We Get Closer

One way that the Lord causes our love for one another to increase and abound (1 Thessalonians 3:12) is by inviting us to share a meal together. He has provided the food; it is His own body. He fills the cup; it represents His own blood. And He sent out the invites. None of His people are excepted.

He is the focal point. And when we get closer to Him we get closer to each other. We ought not to think that we can tolerate pride or impatience or bitterness in our hearts toward another with whom we share this meal.

So Paul described that we eat one bread (1 Corinthians 10:17). The one bread unifies us. We share one cup of blessing. Drinking together unites us. We are one shoelace, and the different ends are tied together at the Table because we are one and He is making us what we are.

If you are still holding grudges, you need to take get rid of those and make it right. If you think someone else doesn’t belong here, then you’ll need to take it up with our Lord. Otherwise we can enjoy this meal together.

Let us be “eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit–just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call–one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all” (Ephesians 4:3a-5).

Strength to Repent

The benediction in Romans 15:5-6 is one way of stating God’s aim for His people.

May the God of endurance and encouragement grant you to live in such harmony with one another, in accord with Christ Jesus, that together you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. (Romans 15:5–6, ESV)

Not only do we see God’s goal for us, but we also see how difficult it is for us to get there. In order to “live in harmony with one another,” in order to glorify God “with one voice,” God must grant it. We cannot do it in our own strength. We don’t have the endurance for Project One Voice, so the “God of endurance” must help. We’re likely to be discouraged by a gangly body part that rubs us the wrong way, so the “God of encouragement” must help. In fact, we won’t even want to be in this community choir unless God saves us by the gospel. He has to overcome our pride and selfishness all along the way in order to teach us to sing together.

We can’t do it on our own, and yet we must do it.

Therefore welcome one another as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God. (Romans 15:7, ESV)

We must “welcome,” we must seek “not to please ourselves,” but “let each of us please his neighbor for his good, to build him up” (verses 1 and 2). This is God’s goal for us in the gospel and our failure to do it is sin. You know who makes it hard? Me! I’m still in process of considering myself dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus! So are you. But that’s no problem. That’s why we love the gospel.

We work against God when we will not endure the “failings of the weak.” We image some other Christ when we reject rather than receive one another. We’re not supposed to embrace others because they deserve it, but because we’ve been welcomed by Christ.

What God is after is what we fail at. What we fail at is what we should repent from. And what we repent from is what God helps us get after. The God of endurance and encouragement grants us strength, and that may start with granting us the strength to repent.

How to Destroy Unity

unityThe theme of this year’s Grace Academy Junior High retreat was unity. I was asked to address the junior high students on Thursday night out at the Warm Beach Christian Camps & Conference Center, specifically at the trusted W-Bar-B Ranch. The passage I selected to preach from was Colossians 3:14. Here it is in the ESV and the NAS:

ESV – And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony.

NAS – And beyond all these things put on love, which is the perfect bond of unity.

This verse comes in the middle of what is probably my favorite paragraph (verses 12-17) in Colossians. The point of the paragraph is the idea of “putting on” Christian virtues after “putting off” sin in verses 5-11, and this exhortation in verse 14 reveals the crown of Christian virtues: love, along with its result: unity.

This was it. Here was the key to unity–love.

But we’ll all heard about love before. Sometimes we’re so saturated with talk of love that we become “love sick.” So what I thought I’d do is just give you a grocery list of ways to destroy unity. In fact, were going to look at eleven ways to destroy, ruin, and undermine, unity. These are sure fire ways to guarantee a miserable, gloomy, blithering year in Junior High (and for that matter, the rest of your life). These are some practical suggestions for having no unity when you’re walking with others between classes or hanging out during lunch or at soccer practice or spending time together on the weekends.

As a preemptive footnote, I realize this is long. No one is making you read it. But if you are patient you might find benefit in it.

1. Be Impatient

A person who is impatient has a tendency to be quickly irritated or provoked. Generally this happens when you are inconvenienced or taken advantage of by another person. Impatient people are easily upset and annoyed by others. It doesn’t take much to get them bent out of shape. They are regularly put in a bad mood by someone else.

By no means should you be pleasant or good humored or cheerful when something doesn’t go your way or doesn’t happen when you want it to. When someone promises to do something, hold them to a standard you wouldn’t expect to live up to yourself. Be impatient.

Of course impatience destroys unity because we won’t tolerate someone who can’t keep up with our expectations or who is weaker or slower or imperfect. If they mess up–they’re out. If they can’t keep up–don’t wait for them to catch up.

