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Tuesday, May 27, 2014

The Truth About Unity

“These all continued with on accord. . . .” – Acts 1:14


Google “unity” and the top responses are a video game, cult, and college. Unity is so much more than that. Unity is a word that expresses how life is held together. Unity is woven throughout our life relationships. It’s very important to correctly define unity. Not all unity is beneficial. Not all unity is acceptable or pleasing to God. Unity at the expense of truth leads to disunity with God. God is a “God of truth” (Deut. 32:4; Ps. 31:5; Isaiah 65:16). His word contains His truth. Obeying God’s revealed truth is what separates the holy from the profane, truth from falsehood, fulfillment from emptiness (John 17:17). Unity that is holy, right, blessed and fulfilling is according to God and His truth.


Unity can be perverted and abused. Some unity is sinful; an unequal yoking according to God (2 Cor. 6:11- 7:1). Some unity puts things together that do not belong together. When this happens it causes chaos and disorder. God has created the universe with a certain order (1 Cor. 14:33, 40). He has a sovereign plan (cf. e.g. Jer. 29:11-14; Eph. 2:10). God has created things to fit together and be united. Some things were never meant to fit together. When we put things together that aren’t supposed to be together it leads to being out of sync with God and His order of relationships.


When the things God never intended to fit together are put together it creates static as opposed to a clear signal from God. It creates imbalance; a sickening sinful vertigo. For instance, the unity of those who live together in a sexual relationship without being married is displeasing to God. God’s truth defines that as the sin of “fornication” (1 Cor. 6:9; Gal. 5:19-21; Eph. 5:3-5; Col. 3:5).  In such situations sexual relations are given priority and relationship building suffers. Sex is a very brief cheap thrill without a covenant commitment for life in the sight of God. Like trying to assemble a model before the paint dries on the parts, it creates a sticky ruined mess. Statistics prove more and more that those who cohabitate before marriage are less likely to have an enduring marriage. That’s because it is a premature unity. It’s out of sync with God’s order.


Uniting same-sex couples in marriage is not pleasing to God because God defines homosexuality as sin (cf. Romans 1; 1 Cor. 6:9-10). Those who persist in willful sin cannot maintain a right relationship with God (cf. Psalm 66:18; Isaiah 59:1-2; Habakkuk 1:13). Without God there is emptiness (Eccl. 3:11). God never designed men to marry men or women to marry women. Biology testifies that such relationships are fruitless; they cannot reproduce. There will always be impotence in such relationships. There will always be loss of God’s intended best in such unions. No matter how loudly proponents of such unnatural disunited relationships shout in favor of these relationships, they will always be on the outside looking in at God’s best.


No matter how many homosexual partners or relationships people enter into there will always be emptiness. The pieces just don’t fit. But there is hope in Christ. Repentance from their sin, forgiveness from God and trust in Jesus as Savior and Lord can lead to the unity that is fulfilling. In Christ such relations can become a thing of the past. In Christ we can say, “And such were some of you. But you were washed, but you were sanctified, but you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus and by the Spirit of our God” (1 Cor. 6:11). Praise You and Your order Lord!


The world defines truth based on the relative circumstances of life regardless of God’s truth. Humanity is at the center of the world’s universe. Their world view is hedonistic; pleasure is the guiding principle. Their mantra is more or less, “If it feels good do it.” If you adopt worldly standards of unity you will be cheated of God’s best and likely find yourself at odds with God (Col. 2:8). The unity that pleases God is based on and defined by His truth. This leads to the question, “What’s God’s truth about unity?”


When we see the word “unity” we think of such synonyms as agreement, harmony, accord, unison, union, concord, or unanimity. Unity involves orderliness. It involves symmetry. Unity doesn’t necessarily mean likeness. Harmony is a form of unity but involves various different parts working together. A choir or worship team has singers who sing in different ranges such as alto, soprano and bass. They are different. But when they are coordinated and united they produce beautiful harmony and worship. Unity therefore is the arranging or coming together of different parts to make a beautiful whole.


