“I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me. The glory that you have given me I have given to them, that they may be one even as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that you sent me and loved them even as you loved me.” (John 17:20-23 ESV)
Unity simply for the sake of unity is never good. We should never just agree to be agreeable. Unity must always be based on several factors, among which are source, purpose and aim. You can be united but for the wrong reason. For example, there was a time when many Baptists were united in favor of slavery or against dancing. Fortunately, that stance has changed. It is not accidental that Jesus’ prayer for unity among His disciples comes immediately after His prayer that they be set apart from the world by the truth of God’s Word. Let that sink in for a moment… to be united in Christ, we must first be set apart by truth. But, before we jump into the “how” of Christian unity, let’s look at the “who” and “why” of unity. In other words, let’s look at the true source of Christian unity.
The true source of Christian unity is the powerful presence and work of the Holy Spirit. Honestly, the power and presence of the Holy Spirit is one of the most difficult aspects of the Christian life to really understand. But, I think this is because of two simple things that still plague our lives, our way of thinking is not fully transformed by Christ and we still primarily pursue a physical reality and fulfillment to daily living. Put simply, we don’t think about life the way Christ desires and we don’t pursue life the way Christ desires.
For example, Paul’s admonition to the Philippians tends to run against our modern view of life:
“So if there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort from love, any participation in the Spirit, any affection and sympathy, complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.” (Philippians 2:1-4 ESV)
We do most things from selfish ambition and conceit. We don’t work hard so God will be glorified, we work hard so we will be glorified. We don’t seek truth so that Christ will be exemplified, but so that we can feel justified. We don’t seek a promotion so our increased pay can provide more resources for feeding the hungry, but so we can buy some shiny new toy for others to see and covet. We don’t really count others as more significant than ourselves when we get upset about being overlooked for our efforts or knowledge. We think we are servant minded, until someone truly treats us like a servant. For unity to really happen, we must be of the same mind, same love, and in agreement as to our goals and pursuits. Real unity in the church comes from a common source, purpose, authority and desire which are all found in Christ.
“Those who are in the flesh cannot please God. You, however, are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if in fact the Spirit of God dwells in you. Anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him. But if Christ is in you, although the body is dead because of sin, the Spirit is life because of righteousness.” (Romans 8:8-10 ESV)
Notice that those who are in the flesh are unable to please God. While I’m certain most of you have heard or read that passage before, did you really pay attention to what it says? The powerful presence of God’s Spirit is in each of us, but NOT in the world. In fact, without the presence of the Holy Spirit we are completely incapable of pleasing God. In truth, without the Spirit of God we have no desire to please God but only to please ourselves. Any attempt we might make at pleasing God without the Spirit is truly just an attempt at influencing God for our own personal benefit or gain. So, our common source is the Spirit of God dwelling within each believer.
The church must be united in a common purpose, and that purpose must be the gospel of Jesus Christ. Too often, we lose sight of this in the church. We unite around programs or people and God’s power is absent and we wonder why. God’s power is often absent because God empowers what fulfills His purpose and we’ve left the gospel out of many of our programs and our people are often seeking personal recognition and not spiritual seed.
The only MESSAGE the church has is the gospel of Jesus Christ. The gospel is not a message of social reform, though it transforms society through transformed people. It is not a message of political reform, though it transforms nations through transformed lives. The gospel is not a message of cultural reformation, though it transforms culture through transformed thinking. Ultimately, the gospel is really a message of life for dead people.
“For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek.” (Romans 1:16 ESV)
We looked last week at the common authority in the life of believers, God’s Word. While we will not spend significant time on this issue this week, you can review the key points in last week’s post (click here). As believers we are to be set apart or sanctified by the truth of God’s Word. To reject the authority of scripture is to reject the authority of God in our lives. We cannot call ourselves followers of Christ while rejecting the authority of His very words.
Finally, the greatest desire a believer can have is that God’s glory would shine forth out of our hearts and through our actions. The greatest commandment we have been given is to love God with all of our heart, soul, mind, and strength. When we love Him above all else, a common desire begins to emerge… God’s glory. Paul says we are being “built” into a temple where God will take up residence (see Eph. 2:22). I believe this may be the biggest difference between what we want from a relationship with God and what God desires of His relationship with us. We want blessings and benefits from a relationship with God, but we fail to see how God’s desire, His glory, is the actual fulfillment of our desires.
“Delight yourself in the Lord, and he will give you the desires of your heart.” (Psalms 37:4 ESV)
If we learn to love God, to desire Him, above all else then God will begin to give us the desires of our heart. He will begin by giving us Himself. What more could we possibly desire? To have the very giver of life is to have all that life could possibly offer, and the unity of the people of God will also flow from it.
In the end, we are called to love one another. There may be some who might make us struggle in showing them Christ’s love, but to refuse to show God’s love to a brother or sister in Christ is to deny the grace by which we’ve been saved. It is to show contempt for God’s love…
“I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit—just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call— one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all. But grace was given to each one of us according to the measure of Christ’s gift.” (Ephesians 4:1-7 ESV)
“Whoever says he is in the light and hates his brother is still in darkness. Whoever loves his brother abides in the light, and in him there is no cause for stumbling. But whoever hates his brother is in the darkness and walks in the darkness, and does not know where he is going, because the darkness has blinded his eyes.” (1 John 2:9-11 ESV)