2. Be Unkind

A person who is unkind is inconsiderate and harsh. Proper unkindness can range from being callous to purposefully cruel, from being inconsiderate to downright mean-spirited and hurtful.

Of course, girls seem to know how to do this naturally. We call it being catty, that is, deliberately hurtful in their attitude or speech. I’m regularly amazed at the female’s ability to be just downright cruel and mean. That’s the way to go for the destruction of unity.

Guys, on the other hand, are generally more direct and hostile, they are unfriendly or just pick on someone for the sake of picking on someone. We just punch people we don’t like in the head. Hitting others in the head is generally a good way to communicate that we don’t care about being kind to them.

Please do not go out of your way to be nice to someone else, especially someone else who doesn’t deserve it. Don’t serve others, don’t be gracious to others, don’t be generous. Be unkind.

Unkindness destroys unity by not letting people in the circle we don’t like.

3. Be Jealous

A person who is jealous envies or covets or desires what someone else has. This can lead to resentfulness and long term grudge holding. Being jealous means having intense negative feelings toward another’s achievements or success. If someone has something or gets praise that we should have got, we better let everyone know about. If another person is more popular than you, do whatever it takes to knock them off their pedestal.

This is the time when it is appropriate to mock others behind their back. Be jealous.

Jealousy destroys unity by keeping others out of our circle to punish them for having what we should have or wish we had.

4. Be Boastful

A person who is boastful is always heaping praise on himself. This is the braggart, the cocky, full of himself, walking-with-swagger bighead. Boasting is showing excessive pride and self-satisfaction in one’s achievements, possessions, or abilities. It’s actually trying to make others jealous. Jealousy pulls others down, bragging builds us up.

Throw a parade in your honor. Have a party just to talk about your greatness. Be boastful.

Being boastful destroys unity by setting ourselves up as most important. It keeps us at the top of a very short list where there just isn’t room for anyone else. We don’t need them anyway–we’re cool enough.

5. Be Conceited

A person who is conceited is proud, but maybe just in their heart. They are full of themselves too, puffed up with an exaggerated view of themselves, self-centered and snobby. They are too big for their own britches.

Don’t ever consider for a moment that you are not perfect or that you haven’t arrived. Don’t show any kind of humility. Make sure you believe that you are the best. This is especially important for those of you who are more quiet and who might not be comfortable boasting in public about how great you are. If nothing else you can be kind of smug on the inside. Be conceited.

Just like bragging, being conceited destroys unity by putting ourselves up on the pedestal, and even if we don’t talk about our greatness we still expect others to recognize us as great. And if they don’t? They’re not included.

6. Be Rude

A person who is rude behaves disgracefully or discourteously; they are offensively impolite and inappropriate. This is the person who is always trying to bring shame or disgrace on someone else. Instead of building others up they are tearing others down. They can’t be trusted. They are insulting and abusive.

Don’t spend time thinking about someone else’s needs or their feelings or their sensitivities. Don’t think about how to care for others or even how to act politely. Be rude.

Rudeness destroys unity by never worrying about whether someone is left out of the circle in the first place.

7. Be Selfish

In a lot of ways this characteristic motivates most of the others. A person who is selfish lacks consideration of others; they are primarily concerned with their own profit or pleasure. They are self-absorbed, self-obsessed, wrapped up in themselves, thoughtless, looking out for number one.

Don’t ever let anyone think that you could be happy unless they do what you want. Be selfish.

Selfishness destroys unity because it makes it seem like we’re the only ones who are important anyway. Who cares about anybody else? Don’t seek to serve anyone but yourself. That will keep your circle pretty small.

8. Be Irritable

This is somewhat related to the first point–being impatient and easily annoyed–but it goes a bit further. A person who is irritable is easily provoked to anger. They have a tendency to be grouchy, moody, crabby, cranky, and with a short fuse.

When someone does even the slightest thing to you, get mad, immediately, and let them know it. Don’t hold back. Don’t wait for it to get better. Defend yourself, no one else will do it. Retaliate. Be irritable.

And being irritable or angry helps to push others away. There won’t be any unity if everybody is mad at everybody else.

9. Be Bitter

A person who is bitter is resentful because someone treated them bad of they feel like they didn’t get what they deserved. Bitter people are usually sour and spiteful. They are always taking to account the wrongs people have done to them.

Keep a list of everything that everyone has ever done wrong to you, no matter how insignificant or small it was. Keep track of other people’s sins and never let them forget it. Punish them by acting cold or gossiping about them or anything that will let them know just how awful they were. Be bitter.

Oh, before I forget, let me encourage you to be just as petty and small about this as possible. I’ve found that really tends to erode any chance for unity.

