UNITY. Inside those 5 letters are ideas like harmony, trust, peace, camaraderie, getting along, and common purpose.
The word can feel passive. We can assume that if we don’t have conflict, we have unity. But unity is not passive, it is active. And if we are going to experience it, we have to work for it.
Make every effort to keep yourselves united in the Spirit, binding yourselves together with peace. Ephesians 4:3 (NLT)
Paul’s command is straightforward and direct….“make every effort”… 1) It’s a command 2) It’s a command to every single believer 3) It requires intentionality and courage. A church will never drift into “unity” and “peace”.
John 17 is the longest prayer of Jesus ever recorded in the Bible.
He is about to be arrested and will soon be crucified. Not only is it his longest prayer, it is the only time he ever prays for us specifically. So, what would he pray for on our behalf?
Let me ask it a different way. If you could bring one request for Jesus to pray for, what would it be? Think about that for just a moment. If Jesus showed up in your office today and asked what you would like him to pray for, what would your answer be?
Here is Jesus on the night before his death looking down through future generations and interceding for you and me.
What a mind-boggling thought. Jesus, God in flesh, praying for you. You were on his mind. I was on his mind. Take a moment and let that soak in. In less than 24 hours Jesus would be enduring the darkness and the weight of the world’s sin. Yet, in these moments you are on his mind.
“I am praying not only for these disciples but also for all who will ever believe in me through their message. 21 I pray that they will all be one, just as you and I are one—as you are in me, Father, and I am in you. And may they be in us so that the world will believe you sent me.
22 “I have given them the glory you gave me, so they may be one as we are one. 23 I am in them and you are in me. May they experience such perfect unity that the world will know that you sent me and that you love them as much as you love me. John 17:20-23 (NLT)
The only time Jesus prays for us in Scripture, he prays that we would be one. He doesn’t intercede for us about money, health, happiness, knowledge, close-knit families, big churches, or good jobs. He prays for unity.
In fact, three times in this passage he prays for unity.
· v.21 “that they will be one”
· v.22 “so they may be one”
· v. 23 “may they experience perfect unity”
So, obviously this whole issue of unity is a big deal to Jesus. In fact, John 17 says that our unity will result in the world believing. More than great sermons or powerful worship or a fantastic children’s ministry, Jesus said our unity is a major factor in the world believing the gospel.
And a major deterrent to the gospel are petty, contentious, mean-spirited, divided Christians and churches.
So, here is the question I want us to wrestle with today, “What are the barriers to unity?” Let me briefly mention three barriers.
This is true in a marriage, in a business relationship, in a friendship, and certainly in a church.
I love Eugene Peterson’s paraphrase of Philippians 2.
If being in a community of the Spirit means anything to you, if you have a heart, if you care— then do me a favor: Agree with each other, love each other, be deep spirited friends. Don’t push your way to the front; don’t sweet-talk your way to the top. Put yourself aside, and help others get ahead. Don’t be obsessed with getting your own advantage. Forget yourselves long enough to lend a helping hand. Philippians 2 (Message)
When people are selfish, and have to get their way, and are driven by ego, there will not be unity. Unity requires a dying to self.
2. Majoring on minors
Often, this barrier to unity is rooted in selfishness. “I want it the way I like it.”
Most often the things that divide Christians and divide churches are preferences. It can be the style of worship music, how loud it is, the style of the pastor’s preaching, or the version of the bible that is used.
Sometimes we can baptize our preferences and make them a major issue when they are really a minor issue. Can I just remind us today…THE WAY YOU LIKE IT ISN’T THE ‘RIGHT’ WAY… it is simply “A” way.
There is something in our human nature that wants to be with people like us. And the shadow side of that truth is that we push away people who are different.
This certainly can be about ethnicity and skin color. But it can also be about…
· Socio-economic status
· Married vs. single
· How people express worship
Prejudice has no place in the body of Christ. None. Period.
Before you move on to all the demands of your day, would you take a moment to reflect on whether or not these barriers exist in your own life? And then, would you spend a few moments praying for the unity of your church.