Posts Tagged ‘unity’

The Struggle for Unity

October 6th, 2017

Finally, brothers and sisters, rejoice! Strive for full restoration, encourage one another, be of one mind, live in peace. And the God of love and peace will be with you. Greet one another with a holy kiss. All God’s people here send their greetings. May the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all. (2 Corinthians 13:11-14 NIV)

If it were not for the Holy Spirit of God I would despair for the unity of the church. We are so different from one another – backgrounds, personalities, cultures, ages, educations, opinions about Scriptures, opinions about priorities and how things ought to be done in church, and these only scratch the surface.

Add on top of these the personal histories we accumulate in life and in church life, the collection of hurts and betrayals we all carry in our souls. Elsewhere we are taught to “bear with one another” (Colossians 3:13). To bear with means to endure despite disappointments and difficulties, despite the things that people say and do that hurt us, despite those pretend smiles that people put on in our presence and then say terrible things behind our backs, despite old wounds of our past, despite fatigue, and despite how manipulative some people are.

Who can do such things? Who of us can forgive everything and start afresh with all people? Who can pretend as if nothing was said, as if no offense was given, as if there is no cause for disappointment or, at least, for distrust, despite the fact that the paint is often not even dry on our painful memories?

Our only hope is to stand daily in the grace and power of God, to surrender our strength and to ask God to fill us with Himself. “Lead me to the Rock that is higher than I,” was the prayer of David (Psalm 61:2). Thank God that we can live in His power! Thank God that there is a way of surrender to Him, to let Him wash over us in grace and to fill us with Himself!

And we should thank God for our challenges also, for the difficult people and circumstances, for they teach us of our need for greater strength – that is if they do not drive us completely crazy first.

Strive for full restoration: Do not stop short of this goal and never be satisfied with anything less that complete transformation or complete restoration of our souls into the image of God. The King James says simply, “be perfect,” but the NIV and the ESV both take the lead from two verses earlier where Paul wrote, “we are praying for your perfection” (2 Cor. 13:9). The NIV and ESV both correctly translate the word “full restoration” and “restoration” though there is nothing wrong with the translation of “perfection.”  This teaches the often emphasized goal of our conversion and transformation to be perfect like God is perfect (Leviticus 19:2 and Matt. 5:48 and 1 Peter 1:15).

Encourage one another: Paul did not have authority to tear them down, only to build them up (2 Cor. 13:10), and we also only have divine authority to build each other up (Eph. 4:29). Rebukes may be needed from time to time, but they should always be given in the context of the greatness of God’s grace. The goal is not to shame only, not to tear them down only, but ultimately to restore and perfect them.

Be of one mind: Agreement can only be found as we worship Christ and submit to His rule in our lives, and as we agree to support and follow our church leadership. We must have both in a church – surrender to the Lord and support for leadership. Being of our mind will never be experienced if everybody just voices his own opinion and demands his own way. There maybe discussions and studies and genuine questions asked, but ultimately, if we will be of one mind, we must agree to go the same direction.

Live in peace: There are a thousand things neighbors can argue about with one another. This morning, for example, I noticed that one of my young neighbors failed to properly sort his garbage – we share the same apartment building garbage containers. I decided that the most God-honoring thing I could do this morning was to simply take big bag of clothing he put in the container for general trash (and thereby using up all the space), and simply dropping it off at the proper disposal place on my way to work this morning – it took about five minutes to do that. If it happens repeatedly, then perhaps I should speak with him.

But to live in peace means to give everyone the benefit of the doubt that they mean well, to look for common interests and common goals, to exercise patience with one another, and, when necessary, to deal with differences in a clear and gracious way.

All of these things are possible only because of the grace of God and the Spirit of God. But we must keep our eyes on the goal of God for our lives and for one another’s lives. That we could desire in us and through us, as individuals and as a family of believers, that God would be glorified is the attitude that we must guard at all times.

