Based on his Sermon at CSI Church, Trivandrum by Anand Peter
[Scripture Ref: John 17:20-26, Colossians 3:12-17, Psalm 133, Ezekiel 37:15-19]
Let me begin by asking a question. Do we pray often enough for Christian unity? In the Gospel Passage from John 17:20 we find Jesus sharing His greatest burden for His followers, oneness, and unity. When Christians are ‘one,’ we provide a visible and tangible witness to the world. Jesus knew that the church could never make the impact on the world that He wished unless the world sees the Church in spiritual oneness and unity. The churches in turn have never taken these words of Jesus with the seriousness they deserve. The result is before us, the Church broke up into thousands of factions and sub-factions, in the 2000 years of its existence. However, there is a reason for hope as the church leaders, the world over has awakened to the need for unity amongst the people of the largest religion in the world. There are several ecumenical efforts underway.
If you ask me, I would say that the single and most compelling reason for the disunity amongst Christians is the I, me, mine and the ‘me’ first, attitude. This started quite early, even before the Church came into being. If we back up a bit to John 17, verse 11, we see Jesus praying for His early disciples. "Now I am no longer in the world, but these are in the world, and I come to You. Holy Father, keep through Your name those whom You have given Me, that they may be one as We are.” In that original group, there were incredible tensions. Tensions created by James and John when they had asked for the seat at the right and left the hand of Jesus in heaven causing an outrage of jealousy among the other disciples. Not very long before that, the disciples were fuming with rage because there had been an argument among them as to who was the greatest. The disciples had often exhibited a spirit of selfishness, competition and disunity, and this must have broken the heart of Jesus. No wonder Jesus prayed for that original eleven, "Lord, make them to be one."
The concern about the unity of God’s people is not just during the time Jesus walked this planet or the period after Pentecost. The Hebrew Prophet Ezekiel prophesied the destruction of Jerusalem. God spoke through him as to how children of Israel should stay united by using a miraculous demonstration with sticks.
This attitude problem has permeated into all walks of Christian life, resulting in differing methods of worship, conflicting propagation of Christian ideology and proclamation of tweaked doctrines and so on. Some Christians believe that they are blessed by Jesus more than the others. Nearer to the Altar in the church, some believe, is closer to God. The basic principle for all of us is that every believer in Christ is at an equal distance from the Cross. Jesus cannot be monopolised.
The fact remains that if Christians cannot be unified, then we are not approaching one another in love. And we cannot be a good witness for Christ if we are bickering with one another. Paul was persuasive on the subject, as is evident from his letter to the Colossians; “Therefore, as the elect of God, holy and beloved, put on tender mercies, kindness, humility, meekness, longsuffering; 13 bearing with one another, and forgiving one another, if anyone has a complaint against another; even as Christ forgave you, so you also must do. 14 But above all these things put on love, which is the bond of perfection. 15 And let the peace of God rule in your hearts, to which also you were called in one body; and be thankful. 16 Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom, teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord. 17 And whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him.” - Colossians 3:12-17.
Christians may belong to different churches, contemporary and traditional, denominational or non-denominational, but we all belong to one Living God, Jesus Christ. We are to love one another which is the perfect bond of unity. I wonder how Jesus feels when He sees the condition of His Church today. God’s Word tells us just how important this unity is. God loved each of us before the foundation of the world before even the world was created! Discord and division are unbecoming of Christians. For wolves to bother the lambs is no wonder, but for one lamb to bother another is unnatural and monstrous.
Let us examine the very basics of Christian unity. Real unity is found in the person and work of Jesus Christ. He has already given His glory to us, and He promises that we will further experience that glory when we get to His New Creation. All true believers have God’s glory within, no matter what they may look like on the outside. Christian harmony is not based on the external, but the internal. The very Spirit of God is within us.
One of the things that impress the world most is the way Christians love each other, and live together in harmony, not just amongst themselves but with others too. But I have to say that the world also thrives on just the opposite. When there is disunity in the Christian church, when believers act like everyone else, relying on our human nature rather than the Spirit of God who is within us. Therefore, I believe we must rely on our Heavenly Father to keep us unified and focus on what is most important in life, a relationship with Jesus Christ and bring others to the same relationship through our words, and our actions.
The pattern of the unity of believers should be unlike anything else on earth. It is nothing less than the unity of the Father, Son and the Holy Spirit, the Trinity. Trinity is where we must draw the pattern for unity amongst Christians, though the Divine union is quite unlike any union of persons or matters of this world. The Orthodox Churches of the East have a beautiful way of describing this. They use an ancient Greek word which means ‘dancing in a circle’, like the chorus in the ancient Greek theatre. This means that the three Persons or the modes of God weave in and out of each other in a blissful, dynamic and enteral circle. That is the example we must learn from. We may come from diverse background but can still unite in Christ. This is precisely what Jesus prayed for, "that they all may be one, as You, Father, are in Me, and I in You; that they also may be one in Us,” - John 17:21.
The blessing such unity amongst Christian Community will bring the present church on earth and the future church in heaven to see the glory of Jesus. "Glory" is the visible manifestation of all the divine attributes. It is what we will see when we look at Jesus, God the Son. Our churches will never be fully united by looking at the pastor, a program, or looking at one another. Likewise, our association will never be fully united by looking at any leader or program as the answer to unity unless all of us look up to Jesus for the strength of conviction we require for perfect unity. Amen
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