The Power, Purpose & Place of Unity
There are many ways in which the world was changed as a result of Jesus Christ.
Where once there was no certain hope beyond this life, with Christ came certainty. Where once there was no means of forgiveness for wilful sins against God and people, now forgiveness became available. Where once the only kingdoms known to man were based on force and economics, there came a kingdom based on the healing love of God. Where once women were seen as inferior chattels, with no personal or legal rights, Jesus Christ gave equality through grace and ethics.
Long is the list that speaks of the benefits Christ brought, but there is one gift which we are inclined to take for granted. It is the virtue at the heart of our Basis of Union , and it is a virtue greatly needed in our contemporary world: the virtue of unity.
There are three aspects at the heart of unity:
– the power of unity,
– the purpose of unity, and
– the place of unity
The Power of Unity
Have you ever seen geese flying over the river in a “v” formation? You might be interested in knowing what science has discovered as to why they fly that way. It has been learned that as each bird flaps its wings, it creates uplift for the bird immediately following. By flying the “v” formation, the whole flock adds at least a 71 per cent greater flying range than if each bird flew on its own. Whenever a goose falls out of formation, it suddenly feels the extra drag and resistance of trying to go it alone. It has also been noticed that the lead goose, is “spelled off” periodically, and allowed to take its place farther back in formation.
Unity likewise creates power in a church as shown in 1 Corinthians 12:27 “Now you together are Christ’s body.’ Through baptism and the Holy Spirit there comes about a unity which transcends race, class and gender. There was such a unity in the early church, that Paul could speak of the church as being like a body. Something in which there is both unity and diversity, feet as well as finger, eyes as well as ears, all coordinated for the effective functioning of the body. Likewise, let us cultivate and pray for growth in our own unity.
Decisions lie ahead for all of us concerning ministry, stewardship and mission. These things require a strong sense of unity and harmony. The deeper our unity with God and our love for one another, the more our decisions will reflect God’s leading.
The Purpose of Unity
In recent days we see a noted lack of unity in governments. Politicians, leaders, environmentalists and voters all have their own particular views on the issues at hand. When these groups are unified however, they are very effective. It gradually sways opinion.
The purpose of unity in the body of Christ, is likewise to change lives and opinions. But that is secondary to allowing unity to reflect the changed people we are, through becoming followers of Christ. The Church is intended to be God’s showpiece of Christ dominated lives. Lives lived together in unity can be our greatest witness to Christ because it issues in evangelistic caring, quite distinct from impersonal government handouts.
Dionysius was a pagan scholar who converted to Christ, and became the Bishop of Alexandria in 247. A notation in his diary concerns a plague that struck Alexandria, and perhaps took the Bishop’s life in 269.
“Most of our brethren did not spare themselves, and held together in the closest love of their neighbours. They were not afraid to visit the sick to look after them, to take care of them for Christ’s sake and to die joyfully with them. But the heathen did exactly the opposite. They chased out any who began to be sick, deserted those who were dearest to them, threw the sick half-dead to the streets and left the dead unburied.”
The purpose of unity then, is that the grace of God be expressed to this disunited world. Such unity has the power to change lives.
The Place of Unity
Where unity is strong it allows for great diversity. Where unity is weak there is little diversity and so. An Eastern bloc country like the countries from the former Soviet Union is threatened by any expression of religious and political freedom.
Not so the body of Christ.
Paul tells us that God has planned things in such a way that there is a celebration of the great variety in the church. We are all different, emotionally and physically and to a large degree spiritually – for some things are more important to one than to another. One may need to be disturbed by the judgement of God. Another may need to hear a word of comfort or healing. What this also means is that God gives every congregation the gifts it needs to be His presence in that area and this has important implications for our church.
For not all are apostles or ministers or prophets or teachers. There are some who do have these gifts but your gift may be simply to support and encourage those with such gifts. Over time, one comes to know a congregation fairly well, and there are always those who feel they have little or nothing to give. Some may look at the flowers a certain person arranges and think, “I could never do that arrangement!” Maybe not, but your flowers and your preparation are worth just as much to God! Some look at our lay-preachers and think, “I could never stand up and speak and think so well!” Maybe not, but you can still speak to your neighbour in your own way about God’s love. Some, like myself, may look at the many skills of handymen and think, “What use is it even trying to use my hands skilfully?” but unless there were muddlers like me, they would not have so many extra opportunities to use their gifts! Some think in study groups, “I could never pray aloud, or pray like that person!” Well of course they could, if they would only focus on God and not on the other members of the group. In any event, a silent prayer said in faith is as acceptable to God as any other prayer, no matter how profound or eloquent.
So to you, who think you are only the little toe of Christ’s body, remember we need our little toes to keep our balance. Together we are Christ’s body, but each of us is a different part of it. Let us strengthen then, the power of our unity. Let us develop the purpose of unity and let us see the place of unity in the body of Christ. Then we will be equipped for all decisions, demands and challenges which will come our way.
By George Robert Iles