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The Principle of Unity

August 24th, 2017

If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together. Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it. (1 Corinthians 12:16-17 ESV)

As we have been going through Second Corinthians for the past few weeks, a principle that Paul taught in First Corinthians is important to revisit – our unity. The principle of the unity of the Christian community is not an indispensable teaching of the Bible. This principle means that my faith impacts the Christian community around me and that their faith impacts me. Our experiences are not cordoned off from one another, rather the color of our faith bleeds over to one another, whether it runs red with passion or a pale blandness with apathy.

And not only to one another within the same church, but we are part of the worldwide Christian movement, and in some way we are part of the same whole. We influence one another and have an obligation toward one another.

We live in a day of heightened individualism, as though all that matter is what I think as a single person. We often hear the “self-help” teachers of today say in effect that you and I can create our own reality, at least mentally and emotionally. This teaching is partially true, but not wholly true. It is taught in the Bible in terms of personal responsibility – “The soul that sins, it shall die” (Ezek. 18:20), for example – and it is taught in terms of individual response of faith to the calling of Christ to our hearts – “I stand at the door and knock, if anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and sup with him and he with me” (Rev. 3:20) – yet none of these teachings is meant to teach us that we have no obligation toward the family of faith, or no influence over one another.

In this text above we see the corresponding principle that gives balance to our thinking, that just like our human bodies, so the body of Christ suffers together and is honored together. English author John Donne (died 1631) is known for the words “No man is an island, entire of itself.” He wrote:

All mankind is of one author, and is one volume; when one man dies, one chapter is not torn out of the book, but translated into a better language; and every chapter must be so translated…As therefore the bell that rings to a sermon, calls not upon the preacher only, but upon the congregation to come: so this bell calls us all: but how much more me, who am brought so near the door by this sickness….No man is an island, entire of itself…any man’s death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind; and therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee.

Churches in Europe, to this day, sound bells before their services begin, as an effort to call the people to the worship service. Yet today, and this is true both socially and spiritually, the church bells are simply reminders of a quaint cultural past, and offer no thought of obligation from the average European that he or she should respond to them.

This is the world in which we live, that human thinking seeks to deny a spiritual principle that God has embedded into our society. But God continually calls us back to realize our community with one another. This principle calls us to consider how we have influenced others and what role of responsibility do we have in the greater community. We have criticized other Christians when they have failed – notably those “tele-evangelists” and well-known leaders in the Christian community – but do we stop to think that we are all part of the same family? There is the need for the repentance in our hearts when this happens, to at least ask the question of the Holy Spirit, “Lord, is it I?” If it is only the neglect to pray for one another, it is still something to repent over (1 Sam. 12:23).

We should ask the Lord to search us to see what elements of the Christian community we support that we should not. We cannot and should not become busy-bodies, nor should we always go about condemning everything we think is wrong. We should trust that the Spirit works in every true believer (Jer. 31:34). We should also leave room for God’s judgment (Rom. 12:19), yet we should also consider whether we somehow support this matter, or we have neglected to pray for those people or over that matter.

And, above all of these things, we should especially develop the habit of being with other believers in times of devotion and spiritual growth. Paul commanded the Ephesian elders, “Keep watch over yourselves and all the flock of which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers” (Acts 20:28). We need one another. We need a close group of believers who support us and whom we can say that we are experiencing God together, suffering together and being honored together. Whatever God does with one Christian life is never done only with that one life, but there are others around them, prayer supporters, encouragers, examples, maybe rebukers and reprovers, and those who invest hope, mercy, and a vision for the future into our lives.

This is one of the great areas of neglect in today’s church life. And we should strive together to make it not be so in our lives. In God’s Word we read:

We who are strong have an obligation to bear with the failings of the weak, and not to please ourselves. Let each of us please his neighbor for his good, to build him up. For Christ did not please himself, but as it is written, “The reproaches of those who reproached you fell on me.” For whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, that through endurance and through the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope. May the God of endurance and encouragement grant you to live in such harmony with one another, in accord with Christ Jesus, that together you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore welcome one another as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God. (Rom. 15:1-7 ESV)

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