Tuesday Re-mix –
“…being diligent to preserve the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.” Ephesians 4:3
I am now more than a year past the half-century mark on this earth. Quite the accomplishment, it seems to me. When I was a teenager, I honestly never wanted to still be alive by this age. It just seemed unbearably old to me then. I have recently changed my mind about that.
I see a lot of things differently now. I have developed a patience…a longer-term perspective on things. I have learned that many of the things I thought as a young adult were just lies. Here are some of the lies I have checked off my list as “learned” over the years:
If you can afford the mortgage payment, you can afford the house.
If you can afford the car payment, you can afford the car.
No matter how old you get, you’re never more than 90 days from getting back in shape.
You can work long and hard, or you can get lucky…lasting success can come either way.
When two good people get married, good marriages always result.
Lies, lies, lies…all of them. In all these ways, I have learned that the same God who created the world in six days expects us to take significantly longer and work significantly harder to accomplish anything of real worth.
It makes perfect sense to me, then, that our job of “preserving the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” in the church is a tedious, difficult, long-term job which we cannot expect to happen overnight. Because we are talking about real, human relationships, this job is messy and complicated and takes lots and lots of intentional effort. In short, our responsibility of preserving the unity of the Spirit requires that we disavow ourselves of a few myths. So let’s get started, shall we? Here are the lies:
1. That unity in the church is God’s job and He will do it magically and miraculously if we will let Him. The truth is, God has already done His part. He gave us his Spirit…the one true source of unity. But we also have a job: to preserve the unity He provided among us. That job is hard and never-ending this side of Heaven. God’s miracle has already happened. What are you doing to preserve it?
2. That genuine unity merely requires that we identify a common enemy or a common goal. We learned this as a nation, when the “unity” we felt after 9-11 ended up being short-lived and just a few months later our country was more divided than ever. Similarly, any church who thinks getting together on a building program is all they need to begin experiencing some unity is fooling themselves. There are no such “shortcuts” to the difficult and messy job of preserving the unity of the Spirit.
3. That unity requires that we all agree with each other about everything. That is not at all what being “like-minded” meant to the apostle Paul. The New Testament church was literally filled with disagreement, even doctrinal disagreement (see Acts 15). But Paul always encouraged them to learn to treat each other with respect and to create an environment for growth together despite their disagreements over difficult issues.
4. That it is more important to be right than to be unified. I believe Jesus settled this in John 17 when He prayed for the future church. He could have prayed for anything at all, including doctrinal purity (i.e., being right) as He envisioned his future church. He prayed for unity. Nothing else. Just unity. If we will learn to live in Biblical interpersonal relationships with each other and in right relationship to God, the doctrinal stuff will take care of itself…the Spirit will see to that just as He has seen to it for some 2000 years already. But as history has shown us over and over again, the Spirit will NOT do our job of preserving the unity.
5. That we can achieve unity, even if we are not a praying church. Let’s face it. God has not promised anything to the people who do not pray. A church which does not pray together is, well…not really the church. Being in right relationship with each other requires being in right relationship to God. And being in right relationship to God requires prayer. It is not rocket science. Scripture makes this one easy to understand.
Church unity, like anything else involving human relationships, is messy work…and hard work…and lots of work. The questions are these: (1) Are you prepared to do the work? (2) Have you believed the lies?