Is there any encouragement from belonging to Christ? Any comfort from his love? Any fellowship together in the Spirit? Are your hearts tender and compassionate?
Is everyone shouting a resounding Yes to these questions? Yes, there is much encouragement and comfort in belonging to Christ and knowing His love! Yes, there is a special fellowship with other believers beyond human, earthly connection. Yes, Jesus invades my heart and makes it tender and compassionate! Yes! Life in Christ is good, comforting, exciting, extraordinary, awesome, grand.
Good. Glad to hear all that enthusiasm. Now here’s the next step:
Then make me truly happy by agreeing wholeheartedly with each other, loving one another, working together with one mind and purpose.
Oh. Well, this part isn’t quite that easy. You know how many different personalities we have, just sitting in one pew on Sunday morning? Take a look at how many pews there are in our sanctuary! In such a gathering of human beings, surely there will be disagreements and differing opinions. Surely there will be some conflict and dissension.
Do you suppose that is why Jesus prayed so fervently for His followers before leaving this earth? Repeatedly, He asked the Father to bring them to a perfect unity. Was He thinking about how easily we humans fall to bickering, squabbles, selfishness, and grabbing for power or position? Even while He was with the disciples, some arguing occurred among them. What would happen once He was no longer physically with them?
As we read His prayer in John 17, it’s very clear that Jesus’ desire is that His followers work in a unity that makes the world sit up and take notice.
“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.”
Unity of the believers is key to Christ’s mission in this world! How we live with other children of God tells the world much about Christ and God’s love. This is so important to the work of Christ in this world, how can we shrug it off as too idealistic or try to sidestep the issue and say ‘It’s just not possible’?
Yes, the church brings together many different personalities. Yes, even within the church, we all still struggle with our sinful nature. Yes, bringing this many people together under one roof is bound to be fertile ground for disagreement and conflict.
But we have come together under Christ’s roof. We are connected by one Spirit. We have one mission. We have one head.
The Philippians verse asking us to agree wholeheartedly is most often translated as being likeminded. It doesn’t mean we always have the same opinion; but it does mean we work together with one mind and one purpose. Think of a good marriage you’ve observed (maybe your own?). Do spouses always think alike on all issues? Of course not. But they are one-minded in that they are both devoted to the marriage. And that commitment rules how they treat each other.
In the same way, Paul says we have all been called to work at one purpose, and to accomplish that we will need to love each other and take on one mind, the attitude of Christ, our head who rules the body.
Paul goes on to describe Christ’s attitude, one of total humility. He was God, yet he gave up His divine privileges. He humbled himself in obedience to God and died a criminal’s death on the cross . (verse 8)
I really believe there is no magic wand that a pastor can wave over his flock to bind them together in perfect unity. The key lies with each one of us, in our hearts and minds, in our commitment to Christ’s mission on this earth.
Take a look. Paul follows that verse on being likeminded and working together with a verse that is aimed at each individual. He says:
Don’t be selfish;
don’t try to impress others.
Be humble, thinking of others as better than yourselves,
Don’t look out only for your own interests, but take an interest in others, too.
Hits home, doesn’t it?
What would humbling yourself in obedience to God look like in your life right now, in whatever situation you find yourself today? You probably won’t have to die as a criminal, as Jesus did.
But you may have to act in love towards someone you’d rather dislike. (That means patience, kindness, no pride or rudeness, always hopeful, persevering, not easily ticked off, not keeping accounts of wrongs.)
You may have to admit that your reluctance to support a certain program or person in your church rises from purely selfish motives.
You might have to take the first step in healing a relationship.
You will most surely have to bite your tongue more than once.
For every conflict and disagreement, every minor irritation and every huge discord that occurs in the body of Christ, the bottom line seems to be that each of us must honestly ask the Spirit for insight to see what is ruling our feelings, thoughts, speech, and actions. Is it selfishness, a desire to impress, a desire to be “right”? Or is it the Spirit of Jesus Christ, who prayed so fervently for oneness of mind and passion in His disciples?
Is it ME who determines what I say and do today, or is it the Spirit?
Scripture: from Philippians 2 and John 17