When the Angels won the World Series in 2002 it wasn’t because they had a roster full of superstar ball players. In fact, if you had looked at the individual players that made up the team, you wouldn’t have expected them to be the champions. But the way they played baseball went beyond the ability of any one player. Championship teams are not always those with the most stars, but those teams that band together into a fighting unit.
One of the greatest battles of all time is the battle of Rorke’s Drift, January of 1879. It took place between the Zulu warriors in South Africa and the military unit posted at a small mission. 139 British soldiers went up against 4000 Zulu warriors. Just when it seems that the Zulu warriors are about to overtake the outpost, the commanding officer orders his soldiers to form ranks like they had never done before. The front rank fires while the back ranks are loading weapons. Then the middle rank fires while the others are reloading. Then the back rank fires while the front ranks reload. This way there is an almost constant barrage of rifle fire as they fight for their lives.
Because they were able to unite, they were able to stay alive. Sometimes we fail to see how our behavior builds up or destroys unity. We think that our little squabbles are not too serious, or that they really won’t affect the church. If we lack unity and love for each other then we risk failing in our God-given purpose, and that kind of failure could have eternal casualties. A forest fire starts with a single spark, and we’re playing with fire if we don’t take unity seriously. It’s time to suit up, assume the ranks, and get to work.
Let’s look at what the Apostle Paul says about unity:
Eph 4:1-3 ~ I, therefore, the prisoner of the Lord, urge you to live in a way that is worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, along with patience, accepting one another in love. Do your best to maintain the unity of the Spirit by means of the bond of peace.
Col 3:12-14 ~ Therefore, as God’s chosen ones, holy and loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience. Put up with one another and forgive each other if anyone has a complaint against another. Just as the Lord has forgiven you, you also should forgive. Above all, clothe yourselves with love, which ties everything together in unity.
Unity can accomplish anything. Disunity prevents anything from happening. Let’s talk about what unity isn’t: We’re not talking about uniformity. Unity is also not “one world, one faith.” COEXIST isn’t the goal. Nor does it mean than nobody ever brings up a disagreement. Christian unity is not Communist-style conformity, but a pervading love that is maintained even when differences come up. True unity is represented by an orchestra. Everyone has a part to play, and when you play your part in cooperation with all of the other parts you make glorious music!
Here are 3 things that tear down unity and three things that promote true unity. If you’ve ever done any kind of home improvement you’ll know that demolition is always the easy part. Building back up is more difficult. The same is true when it comes to unity. Demo is easy, building requires effort and time.
Demo #1 – misunderstandings. These are unavoidable. Because we are limited in our ability to communicate, we never fully speak perfectly and we never fully understand perfectly, there are always going to be misunderstandings between people. One person says something that is misunderstood and the result is that people are offended or criticize him. Even Jesus had to deal with misunderstandings. One time he was talking to a large group of followers and he was telling them that they would have to eat his body and drink his blood. Of course, he wasn’t being literal, he’s not asking for his followers to be cannibals. He’s speaking symbolically, but the disciples misunderstand. They start to grumble and complain, “This is a hard teaching, who can follow it?” And from that time on a lot of disciples turned away and stopped following Jesus. They stopped following Jesus because of misunderstanding. They broke unity.
Building #1 – seeking true understanding. If misunderstanding can destroy unity, seeking true understanding is a surefire way to build up unity. Seeking understanding requires effort – you have to actually exert yourself to find that understanding and place of unity. Seeking understanding means that we don’t turn on people when they say or do something that bothers us. Remember what Paul says in Colossians 3: Put up with one another and forgive each other if anyone has a complaint against another. So many misunderstandings could be resolved if we could actually live out what Paul is saying. You know the easiest way to clear up a misunderstanding? It’s with one simple question: “What did you mean when you said…?” Or, “What was your intention when you did…?” And if you have a complaint Paul says, “Forgive.” Are you able to put out that little bit of effort to come to a place of understanding others? It’s easier to live with our misunderstanding, but if we really want unity in the church, seek true understanding, and put up with each other.
