Man-made Unity: Moths to a Flame

May 18, 2017

Now the whole earth had one language and the same words… Then they said, “Come, let us build ourselves a city and a tower with its top in the heavens, and let us make a name for ourselves, lest we be dispersed over the face of the whole earth.” And the Lord came down to see the city and the tower, which the children of man had built. And the Lord said, “Behold, they are one people, and they have all one language, and this is only the beginning of what they will do. And nothing that they propose to do will now be impossible for them. Genesis 11:1, 4-6

There is something utterly intoxicating about banding together with others and overcoming obstacles as a team to achieve something significant. Perhaps you have experienced it. If you have ever been on a team during a championship season, or a part of a military division who survived under daunting circumstances, or shared some life-changing scenario with a group, you know the feeling. I felt it having survived the rigors of law school with my classmates. There is this overwhelming sense of everyone having pulled together and accomplished something bigger than any of us thought possible. Working together, everyone pulling their weight, fighting through struggles, and winning. It’s a good feeling…one which often binds a group together for life.

We have a lot of names for it: team chemistry, “family”, camaraderie, esprit de corp.  But no matter what you call it, it is a good thing…a powerful thing. There have been times when we felt it as a country here in the U.S. The last time was probably just after 9-11, when we had identified a common enemy and we banded together as a country, building (short lived) bridges across the political divide. It happened around WWII as well. And the moon landing. And probably several other significant events over the last century.

It is a oneness that comes from having a clear common purpose and jointly overcoming some significant obstacle(s) toward achieving it. It is perhaps among the very best of human achievements…almost magical. Life-changing. Powerful.

And its intoxicating draw is no less so for the church. I’ve heard many church leaders express it in one way or another. What this church needs to be unified is a good building program. After all, that does identify a common goal and bring us together to overcome obstacles to reaching it. Or perhaps we can build unity by identifying a common enemy in our community or in our culture. Or perhaps by identifying a common mission or ministry and working together to accomplish it. There are any number of illustrations we can call upon, all of which demonstrate this very best of man-made unity. Even in the church. Maybe especially so.

That was the people of Genesis 11:1-9. They had accomplished an uncommon oneness, a true sense of “team”, and God made this observation about them: “And nothing that they propose to do will now be impossible for them.”  It is a powerful thing, this man-made unity. But don’t miss the vision upon which those people based this unity: and let us make a name for ourselves, lest we be dispersed over the face of the whole earth. What they wanted was to build a powerful community that would hold them together, rather than be spread out across the earth. The problem, of course, is that being dispersed over the face of the earth WAS GOD’S VISION FOR THEM. This oneness, then, was NOT based upon any God-ordained vision, but on a man-made desire for power in numbers. And the consequences were dire.

There is a great deal of movement in our current culture to join a tribe, to wear that tribe’s “colors”, to yell that tribe’s mantra from the rooftops, and to bask in the power of belonging. The attraction is intoxicating. Some would even say it is among the highest values of at least two adult generations today. Man-made unity. But Genesis 11 shows us that, for God’s people, that attraction is like moths to a flame.

This type of tribalism or man-made unity is not the unity to which the church is called. Our unity is based upon the profound truth of the Spirit of God Himself living in each believer and binding us together around HIS vision. And all the man-made unity in the world cannot hold a candle to the power and the authority of God’s people filled with God’s Spirit and carrying out God’s vision. Whatever you bind on earth will have been bound in Heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will have been loosed in Heaven.

And so, we have a choice to make. We can settle for the intoxicating feelings of our own forms of unity, or we walk in our calling to make every effort to preserve the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. Be careful, friends, how we choose.

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