Unity and Love

Unity and love go hand-in-hand. Unity

One cannot be fully experienced without the other.  Striving for unity in our relationships without a commitment to love is futile.  Hate groups have the appearance of unity but what they have is union NOT unity.  All it takes to form a union is a common enemy, but it takes love for true unity to form.  During World War II the USA formed a union with the Soviet Union against a common enemy – Hitler — but as soon as the threat of Nazism was extinguished, so was our common bond with the USSR and we stopped being friendly.  We were united temporarily against a common enemy, but that was all, what we had was a union, not unity, and even that was short-lived.

Some Christians are precariously united over a common enemy — they’re against the latest “badest” thing –but they’re not united in love for one another.  Our Christian fellowship can’t be determined by who or what we’re against.  We don’t need to show the world how much we hate whatever the most current evil issue is.  Instead, we need to show the world how much we love one another and them.  As Jesus said in John 13:34:

“By this will all men know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”

Redwood trees can grow as high as 300 feet and yet they have a remarkably shallow root structure.  Do you know what keeps them strong, what keeps them from blowing over in the midst of a storm? Their roots may be shallow, but they intertwine.  Each tree derives strength from the others.  That’s not all.  Each tree also shares its resources with the others.  The trees that are closer to the water are able to give nourishment to the trees that are further away.  Jesus followers are meant to work the same way.  We are to be intertwined, interdependent and united in love.  We are meant to give strength and spiritual nourishment to one another.

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow said, “All your strength is in union — all your danger is in discord.” He could have been talking about Jesus followers, couldn’t he?  When we start fighting with one another, we stop being effective.  We need to keep in mind that we’re all in this together, and we need to hang in there with one another.

Mountain climbers are all tied together to ensure that everyone makes it to the top of the mountain. Likewise, we need to stay “tied” to one another to make sure that no one gives up but that every one of us makes it to the top of the mountain!

I think one reason so many people found shows like Cheers, Friends, and Seinfeld (ask someone you consider old about these shows!) so appealing is that these shows demonstrate relationships between people who are united in love. These flawed characters reach us because beneath their selfishness they are committed to each other. (In fact, the conflict between individual selfishness and group unity is what fueled most episodes.) Even though their character flaws are obvious to everyone in the group, they still belong to the group. People like that; they want to experience it for themselves.

A driving force in Paul’s life was to make that happen.  He wanted all Jesus followers to be united with one another in love. Are we driven by this ideal as well?  How is true unity formed? It is formed when we all fall head over heels in love with Jesus!

A thousand pianos tuned to one piano will all sound the same.  If the prime piano is in tune they all will be in tune.  If the prime piano is out of tune they will all be out of tune.

It is the same with unity among Jesus followers as well.  When we, as a group, are each in tune with Jesus — when we are all committed to following Him – we will find that we are committed to one another in love. But if we are tuned to anyone else or any other cause we may form a union but we will not form true unity.  Paul wants us to be united with one another in love; the source of our unity is the source of our love –  Jesus.

“Christian unity is not found in uniformity, organization, or a particular church, but rather in Jesus and our commitment to his teachings, and living them out in our lives…It is only as we join together with others who look different than we do but share a common love and commitment to the Truth that is Jesus, that we can know the completeness of the body of Christ.” -Bob Snyder

A driving force in Paul’s relationships was to help Jesus followers become united in love. Is that what drives our relationships?  Let’s look for ways to spread unity throughout our society by being more in love with Jesus that we are with ourselves.

Centuries ago Thomas A Kempis wrote this excellent reminder,

“If Christ is among us, then it is necessary that we sometimes yield up our own opinion for the sake of peace. Who is so wise as to have perfect knowledge of all things? Therefore, trust not too much in your own opinion, but be ready also to hear the opinions of others.”

Relationships and Recipes

Don Miller in Searching for God Knows What writes:

If the Gospel of Jesus is just some formula then it doesn’t meet the deep need of the human condition, it doesn’t interact with the great desire of my soul…

But if it is more, if it is a story about humanity falling away from the community that named it, and an attempt to bring humanity back to that community, and if it is more than a series of ideas, but rather speaks directly into this basic human need we are feeling, then the gospel of Jesus is the most relevant message in the history of mankind.

