And, to crown all, you must clothe yourselves in love, which holds all the other qualities together and completes them. Only Christ can enable men to live in a right relationship with each other. It is this unifying power of His which must dictate your every decision, for you were meant to be one united body. Colossians 3:14-15 (William Barclay Translation)
It is incumbent upon every Christian to pursue unity in the Body of Christ. We must be intentional about it. The challenge to each of us is to individually take the responsibility to be agents, catalysts for harmony and love among the Saints. Our practical decisions that we constantly make in the way we treat fellow Christians must be DICTATED by Christ. And the power to ACT on these decisions must come from the unifying power of the Holy Spirit within us.
Naturally, we are not the source of unity no more than we are the "source" of love or wisdom. But we are children in a Family, the Family of God...and the Master of our House has given us some plain instructions...
A new commandment I give unto you, That ye love one another; as I have loved you, that ye also love one another. 35 By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another. John 13:34-35 (KJV)
Think on these words from the heart of your Heavenly Father recorded by the Apostle Paul in Ephesians:
I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, 2 with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, 3 eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. 4 There is one body and one Spirit--just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call-- 5 one Lord, one faith, one baptism, 6 one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all. Ephesians 4:1-6 (ESV)
In this scripture there are several keys. The invitation is for each of us to take the personal responsibility to intentionally pick up the key and put it in the lock and turn the thing to open the door into the blessings of unity:
1) "walk" - this is about what we DO! What we "DO" with our deeds, our words and our thoughts. To walk in a manner worthy of God's call on our individual lives implies holiness and godliness in our deeds, our words and our attitudes. If you are walking in an unholy way and doing, thinking and speaking in an ungodly way you are certainly NOT walking in a manner worthy of God's call! There are no acceptable alternatives to holiness and godliness.
2) "humility" - make that "ALL humility!" As Doug Small of Project Pray has said, "Grab a towel and make a mad dash to the back of the line." Walk in holiness with all humility. Humility originates in the heart and it is a frame of reference that we are to intentionally pursue: Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will exalt you. James 4:10 (ESV) It is far better if we humble ourselves than for God to do the humbling for us - and He will...we are His Children. There is no acceptable alternative to humility.
3) "gentleness" - When you are gentle your deeds leave no harmful footprints on other people's hearts. When you are gentle your words are light and airy to the ears of the listener. When you are gentle your thoughts are not dark and scheming and hard and critical. Jesus is gentle...if you know Him you already know this. You may want to argue this one with me, but the truth is, there is no acceptable alternative to gentleness. Go ahead, ask Jesus.
4) "patience" - Patience is the steel in love. What happens in your deeds, your words and your thoughts when you run out of patience with someone? Patience is endurance, perseverance, faithfulness. Patience is not about what we like or dislike...it's about who we love: "Love is patient...." 1Corinthians 13:4a (ESV) If obeying the commandment of Jesus is our goal, there is no acceptable alternative to patience. A good definition of patience is the next phrase: "bearing with one another." Patience can bear the load of unpleasant or unwanted input from your neighbor.
5) "eager to maintain" - "Eager" has to do with our energy and our focus and our attitude. "Maintain" has to do with our commitment and our time. We must not let the clock run out on unity and peace. There is no slack time in this. We cannot take a break from the rigors and discipline of pursuing unity. There is no acceptable alternative to unity and peace. "Eager to maintain" is the opposite of "easy believism!" "Eager to maintain" crushes our apathy, our presumption, our cowardice, and our sloth! Deal with it! If you are not willing or don't think it is important to be eagerly committed to unity and peace, go tell your Heavenly Father that He's on His own in this. Tell Him if He wants peace in your Sunday School class, or your Deacon's meeting, or your Wednesday Night Prayer Meeting, or your family, or among your Christian friends, or in your church fellowship, or among the churches in your town to do it Himself...you're just there to watch...or worse!
