This past week, in my morning devotional time, I read the Gospel of John. In Chapter 17, Jesus prays for all believers for all time; thus, for us. He prays this:
“I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one— 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 17:20b-23)
He prays that we may be united in him so that the world will know of his love.
Ever since I became a Christian, and even long before that, this has been the greatest challenge for the Church and the focus of our enemy’s efforts to thwart the Lord’s desire. God wants us to be united; Satan wants us to be divided. In fact, over its entire history, there have been continual divisions in the Church. First, it was over whether to continue long-practiced Jewish customs. Then, centuries later, there was the Reformation and the split of the Catholic Church, followed by divisions between Calvinism and Armenianism. Down through the centuries, there have always been factions in the Church. In more modern times, splits have resulted from viewpoints on baptism, the Lord’s Supper, eternal security, the Word of God being inerrant or authoritative, race, social justice, abortion, and on and on it has gone. Most recently, there have been divisions on the question of same-sex marriage.
Yet now, it seems, the enemy is doubling down on his efforts to inflame division. No longer is doctrine the main source of division; rather, it is political viewpoints. Recently, I saw a Facebook post from someone I know to be a Christian castigating our Democrat governor’s approach to the pandemic. Of course, some of her Christian friends totally agreed with her, and others opposed her. This is being played out among Christians all over our country—our political differences are creating divisions within the Body.
Division among believers is exactly what Satan wants. He wants to steal, kill, and destroy our witness to the world which Jesus tells us will be evidenced by our love for one another. In recent years, I have had fellow brothers and sisters reject me and discontinue contact because I hold different views from them. Several related to political views; others involved doctrinal views; still others revolved around ministry approaches. Sadly, the unity we had initially in Christ is gone, not because we disagree on Jesus, but because they required agreement on other things. And, thus, the demonstration of love between us is gone as well.
The age-old question is still relevant today: How can we proclaim the God of love to an unbelieving world when we, followers of this God, find it so hard to love one another? Is it any wonder that the world has such a difficult time taking us seriously or our God seriously? They see so little love between us and so much acrimony.
I think most of us lament the problem, but our solutions are worldly through and through. We often try to persuade others to come over to our side, because we’re convinced we’re right and the others are wrong. If we can just get them to agree with us, then we can once again be united. Or we just think none of it is really worth fighting over, so we take a laissez-faire attitude for the sake of unity. Your truth is your truth; my truth is my truth. The reason these solutions are worldly is they are focused on us rather than the Lord.
There is truly only one solution: We each humble ourselves before the Lord, and allow him to guide us. One thing he has shown me definitively in the past couple of years is that I cannot change people. I can’t change them by my words or actions. Only the Holy Spirit can do that. What I can do is pray for them. If I believe they are wrong, I can take that to the Lord rather than to them directly. And, I can also be courageous and humble enough to ask him to show me if I am in error.
Neither of these is natural. Our tendencies are to think we are right and can persuade others with our arguments. Thus, when we get pushback, we grow frustrated and we double down, trying to be even more convincing. We recommend articles and books to read, and videos to watch that will prove our point. What we often don’t do is seek the Lord.
As I am more enlightened by the Scriptures, what I see is a God who is love, who is one with his Son, who wants us, his children, to be united as one as well as a witness to the world. Thus, if he is the source of love and unity, it makes sense that our unity can only come when we take our eyes off ourselves and one another, and focus instead on him.
For he himself is our peace, who has made the two groups one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility, by setting aside in his flesh the law with its commands and regulations. His purpose was to create in himself one new humanity out of the two, thus making peace, and in one body to reconcile both of them to God through the cross, by which he put to death their hostility.” (Ephesians 2:14-16)
If we each come to him with a humble and open heart, then unity is possible. Instead of trying to change people, the Lord will change us. And the more our eyes are fixed on Jesus, the more we will be changed into his likeness, which will naturally lead to more unity among us and to a powerful witness to an unbelieving world.
© Jim Musser 2020. All Scripture references are from the New International Version, 2011.