Unity: fact or fiction?

Now the full number of those who believed were of one heart and soul, and no one said that any of the things that belonged to him was his own, but they had everything in common. And with great power the apostles were giving their testimony to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and great grace was upon them all. There was not a needy person among them, for as many as were owners of lands or houses sold them and brought the proceeds of what was sold and laid it at the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to each as any had need. (Acts 4:32-35 ESV)

It’s humbling to think that a local gang could be doing a better job than our local church of caring for its members. While you would be hard pressed to find a church that did not do anything to help anyone, the bewildering generosity of the early church seems very much like a thing of the past.

On a broader scale, the “heart and soul” of the modern Church, compared to the “full number of those who believed” in Acts 4, are as divided as an unfinished jigsaw puzzle. Things that range from doctrinal statements to race have contributed to the fault lines that have been drawn in the body of Christ, which become more evident with every passing Sunday.

Why does there seem to be such a disconnect between the unity Christ desires for his body—so much so that he makes it his dying request (John 17:20-26)—and our practical experiences?

To be sure, it is important to remember that the Church is and always will be a spiritual organism. As believers in Christ, we are quickened, empowered and governed by the Holy Spirit. The unity that Christ desires for his church can only be attained through his divine grace, which is why he says in John 17:22, “I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one.”

To this effect, Paul pens the following words to the church at Ephesus:

I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit—just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call— one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all. (Ephesians 4:1-6 ESV)

If ever there was a passage that called for unity, it would be this one, as Paul emphasizes the singularity of our common faith. Before he talks about the Holy Spirit that makes this unity possible, though, he first points out the responsibility that falls upon every believer.

We have been called to be humble and gentle, exercise patience, demonstrate love and have a zeal to maintain peace within the body of Christ. While God certainly works through us to achieve Christ-likeness in our relationships with other believers, we can do our fair share to stagnate that process (Eph. 4:30; 1 Thessalonians 5:19).

Essentially, God is calling us to die to ourselves. The same humility that Paul mentions in Ephesians 4 is also referenced in Philippians 2, where he characterizes humility by giving us the tangible example of Christ. He writes:

Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others. In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus: “Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death—even death on a cross!” (Phil. 2:3-8)

While we often give reverence and honor to Jesus for what the preceding verses say of him, I think we seldom consider the invitation to aspire for this kind of humility in all of our relationships. When Christ is our motivation, it allows our agenda to take a backseat and his to take the wheel.

Suddenly, things like being excluded from a subgroup or even being offended in some way begin to matter less and less; in fact, “the only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love” (Galatians 5:6).

To end, Jesus says to his disciples in John 13:35, “By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” While different entities are known for different things, the Church is to be known by love, the kind that is demonstrated in Acts 4. To not set our hearts on demonstrating this kind of love could mean that we are allowing the standard to be set by gangs.

Are we really okay with this?


~ by christianballenger on October 29, 2013.

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