Loving Well: Unity within the Body of Christ
You don’t have to venture much further than your phone screen to realize that unity seems scarce. Headlines, videos, tweets, and texts bombard us on a daily basis, telling us what to think and how to pick a side—you’re either for us, or you’re against us. So what do we do when we decide what we’re “for” and then learn that the person sitting in the seat next to us feels differently? The Bible gives us a pretty good picture.
“Therefore I, a prisoner for serving the Lord, beg you to lead a life worthy of your calling, for you have been called by God. Always be humble and gentle. Be patient with each other, making allowance for each other’s faults because of your love. Make every effort to keep yourselves united in the Spirit, binding yourselves together with peace. For there is one body and one Spirit, just as you have been called to one glorious hope for the future. There is one Lord, one faith, one baptism, and one God and Father, who is over all and in all and living through all.” [Ephesians 4:1-6]
Unity is something that the church has struggled with since its beginning. The issues were wrapped in a different package than today’s, but the division is startlingly similar. Most importantly, the call to love the people we’re with has never changed. It doesn’t say we are called to agree but to love. The Church was just beginning in the time of Paul’s writing and the number of Christians was small compared to the other religious majorities of the area. Unity was of the utmost importance to Paul simply because the church as a whole, in order to survive outside persecution, needed to not unravel from the inside first.
Imagine if Jesus had come, died for everyone’s sins, and resurrected, only for Him to watch as his earliest followers fought amongst themselves so much that the church was never capable of spreading the Gospel to the ends of the Earth as they (and we) were called to do. It would almost be as though the church took His sacrifice for granted—something that they used to promote their own agendas without loving their neighbors enough to share the simple truth of Christ’s love with them as well.
Before Jesus ascended to Heaven, He gave the Great Commission, which says “I have been given all authority in heaven and on earth. Therefore, go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Teach these new disciples to obey all the commands I have given you. And be sure of this: I am with you always, even to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:18-20). If we choose to submit to Jesus’ authority, it means we submit to His command of loving our neighbor as our self (Mat. 22:39). If we choose to submit to Jesus’ authority, it means we submit to His command of removing the log from our own eye before we address the speck in someone else’s (Mat. 7:1-5). We submit to His command of loving and praying for our enemies (Mat. 5:44).
But Jesus also tells us in the Sermon on the Mount that “God blesses those who hunger and thirst for justice, for they will be satisfied” [Mat. 5:6]. Our desire for justice is validated by Jesus. The Bible actually rejects apathy. But it’s important to remember that God is the God of Justice and he is the one who ultimately carries it out. In Ephesians Paul tells us that “we are not fighting against flesh-and-blood enemies, but against evil rulers and authorities of the unseen world…” (6:12). People are not the enemy but beloved children of God. Our hearts and prayers should always be to see those around us through the eyes of the Lord. Having God’s perspective is the key for attainable unity—otherwise, we will strive until we reach the end of our ropes and then fall into condemnation and offense.
If humility, love, grace, and a whole lot of patience are required for Biblical unity, how in the world are we supposed to make this happen? If you’re anything like me, you know that one of those things (much less all four) is barely my natural inclination. They don’t always come easily. But in His Great Commission, Jesus gives us really good news. He is with us always. Unity on our own? No way. But unity when we rely on Christ to supply all the humility, love, grace, and patience we need? Now that seems possible.
Invite the Lord to soften your heart towards those you feel divided from. Ask him to increase your capacity for humility, love, grace, and patience. He extends all humility, love, grace, patience, and more to us when we don’t deserve it. It’s the least we can do to try and reciprocate the gesture to those we are called to build up.
Erin Gilleland - Media Intern