New Eyes, New Unity
And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself. (John 12:32)
Without giving much thought to what is going on within them, many constantly practice the habit of inwardly gazing upon God. They know that something inside their hearts sees God. Even when they are compelled to withdraw their conscious attention in order to engage in earthly affairs, there is within them a secret communion always going on. Let their attention but be released for a moment from necessary business, and it flies at once to God again.
I do not want to leave the impression that the ordinary means of grace have no value. They most assuredly have. Private prayer should be practiced by every Christian. Long periods of Bible meditation will purify our gaze and direct it, church attendance will enlarge our outlook and increase our love for others. Service and work and activity- all are good and should be engaged in by every Christian. But at the bottom of all these things, giving meaning to them, will be the inward habit of beholding God. A new set of eyes (so to speak) will develops within us enabling us to be looking at God while our outward eyes are seeing the scenes of this passing world.
Someone may fear that we are magnifying private religion out of all proportion, that the “us” of the New Testament is being displaced by a selfish “I.” Has it ever occurred to you that one hundred pianos all tuned to the same fork are automatically tuned to each other? They are of one accord by being tuned, not to each other, but to a standard to which each one must individually bow. So one hundred worshippers met together, each one looking away to Christ, are on heart nearer to each other than they could possible be were they to become “unity” conscious and turn their eyes away from God to strive for closer fellowship.
Ephesians 4 as it is defining the purpose of the five-fold ministry gifts uses the phrase “unity in the faith” as the destination of body of believers. Paul goes on to say that as believers are built up and rooted in faith, they become mature believers who are unified through the same faith.
So Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ. Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of people in their deceitful scheming. Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will grow to become in every respect the mature body of him who is the head, that is, Christ. From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work.
Ephesians 4:11-16 NIV
It is this unity, that of “unity in the faith and knowledge of the Son of God” that we are to strive for. That alone and nothing else will unite us. Everyone has opinions about how things ought to be and how things ought to be done and it was so in the New Testament church as well. We find they had the same differences of opinions as we do and those differences centered around methods rather than faith.
What brought those disciples together? We find them just before the crucifixion, divided. James and John were contending for the seats of honor in the new kingdom. Judas was plotting to use Jesus to overthrow the Roman oppression. Peter will deny Him, all will sleep while He goes through His trial in the Garden of Gethsemane. When Christ is arrested, they all flee, and after the resurrection, they do not believe the reports. Yet we find these words describing them on the Day of Pentecost:
When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place,
What had brought them together was not a bland meeting where everyone was cookie-cutter designed, but a singleness of focus. Each of the were seeking the risen Christ and each of them were waiting for the Promise of the Father and that my friend is what brought the unity into the room. O there would be other moments of disagreement that they would have to meet and find a place of agreement, but as they focused on Christ, they found themselves also in unity.
Someone has said that an enemy of my enemy is my friend and that’s the way the world views things. Having said that, what is being said is that when two are united in the same cause, they will at least for the moment forget their differences.
Now let’s apply all this to us. One of the obvious issues in the church and the world today is that we are divided about a lot of things. I think it would be good to investigate the roots of that which divides. For example, are we divided by disunity of faith? If so then the solution is given in Ephesians 4. We are to “become mature attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ…no longer be infants….blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of people in their deceitful scheming.” Scripture teaches that “faith comes by hearing and hearing by the Word of God” so it becomes imperative that the Word of God is preached as it stands and that those who present it do so without distortion or insertion of their own personal agendas.
Most of our disunity comes from things other than those of faith. Most church conflict usually has little to do with the Gospel. We argue more over methods and rituals than we do righteousness. Rare have I heard a congregation argue over spiritual matters. I find they may argue over how rituals are done and each party quite sure their method is the correct one, but at the end of the day it never seems to come to the table that the purpose of every ritual is to connect people to God and to glorify Christ. Perhaps if we made those our primary focus, like the pianos tuned to the same fork, we would find ourselves united.