Demo #2 – perceived rights. This is a huge unity destroyer! Perceived rights simply means when you think you have a right to something over somebody else. We think we have rights for a lot of different reasons. Have you ever had an idea that someone else wanted to take and tweak a little bit? “That’s my idea, so we should do it the way I envisioned it or not at all.” “I created this – I took the time and effort to do this and now you want to change it? You don’t have the right to do that.” This actually happens more than we would care to admit in the church. When we create something, come up with something, start doing something, we have a sense of ownership about whatever it is we are doing. If somebody tries to “mess with” what we have done, our perceived rights are violated. “You can’t do that!” We forget that when we come to Christ we give up all of our rights. Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 6: You are not your own – you were bought at a price! So, if you are not your own, you belong to Jesus, then everything you do should be seen, not as your own, but belonging to Jesus as well! This is harder to live out than it is to say. What we do, what we create, our ideas, our efforts, our everything, all belong to Him. So if someone comes along and changes it a little, or does something that doesn’t fit in with your original image, it’s not your right to get upset. Perceived rights are the demolition of unity.
Building #2 – humility. Look again at Colossians 3. Paul says: “clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, and humility….” Can you believe that the Bible says we’re supposed to humiliate ourselves to put others first? We talked about this a little bit this last Wednesday at Bible Study, where we were looking at the story where Jesus washes his disciples’ feet. It was a humiliating thing to do. The feet are disgusting. We walk on them every day. Rich Jews wouldn’t even make their Jewish servants wash feet – they’d let the gentile servants do it! Jesus was the teacher, the master, he had a right not to do that kind of work. He had a right to have others wash his feet. But he chooses to put aside “rights” and act in humility. This kind of behavior builds unity. Can you imagine our church if everyone choose to act in this way towards everyone else?
Demo #3 – not handling offenses properly. What builds unity #3 – handling offenses properly. This might be one of the biggest unity killers in the Christian world. Many people don’t know that Jesus talks about how to handle being offended and grieved by someone else. This is what Jesus says in Matthew 18:15-17:
“If your brother sins against you, go and show him his fault, just between the two of you. If he listens to you, you have won your brother over. But if he will not listen, take one or two others along, so that ‘every matter may be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.’ If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if he refuses to listen even to the church, treat him as you would a pagan or a tax collector.”
What destroys unity is when we don’t handle offenses properly. Now, let’s be honest, Jesus words seem to be talking about serious issues, the kind of issues that would eventually call for the removal of a member from the church if they didn’t repent. However, the underlying principal applies to all sorts of grievances and offenses. Sinning against you isn’t about your pet peeves (I really hate it when you chew with your mouth open). It’s about someone wronging you. You did this to me…. You said this to me…. Then the appropriate response is to follow Jesus’ instructions. Take a close look at how Jesus starts out… If your brother sins against you, go and show him his fault, just between the two of you….
The proper way to handle when someone sins against you is to go privately to that person tell them, show them their fault. But we don’t do that. How do people handle offenses and grievances? Some bottle it up and hold on to bitterness and anger. But it is almost impossible to remain quiet about an offense. If you don’t tell the person who sinned against you, you will most likely tell others. This is just plain gossip. Then if there is no reconciliation between just the two of you, then bring in a third party as a neutral mediator. Maybe the third party can ease tension and help bring balance, an outside perspective to the situation. If we are going to be a church that actively builds unity then we need to start taking the words of Jesus seriously and handle our offenses biblically. The great thing about approaching others in love is that you set the tone for restoration, healing and unity.
Pointing out problems is not breaking unity, but it depends on the spirit in which it is done. Check your heart. Jesus’ words are not meant to punish or to prove you right, but to restore relationship, so that Christians can continue living as family. But it’s hard to do. Pointing out someone’s fault is risky, for there is no way of knowing how he will respond. But if done gently and graciously, the offender will be more likely to recognize the error than become stubborn and bitter. This is loving, caring confrontation. The person initiating the confrontation should explain his concern and then ask, ‘Am I understanding this situation correctly? Is there some clarification that can be made?’
There’s an African proverb that says: When spider webs unite they can tie up a lion. When Christians are united in a common purpose and mission, nothing will stop it from doing what God has called it to do. Do we take the Apostle Paul seriously in Colossians and Ephesians? Do we put up with one another? Do we work to maintain unity? If we want to see unity then we will have to start doing things that actively build up unity and not tear it down.
Now is the time to be intentional – to say, “From this point on, I want to be a unity builder for God’s kingdom.” Will you help build unity in your home, in your church, and in your community?