Saturday, 12 October 2013

JESUS: the Reason for Unity

     In 1 Corinthians 1:13 Paul asks the rhetorical question: “Is Christ divided?”1 Although the anticipated response is “no,” in actuality many would have to answer in the affirmative (both then and now). Should Christ be divided? Absolutely not! Yet this is the tragic reality when the emblematic body of Christ (Colossians 1:18) is internally besieged and fragmented. 
     After the Roman soldiers had secured the physical body of Jesus to the cross, they divided his garments and cast lots for them (Matthew 27:35). But are we any better than these murderous gamblers when we divide Christ’s spiritual body -- the church which he shed his blood to purchase? Are we not guilty of crucifying our Lord all over again when we contribute to, participate in, or do nothing to stop the division of his body? When the church is rent asunder because of stubborn pride, selfishness, apathy or ignorance, surely the Lord is crying out, “Why are you persecuting Me?” (Acts 9:4).
     Consider the apostle Paul, who at one time purposefully tried to destroy the church of God. Have you ever noticed how much and how often he stresses unity in his epistles? (Romans. 15:5-7; 1 Corinthians 1:10; 2 Corinthians 13:11; Galatians 3:28; et al.). From his conversion to the end of his life Paul had Jesus living in his heart (Galatians 2:20). You can’t have Jesus inside you without possessing a genuine concern for unity. “For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as the Lord does the church” (Ephesians 5:29). To be truly Christ-like is to have a sincere interest in the unity of God’s people.
     In John 17:20-23 Jesus prayed not only for first-century disciples but also for you and me. His earnest prayer was “that they all may be one.” In this small segment of his petition we learn at least three things about the oneness the Lord wants us to have. First, the kind of unity: “just as” Christ and his Father are one (v. 21). Can you imagine any disagreements, disputes, complaints, hurt feelings, or clashes between Jesus and his Father? They are perfectly united in mind and in purpose. Second, the inspiration for unity:  “I in them” (v. 23). Again, if we have Jesus abiding in our hearts (Ephesians 3:17), we will have the same desire for unity that he has. Third, the reason for unity: “that the world may believe...” (vv. 21, 23). One of the greatest hindrances to world evangelism is a divided brotherhood. Our love for the lost (another attribute of Christ) ought to generate within us a powerful yearning to be unified.
     How does it make you feel when unity is strained, jeopardized, or destroyed? Do you find yourself thinking, “I don’t care, as long as I get my way,” or “We don’t need him, her, or them anyway, and we’re probably better off without them”? When division occurs, shouldn’t it break our hearts? Do you ever have trouble sleeping at night because of your “deep concern for all the churches” (2 Corinthians 11:28)? Can people recognize you as a Christian based on the love you exhibit for your brethren? (John 13:34-35)
     Unity is promoted, not just by our words, but by our lives. Jesus increased “in favor with God and men” (Luke 2:52). He lived above reproach. This doesn’t mean that everybody liked Jesus. But any discord between him and others was not his fault; he could not legitimately be blamed. The Bible says: “If it is possible, as much as depends on you, live peaceably with all men” (Romans 12:18). The Lord wants us to be at peace with everyone, but two important qualifiers are implied: (1) it is not always possible; and (2) it often depends on me, viz. my attitudes and behavior. If there is a problem between another person and me, what have I done to cause or contribute to it, and more importantly, what am I doing to rectify it? (Matthew 5:23-24; 18:15)        
     In order to promote unity, should we not think and act like Jesus? What was his unity-inspiring manner? Isaiah prophesied: “He will not cry out, nor raise His voice . . .” (42:2). In other words, the Lord was typically a quiet, gentle, self-controlled person who was not characterized by using loud, abrasive, and angry words (cf. Matthew 11:29). There may have been occasions when a more direct or even confrontational approach was called for (e.g. Matthew 21:23-46), but this seems to have been the exception rather than the rule. Solomon said: “A soft answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger” (Proverbs 15:1). How many church problems could be avoided if brethren would just learn to say and do the right things in the right way? 
     The power of truth is often weakened when it is applied with too much ferocity, and many discussions end up generating more heat than light. But what about those who are sinning?! “Brethren, if a man is overtaken in any trespass, you who are spiritual restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness, considering yourself lest you also be tempted” (Galatians 6:1). But what about those who are opposed to what is right? “And the servant of the Lord must not quarrel but be gentle to all, able to teach, patient, in humility correcting those who are in opposition, if God perhaps will grant them repentance, so that they may know the truth” (2 Timothy 2:24-25). Jesus died even for those whom we perceive as trouble-makers and knuckle-heads, and he wants them to be saved too. If people can’t see the love of Christ in our words and actions, our labors will most likely be in vain.
     Jesus was not a weak, cowardly, passive individual. When something was wrong, he didn’t sit back in silence hoping it would go away or sort itself out. He took appropriate action. When his disciples demonstrated a lack of faith, the Lord aptly rebuked them (Mark 4:40). When Peter spoke hastily or irrationally or wrongly, Jesus lovingly but firmly corrected him (Matthew 26:33-34). When religious leaders were hypocritical and oppressive, he boldly confronted them (Matthew 15:1-12). When merchants made a mockery and profit out of religion, Jesus stepped in and did something about it (John 2:14-17). He was a man of integrity and conviction, and he also had the wisdom and self-control to take appropriate action as dictated by the circumstances.
     If Jesus were physically present today, what would he do about the current condition of his church? Would he approve of the “unity in diversity” concept or the “agree to disagree” mentality? The answer is, yes and no. The church is obviously comprised of diverse people -- ethnically, culturally, personality, etc. -- yet we can all be united in Christ (Galatians 3:26-28). But it is hard to imagine Jesus approving of the diversity of doctrinal beliefs and practices that is tolerated, condoned, and justified by many today.
     Are we to simply “agree to disagree” about matters which affect a person’s eternal destiny? Is being “accepting and tolerant” of almost everybody and everything an expression of the love of Christ? The brethren at Corinth were proud of their acceptance and tolerance of an immoral brother (1 Corinthians 5:1-5). But is it loving to allow (and even encourage) people to lose their souls? What would Jesus do? Love them? Yes! Forgive them? Certainly! Die for them? Absolutely! But Jesus would also have enough honesty, compassion, and courage to say: “unless you repent you shall all likewise perish” (Luke 13:3); “. . . go and sin no more” (John 8:11). 
     If you had a cancerous tumor growing inside your body, what would you do? Would you do nothing, hoping that it goes away or at least doesn’t affect your health? Would you rationalize, accepting it as a new and cherished member of your body? Or would you take the doctor’s advice and either treat it or have it removed? Some things are admittedly painful for a time but necessary in the long-run. The love of Christ is not exhibited when we ignore or compromise things which ultimately destroy unity and contribute to the loss of souls.
     When the church is no different from the world (i.e. senseless bickering, outbursts of anger, hurtful words, loose moral boundaries, vague convictions, etc.), why would anyone want to leave the world to be part of it? We must allow Jesus to make a difference in our lives, individually and collectively, and strive to be more like him. Each of us must have the heart of Jesus to desire unity, the wisdom of Jesus to promote unity, and the conviction of Jesus to pursue the right kind of unity.
     “Behold, how good and how pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together in unity!” (Psalm 133:1).
--Kevin L. Moore

     1 All scripture quotations in English are from the NKJV.

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Modified from the original version appearing in The Exhorter (Jan.-March 1999).

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