live as if the Trinity is real, as if the cosmos around us actually is beyond all else—a community of unspeakably magnificent, personal beings of boundless love, knowledge and power.
– Dallas Willard
That’s what we live in.
More than we live on a planet in the midst of stars. More than that — we live in a community of unspeakably magnificent beings.
And we’ll talk more about this in just a moment.
Now, what does it cost for the Father, Son and Spirit to say, “Let us bring broken, fallen human beings into our fellowship”? What does it cost?
Well, the Son says, “I will leave heaven and go to earth.”
What does that mean? Is it like leaving California to go to Idaho?
Yeah, it’s kind of like that.
No, in some way that we don’t fully understand, the Son says, “I will leave this perfect oneness that I’ve known for all eternity, and I will become like human beings. And I’ll take on their brokenness. I’ll take on their sin. I’ll take on their aloneness in ways that we’ll never understand.”
The Son says, “I will die utterly God-forsaken on a cross.”
He cries out, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”
And the Father says, “I will offer my Son, whom I love beyond words. I will see him broken and twisted and rejected and beaten and killed — the sin of the whole human race poured out on him, and his pain will be my pain.”
And there will be brokenness between the Son and the Father who have known only oneness throughout all of eternity.
And the Son will experience the forsakenness of the Father.
And the Spirit says, “I will be poured out on the earth in mostly silent, invisible ways. I will offer to lead and guide, never exalting myself, always pointing to the Son.”
And to a large extent, the Spirit’s promptings will be and have been ignored or even denied.
And the Spirit will be quenched.
And the Spirit will be defied.
“The Spirit will be grieved,” the writer of Scripture says.
The Spirit was never grieved by the Father or the Son, but now the Spirit knows grief.
Father, Son and Spirit say, “We will take onto ourselves the pain of brokenness — broken community, broken oneness — so that anyone can enter our fellowship.”
And now you and I have been invited into this fellowship of love through the gracious ministry of the Holy Spirit, at enormous cost to every member of the Trinity.
Therefore, to tolerate disunity in the Body of Christ, to do things that could lead to disunity that the Son gave his life for is utterly unthinkable.
To allow or contribute to disunity in this church is to be fundamentally at odds with the purpose of God in human history.
I want to say as strongly as I know how — I believe that many, many people, including many people inside the church, drastically and tragically ignore God’s passion for the unity of his people.
I want you to notice again what it is that Paul says in Ephesians 4:3
Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit.
To maintain the unity of the Spirit.
Now you notice he doesn’t say to “create” unity within the church. This is not a human project. This has been going on for a long time before human beings ever came to this earth.
He doesn’t say “create” unity. He says maintain it because it’s not ours to begin with.
But he does say, “Make every effort.”
Now this is a very rare verb of intense urgency in the New Testament.
One New Testament scholar says the nuances of what Paul is saying are:
Yours is the initiative. You do it now. You pay any price. You spare no pain. You are to do this. I, Paul, mean this.
In light of the beauty of community and the staggering cost that the Trinity paid to invite us into it, don’t you dare take it lightly. Don’t you dare let it be damaged. And don’t you dare do anything yourself that would damage it.
This is God’s great passion. This is Jesus’ great prayer.
Oneness is the signature of God.
I was thinking this week, thinking about church history. What doctrine or gift have we not allowed to split churches or denominations?
What mode of baptism should we use?
What doctrine of the end times should we teach?
What should pastors say or wear?
What translation of the Bible should we use?
What should the role of the Holy Spirit be?
What’s the right style of preaching?
What’s the right type of music?
It is unspeakably tragic. It is simply, literally, unspeakably tragic that Christians, that churches, sacrifice oneness so often in a Spirit of self-righteousness or just an idiotic need to be right.
Can you name one doctrine that has not been allowed to split churches and denominations?
You know we come from many different church backgrounds at Blue Oaks. I grew up in a Baptist church. I have friends at Blue Oaks who have grown up in Presbyterian churches, Methodist churches, Lutheran churches. Many grew up in nondenominational churches.
Do you know how many churches are represented at Blue Oaks?
You see, in the end, Jesus will not allow his people to be separated — not into Baptist churches versus Presbyterian churches; not into charismatic versus non-charismatic churches.
Jesus just has the one church. That’s all he has.
And people who imperil the unity of his church in small groups, in families, in local congregations, declare themselves the enemy of what God prizes above all.
Listen to what Paul writes to the church at Corinth, which was torn apart by disunity.
Don’t you know that you yourselves are God’s temple [That’s in the plural form. In other words, he’s not talking about physical bodies. He’s saying, “You, the Church, are God’s temple, the abiding place of God on earth.] and that God’s Spirit dwells in you.
If anyone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy that person; for God’s temple is sacred, and you together are that temple.
1 Corinthians 3:16-17
For God’s temple is sacred. He’s talking about God’s oneness — and you and I are that temple.
I want to tell you. I want us to be crystal clear on this. There are so many people in so many churches who have no idea what they’re in for someday.
