Have you ever been part of an organization that introduced a mission statement to promote unity of mission only to find a year later not much has changed? Sadly, I have yet to see a business group or even a church change with just the most well-crafted mission statement.
In Ephesians chapter 4, Paul writes quite a bit on unity. He calls us to walk in humility, gentleness, patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit. He describes later in v11-13 church leaders that would be used to build up others until we all attain unity in the faith. The problem most groups and sadly even some churches face with unity is often rooted in our self-centeredness. This stands in opposition to the picture Paul paints of humility and deferring to the needs of others while building people up in the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
In John 13:34-35 and 17:20-23 Jesus calls His followers to unity. Surprisingly, the result he cites is not what we might expect. “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.” The result he cites is a church that through Biblical unity actually displays the love of Christ to a world in need of the Gospel message.
Jesus, help me to walk humbly, eager to love my brothers and sisters, so that in your church your love might be displayed to a world in need.
I sat in a group of pastors this morning as I have numerous times before; praying for unity and revival. We talked about various church matters. We fought off the urge to compete or brag about our church. Some argued in a Christianese. I’m sure your experience in a group of friends is similar; we know we are friends, but all the oddness of our differences and sin make feel-good life illusive. Inevitably someone breaks the “I’ve got it all together” ice and lets others see the ugly. For some, the discomfort of the moment overwhelms and they get defensive and others try to fix it. Some know the reality of sin, suffering, and being “in process”, and are moved with compassion and show the stuff of genuine caring.
The bride is a mess and I’m learning to love all of her!
We can easily forget that unity of the church is not rooted in sameness. To put it bluntly, we don’t like it. Most of the time we think unity means others will be more like us. Lord have mercy and grant us much grace of forgiveness. We are all so different! And that’s great! We are not called to be exactly like one another. No, in fact Peter says that even the many gifts given to the church accentuate our differences to exhibit a varied, or manifold grace (1 Peter 4:7-11). When we take a wider view, we see a kind of multifaceted love functioning in and through the bride that glorifies the greatness of the one true God. What a beautiful mess!
Also, fighting my self-righteousness, I need to be reminded that the unity of the church is not rooted in a gathering of sinless people. We are a hot mess of forgiven sinners in process. Sounds obvious, right? Then why am I surprised when people sin greatly? Friends, Peter tells us that the bride will require a truck load of love and forgiveness supplied by a singular source: the cross of Christ. And once again, Jesus unifies a band of sinners into a glorious worldwide display of his greatness!
Welcome to the unified mess called the church.