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Lord, Teach Us To Be United (4)


In Parts One, Two, and Three of this series I have focused on Jesus’ prayer on the road to Gethsemane where He prayed that His disciples be one, particularly on how He said they would be one:

The glory that you have given me I have given to them, that they may be one even as we are one…. (John 17:22, ESV)

In the Old Testament, “the glory” of God was seen in various ways, usually in how He led and guided His people. In the deliverance of Israel from Egypt, as he led them by the cloud and fire through the wilderness, when Moses went up on Sinai or talked with God at other times, as God came into the Most Holy Place of the Tabernacle, then later as Solomon dedicated the temple and God’s presence filled it – all of these were manifestations of God’s glory.

Jesus said that He had given the glory the Father had given Him to His disciples, “that they may be one, even as we are one.” As we continue reading in the New Testament, we read these words from Paul:

And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit. (2 Corinthians 3:18)

As we behold the glory of the Lord, the Spirit of God transforms us into that same image of glory.

The glory of God filled the Tabernacle and the Temple because God’s presence was there to be with His people. Today, the Holy Spirit is within us, as the church and as individuals, to be the presence of God with us in our lives. The presence of the Spirit of God makes the body of Christ and the individual disciple of Jesus each the Temple of God, the place where God lives among and in His people. This is the Spirit that changes us – over time and with our cooperation – into the “same image from one degree of glory to another.”

It is the Spirit of God that brings us into the unity for which Jesus prayed.

For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body–Jews or Greeks, slaves or free–and all were made to drink of one Spirit. For the body does not consist of one member but of many. (1 Corinthians 12:12-14)

It is the presence of the Holy Spirit that brings the unity of Jesus’ prayer. In fact, as Paul speaks of the realities of Christian Unity, in another place, he calls it “the unity of the Spirit.”

I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit–just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call– one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all. (Ephesians 4:1-6)

Jesus has called us to be one as He and the Father are one. We are to love one another as He has loved us. He also said that He loved His disciples as the Father loves Him. Now, Paul urges us to live lives worthy of this call.

How do we do that? First of all by walking in the spirit of the unity of the Spirit: that is to walk in humility and gentleness, with patient forbearance – and in love. These are attributes we are to have as God’s children, for these are “the fruit of the Spirit.” These are “given” by the Spirit, though we must eagerly maintain these things in our lives.

Then Paul closes these few verses by declaring the realities of our unity. “There is one body and one Spirit – just as you were called to one hope when you were called – one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.

These are not pious “wishes” that Paul sets before us as a goal to which we must strive and hopefully achieve. These are the realities of our relationship with God and with one another. There IS one body. He did not say, “There ought to be one body;” he said “There is one body.”

Tragically, we have not heeded what Jesus said when He said, “Therefore, what God has joined, let not man put asunder.” He did not say man cannot sunder what God joins; he said we should not separate what God makes one.

What separates the body of Christ? It is failure of God’s people to faithfully bear the image of our Creator. We give little attention to those qualities of life that are essential – and that the Spirit works within us, if we will but let Him! We pay little mind to humility and gentleness, to patience and forbearance. Those are qualities that we may admire – in others.

Instead, we are more apt to walk in these things that Paul lists among the works of the flesh: “hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions, and envy” (Galatians 5:20-21). I know. This is not the complete list. In addition to these sins of the disposition, Paul’s list in vv. 19-21 has sexual sins (fornication, impurity, and debauchery), religious sins (idolatry and witchcraft), and sins of excess (drunkenness, orgies, and the like).

The church as a whole does a fair job of exposing the sins of sexual, religious, and excessive natures. Yet, our sins of the disposition usually go unchecked – and these are the source of most (if not all) of the divisiveness that splits the body of Christ asunder.

Yet these matters of the disposition are of critical importance. Jesus said the greatest commandment is to love God; the second is like it – love your neighbor as you love yourself. Jesus said the entire Torah and the prophets hangs on these two. Paul said love is the fulfilling of the law (or Torah).

Agape love is the opposite of selfishness and self-indulgence. It is that quality that causes us to submit to one another out of reverence for Christ. It is the supreme virtue, which binds all the others together in perfect harmony (Colossians 3:12-14). Without love, there can be no unity.

And God pours His love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit whom He has given us.

Get real, people! We will never be united if we look for unity in bringing everyone to the same opinions. The agreement in mind and thought that Paul urges on us in 1 Corinthians 1:10 is not in our opinions – but rather in our commitment to the excellence of Jesus, the Christ, and to walking with one another in the Spirit of our God.

We may never agree in opinion. Each of us believes sincerely that his opinions are the best in the world (until someone convinces us he has a better one, which we will then adopt). The problem with waiting for agreement in opinion to unite us is that many of us – myself included – are pretty stubborn when it comes to our opinions. It takes a lot to convince us of a better one.

Love, however, conquers all. Love melts down the hard hearts that resist and finds a unity of spirit and purpose even when there are disagreements over opinions about God’s will.

Part 1          Part 2          Part 3

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