Unity: A Divine Mandate
When you see unity you want it.
It’s a beautiful thing and I think God hardwired that longing into our DNA as humans.
A handful of years ago I was in a stadium filled with thousands of people at a Christian leadership conference. It was men and women, old and young, leaders and laymen, from different denominations and places across the country and world. From the stage a question was asked:
“Who is leading in isolation and discouragement?”
Thousands stood to their feet. I was shocked. These were the leaders and influencers in the Christian community. Those who were not standing were asked to rise and pray for their brothers and sisters in Christ. This was a pivotal moment. A stadium filled with thousands of people stood as one body united and prayed with each other, over each other and for each other.
In my soul something broke open that day. I witnessed what unity in the body of Christ looks like. It was a Revelation 5 moment where by the blood of Christ, redeemed people from every tribe and language and culture and nation were united.
This experience exposed an unidentified longing — that we the Church would stand together on all that we agree on, instead of on what divides us.
The contradictory combo of unity and diversity are God’s design.
Throughout Scripture God reveals his heart for unity, but not uniformity.
1) Look at Creation (Genesis 1:26-28)
Look at creation with all its glorious diversity from plants and animal to men and women. As humans we were designed to be different but united in purpose.
2) Remember the Promises of God (Genesis 12:3, 18:18, 22:18)
Remember, the promises made to Abraham are to be a blessing to all nations on earth.
3) Reflect on the Lineage of Christ (Ruth 4, 1 Chronicles 2, Matthew 1)
Reflect on how a diversity of people, positions and backgrounds were grafted into the lineage of Christ including scandalous women and foreigners like Rahab and Ruth.
4) Consider Jesus’ last Will and Testament for all Believers (John 17:20-23)
Consider how Jesus connected across the lines of socioeconomic class, theological positions, gender, generation, and cultures. His last will and testament for all believers is that they would be one, brought to complete unity so that the world would know His Father.
5) We are One Body with Many Parts (1 Corinthians 12:12-27)
Press into the idea that we, God’s people, are meant to be one body with many parts which are interdependent on each other in order for the body to function at full capacity.
This image of unity is a contrast to what we see in our culture.
We live in a divided world. Our nation is fractured; Our churches are siloed. We live in monochromatic spaces, finding ourselves surrounded by people who look, vote, pray, eat, and think a lot like us. The breastfeeding moms congregate separate from the bottle feeders. We are divided down to bike riders versus suburban drivers; paleo versus fast food; recycling versus loading up the dumpster.
We condemn, judge, shame and shun each other. This is the enemy’s strategy, to separate us from God and then from each other (Genesis 3). When we are separated based on differences, we remain weak. When we unite around what we agree on, we are stronger and can accomplish more for His Kingdom than we could ever do on our own.
It’s Jesus who came to break down the walls of hostility that divide us (Ephesians 2:12).
It’s in Christ that “the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love as each part does its work” (Ephesians 4:16).
Dr. John M. Perkins, a pastor, Bible teacher, author, and civil rights activist, who dedicated his life to reconciliation wrote,
“Each person, each individual offers a unique representation of God’s image. We need to know each other, love each other, serve alongside each other, and worship with each other to truly know the fullness of who God is.”
Our differences are an asset, not a problem.
With all of our unique experiences, skills, personalities, styles and gifting, we are stronger and can best represent Jesus to the world together.
When the Church models unity in a divided world, we become a city on a hill that shines brightly in dark times. When unified, we become a beacon where isolated, discouraged and hurting people can come and find a Savior who can fill the longing in their hearts.
I realize this looks good on paper. But the reality is, interdependence is messy. In our humanity we fail, disappoint and frustrate each other. We have strong opinions, convictions, theological and ideological differences and these differences are real and significant.
We can and should have strong beliefs. This is the messy part where we come together with the tension of our differences while maintaining our personal convictions and beliefs and yet find places where we are unified in healthy and purposeful ways. It’s in the tension where God uses our differences to slough off blind spots, sin, and limited perspectives.
My friend Karen Robinson suggested we are meant to be a salad, a colorful mixture of vegetables, protein, croutons and a few nuts (pun intended!). It’s the dressing that unifies all the flavors into an entree.
Salads are not meant to be a puree from the Vitamixer. And so it is with Jesus. He is what unifies His people. He embraces the fullness of our diversity and mixes us together to better represent the fullness of who He is to the world.
We tend to look for church, government and social programs to solve the issue of division and hatred. But the pursuit of unity is a divine mandate from God and it’s a “me” problem. I’m convinced I must first look within myself to do what is in my power to live out this mandate. By God’s grace I get to be part of His solution.
Ask the Lord to identify places where you can pursue unity across denominations, politics, generations, socioeconomics and cultures. Look for areas of intersection with people who don’t look, think or vote like you. Find shared passions and areas where you are united in purpose and calling. Pray big and start small, one relationship at a time.
Prioritize relationships over being right. This is helpful in marriages and applies to all relationships. Be quick to listen and seek to understand. Know who you are in Christ and trust Him to do the heavy lifting in the hearts of others. Real relationships allows us to lean into differences so they become a strength instead of a point of division.
Do not be easily discouraged
If interdependence in the body of Christ was easy, everyone would be doing it; Jesus would not have prayed for it; the Scriptures would not have mandated it. The enemy wants you to give up and feel unqualified and powerless. But you have an assignment. Do not be discouraged or dismayed. Do your job!
We the Church have been reconciled to Jesus, now let’s be reconciled to each other.
Joy is a Co-Founder of Joy of It, an organization on mission to unite together, to build up together, so that we can live out the Gospel together. Joy of It looks for points of intersection where churches, nonprofits, and individuals can meet to collaborate and partner in creating multicultural, multi-generational and multi-socioeconomic spaces — where we are stronger and best represent Jesus to the world as allies instead of adversaries.