I recently concluded my 2017 Annual Report for our church. My final section was on biblical unity and a plea from my heart to persevere toward biblical unity by the power of the Holy Spirit. I decided to copy and paste that section of my report here as a cry from the heart of one pastor to the Church for biblical unity.
I would like to conclude this annual report by speaking to what I see as our greatest and deepest need: the unity of the church by the power of the Holy Spirit. This call is for each of us as it only requires a single individual to disrupt the work of the Holy Spirit. This is not only a call to unity but a call to accountability as well; may we willingly and humbly hold one another accountable to keep the unity of the Holy Spirit.
Ephesians 3:4-6 gives a clear call to the Body of Christ: “Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. 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.” In praying for our church and her leadership for this year, I feel very much like Paul who, in II Corinthians 11:28, after telling of his hardships for the sake of the Gospel added, “Besides everything else, I face daily the pressure of my concern for the churches.”
When I first arrived here, one of the first pieces of church history presented to me, with pride, was that “we have never had a church split!” While I understand the significance underlying those words, and the pride attached to it, we must not relegate biblical unity to “we have yet to cannibalize one another!” True biblical unity surfaces in sacrificial love toward one another, in action as well as spirit. Philippians 2 describes this attitude best when it says:
“5 In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus:
6 Who, being in very nature God,
did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage;
7 rather, he made himself nothing
by taking the very nature of a servant,
being made in human likeness.
8 And being found in appearance as a man,
he humbled himself
by becoming obedient to death--
even death on a cross!"
In your relationships with one another, you become nothing for the sake of others. This is, undoubtedly, a work of the Holy Spirit as nothing in our flesh can have, or even desires to have, the same mindset as Christ Jesus. This requires a full and complete submission of our wills, opinions, personalities, and desires to Jesus so that Christ is glorified and His bride is unified.
This attitude leads us to consider the needs of others before we consider the needs of ourselves, and to esteem their opinion as more important than our own. It leads us to spend our time doing what they enjoy and not what we enjoy. A Christ-like unity involves each of us sacrificing ourselves and our lives (time, money, energy) for others to the glory of God.
John Piper noted poignantly, though, that biblical unity includes affectionate love, not just sacrifice for those you don’t like. It is a feeling of endearment. We are to have affection for those who are our family in Christ. “Love one another with brotherly affection” (Romans 12:10). “Having purified your souls by your obedience to the truth for a sincere brotherly love, love one another earnestly from a pure heart” (1 Peter 1:22). “All of you, have . . . sympathy, brotherly love, a tender heart, and a humble mind” (1 Peter 3:8).
Biblical unity, though, is not primarily unity with one another (though that is an important variable), it is primarily unity with the Holy Spirit of God. This unity with the Spirit of God then draws us to be united with one another. Biblical unity requires our heart to align with His heart and our goals to align with His goals.
So imperative is the unity of the church that Christ says that our unity is what leads the world to believe in the Gospel. Jesus says in John 17:21, “I ask that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me.” Without the unity of the church by the power of the Holy Spirit, the world scoffs at us for we appear no different to them than politicians.
Unity will not happen apart from relationship: a personal relationship with Christ and, flowing naturally from that, a deep, affectionate relationship with one another. Unity breaks down when relationships are not deep or authentic. When the only thing holding a group together is a shared interest in anything other than the mission of Christ, disunity will be the norm. It is predictable and understandable that people will differ in preferred methodologies, styles of music, spending of money, and a multitude of other issues. However, we must not lose the authentic biblical affection for one another that causes us to reorient our daily lives, change our priorities, and humbly cease to voice our personal opinion.
As your pastor, I am calling us all to celebrate those things that Christ celebrates and to be broken-hearted over those things which break the heart of Christ. I pray that we would individually and corporately celebrate the reconciling of relationships, the healing of a brother or sister, the conversion of the lost and the discipling of a brother or sister. I pray that we would not only celebrate these victories but work together toward those ends. Likewise, I pray that we would be broken-hearted over the brokenness all around us, over the destruction of relationships, the lostness of man, and the discreditable lack of discipleship evident in the Church. Similarly, I pray that we would work together toward bringing the healing hand of Christ into such brokenness.
Each week this blog will be updated with a word for the week from my current studies.