The night before His crucifixion, Jesus prayed an extended prayer that is recorded in John 17. Far and away, it is the longest prayer of Jesus of which we have the text. And it is a prayer focused on one great theme: the unity of God with His people and the unity of His people with one another. As He prayed to His Father, “I in them and You in Me—so that they may be brought to complete unity. Then the world will know that You sent Me and have loved them even as You have loved Me” (John 17:23).
Why was this so important to the Lord? Why did He focus on this when He was about to be betrayed, arrested, beaten, flogged, and crucified? Of the millions of other things He could asked for from His Father, why did He ask for this?
Psalm 133:1 echoes the beauty and importance of this theme, stating: “How good and pleasant it is when God’s people live together in unity!”
And Paul often urged unity in the family of God, writing, “As a prisoner for the Lord, then, I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received. Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. 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 all, who is over all and through all and in all” (Ephesians 4:1-6).
But how can we be one when our differences are so great? How can we be united with each other when there is so much distrust and even animosity? How can we unify without compromising our convictions?
I’m not talking about having deep unity with those who do not share our faith. I’m talking about having real unity with fellow-believers, with those who are of the household of faith, with those who have the same as God as Father and the same Jesus as Lord. How can we find true unity when there is so much that divides us?
I propose that we start with several, bottom-line propositions. Can we all agree on these?
1) We desperately need God. This is not just a religious statement. These are not empty words. We really need the help of our Father – as in “really” and as in “need.” Without supernatural intervention, without grace from above, we are heading for a serious crash. Can we agree on this?
2) We really need each other. The Bible teaches that two are better than one and that a threefold cord is not easily broken. The Bible teaches that the hand cannot say to the foot, “I have no need of you,” nor can the ear say that to the eye. To quote Paul again, “For just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, so in Christ we, though many, form one body, and each member belongs to all the others” (Romans 12:4-5).
When one part of our physical body is not functioning properly, we call that a disability. It’s the same with the spiritual body. If you are my brother or sister, I need you and you need to me – that is, if we are to be everything God wants us to be and if we are to fulfill His mission. Not only so, but Jesus taught that a house divided would fall. Can we all agree on this?
3) We could all use a dose of humility. Many years ago, in the midst of a very difficult (and public) church-ministry split, one in which I was sure I had been wronged, I sensed God’s Spirit saying to me, “Don’t be so self-righteous.” That was one of the keys that opened the door to a glorious reconciliation.
It’s true, of course, that some of us struggle with self-condemnation, constantly underestimating our worth. But more often than not, there is a degree of self-righteousness in us, a measure of thinking of ourselves more highly than we ought. So, rather than immediately pointing the finger at others, can we agree to examine ourselves first?
4) We should all hate what God hates and loves what He loves. Does He hate the shedding of innocent blood? So should we. Does He hate a lying tongue? Does He hate the spreading of dissension between brothers and sisters? Does He hate haughtiness and pride? So should we.
We can always find things that divide us, but we should major on the things that unite us, and uniting around what is important to God.
Does He love mercy? Does He love justice? Does He love compassion? Does He love righteousness? So should we.
If we pursue what the Lord values and reject what He despises, then, more often than not, we will find ourselves fighting the same battles, side by side.
5) We can unity without conformity. The parts of our physical body are very different, just like the different instruments in an orchestra, yet in both cases, they all work together for a common, larger goal, and it is in our diversity that we find unity.
The food court at the mall has the goal of serving the maximum number of customers each day, yet the vendors don’t put all their different foods into one giant blender and mix them together. Instead, they each offer their customers their distinctive menus, from Mexican to Chinese and from healthy foods to decadent desserts. The diversity of the food court is the strength of the food court.
How much more is this the case with the Body of Christ? Our unity is enhanced by our diversity, by our distinctives, even by our differences – as long as we not rejecting fundamental biblical truths or principles.
So, today, in the midst of the many issues and perspectives that deeply divide us, can we at least agree on these 5 truths? Who knows what will happen if we build on this foundation? Perhaps it will produce something as beautiful as it is unique. Perhaps it will even please the Lord.