Thursday, September 20, 2012

"The Unity of the Body of Christ"

"How good and pleasant it is when brothers live together in unity!  It is like precious oil poured on the head, running down on the beard, running down on Aaron's beard, down upon the collar of his robes. It is as if the dew of Hermon were falling on Mount Zion.  For there the LORD bestows His blessing, even life forevermore" (Psalm 133:1-3).

What a beautiful picture!  Anointing oil flowing down, bringing healing, oneness, love, LIFE to the oneness of God's people.  So it is meant to be.  So it isn't - most of the time, but it IS possible in Christ.  God calls His children to a unity that is deep and real and beautiful in His sight.  What stands in the way is a misunderstanding of what real unity is.

I haven't spoken about unity for a while, but I was recently reminded that people in the visible church will often destroy (I know that's a strong word, but it's the first one that came to mind, and an accurate description of what people often do) ... people will often destroy the unity of the body of Christ over the most trivial of matters, without any thought to what they are doing and how displeasing it is to God.  God cares about the ONENESS of His body.  In I Corinthians 13 Paul makes it clear, as Jesus does in John 15, and as John does in I John 4, that LOVE is the greatest spiritual gift there is.  Loving God and loving one another is the very core of what it means to be Christians, to be followers of Christ.

What destroys this kind of unity, this oneness of heart and mind, focused on God, on Christ, on His body??  "MEism" ... the religion of ME!  Dissension and division within the body of Christ always begins with a person or a group of people thinking more about what THEY want than what God wants, more about what pleases them than what pleases God, more about what they want others to do than what they are willing to do themselves, more about people serving them than about them serving others.  The unity that pleases God must begin with knowing what God wants and making THAT a priority.  That can only be determined by God's Word.  Too many people "pray about it" and come up with the answer they wanted in the first place, even though it has no support in the Bible.  Let me give you an example.

We left the denomination that the congregation had been part of for 95 years.  Some thought that we were breaking the very command I am talking about - God's call to unity.  But the unity God calls us to is a oneness of heart and mind based on the truth He has revealed in His Word.  God never places you in a place where you have to decide which part of His Word you are going to keep.  The unity of the denomination was based on a common tradition rather than on the sound footing of God's Word in all things.  Denominationalism is not in the Bible.  Church hierarchies that can claim to own property that a congregation prayed for, planned for, worked for and paid for is not in the Bible.  Tolerating sin in order to maintain an outward unity is not in the Bible.  You can't make a case for such manmade unity from Scripture.  It just isn't in there!

But there are other things that destroy the unity God wants and that Jesus and His Spirit produce.  These, too, are aimed at pleasing men rather than God.  What should be the criteria for belonging to a particular congregation?  As a pastor I have heard all kinds of excuses from people who either don't want to be part of the church at all or who leave because of reasons like, "I'm just not comfortable," or this thing or that thing "just isn't ME," or "I am looking for something else" (What?  "I'm not sure, but I'll know when I find it.").  What does GOD want?  He wants unity based on truth that points to Jesus Christ and that produces obedience to His Word in every area of life.  Such unity is rare in the religious climate of the church in the United States today.  "MEism" is the fastest-growing religion in our country, and it is destroying the unity of the body.

So what do we do ... what do YOU do?  Ask yourself and earnestly pray, "What does GOD want me to do?  WHERE does God want me and our family to be?  How and where can I best use the gifts God has given me to serve His body, to build up the Church and to proclaim His name?"  Don't just pray about it.  Prayer is important, but it must be based on God's Word.  Too often we substitute prayer for Bible study and listening to what God has already said.  If you are truly seeking God's will and direction, you will never get an answer in prayer that contradicts God's Word.  God doesn't contradict Himself.  The Spirit who inspired the Word will not lead you in a direction that is contrary to what He teaches in His Word.

Unity, true biblical unity, is based on the truth of God revealed in His Word.  Those who break THAT unity suffer the consequences of heading the wrong direction on a one-way street - moving away from God instead of moving toward Him!  But praise be to God, He makes His way clear.  In His Word is the oil that brings healing and reconciliation and forgiveness and peace and joy.  God's Word speaks with authority precisely because it IS God's Word.  Be a student, be a learner, listen to no one (including me) without checking out the truth in God's Word.    Paul commended the Berean believers because he said they "were of more noble character than the Thessalonians, for they received the message with great eagerness and examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true" (Acts 17:11).

May that be true of you and me as we pursue the true unity of the body ... brothers and sisters in Christ Jesus, made one by His blood and united by His Spirit through the Word.  Such unity is truly a beautiful thing!!

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