We know in our world that even sinners can unite around the same cause. As a nation we have seen how major calamities break down barriers and bring people together. Though it may only last as long as there is a cause, the power of the cause to unite is incredible. Now imagine if the church which is eternal and has an eternal cause- bringing people to know Christ- were focused on this single purpose, what it could accomplish.
How do we find this unity? Here are my suggestions. Every Christian ought to spend their week preparing themselves for the weekly gathering by spending time in prayer and the Word. As Sunday approaches, they ought to move their focus on all the things they had to focus on throughout the week, whether their job or family or chores, toward the heart-engaged worship of Christ. When they gather, their single purpose is to experience an encounter with Christ. Whatever song is sung, or sermon preached, they ought to choose to engage in worship and sitting at the feet of Jesus. I’ve learned that when I come to church this way that I always receive something from God.
Some years ago, Sherry and I and the church where we were pastors, had connected to another church and we met weekly for a time of prayer and worship together. We would rotate from building to building and the host church would provide the music and devotion followed by a season of prayer. Though I am not a great musician or vocalist, my ear is pretty sensitive and Sherry’s even more. As the pastor and worship team of this sister black congregation would provide the music, quite often the piano would be in one key and the vocalist would be in another. The human me would want to run screaming out the door and I wanted to put my hands over my ears. Were I to give way to my natural preferences, I would have done so. What captured me was that although the sound was terrible, the intensity of worship was beyond amazing. I saw the worshippers so engaged in heart driven exaltation of Christ that it pulled me beyond the discordant sounds and brought my spirit into the presence of the Living Christ. In every gathering, God touched my life in indescribable ways that couldn’t have happened in any other atmosphere. What was it that charged the atmosphere in such a way that in that place we forgot that we were of two races and colors, we forgot that we were of two different denominations, and we forgot that we were individuals with preferences, and I forgot that the music was grating? It was nothing other than that each of us were individually engaged in the worship of the same Jesus and that individual focus on Him resulted in incredible unity. We may never agree on everything, but can I ask if we could agree that the worship and fellowship with Christ becomes our single focus. I may not appreciate your music preference and you may not appreciate mine, you may practice your faith a little different than I, and we may each use different rituals/ symbols to express our worship, but can our relationship with Christ and our pursuit of Him draw us together with cords that cannot be broken. I’m not asking nor suggesting that we become so inclusive that anything goes. Actually, I’m suggesting a stricter guideline. I’m suggesting that if something doesn’t exalt Christ and bring attention to Him solely; if it doesn’t fulfill His mission and purposes, and if it is not in keeping with the Word of God and the knowledge of Christ, that we abandon it, set it aside and give way to that intense and intentional engagement in true worship.
23 But a time is coming and is already here when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit [from the heart, the inner self] and in truth; for the Father seeks such people to be His worshipers. 24 God is spirit [the Source of life, yet invisible to mankind], and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth.”
For this reason also [because He obeyed and so completely humbled Himself], God has highly exalted Him and bestowed on Him the name which is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee shall bow [in submission], of those who are in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and that every tongue will confess and openly acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord (sovereign God), to the glory of God the Father.
And the four living creatures, each one of them having six wings, are full of eyes all over and within [underneath their wings]; and day and night they never stop saying, “ Holy, holy, holy [is the] Lord God, the Almighty [the Omnipotent, the Ruler of all], who was and who is and who is to come [the unchanging, eternal God].” Whenever the living creatures give glory and honor and thanksgiving to Him who sits on the throne, to Him who lives forever and ever, the twenty-four elders fall down before Him who sits on the throne, and they worship Him who lives forever and ever; and they throw down their crowns before the throne, saying, “Worthy are You, our Lord and God, to receive the glory and the honor and the power; for You created all things, and because of Your will they exist, and were created and brought into being.”
Finally let me say that unity is the outcome of relationship with Christ and not something negotiated around a table between humans. It is when we make Christ and Him crucified the center of all our worship, work and gatherings that we find ourselves walking in unity. True unity is a matter of the heart and those so united can make room for diversity.
Dr. John Thompson