In the churches with which I have experience, unity seems to be a sometimes thing.
We Baptists have been known to pride ourselves on our divisions. "Where you have two of us, you have three opinions." A great many of our churches were started, not intentionally but accidentally, the result of division and splits.
To the average church member, it appears that unity is good but not important, welcome but not essential, comfortable but usually inconvenient.
We are dead wrong.
Unity is a huge deal to the Lord, in Scripture, and in our world today.
Our Creator God has built harmony into the universe, installed it in science and mathematics, and made it a major component in music and in our DNA.
It's no stretch to believe God wants unity in human relationships.
God is not the author of confusion (1 Cor. 14:33). Where there is disorder and chaos in our lives, we are not to blame Him.
Unity honors Christ and reflects well on the Trinity (see our text, John 17:20-23).
Unity makes the journey more pleasant. Amos said, "Can two walk together except they be agreed?" (Amos 3:3).
Unity makes the church's work more efficient. Ever try to lead a congregation that cannot agree on anything or an organization that is divided? A team where everyone wants to be the captain? Ever try to run a business when your co-workers are forever bickering and undercutting one another?
Imagine an army where every soldier is given a vote on tactics and procedures. Imagine a church that believes pastors are there to please them.
Everything you do feels uphill and burdensome.
A great team functions like a well-oiled machine, each element doing its part, working in sync with the others. Now, imagine such a church.
A harmonious church is a lovely thing. Sad to say, it's often an anomaly. An oddity. A rarity.
When a church does its work in a harmonious, unified way, and does so year after year while making huge decisions and accomplishing important ministries, the world notices. The outside world watches and sees, and people are drawn to Jesus.
People are drawn to Jesus when His people love each other and work together in a sweet, harmonious way.
That's the biggie. Unity is essential to evangelism.
Unity in the body of Christ encourages people to believe in Jesus.
"Father, I pray that they all may be one ... that the world may believe."
Unity is essential if we are to reach people for Jesus.
When the Jerusalem church began bickering over the distribution of food to the widows, the outside community sat up and took notice. Some pulled up a chair to watch the fireworks, satisfied that this fledgling movement of Jesus-followers would soon self-destruct. After all, they were a vast assortment of races and languages and nationalities (ever since Pentecost; Acts 2).
Division had to come sooner or later, critics surely thought. Maintaining unity in such a diverse body for any period of time was an impossibility.
When the Jerusalem church faced the problem head-on and got this right—I mean, knocked it out of the park!—the world was most impressed. That accounts for the fascinating statement in Acts 6:7: "So the word of God spread. The number of disciples in Jerusalem increased rapidly. And a large number of priests became obedient to the faith."
When Jewish priests were drawn to Jesus, you knew something amazing was going on. It was the unity that did it.
Disunity–continued conflict without a good resolution–would have confirmed to the watchers that these Christians were no different from anyone else, and they would have ignored the believers and turned aside to other matters. (Too many of our churches are being ignored by the community these days. We may as well erect "Keep Off" signs on the front lawn.)
The unity and harmony in the Jerusalem church won over even their sternest critics, the Jewish priests. It will do the same thing today.
In a seminary class, I asked, "How are the people in your church different from one another?" The responses seemed endless: They are different in generations, gender, income levels, education and experience. Different in values, theology, viewpoints, age, ambitions, maturity levels and politics. They are different in races and culture, in backgrounds and needs and physiology.
Unity in such a diverse group is every bit as much a miracle as any healing or resurrection from the dead.
The outside world is watching to see if God is in your midst, church. They will know you are His and He is there by your unity.
Acts 16:25 says when Paul and Silas began praying and singing hymns to the Lord "about midnight," even though they were suffering in a Philippian jail with their beaten backs left as open wounds, "the other prisoners were listening to them."
They're always listening, friend. The outside world is always watching.
But they quit listening and stop watching the moment they decide we are just like everyone else, living in the flesh, running our lives in carnal ways.
That's why the Lord will allow His people to go through suffering and torment, persecution and division; it's all intended to bear a witness to the watching world.
"You will be persecuted, arrested and hauled into court," Jesus told His people. "You will be brought before judges and magistrates and put on trial because of your preaching."
"When that happens," Jesus said, "remember this is not about you. It's all about Me. For My Name's sake. So, do not prepare a speech. The Holy Spirit will tell you what to say. Trust Him" (My version of Matt. 10:16ff).
The idea was to get the message to the judges and magistrates, the officials and rulers. After all, Caesar is not coming to your revival. So to get the gospel to him, the Lord needed some disciples to be arrested and brought into court to testify on what they were preaching. That's how the early church was going to reach the high and the mighty.
The world is watching, certain that you are not the real deal, that your church is filled with hypocrites, that Jesus is a myth and the Holy Spirit just an idea. So, something has to happen.
Someone or something has to challenge the peace and harmony in your fellowship. The Lord allows this in order to create a canvas on which to display His special creation—men and women redeemed by the blood and indwelt by the Holy Spirit.
Pastor, the time to teach principles of unity to your people is when everything is going well. Teach them to expect challenges to the unity, and prepare them to respond in faith since the Lord has clearly decided to do something special in them at this time.
The disciples "returned rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer for His name" (Acts 5:41).
They knew God was up to something, and wanted to be a part of it.
After five years as director of missions for the 100 Southern Baptist churches of metro New Orleans, Joe McKeever retired on June 1, 2009. These days, he has an office at the First Baptist Church of Kenner, where he's working on three books, and he's trying to accept every speaking/preaching invitation that comes his way.
For the original article, visit joemckeever.com.
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