Pursuing the Unity of the Gospel: Part ThreeFriday, July 20, 2012
True Unity Has a SPIRITUAL Nature
Our world is big on unity...but only outwardly. That's why so much time and money is spent on peace treaties and peace accords. It's all about getting people to agree and get along outwardly. And you may certainly succeed in getting people to sign a sheet of paper with agreements and concessions and compromises. But the in the end, how do they really fell about it inwardly? You can usually discern the answer by how long the time span is between the signing and the breaking of it.
I know personally, as a parent of four children, that unity is a difficult thing to achieve among the kids. Every parent wants their kids to get along. And a Christian parent may do a great job of teaching their children about loving one another, how to be a peacemaker, etc. And it is even possible to generate, stimulate, provoke, and even manufacture peace and unity among the kids. But it is only an outward unity. I know for a fact that at least two, if not all, of the kids are not peaceful on the inside. So it is only a matter of time before the manufactured shell of unity breaks apart due to continued internal conflict within themselves and among themselves.
God isn't interested in that kind of peace. He wants to give each person internal peace. That's a peace that comes from being reconciled to God (Romans 5:1). It's a peace that passes all understanding (Philippians 4:7). That is the peace which constitutes the kingdom of God (Romans 14:17). And that internal peace with God leads to peace with others. The biggest reason why Christians have a hard time being at peace with one another is because they have not meditated carefully or enjoyed deeply enough their own peace with the Father and with Jesus Christ.
When believers do this consistently and faithfully, then and only then is it possible for them to be at peace with one another. Peace with one another creates unity. And that's the kind of unity Jesus prays for regarding His children. It's a kind of unity therefore, that is only spiritual in nature. The spiritual will work itself outward to the physical, or the visible. But if the spiritual is not there, then any unity is simply manufactured for outward or visible purposes only. Jesus however, prays for a spiritual unity. The glory of God within a person will reflect and manifest itself outwardly in unity with other believers.
Back in John 17, Jesus prays that Christians would be “one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you…” (v. 21). The unity Jesus has with the Father is a spiritual unity. It is invisible by nature, because the Father is invisible. It is based on “the glory that you have given me” (v. 22).
God’s glory, while sometimes having a visible manifestation in the form of fire or cloud, is almost always invisible to the human eye. This is because it cannot be seen with the human eye. It must be seen with supernatural eyes. According to one commentator, “glory refers to the revelation of God in all his beauty of being and character. But, also like the other terms, glory is a manifestation of God himself--not just a revelation about him, but his actual presence (cf. Ex 33:18-23).” (Whitacre, Rodney A. John, The IVP New Testament Commentary Series at http://www.biblegateway.com/resources/commentaries/IVP-NT/John/Jesus-Concludes-Time-Alone)
God is spiritual in nature. God’s glory is spiritual in nature. His revelation is spiritual. His presence is spiritual. The oneness Jesus and the Father share is spiritual in nature. The glory He shared with the disciples was spiritual in nature. And Jesus applies the nature of these things to the nature of Christian unity. It too is spiritual, revelatory, presence, invisible.
In application, don't be too concerned in your local church about an outward unity. You'll recognize it because it seems to be fake, superficial, and too concerned with how it appears, and with what other people are supposed to think. That kind of unity is based on perception with a mix of politics, usually. Steer yourself and your church away from that, as much as possible.
But don't be mistaken! Peace and unity is something to strive for, to work hard for. According to Ephesians 4, we are supposed to stop at nothing to maintain it. So there's definitely labor involved in keeping it. That said, make sure you are laboring for spiritual unity, instead of outward unity. Labor to keep yourself and those in your church in a place in their hearts where they are examining their own lives first and foremost. Are they enjoying the peace they have with God? Is it reflected in a peaceful state of their own heart? Or do they live in chaos and drama, noise and trauma, conflict and anxiety?
Meditating on our forgiveness of sins is the first step. When we are deeply aware of our own forgiveness, we can much more easily and quickly forgive others who've sinned against us. Then, making sure to quickly confess and forgive is the next step. In both steps there is the absolute necessity of understanding that sin is the spiritual reason why unity doesn't exist. Take care of the sin Jesus' way, and you'll begin to take care of the unity issue.
As each believer begins to recondition their hearts, they are dealing with the spiritual and the invisible, and this will in turn blossom in the physical and the visible.
In the next post, I'll unfold the followup that true unity also has a visible 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.