Unity is important to God. God by nature is a tri-unity or trinity; One God in Three Persons. The Father, Son Jesus and Holy Spirit are separate, distinct and different but they are united in that they are One God. God is a unity and loves unity. We see unity in His creation in such areas as land, sea, air, the seasons, animal and human coexistence, the different types of terrain and a host of other aspects of nature that come together to make a tapestry of a united creation. God created the environment for relational unity in marriage where two people of the opposite sex become one (Gen. 2:24). Family is an expression of unity between parent and child. There is unity in all God does.  


The church is an expression of the unity of God. It is composed of those who have received the gospel of salvation in Jesus Christ. The saved compose a body of believers made up of those from a Jewish and non-Jewish heritage (cf. Eph. 2:11-22). The body of Christ is diverse in many ways. It is made up of people with a lot of differences. There are men and women, rich and poor, people of varying degrees and capacities of intellect. People come from different cultures, countries, and continents. There are people who range in age from newborn to senior citizen. There are people in all colors, shapes and sizes. Every person is unique and loved by God. Every person is valued and has a calling to serve in God’s plan. We are all a part of the poetry of God (Eph. 2:10). We are His building. We are fellow workers with God (1 Cor. 3:9). Everyone in the church has an important part to serve in. No one can or should be dismissed as unimportant in God’s plans or His church (1 Cor. 12 and 14). The Lord knows us intimately. He has us down to the very hairs on our head! (Matthew 10:30). God loves us all (John 3:16). He is the One who has brought us together; united us in Christ.


The devil is so uncreative. He works through his own brand of unity to further his evil. He knows a good tactic when he sees one and isn’t averse to adopting something when it works. The devil unites his forces too. Those who stoned Stephen were of "one accord" (Acts 7:57). Those who opposed Paul were of “one accord” (Acts 18:12; 19:29).  Let it not be said that the enemy is more united than Jesus’ disciples. Look around you. It’s sad that the forces for sin, immorality and darkness are frequently more fervently united in their cause than those walking in the light of God. That is a shame. That is a sin.

There are times when we don’t appreciate our differences and allow them to cause division. We cannot allow our differences to divide us. As Christians we are exhorted to, “walk worthy of the calling with which you were called, with all lowliness and gentleness, with longsuffering, bearing with one another in love, endeavoring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.” (Ephesians 4:1-3).  This “unity” (Greek henotes) is unanimity, oneness; togetherness.

Unity is an instrument through which God fulfills His plans to His glory. Unity is part of God’s strategy for unleashing His power in this world.


When the Holy Spirit works He works in and through unity. Prior to Pentecost there were one hundred and twenty united in “one accord” (Acts 1:14-15). “One accord” is a translation of a single Greek adverb (homothumadon) which means to have a common agreement of mind and purpose hence the translation one accord, or together. The Book of Acts provides an inspired historical account of the work of the Holy Spirit after the ascension of Jesus. Acts should be our model for the church. When we look at this portion of scripture we see unity precedes, is in the midst of, and is a result of the work of the Spirit.


For what purpose did the disciples of Acts come together in “one accord”? Acts begins with the disciples being in “one accord” in prayer in the Upper Room seeking the Promise of the Father (Acts 1:4-5). They were “one accord” in obeying Jesus’ command to wait for the empowerment of the Holy Spirit (Acts 1:8). They were “one accord” in purpose. They knew they needed something outside of themselves to accomplish the Great Commission. They needed the power of the Spirit upon them. And when they were baptized with the Holy Spirit and power they were in “one accord in one place” (Acts 2:1). If we are ever to experience another outpouring and empowering of the Spirit to deal with the deep darkness of this age, we will have to unite in “one accord.”


