Pursuing the Unity of the Gospel: ConclusionTuesday, July 24, 2012
By far one of the most difficult disciplines to develop as a Christian...at least in our first-world, immediate-gratification culture...is prayer. It's the one thing that is supposed to be to our souls like breath is to our lungs. And yet...it's seems so difficult...to...breathe!
There is such a ridiculously massive amount of emphasis placed upon prayer in the Scriptures. It's surprising then that so many Christians would do it so little. It is the only means by which we attain anything from the Father. Yet how much have our hearts yearned to obtain from the Father, which we ask so infrequently for?
Jesus asks the Father for the unity of His children, in John 17. And since we only have two recorded instances of Jesus asking the Father for anything, my thought is that what Jesus asks the Father for has pretty huge implications for what we ask the Father for. Jesus is seen asking for unity. I think there's a lesson there for us: it's normative to ask the Father for unity...and to expect it. I wonder if that’s why Jesus taught His disciples to pray,
“Our Father, Who is in heaven,
holy is Your Name.
Your kingdom come,
your will be done,
on earth as it’s done in heaven.”
Jesus begins by asserting that prayer is necessary for several reasons, not the least of which is that we’re asking for things over which we have no control, like food, the devil, and the sins of others, which are all mentioned in the prayer as well. Therefore, we HAVE to go to the Father for these things. I wonder if unity could be included in those things?
I think it’s necessarily implied, personally. You see, the kingdom of God and the will of God are always manifesting and taking place in heaven. That’s why Jesus teaches us to ask for it to be done on earth just like it’s already being done in heaven. Jesus is teaching is to ask that the Father would send heaven to earth. And what do we see happening in heaven? Here’s what a man named John saw.
“Then I looked, and I heard around the throne and the living creatures and the elders and the vice of many angels, numbering myriads and myriads and thousands and thousands, saying with a loud voice, ‘Worthy is the Lamb who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and might and honor and glory and blessing!’ And I heard every creature in heaven and on the earth and under the earth and in the sea, and all that is in them, saying, ‘To Him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb be blessing and honor and glory and might forever and ever!’ And the four living creatures said, ‘Amen!’ and the elders fell down and worshiped” (Revelation 5:11-14).Did you see that? John said that he saw, “every creature in heaven and on earth” worshiping King Jesus. And just two verses before he tells us who were included in that group specifically. He saw a group of people,
“ransomed for God from every tribe and language and people and nation, and you have made them a kingdom and priests to our God, and they shall reign on the earth” (v. 9).THAT’S what the kingdom of God looks like and the will of God looks like in heaven, right now, this very second, friends! And Jesus wants us to pray for THAT kingdom and THAT will of God to be done on earth right now just like it’s being done in heaven. This means Jesus WANTS a unified people from every people group, nation, and language to be worshiping TOGETHER around Him, right now…today!!!
I wonder if Satan wants to stop that sort of thing from going on. I wonder if many of the denominations and groups we have out there today are a result of Satan’s efforts to stop this unity we see in the kingdom of God being carried out here on earth. Probably.
But Jesus promised that the gates of hell would not prevail against His plan for the church! And precisely how does that happen? I’ll share two ways a local church should pursue that true unity in their fellowships.
First: Pray More
What’s been made plain in my study of this text is that the FATHER is the ONLY ONE Who can bring about the true unity we want...the true unity that the gospel demands...and the true unity that Jesus prays for! It simply will not come without doing what Jesus did…and PRAY!
Oh, I feel the weight of my failures in this area. I preach and teach and envision for unity, but have prayed so little for it. May there be an atmosphere of repentance in our hearts and fellowships today starting in our own souls for not pursuing true unity through pursuing prayer to the ONLY One who can make it happen!
Allow me to quote for you a clip from an incredible book that has deeply challenged me on this issue recently. It is Mark Johnston’s book You in Your Small Corner, a book that those in leadership development will be required to read. Listen to Mark’s understanding of the importance of looking to God for unity.
“True and meaningful unity must of necessity begin with God and not with men – even those who are redeemed. So much fragmentation has been caused and so many attempts at reunion have floundered because that order has been reversed. The unity of the church, as much as any other aspect of its life, comes under the sovereign lordship of the Triune God.
"The ultimate purpose of God the Father, the ultimate achievement of God the Son and the end-point of God the Holy Spirit’s sanctifying work is that in the corporate life of God’s people they shall be perfectly one.
"Despite all the failures, frustrations and disappointments we experience in this world and in this present age, the future oneness of the church is guaranteed by divine decree and accomplishment. But insofar as the church is comprised of those who ‘have tasted…the powers of the age to come’ (Heb. 6:4-5), that future certainty only becomes present possibility and reality the more we look to God.