If you are a participant in a Christian group, to the extent you are pursuing a worthy walk in humility, gentleness, and patience, eagerly committed to unity and peace, to that extent you are a catalyst for "maintaining" unity and peace. If you do not consciously attend to keeping the unity of the group your unity will largely remain theological. If you do not intentionally pursue sustained peace your peace will often only be theoretical.
As Ephesians 4:3 says, quoted above, Christian unity is OF THE HOLY SPIRIT. The world cannot have THIS unity; but the world can see it. WE can have this unity because we have the Holy Spirit in each of us. "Eager to maintain" suggests our INTENTIONAL cooperation with the Holy Spirit. It suggests a participatory, catalytic attitude in the role we play in the relationships God brings into our lives. We are not to presume that sustained "unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace" is automatic or act like it is some mysterious magical "poof!" NO! NO! NO! In the name of Jesus Christ, for the sake of His Kingdom, we are called to be PEACEMAKERS!!! That's, "peace-M-A-K-E-R-S."
Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God. Matthew 5:9 (ESV)
We are to make unity real - to "realize" it - in our relationships. The question is not, "Will the Holy Spirit actually come through this time and give us Christian unity in our relationships?" Rather, the question is, "Will I do my part - "as much as lieth within me" (Romans 12:18) - to effect the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace?! ...in cooperation with the work of the Holy Spirit in my heart. Note the prayer of Jesus:
And now I am no more in the world, but these are in
the world, and I come to thee. Holy Father, keep through thine own
name those whom thou hast given me, that they may be one, as we are.
John 17:11 (KJV)
Neither pray I for these alone, but for them also which shall believe on me through their word; That they all may be one; as thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee, that they also may be one in us: that the world may believe that thou hast sent me. John 17:20-21 (KJV)
And the glory which thou gavest me I have given them; that they may be one, even as we are one: I in them, and thou in me, that they may be made perfect in one; and that the world may know that thou hast sent me, and hast loved them, as thou hast loved me. John 17:22-23 (KJV)
Our Christian witness and the impact we have as the Body of Christ in the world today is not so much, what activity we choose to do together, as it is, the quality of the harmony, love, peace and unity in which we do it. The battle is sustaining love. The battle is sustaining peace. The battle is sustaining Christian unity. The battle is following our General's instructions. Not to worry: the strength of our unity, the bond of our peace, and the power of our love will generate a supernatural impact in the world! As the Body of Christ, we either get this right or we keep going 'round the mountain of paltry impact in the world and relational divisiveness and stress in the Church. It must be, "First things, first!"
Jesus Christ, on the Eve of His Passion, thought Christian unity to be of such practical importance that He prayed (quoted above) three times to the Father on the subject - in the same prayer! [Click here for more on Christ's prayer for unity.]
You may feel inadequate to take these thoughts seriously. Certainly, by our experience, most of us would probably say Christian unity is, at best, fleeting. From God's point of view, Christian unity is an established fact! From our point of view it must be an endless pursuit. Where do we get the love? Where do we get the wisdom? We need God to help us...this is a "no-brainer!" We must not take it for granted.
One last thought: Where do we start? It starts with ME! It starts with YOU! It starts with those who are closest to us. It starts in our home; our extended family; our neighbors who profess faith in Christ; our fellow workers on the job who profess faith in Christ; in the check-out line at Wal-Mart; in our church fellowship; in our attitude toward fellow Believers in the public eye; in our attitude toward fellow Believers in the church down the street. It starts in the quality of your Christian relationships. .......pray without ceasing!
If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him. 6 But let him ask in faith, with no doubting, for the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea that is driven and tossed by the wind. 7 For that person must not suppose that he will receive anything from the Lord; 8 he is a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways. James 1:5-8 (ESV)
In closing, let me quote again from our Master's lips:
"Blessed are the
peacemakers for they shall be called the children of God." Matthew
Click here to browse to Max Lacado's thoughts on unity among believers.
Click here for thoughts from Doug Small's blog related to Christian unity in the workplace.
[Scripture quotations from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version® (ESV®), are copyrighted © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.]