The newborn church was birthed in unity and grew in unity. They were steadfastly devoted to and united in the teaching of the word, fellowship, worship and prayer (Acts 2:42). They continued and grew in being in “one accord” (Acts 2:46). When they faced opposition they came together in “one accord” and prayed. The result was a renewed powerful holy boldness to face their enemies (Acts 4:24 and 31).  They liked being together in “one accord” (Acts 5:12). The Spirit brought more people together in “one accord” as the gospel spread (Acts 8:6). Even when there were issues in the church God’s people came together and found a united resolution (Acts 15:25). When the Spirit acts, He unites.


But when we look at the church today we don’t see a people who are “one accord” do we? We don’t often see the Spirit either do we? The two go hand in glove. A.W. Tozer once said that if the Holy Spirit was removed from the church 95% of what goes on would continue to go on. Think about that. That is sad. Too much of what we do in the church is Spiritless. Too much of what the church does is divided, dividing, and divisive. Where is the unity? Where is the Spirit?


Today we don’t see a united church. Oh, sometimes we do. But too frequently we don’t. The focus is on people, problems or what we perceive as deficiencies. I’m not talking about addressing deviations to scripture. We have to reprove, correct, and instruct (2 Tim. 3:16-17). What I’m talking about for the most part is our tendency to create factions based on personal preferences or party spirit. I’m talking about the Corinthianizing of the church (cf. 1 Cor. 3). I’m talking about carnal flesh-rooted self-centered words and deeds that are divisive. And such is always divisive and unity destroying.


Why is the church so divided? There are a lot of reasons. They are rooted in the flesh. We personally don’t like something or the way something is done so we express our displeasure. Maybe it’s the carpet or color of the paint, a worship style, or the way the pastor says a word. Maybe it’s the people group the church is seeking to reach out to. Maybe it’s about some use of technology or lack thereof. It’s something. It’s not a scripturally based preference just our own personal preference and we don’t like it. I’m talking about a  church degenerated and backslidden into another brand of wandering naysayers and complainers much the same as the children of Israel who preceded them (cf. Exodus 15:24; 16:2, 7; 17:3; Numbers 11:1; 14:2, 27, 29; 16:11, 41; Deuteronomy 1:27; Joshua 9:18; 21:22). What’s the problem?


The problem is the heart. The heart is prone to deceit and desperate wickedness. Only God can know it (Jer. 17:9-10). In us, in our fleshly sinful nature there is nothing good (Rom. 7:18). Our flesh opposes the work of the Spirit and indeed cannot do anything that pleases God (Rom. 8:5-8). The flesh opposes unity. Like Korah the flesh cries out, “You take too much upon yourselves.” We push others aside as we push to the front of the assembly (Num. 16). The flesh wants center stage. It cries out “Unity be damned! I want my way!” This is a terrible weakness. How can it be fixed? The only way is to walk in the Spirit (Rom. 8).


The Holy Spirit has provided unifying instruction in His word. There are very practical steps to make us agents of unity in the church. If we seek the Spirit’s leading and His power to implement His word in our lives, we can experience blessed and powerful unity. So what must we do to foster unity in the Spirit?


First, to foster unity understand that unity is all about Jesus. The Spirit will always point us to Jesus (John 15:26). Colossians 1:17 states, “And He is before all things, and in Him all things consist.” The word “consist” is a translation of the Greek term synistao which means to place together, to set in the same place, to bring or band together. Jesus brings us together in unity. The more we look to Jesus the more united we will be. The more we walk like Jesus, talk like Jesus, live like Jesus, love like Jesus, the more united we will be. It’s all about Jesus. His way, His life, His truth is what unites people in proper holy unity. Look to Jesus to be united.


