I'm preaching through Paul's letter to the Philippians. Great news: everything I thought was there is still there. Interesting news: something is in the book that I've never really noticed before, not even when I memorized much of the letter back during my college years. One of the great themes of this loving and powerful letter is simply that God cares - deeply and seriously - about the unity of His church.
Check out a few sample verses, just to prove the case:
Only let your manner of life be worthy of the gospel of Christ, so that...I may hear that you are standing firm in one spirit, with one mind striving side by side... (1:27)
...complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. (2:2)
Do all things without grumbling or disputing [i.e., against each other]... (2:14)
I entreat Euodia and I entreat Syntyche to agree in the Lord. (4:2)
You get the point. God cares that His church be unified.
And here are some reasons God is passionate about the unity of His church:
- The unity of the church is one of (if not the) clearest witnesses we have to an unbelieving world. (1:28; 2:15-16)
- The unity of the church reflects the unity that exists within God Himself.
- The unity of the church, especially when pursued through personal sacrifice (2:3-4), reflects the beautiful and selfless sacrifice of Jesus Christ, who Himself died that we might be unified to our great God (2:5-7).
All of this is very convicting, at least to me. It's become clear through my study that God cares about the unity of His church a lot more than I do. So, by God's grace, here's what I'm learning and doing.
I'm learning that there is no unity without sacrifice, especially the sacrifice of forgiveness. We are, all of us, sinners trying to do the hardest thing in the world: live heavenly lives on earth. This means a lot of toes are going to be stepped on and if I'm not prepared to forgive as I've been forgiven, unity will remain a pipe dream.
I'm learning that unity - both within our church family and between various church families - isn't a back-burner issue for God and isn't something we can expect to just happen. Ever since Martin Luther sounded the bell of Scripture reigning over the individual conscience (praise God!), we have almost constantly over-corrected and will continue to split Christ's bride into a million pieces unless we work hard to reverse this sinful tendency.
God is also reminding me that unity isn't so much a goal to be pursued as a reality to be lived out. The fact is that we _are _unified in Jesus Christ. The challenge before us is not to make unity (who among us could dream to repair such breaches?) but to live unity, relying on the strength and grace God provides in the gospel that unifies us.
What to do?
In our local congregation, we're going to pray more for unity and praise God for the unity He's already given. We're going to repent of disunity whenever necessary.
We're going to start praying publicly for another local ministry or church every week during worship.
We're setting a goal of doing a joint vacation Bible school with another local church next summer. During the year, we're going to work to find ways to get to know other church families, whether in the context of worship or social gatherings.
I've committed to being a reading group with a few local pastors. Already I've been encouraged and challenged by brothers who probably wouldn't place themselves within the "reformed" fold.
I'm recommitting to a local gathering of evangelical pastors and ministries. To be honest, these times can be somewhat challenging to me, as my reformed convictions make me a minority in the group. But by another manner of reckoning, there are no true minorities if we are one in Jesus.
And I'm more glad than ever that the RPCNA synod (the denomination most of GenRef writers are a part of) will happen alongside the ARP synod this summer.
What else? Please comment and share your creative ideas of how we can live out the unity that God loves so much that His Son died for it.
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