An ancient song recorded in the Old Testament opens with the words,
“How pleasant it is when brothers dwell in unity…” (Psalm 133).
Then there is some imagery that possibly for our minds, it is hard to get our heads around. The song ends though with the words, “For there the Lord bestows his blessing, even life forevermore.”
Unity bringing God’s blessing…
Take a look in the news and we see plenty of examples of disunity. Even as I write, various governments in the Persian Gulf/North Africa have “united” to accuse another Gulf State of funding terrorism. At least one of those governments could arguably themselves be accused of being guilty of human rights abuses and funding terrorism. There are other tensions too within this “united” group!
Of course, we see the headlines and are not privy to what is really going on behind the scenes. Let’s been praying that there can be resolution that is just and right for all those impacted and connected.
In the UK, where we come from as a family, there is a general election this week for a new Parliament. It has been called just under a year after what many saw as a very divisive referendum. Will the election re-unite people more clearly?
Over the past two weeks in the news we have witnessed bombings in Manchester, Kabul, London, fighting in places like the Philippines, Syria and Iraq and on-going protests in countries like Venezuela. Many examples where there seems to be all kinds of things at work to bring division between people (as well as people coming together to unite for instance in solidarity after the bombings)
Let’s be praying for this world.
We also have to face up to the reality that finding true unity amid diversity is a challenge. Enforced unity tends to be authoritarian and does not touch the hearts of people. Rather it oppresses and persecutes – think the Gulags as but one example. Unity as a slogan meanwhile can end up being no more than that and lacking any true substance!
Unity takes working at, it involves heart change, it takes prayer, it involves surrender of entrenched positions, it takes listening to others and understanding where they are coming from, it involves knowing what you believe but also how to communicate this in the context of others, it takes a willingness to make unity a priority.
So is the last paragraph a comment to the nations? Well not necessarily, for two reasons:
Firstly, I hardly think any political leader for example is going to be reading this.
Secondly, I think there is a call to ‘get our house in order first’ (Not that it is wrong to be speaking up about matters such as extremism, division, injustice, human rights abuses, the poor and the oppressed, the environment – personally I think as Christians, we should be doing so)
In John 17, a prayer of Jesus is recorded. It includes a heart cry for unity among His followers. His words include this:
“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” (17:23)
Sadly for many people looking at the Christian church, they see division. They see Christians sometimes more wedded to a certain political view than actually to Christ. They note the ridiculous number of different denominations (let’s be honest, it is ridiculous!)
Christ prayed for unity. Why? He gives two reasons in his prayer –
- That the world knows that Christ came from God and
- In sending Christ, this was(is) an expression of the love of God.
This world needs to know of the life changing and division breaking power of Christ’s love!
I recognise that there are all kinds of challenges to seeing unity among the church of Christ happen. But it is vital for each us to do our part to pray, live and work towards this. Otherwise we are choosing to ignore what Christ prayed!
A few practical suggestions:
Let’s ask the Lord to give us a heart for His unity in our lives and to seek His reconciliation among others.
Pray for our own congregation. Let’s be active in connecting with others and do our part to encourage unity around Christ, amid celebrating the diversity and working through differences.
Pray for other church congregations besides our own.
Speak well of other Christians and do something to ‘bless’ some Christians outside of our own church community.
Where there are differences, these do not have to be ignored and at times something may well need to be said. Yet let’s check our heart attitude in this.
Grapple with difficult questions. For instance:
- In the world today, there are church leaders/church movements seemingly actively supporting oppressive governments, how do we respond to this?
- There are issues of doctrine, sexuality, ethics and politics that Christians have varying views on. How do we still unite around Christ whilst acknowledging and working through such differences?
Seek to understand where others are coming from, rather than holding sweeping or uninformed opinions. Avoid judgmentalism that says things like “oh they are too traditional” or “they are not Spirit filled” or “they are too liberal” or “they are too evangelical”!!
Be a global Christian. Seek to be informed about what is going on across the planet and how we can learn from other Christian traditions even from out side our own culture. Pray for believers around the world including all those persecuted for their faith.
Do all we can to be “Christ’s ambassadors” with a “message of reconciliation” (2 Corinthians 5) among those in our circles of influence: families, friends, neighbourhoods, study/work places, what we put in social media and elsewhere online.
“How pleasant it is when people dwell in unity… For there the Lord bestows his blessing, even life forevermore.”