I wish I could write like Don Miller.  He expresses so well the fact so often overlooked in our formulaic approach to Christianity.  I was raised with two very different approaches to following Jesus.  They were oppositional but no one seemed to notice.

One approach was the “five finger exercise” (attributed to a frontier evangelist named Walter Scott).  Starting with the thumb you had the “plan of salvation” in your open hand: believe, repent, confess, be baptized and the pinky finger was live a godly life (although Scott actually ended with “recieve the Holy Spirit”).  There you had it.  Want to be saved? Believe the gospel, repent of your sins, confess Jesus as your Lord, be baptized by immersion, and live a godly life.  Neat, clean, no fuss except for that last kicker: live a godly life.  That one kept me on my toes making sure that I made it to heaven some day.

The other approach was what was preached and taught regularly: the need to have a personal relationship with Jesus.  This was acheived apparently by Bible reading and study, prayer, attending church (3 times a week minimum), tithing, taking communion every Sunday, and most importantly by personal evangelism.  This, of course, was done by teaching non-Christians the “five finger exercise” plan of salvation.  Oh yeah, there was a long list of “do nots” to be abstained from as well.

I am not lambasting my early church, indeed I am indebted to it for much of the Bible knowledge I have and for the high view of Scripture that it instilled in me.  My early preachers and teachers were men and women of God whose love for the Lord shone through to me stronger than the formulas and rules they taught.  I love them and always will. 

Do you see the oppositional ideologies?  They did not. Neither did I.  It was only later as I grew to really know Jesus (which may not even have happened without the example of those godly leaders who gave me a thirst to know the Jesus I read about in the Bible) I saw what Don Miller expressed so well – that relationships are not formed by following formulas.

Today I believe that having a relationship with Jesus means falling in love with Him.  The whole of our experience of Jesus can be described in one word: Love. Love. Love may just be the most overused word in the English language! I say: I love the Bulldawgs!  I love chunky monkey ice cream!  I love DragonCon!  I love to play poker!  I love my iPhone!  I love Sheila!  I love my grandsons! I love CCF! I love Jesus!  What??  Sometimes I wish we had different words to describe the different things we “love”.  Maybe “love lite” for food, sports, entertainment and electronics.  Maybe “love grande” for worthy projects or goals. And reserve “love” for God and people.  Then when we hear Jesus say, “By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” (John 13:35 NIV) it would mean more.  Knowing what Biblical love is is essential because that is what defines us as Christians.

Everything we do is to be motivated by love— love for others, even love for ourselves and especially love for Jesus. “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” (Matthew 22:37-40 NIV)

Jesus taught that we are even to love our enemies. He said in his most famous sermon… You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven.” (Matthew 5:43-45 NIV)

Love.  It’s the one thing that everyone knows we are supposed to do. Take any non-Christian off the street—a person who has never been to church in his entire life—and the one thing he can tell you about Christianity is that Christians are supposed to be loving. The world knows we’re supposed to do it, and we know it we’re supposed to do it, but it’s not always easy to do, is it? I think this is the reason why we allow ourselves to become sidetracked with secondary issues within the Christian sub-culture. We debate about Praise Band or Choir, Exuberant worship or Quite reflection, or whether Jesus would drive an SUV or a Prius. We do this because it is a lot easier to debate than it is to love.

When I was first starting out in campus ministry, I asked a successful campus minister what it took to be a good campus minister. He said, “You have to be an entrepreneur. You have to be organized and efficient, able to manage your time well, and able to see projects through to completion.” I don’t know if he realized it, but he was basically describing himself.

A few days later I asked a veteran campus minister who was approaching retirement the same question. Without hesitation, he answered, “You have to love your students.” I said, “What about being organized and efficient? What about being a self-starter?” He said, “A person with good organizational skills will have a better chance to build a successful ministry—and you should develop those skills as much as you can. But a campus minister who loves his students will make a difference in their lives for all eternity.” This doesn’t just apply to campus ministers. It applies to all Christians everywhere. Do you want to make a difference in the world? You do it by loving others. 

 But loving others is possible only if we love Jesus.  I’ll write more about this assertion in my next post.