The Unity of the Body of Christ
Published Oct. 3, 2012 @ 6 a.m.
"The glory which You have given Me I have given to them, that they may be one, just as We are one; I in them and You in Me, that they may be perfected in unity, so that the world may know that You sent Me, and loved them, even as You have loved Me. (John 17:22-23)
The above scripture comes out of Jesus’ High Priestly Prayer that takes up all of John 17. We can see that central to Jesus’ vision for the People of God is unity. It is in the unity of the Body that the world will know of God’s love for Jesus; and therefore, for us as well. But where is this unity? And without this unity how will the world know of the love of God?
In America it is no wonder that so many people have no idea of the love of God for us when the churches are so divided one from another. Like the Christians in Corinth we have divided ourselves along almost every imaginable line. We are separated by color, creed, ethnicity, agenda, who baptized us and how we were baptized, whether or not we speak in tongues, whether we believe in Paul or Apollos or some other speaker, and how we perform ritual as well as the songs we sing. In the unity of all believers we have not heard nor listened to God’s call to us. We have missed the mark. We are in sin.
The division among the churches is not an American phenomenon. It began the day one church leader decided another church leader was wrong. We don’t know exactly when that was but we know the Jerusalem church had a great difficulty in accepting Gentile believers. We know that in Corinth believers within the same church had made it a habit to divide themselves off from one another based on who baptized them, whether they ate meat sacrificed to idols or not, the richness and amount of food they could bring to the Lord’s supper, whether or not they spoke in tongues, and it seems just about any other thing they could use to set themselves apart. Indeed, it appears that the greatest struggle of the church has always been about the unity of the Body of Christ.
It is not a great mystery where this lack of unity comes from. We live in a culture of “diversity” which means “I’ll do my thing and you do yours.” In the cultures of the world we are divided by language, beliefs, politics, history, color, wealth, and greed just to name a few of our divisions. It seems that the only time unity exists is when it is forced on us by an outside entity stronger than we are. The Roman world had unity because the Roman army said so. But within Christianity that kind of coercion is just as much sin as the lack of unity. But no matter what culture the world has Christians are called to be of another kingdom, the Kingdom of God. But we act like the world.
At the center of our lack of unity is our lack of receiving God’s love. “This is love, not that we loved God but that God loved us and gave His Son for us …” (1 John 4:10). All of us who have followed Jesus for any amount of time even if it was just when our parents drug us to church know that God loves us and that we are supposed to love one another. If you were to ask any of us we would tell you that we want to love everybody. If we are especially unaware of our feelings or we are habitual liars we might even tell you that we do love everybody. There are only a few people for whom this is really true. Usually, as soon as we tell you we love everybody we turn around and act out of hate. We call ourselves the “People of God” but we do not live out of the one defining characteristic Jesus gave as what it means to be His disciples, “By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”
Why don’t we love one another since God has loved us? The answer might surprise you. It isn’t because we don’t try hard enough to love one another. Rather, the problem is that we have not fully received God’s love for ourselves. Human beings are not the source of the agape love that is at the heart of Christianity. Rather, the source of agape love is God Himself. Only in God do we find the unconditional love without expectation of return that marks the sacrifice of Jesus Christ for us. Apart from God no such love can exist.
We cannot give others what we ourselves do not possess. Until we have become convinced of the love of God for us we cannot love others. Being convinced of the love of God does not mean that we mentally accept that such love exists. Being convinced of God’s love for us is something we must receive at the very center of what it means to be who we are. Without God’s love for us at the center of our being no amount of human effort can ever result in the kind of love that makes for the unity of the body of Christ.
Being unified in the body of Christ does not mean that we all have to attend the same institutional manifestation of Christ’s body. Nor does unity require that we all sing the same music or like the same preaching style. The unity of the Body of Christ does mean that we have to love one another, accept each other, and be willing to work with one another towards the common goal of sharing God’s love in Jesus Christ with the world. We can no longer afford to bad mouth one another, ignore each other, or talk down to one another. We cannot afford to be anything other than unified in the world in which we live.
It isn’t just that we live in a world that is increasingly persecuting Christianity. That is certainly true here in the United States. However, that is not the main reason we need unity as Christians. Rather, the world is in greater need of God’s love today than it has ever been. However, the world will never see God’s love until God’s people love one another. Ask God for His love to fill your life. Receive God’s love as far as you are able. Pour out God’s love on all those who are around you. Preserve the unity of the Holy Spirit in everything you do.