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Unity in the Body of Christ
By David B. Smith

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iBelieve: Love is the Defining Mark | PDF Version

I’ll never forget standing in the pool to baptize my friend Lupe. Why was it such a unique experience? Well, the water didn’t even come up my waist, because I am your typical aging 6’ 2” graying-goatee California guy. I was the interim pastor of Upper Room Fellowship, a small but delightful congregation of young Korean professionals. Our church was located in the mostly Chinese part of Temple City. And Lupe was a sweet Hispanic lady who lived in a trailer on the not-so-prosperous side of the I-10 freeway!

Now that is the unified Body of Christ! A wondrous rainbow indeed.

The night before Jesus died, He had a last supper with twelve people, all Judean guys, who pretty much looked all alike. But as the shadows of Gethsemane crept toward the disciples, He already knew that the Christian Church about to explode forth on Sunday morning would have male and female, rich and poor, Jew and Gentile, liberals and conservatives, Republicans and Democrats, and perhaps even Dodger and Giant fans in it. Racial issues would rise to the fore; new doctrines and philosophies would threaten to tear this fledgling movement apart.

And so Jesus, His heart bursting with love, offered up this prayer: “May they be brought to complete unity to let the world know that You sent Me and have loved them even as You have loved Me.” He added this personal directive to the twelve men who had just spent that very day bickering and arguing among themselves: “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you love one another” (John 17:23, 13:34, 35).

Unity is a powerful witness. No bold, global movement gains traction when there is evident division. In Mere Christianity C. S. Lewis remarks that onlookers see the friction in many churches and quickly walk away. “So that’s your vaunted new man? Give me the old kind!” In the 2008 presidential race, one candidate’s team was a smooth, well-organized, fire-on-all-cylinders organization where everyone relentlessly and cheerfully pushed in the same direction. “No drama” was their watchword. Another group’s cause was cursed with a seemingly endless parade of squabbles, power trips, and petty annoyances. Hint: the team with unity triumphed in the end. And the entire New Testament calls the Church of Jesus to a self-sacrificing, faithful effort to achieve and display a kind of unity that can only be created by a grand and common cause.

Unity through Jesus Christ. That cause is the resurrected Jesus! In Ephesians, Paul echoes Jesus’ Upper Room prayer with this exhortation: Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. Now count the “ones” in this next verse: There is one body and one Spirit just as you were called to one hope when you were called one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of us all, who is over all and through all and in all (4:3-5). The ideal is for Christianity to be one unified church, bonded together by the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 12:13), and focused on Jesus as our Lord and Savior and our chosen singular theme.

1. We must love Jesus supremely; this leads to unity with all the others who do too! While interfaith dialogue on doctrinal differences can be edifying and lead to an improved theology, Christians do well to keep their primary focus on the gospel message and Jesus’ commission to take the good news to a dying world. Titus 2:13: . . . While we wait for the blessed hope the glorious appearing of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ. Someone has suggested the illustration of a bicycle wheel: the closer each of us is to the hub, the closer we will be to each of the other spokes!

2. Those whom Christ loves, we must equally love. In Matthew 25:40, He reminds us: “Whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of Mine, you did for Me.” It took quite some time for the eleven surviving disciples to truly understand how passionately Jesus cared about Samaritans, about Gentiles, about outsiders, about the poor and the lame. Jesus has an intense love for people we might nudge to the sidelines with a surge of built-in prejudice; we need to see them as He sees them. Where we resent people of fragile faith, Jesus feels compassion; where we are impatient with backsliders, Jesus has a heart of sympathy and understanding. What’s more, we are all equals at the foot of the Cross. The church that sends missionaries is not in any way superior to the church that receives them.

How do we focus on, seek, and achieve unity?

1. Recognize it as God’s cherished dream and biblical command. Jesus doesn’t simply suggest that we forgive one another; He commands it! God’s grace is like a mighty ocean; if we ease ourselves into its cooling and eternal depths, we must face the fact that all of God’s other beloved sinners are permitted to bathe there as well. Pastor Rick Warren of the successful Saddleback Church reports that all new members actually sign a pledge promising to protect the unity of their fellowship.

2. Seek to think as Jesus thinks, to deliberately choose to have the “mind of Christ.” May the God who gives endurance and encouragement give you a spirit of unity among yourselves as you follow Christ Jesus, so that with one heart and mouth you may glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ (Romans 15:5, 6). I appeal to you, brothers, that all of you agree with one another so that there may be no divisions among you and that you may be perfectly united in mind and thought (1 Corinthians 1:10). It is good news that each of us who is linked to Jesus will find our tastes and habits and even lifestyles shaped and sanctified. 

3. Obey all that Jesus teaches about sacrificing self. Wouldn’t it bring unity if Christians stoutly refused to sue one another (1 Corinthians 6:7), treated one another according to the Golden Rule (Matthew 7:12), turned the other cheek and went the second mile (Matthew 5:39-41)? Paul repeatedly advises Christians to conduct themselves according to a lifestyle designed to bring harmony, not dissension – quiet, sober, paying taxes, deferring to one another.

4. Avoid arguing needlessly and fruitlessly about nonessential matters (Titus 3:9). The Bible is a settled and solid framework for the Church; issues that the Holy Spirit has chosen to leave open for this time cannot be — and need not be — resolved by our ongoing petty arguments.

5. Understand that unity doesn’t mean uniformity! First, God has given a splendid multitude of gifts to various people in His church; we each — as “body parts” — have a unique portfolio of talents in order to serve the common good of the body (1 Corinthians 12). In addition, there is room within the global church for distinct groups to praise and worship and proclaim truth in a variety of means pleasing to the Lord, with drums or without.

John Stott writes with some chagrin about visiting parts of Africa where the local believers suffered through a heavy Anglican liturgy, with British-style cathedrals and bishops in thick robes uncomfortably presiding over formal services. But in the lyrics of the recent contemporary praise song, It’s the song of the redeemed rising from the African plain. It’s the song of the forgiven drowning out the Amazon rain. The song of Asian believers filled with God’s holy fire. It’s every tribe, every tongue, every nation, a love song born of a grateful choir. It’s all God’s children singing, glory, glory, Hallelujah, He reigns!  

View related article: Where Everybody Knows Your Name

David B. Smith writes from California. (14 of 28) His web page is davidsmithbooks.com. Biblebay Copyright © 2014. Click here for content usage information.