As divisions threaten our Christian churches, God’s Spirit unites us in Christ.
“How good and pleasant it is when God’s people live together in unity!” (Psalm 133:1).
Doesn’t that sound nice? In the ferocious divisions of our world, Christian churches are to be refuges of unity. Jesus himself put it like this: “By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another” (John 13:35). The world is to marvel at the Christlike love that unites Christians.
Huh? Is that what you see in your congregation? Sadly, I often don’t. There have always been lots of things that cause divisions among God’s people. This fall, however, we’ve been hit by a tsunami of a never-ending pandemic in the middle of a hotly charged presidential election all happening against the backdrop of anger surrounding social justice. The result? Divisions over non-biblical matters are threatening our congregations. You know it. You’ve felt it. The devil loves it! If he can’t succeed with false teaching, he’ll use masks and politics to drive Christians apart.
Human opinions can divide
It hit home for me earlier this summer. I was scrolling through my Facebook feed when I noticed a thoughtful post from a church member. What caught my attention, however, was a comment by another member: “Very sincere thank you for being one of a very small number of people from our church that has shared a post that has made me feel something other than attacked and alienated. I find it devastating that I have to say that, but there you go. Thank you.” “Attacked” and “alienated” by her brothers and sisters in Christ? Do you think she’s the only one?
How can different people with different opinions live together in unity in the same church? Jesus.
Here’s the worst news: I’m part of it. I have very firm opinions too, and I assume most people think like me. Know what? They don’t! You don’t. In fact, people have very different opinions about almost everything.
To make matters worse, each one of us is incredibly confident that our opinions are right. We too often say things that unintentionally hurt each other.
Unity at church? This is hard! It makes me think of a quote I read: “It’s a lot easier to love the whole world than to love your neighbor.”
How do we love fellow Christians when different opinions divide us?
We need to go back to God’s Word.
When God’s Word isn’t a regular part of our lives, we lose the ability to discern what comes from God and what comes from us. That’s bad! Eventually, we begin to assume that our thoughts must be God’s thoughts. Why wouldn’t God agree with me? Except, he doesn’t! “My thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways” (Isaiah 55:8). We forget the frailty of every human opinion. We start to mesh Bible verses with our favorite news channel, with what our friends say, and . . . Then we defend our personal preferences as if they came from the Bible, because sadly we can’t tell the difference.
Can you see the problem?
God’s Word teaches us
So, let’s put down our thoughts and hear God’s: “Whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be slave of all. For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Mark 10:43-45). Think of what Jesus did: He left heaven to be a servant, a slave. He did not come to be served, but to serve. He died the death that we deserve for our sins. There’s a word for that: love.
There is something so incredibly different about our Savior. When God says that his thoughts are so much higher than ours, he is the greatest example. On our own, we never could have come up with the idea that we’re saved by Jesus’ death on the cross and that the forgiveness of sins is free. Those have to be God’s thoughts, because they don’t come from us! “This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another” (1 John 4:10,11).
Even in our divided world, “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” (Ephesians 4:4-6). Look what unites you with every brother and sister in your congregation: one Spirit, one hope, one Lord, one faith, one Baptism, one God and Father. So much! How can different people with different opinions live together in unity in the same church? Jesus. We’re forgiven, redeemed, and children of God. That’s what unites us!
The Holy Spirit unites us
So, “make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit” (Ephesians 4:3). Christian unity takes effort—a lot of effort! It doesn’t come naturally. My sinful nature always wants to make it all about me. It’s not! True unity is only possible through the Holy Spirit. He changes us from the inside out using God’s Word. Words like: “My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry” (James 1:19).
When we close our mouths and open our ears to God and others, we hear:
- “In humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others” (Philippians 2:3,4). Wow. That’s countercultural, isn’t it?
- “Though I am free and belong to no one, I have made myself a slave to everyone, to win as many as possible” (1 Corinthians 9:19).
- “Let us stop passing judgment on one another. Instead, make up your mind not to put any stumbling block or obstacle in the way of a brother or sister” (Romans 14:13).
- “Let us therefore make every effort to do what leads to peace and to mutual edification” (Romans 14:19).
See a theme? “Make every effort!” With Jesus’ forgiveness filling your heart, with the Spirit’s words running through your mind, make every effort to build unity in your congregation. Make every effort to keep the focus on Jesus. Make every effort to patiently listen to others, especially when they disagree with you. Make every effort to put others’ interests above your own. Make every effort to stop passing judgment on people’s personal preferences. Make every effort to forgive as God forgives you. Make every effort to win as many as possible for Jesus.
Because that’s the goal, isn’t it? The goal of a Christian congregation is the glory of God and the salvation of souls. Remember how Christians point the world to Jesus? “By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another” (John 13:35). As divisions threaten, may God’s Spirit unite us in Christ!
This is the first article in a two-part series on dealing with others in love.
Author: Nathan Nass
Volume 107, Number 10
Issue: October 2020