Second, to foster unity have a servant’s heart. Jesus said He didn’t come to be served but to serve and give Himself a ransom for many (Mark 10:45). The Spirit’s aim is to conform us to the likeness of Jesus (Rom. 8:29). That means we are to follow in Jesus’ steps and walk as He walked (1 Petr 2:21; 1 John 2:6). That starts with a servant hearted attitude. He is our Lord. Therefore His wish is our command. And when we obey Him and do what He tells us to do, we shouldn’t think we are doing Him a favor. When we subordinate our interests to foster unity we aren’t doing Jesus a favor. We are only doing what is expected for us to do (Luke 17:10). Obedience in service unleashes the Spirit (Acts 5:32).


Third, to foster unity be other-centered not self-centered. Jesus came to give His life. He died on the cross for you and me. He lived for others. So should we. And we must live for others if we are to be united. God’s word says we should think of others more highly than we think of ourselves (Rom. 12:3). Jesus died and gave us eternal life not so we could have more time to spend on ourselves, but that we might live for Him in reaching and helping others (2 Cor. 5:14-16). Our priority should not be to get my will done but to get His will done. That means serving Him by serving others.


Fourth, to foster unity actively love. No one ever loved like Jesus. Jesus is the epitome and demonstration of God’s love (Romans 5:8). The love of Jesus should be the compelling motive in all we do (2 Cor. 5:14). “Let brotherly love continue” (Heb. 13:1). Jesus’ disciples are known by the love they show (John 13:35). When the Spirit is present and working there will be an outpouring of love (Rom. 5:5). The fruit of the Spirit is love (Gal. 5:22). Love never fails (1 Cor. 13:8). If we value and want to bless God with our unity we must love in the Spirit.


Fifth, to foster unity cooperate with church leadership. Jesus submitted to and cooperated with His Father. As Man Jesus submitted to the authority of the Father. We need to have the same spirit of submission to authority if we are to experience unity. We should remember and respect pastors and those ministering in the church (Heb. 13:7). The Bible says, “Obey those who rule over you, and be submissive, for they watch out for your souls, as those who must give an account. Let them do so with joy and not with grief, for that would be unprofitable for you” (Heb. 13:17). The local pastor is God’s instrument to teach and encourage the flock of God in unity.


We don’t like words like “obey,” or “submissive.” Our flesh recoils at such words. So when the pastor is used by God to apply His word to our life we oftentimes rebel. This is true even though the pastor may have the best of intentions. We just don’t like to be told what to do or to be corrected. And so the seeds of division are sown. And so the pastor, the one called by God to lead in unity, is attacked clandestinely or with open confrontation. The enemy chalks up a victory when that happens and a board in the building of unity is torn away. It often starts with seeing a speck in another’s eye while ignoring the plank in our own eye (Mat. 7:3-5). We don’t have a united perspective.


We forget the tremendous weight of responsibility a true minister of God bears. Not every pastor is a Paul. Few if any could provide a list of hardships like he did. But even if the pastor could list one of the things on Paul’s list of hardships it would be costly. To the divided Corinthians Paul listed labors, whippings with the lash, the danger of death, beatings with rods, being stoned and shipwrecked. He lists perils in the sea, perils with robbers, perils with various people, perils in the city, perils in the country, perils with false brethren, sleepless nights, hunger, cold, and nakedness (2 Cor. 11:22-28). We look at that list and are quick to comment not too many pastors or ministers today know those kinds of problems. That’s true, nevertheless few in society sacrifice health and family like the local pastor does.


There are a lot of costs to the pastor that people fail to appreciate. Loneliness, spiritual attacks from every direction of a ruthless relentless devil, carnal Christians, false brethren, living in a fishbowl, and being on call 24/7, sacrifice of family time, pressures on family, and the list goes on. But whatever list is provided, with Paul the pastor adds, “besides the other things, what comes upon me daily; my deep concern for all the churches” (2 Cor. 11:29). There is a burden, a constant pressure, a heart throb for the lost and the things of God that can only be sensed, sustained and survived with the help of the Holy Spirit. Burn out happens when the pastor gets away from depending on the supernatural power of the Spirit. Ministry without the Spirit will crash and burn. Pastors are who they are by God’s grace (1 Cor. 15:10). They are God’s chosen under-shepherd to lead the flock in unity.


