Pursuing the Unity of the Gospel: Part Four

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Part Four:

True Unity Has a VISIBLE Nature

Most things in life have two parts: the part we can see, and the part we can't see.  To be sure, there's always a bigger and more powerful microscope to peer into the part we can't see with our naked eye. Nonetheless, there will always remain questions we have about how and why the tiniest things we can see operate the way they do.

The part we cannot see is responsible for the part we can see.  We cannot see the molecules that make up a plum tree, for example.  But we can see the plums.  And that's how we know it's a plum tree.  Jesus alluded to that in Matthew 7 when He taught that we would know a tree by it fruit.

When I or one of my kids has an outburst of anger, that's just the part we can see.  The anger is only a fruit of something we can not see.  That is the root.  Too often counselors and pastors attempt to deal with the fruit rather than the root.  Programs, sermon series, counseling, and other ministry efforts are too often aimed at addressing the fruits, which doesn't really address the real problem.  Consequently it continues to grow and fester and create additional problems.

Many of the efforts that local churches make regarding unity in their own body or unity with other local bodies in their community often fail for one main reason: their efforts only address the part they can see...the outward appearance of unity.  They desire the fruit of unity but are often ignorant of or willfully ignore the root issues which lie beneath the lack of outward unity.  As I mentioned in the last post in this series, true unity has a spiritual nature, first and foremost.  There is a unity of heart in those who are truly believers.  It is then, and only then, when the spiritual root of unity is addressed that local churches can truly experience and enjoy the physical fruit of unity.

Like the glory of God, unity has both a visible and invisible nature.  Jesus said that He was the glory of God, and that this glory was now in His people.  The glory was not only unseen, but clearly seen in the life, ministry, and teachings of Jesus.  The glory of Jesus and the unity of His people are inseparable, and as such will have visible manifestations at times.  This must be the case because Jesus specifically says two different times, “that the world may believe that you have sent me…that the world may know that you sent me…” (vv. 21, 23).  For the world to believe and know, they must inevitably see.  Seeing leads to believing, then.  And what do they see except the oneness Christians have both with Jesus and with each other.

This visible nature of unity is absolutely crucial for one reason: Jesus places world evangelization squarely on the shoulders of a unified church.  While the Great Commission commands Jesus' disciples to go and make disciples of all nations, the ability to bring them to a place of discipleship is predicated on the unity of His people.  It amazes me how many books and seminars and workshops and conferences and resources have been created to help churches with evangelism, while the very thing Jesus prays for and connects with evangelism goes neglected.  He prays for unity because unity is the most essential path to evangelism.  After all, if our programs and seminars and resources are successful in getting them to come into the doors of a local church, why would they want to stay if there is no intimate fellowship and love among the people there?

So while the essence of our oneness with each other is spiritual in nature, the results are visible.  And it is these visible results that will bring the lost to come to be loved by Jesus like the Father loves Jesus.  These visible results are primarily the way in which believers live out their lives with one another, toward one another, and in the world.  And what does the world see when they look at unified Christians?  Love.  They see people loving each other fervently.  This is why Paul urges the churches so strongly from Ephesians 4.
“…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” (vv. 1-3).
And why does he urge this?  For the same reason Jesus prays for it in John 17.  Visible unity is a result of spiritual unity.  As Paul continues…
“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…” (vv. 4-5).
Listen to what one commentator said.
“The main points in the text seem to be that this oneness is a spiritual reality, derived from sharing in the divine life of the Father and the Son and embodied in a particular community of human beings such that it can be evident to unbelievers. In other words, it is a sacrament, a reality in the human sphere participating in the divine sphere. So this is not simply some invisible church…”  (Whitacre, Rodney A.  John, The IVP New Testament Commentary Series at http://www.biblegateway.com/resources/commentaries/IVP-NT/John/Jesus-Concludes-Time-Alone)
The fact that we’re dealing with people here, makes this true unity visible.  People are tangible, temporal bodies housing intangible, eternal souls.  They are the object of the Father’s love.  They are important to Him, as His creatures, created in His image.  And as such, they are targets of our love.  And as arrows of the kingdom we are sent out by the bow of King Jesus to strike each of those targets in love, with the Father’s love.  This makes true unity missional.

In the next post, we'll discover the fifth element in unity, namely that true unity has a missional nature.

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.

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