By making God, as opposed to unity, our focus, we are not only encouraged in the face of what appears to be the impossible, we are also impelled, in dependence upon Christ and his Spirit and obedience to God and his command, to pursue this enriching fellowship of the saints which is bound up with the very essence of salvation. The God to whom we look and upon whom e depend will then lead us by the means he has provided to make that union and communion an experimental reality in the life of the church.”Second: Work Harder
What’s also been made plain to me in studying this passage is that God’s sheep are responsible for the lack of unity. WE are to be blamed for not being an answer to Jesus’ prayer. We can’t go about our lives merrily and assume that because Jesus is praying and the Father is listening that all this will just come to pass without any of our involvement. That’s hyper-calvinism! It’s an exaggerated view of God’s sovereignty that ignore, reject, or neglects the responsibility of man! No, WE must work harder at becoming an answer to the prayer of Jesus for true unity among His people.
We’ve got to dispense with the notion we’ve got lodged somewhere in the recesses of our brain that tells us, “We can’t do it! It’ll never happen on this earth!” That’s just another load of crap that’s become embedded in our shoe, and we’re too used to walking around with that disgusting odor. We’re going to have to do the tedious, laborious, heart-rending work of taking off our shoe and digging out the crap so that we can walk unhindered in our efforts toward unity. As Johnston writes,
“Too many disputes and differences have been left unresolved on the pretext of there being ‘nothing we can do about it’. Such excuses simply do not hold water in the sight of God and he will hold us accountable for our unwillingness – as opposed to inability – to do what he expects of us.”And I’ve already committed to repent by working hard in the primary area, which is prayer. But how else do we work hard for this unity?
Third: Forbear With One Another
We do so by forbearing with one another in love, in all humility and gentleness and with patience. This is what Paul said in Ephesians 4:1-3.
We lovingly put up with one another, treating them as more important than ourselves, their issues as more important than our own, their concerns as more significant than our own, as Paul also taught in Philippians 2:3-4. That’s what humility looks like. It’s becoming subservient to the needs, issues, and concerns of others.
And we also treat each other with gentleness, which means we’re not hard on each other. We don’t look for places to correct each other and rebuke each other. We correct and rebuke when necessary, but we don’t look for places to do that. There’s that constant spirit among Christians, especially of the reformed stripe, to live in incessant-critical mode. If the Pharisees loved the praise of men, many reformed Christians seem to love the condemnation of men.
There’s little difference between them both when people are not loved, but instead seen as a support system for their personal ambitions. That’s not gentle. It’s not kind-hearted. It’s not tender-hearted. It’s not dealing with each other wearing “kid gloves.”
We also handle each other with patience. This means remaining up under the stresses and strains of relationships without walking away and letting the whole friendship collapse. We do that so quickly. Christians seem to be TERRIBLE about this. Somebody says something that offends us, we get our feelings hurt, we take it personally, then start internally criticizing the other person, and then follow it all up with the cold shoulder routine.
Or we work hard and pour much time into someone else, and they do something wrong just one more time, and we’re finished! We wash our hands and walk away from it. The truth is that we are simply too lazy, I believe. We’re too lazy to walk not just the “extra mile” but the “extra marathon” to bear with others and help them along. But how get mad when someone isn’t patient with us!
Humility, gentleness, patience, love, and forbearing are all very, very, HARD WORK! This means none of this is EASY! We’re carrying crosses here while we follow Jesus, remember? We’re denying ourselves while we follow Jesus! Denying ourselves is equal to affirming OTHERS!
Love is the foundation for unity. Fervent, genuine, authentic, patient, humble, gentle, marathon love. Or, if you’re a real athlete, a tri-athalon love for one another, willing to swim, bike, and run any distances in any conditions to maintain our relationships and love one another.
THAT’s what Paul means in Ephesians 4:3 when he uses the Greek word spoudazo for “make every effort.” Spare nothing! Hold nothing back! Go all-out in making sure that you maintain your unity with other believers in the bond of peace.
So we must pursue true unity in our local churches by praying hard and working hard at it and persevering in patience with each other. It will not be easy. But it’s necessary. Because if other people are reconciled to King Jesus, then they’re reconciled to us. And if they are truly reconciled to us, then we must reflect it, show it, manifest it, make it so, make it visible, make it lasting, and thereby make a difference, bringing the kingdom of God to earth as Jesus taught us to pray.
This is the natural and necessary outflow of the real gospel of the real Jesus Christ. And those who desire to make their home in your local church are those who desire it and commit to make it a reality using all their energy, possessions, finances, family members, and life callings. Jesus poured out His blood to make this unity happen. And in our local churches we choose to turn gladly and joyfully submit our blood, and everything lesser, to the same cause.
About the Author: Rob is a entrepreneur in Statesboro, GA, where he envisions and pursues missional-shaped business for the kingdom. He and his wife Sherri have been married for 18 years and together have three sons and a daughter. Rob believes the mission of the gospel is summed up in four simple phrases: know God, obey Jesus, make disciples, and plant churches. This is the pursuit of his life, as well as the point of his blog.