They think that because they’ve avoided sleeping with someone or avoided something that makes a scandal in churches in our day that they’re relatively blameless before God.
Paul and other writers of Scripture ask, “Do you have any idea how jealous God is for the unity of his Body, and how God’s anger burns at anyone who would destroy, tamper, or take it casually?”
I do not understand why churches or people who name the name of Christ allow:
Slander to go unchecked.
Or unresolved conflict.
Or bitter words.
Or power struggles.
Or an unforgiving spirit.
Or a judgmental heart.
Deliberately excluding someone.
Deliberately avoiding someone.
Deliberately trying to hurt someone.
Deliberately spreading bad information about somebody.
Going day after day, week after week, month after month, year after year, allowing what God prizes most to be trampled on.
We better not dare — not here, not at Blue Oaks.
That will not happen in this church.
So, let’s get concrete in the moments that remain.
How do we go about making every effort? Paul says this is a real intense deal.
Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit.
Make every effort to maintain, honor, guard, cherish, protect — not create, but — keep the unity of the Spirit.
Let’s just roll up our sleeves for a minute and take a look at how we go about doing that.
And this comes right out of the text — three things.
And I think sometimes because these words are words we’re familiar with, we can just tend to kind of skip right over them.
Be completely humble and gentle; [or it could be translated gracious] be patient, bearing with one another in love.
I want to look at what it means to make every effort to do these things.
This has to do with being a servant.
And the opposite of this would be being self-serving, having a sense of entitlement.
Now I want to ask you to do a little self-assessment.
How are you when you don’t get your way?
Because the unity of the Spirit, what is most precious to God, rests on a thousand little moments when people will decide whether or not they will be humble, whether they will live as servants or whether they won’t.
How do you handle it when you don’t get your way?
How do you handle it when you’re in a small group and someone says something funny?
Are you able to enjoy what they’ve said, or do you need to try to say something funnier?
How are you when someone else’s spiritual gift is being highlighted and praised?
Can you name it and encourage them, or do you need the spotlight to focus on you?
What about just acts of service?
When I see people at Blue Oaks just serving in selfless ways, or people at homes in small groups where the group meets and they have something to eat, and then people just get up and automatically start to help clean up?
Just a thousand little things like that in which we proclaim whether or not we’re servants.
How do you do at listening?
Do you really listen? That’s a humble thing to do.
When you’re in an argument with someone, what’s your need to be right like?
I grew up in a church where there were a couple people who were looked up to a whole lot as real spiritual people because they had a lot of theological information. But I’ll tell you something. They had a need to be right that would not die, and they hurt people with it.
Paul says, “Make every effort to maintain the unity of the Spirit by being completely humble.” How are you doing on that one?
And the next one is — Paul says to be gentle. Or it could be translated to be gracious.
And the opposite of this would be to have a spirit of judgmentalism or even contempt for someone else.
I want to ask you to do a self-assessment on this one.
Do you have any issues of unresolved conflict or bitter feelings toward anyone in the church?
Is there any lack of gentleness or grace in the way that you’re relating to someone? Because I’ll tell you something. It’s way too easy for us to not deal directly with a person we’re having a problem with and then talk to someone else about it.
It’s the default mode of human nature, and it kills churches. It kills unity.
So many people either don’t engage directly with the person that they’re having problems with because they’re afraid, or they go around with a spirit of self-righteousness and a judgmental attitude that comes out in their words and the way they say them.
In either path — either avoidance out of fear or a self-righteous, judgmental spirit just destroys unity.
So I ask you today to just go down a list.
Is there anyone in the church that you have unresolved conflict, unresolved feelings, bitterness, problems with?
Have you been taking it to a third party about it?
If you have, you have some work to do.
And the writers of Scripture suggest you do it now.
Be completely gentle. Be completely gracious. Speak truth and grace to everyone in this church.
And then Paul says, “Be patient, bearing with one another in love.”
So do a little assessment on this one.
God — the Father, Son, and Spirit — has said he will pay any price to invite everyone into his community.
So the question is — how about you?
Do you embrace the people around you?
Do you let them know you welcome them and you want them to be a part of community?
Do you take the time to look someone in the eye, let someone know that you’re glad they’re part of your life?
Do you speak affirming words to them?
Do you offer forgiveness where it’s needed?
Paul is dead serious about the fact that we’re to make every effort to maintain the unity of the Spirit.
And he’s very serious when he says, “Be completely humble and completely gentle and completely patient.”
The oneness, the unity of God’s people is something that is unspeakably prized by God, and I charge you today — Make every effort. Pay any price. Spare no cost to maintain what matters so much to God.
And maybe you could start today.
Maybe there’s someone who’s next to you or real near you who is lonely or discouraged or afraid or worried and just needs someone to listen for a moment, or needs someone to encourage them, or to take a second to pray for them.
Make every effort to maintain the unity of the Spirit.
Alright, let me pray for us.
Blue Oaks Church