“But my pastor doesn’t care about his flock!” you might say. Well, maybe he’s discouraged. Maybe ministry became for him a never ending procession of dealing with complaints and problems. Maybe no one told him of the victories. When was the last time you sincerely encouraged your pastor? Moses got to the point where he preferred death to leading his complaining crew of people (cf. Numbers 11:10-15). A wife is said to be a reflection of her husband and a husband the reflection of his wife. It might also be said, at least to some extent, that a pastor is a reflection of the people he serves. Is your pastor run down, depressed, lacking of zeal and weak? Have you prayed for him? Have you encouraged him? Have you loved him? Showed a concern for him and his family? If you have a problem with your pastor, maybe the problem is you! If your pastor is in good shape, is he who he is because of you or in spite of you? Pray about it.


Who would you rather be led by, a weak, sad, downtrodden, depressed Eeyore of a person, or a dynamic, joyful, encouraging, zealous on fire for the Lord leader? Who do you think would be more likely to unite the church? It’s to your profit that you actively encourage your pastor, those in ministry and especially those who are in ministry leadership. Jesus was joyful. His leaders should be joyful. Let’s unite in serving the Lord joyfully together for His glory!


Sixth, to foster unity attend events together. For the three years of Jesus ministry He did everything with His disciples. He brought them together in and to Himself. Psalm 133 speaks of the blessedness of brethren dwelling together in unity. It speaks of oil running down the beard of Aaron as imagery of the anointing of the Holy Spirit. It speaks of the dew from Mount Hermon which is imagery of refreshing. Want to be anointed and refreshed? Unite! Come together at services and ministry events. Come together united in heart and purpose.


Seventh, to foster unity encourage one another. Jesus said He would be with us always (Mat. 28:20). He will never leave or forsake us (Heb. 13:5). That is a great encouragement. We need to encourage each other in our commitment to the Lord and each other. The wicked scheme in secret on ways to divide (Psalm 64). We must learn to be a Barnabas; a “son of encouragement” (Acts 4:36; 11:23). Wherever Barnabas went he encouraged someone. To “encourage” is to do or say something that helps someone find courage to carry on. We can encourage people with a written note, letter, email, text, tweet or in some other form of writing (Acts 15:31). It’s best to encourage face to face with a genuine heartfelt word (Acts 20:2; 1 Thess. 3:2). Orderliness as opposed to chaos facilitates encouragement and unity (1 Cor. 14:31). Orderliness allows us to see the advance of God’s plan and will. And when we see the fruit of ministry it’s encouraging to let those serving know about it (Phil. 2:19). BE AN ENCOURAGER!


Eighth, to foster unity pray for one another. Jesus prayed for His disciples (John 17:9). Jesus prays for us (John17:20; Rom. 8:34; Hebrews 7:25). He prays for the Spirit to come upon us (John 14:16-17). Like He did with Peter, when Satan comes after us, He prays for our strength and recovery if we fall (Luke 22:31-32). If Jesus prays for us, we should pray for us too.  There will be no unity unless we unite in prayer.


I’ll close with this. Guard against discordant behavior; behavior in word or deed that will create discord or disunity. The enemy prowls around shooting thought-arrows that pierce the flesh and rile it up (Eph. 4:25-32; 6:10-18; 1 Peter 5:8-9).  The devil’s strategy is like any other commander – divide and conquer. The enemy is a deceiver and liar; he works secretively (John 8:43-44). Watch for his influence in your thinking and behavior. Take every thought captive to obey Jesus’ way of thinking (2 Cor. 10:3-4). Be submissive and humble before God. Guard your heart and mind. Be strong in prayer. Resist the devil and he will flee (James 4:7-10). But work in the Spirit for unity and when you do, the Spirit will work through you.


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