Like anger, bitterness will keep you away from everyone else. There won’t be any unity because no one will deserve to be united to you.

10. Be Immoral

A person who is immoral doesn’t conform to or accept standards of morality–right and wrong. Perhaps a little stronger is the word “perverse.” We normally apply that in terms of sexual immorality, but the basic definition is “showing a deliberate and obstinate desire to behave in a way that is unreasonable or unacceptable, often in spite of the consequences.”

When I suggest being immoral, I mean go for it. This will be sure to break whatever unity might be there. Scoff at your parents and encourage others to do the same. When you hear some juicy tidbit about somebody else, it doesn’t matter if it’s accurate or not, make sure you pass it on to everyone who’ll listen. Do wrong yourself and encourage others to do the same. Be immoral.

Immorality or perverseness destroys unity by eroding any genuine foundation for unity. If there isn’t anything solid, any truth, if it is just all lies and half-truths then there is nothing to stand on.

11. Be Cynical

A cynical person is always doubtful and distrusting. They typically are concerned only with themselves and making themselves look good. They are suspicious, not open, pessimistic and negative. So never trust anyone and never let anyone trust you.

Just curl up by yourself in the corner far away from everybody. Even if things could be good, don’t get your hopes up, it probably won’t last. No one else is going to stick with it, you might as well not either. Be cynical.

So being cynical and pessimistic will destroy unity by negativity.

To sum up, If you want to make sure that there is no unity, no harmony, no getting along with each other, just commit to being impatient, unkind, jealous, boastful, proud, selfish, irritable, bitter, immoral, and cynical.

Well why do I mention these eleven things as unity destroyers? Some of these overlap one another and certainly there are other ways to bring disunity. The reason is because all eleven of these sarcastic encouragements are the opposite of LOVE! And love is the perfect bond of unity. Note the description of love in 1 Corinthians 13:4-7:

Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.

You probably recognize the contradictions for the first nine obviously, and then “be immoral” goes with all of verse six and “be cynical” opposes all of verse seven. So if you can just not love, you won’t have any bond or harmony. Without love there will be no perfect unity. In order to destroy unity all you have to do is not love.

But there is one (large) problem with not loving. If you don’t love, you don’t know God. 1 John 4:7-8 makes it clear that love is the normal Christian behavior. Disunity is anti-love and therefore anti-Christian. How dare we claim to know God and not be unified. When we destroy unity we destroy our testimony, our assurance, and potentially destroy our brothers.

A Community of Diversity

Series | Church

It has been a while since my last blog on the distinctive traits of New Testament churches, and to get us back into that discussion I’d like to point out something that up till now has only been hinted at in previous entries. What I want us to dwell on today is that NT churches presumed and promoted reciprocal diversity.

Now don’t get intimidated by the words here. The idea of “reciprocal diversity” is simply a way to say that churches consisted of all kinds of different people, from different races, different backgrounds, different ages, different genders, etc., who served one another for the benefit of everyone. “Reciprocal” describes things “that complement one another;” or things “given or done in return” for something else. And “diversity” is just another word for “a variety.” So again, the church is made up of different people with a variety of gifts and abilities who all give themselves for the good of the whole group.

This is exactly the picture we see when Paul mentions the “body of Christ” in Romans 12:3-8; 1 Corinthians 12:1-30. Paul presumes (that is, takes for granted) that there are “many” people (however, ‘many’ that might be) who are different in spiritual giftedness.

Consider Paul’s instruction to the Romans: “For just as we have many members in one body and all the members do not have the same function, so we, who are many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another” (Romans 12:4-5).

And to the Corinthians he says: “Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit. And there are varieties of ministries, and the same Lord. And there are varieties of effects, but the same God who works all things in all persons. But to each one is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good” (1 Corinthians 4:6-7).

Not only do we need diversity so that the body can be complete, the context of diversity is also the perfect platform for displaying the “one anothers” in the NT, in particular, love for one another (Romans 12:9-16; 13:8-10). Church (membership) is a recognizable commitment to love one another regardless of our differences rather than avoid one another.

That means churches were not (properly) formed in order to escape those who are different or who disagree. And though smaller group meetings of similar people can be beneficial, they are not meant to replace entirely gathering with the entire church.

Those who isolate themselves (cf. Proverbs 18:1), or their particular sub-group are not to be commended but corrected. They are potentially guilty of pride, bitterness, jealousy, self-centeredness, etc., and should be exhorted to avoid “forsaking our own assembling together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another; and all the more, as you see the day drawing near” (Hebrews 10:25).